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.

MASTERLIST:

“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.

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction: “Watch Us Fly”

Eleven, he thinks, more than last year, less than the year before. He marks the number on the small spiral-bound notebook that sits on the weathered table next to him. Beside it, a half-full glass of amber iced tea, the many ring stains next to it telling of many such mornings.

The monarch butterflies flit between the flowers of the tall milkweed in the garden in front of him, several yards away but close enough for him to keep an accurate count. The orange of their wings gleam in the light as they flutter around the deep green-veined leaves, a nonsensical dance Kenji can’t begin to understand. He doesn’t try. He enjoys their flight and the crisp floral scent on the breeze, all the same, the light trilling of songbirds nearby their soundtrack. 

The noonday sun has yet to arrive. He knows he hasn’t seen the end to the newcomers—eleven so far today. It had been sixteen yesterday by the time he’d taken the last syrupy sip of his wife’s home-brewed iced tea.

His mornings consist of sitting in his bamboo rocking chair on his covered patio, tallying his monarch butterfly sightings, that he would later upload to the citizen’s science website he frequented on monarch migration. It was a duty he undertook for several years now, to catalog how many monarchs he saw in the spring, summer, and fall on a daily basis, to help track the health of the population. To make a difference.

Kenji had planted the milkweed several years back, nestled in a pristine garden bed complete with a baby blue butterfly house his son had built for him the previous year. He’d learned milkweed was the only plant that monarchs laid eggs on, and was food for their caterpillars; a necessary plant for the species survival. It had been his way of doing more than sitting idly.

The morning ritual had the additional effect of calming him, though as of late there was an undercurrent of worry. Even though the numbers for this year were promising, he couldn’t shake the icy knots in his chest that told him they were fighting a losing battle.

But his family had never been the type to quit. They’d fought losing battles before.

His great grandfather had stood on the shores of America and seen an opportunity, when others had seen him as just another immigrant. His grandfather had left behind the weathered doors of the Manzanar internment camp as a child, returning to a town that no longer saw them as neighbors but as the enemy. His father had become the first of his family to go to college, bringing his family into a new age of financial stability. He himself had become an engineer, ensuring his own children would have opportunities he never had, building his own home from the ground up. And now, his own son, a business owner. A father himself.

Each generation flew further along, passing along the next leg of the journey, just like the monarchs laying eggs in the milkweed, each generation flying towards the fields of Canada. Four, five generations to meet their mark, ever closer to a place they could call home.

Now, as he sits on the whitewashed porch he built, he counts another butterfly, twelve, thirteen, and remembers—the battle may not always be brief, but home is always worth the fight.

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction

Here are a variety of flash fiction stories I’ve written, most of which were written for the Rue|LouPrompts Series.

Fear Not the Gods
“I often wonder what the Gods thought would happen upon their return. Maybe they thought we needed guidance, that their magnanimous but firm hand would turn the human race into something of universal beauty…”

 Flappers & Finches (All That Glitters Isn’t Gold)
“She glittered like gold, and I was the magpie. It could have been love, but gold changes hands, and birds are born to fly. She was gone by morning…”

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

 I’ll Be Your Misfit
“It wasn’t that the dog was ugly, per se…”

A New Color of Sunrise
“I’ve been staring at my account for half an hour, but it doesn’t change. No matter how much I will it, no money magically appears...”

No Roots
My mother once told me, ‘you can cast seeds, but you don’t know which will sprout.’
Her face is draining of color, lips turning blue as I watch...”

Sleeping Dogs Don’t Lie
“The biting air prickled the skin on his face. Caleb saved his hands by burying them in his coat pockets, but the cold still penetrated down to his bones…”

A Space Between the Stars
“‘You’re as dumb as an ox, Cam.’
The other kids, his teachers, his parents, his best friend- they were all in agreement...”

 Watch Us Fly
Eleven, he thinks, more than last year, less than the year before. He marks the number on the small spiral-bound notebook that sits on the weathered table next to him.

Weather the Storm
By the time it was Elijah’s turn to peel off his headphones and unpin his nametag for lunch, the rain fell from the end of his nose in a steady drip, and his clothes clung to him like a second skin.

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.”

 With the Pieces
“It was a Tuesday when her heart broke…”

Flash Fiction: “I’ll Be Your Misfit”

It wasn’t that the dog was ugly, per se.

It’s fur was sparse, mismatched lengths in a mottled grey and brown where it hadn’t been shaved. It’s skin was pink with tiny bumps raised along the shaved areas—the adoption card said it’d recovered from mange. It was medium height, longish but not long, with legs that were shortish but not short. An in between that wasn’t quite enough of either to be cute, but rather came off as odd. In the low light of the shelter, it’s eyes—her eyes, the car said—seemed jet black, like they would suck your soul from your chest. Like she could devour you with just those beady black eyes from where you stood.

Okay. Maybe she was just a little ugly.

But so was he.

He bent down low on his knees, sticking his fingers between the links of the fence. “I’ll be your misfit if you’ll be mine? How does that sound girl?”

She didn’t move. She stayed laying down in her bed, staring at him with those dark, abyss eyes.

Her eyes weren’t black.

He didn’t learn this until the following day, as he sat eating his cereal at his kitchenette table. She’d spent the previous day sniffing through the house room by room, nose to the ground. He’d not been able to shake her from her task.

Today she stared at him—or more likely, his food—with honey brown eyes that melted his heart.

“Where’d those come from?” he asked her, knowing not to expect an answer.

She licked her lips, and he snuck her some toast under the table, even though there was no one to be sneaking from.

He was surprised to learn when her fur started to grow back that the mottled colors were actually a mix of black, white and brown splotches, along with tufts of grey from old age.

By the time it had grown an inch, it looked endearing, and she’d begun to sleep in his bed. When his niece had been spending the night and opened his door to ask for a glass of water, she’d growled at her loud enough to send her running to her bed. He’d tutted at her and left the room to calm his niece down.

When the fur had grown several inches, and she had become fluffy enough for the hair to stick to the couch, Lilah—as he had finally named her—fell asleep on the couch with his niece, and barked fiercely at his brother when he’d come to pick his niece up.

On her adopt-aversary, he went to the local dog bakery to get a special treat for Lilah. He became overwhelmed quickly at all the dog biscuits, peanut butter baked bones, scones, pretzels, and pupcakes, enough that other customers began to take notice.

One in particular took pity on him. The stranger came over, smile wide, shoulders relaxed and held out a hand towards the array. “Having trouble? Want some ideas?”

He let out a sign in gratitude. “Thank you, that’d be a big help. I just adopted Lilah a year ago today, and I can’t decide what to get her.”

The stranger chuckled and nodded in approval. “I love to hear about fellow adopters, and yes, it can be overwhelming. This may sound weird, but all the food can be eaten by dogs and humans, so me and my dog Leto will share a few treats together. The Strawberry Lemon cupcakes are great, so are the Carob Chip and Pretzel Bars. Oh, and we like the Dill Peanut Butter Pretzels. But we’re kind of misfits.”

He smiles, leaning in closer, and hopes that Lilah doesn’t mind sharing.

“I love misfits.”

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Rue|Lou Prompt Series: “Never Seen a Ghost Like…”

For the 6/5/2020 prompt, Lou submitted ‘Never Seen A Ghost Like…”

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

Click on the links to read each individual submission.

MASTERLIST:

“Tap. Tap. Tap. He’s still tapping on the window, distracting himself, when the girl, the woman really—Jeannie, she introduced herself as Jeannie—comes over.
The Whispers, Alicja

“My fourteen-year-old daughter pushes grass through wire for our hens to peck at. I watch, eyes soft behind dark sunglasses, as she crouches in the dry grass and whispers to them.
Never Seen A Ghost, Lou Willingham

Rue|Lou Prompt Series: “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”

For the 5/21/2020 prompt, Rue submitted ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”

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

Click on the links to read each individual submission.

MASTERLIST:

“”Why are you bringing this up now?” I yelled, my eyes surveyed the broken plates on the floor, smashed to smithereens.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, Becka Writes

“Hisssss.
I lift the iron from the fabric, place it on the side. Let it rest.
I fold the green shirt and stack it on the counter-top beside me. Beside his phone, which he just abandoned when he came in.

Hisssss, Dewi Hargreaves

“The biting air prickled the skin on his face. Caleb saved his hands by burying them in his coat pockets, but the cold still penetrated down to his bones.
Sleeping Dogs Don’t Lie, rue sparks 

“I have a band-aid on my arm. Above my elbow, at the back. I can’t see it without a mirror. I don’t know how I got it on.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, Leona Storey

“Dante has never refused to tell me anything before, and he’s frozen like a statue. How can I trust him when he’s so intent on guarding his feelings from me?
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, Lou Willingham

Flash Fiction: Sleeping Dogs Don’t Lie

The biting air prickled the skin on his face. Caleb saved his hands by burying them in his coat pockets, but the cold still penetrated down to his bones.

It had been a terrible start to his new job. Possibly soon to be his old job if things didn’t change. His boss had taken him aside at the end of the day to warn him of his poor performance—as if he hadn’t known himself.

Walking towards his subsidized apartment along the deserted street, it took all of his willpower to keep the damning thoughts at bay. He’d messed up, and now the best he could hope for was a minimum wage job serving white middle-class accountants and doctors their morning coffee. It was a dead-end job, and he knew it.

Maybe it was better to just give up now.

Rounding the corner, he jumped as a dark shape ran towards him, his mind only retroactively registering that it was behind a metal fence. The shape, a black and white, hulking pit bull, stopped at the edge and stood up on his hind legs to try to reach him, his whole lower half shaking with his tail. He was panting with joy in his eyes as if he had been waiting just for Caleb.

With a worn smile, he reached his arm forward to let the dog sniff at his fingers. It’s mouth closed and head tilted as he—she?— did just that. Once the dog was satisfied that he was an acceptable companion, it bumped it’s nose into his hand, demanding pets.

Caleb’s smile became warm as he scratched behind the dog’s ears. He twisted the collar around to read the name on the metal tag: Daisy.

“Hello, Daisy,” he said, “It’s nice to meet you. You have such a beautiful smile sweet girl.”

Daisy licked his hand at his crooning, rubbing her head against his palm to keep him petting her.

And if he entered his apartment with a smile, no one else would ever know.

His visits to Daisy on his long trek home became routine. By summer, she waited for him like clockwork at the fence. In turn he brought her dog biscuits, toys, and bits of rope they played tug of war with.

Work got better. Actually, everything got better. By fall he had a job offer one town over that promised paid time off and benefits. He was being given a second chance, and while he was overjoyed now that his future seemed to only be getting brighter, there was another bright spot in his life that he would miss.

The day the moving truck was loaded, he knew it was time to say goodbye. He had bought a large box of peanut butter cookies meant for dogs from a local bakery, complete with a red bow on top and a card. It may have been overboard for someone who wouldn’t understand the gesture, but Daisy meant more to him than she would ever understand anyway.

Except Daisy wasn’t in the yard. It wasn’t unusual—he rarely ever saw her this time of day, so he shouldn’t have been surprised. But that didn’t move the lump forming in his throat.

Making an impulsive decision, he decided that if Daisy couldn’t come to him, he’d go to her. He rounded the corner to the building that was connected to the gated yard. It was an attached brick home, two stories with the black metal gate along the side. It wasn’t cheap, even for that area, but he was filled with an overwhelming need to see his rescuer before he left.

Gathering his courage, he walked up the concrete steps and knocked firmly on the door. He heard noises coming from the other side, and after what felt like minutes a stocky, white-haired older woman wearing a soft gray knit sweater opened the door.

“Can I help you?” she asked, her voice congenial but confused.

He floundered for a few seconds before he offered her the box. “I live in the apartment a few blocks down, but I’m moving away. I just wanted to give these to your dog, as a thank you.”

The woman shook her head, mouth thinning. “I don’t have a dog. You must be mistaking this house with another.”

Caleb furrowed his brow, mouth gaping at the unexpected answer. It was a strange request he was making, sure, but this was unexpected.

“Daisy isn’t your dog? Then who’s dog is she?”

The woman’s eyes widened, and she brought her wrinkled hand to her chest. She inhaled with a start, tilted her head in question. “Daisy? Whenever did you see Daisy?”

Caleb lowered the box of biscuits, his heart pounding with fear. Did something happen to his Daisy? “I saw her just yesterday, in the yard.”

The lady wiped at her eyes, shaking her head and mouth quaking.

“You must be mistaken, young man. Daisy died four years ago.”

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction: Fear Not the Gods

I often wonder what the Gods thought would happen upon their return. Maybe they thought we needed guidance, that their magnanimous but firm hand would turn the human race into something of universal beauty.

They probably didn’t expect a war. I wonder how omnipotent beings didn’t see it coming. If there’s one universal human trait, it’s that we don’t like to be told what we can and cannot be. Even by our creators.

But it’s not the Gods I fear. It’s men.

“You cannot be serious?” I echo. My compatriot grimaces at my tone, baring his teeth in his annoyance. He turns away and continues setting the charge.

We’re three hundred feet below street level of one of the God’s free cities. They’re utopia’s where humanity enjoys equanimity and safety… provided they worship the hand that feeds them.

“You think I got time to joke?” he says, straightening when the last one is ready, grabbing the roll of wire by the dowels on either side of the plastic base. He lets it loose as he walks backward. I follow behind him at a clip.

“I was told this was a reckon mission, not that we were going to blow up part of a city and all the citizens in it!” I rush forward, grab either side of the roll by the dowels so he can’t keep moving away from me. “ I did not agree to this.”

“Of course you did,” he says with a sneer, face smudged with dirt and grease from our trip into the undercity. “What, you think those people up there are innocent? They chose their side, now they can pay for it.”

He tries to yank the roll back but I hold tight. My voice is steel. “I. Did. Not. Agree. To. This.”

He jerks the roll out of my hands, glaring daggers at me. “You didn’t have to.” The tone holds no room for argument. “You can do your duty, or die with them.”

He continues moving back, and after a moment I follow him.

I wait until we’re out of sight of the charge, near out of the undercity, when in a moment of trust, he turns his back to me to pick up the pack we’d abandoned.

The shot from my pistol is muffled by the silencer. No echo to sound my betrayal, to sound the alarm for our troop nearby. The shot through his neck is an instant kill. 

His body drops. I catch it, wary of setting off the still-active charge. I’m debating my next move when I first hear, then feel the rumbling ground beneath my feet. There’s a white-hot shot of fear in my chest as I remember the still active bomb below the undercity. I’m debating whether I have time to deactivate it before the earthquake sets them off when the ground above my head is suddenly peeled back, as if the crust of the city were nothing but a thin layer of wrapping paper around me. I dodge rocks and bits of steel as debris falls.

When the sunlight strikes my eyes, I turn my face upwards to face the God I knew had found me.

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Flash Fiction: A Space Between the Stars

“You’re as dumb as an ox, Cam.”

The other kids, his teachers, his parents, his best friend- they were all in agreement.

They weren’t wrong, he’d think. Cam imagined the cheerleaders, the jocks, the geniuses of his high school as stars of a constellation, each their own bright light. People like him, people who were as dumb as an ox, were only the space between the stars.

But Cam wasn’t going to stay that way. He didn’t know what, but he knew he was meant for something. Something great. Something his little town had never seen.

As he grew into his twenties and his picked up shifts at the grocery store became full-time employment, this belief never waned. He would be something someday. So he paid his dues- he stocked beer and toiletries, swept floors, and asked his peers to ‘have a nice day’ in the most pleasant and hopeful tone that he could muster.

When his thirties came, the thought became a mantra. He knew he was meant for something. And when it came, he would show the world he wasn’t just empty space.

His thirties flew by, and his forties hit like a sledgehammer. His mantra became more desperate, and the desperation was plain on his face. In his drinking. In his failed relationships.

By the time his fifties came, he hadn’t thought about his childish dreams in some years. He was too old now, he thought, too jaded. Too worn down for hope to be anything but a fantasy. He looked on at the youth wasting away their lives on their iPhones and swept the floor of the grocery store he still worked at.

At 60 years old, Cam was staring at Orion in the driver’s seat of his pickup, moments before he’d been ready to turn the engine over when something occurred to him.

He’d been waiting too long.

What if he took what he longed for?

This is where our story changes. Not in the narrative, the subject, the point of view. Cam didn’t become an artist, a writer, a Hollywood star. Instead, Cam did what Cam did best.

The following day, Cam put on a smile and asked the young cashier how her new baby was doing. He helped an older woman reach a jar off the top shelf- after all, Cam may be as dumb as an ox but he was also six foot two. He whistled as he swept the tile floor, making a toddler walking by giggle.

And Cam knew at that moment he’d become something.

Some people spend their lifetimes finding the place they’re meant to be, the person they’re meant to be.

We are all giants just waiting to stop looking at the ground.

Look instead to the stars.

<Back to Flash Fiction>