Rue|Lou Prompt Series: “Brave New Day”

For the 10/15/2020 prompt, Lou submitted “Brave New Day.”

Below are the prompts submitted for this week. Thank you to all the participants!

Click on the links to read each individual submission.


“The frenetic chatter from the hanger grows distant as the lift takes me up and off the base floor. This should be second nature by now, but I am still star struck every time.”
Untitled, Caylan

“How fast it darkens in the wilderness. It is very much like what Hemingway said, gradually then all of a sudden. It got so dark I could not even see my hand in front of my face.”
Not a Trail, Lini

“Jay stirred when he felt Roman’s body slide against his in the warm bed. His skin carried the outside cold, the scent of rain in his wet hair which slid on Jay’s shoulder. ”
Brave New Day, Maxime Jaz

“The moonlight hungrily devoured every inch of the tall grass and weeds behind the picket fences of near-identical suburban homes but failed to reach through the canopy of the clustered trees lining the unkempt field. ”
Ghost, Are You Out Tonight?, Rue Sparks

Flash Fiction: Cloud Jumper

To Eziel, it felt like cloud-jumping was the closest he’d ever get to flying.

He let his body fall off the weathered wooden plankway he’d been running on to fall five feet onto the stone archway below as he braced his legs for the force of his weight. He didn’t miss a moment before he took the curve of the arch at a run, the clouds like a mist around him. He felt the breeze along his cheeks, the adrenaline reaching into his fingertips.

He was cutting it close, but he’d make it. He wasn’t the highest-paid cloudjumper in Aeria City for no reason.

Next was a set of stone merlons along a curtain wall which he hopped between, not breaking his pace as he leapt between embrasures until he got to the end of the crumbling battlement. It was a relic of years gone by, compared to the maze of wooden and steel walkways the clouded city had become as steam power had come into play.

When the stone ran out he jumped the foot between the stone and a metal rod hanging between levels that would ease his descent down the ten feet to the walkway below. He wound around the pole and felt the hair twist across his face with a smile breaking his cheeks wide.

He traversed the curve around a disintegrating stone turret on a timber slab no thicker than his fist, balanced precariously but with practiced ease. He jumped from wooden plank to wooden plank, each taking him a level lower, lower, before he swung a rope across the empty, clouded space between two districts.

The cloud jumpers may be the middle class solution to a mail system that had abandoned them, but that didn’t make the job any less precarious.

Ezekiel wouldn’t have it any other way.

When he made it to his goal, a quaint little home with light green shutters and overgrown vines up the trellis, he gasped in air with deep gulps. He knocked on the door and pulled out the single rolled parchment with a glassy black seal. Urgent, it said, which to him meant little more than an enjoyable run and a larger purse for his trouble. 

Which is why he was surprised when his initial knock bore no response— nor his second, or third, more tentative with every iteration.

“Hello?” he finally called out, and peeked through a darkened window. He saw no signs of life. “A message for ya sir?”

He waited, but heard no response. At this rate, I’ll miss getting any other jobs today. I must deliver this message and return before I lose my chance for another round.

Eziel eased through a thick, warped iron gate to the left of the front door, which protested with a high pitched squeak at his intrusion. Beyond the gate were flowers—more varieties and colors than he even knew existed in Aeria City. They seemed to flourish despite the high altitude and moisture, even the ever-present mist from the cloud cover not diminishing the vividness of their petals.

Leaning forward, he touched a bud of a white and pink snapdragon, only to jump when a voice spoke over his shoulder.

“Beautiful aren’t they?” When he startled, the person chuckled, a quiet crackle that spoke of age. He turned to see an old woman, skin wrinkled around mouth and eyes, smile wide and near toothless, cloud-white hair pulled into a braid on her neck. “I imagine you have something for me young man? Or do you just enjoy the flowers? I wouldn’t blame you, I think we could all use some time to smell the flowers once in a while.”

Eziel didn’t waste a moment, and held the envelope in front of him like an offering. He locked eyes with the woman and nodded his head in acknowledgment. “This message is for you, Ma’am. Urgent.”

The woman stared at the envelope without expression, and Eziel felt awkwardness in the silence, arm still outstretched towards the woman, confusion plain on his face.

Instead of taking the envelope, she smiled and brought her shawl closer around her shoulders. “Would you like some tea, young man?” And with that, she turned away and moved deeper into the garden without further comment.

Eziel dropped his arm, an itch beneath his skin left him to debate on dropping the letter on the nearest table to flee with nary a payment if it meant getting out of this job. It wouldn’t be the first non-compliant job he’d taken, and it wouldn’t be the last. Whatever it was, it was taking far too much time and he was losing money and patience with each passing second.

And yet he found himself moving his feet to follow her into the garden to where she had a porcelain tea set already set up, complete with biscuits and a bowl of sugar.

“I hope you like jasmine tea. It’s a blend a dear friend of mine makes herself, and I daresay it’s the best jasmine tea you will ever taste. Come, sit.” She motioned to an empty wrought iron chair across from her, the back a twisting design that moves along the seat into sturdy straight legs. All this metal is expensive. What could she possibly do for a living?

“I’m sorry ma’am, I really must be going. I must deliver more messages yet today and I cannot be late. Here is your delivery.” Again, he held out the message. Eziel was relieved when this time she took it in shaking, near skeletal hands. She removed a velveteen bag of coin from her robes and placed it in his outstretched hand, and he had to hold back a sigh in his relief.

He turned to leave when her voice stopped him in his tracks. “Are you not going to wait for a reply?”

His heart beat faster. He’d been gearing up for a leisurely run to headquarters, but if he were to do a return trip with another urgent fee, he may not need to go to headquarters at all. But there was something about the woman that put him on edge, it made his teeth clench and he felt dizzy with it.

Still. Double pay was hard to pass up.

“Of course,” he said instead, and returned to her side. He set his hands behind his back to wait patiently.

She watched him for a moment, then motioned again to the seat. “Then sit, young man. You cannot expect an old woman to write with someone standing at attention in front of her. Have some tea, a biscuit, breathe. Surely you can do that.”

He wanted to reply with a snide comment but held it in with a sharp inhale. She wasn’t the first one to get on his nerves and she wouldn’t be the last. Dealing with customers was his least favorite part of the job.

But surely a sip of tea and a biscuit couldn’t hurt? He picked up a soft, crumbly biscuit and brought it to his lips, taking a cautious nibble. It tasted of cinnamon and nutmeg, a subtle spiciness that balanced with the sweetness deliciously.

Feeling the hair on the back of his neck rise he looked up. The woman was staring at him with a gentle smile. “Good?” she asked, and her voice was soft, almost reverent. Eziel felt out of place immediately, and reached for the jasmine tea to calm his nerves.

He took a small sip, the bitter tea in perfect combination to the biscuit, but surely he wouldn’t tell her that. Yet, he would be a good guest at minimum. “It’s good,” he said, not giving further comment.

She nodded, then turned to the missive. She broke the wax seal and then opened the scroll on the table before her.

Eziel couldn’t help the curiosity that ate at him, and peeked at the scroll over his tea cup. Instead of a normal letter in the proper order, the scroll seems to be nonsense, scratches that made no sense to him. A different language maybe? One of the Old Ones? But aren’t those forbidden?

“I know what you’re thinking,” the woman said, though she didn’t look up from where she was studying the scroll. “What does a crazy old woman like me have to do with the Old Ones?”

She looked at him, and Eziel didn’t even try to pretend that he hadn’t been staring. His heart is beating too quickly, it feels like it will explode from his chest. He clenches the handle on his tea cup, and nearly coughs on the remains of the tea in his throat.

“Do you want to know, young man? Will you take my return message?” She doesn’t move her eyes from him as she rolls up the parchment, and he gets the sense that she’s asking him so much more.

“You are a cloudjumper the likes of which has never been seen, I’ve been told. It’s like flying isn’t it? But my dear Eziel, there is nothing like the real thing. The Old Ones knew. Would you like to know what it’s like to really fly?”

How does she know my name?

His hands shook.

His breath quickened.

He set down his tea cup. Straightened in his seat, took a deep gulping breath.

“I’m sorry ma’am,” he began, and though she tried to hide it he can see the disappointment written on her wrinkled face. “I must return to headquarters for today. I cannot deliver your message.”

He stood, turned his face away from those unnatural aquamarine eyes—how had he not noticed before?— walked back through the flourishing garden, the thick iron gate, and onto the brick roadway.

As he walked along the broken tile, at a pace he’d not allowed himself in a long time, he thought that maybe he’d lost something irreplaceable.

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction: Encore

(This flash fiction is a memorial piece to my wife. TW: Grief and loss.)

Stories are fragile things. Family stories even more so. They change in the retelling, our embellishments becoming fact, and the characters become caricatures. But in a way, through our stories we tell others our truth.

When it came to my wife, stories were her bread and butter. They were an olive branch, a handshake, a ‘how do you do,’ the way she connected with others, and she was good at it.

Her passing wasn’t her Oscar performance, her manifesto, what she was born to be known for. As much as the stories she told, were the stories we created together, some strange mishmash of beauty and absurdity.

Our wedding alone was no bride-in-white fairytale. For one, she wore black, I wore pants. We rented a car that had no cruise control, no navigation. We drove 19 hours- after getting lost once- with my knees screaming the whole way, before making it to the cheap hotel in the dead of night. 

She had just started on a new medication that knocked her out, so the morning of our wedding she fell asleep in the shower and I had to bang on the door to get her out. After Google Maps tried to drive us into the ocean, we made it late to the lighthouse, where it was too cold and windy for how we were dressed.

We had no photographer. We had only talked to the officiator online- for all we knew, it could have been a scam. When we went to get our marriage license, the day before they had changed the rules so that you needed to have your social security card on you to get a license. The social security card that was back in Michigan. We tried to spend our ‘honeymoon’ taking the nearby train to New York, but missed it as we got lost finding our stop.

But God, it was perfect.

We ran into a photographer for the newspaper at the shore- he’d just been taking photos for fun, but seeing us in the middle of fall getting married under the lighthouse piqued his interest. He took some photos for us. We ended up on the front page of the local paper for an article on same-sex marriage in Connecticut. The clerk cut us some slack and allowed us our marriage license. The officator was in fact not a scammer, but a lovely lady who gave us tips on where to go around town after the ceremony.

We never did find the train station, so instead of a day in New York, we spent our honeymoon exploring the area, taking bad photos of whatever vegan food we could find- something that was later noted at our post-elopement party, “was this a wedding or a restaurant tour?” 

“Both,” we answered.

I remember being so exhausted and in so much pain on the drive back, that despite her not being on the rental agreement I acquiesced and let her drive when my leg refused to straighten anymore.

I remember waking up hours later, seeing the Ohio expressway moving past as we circled around and around, her navigating to our exit accordingly while practically screaming out loud the lyrics to the CD we’d bought on our trip down- the lyrics she now knew by heart. She always said singing helped her feel less anxious driving. It’s one of those strangely vivid memories I will always cherish.

I remember her mother coming to bail us out when we realized we didn’t have the funds to pay for the mileage on the rental car- a ‘wedding gift’ she said. And that’s when I realized this was for real- we were married. Together.

These are the moments that were so… us. Broken, messy, imperfectly perfect. Months after she passed, while I’m curled up in bed, my mom says- “I was talking to your sister, and she said that she balanced you.” 

Yes. She was the whirlwind, the sunshine, sometimes the only reason I could get up in the morning. When life handed us lemons, she said ‘screw you’, and returned them for a goddamn cake. It may have been a clearance cake, but when you’re broken and struggling even a cake off the clearance rack is delicious.

This was not her closing act, or the climax of our story. Her story began with her kicking and screaming, fighting against anyone who would tell her that she’d never make it. For every life she touched, she held out all she was in the stories she told and no one was unchanged for it. She made others realize they’re stronger than they thought they were.

Me included.

Her passing wasn’t her defining moment. But I am tasked with taking her tenacious, unquenchable spirit. What I have left is to share her loss, yes. Because while a part of her still remains, the part of her that held me close is gone. But it is my choice to bring her forward with me.


<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction: As for the Bees

The beekeeper could taste the despair in the honey.

It wasn’t only that there was less of it, or that most of his hives had collapsed. Rather, the sticky, sugary syrup tasted less sweet and more like a bitter despondence. Like even his bees had given up hope.


She meddled with the order of things she didn’t understand. A wish had become a maelstrom, and she didn’t know how to stop it.


“We’ve been out for weeks, manufacturing’s at a standstill. If we don’t get more we’re going to have to change our formula. We can’t afford that, they’ll shut the business down for good.” He wiped the sweat from his brow, lowered his face mask to breathe inside the stuffy, sweltering building. There was a moment of static, the noise a stark contrast to the echoing bangs from when the machines still ran.

“I don’t know what to tell ya. It’s like the damned bees flew off hell knows where. There’s just nothing there, man. No one’s got it.”


Perhaps it wasn’t too late, time a fluctuating thing that she could mend, mold like a waterway into a dam. If only she were careful.


Dead. Dead. Drying. Dead. No fruit. No seeds. A yellowed, decaying acre, twisting winds blowing up dirt and debris along with the sharp scent of decay.

“Another one, gone,” he said, though his wife was too far away to hear his voice carried away in the wind. He dropped the rough, dried plant from his hands, and it fell like vertigo that resounded in a closing door.


In her haste they got away from her, hummed a gentle tenor around her ears, and ducked into paned windows, hoping to release themselves from their glass and wooden prison.


“It’s the bees,” he said. “Or rather, the lack of them.”

He pushed the carefully crafted folder towards his supervisor, overfull with a stack of papers from his immersive study. It had taken months of testing, cataloging, monitoring populations. The results weren’t unexpected but carried the weight of a judge’s mallet.

His supervisor didn’t open the folder. Instead, he tapped an uneven rhythm on the desk with his fingers.

“And you expect us to do, what?”

The question caught him off guard. “You didn’t ask me to figure out a solution, just to find the problem.”

His supervisor leaned forward on his elbows, bringing his face close to his own. “The economy is collapsing. Shortages of food and consumer goods across the globe. Manufacturing is shutting down. You brought me the problem. Now tell me how to fix it.”

He gulped in precious air, knowing it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear.

“We don’t.”


She’d been innocent in her intentions, but that didn’t stop the wave that overcame the world. Robert Frost was wrong, she thought before she took the plunge into darkness.

The world didn’t end in fire or ice.

It ends with bees and regrets.

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction: Machinations or Ghosts

She was what I needed when I needed it. Maybe that’s why I didn’t question it.

“Your brain is lying too,” came the message. And then a few seconds later, “Depression lies.”

“It doesn’t feel like a lie,” was my earnest reply.

“Well, it is.” Lia always seemed so certain about these things, and I held onto it like a lifeline. Maybe if she believed it for both of us, it would come to pass. Maybe I could believe it too.

It was past three in the morning, and I was supposed to wake up in four hours for class. But I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned, buried beneath the thoughts that told me it was pointless to even attend class, I was too stupid for college anyway, that I’d never amount to anything.

Then, there was Lia.

“I wish I could reach through this screen and give you a hug,” she replied. I could feel warmth build in my chest. “You are an amazing person, deserving of love, capable of success, and I hope one day you’ll see the person I see in you.”

I wonder if knowing what I know now if I would have been so honest, would have interacted with her at all.

I looked up from my studying and my heart skipped a beat. Midnight—Lia would be on, and I had news to share.

She beat me to it.

“How did the exam go?! Don’t keep me waiting, the suspense is killing me!!!” The message waited for me with far too many exclamation points and a GIF of Kermit chewing at his fingers.

“I aced it,” I replied, a smile on my face, even though I knew she couldn’t see it.

“I knew you would. No doubt about it!” There’s a part of me that burst with happiness at her faith in me, even though I couldn’t have that faith in myself.

“Then why the suspense lol.”

“Gotta keep you entertained don’t I?”

All castles eventually crumble, and when mine did I was buried beneath it.

“To whoever has been using this account,” Lia’s post started, and my blood froze. What does that mean?

“I can’t believe anyone would do such a thing. How can you possibly be so cruel? I’m shutting this account down as soon as I figure out who has been posting and messaging under it. If anyone has any insights on who has been posing as Lia let me know.”

There were hundreds of shares and likes. It was posted around ten in the morning—Lia was never on during the day. I don’t understand what’s going on, so I click on the comments.

Fortunately I’m not the only one confused. Lia had been posting updates regularly for years without fail. I browsed through comments, some honest concern and others trolls just looking for a fight, until one stopped my scrolling. My heart dropped.

It was a reply from Lia’s account, only it’s not Lia. It was the person posting in Lia’s stead.

“I’m sorry, but Lia has been dead for over a year. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Lia’s been dead for over a year.

I started talking with Lia just over a year ago.

A ghost in the machine—consciousness carried in a physical entity. Is that what this was? An error in the code? Or something more?

Why couldn’t this be something more?

I paced my room, refreshed the comments, waited for another post from this other Lia. So far one commenter, a hacker of sorts, had pieced together a trail. They found the IP the fake Lia had been posting from, but it brought up more questions than answers. The IP pre-death and post-death was the same. Everything was identical. It was possible to fake, but who would do that for a prank?

But who would pretend to be a dead woman for a year, and why?

When midnight came around, I was poised at my desk, messenger open, waiting for the icon to indicate Lia was on, wondering if it would be this Lia-adjacent person or the fake Lia.

“Hey beautiful,” the message popped up at one past the hour, and it was so very Lia that it made my eyes tear up.

“Who are you?!” I asked. I’d been on edge for hours, I wasn’t in the state of mind to dance around it.

There was a pause, a long one.  I started to wonder if she’d run away when I saw the typing icon.

“I’m sorry.” The reply was something, but it wasn’t enough.

“You’re sorry for what? That you lied to me? That you’re pretending to be a dead woman? That you got caught? Which one?!”

“None of those. I’m sorry I didn’t meet you before. I would have liked to.”

I banged my hands on either side of the keyboard. Frustrated, ready to pull at my hair, throat clenched in anger.

“Before what??”

“Before I died.”

I typed furiously, mind reeling in different directions but I was ready to rail against this person who dared treat this like a joke, but suddenly her icon went dark.

Lia never logged on again.

We’re given chances in life. Either we take them or we don’t. I guess there’s no use in regrets, they don’t change anything. But still I pick at the wound.

I’d like to say I forgot Lia. That I moved on.

But I don’t. I stopped trusting and isolated myself. I focused exclusively on my academics, and I shone, even though inside I believed all the lies my brain told me. I both felt I wasn’t good enough and graduated at the top of my class.

I don’t forget Lia. I can’t.

So when I’m given an experimental laptop with a top-of-the-line personal AI assistant to use through my doctorate program, I balk when I see the AI’s name.


Her ‘face’ popped up on the screen, black hair and dark brown eyes with vaguely asian features—af if the creators wanted the model to fit the name but not too closely. I wracked my brain to remember what Lia from my past looked like, but I never saw a photo.

I’m just being paranoid, I thought. So instead I stared straight at the AI, knowing it had to read my features to input the facial recognition into its system first. Once that was done, its voice recognition input was next, and then I finally heard Lia’s voice for the first time.

“Hey beautiful. It’s been a while.”

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction: Firefly Soul

They are hard to spot at first. Our souls burn bright like fireflies, and the soulless are only the spaces between. Their absence is harder to impress against the background of stars in my vision.

I don’t always see them. Souls. Or lack of souls, either. It’s a gift that comes sporadically, usually after I experience some sort of low. It’s like when you close your eyes after you look at a bright light- you can still see the glow behind your eyelids, but it fades.

When I was young, I resolved to never let the opportunity pass me by. I’ve renewed, as I call it, firefighters, victims of abuse, people who witnessed out of order deaths, anything that causes seemingly irreversible trauma.

I can’t heal them. But I can give them a path forward.

Today seems like it should be no different. Yet I see no empty space where a soul should be, no darkness in the hearts of any passers-by. 

I’m tired. The weight is a mountain pressed down into my chest, a snare restricting my lungs. The reviving trigger, the thing that causes my sight to reappear, had been brutal. I am thankful for a chance to help someone, but my own soul feels heavy from my experience.

I move away from the wall where I’d been holding myself steady along the sidewalk. I’d not been very aware of my surroundings when I leaned against the brick building, caught off guard by the sudden revival of my sight. Looking up at the sign, I see that it’s a bookstore. I take it as a hint, and walk through the doors, keeping my gaze soft to try to spot the black hole where a soul should be. 

In this space it’s easier to spot individuals than it was on the sidewalk, and I count it in my favor. But it’s a large store, and my heartbeat slows at the seemingly endless rows of bookshelves. I’m drained, and the thought of going through row by row, even possibly missing someone on the other side of a bookshelf, of not finding the person I’m meant to help, all of it wears my resolve. I can already see the edges of my sight dimming, and I know I’m running out of time.

I try not to look suspicious as I walk alongside the rows of bookshelves, looking down each individual shelf to see if I can spot my target. Fortunately my search can be passed off as looking for a particular genre section, so there’s no employee coming towards me in suspicion of shoplifting.

Try as I might, I find no missing souls from any of the patrons of the store. Tired, cranky, and at my breaking point, I return to the store entryway.

It’s when my hand is hovering over the bar to open the glass door that I notice something strange. On the other side of the glass there’s a poster on dark paper, so I hadn’t seen my reflection coming in. But in my reflection on the glass, contrasting the back of the black sheet of paper like a black mirror, I see myself. I see the empty place where my soul should be.

I bite back a sob, and push the glass door open. I walk along the sidewalk, several blocks until I get to my apartment, in a complete daze. Numb. The crowd around me passes in a blur of colors and light, my vision dimming but still strong enough for each light to be burned on the inside of my eyelids.

When I get to my apartment, I fumble with the key with shaking hands. I drop my bag, kick off my shoes, all in a hurry before barging into the bathroom so I can see myself in the mirror over the sink.

The sight makes my breath catch in my throat. Where my soul should be is a black, sucking maw. Light bounces off, retracts, then the darkness encompasses it, leaving it blacker than the darkest black. It’s a space where things don’t die but live in stasis for an indeterminate amount of time.

How can I save myself?

I drop to the floor, lean my back against the side of the tub. I stretch out my legs below the sink, slouch into the tub, and rest my head on the porcelain lip.

I have no soul.

I wonder if I can pinpoint the moment when it happened. Oddly, I find that I can. It was the moment when she took her final breath, as if my soul left with hers.

My face is half numb, so I’m surprised to feel tears on my cheeks. I’m not sad per se, my emotions in a field of nothing, neither moving forward or backward. A liminal space between the life there was and the life I have now.

I know without checking the mirror that my sight has faded to nothing by the time I push myself up from the floor. I wonder how I’m supposed to know when my soul returns if there’s no sight to see it with.

But somehow, I have a feeling I’ll know.

It’s not because I think I’ll find joy, or happiness, or overcome the loss, make something of it, any of the platitudes and well wishes I’d heard at the funeral.

I’ll know because to have a soul is to feel. To hurt.

I both want it and dread it.

As much as the numbness protects the heart that still beats in my chest, she doesn’t deserve for our memories to remain gray and dull. She deserves color.

I grab a tissue, wipe at my eyes, and inhale to the bottom of my lungs.

A soul is meant to hurt.

The trick is to survive it.

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction: On Sunlight’s Edge

“Place the items on the cloth,” the witch instructs. “Align them with the heart in the center, the rest in a circle around. Let yourself feel where each piece belongs—they’ll let you know.”

Cienna is not so sure, but she does as she’s told. The heart was the gold-plated fountain pen her father had gifted her long before he died. The other supplies she spread around it; a rosebud from her family’s garden where she grew up. Her favorite childhood book, the pages yellowed, tattered, and spine creased; The last letter she received from her father. The obituary from her sister’s death when she was a child. 

With every item placed she closed her eyes and did as instructed, feeling where they belonged in the circle. She placed the remaining knick-knacks before letting out a drained sigh, surprised at how much effort it had taken to complete.

“Good,” the witch whispers near her ear. “Now, remember, I told you this part requires sacrifice.”

“The blood,” Cienna says with a nod. “I’m willing to do what has to be done.”

The witch’s mouth twitches in a slight smile, her crow’s feet crinkling in amusement at her eagerness. “Yes, that too. But remember, these items will be sacrificed as well. As will a part of you. Nothing comes from nothing, you understand? Are you certain of your path?”

Cienna breathes in the scent of lavender and rose that wafts from the nearby incense, gaze hazy on the circle of items.

“Yes,” she says. “My path is clear. This is what I was meant to do.”

The witch nods and picks up a dagger from a table next to the altar. She gently takes Cienna’s hand and makes a delicate slice along her finger. She winces at the pain, for all it’s not deep it bleeds quickly. The witch draws the finger along her own palm, a streak of blood remaining on the witch’s hand.

The deed done, Cienna watches with horrified curiosity as the witch turns towards the altar and wraps the cloth over the items, one side then another, folding it inward over and over again as if there was nothing in the cloth at all. Until all that remains on the table is a small square of folded fabric.

There is a static hum in the room when the witch places her hand on the cloth and begins to speak.

“Where once there was pain, now there is lucidity. Where there was love, now is laid bare. Where shadow and light collide there is truth.”

The witch places her bloodied hand palm down on the altar cloth, and though nothing outwardly seems to change, Cienna feels a crushing in her chest that takes her breath away. The witch unfolds the cloth, and with each unfolding Cienna feels a jolt of pain run through her veins like lightning. It isn’t until the final unfolding that she’s able to again breathe, ragged but with big gulps of blessed oxygen.

On the altar cloth now sits a leather-bound book.

“Is that it?” Cienna’s asks breathlessly. “Did it really work?”

The witch picks up the book and brings it to Cienna. It’s heavy in her hands, the volume thick. There’s no title, but on the bottom of the cover, she sees the name of the author.

Cienna Eaton.

“It worked,” her words come out as a breath. “This book is mine.”

“Of course it worked,” the witch says as she straightens the altar cloth, smoothing it with her hands. “A book is made of all your loves, your hates, your pain, your joys. Whether you write it or magic it into being.”

“I can’t believe it,” Cienna traces the book with her fingertips. “I can become published now. Just like father always wanted.”

The witch sighs, startling Cienna out of her awe. She looks up to meet the witch’s gaze. The witch is looking at her with a furrowed brow, mouth in a thin line.

“What? Cienna asks, but the witch only shakes her head.

It’s when the witch is leading her to the threshold and Cienna is closing the door behind her that the witch does speak, holding the door open just a fraction and whispering so Cienna has to lean forward to hear.

“A word of advice?”

“Yes?” Cienna asks.

“If you only ever follow the sun, you’re going to get burned.”

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Flash Fiction: Framed

The thing about death, Liza thought, is that every new experience feels like the hardest one you’ll have to go through.

She set the crocheted throw into the ‘keep’ box, tucked safely next to the small pile of yellowed paperbacks and porcelain knick-knacks. After the arrangements, the funeral, the will, the estate, and divvying up the various items of value, it had fallen to Liza to sort through the rest of her father’s miscellaneous belongings that were left in his three-bedroom ranch home.

She heard a scuffling, and two quick barks in the other room, and sighed. And oh yeah, that thing too.

Along with his belongings, she’d been tasked with either adopting or re-homing her fathers’ one hundred pound plus Old English Sheepdog.

It’s not that Liza hated dogs. It’s just that this particular dog had tried even her father’s patience, who was known for his ability to train even the most stubborn or cognitively challenged dogs. Shena had proved him wrong at every turn, made worse for the fact that she didn’t fully realize her own size. There was already a pile of broken antiques that Liza was forced to delegate to the trash pile that had either already been broken when she’d arrived, or subsequently broken in Shena’s excitement at having another person in the home again.

She sobers at the thought. A kindly neighbor had been stopping in to take care of Shena, but she’d been alone a good portion of the time since Liza’s father had died. Shena’s excitement had been palpable, and the guilt was like a gnawing beast in her gut, the grief slithering into her veins around it.

There had just been no time, no matter her feelings now. Her father’s death had caught everyone off guard.

Defeated, she drops the coffee table book into the ‘donate’ pile and sighs. I won’t be getting much more done today, she thought. My heart just isn’t in it. The more she went through, the closer the memories, and it was like a blindfold around her eyes. They stung, her throat closed around the grief.

She was drawn from her thoughts when she heard a crash and jumped to her feet. She rounded the corner in time to see Shena’s tail disappear under the desk in her father’s study, but it was too late for her departure to make a difference. One of the small bookcases was overturned, the books halfway spilling out of the shelves. But what caught her attention was the shattered snowglobe, the carpet a wet stain with white sparkles and a smiling snowman scattered on the floor surrounded by glass that had fractured into a hundred pieces.

She felt light-headed, her face heated in anger for a moment before the blood seemed to drain from it completely. There was no use getting angry, and though anger was easier, the overwhelming sense of loss was more than she could bear.

Liza leaned against the doorjamb and slowly let herself fall to the floor, legs crossed and hands dropped onto her knees. She leaned her head back and let the tears fall down her face, felt the heat like a balm on her cheeks. Her eyes burned with the sheer unfairness, not of some silly bauble crushed on the floor, but the loss of a great man who meant so much to her.

The sobs wracked her body in a way she’d never let anyone else see. She was alone, no one to pretend for, no one to save from her misery. She wailed out her pain, crushed into herself as she cowered into the doorjamb, held her arms to her chest.

When the sobs died down and the tears were a trickle, she felt the soft brush of fur on her forehead, and looked up to see Shena sitting in front of her. She wasn’t yet ready to forgive her and debated shooing her away when she saw she was holding something gently between her teeth.

She reached for it, and Shena let it go into her hands. It was a wooden frame with a photo, a bit bigger than the palm of her hand. She vaguely remembered seeing it in the living room. Looking closer, it was a picture of her entire family on her father’s last birthday. It was the last time when her immediate family had all been together, brothers, her father, and herself.

Curious, she opened the clasps on the back of the frame and found several other photos behind it, dating back several years, each featuring the entire family. She replaced the photos and clasps and turned the frame over.

She brought it closer to her face, realized that there were the tell-tale signs of teeth marks along with the wood—not just from today, but as if Shena had done this before.

A smile played on her lips and she gave Shena a fond look. “Trust dad to train you to bring him a photo whenever he was upset. Of course, he wouldn’t brag about something like that, would he?”

Shena butted her head against her cheek, nose wet and fur tickling her face. She giggled a wet sound that was equally laughter and sob. “Alright, alright,” she said and reached out a hand to pet her. “I guess you and I are going to get better acquainted then.”

Liza looked down at the photo, at the smiling face of her father, his square jaw, and close-cropped white beard. Happy.

“Family is family.”

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Rue|Lou Prompt Series: “We’re Only Braiding Roses”

For the 7/9/2020 prompt, Rue submitted “We’re Only Braiding Roses”

Below are the prompts submitted for this week. Thank you to all the participants!

Click on the links to read each individual submission.


“Bren carefully picked her way across the scorched grass, darkened patches of ash the only reminder of the battle that once was.
Untitled, Ash @AshDawnWrites

“I was ten when my great-aunt caught me picking flowers from the edge of the forest. She damn near screamed, “Child, stop!”
I dropped the bunch of daisies as she grabbed me by the wrist. Her ragged fingernails bit at my skin as she dragged me away from the treeline.
Braided Roses, EM Harding

“The bell rings softly, telling me it’s time for lunch.
I push away from my desk, rolling back on my wheeled chair. I can’t get away from the computer fast enough.
Braiding Roses, Dewi Hargreaves

She wove in flowers and baby’s breath into the braid in my hair as I let the tears fall on the plush rug.
“It’s like braiding roses. Beautiful if you can make it work, but watch out for the thorns.”
We’re Only Braiding Roses, Rue Sparks

“My fingers tie around her wrist like a bracelet. We’re cold, fighting away frost with every heartbeat, and our breath seems to crystallise before it leaves our lungs.
Braiding Roses, Lou Willingham

Flash Fiction: We’re Only Braiding Roses

She wove in flowers and baby’s breath into the braid in my hair as I let the tears fall on the plush rug.

“It’s like braiding roses. Beautiful if you can make it work, but watch out for the thorns.”

I let out a sound somewhere between a snort and a sniffle that only makes me wish for a handkerchief. “Couldn’t you just cut off the thorns?”

She’s quiet for a moment as she braids, the feeling of her fingers in my hair soothing despite the terror wrapping like vines around my lungs. When she speaks it’s quiet and I can barely hear, but her reply is without any heart. “It’s a metaphor. You don’t remove the thorns from metaphors.”

We have run out of options. 

“Just mind your words, do as he says, keep yourself sparse until you know what kind of man he is. That’s what I did with your father. Maybe you’ll find yourself lucky.” We both know from the reports from the guards and nobles we’d bribed that this was unlikely, but she holds out hope. Has to for her own sake. I won’t disavow her of the belief, even when it turns out to be false hope. 

He is the worst sort of person, the man I am to marry. Quick-tempered, drunken tirades, a womanizer. A terrible ruler who is likely to run his kingdom into the ground.

But a treaty is a treaty, and my father won’t be moved.

“You’ll write,” she says with finality as she lets the braid drop. “And I will visit, of course.”

“Of course,” I repeat with no vehemence. I stand from the bed and wipe the wrinkles from my dress.

A lamb to slaughter has never looked so beautiful.

He hasn’t revealed his face.

The fact shouldn’t have bothered me, but it does. I had a story I’d run a thousand times in my head, that as they opened the towering doors to the cavernous hall with its cold draft and monstrous tapestries that at the end of that aisle I’d see the face of the man I was to marry, and it would be like a doorway to the life I wanted to live would be locked away forever. A key sliding into a lock and melted away that I could never retrieve.

But even that was forbidden to me. It would be another few hours it seemed, possibly after the wedding itself, when I would see his face, as he wears armor of all things. The tradition isn’t unheard of, but certainly a helmet isn’t necessary.

If the wedding guests are surprised they don’t show it, but then again, who would show surprise at the chosen wedding regalia of a king?

My father walks me down the aisle, me with an unnecessarily long train of blood-red velvet behind me that sweeps up the petals the flower girl has dropped before us. It all seems such a cruel farce that I want to vomit.

When we reached the end, at the moment when he is to give me away, I plead at him with my eyes. He looks back at me with no expression, but pushes away my arm with a strong grip, towards the arms of my suitor. There is no missing his intentions.

The rest of the ceremony passes by at a crawl, each word tiny cuts onto my shivering skin, and I feel a cold sweat along my neck. I want to scream, to choke on my own spit, to run. But I am surrounded by guards that I am sure my father will have no trouble using against me.

“I pronounce you wed. You may kiss your bride, my king.” I can feel the color drain from my lips, but I turn to my husband.

“If it is no offense to the church, I will save that for a more private affair,” my husband says, and I choke back relief, as brief as it will be. Instead, I am lifted by my knees until I am being held in a bridal pose. I squirm and instinctively move my arms to grab at his shoulders, hating myself for the action but wary of falling.

There are chuckles, and then cheering, but then my husband raises his voice to speak over the crowd. 

“I thank you all for coming. As it were, my wife does not look well. I fear the excitement has gotten to her. I would bring her outside so she may breathe before the festivities. Please, welcome yourselves to the dining hall, and we will join you soon.”

The terror is like ice in my veins. We are alone, and I’ve never known fear such as this. “Please,” I start, “let me down.”

We are in a side corridor, far from the wedding party. I know not why we have wandered off so far, but It can’t be for any reason I’d be happy to hear. Part of me wants to at least know my torture before I am to feel it.

“It’s me, Cael! I’m breaking you out of here!” My husband—or is it?—lets me down on my feet, and I turn to the stranger. They remove their helmet with difficulty, and I gasp as their face is revealed.

Mira?!” She is one of the squires, a young woman who I often snuck out to train with as a child, before my father had caught wind of it. We yet spoke though, through coded messages and late-night walks. “If you’re found you’ll be hanged!”

She smiles wide, showing her missing front tooth where one of the knights had knocked it out after she’d scratched his sword polishing it when she was younger. “No one’s going to find out, least not until it’s too late, because we’re making a run for it. I got two horses all ready to go, come on!”

She grabs my arm, and I don’t struggle as we run through corridors, sneaking past guards all the way to the stables where indeed there are two horses saddled and ready to ride.

It’s then that we hear the alarm.

“What’s that?” I ask, sudden suspicion clouding my mind.

Mira scrunches up her nose, baring her teeth and sticking her tongue through where her tooth is missing in amusement. “Probably found the king.”

“What do you mean found the king?”

Mira pushes me up to the saddle and pats my leg. “Well, I had to get to the wedding somehow. I snuck into his quarters and trussed him up like the pig he is. Guess they got impatient and found him.”

I can’t repress the laugher that follows, as Mira mounts her own horse.

When we’re both mounted and ready to go, the alarm of the guard ringing in my ears, I turn to her before chaos falls.

“What if they find us? Where are we going.”

She pats her horse on the neck, and this time there’s no teeth in her smile, only a soft blush and a hint of embarrassment.

“We’re going to Leoria. They won’t mind we’re married there. And you’re royalty. They’ll protect us.”

I raise an eyebrow at her, returning her smile.

“We’re married, are we? We didn’t kiss on it.”

She turns away, her face turning redder by the moment, and I let out a loud, throaty laugh before I kick my horse into a canter, then a gallop, leaving behind the only home I’ve ever known for the only home I’ll ever love.

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