Saturday Short: Berries on the Wall

photograph of berries and dried leaves clinging to a cement wall“You must be like the berries in the winter,” her mentor said as she gestured toward the wall they were walking past. The berries stood out with their red stems against the worn wall. The leaves had fallen a month ago.

“Poisonous?” That didn’t seem like a very good thing to be nor a lesson that she should be learning. She must have misread her assigned text again last night. In fairness, she had been very tired from her chores.

“No.” The exasperation was clear in her mentor’s voice and in the rubbing of her temples with the pads of her fingers. “Not poisonous. Hardy. You must be able to thrive even when it seems like there is no hope. You must push yourself and never give up. Like these berries. You must be the hope of life when there only seems to be death.”

“Oh.” Jasmin looked at the berries again. This time they seemed brighter than they had before. “I’m not sure I can do all of that. It sounds…”

“Yes?” Her mentor’s voice was soft, but it demanded an answer.

“It sounds like more than I can do.” She looked up at her mentor quickly, before looking back down at her feet as they continued to walk, their boots crunching on the last leaves of autumn. “But I’ll try not to let you down.”

“I know. And you can do it, or I would not have chosen you.”

At this Jasmin smiled and though she could not see it because she was still looking at her feet, her mentor did, too, before she looked back up towards the sun struggling to break through the clouds.

Saturday Short: Fallen Maple Leaves

photograph of fallen maple leaves on the sidewalk

“Leaves fall every year. It’s what they do. It’s why it’s called fall,” her sister said with an exasperated tone, the one she saved for Heather when their mother was out of earshot.

Heather shrugged. It was the safest reply. She wasn’t stupid. She knew why it was called fall. Though, is she were asked, Heather would have told her sister that she preferred to call the season autumn. It sounded prettier.

Luckily though her sister became distracted by a group of kids on the other side of the street from her school and forgot what she was about to say as she walked away. Heather was an afterthought, which was fine by her. That’s how she felt in her family most of the time anyway. She turned her attention back to the fallen leaves on the sidewalk, slicked down by the night’s rain.

She couldn’t read what they were saying, yet, but she would. Heather knew it in her heart. The leaves almost seemed to form letters that swirled in front of her eyes, but then she blinked and they were gone. It was frustrating and Ms. Willow was gone this weekend, stocking up in the mountains was how she put it when Heather asked. The other kids called her Old Witch Willow, but Heather thought that was mean because people made fun of witches, which they shouldn’t do.

“Come on, Heather, we’re going to be late!” Her sister was doing that annoyingly dramatic tapping of her wrist to make her point as the other kids laughed and waved goodbye. Her sister didn’t even wear a watch.

“Coming!” Heather glanced at the leaves one last time before standing up and running to catch up with her sister who had already turned her back to walk home.

She didn’t see the leaves swirl behind her and rearrange themselves on the ground. But they could wait. She would be back.

Saturday Short: Photographs for Sale

There was an old box of photographs for sale, shoved between a rusting lamp (it was not worth the $10 price tag tied around its base) and a pale violet vase (which was worth much more than its $5 price scrawled on a bright orange sticker), on the table of a vendor at the weekly, Saturday jumble sale that Suzanna had not seen before. The photographs caught her eye. Or, perhaps more precisely, the lurid green box they were stuffed in caught her eye. It was the kind of green she hadn’t seen since she bought that cheap, neon green chair for a few bucks to furnish her overpriced, but cheapest she could find, apartment in grad school. A fleeting smile played across her face. By the time she was done with her degree, the chair was held together with packing tape and prayers. It had been surprisingly comfortable though, or perhaps she had simply been younger. Probably a bit of both.

She knew she had been standing too long looking at the box, lost in her memories, when the vendor’s voice caused her to jump.

“A buck a piece or 6 for 5,” he said. His voice sounded as old as the photos looked. Scratchy like a misused record.

“A bit steep,” Suzanna replied as she touched the edge of the first photograph in the box. The corner was broken off and the boy in the photo looked like he was leering at the photographer. It sent a shiver down her neck.

The vendor did not argue with her assessment and did not try to hurry her along. There was no one else trying to look through his wares.

Suzanna continued to flip through the photographs, as if it were a compulsion. None of them were particularly well-composed. Some were blurred to the point she wasn’t sure what or who the subject was. And yet, she felt as if she had to look at each one, as if there was a secret for her, hidden in one of them. She just had to figure out which.

“I haven’t seen you here before.”

“No, I suppose you haven’t,” he said, but did not comment further. It was odd, usually the vendors talked so fast and so long that she could barely get in a counter-offer for bargaining.

When her index finger touched the third to the last photo in the box, it felt like a shock of static electricity bolted into her hand. She pulled the photo out of the box and handed the man a dollar without a word. He didn’t say thank you or goodbye as she walked away in a haze, people having to sidestep her as Suzanna seemed unaware of anything but the photo she held.

“You’ve got to get rid of that box,” said a voice behind the vendor.

He did not turn around. “Why?”

“It’s not right to make them see their futures. It’s not our job.”

The man chuckled. “I don’t give them their future. I only show them their past.”

“That’s not how she’ll see it. You know that.”

“That is not my problem.” He held up the dollar before disappearing it into a fold in his sleeve. “I believe I am now winning our bet.”

There was a snort in reply. “Not for long. Tomorrow it’s my turn.”

Saturday Short: Whispers in the Night

photograph of a full moon

When the moon is full and reflects the last of the sun’s light,
And the cattle lay down to sleep in fields,
Both dry and green,
Then close your eyes and cover your ears
Little one
Don’t listen to the whispers in the night.

When the moon shines down and the stars are too bright,
And you can feel the earth hum,
Beneath your feet,
Then lock your door and hide the key
Little one
Don’t listen to the whispers in the night.

For they whisper soft and they whisper sweet,
But that’s the last you’ll know
If you don’t keep your feet.

Don’t listen to the whispers in the night…

Saturday Short: The Crow in the Tree

photograph of a crow sitting on a branch

“The bird in the tree does not mock you,” she says with the quiet assurance that came with age and study. Her smile creases the corner of her eyes into crow’s feet. You have never understood why wrinkles were called that. They looked no more like crow’s feet than the lines on the palms of your hands.

“You move too slowly for them to notice you.”

You bristle at that. You have always been the fastest in class. You’ve won ribbons out of the hands of competitors who underestimated you. If anyone is too slow, it is this old woman. “I’ve been coming to your lessons for four months now and still you haven’t taught me a thing that’s useful.”

She leans her head to the side. It reminds you of the crow in the tree that flew off a moment ago, after laughing its harsh call. You’re not amused, though she seems to be. “Perhaps you simply have not been learning.”

You cross your arms and have the urge to stick out your tongue at her, even though you are far too old for such childish things. “I came to learn earth magic and all you’ve talked about for months is the weather and the birds that have come to your garden and made me read books about identifying shorebirds that all look the same. They’re just little brown birds, who can tell the difference? Who cares? And now you think that standing here looking like scarecrows is somehow teaching? It’s ridiculous.”

She takes your rant that has been building in your chest like a festering boil for the last month and spilled out of you as if you were not in charge of your tongue without interrupting. She doesn’t cross her arms or look away. It is unnerving to be watched with some emotion you can’t put your finger on. It makes you angry though you couldn’t say why if asked. She doesn’t ask you.

“Everyone learns at their own pace. I had one student who took a year to be able to name the sparrows in the field and another who took two to identify all the trees on the farm.”

“That doesn’t matter!”

“Perhaps not to you, not yet. But it will.” She stretches her arms above her head, carefully so as to not hit you with her cane. “I think it is time for a nap. I will see you back at the house when you are finished.”

“How will I know when I’m done?” You want to scream, but don’t. You will keep some dignity even though there is no one around but you, your teacher, and the crow that is still sitting on a branch over your head.

“When you can recall what a flock of crows calls itself.” And she turns and begins walking back to the house without waiting for your reply.

You want to stamp your feet and yell, but she would hear and you won’t give her the satisfaction. Though you’re not sure if she would feel anything one way or the other. You look up at the crow and scowl. “I don’t suppose you know what she’s on about?”

The crow cocks its head to the side, in mimicry of your teacher. “Of course,” the crow says as you fall back, almost hitting your head on the side of the stone fence. “But you wouldn’t understand, not yet. I’m still not sure why she wastes her time on you. ”

Your voice is still not working as you watch the crow take to the air and join a flock, winging its way toward the farmhouse. But the word comes to your mind and you are relieved the crows did not want to act it out.

A flock of crows is a murder.

You reflect on that as you slowly rise and walk back to the farmhouse, not sure now at all where the world ends and the magic begins.

Saturday Short: One More White Rose

photograph of a white rose in bloom against a black background

Lili looked over her shoulder before cutting the white rose and stuffing it, thorns and all, under her jacket beside her heart. It was forbidden to cut white roses if they bloomed in the winter. And it had already snowed. It wasn’t technically winter by the calendar, but she didn’t want to have that argument with the Queen’s security forces.

She doubted they would consider the calendar reading valid.

She scuffed her footprints as she made the return journey. She pulled her scarf tighter around her face as the wind bit and caused the tree branches to claw at her as she passed. Lili didn’t curse the wind though, not this time, it would obliterate any trace of her trespassing before dawn. Perhaps sometimes even the bitter wind was kind.

It was a fifteen minute walk to her house. It took her twice that long as she slid into the shadows and held her breath not once but three times, avoiding the notice of the night guards. Their scarlet capes flapped like angry birds wings in the wind and they muttered to each other, as if they had caught a scent but could not find it again.

She did not bother opening the gate. It always creaked in the cold. Instead she vaulted over the wall surrounding her neighborhood’s houses and scrambled up the trellis on the side of the building until she came to her window. Its hinges glistened with oil and slid open on a whisper and closed on a sigh.

Though she was eager to finish her work, it would have to wait. Not even a god could cause a plucked rose to dry before its time. So she tucked the rose underneath one of the loose floorboards beneath her bed and tried to fall asleep as she listened to the coughing in the next room.

“One more and done,” she said before she fell asleep, but only the moon heard.

Saturday Short: The Girl Who Loved Cats

This is my first short (short) story of the year. I hope you enjoy it. I couldn’t help but start the year with a cat!


photograph of a long-haired cat with blue eyes

“They can’t understand you,” her brother said with his hands on his hips. He always stood like that when he was gearing up to lecture her. And it seems like all he did was lecture her. It would have bothered her, except he did it so much that she learned to not listen while looking like she was paying close attention. It served her well.

She nodded, as if she agreed, without breaking eye contact with the orange tabby sitting in on the rock in front of her. His eyes were blue, like the sky on the first clear day after a rain. He still hadn’t blinked. She would have to soon.

“You are too old to be talking to cats. What will the neighbors say?” He shook his head. She could see him out of the corner of his eye. She knew enough not to answer. “They’ll say you are weird. They’ll never be your friend. Don’t you want friends?”

She went still, just as the cat cocked his head to one side as if he heard something new that she did not. It was an old nail he drove into her heart, but it still hurt. She did not give him the satisfaction of a reaction.

He huffed, turned on his heel, and walked away.

“Finally,” the cat said as he blinked. “I thought that horrible human would never leave.”

The girl smiled in a very feline grin and settled down for a lovely conversation.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part XVIII

We fell onto our faces in the middle of a country road with the scream of the Inversion cut off by the portal snapping shut behind us. I turned my head to see only blue sky above and no darkness on the horizon.

I pushed up to sitting, thankful that I had not landed on my sword and folded it. I wiped my hands against the shredded cloth of my apron and felt a lump in my pocket.  I pulled out a teaspoon and laughed. Its back was dented where it had taken a blow from one of the goblins that tried, and failed, to sever my leg at the hip. The universe truly did have a sense of humor.

Then I turned to Sami who groaned, then went as still as a cornered mouse when her eyes met mine.

“That was lesson three,” I said saving her the trouble.

“I…I don’t understand.”

“Lesson three,” I said, standing and reaching out my hand for hers. “Blood is not thicker than the Sisterhood.”

She blinked her eyes and looked away. “Am I still in the Sisterhood?”


Her shoulders sagged.

“You are still my apprentice and it is time for lesson four.”

She looked up at me, “Really?”

“Yes. Now come, we have work to do.”

And she took my hand and looked around, a new line of worry creasing her forehead. “Um, we’re not near the farm, are we?”

“Close enough. It is over there.” I pointed to a speck far across the valley, almost a half-day’s walk.

Sami sighed. “Of course.” Then she surprised me by not complaining further and beginning the walk home.

“Silas is probably already there, isn’t he?”

I made a noncommittal noise. I didn’t want to make her feel worse, but it was almost certain that Silas was already in the house, curled up in a sunspot, waiting to chide me for being late in getting him cream.

“Of course, that damn cat.” She said it without malice and I had to hide a smile. “Is there really another lesson?”

I nodded. “There is always at least one more.”

Sami sighed before beginning to laugh. She was Found, the Sisterhood was whole, and I joined my apprentice in laughing because somethings cannot be said. They must only be shared in the relief of laughter or the sharing of tears, but they bind us thicker than blood and always will.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part XVII

I ignored Sami, even though she hadn’t stopped screaming. Even though she continued to rain rocks down on me that would leave marks, if I survived the next minute or so. Even though she was the one I was trying to save.

And I fought him. Blades swirling to counter his air magic that tried to choke me, as it parried each blow. He knew as well as I, the power wielded by the Sisterhood was nothing on the Other Side. It was anathema to this place. There was no power for me here, but my own body, now pushed to breaking.

But I fought on, never letting up, until a blow landed that sent us both sprawling on our backs. The darkness was now across the plains, almost to the base of the hill.

“Lesson three.” I pushed myself up to my feet, planting them in a wide stance, blinking against the blood dripping into my eye. “Tell me, have you both forgotten lesson three?”

Sami’s scream stopped for a moment and her expression changed to one of confusion. “We didn’t—”

“Down here, lesson three does not exist. It’s been inverted.” He snapped his fingers and the mud pulled Sami to him. She was screaming, but now in fear, clawing at the mud as he began to harvest her spirit. It flowed like water. I had forgotten how beautiful a spirit could be.

“Another yearling lost. How many do you need to lose before you finally give in, Sister?” He pulled and I knew the end was near, even before the darkness rose like a wall behind him.

“She is not Lost, not yet.” I smiled, but it was a sad smile and didn’t mirror his lunacy. “Brother.”

Then I thrust my sword through his heart and he stumbled back in shock, into the darkness.

I wrapped my arms around Sami and yanked her from the mud, ripping the air into a as the darkness reached for us, the Inversion of the Other Side trying to claim its due.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part XVI

Sami gasped, as if she had forgotten Silas was a cat and that cats always play by their own rules. Somethings do not change whether one is above or below, in our world or the Other Side.

I wasn’t angry or surprised. Silas had more than one apprentice to worry about and more than one world to mind. I would see him again, if the Sisterhood was willing. If not, well, best not to dwell on such things.

“Stand up,” I said, pulling Sami up next to me.

She resisted, or rather, she didn’t help and it was like lifting a bunch of overly heavy potatoes only not in a useful carrying sack. There were many emotions in the face of almost certain death or at least dismemberment that I could stand. Fear made sense. Only fools weren’t afraid of a painful death. Panic made sense for those who had less experience than I with such things. But hopelessness, giving in, not fighting until the end, I couldn’t fathom and it kindled something raw, something deep within my soul that I had forgotten until that moment.

“You will stand with me or you will fall.” I released her arm and Sami stumbled, but rose next to me. She placed both hands on the hilt of her sword and though she trembled she stood.


The he was before us and laughing. Sami shrank back, but to her undying credit remained facing him. Perhaps some of my teaching had sunk into her after all.

“Here we are again,” he said turning his hand so the mud rose in front of him and formed a circle. “The wheel turns and you’re to lose yet another yearling to me.” He reached out and Sami screamed as he flicked his hand, using the air to pull her to him.

“Enough!” I slashed my sword in the air between them and both jerked back. “She is not yours to take. She is of the Sisterhood.”

His eyes flashed. “I see no mark of a Sister on her.” Then a vial appeared in his hand stoppered so as to not lose the blood inside it. “And her blood binds her to me. Blood is thicker than anything, isn’t it, Sister?”

I stepped in front of Sami as she moaned, “He’s inside my head…” She grabbed my arm and pulled me to face her. Her eyes were not her own and her lips parted in a falsehood of a smile. “He is good.” Then she tried to stumble toward him.

I didn’t have the power over mind, nor a blood binding with Sami. Blood was thick, but it was never just about blood.

I pulled Sami back, even as she screamed, ducking her attempt to slice me with my own sword. I knocked the sword out of her hand and managed, barely, to reclaim it before he could. I didn’t take my eyes off him and he merely smiled his smile that promised painful death and the end.

“She is not yours.” Then I launched myself at him wielding the swords he’d once had fashioned for me, long ago.