Flight by Selena Taylor

Copyright: steffe82 / 123RF Stock Photo

 Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_steffe82'>steffe82 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

She watched the horizon. She did not stop looking to it.

For months, she had helped her child learn to spread his wings and fly. Her barn was filled with insane contraptions that mimicked wing stretches, wing lifting, and gliding motions.  As a mere human, inventing machines was the only way she could teach her child.

The first time they tried to fly, all she saw was her child falling off the barn. She reached the edge and looked down to see him lifting his head from the pile of hay where he’d landed. He shook it back and forth trying to get hay out of his scales. It was a funny moment, one of many.

There were also moments of great frustration. Her limited knowledge of the mechanics of flight made the process difficult. The fails kept piling up until the morning when a large hawk appeared over the cliff that was out beyond the boundaries of her property.

Together, they watched the bird soar and glide over the land.

Her child began to walk toward it. She wanted to stop him, so that she could be the reason he learned. But, no, she couldn’t.

Smiling, she waved him off to follow the hawk. Within a day, she saw her child fly in the sky.

They both rejoiced, each in their way.

Now she was waiting – staring at the distant horizon, waiting for her child to return home. And praying that he would. Towards the horizon…

She knew the tradition, of course. Once those who had wings had learned to fly, they traveled to the island of Draflo. There, they would receive more magic, absorb more knowledge.

Her aging mother and her younger brother had come to see her child off, sharing her delight in the moment he had achieved true flight. But they were not his mother. They did not join in her vigil by the cliff.

The weather turned.

A fierce wind came, bringing with it dark clouds. Her mother left the shelter of their house to beseech her with gentle words: Come inside. Rest. The older woman could feel it in her bones, she said, deep cold and heavy rain were not long off.

She only shook her head, no.

The rain did come, and it was cold, and it was heavy.

Her clothes were soaked. Her hair stuck to her neck and back, the wet weight of it chilling her even further.

Still, she stayed on the cliff.

Her brother came to join her, imploring her to go inside. She would surely die, if she remained at watch.

Another storm came, larger than the first, with winds strong enough that part of the barn was damaged. For a moment, she panicked, concerned for the machines, only to remember that they were no longer needed.

Her brother changed his approach, becoming angry with her. He argued that the child was not worth the price of her life. He insisted it wasn’t even truly hers.

She spoke no words aloud.

But in her head, she was seething: Not hers? Of course the child was hers. Did they bear the same blood? No. But he was hers nonetheless.

The storm that raged around them now was just like the one that had brought her child in the first place.

She had been running, chasing the killer of her husband and infant son. The storm that hid the murderer led her to the cave that sheltered her new child.

He was near death when she found him. His breath was weak and cold. There was no meat to him. His scales were falling off.

Maternal instinct kicked in, and she knew.

She knew.

He was hers.

Her brother turned to leave her, and she let him go.

She caught sight of an object coming over the cliff. She squinted her eyes and lifted her hand to shield them from the rain.

It was him. She was certain of it.

She ran toward the cliff-edge to meet him, but the lightning came closer, the strikes coming more frequently.

She did not fear it.

All that mattered was that her child was coming home.

It was the last bolt that hit him. It was bright and fast. Her scream boomed over the thunder.

Not her child!

She searched the sky: nothing.  She searched the sea: nothing.

Her sobs racked through her.

Not again.


Not again!

When the earth became loose, she did not step back from the edge. She let herself fall.

The air scoured her skin as she plummeted toward rocky shore below, but she embraced the pain. Another child was gone. Physical pain couldn’t touch maternal grief.

She never felt the rocks or freezing water. She only felt warmth and a pulsating wind. Soon, she was back at the cliff-side, surrounded by scales, and wrapped in leathery wings.

Opening her eyes, she met his: black as ebony, with tiny gold flecks.

She knew those eyes; they belonged to her child.

She smiled, and took stock of him. He was different somehow… Stronger, maybe? And when she took a closer look at his scales she noticed blue lights darting across them.

She put her finger in the path of the light, and felt tingles down her arm.


Her child was not only flying, but he had lightning coursing through him.

Her child.

Her dragon son.

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 Tumblr or follow her on Twitter.

Birthing at Hitchcock House by Bernie Brown

Ezra turned and reached for Orelia, who was doubled over in pain. “Come on, baby, I’m here. House is just up there. See the lights in the windows.” They scrambled up the bank, and the small boat paddled away, making its way through the icing creek. “Mrs. Hitchcock she ready for us. We in Iowa now. They’s a free state.”

“How do you know, Ezra? Ohhhh . . .” Orelia doubled over again.

He didn’t answer her. Ezra knew he had to get her through the snow, up to the house, and down in the cellar. All as quiet as mice. And her having pains so early.

Orelia slid down again as another pain hit her. “Ohhhhh,” she moaned.

“Honey, can you be quiet now? We don’t want to get anyone hearing us.” He pulled her to the top of the bank where they sat in the snow waiting for her pain to subside.

Ezra wadded up a faded blue kerchief. “Here now, next time a pain hits, you bite this.” He tried to stuff it into her mouth while she sucked in air.

She spit it out.

“No, baby. You gotta do it. You listen to Ezra now. There can’t be no hearing us or this whole trip for nothin’. We’ll never reach the promised land.” He stuffed it back in and barely pulled his fingers out in time not to get bit.

Orelia struggled and ran in a painful lop-sided way, holding her belly, the holes in her homespun shawl lit up by moonlight. A distant owl hooted. A quiet growl came from the brush.

A lump of hurt choked Ezra as he watched his wife, at least that was how he thought of her. They’d get married proper when they got to Canada.  He couldn’t stand seeing her run that way.  She stumbled and he put one arm behind her knees, another on her back and tipped her up. He grunted. She was usually so small, but the baby made her off balance and clumsy to hold. She buried her face in his shoulder.

Up ahead he saw the flicker of three lanterns in the windows. That meant they was expecting three runaways. Old Simon had fell out the boat into the icy black river. He didn’t bob up, not even once. So there was just him and Orelia and the baby.

The sight bucked him up. He staggered faster. Orelia screeched into the cloth, into his shoulder. Her teeth sunk into his flesh, and he winced. At last he reached the open cellar door, ready to receive them.

The steep, uneven steps tripped him up, and he bumped Orelia’s head against the frozen dirt wall. Orelia’s pain made her punch him hard on the arm in return.

At last they were in the cellar. He had to put Orelia down on the dirt floor. “Just for a minute, baby.” Around them, jugs of preserved foods lined crude shelves. Dusty bottles of wine lay on their sides in a rack. Above, he could hear a piano playing a lively Christmas tune. “It must be Christmas Eve,” Ezra said.

Thumps on the floor be dancing. “That party noise keep ‘em from hearing us.” Even so, he moved the shelves ever so carefully to reveal the safe room. He didn’t want to leave no marks in the dirt floor. Then he returned to Orelia, panting now, and helped her to a straw pallet. He found matches and lit the candle before lifting the shelves back in place.

“Baby’s comin’,” Orelia spluttered between pains. Then she pushed so hard her whole body shuddered as she groaned a mighty, low groan.

Ezra had to open her legs to see. He hated doin’ that, but they was beyond being shy now. It was a necessary thing. He’d seen his mammy birthing babies back on the plantation.

A bloody bony head appeared, almost purple. Joy wiped away the struggle, the fear, the constant fear. “Baby’s head,” he whispered.

Orelia thrashed, grunting and shuddering and clawing into his shoulder.

He grasped the slippery roundness and pulled best he could, slow, steady.

Out it slipped, a wiggly bloody little one.

It were the baby. It were born. “Orelia, honey, it be here. It’s a little girl.”

He took Orelia’s shawl and wrapped the baby in it.

Above, the music had changed tempo. He recognized “Silent Night.”

The baby gave out a newborn mewing cry, and they exchanged their scared look. Could such a little sound be heard upstairs? They might be in a free state, but it was still illegal to hide runaways.

“Let’s call her Christmas,” Ezra whispered.

Orelia smiled down on the bundle and whispered, “Christmas. Our very own Christmas.”

The shelves moved. Had somebody heard them? Come to arrest them? Take them back South? Both Ezra and Orelia sucked in breath.

A lady stood in the flickering candlelight. “I’m Mrs. Hitchcock.” She came to the straw pallet. “Oh, dear God, it’s a baby. A baby on Christmas Eve. Oh, she’s lovely.”

Orelia said, “She cried once. We was afraid y’all heard.”

“We did hear. The mayor was here, but he said the night was so magical he had heard the newborn Jesus cry.”

“Praise be to God,” said Ezra.

Mrs. Hitchcock left to bring water to wash the baby, and food and blankets to keep them warm.

“Orelia, honey, our baby, she born free.”

“Free,” Orelia repeated what Ezra had said. A fierce, proud light shone in her eyes as she looked down on the tiny child.

It were a holy night. Oh, holy night.

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. I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center, which is the perfect spot to work on my novel-in-progress. My short story, Same Old Casserole, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Thanksgiving by Debra Smouse


((Part Three of the Colleen Series – Follows Sundays))

Colleen stared at the dancing flames of the fire, her Party at Holly’s-tipped fingers loosely cradling a half-full glass of Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau. She laughed a deep, throaty laugh when she looked down at her hand holding the glass and realized the color of her nails almost matched the wine.

Her laugh woke Ingrid, who scrambled to her feet, looked expectantly at her owner, and ambled over to see if she could cadge another bite of turkey. While she wasn’t exactly a wine connoisseur, the large dog was the consummate optimist, certain that a nibble of something tasty would soon be forthcoming. After sniffing around and smelling nothing delicious, she accepted a few moments of chin-scritching before settling down near the fire once again.

It was Thanksgiving. For the first time since she’d become a mother, Colleen had spent the day without her daughters. Every time she thought she’d adjusted to her new life as a divorcee, these “firsts” popped up and she had to navigate new territory and unfamiliar emotions.

With each first, she found a way to either make it her new norm or make a game out of it.

All the weekends without the girls had given her time to nourish herself and indulge in some sacred solitude. The previous month, she’d finally turned a corner of her office into a space to paint – something she hadn’t done since college.

This first holiday alone, she handled by making an adventure out of it. Gretchen, a girlfriend from college, had offered her parents’ cabin in the Smoky Mountains. Jumping at the opportunity, Collen had packed herself and Ingrid into the car along with her acrylics and a couple of canvases. By late Saturday evening, woman and dog were ensconced in their cozy retreat.

On Tuesday, Gretchen had also arrived at her own cabin. Another divorcee, she and several of the members of her book club were sharing the close by cabin. Much like Colleen, all the women were well educated and fun loving, and each had also found the silver lining in spending the holiday without family.

Though she couldn’t imagine life in the cabin becoming her new norm, Colleen squeezed every drop out of her adventure. Being busy kept her from missing the girls too terribly much.

Her days quickly fell into a pattern: Colleen took long walks with Ingrid. Religiously, she wrote “morning pages” over strong cups of coffee. She set up her easel and painted a little each day. She fixed elaborate brunches just for herself ingrid_fall2and created beautiful charcuterie boards in the evenings to share with her friends, both new and old.

Thanksgiving dinner was an adventure in itself. Each woman had created a favorite dish from holidays past and crowded into Colleen’s cabin to share them, along with copious amounts of wine and a beautifully roasted turkey.

Of course, all were happy to fuss over Ingrid, and the dog basked in all the attention.

It had been a good day, a highlight in a year that had seen Colleen surprising herself over and over. Looking back, she realized she’d faced each ‘first’ with some sort of grace.

She couldn’t say the same for her daughters, who had been unhappy when they realized the entire holiday would be spent without their mother. Their disappointment only grew upon learning that, instead, they’d be spending it all with her: their father’s new girlfriend.

So far today, Colleen had received three phone calls and more than a dozen texts:

“She wears the most hideous clothes.”

“Are you really in a cabin the mountains? Is there snow, yet?”

“Seriously, Ma. I think she’s closer to my age than dad’s”

“She doesn’t like dark meat, so there are no turkey legs! And she put MARSHMALLOWS on the sweet potatoes!”

“Can we go to the mountains for Christmas?”

“She BOUGHT a pie instead of making it! Who BUYS pie on Thanksgiving? I miss your pecan pie….”

“Are you sure you’re okay, mom?”

“Does Ingrid need leftovers from here? There’s a lot ‘cause her turkey breast was dry!”

“Maybe you should look into getting a boyfriend, mom!”

Colleen had responded to every ding or ring from her phone in the same cheery manner. She’d advised the girls to give their father’s new flame a chance, and cautioned them not be so judgmental. She’d also assured them that she was fine, and ignored their prodding into her own love life.

Off the phone, she firmly turned her mind to other things each time her ex-husband’s new girlfriend dared to intrude upon her thoughts. She had yet to officially meet the young woman, but she’d caught a glimpse of her by accident at the grocery store. The other woman was a classic beauty: late twenties, leggy, blonde, and with a flat belly that had never been faced with childbearing, and the resultant stretchmarks.

Her ex-husband’s choices had nothing to do with Colleen beyond how they affected the girls, so anytime she pondered a catty reply to one of the girls’ texts, she stopped herself. The best thing she could do for her daughters was find some way to connect with their father’s girlfriend, especially if their relationship continued to go in the direction of marriage.

After all, no one would gain by painting the woman as the “evil stepmother.”

For a moment, Colleen wondered if she was playing ‘chicken’ when it came to love. Though she’d dated since the divorce, she was keeping all her relationships casual. Was she making a mistake? Was her heart closed to the possibility of love?

No, she concluded. She was just enjoying rediscovering herself, and that took glorious amounts of solitude.

Solitude that, at least over Thanksgiving, Colleen could find in a cozy cabin, a cuddly dog, a crackling fire, and an excellent glass of wine.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach,and author of Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision.  She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Stewing by Melissa A. Bartell

Copyright: dogfella / 123RF Stock Photo

Copyright: dogfella / 123RF Stock Photo

(Part III of the Tea Series, follows Simmering)

David had his laptop set up on the kitchen table, where he was transcribing his latest poems into a word processing program, when Sarah draped her arms over his shoulders, hugging him from behind. “Dinner’s about ready,” she said. “How much more time do you need?”

“Ten minutes?” He made it a question.

“Perfect.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Are you putting my poem in the book?”

An agent had approached him after his last open mic night, and suggested he publish a collection. “I am,” he confirmed. “But only if you let me have my ten more minutes.” He was only half-kidding.

Laughing, Sarah pulled away from him, and disappeared into the kitchen.

It was actually closer to twenty minutes before they finally sat down to eat, and after tasting her baked salmon, Sarah wrinkled her nose. “It’s too dry,” she complained. “It stayed in the oven too long.”

David disagreed, “Seems fine to me.”

“No, it’s much too dry. And the green beans are mushy.”

“You’re too critical,” David said. “It all tastes fine.”

“I didn’t want it to be ‘fine,'” Sarah snapped, though the look on her face made it clear that she hadn’t meant to speak quite so sharply. In a more neutral tone, she continued, “I wanted it to be good. It’s my last day of work until the holidays are over, and I wanted things to feel festive.” She gestured to the floral center piece and the lit candles. “Special.”

“Sweetie, it’s fine. It’s special just because you cooked and we’re eating together.” When Sarah remained quiet, her hands folded in her lap, David continued. “There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”

“You know my company has a cabin up at the Pine Lake Resort, right?”

David nodded. Sarah had mentioned the cabin many, many times.

“Well, every year the person who’s funded the most loans gets to use it for the holidays, and this year, that person was me. I thought we could go shopping for supplies tomorrow or Sunday and then head up on Monday morning, when traffic won’t be bad. It’s all decorated – the staff takes care of that.” She unfolded her hands, and brushed her hair out of her face, revealing bright eyes and a hopeful smile. “We could spend Christmas snowed into a romantic mountain cabin….”

David pushed his plate away. “Aww, I wish you’d told me sooner, Sar.”

“I only found out today. Is there a problem?”

“I always spend the holidays with my family. I just assumed you’d come, too.”

Even in the dim light of the candles it was clear that Sarah’s face had turned pale. “You mean, with your parents, right?”

“Yeah, with my parents. But also, my brother and sister and their kids, and my aunts and uncles and…” David finally realized that his partner wasn’t enthusiastic about his plan. “You don’t want to go.” His tone was flat when he spoke the words.

“I can’t,” she said. She rose from the table and carried her plate full of unfinished food back to the kitchen.

“Look, I’m sure you can reschedule the cabin,” David suggested, following her with his own empty plate and all the cutlery. “Or we can rent one, take a long weekend in January or February.”

“You should have asked me,” Sarah told him, flicking the faucet lever upward and to the left to start the hot water flowing. “I don’t… I’m not…” But her sentences remained incomplete, and when the dishes were done, she simply repeated, “You should have asked me,” before she fled through the bedroom to the master bath where she locked the door against him.

By the time Sarah emerged from her bath with damp hair and pink skin, David had returned to his transcription. When she tried to engage him in conversation, he ignored her.

* * *

The weekend had been spent in tense silence punctuated by too-brief conversations. By Monday morning, Sarah had re-confirmed the cabin for Valentine’s Day, and David had completed typing his poems, and sent them off to his agent for approval.

By Monday afternoon, they were packed and in the car, driving north up the peninsula, and across the Golden Gate bridge.

Neither spoke much during the drive.

Half an hour from his parents’ home in Inverness, David stopped the car next to a mobile home painted with the name, Knave of Hearts. “We’re almost there,” he said. “Are you done stewing? Can you tell me why you’re so upset about this trip?” He gestured to the trailer. “These people make the best currant scones on the entire west coast… I’m not above bribing you.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.

Sarah smiled in spite of herself. “Do they serve decent tea?”

“More than decent.”


The coastal air was damp and brisk, but inside the trailer the oven kept things toasty. Sarah settled onto one of the three stools fixed before the tiny diner counter, while David ordered cups of English Breakfast tea, served in handmade ceramic mugs with no handles, and a basket of scones.

Plied with tea and baked goods, Sarah opened up. “I’m an only child,” she reminded him. “It was just me and Mom, for most of my life. I have no idea how to be part of a family. I’m too quiet. I’d rather read than watch sports. What if I say the wrong thing? What if they hate me?”

David’s eyes were warm and his smile was gentle as he assured her. “They could never hate you. You’re the woman I love. More than that, you’re my muse. They’re dying to meet you.”

“Great, no pressure,” she snarked.

“Sarah, I promise… they’re really great people.”

“But what if it’s too much?”

“If you get overwhelmed, just excuse yourself and go out to the deck or up to our room. I’ll come with you, if you need me to.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “Okay,” she repeated a moment later.

“So, you’re not mad at me anymore?”

Sarah smiled around another bite of scone. She made a show of chewing and swallowing, then sipping more of her tea before she responded. “I’m not mad.” She reached for his chin and tickled him beneath the goatee he’d begun wearing. “I might even let you sleep with me in your childhood bedroom.”

His laughter repaired the last of the hurt and confusion that had been lingering between them.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa 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, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Always Have a Spotter by Selena Taylor



To an uninformed observer, it would have seemed that Death’s walk along the lakeshore was lazy, that his approach to the lady on the beach was almost casual.

“Good morning, 34,” Death greeted her.

“Good morning. You can call me Liana.”

“34, names are useless.” His tone was flat. Bored, even.

The lady formerly known as Liana gave Death a look that was about ten percent surprise and ninety percent disappointment. Then she sighed. “For a moment, I thought you were going to be nice.”

The other rolled his eyes. “I am Death,” he intoned. “When is that ever nice?”

“Point taken.” 34 dropped into a seated position on the beach, burrowing into the sand with her bare toes. “My stupid neighbor left his fishing line out. I couldn’t see it, and wound up caught in it. Tangled, really.”

Death’s tone remained detached. “You don’t say.”

Number 34 gave him a look that left no doubt of her mood. I am pissed off, her expression telegraphed. When the other didn’t bother to respond, she chose not to dwell on her mood. She looked back at the water. It had been still before, calm, but now a small johnboat was on the lake, moving toward the fishing line. “Looks like he’s going to reel in that line, now.”

“Looks like,” Death agreed. “He’ll find a nice surprise waiting.”

They both chuckled at his statement.

34 knew that her neighbor was about to fish her physical form out of the water, but if Death had no use for names, she had no use for the activity off shore. Instead, she looked to the sky, and asked, “What are those bright white lights?”

Death followed her skyward gaze. “Those?” he responded in a dry tone. “They’re souls about to be born.”

She accepted his answer. After a moment, she said. “I was a light once.” It wasn’t a question.

Death confirmed it with a nod.

“What about you?” she asked. “Were you ever one of those lights, Death?”

He was taken aback, but he didn’t bother to answer. Instead he redirected her attention to the water. “Looks like he has found you, 34.”

34 pulled her feet from the sand and stood up, standing almost shoulder to shoulder with Death as they both watched the scene unfold.

The fisherman’s apparently silent agitation irked her. “This would be so much more satisfying if I could at least hear him scream.” She paused. “He is screaming, right?”

Death smirked. “Oh. He’s definitely screaming.” He watched for a few seconds longer. “If it’s worth anything,” he told her, “it’s a high-pitched shrieking sort of scream.”

The lady now known as 34 cracked a smile. “Yeah,” she said. “It is.”

They turned around.

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 fandomand 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 Tumblr or follow her on Twitter.

Simmering by Melissa A. Bartell




(A Sequel to Steeping)

David pulled off his gloves and hat, stuffing them into the pocket of his coat as he entered the café. A quick scan of the area, and he saw Sarah at the table in the window – their table. Coming up behind her, he leaned around and ducked his head to give her a brief sideways kiss. “Sorry I’m late. The traffic signal’s out on Fifth. Why is it that a five-minute snowstorm makes everyone forget how to drive?”

Her answer came with an amused, but affectionate, smile. “Because it’s California, where a five-minute snowstorm might as well be a blizzard.” She paused for a moment before adding “I ordered the special – black bean soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.”

“Sounds great.” He draped his coat on the back of the chair opposite hers before settling into it.

“It sounded warm. The heat’s out in my apartment.”

“Did you talk to your landlord?”

“Left a second message this morning.” As if on cue her cell-phone rang. She picked it up, glanced at the screen. “Speak of the devil…” Into the phone she said, “Hello? Yes, this is Sarah.” The conversation was terse, and by the time she ended the call, her expression had gone from easy to perturbed. “You know what the worst thing is about cell phones?” she asked rhetorically, “There’s no way to hang up on people.”

“I hear you,” he agreed. “There was something so satisfying about making someone eat dial tone.”

Exactly!” And just like that, her amiable self was back. “Anyway,” she continued, shaking her head as if to clear it, “the heat is out for my whole building and Mitch says it won’t be fixed until Monday.”

It was only Friday afternoon.

“So, stay with me.”

“David, that’s sweet, but…” She was interrupted by the arrival of their lunch.

“But what?” he asked, after the server had gone away again. “We’d planned to spend most of the weekend together anyway.”

She thought it over as she spooned soup into her mouth. “Alright,” she agreed when she was mostly finished with the first triangle of her sandwich. “I’ll swing by my place after work and pick up some things.”

“So, I’ll see you around seven, then?” He was dipping his sandwich into the soup, as he spoke.

“It’s a plan.”


The weather stayed cold all afternoon, and by the time Sarah arrived at David’s downtown bungalow a little after seven that night, the streets were patchy with ice and she was shivering despite the coat she wore over her sweater.

He had the door open before she could knock. “I heard your car. I had a late delivery so dinner will be a while, but I’ve got orange spice tea steeping, and if you want, I can pour a dollop of rum in to warm you up faster.” He ushered her inside, then demanded her car keys. “Sit by the fire. Get warm. I’ll bring your things in.”

Gratefully, she handed over the jingling ring. “There’s a rolling case in the trunk, but my laptop and tote bag are on the passenger seat.” She met his gaze and held it with her own for a few seconds. “And thank you.”

He responded with his trademark grin, the one that was both charming and slightly cocky. “Happy to do it, milady.”

Laughing, she stood on tip-toe, and kissed the tip of his nose; then she moved past him, heeding the call of the crackling fire.

The evening proceeded in a manner not unlike many of their quieter dates.

Sarah had accepted the dollop (how much was a dollop, anyway?) of rum in the sweet and spicy tea, and when David finally called her to the table and presented her with a plate of homemade coq au vin she was warm and comfortable and pleasantly buzzed.

“This is delicious,” she told him, using a hunk of rustic-style bread to sop up the last of the liquid on her plate. “I always thought it was difficult to make, though?”

He shook his head. “Not really. I used chicken breasts instead of an actual rooster, of course, and skipped the blood – ”

“- blood??”

“The original recipe calls for a cup of blood.” He saw the face she made and smiled sympathetically. “Yeah… not my thing either. But anyway, the secret’s in the simmering.” He said the last word softly, with a hint of innuendo.

“Simmering, huh?” She matched his tone, reaching for the glass that had long since supplanted her mug of tea, and swirled the red wine that remained in it for a moment. Red wine with chicken had been a new concept for her, but the Beaujolais David had served complimented the dish nicely. “Simmering,” she repeated thoughtfully. “Interesting word. Sometimes I feel like that’s what we’ve been doing.”


“We’ve been dating for – what? – eight months? And it takes an apartment-related emergency for me to spend more than a night here.”

“Well, actually,” he pointed out, more for the humor of it than because it was meant, “you haven’t spent more than the night… yet.”

Sarah laughed again, but it was a throatier sound than her usual expressions of amusement. “Fair point.” They were both quiet for a while, and then she reached across the table covering his hand with hers. “This was nice.”

Was?” His blue eyes glinted with affectionate good humor.

“Okay, it is nice.”

They laughed together, the soft, harmonizing laughter of lovers whose relationship was deepening without conscious effort.


The cold snap continued through the weekend, but neither Sarah nor David was much bothered by it. On Saturday, they wrapped themselves in sweaters and coats and took in a foreign movie at the local art cinema. They were the only two people in the theater and they took turns reading the subtitles out loud in silly accents.

Later they returned to his house, where they danced in the living room to ancient Motown tunes on CD and played a game of strip Scrabble that led to a playful romp in his bed.

Sunday morning found them in their bathrobes at the breakfast table. She was working the crossword puzzle, he was drafting a poem, and both were sipping coffee.

When a noise outside caused her to glance away for a moment, he set a small box on the table.

Sarah stared at the small square, and her face turned pale.

“Don’t worry; it’s not a ring,” David said, reading the panic in her expression.

With obvious trepidation, she lifted the lid to find a key, one with a tea cup for the key-head. “You can do that with keys?” she asked. “I had no idea.”

“Orchard Supply Hardware just started selling them this way.” He took a beat then asked, “You know what else you can do with keys?”

Sarah stayed quiet, letting him answer his own question.

“Unlock doors.”

She stared at the key, eventually lifting it out of the box, and rolling it in her hand. “You’re asking me to move in?”

David’s voice was slightly husky when he confirmed. “I am. Would you like to move in here?”

“This isn’t just because my apartment has no heat is it?”

He shook his head. “Nope.”

“You know I like to do yoga in the living room some mornings.”

He nodded. Of course he knew; he’d seen her doing it in her apartment more than once.

“And sometimes I leave panty hose hanging on the shower bar.”

“I can live with that,” he said. “I sometimes leave the toilet seat up.”

She gave him a wry grin. “I’m aware.”


“Well my lease is up in six weeks.”

“Sarah… is that a yes?”

She looked into his eyes, then down at the key in her hand, and then back up into his face. “We’ve been simmering, David,” she answered. “Guess it’s time to turn the heat up a little.” Her grin was radiant. “It’s a yes.”

“Fantastic!” He pushed his notebook and coffee mug aside so he could lean close to kiss her.

She held him off for a moment. “But you should know… I’m not giving up my blue reading chaise.”

He was still chuckling when their lips finally met.

Image copyright: alexraths / 123RF Stock Photo


About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa 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, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Sundays by Debra Smouse


((Part Two of the Colleen Series – Follows The Bookcase))

Colleen arched her back in a luxurious stretch as she waited for the espresso machine to whir and hum, and drip, drip, drip the rich brown extraction into the pristine whiteness of a porcelain cup. The cup was as new to her as the machine itself, both indulgences that her now-ex-husband would have called a waste of money.

To Colleen, though, they weren’t extravagances. Rather, they were investments into what had become her savior: Sundays.

For the past sixteen years, her Sundays were spent tip-toeing around her home, in deference to the ex. He’d always wanted to sleep in. She, on the other hand, had merely wanted to avoid provoking his temper, and protect herself from the days of The Silent Treatment that would inevitably follow if she made too much noise.

Of course, there was the other reason for her early Sunday mornings: in order to have even five minutes of peace and quiet to herself, she had to arise before her children.

Colleen had always embraced motherhood. She loved her children desperately and never regretted a single moment with them, but the problem with being a mother was that no matter what happened, there was no break from it. She had finally accepted that privacy would never again exist in any aspect of her existence, because who can even pee in peace when there are little fingers under the door? And how many times had she slipped into the tub with a book and a glass of wine after putting the kids to bed to suddenly find a child sitting on the edge of the tub?

But now the divorce was final.

During those first weeks after their separation, especially the weekends when the girls were with their father, Sundays were lonesome, and the only peace she seemed to find was during late night solo cleaning binges. At some point the sweat and toil of cleaning had turned cathartic, and after that, the act of reclaiming the house had put her almost into a Zen state.

The real turning point had come when she’d ditched The Bookcase (in her head, the phrase was always highlighted by Capital Letters). Something had clicked within her, and she was able to see the possibility in the old house becoming a home again.

What used to feel lonely now felt like glorious solitude.

The Breville sputtered to a stop, but before she grabbed her cup, Colleen patiently rinsed the porta-filter in hot water.

Lifting the cup from the drip tray she inhaled the heady aroma. The doppio cup of espresso was perfection crowned by a rich layer of crema. Smiling in anticipation, Colleen scooped up a single demitasse spoon of turbinado sugar and let the grains fall into the cup, bursting through the caramel-colored foam with a series of satisfying plunks.

A tiny sip and her mouth exploded with happiness at the rich, slightly bitter, completely heavenly nectar.

Colleen carried her cup to the table where the Sunday New York Times awaited her.

Also waiting was Ingrid, who seemed to love their Sundays as much as Colleen did. The dog had done her business ingid_down1whilst they retrieved the paper. While the coffee was brewing she’d eaten her breakfast, and taken her position underneath the kitchen table.

“I guess you can call that frog-dog spread you do settled, huh, Ingrid?” she said as she raked her toes across the dog’s big, broad back.

Ingrid grunted happily in response.

It was funny, Colleen reflected, how her now ex-husband had done a 180 when it came to spending time with the kids. During their marriage, he had always been too busy to deal with ballet lessons or soccer practice. He’d never bothered to attend even a single Meet the Teacher night.

Yet, during the negotiations with the lawyers, he suddenly declared that since Colleen had “broken their little family,” the least she could do was agree to him having the children every weekend. So, written into the divorce decree wasn’t the standard “Dad” agreement, but the mandate that he was to have the children from noon on Saturdays until Mondays after school.

That meant he had to deal with the inevitable weekend boredom of nine- and thirteen-year-old girls. He had to adjust to the fact that Sunday evenings meant coaxing them into bed at a reasonable hour. Now that summer was drawing to a close, he would be getting a crash-course in the challenge of Monday morning school runs, especially since one child’s school began at eight AM, while the other’s didn’t start until nine.

Colleen wondered how long this new arrangement would last. Despite being part of the divorce decree, she saw the custody arrangements as an experiment. But no matter what the results of the experiment turned out to be, it meant that Saturday nights and the entire twenty-four hours that made up Sundays belonged to her.

And oh, did she relish the nourishment of these Sundays.

For the first time in her memory, she was able to focus on the one area of life she’d neglected in the hustle and bustle of being a wife and mother: tending herself.

Even more, Colleen saw this as an opportunity to begin reinventing herself. She’d colored her hair and was experimenting with wearing her natural curls. She was slowly shifting her wardrobe away from “contemporary soccer mom” and toward classic lines, and a lot less black. She’d even changed up her go-to nail routines of French-tipped fingers and I’m Not Really a Waitress red toes.

Her current choice: Bogotá Blackberry.

Colleen admired the reddish plum sheen of her freshly polished nails as she skimmed the book section of The Times.

As long as she was treating this as an experiment, she didn’t panic about her life not being planned down to the minute. Listmaker that she was, though, Colleen had begun a section in her journal where she collected “All The Ways Sundays Are Saving Me”.

She could stay home, order Chinese food, and catch up on Scandal or read an entire book in one sitting. She could go to bed ridiculously early.

She could go out with a girlfriend on Saturday night, stay out late dancing until the clubs closed and not returning home until 3 am. And on those mornings, she could sleep long past her typical six AM internal alarm clock.

She could go out on a date and invite a potential lover home. And, she could send him on his way after a little necking or after a quick romp between the sheets.

Usually, Colleen would send him on his way because the idea of actually sleeping with someone made her feel more vulnerable and naked than she ever did during sex.

Her belief that no many would be interested in an almost forty-year old woman with two kids had been proven false. And even the 100-pound Ingrid had not deterred most.

She had to admit to herself, though, that one particular beau had begun to worm his way into her heart and a few weeks before she’d broken her own unwritten rule of no sleep-overs and invited him to stay the night.

It had been glorious in a way she’d never imagined or experienced. She felt like she’d had a tiny glimpse into the kinds of love affairs shown in movies and romance novels with the dual passions of hot, after-dinner, I can’t-wait-to-have-you sex combined with the sweetness and tenderness of a slow, morning, repeat performance.

Now sex was an important component of her list.

That perfect Sunday morning coupling. That languid pull. Waking naked after an evening of fucking, with an arm around her waist or fingers on her breast, and the hardness of morning wood prodding her ass, just waiting to for an invitation to make love.  Glorious morning sex – before coffee, before showers – with the sun streaming through the blinds.

Morning sex – and not just on Sundays – was new for her. Unlike most men, her ex had never been particularly physical, and after she’d become a mother all of their lovemaking had been furtive, taking place in the dark.

Colleen had read the articles. She knew she’d been pretty much living Madonna/Whore syndrome. And there was another thing for her list: being seen as neither Madonna nor Whore.

Coffee paraphernalia hadn’t been Colleen’s only new purchases.

She’d also invested in some exquisite Natori Loungewear. She loved to fold back the covers of her bed, climb out of it, and slip into a chemise or camisole and shorts and toss on a matching robe. There was something that made her feel elegant when she wore Italian jersey trimmed with Chantilly lace, so soft against her skin. And the matching robes made her feel pulled together.

Dressing up for herself – whether she woke alone or with a lover – added to the gloriousness of Sunday mornings.

That’s why she would practically float to the kitchen to start the coffee pot or turn on the espresso machine. That’s why she would often sing to herself as she and Ingrid went to collect the two – two! – Sunday papers from the driveway.

That second Sunday paper was another new indulgence, one she’d been without for too long because the ex had espresso and paper photo by Debra Smouseinsisted it was a waste of money, when all she read were the lifestyle, travel, and book sections.

(Actually, Colleen thought, she now had three newspaper subscriptions, since adding the Friday delivery of the Wall Street Journal to the local daily and her Sunday Times.)

Coffee in hand, dog at her feet, Colleen spread the paper across the kitchen table, and let the scent of ink and the feel of the newsprint on her fingertips mingle with the taste of that first cup of coffee.

Maybe later, she’d make a pancake. Maybe the neighbor would notice her paper gone from the driveway and pop in for a visit.

Or maybe not.

These Sundays may not last forever, but for now, the day was hers. And it was saving her.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Im tiefen Schlafen (In Deep Sleep) by Æverett

Dunes by Carla Lloret via Unsplash

Dunes by Carla Lloret via Unsplash

I had a dream. A man I fell in love with when I was eleven was there, with feathers all down his back, and his dark hair pulled back at the nape of his neck. He wrapped himself in lace, pale and pearlescent, and spoke to me in tongues.

His grey eyes said to me, “Don’t speak,” and sang me a lullaby, crooning in the trees — As the desert sun rose over the meadow, and the ruins of a bombed out city cast hard shadows on the tall grass.

He came close to me and draped his lace about my body. The wind blew it, whipping at my knees. He whispered a grotesque poem — one I wrote from years ago — and my flesh stood on end. There was no wind.

And then his skin was covered in scales, hard and silky, like powder on stone. And his eyes, the sharpest blue, bore into my sockets, pulled apart my limbs, kissed the throbbing from my throat and temples. Cold, grey hands and hips draped in lace darker than the night sky — brighter than the moon.

“Don’t worry, I’ll love you.”

All million languages ringing in my ears. My skin tingles, and we fall into the dirt and debris of the bombed out house. Tattered and worn from the fighting. His tears streak the dust on his face — And I weep for him.

“I could fall asleep…”

The meadow is soft underneath us. The duvet is warm. We look up into the denim abyss and point out constellations, as the boughs on the trees around us sway, whispering, in the warm desert breeze.

I wake in a sweat, still smelling his skin and the lace under my fingers, devastated at the loss brought on by my own ragged breathing and the cruelty of the rising sun.


About the Author: Æverett Æverett

Æverett lives in the northern hemisphere and enjoys Rammstein and Star Trek. He writes both poetry and fiction and dabbles in gardening and soap making. She has two wonderfully old cats, and a dearly beloved dog. He also plays in linguistics, studying German, Norwegian, Russian, Arabic, a bit of Elvish, and developing Cardassian. Language is fascinating, enlightening, and inspirational. She’s happily married to her work with which she shares delusions of demon hunters, detectives, starships, androids, and a home on the outskirts of a small northern town. He’s enjoyed writing since childhood and the process can be downright therapeutic when it’s not making him pull his hair out. It’s really about the work and words and seeing without preconceptions.

Same Old Casserole by Bernie Brown

Thanksgiving Dinner

“Aunt Sissy isn’t going to bring that tired old broccoli and rice thing with Cheez Whiz, is she?” Phyllis’s daughter Marin asked her as she snuggled her cell phone between her chin and shoulder. She plunked a Keurig coffee pod into place and set the machine in action. “We’ve got free range turkey and organic vegetables and she brings freakin’ Cheez Whiz, for Pete’s sake.” Marin continued her plea.

“Well, I’m not telling her, if that’s what you think. That casserole is one of her proudest creations. She takes it everywhere. It’s Thanksgiving after all. Thankfulness is in order, not snobbery.”

“Yada. Yada. Yada. Please, Mom. You know she worships you.”

“She worships me because I let her bring her broccoli and Cheez Whiz any place she darn well pleases. And you should, too, young lady.”

Marin laughed with the confidence of a daughter who got just about everything she ever wanted. “Please, Mommy.”

“Okay, I’ll think about it, but I’m blaming you.”


“Yeah, look who’s calling who a coward.”


Phyllis loved Sissy. They’d stuck together during their parent’s divorce, during both their husband’s deaths, during the trying years of squalling infants, stubborn toddlers, and smart-ass teenagers. Besides, Phyllis kind of liked the broccoli casserole. The dreaded free range turkey was dry as dust and didn’t have much more flavor. Give her a Butterball any day. Looked like the day of thankfulness was turning into an exercise in diplomacy even Henry Kissinger would find challenging.

She might as well stop stalling, she knew she’d do whatever Marin asked. Pressing the home button, Phyllis called forth Siri to help with her dirty work. “Call Sissy cell,” Phyllis said with resignation.

“Hi, Phyl, what’s up?” Sissy’s voice was chipper, making Phyllis’s job even tougher.

Phyllis paused, thinking how to begin, but Sissy knew her too well, the pause gave Phyllis away.

“Okay, little sister, what gives?” Sissy didn’t wait for an answer. “You won’t go with me to that Tupperware party. I know you hate that kind of stuff. ”

Phyllis jumped in. “Marin wants you to bring something instead of your casserole to Thanksgiving.” There, the cruel words were spoken. She almost heard Sissy’s feelings get hurt right over the phone. A moment’s uncomfortable silence, and Sissy said, “Thank God. I’m sick of that old thing, too.”

Had Phyllis heard right? Sissy was faking it. “Oh, come on. You can’t fool me. You feel bad and you’re just being noble. Come on, make me feel guilty. I deserve it.”

“You think I can’t be all trendy? I’ll bring something with keeeenwhaaaa in it. I bet Marin will even ask for the recipe.”


On the big day, the decorating at Marin’s house did Martha Stewart proud: bowlfuls of fall fruits and vegetables spilled out artistically on the sideboard and the coffee table. Pumpkins in descending size marched down the front steps in puddles of fall leaves; and place cards sat in tiny branches covered in berries.  Not a fold out Hallmark tissue paper turkey in sight.

“Mom, Aunt Sissy, Happy Thanksgiving!” Marin gave them each a sweet-smelling hug and a smile as real as her decorations. It was easy to see why people went out of their way to please her. Her husband Bill, a handsome guy whose brilliant technical mind hid inside a guy who was happiest playing touch football with the kids, relieved them of their dishes.

Sissy whispered to Phyllis, “I bought it ready-made at Whole Foods.”

After a few glasses of wine, Marin announced the turkey was served. Sissy and Phyllis sat next to each other prepared to boost each other’s courage in the face of a tough bird.  The platter circulated, and Phyllis put the smallest piece she dared on her plate. The quinoa followed, and again Phyllis served herself a dainty portion. When the mashed potatoes she had brought made their appearance, Phyllis heaped a small mountain on the bare expanse of her plate. Let Marin believe mashing potatoes with the skins on was brand new, Phyllis knew differently. Her grandmother used to do it to save time, saying, “The skins are where all the vitamins are, anyway.”

Phyllis watched as Sissy cut off a minute piece of turkey, and said, “Wish me luck. Here goes.” And she put the bite on her tongue. Her wary expression turned to surprise.  “This is delicious. How did you fix it?”

Marin said, “I thought it was kind of dry last year, so I Googled this honey mustard marinade.”

The platter passed a second time and had to be refilled half-way round.

Phyllis watched Bill take a bite of quinoa, and with a full mouth, he said, “Good work, Aunt Sissy.” Phyllis followed his lead. Not bad. Kinda nutty. The funny name had made her suspicious, but quinoa was really pretty non-threatening.

“I’ll have to get your recipe,’ Marin said.

At that, Phyllis and Sissy sputtered and elbow-nudged. Sissy nearly choked, suppressing her laughter, and reached for her water glass.

To their utter bewilderment. Marin served Pepperidge Farm heat-and-serve rolls with her   chemical, preservative, additive-free feast. Sissy and Phyllis and even Bill shared a look, the women rolled their eyes, and Bill refilled their wine glasses to the brim.

Marin and Bill’s three boys, who had shared their own table, cleared the plates under Bill’s supervision. They returned from the kitchen walking as carefully as if on a high wire bearing dessert plates holding cranberry clafouti with real whipped cream. Both Sissy and Phyllis knew that clafouti was just a French name for cobbler. They also knew it would be to-die-for, and were grateful it was not the rubbery pumpkin pie their own mother had always served.

Bill placed cups of coffee next to each place, and they all nibbled and sipped like bears preparing for hibernation. Bill shooed the boys into the family room, the women into the living room, and he insisted on tackling clean-up duty on his own.

Amid the clatter and splash of cleaning up, the women heard the announcer and crowd noises and Bill’s occasional cheers and curses while he watched Vanderbilt’s game on the mini flat screen in the kitchen. His clean-up offer had included a scheme to catch up on his alma mater’s game.

Phyllis, Sissy, and Marin collapsed on the living room’s comfy furniture. The sisters told Marin about the Caribbean cruise they planned to take after the holidays.

Marin listened carefully and then, her eyes twinkling, she smiled and said, “Well, I hope you’ll both be around in May. I’m going to need your help.”

“What are you talking about, Marin?” Phyllis asked, a little concerned in spite of Marin’s smile.

Marin pointed to her stomach, holding up four fingers, she said, “Number four.”

Phyllis and Sissy gasped, then all manner of tears and hugs and laughter broke out. “Another baby. Oh, I love babies. Of course we’ll help you, honey. We’ll be your slaves.”

Bill picked that moment to join them, and the three boys came crashing through the room with toy laser weapons, shouting, “Pitchoo, pitchoo,” The youngest fell behind and climbed on his grandmother’s lap.

Phyllis gave him a cuddle and a kiss. “Didn’t your mommy fix the best Thanksgiving dinner ever?” she asked her grandson.

“Yeah, it was really good, but where was that Cheezy Wheezy stuff? I wanted some of that.” Then he hopped down and ran off in search of his brothers.

Marin looked surprised, then caught her aunt’s eye, and blushed. Phyllis and Sissy did not hold back their laughter this time. They exploded. Bill joined in, but seated himself on the arm of his abashed wife’s chair. He put an arm around her and pulled her close.

Marin buried her red face in his shoulder, and then joined in the laughter.

Phyllis watched her much-loved son-in-law plant a kiss in her daughter’s hair, and knew she had much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

And Henry Kissinger got the night off.

About the Author: Bernie Brown

berniebrownI live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Modern Creative Life, Indiana Voice Journal, and Watching Backyard Birds.

I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center, which is the perfect spot to work on my novel-in-progress.

Uncoiled Spring by A.R. Hadley


He huffed and waited ’cause she was always yellin’.


He stood behind a tree, barely peeking around the thick trunk, a new friend cupped in his palms, watching her. Rust colored smudges soiled her petticoat. She looked older, worn, probably ’cause they were leavin’ and probably ’cause she was always yellin’ and screamin’.

“We’ll make it, Earl,” he whispered into his prayer shaped hands.

waggon-wheels-336528_1280His mother turned and faced the other direction. She spit into the eerie orange dirt. “Colt!”

He ran up behind her in an instant. Without sound. “What?” He kept the toad a secret.

“Boy, you scared me. Don’t do that again. Do you have everything ready? In the carriage?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, eyeing the old, broken down contraption, their only means of transportation, and yet, she seemed certain they could ride out of town in it.

The toad’s skin grated like sandpaper against Colt’s damp palms. He liked it though. He could feel the creature’s throat beating, tickling.

He felt life.

Always had.

The same life scurried through the dirt underneath his bare feet, and the dirt meant home. His home, on the wide open land … as far as the eye could see.

“I don’t wanna go.”

“Colt, we’ve been over this.” She sighed and adjusted his plaid collar, straightening him out. There. “You know we halfta go.” She knelt and placed her hands over his fists, unaware of the toad and seemingly oblivious to her son’s introspection. “You are the man of the house now.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes, you are. I’ve told you—”

“—No. Pa is. What about him?” he asked, looking at his grandfather out of the corner of his eye.

Pa McMillan busied himself at the wagon, pulling the frayed rope over the breadth of their load. Colt grimaced, aware of the friction the twisted cable created in between the weathered skin of the old man’s hands.

The wind blew his grandfather’s thin, white hair, and it carried the golden dirt across Pa’s boots and across the plains. The dirt covered everything, leaving nothing untouched, and then it would vanish without a trace.


Like Earl, Colt’s dad — not the toad. The toad remained safe inside the nine-year-old boy’s grasp. He wouldn’t let him go. Colt had befriended many an old Oklahoma creature, and they all had been named Earl. The four letters kept his father alive, reminding him. Mother chose to forget. To leave.

“Pa is my father.” She corrected him. “He’s not the man of our house. That’s you, Colt. Now, where is your sister?” She tilted her head up and looked about the prairie as she licked her thumb, and then she turned her attention again to her son, wiping a smidgen of clay from his dimpled cheeks.

“Stop it, Mommy,” he said, wincing, turning his face.

“Emma Jean,” she cried. Always Emma Jean, never Emma. “Go find her. Go on.” She waved him off. He blinked up at her. She stood, a statue, her gown marrying itself to the dirt.

“Go on, boy.”

Colt ambled away, strutting like his father, that’s what Pa always told him anyway. “Boy, you’re slow and thinking, just like you’re papa.” He must’ve heard it a million times.

Colt pulled his thumb back slightly, revealing an opening about the size of a dime. He peered down into the cavern of rocky-mountains-593156_1280his fists, and then he stroked Earl above his eyes, consoling his pet, assuring the brown-spotted confidant they would make it. Oh, the ride would be long alright, through uncharted territory.

Over mountains.

Tall mountains.

Scary mountains.

Colt had heard stories about them parts. He knew only one safe passageway existed through those Rocky Mountains, and people had died doing it another way, the wrong way, and for all Colt knew — his father had been one of the wrongs.

“There, there, Earl, don’t cry,” he whispered, stroking the amphibian’s skin. “We’ll be safe. We’ll make it alright.”

“Who in the devil are you talkin’ to?” Emma Jean appeared next to her brother, holding a rifle. The skirt of her pale pink dress was filthy.

“Nobody.” Colt closed his fists tightly and shifted his eyes, squinting as he turned toward the sun, toward the carriage, toward his new life and away from the old. The old house, the old path and the old dirt.

“Come on, kids,” Pa called, interrupting. “Get in. Your mother’s ready.”

“Aww, Pa, I was just shootin’ at some bunnies. I was gettin’ ready to go back for more,” Emma Jean said, stepping into the carriage.

“There’ll be plenty of time for shootin’ later,” her grandfather said, taking the gun and helping to hold her weight steady with the palm of his well-weathered hand.

“I can get in by myself.” Colt nodded.

Pa McMillan winked a reply, and then he took his place up front with the horses, next to his daughter.

“Scoot over, Em, you’re hoggin’ the whole seat.” Colt shoved his weight against his sister.

Emma Jean snorted and smirked. “Oh, I wish I’d seen some hogs.” She gripped the side of the carriage and peered across the plain, licking her upper lip.

“All you ever think about is killin’.”

“No, I think about boys too.”

“That’s gross.”

“I bet there will be some boys over on the other side of those mountains. I’m gonna teach ‘em how to shoot.”

The wagon began to move, startling the siblings. Emma Jean sat back and folded her hands on her lap like a lady; the black underneath her fingernails said otherwise.

Colt leaned over the edge, watching the wheels turn. They continued to spin inside his pupils, reflecting the road he hoped to remember, reflecting his whole life.

All he ever knew.

littlefrog1He moved his thumb a sliver and spoke in a whisper: “It’s okay, Earl. Shh. It’s okay.”

“What is that?” Emma Jean’s eyes spread like the wings of an eagle. She scooted closer. “Let me see.”

“No! Get away.” Colt gave her his shoulder. He leaned farther over the edge and opened his palm, releasing Earl in an instant.

Hop. Hop. Hop. Free. Free. Free.

“Go, Earl, go, please,” he whispered. He didn’t know how it was possible, but he longed for the little toad’s company as much as he wanted to see him set free.

Colt gripped the door, extended his neck and stared at Earl, until he was merely a speck, a dot, a piece of the orange dirt, shrinking and shrinking, a mirage — the toad, his house, the prairie, the place his father could find them when he returned.

Everything. Gone. In a blink.

About the Author: A.R. Hadley

ARHadleyBioA.R. Hadley has been a creative writer since elementary school, however, she all but gave it up after her children were born, devoting herself to the lovely little creatures, forgetting the pleasure and happiness derived from being imaginative.

No more.

She rediscovered her passion in 2014, and has not stopped since — writing essays, poetry, and fiction. A.R is currently working on a set of novels as part of a romantic trilogy, and also dabbles in penning short stories.

Day or night, words float around inside her brain. She hears dialogue when awakening from sleep. She is the one who has been awakened. Writing is her oxygen.

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