Red Maple Tree (#8)

Her fingers trembled as she reached for the book. The dampness on her hands smeared the bold, black letters etched along the edges of every page. A frame of words, repeating the same sentiment over and over and over again: “I trust you. I trust you. I trust you…” A compliment, she told herself, an invitation. At least that’s what it had felt like in the beginning. The first few times she’d turned these pages, it had been invigorating. A thrill beyond any. With every touch, a current would course through her entire body, starting in the tips of her fingers, working its way up through her hands, arms, torso, up her spine, between her shoulders, making the hair rise in the back of her neck, spreading like a spider’s web across her mind.

It was exquisite.

It was surreal.

It was bliss.

No book she’d ever read before compared to this one. It was like being let in on a secret no one else knew about. A treasure brought into existence for her to discover, and only her. Never once had she spared a thought to all the other readers that must have come before her.

Until now.

She turned to page 164, the page she’d left off yesterday. The page she’d slammed the book shut on, fury guiding her hands. She wasn’t sure what was making them open the book to this same page again now. Curiosity maybe? She flattened the worn pages with her hands, the book lying open on her lap. It revealed a colorful image of a grand tree across a two-page spread. She smoothed out the bent corner at the top of page 164. She’d probably bent it last night when… It folded back neatly, staying in place, but leaving behind a visible crease through the page’s three-word frame. The tree at the center was red maple. With nothing else but a meadow of short green grass in the image, it was difficult to tell how tall the tree actually was, but its trunk was sturdy and wide, its branches hanging low, but spreading at the top into a wide, majestic crown of red and yellow.

Last night, when she’d seen it for the first time, she’d been enchanted. The beauty of the colors flowing from yellow to red and back again in lovely waves across the crown, the intricate map of branches intersecting in so many places without ever getting in each other’s ways, and the sturdy and pale, seemingly immaculate trunk this breathtaking magnificence stood upon with such grace.

But what a poor enchantment it had been.

Yesterday, wanting to memorize every little detail of what she had been seeing, she had run her fingers across the pages, as if seeing with her eyes wasn’t enough. Not enough to take it all in. That’s when she had felt them, the rough spots. The deceitfully immaculate trunk had really been marred by rough spots all over its stout body. Not trusting her fingertips, she had bent down, almost putting her nose to the pages, thoroughly inspecting its impurities. Names, the rough spots were names, of previous readers, no doubt, who had befouled the book –her book– with their filthy names, permanently etched into the bark of the red maple tree. So she’d slammed it shut, unable to take in any more, angry at the book, angry at herself.

Today, that anger had fled her entirely, to be replaced by the shame that made her fingers tremble as she again touched the page where the trunk was, feeling for the rough spots on it. There were dozens of names, all written in different sizes, some of them having left a deeper mark than others, and none of the handwriting seemed familiar to her. Except… Except one. She didn’t think it had been there yesterday, but she might have missed it in her fury. She burst into tears, cupping her face into both her hands to keep the book safe from the moisture. Though she knew she hadn’t written it, there it was, in her own untidy sprawl, right beneath the red maple’s crown –her name– etched into her tree’s bark.

 


Context for this piece: Each day of this new year I will be setting aside about an hour to write a short text, any kind of text. I will use four random prompts generated by an app called Writing Challenge, with five minutes of writing dedicated to each prompt, bringing it up to a total of at least 20 minutes of writing for each text.

The prompts are marked in bold letters and a full list can be found here:

  • Write a story that has a character who opens a book
  • Include a tree in
  • Include the sentence: “she burst into tears”
  • End the story with the word “bark”

 

 

———–

In Your Head (#7)

She used to be a doctor. A surgeon, actually. Cutting people open, saving them, the whole package. You could even say that she had played God. Actually, she had not just played God, she had outplayed God, any god. After all, who was responsible for royally fucking up all those people, infecting them with tumors and faulty organs? Not her, no. She had made them right again. Had corrected what God had failed at. Maybe what she did now was not much different. It did involve a lot of parting of flesh, and a fair amount of blood. A little less saving than before, but that probably just depended on how you defined “saving”. 

This was her eighth summer doing it. Probably. In truth, the concept of seasons was more or less inconsequential to her nowadays. It always kind of had been, but now that she didn’t have to dress for the seasons anymore they had become an even more distant thing, virtually non-existent, you could say. But as she starred out the window of the warehouse, or supermarket, or school building, or whatever this had once been, she saw the dark of the night sky beginning to pale. This would be just another summer passing by without her seeing the sun.

With the back of her hand, she wiped off the blood dripping from her chin and starred around herself. An echo of what might have been pain once shot through her silent chest. She had been a surgeon for almost eleven years before… all of this. She counted three legs, two arms, half a torso, and enough intestines to fill three, maybe four adults. More than a decade of putting people back together, and now she couldn’t even remember how many she’d taken apart just a few minutes ago. Not to mention in the past years. After her first, she had just quit remembering somehow.

She closed her eyes and almost smelled the bouquet Lori had surprised her with on their anniversary that night eight years ago. A rainbow of differently colored roses, one for each of the feelings she made her feel, Lori had said. Lori’s presence had always helped getting her back down, especially after a night like that one had been. Some nut-job had attacked half a dozen people, practically ripping them limp from limp. She had spent most of the day and the better part of the night sowing body parts together, applying her exceptional talents to keep the two remaining victims alive. During prep for surgery, one of them had attacked her in a fit of trauma and adrenaline induced frenzy. The wound on her arm had not been all too serious, so she had said nothing about it when she had gotten into the passenger’s seat next to Lori, the rainbow bouquet safely on her lap. About twenty minutes later, on the car ride home, she had turned every single one of those roses red with Lori’s blood.

She opened her eyes again. Not the slightest trace of flowery scent here. Just the seductive smell of blood. The same smell that kept following her around. No matter how far she ran, it called to her, beckoned her, screamed at her until she could hear nothing but the sound it made rushing through their veins. She looked out the window again, the sky already pink with anticipation. Her gaze dropped to the large door underneath the window. Some of the body parts formerly known as people had tried to crawl towards the heavy metal door. A bright green sign was plastered above the door’s frame. She read the sign and stood thinking among the left overs of her most recent meal. The remaining blood was beginning to dry around her lips. She stepped over a leg and a torso and moved determinedly  towards the heavy door. Today she would feel the warmth of the sun on her skin again.

 



Context for this piece: Each day of this new year I will be setting aside about an hour to write a short text, any kind of text. I will use four random prompts generated by an app called Writing Challenge, with five minutes of writing dedicated to each prompt, bringing it up to a total of at least 20 minutes of writing for each text.

The prompts are marked in bold letters and a full list can be found here:

  • Write a story that starts with “She used to be a doctor”
  • Include the word “summer”
  • Include a bouquet of flowers
  • Begin the last sentence with “She read the sign and stood thinking”

Pet Shop Girl (#6)

All of them were beautiful. All of them had, in their own way, one feature or another that contributed to a general feeling of content and well-being that she felt whenever she entered the shop. Today was Monday, her favorite day of the week. It was by far the best day because the shop was closed on Sundays. This meant that she had to leave late on Saturday nights knowing that they would be alone for an entire day, until she would return early on Monday mornings to open the shop again.

Her favorite out of all of them, if she had to choose one, was the parrot, Captain Yellow Beard. His blue coat and yellow front made her think that he was always ready to fly out on an adventure that somehow involved a crazy-fancy party. He definitely had the vocabulary to go with that, too: Me Lady. Good Sir. The politest parrot she’d ever had at the store. She wasn’t exactly supposed to give the animals at the store names. Giving them names meant that you were getting attached. Getting attached meant that you wanted to keep them around. Wanting to keep them around meant that you were not making an effort to get them sold. And that was “bad for business,” as her manager had reminded her when he had found her talking to the kangaroo rats one rainy Tuesday afternoon. They’d just looked so miserable in their tiny terrarium, starring at the rain drops running down the shop’s display window right in front of them.

So she had told them the story of the brave little kangaroo rat who had tried to cross the Mojave Desert on her own to prove to her fellow kangaroo rats that, despite being the runt of the litter, she could do it. About two thirds into her adventure, after having dodged snakes and spiders, after having withstood full-blown sand storms, surviving all the bitter-cold nights, the little kangaroo rat found herself longing for someone to walk the rest of her journey with her.

On one night that she felt especially low-spirited, concealed by a large formation of rocks, she saw the top of a chapel‘s peak. When the little kangaroo rat went inside, she found that she was not the first to seek refuge in the impossible chapel. Another kangaroo rat, no bigger than her, but with lighter fur, sat in the front row of the chapel, as if in prayer. They began to chat, and it soon transpired that her new friend was attempting to prove, just like her, that no matter the size, any kangaroo rat with enough determination could cross the Mojave Desert on their own. And so it seemed like finally the little kangaroo rat had found a companion for the rest of her journey! Because just as her, this other kangaroo rat had wished for someone to accompany them on their long journey.

Dawn was approaching and the two little kangaroo rats had all but decided to continue their adventure together. When it came to leaving the chapel, though, they found themselves walking into opposite directions. “This is where I need to go,” said the little kangaroo rat, pointing one way. “And this is where I need to go,” said the other kangaroo rat, pointing another way. In all their conversations, it had never occurred to her to mention her destination. She had just assumed that they were headed the same way.

Neither of them could give up now, and turn the other way, not when they were both so close. So they said their good-byes and went their respective ways. The little kangaroo rat had expected to feel the weight of solitude even heavier than before, now that she knew what it was like not to be alone. But with surprising ease she finished the last third of her journey, the knowledge that somewhere, another little kangaroo rat was doing exactly the same thing, a comfort beyond any.

She could have sworn they looked more at ease in their terrarium when she had finished the story of the brave little kangaroo rat. She supposed that was the least she could do for them at the shop… The bell of the door rang and a man and his daughter walked in.

“Good afternoon! How can I help you?”

“Hi! We are looking for a pet bird for my daughter. Do you have any suggestions for us?”

“Well, that depends,” she began as she led them over to the bird section of the shop, “on how much time and space you can afford to invest into your new companion.”

“Daddy! Daddy! I want this one!”

The little girl was pointing at Captain Yellow Beard, a look of glee and admiration on her face. Her heart sank a little. Still, she crouched down, bringing herself level with the little girl, and smiled.

“This is a so called Anodorhynchus, but I call him Captain Yellow Beard because of his beautiful feathers. They are very smart creatures and need a lot of attention and love.”

“Don’t worry,” the dad said from behind them, “our agreement is that we take care of the bird together.”

“All right,” she said and went to collect the appropriate care brochures and supplies, “take good care of him then.”

The door closed behind the dad and his daughter and Captain Yellow Beard, and she went to sit down next to the kangaroo rats again.

 


Context for this piece: Each day of this new year I will be setting aside about an hour to write a short text, any kind of text. I will use four random prompts generated by an app called Writing Challenge, with five minutes of writing dedicated to each prompt, bringing it up to a total of at least 20 minutes of writing for each text.

The prompts are marked in bold letters and a full list can be found here:

  • Include a parrot in the plot
  • Write a scene that takes place in a chapel
  • Include the word “dawn”
  • Begin the last sentence with “The door closed behind him”

This is who I am (#5)

Who are you?!”

Nothing.

When he tried to answer that question that’s what he came up with: nothing. Even when it was he himself demanding an answer, in front of the mirror of a public restroom. So how the fuck was he supposed to walk into that office a few minutes from now and even pretend to have an adequate response, and in front of all those people? He couldn’t. He couldn’t do it. He had to get out of here. Now! Preferably without anyone at the front desk noticing him sneak out.

Leaning against the row of black marble sinks, facing away from the mirrors he contemplated his options. Every ten minutes or so a freshman had come up to the front desk and asked some kind of question. It was orientation week. He could’ve almost set his clock by it during that dreadful hour that they had made him wait in the lobby. Next time one of the students came with a question, it would be his cue to make a quick exit.

Facing the sinks again, careful this time not to glance at his reflection in the mirror, he gripped the ostentatious marble of the sink in an effort to steady himself for his imminent escape. But his fingers pressed upon something that shouldn’t have been there. Too hard to be chewing gum, it was flat, jagged along one side, and colder than the marble around it. He got down on his knees, bringing his head level with the edge of the marble sink. The legs of his dark blue slacks rode up as he did so,  exposing his bright pink and yellow Sponge Bob socks.

He found a small, golden key stuck to the underside of the sink with what looked like double sided tape, a small, folded piece of paper sticking right next to it. Still level with the sink, he turned around. No feet protruding from underneath any of the stall doors. He turned back to the black marble, half expecting the key to have been a stress-induced hallucination, but there it was, still stuck to the sink. As if waiting.

As he pulled the key off the double sided tape, the paper came of with it, landing on the tiled bathroom floor. The key was still sticky from the tape and clung to his fingers like cobwebs. He let himself fall back onto the floor and sat down cross-legged as he picked up the note and unfolded it.

DO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHO YOU REALLY ARE?

That was it. Just that one line. The handwriting was arbitrary, all caps, almost as if it had been printed, except that he could tell by the way not all the letters looked exactly the same that it had been handwritten. Do you want to know who you really are? More than anything. And not at all… What if no one liked who he really was? What if who he was wasn’t important? What if who he was just wasn’t enough? What if who he was was… no one? No one anyone liked, or cared about, or thought about, or found worthy? What if all he was was a lonely, worthless coward?

He got back to his feet. This was getting ridiculous. Whenever this key came from, it didn’t have anything to do with him. What he had to do was find a suitable moment to slip out of the bathroom, leave this place and never come back. He placed the golden key on top of the marble sink and turned towards the paper towel dispenser to dry his still moist and now also sticky hands. But the towel dispenser wasn’t there anymore. In its place was a wooden door let into the wall that had definitely not been there ten minutes ago… Or had it? Maybe all the stress of the past few months was making him hallucinate after all?

He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and opened them again. The door was still there. Maybe he just hadn’t seen it coming in? It looked ordinary enough, dark brown wood, nothing fancy. Except for the door’s knob and lock which were made of a polished, bright gold. Just like the key. Do you want to know who you really are?  Screw it! Hallucination or not, he didn’t care. He grabbed the key from the sink, closed the distance between himself and the door in one, quick stride, and let the key slip into the door’s lock. Without a sound, the door swung open and a glowing bright light pooled out from inside the door into the bathroom, engulfing his entire body.

They all began to clap around him. Some of them even got up to shake his hand, clasp him on the back, adding words he couldn’t make out. Eventually his mentor whom he hadn’t immediately noticed among the crowd of other professors, came up to him and grabbed his hand, smiling broadly. “For a moment there I thought you’d be a no-show. I’m glad you did show up, though. Congratulations. You deserve it, Doctor.

Standing a little ways apart from the others now discussing the details of his doctoral thesis, he began to laugh.


Context for this piece: Each day of this new year I will be setting aside about half an hour to write a short text, any kind of text. I will use four random prompts generated by an app called Writing Challenge, with five minutes of writing dedicated to each prompt, bringing it up to a total of 20 minutes of writing for each text.

The prompts are marked in bold letters and a full list can be found here:

  • Start with a dialogue that begins with the words “Who are you?”
  • Include the sentence “he found a key”
  • Include the sentence “they began to clap”
  • End the story with a character who laughs

Disinterest (#4)

Why didn’t you come?”

“I had a thing, I told you.”

“What thing?”

“A thing! Just a thing… A work thing.”

“A work thing…” His voice trailed off. It was that kind of trailing off that told you that the other person didn’t really believe what you were telling them but were too scared, too tired, or just too disinterested to ask further about. In his case, she knew, it was a kind of disinterest from which there was no coming back: the kind that she had figured out before him. Sure, he seemed to be genuinely disappointed about her missing his performance, but his indignity was all just for show. A talented actor who couldn’t let go of a role he’d played for five long years. He just hadn’t figured it out yet.

She picked up this morning’s newspaper which he had left folded neatly on their breakfast table next to her toast. The entertainment section was on top, a piece about last night’s play at the center. She scanned it. Apparently his interpretation of Sherlock was already being handled as one of the best of the current theatrical season. Just another punch in the gut for her. He hadn’t even bothered to tell her how his performance had gone last night. She had to read about it in the paper. Without a word she flipped to the international politics section.

They spent the next twenty minutes in silence, she eating her toast and reading the paper, he peeling his oranges and staring off into space. This had become more or less the norm during breakfast, him refusing to communicate with her. Without being fully aware of it, she knew, he was trying to drag her into a silent war. It was another one of those things people did when they couldn’t or wouldn’t admit to themselves that they had lost interest in someone: pick a fight, any fight. And this silent, oppressive atmosphere he unwittingly generated was his chosen battleground. But she wouldn’t let herself be dragged into this particular arena. He could forget about that.

She peaked at the clock on the wall from around her paper. He had already started peeling his second orange. Good. Just a few more minutes and she could head out for work. As he tore the orange apart, some of its juice squirted in her direction.

“Could you please be more careful with that? I’d like to not have to change before work again, thank you very much.”

“I’m sorry, honey, I didn’t mean to.”

“Oh, by the way,” she said as she got up, putting aside the paper, “I have to work late again today, so I might just have dinner at work. That okay with you?”

“It is what it is what it is, I guess,” he said and popped a piece of fruit into his mouth.


 

Context for this piece: Each day of this new year I will be setting aside about half an hour to write a short text, any kind of text. I will use four random prompts generated by an app called Writing Challenge, with five minutes of writing dedicated to each prompt, bringing it up to a total of 20 minutes of writing for each text.

The prompts are marked in bold letters and a full list can be found here:

  • Start with a dialogue that begins with the words “Why didn’t you come?”
  • Include a newspaper in the plot
  • Include the word “war”
  • Include “a piece of fruit” in the last sentence
Featured

Ballerina (#3)

 

What the hell are you talking about?!” And off she went again on another one of her rants. He sighed, not too passionately or it might just give her more incentive to raise her voice even louder. So far none of the people riding the subway with them were staring. Yet.

“All I’m saying is that Ella wasn’t the one who decided this. So cut her some slack. She has feelings, too, you know,” he said, trying to keep the accusation in his voice down to a minimum. He really couldn’t blame her for getting angry about this. But her anger had a tendency of drowning out everybody else’s needs. Mostly his. Maybe that was because he never got angry at anything. Not even when it would probably be the healthiest thing to do, for him and everyone around him. There always just seemed to be too many other feelings to consider, too many other people getting angry, or sad, or disappointed that there was no time left for him to do so. In those kind of situations she would get angry on his behalf. And then at him, for not getting angry himself.

“I’m very much aware of the fact that Ella has feelings,” she brought out through gritted teeth. Good. She was making an effort to reign in the fire inside of her.

“Still, that was MY grandmother’s necklace. I should have gotten it, not fucking Ella!” She spat out Ella’s name like a bad taste in her mouth, a sour look on her face. The elderly lady sitting on his right stared wide-eyed at her last words. He smiled at her apologetically, but the old lady was already moving to another seat at the other end of the cart. He sighed.

“Ella is your brother’s wife, even if not by blood, she is technically also your grandmother’s granddaughter,” he said. Damn. Wrong thing to say. He could tell that she was livid now. He needed to shut her down, and quickly, before she gave in to her temper, after all.

“Besides, you haven’t worn any jewelry in over a decade, so who cares about that necklace. It’s not like you’d ever put it on or anything. Let Ella have it, at least she can make use of it.” That had been a cheap shot, he knew. He also knew that he had hurt her with that, but at least it had drained her of most of her uncontrollable anger.

“I just wanted something to remember her by…” It broke his heart to hear the pain in her suddenly quiet voice. He stared down at his shoes. They passed two subway stops in silence before she spoke again.

“She used to wear that necklace all the time.” She closed her eyes as she spoke and took a slow, deep breath.

“When I think of Gran, I think of that necklace. And the smell of lemons. I don’t know why, but she always smelled like fresh lemons.” Her eyes still closed, she slowly lifted both her arms, bringing her fingertips together in an arch over her head.

“She bought me my first ballerina outfit when I was 10,” she said. He smiled at the recollection of her and Gran dancing together, the afternoon they had spent pretending to perform Swan Lake for a vivid and excited crowd that cheered them on. Until her mother had come to pick him up. And he shuddered at the memory of how his mother had reacted when she’d seen the ballerina outfit. How his mother and Gran had gotten into a huge fight about it, and how he’d barely seen Gran a handful of times since that afternoon 12 years ago. How he’d shut her up inside of him, together with the memory of the ballerina outfit.


She began to speak in a quiet voice as the silent tears cascaded down her cheeks, “This is my stop.”


Context for this piece: Each day of this new year I will be setting aside about half an hour to write a short text, any kind of text. I will use four random prompts generated by an app called Writing Challenge, with five minutes of writing dedicated to each prompt, bringing it up to a total of 20 minutes of writing for each text.

The prompts are marked in bold letters and a full list can be found here:

  • Start with a dialogue that begins with the words “What are you talking about?”
  • Include a necklace in the plot
  • Include the word “ballerina”
  • Begin the last sentence of the story with “She began to speak in a quiet voice”

 

The Little Girl (#2)

 

She escaped when she was eight years old. That was twenty years ago, but the dreams she’d almost forgotten about had started coming back a few nights back. She’d been woken by one just now. The clock on her nightstand read 3:30am. Wonderful. Another night without sleep. She threw the thick bed covers off her sweaty legs and made her way into the tiny bathroom of her tiny apartment. The light shone blindingly into her face as she hit the switch over the bathroom sink, so it took her a full minute of rapid blinking to see the little girl standing barefoot in her bathtub.  

The girl was wearing a plain beige nightgown and nothing else, and looked no older than 6, her long hair parted in the middle into two pigtails. Trying to decide whether or not she was still dreaming she asked, “Who are you?” The girl’s eyes widened at the words, as if she too was doubting the reality of this scene. There was something familiar about it. About all of this.

She let go of the sink that she now realized she’d been gripping hard, and crouched down on her knees, bringing her face level with the girl’s. Arranging her features in what she hoped would be a soft expression, she offered a hand to the trembling little girl in her bathtub and said, “I have no idea what’s going on right now, either, but let’s find out together, okay?” She smiled, and with that the girl reached out a shaking hand to grip her calm one, and climbed out of the tub.

“How about you sit down on my bed while I make us a cup of tea.” The little girl just nodded, staring at her as if in trance, her trembling slowly ebbing away. She wrapped a thick blanket around the girl before turning to the left corner of her tiny apartment that served as a tiny kitchen. Neither of them said a word as she stood with her back to the girl, waiting for the water to boil. She’d only moved to this apartment two weeks ago. It was too small for the price they were asking, but the moment she’d first set foot into the tiny space, she’d felt a comfortable warmth spread through her chest. She had felt at home. So she’d signed the papers, right then and there. And now she understood why.

She placed a dark red tea bag into each of the cups of steaming hot water in front of her and carried them to her bed. Her hands no longer shaking, the girl took the offered cup in both hands, bowing low the hot steam rising from it. The bed made a wheezing sound as she settled down next to the girl, her own cups steam riding up to moisten her cheeks. They both sipped their teas in silence, shoulder to shoulder.

“It’s going to be alright,” she said into the tiny room. “It’s all going to be alright. You are strong, you are remarkable. Even if it might not be now, it will eventually be alright.” She set her cup down on her bedside table and leaned back against the wall her bed stood next to. Still silent, the little girl imitated her, leaning her small frame against hers, and closed her eyes. She put her arm around the girl’s shoulders, pulling her closer to her, holding her tight. She was starting to feel dizzy, probably from the lack of sleep, so she too closed her eyes and drifted into sleep.


Context for this piece: Each day of this new year I will be setting aside about half an hour to write a short text, any kind of text. I will use four random prompts generated by an app called Writing Challenge, with five minutes of writing dedicated to each prompt, bringing it up to a total of 20 minutes of writing for each text.

The prompts are marked in bold letters and a full list can be found here:

  • Start the story with the words “She escaped when…”
  • Include a dialogue that starts with the words “Who are you?”
  • Include the word “together”
  • End the story with a character feeling dizzy