Short Stories

You Can’t Kidnap a Baby

Previously Published in Scare Street’s “Night Terrors” Anthology
Photo by Emma Bauso on

Yes folks, I am very pleased to have noticed that the 6-year embargo in my publishing contract has run out, and so I am free to share my first published short story with you. This story will be posted here, and will also be available to read in the “Stories” section of my website, which I am currently working on.

So without further ado, please enjoy…

To my son,

Part of me hopes you never read this letter, but I suppose it’s only right you find out someday. Maybe you’ll read this after my death, or I’ll give you this letter when you’re eighteen. Or maybe someday someone will realize who you are, I’ll be arrested, and you’ll find this in my things.

If that’s the case, please come and see me. There are a few things I really should explain to you in person.

Anyway, I’ll begin at the beginning, when we met.

It was not in the hospital, a moment or two after you were born.

By the time we met, you were already walking, and you had two parents with every intention of raising you themselves.

I stood on the flagstone patio in my front yard, working on a painting of two birch trees, and you wandered over. Your dark hair fell over your big green eyes, and you were chewing thoughtfully on your finger.

I dropped my paintbrush. I still remember how it clattered on the flagstones. You could have been a clone of my little brother. You looked exactly like he did before he died, just before his second birthday. Sorry if that’s morbid.

You picked up the paintbrush and started to dab at the flagstones.

At first I wondered if your appearance was the proof I had been waiting for. I thought the house across the street had conjured you somehow. I had been watching it for almost two years without result and was considering giving up on the project, which so far proved an expensive waste of time. But the reports I dug up about the house were intriguing enough to keep me in the neighborhood for a little longer. Most of them dated from the mid-eighties, and suggested the house was haunted.

Besides, your Aunt Meghan and I both dropped out of college to pursue careers as online paranormal investigators, so we were both quite motivated.

Before long, my neighbor two doors down, Mrs. Clementine, walked past. She asked me, did the Jones’ let me look after their baby?

That’s not their real name. I’m not foolish enough to put it down in writing, but to be honest, I don’t remember either.

I said you had just showed up, and I kept you with me, thinking your parents were bound to show up.

“Really,” she said.

I shrugged.

Mrs. Clementine looked at the house across the street. She said, she supposed under the circumstances…She never said what she supposed.

I snapped to attention like a cockapoo smelling a cronut. Something was wrong with that house, and Mrs. Clementine knew it.

 The place stood empty the whole time I’d lived in the neighborhood, the previous owner having moved into a retirement home a few years before I arrived. When he eventually died, there was some fuss over the family that inherited it. Something about the wife.

And now I had to return you to that weird place, even though no one had bothered to come looking for you. What kind of parents would just let their child wander into some stranger’s yard? I never did.

I said I would take you back.

Mrs. Clementine nodded.

She watched me cross the street, her expression vaguely concerned. Maybe she didn’t think I should take you back either.

I pulled myself back to reality. No sense in getting carried away.

When I knocked on the door, Mr. Jones answered. His eyebrows rose when he saw you. He opened the door just enough to allow himself to slip out, and then closed it behind him.

I said I found you wandering outside.

He thanked me profusely and gushed over you.

Now he cared.

I offered to babysit sometime, if he wanted. The words burst out of my mouth before I could stop them. Part of me groaned inwardly. I was getting far too attached to you already. Meghan and I had already agreed never to get personally involved in our investigations.

He gave an awkward smile and thanked me for the offer. Somehow, I knew he wouldn’t be taking me up on it.

Mr. Jones went back inside the same way he’d left, without ever letting me see into the house.

I called your Aunt Meghan to report on the situation, and complain about the Jones’. She had been encouraging me to call it quits, and the new information I provided didn’t change her mind.

“We still have enough from the kickstarter campaign to fund three more months of rent,” I said. “Let’s stick it out. Maybe with new occupants, the house will finally do something.”

“Why would it do that?”

“Well, the neighbors didn’t seem to think the Jones’ moving in was a good idea. If they know about the house, maybe their opposition has something to do with whatever’s going on there?”

She reluctantly agreed, and I continued my surveillance with renewed interest. Sometimes I painted in the front yard, and sometimes I watched from my bedroom inside. One of the tricky things about being on stakeout was making sure I didn’t look like I was on stakeout.

A stranger’s car pulled up to the house in the morning, and a man in scrubs entered before Mr. Jones left for work. A nurse?

That afternoon I saw the nurse helping Mrs. Jones to her car. She seemed to be having trouble walking and she scratched obsessively at her arm.

I decided to look up the Jones’ on social media, using the community Facebook group. Most neighborhoods aren’t close-knit enough to have their own group, but this was exactly the kind of Stepford-creepy place that would.

 The Jones’ had a joint account, and rarely posted. The few posts on the page were littered with sunsets and inspirational quotes about living each day to the fullest. Obviously not everyone whose Facebook page looks like this has a terminal disease, but in her case, I thought it was a possibility.

I saw Mrs. Jones outside a few times in the next two weeks. Sometimes she needed a cane to reach the mailbox, other times she could walk almost normally. Once she wandered aimlessly up and down the street. After a while I came outside, worried maybe you had gotten out again and she was looking for you. But according to the neighbors she’d just “gotten lost.”

That’s when things began to get weird.

The morning after the second week, I saw her out in the front yard. Mrs. Jones ran after you without any weakness or signs of physical tics, the twitching and scratching at her arms. The next day she went to get groceries. I’d never seen her drive the car before. The nurse stopped coming.

At first, I assumed she’d just found a good doctor. But then the house started acting strangely. One evening, only the upstairs lights came on. Another day, I saw Mr. Jones leave for work from the back door, and then used the same door to get in again that evening. Later that night, the blinds on one side of the house were…twitching. I don’t know how else to explain it.

Still, I tried not to make too much of these oddities. Maybe the downstairs lights didn’t work. And the front door had a busted lock. And you were playing with the blinds.

I checked Facebook again. There were some status updates that spoke vaguely of being “blessed”, and some new family pictures. Nothing out of the ordinary, until I realized that a door in the living room led upstairs in some photos, and downstairs in others.

Photoshop, you’ll say. And so did I. But why would they do that? Even when I zoomed in, I couldn’t see any evidence the photo had been tampered with.

I should have been excited. But instead, this whole thing was starting to make me feel twitchy. Children and haunted houses generally don’t mix well. You see, I wasn’t just watching the house, or your parents. I was also watching you. Delighting over the little successes and discoveries in your life. How you figured out what a sprinkler was for, and learned to throw a ball, and went toddling after it as it rolled away. I watched enviously when your mother brought you inside at the end of the day.

If the Joneses would let me babysit, at least I could have reassured myself that you were okay. I scowled every time I thought of the tight smile Mr. Jones put on when he’d given me his unspoken refusal. As if I had done something wrong, and not just returned something precious to him when he had let it slip away.

I called Meghan again to update her. I may have gone on something of a rant about the strange things going on and how it was irresponsible to have a baby living in those conditions.

“So, what do you want to do?” Meghan said.

“What do you mean?”

“You can’t kidnap a baby, Christine.”

“I know that. I just don’t like it.”

“You don’t have to like it. Just keep watching. Do you think you could get invited to their house?”

“No. They don’t ever have people over. Which is weird, especially for a place like this. There has got to be something seriously wrong with that place. But maybe I could–”

“Could what? We don’t break the law, remember? We have rules.”

“No, I know. Never mind. I’ll call you later.”

The next afternoon I walked down the street to the mailbox and saw you in Mrs. Clementine’s front yard. You played in the sandbox, while Mrs. Clementine observed the progress of your miniature construction zone.

She stood and watched for a while, then sat down on a lawn chair and pulled out her phone, with only an occasional glance in your direction.

“So they let you babysit, huh?” I said.

She nodded. “Yeah, they went to a matinee. I guess Mr. Jones took the day off.”

I nodded, walked into the yard, and crouched down beside you. You smiled at me and showed me your favorite truck, babbling cheerfully in baby-speak. I wanted to offer to take over for Mrs. Clementine, but even if she was silly enough to agree to that, your parents wouldn’t like it.

Besides, I’d had a much worse idea. I had to find out what was going on in that house. Meghan would forgive me, she always does.

So I went back to my house and dug a casserole out of the freezer, so if necessary I could claim to be neighborly and not spying, and then headed over to the Jones’ house as inconspicuously as possible. In this neighborhood, most people didn’t bother to lock their doors, but the Jones’ did. I cursed under my breath and hunted around under their welcome mat and potted plants for a key. I finally found it beneath a ceramic frog.

 I quickly ducked inside and shut the door.

The place seemed normal, at first glance, but after a few seconds it struck me that the house looked a bit dishevelled. The walls were at odd angles from each other. The tops of the windows were all at different heights. I could see how they’d tried to disguise the irregularities with furniture and art placement, arranging the furniture to invent perpendicular angles, or hanging paintings at a height between windows so the differences were less noticeable.

I heard a peculiar, thumping sound coming from deeper into the house.

“Hello?” I said. “The door was open, and I brought a casserole.”

Possibly the most idiotic thing I’ve ever said, or at least in the top ten.

I didn’t know whether I wanted someone to answer or not, but no one did.

Tentatively, I approached the sound and found myself in the kitchen. A cupboard door opened and slammed itself closed. It paused for a while, then banged open and shut several times, followed by another pause, and a few more slams. Then a shorter pause and several more.

 It seemed almost frustrated. Or, as I recalled Mrs. Jones scratching at her arm, itchy. Adding to this effect, the floor tiles bunched up just before each of the slam sessions, though it wasn’t clear whether they were causing or reacting to the irritation.

Footsteps creaked behind me.

I whirled but saw no one.

Regardless, the footsteps walked into the kitchen. A cupboard door opened, revealing a set of glasses. The footsteps walked over to the sink, and the facet turned on and then shut off again.

And then the pattern repeated.

Footsteps came in, the cupboard opened, closed, and then the tap turned on, and off.

I watched this for several minutes. Not interfering, and not daring to move. I didn’t know whether I was going crazy, or the house was.

Eventually I walked over to the glasses cupboard and closed it when it opened.

I looked around nervously. Birds twittered from outside.

Having seen enough, I walked back into the living room. But the windows were gone and in the place of the front door, I saw an interior doorway leading to an exact copy of the room I stood in, though the colors of the walls and furniture were less saturated, dimmer. My stomach tightened. What if I couldn’t get out?

But to my relief, the faded living room was complete with windows, and the door I hurried to escape through. As I scooted away with my casserole, my heart slowly started to return to its normal rhythm. I hardly believed I’d gotten away with it. But now what?

I had to find out more. Whatever afflicted the house clearly had something to do with the illness Mrs. Jones had when she first moved in. What was it?

All evening I combed through the neighborhood Facebook group for clues, looking at posts from a few months ago when the Jones’ arrival was the hottest bone of contention. Most people in the group were annoyingly discrete, but finally I saw a word that snagged my attention: Creutzfeldt.

A quick Google search yielded the information I sought. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is the human variant of spongiform encephalopathy. It’s caused by prions, sneaky little misfolded proteins that cause other proteins in brain tissue to misfold also, leading to sponge-like holes. Not good for brain function, as you might imagine. The disease manifests differently in different species. In sheep, it’s commonly called scrapie, because they rub themselves raw against fences.

In humans, it causes memory loss, impaired coordination, hallucinations, involuntary movements, and eventually, coma and death. It matched both Mrs. Jones’ symptoms, and what I had observed earlier that day.

I felt sorry for the house. Which is bizarre to write, but it’s true. Even so, this was not a safe place for a little boy to live.

My fingers shook as I dialed Meghan’s number. She was no help. I told her what I’d seen and my theories about what was going on. She thought it was cool, of all things. I got mad at her and hung up.

Clearly, I was on my own.

Calling child services was the obvious solution. Not good enough. You might get placed in some group home or foster family. But the house obviously wasn’t safe. I couldn’t leave you there and wait for something terrible to happen and prove I should have acted.

The only thing left to do was talk to your parents. In the end it wasn’t the only thing, but I couldn’t consider taking more drastic action, not yet.

The next morning, I waited in my front yard until I caught Mrs. Jones outside, carrying a package back from the mailbox. I pounced, walking swiftly across the street to confront her.

“Look,” I said. “I know what’s going on in that house.”

Mrs. Jones turned and cast a nervous look over her shoulder. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I know it’s not safe in there.”

“You stay away from us.” She hurried up the steps to the front door.

I followed. “Your condition, it was terminal, wasn’t it? And now the house has it instead of you. That’s why you moved here, right?”

She scowled over her shoulder, and tried to open the door, but it stuck.

“What do you think happens when a house goes into a coma and dies? At least get Stec out of there.”

Yes, they called you Stec. I don’t know why I remember that. It’s always seemed like such a stupid name to me. As if someone began to say a name like Steven, hiccupped, and then was stuck with the result. As I write this, you’re still only four years old, so I don’t know what you’ll make of the name I chose for you. But I’m sure you’ll agree, anything is better than Stec.

With a sharp jerk she got the door open. “This is none of your business. Leave us alone.” She slammed the door shut.

I was frustrated, and disappointed. Maybe if I had offered to help instead of acting accusatory, things would have been different, but I was too angry to be diplomatic.

A couple neighbors standing in their front yards stared at me. Without acknowledging them I stomped back to my house and slammed the front door.

I spent the next several days trying to convince myself that perhaps it wasn’t so dangerous after all, and the Jones’ had things under control. After all, they weren’t the only ones in the neighborhood who knew about the house. If it was truly dangerous, someone would have done something. Maybe this would pass.

But I could see it getting worse. The roof began to slump on one side. The lights flickered at night or didn’t come on at all. The doors seemed to be getting increasingly unreliable. Mr. Jones stopped leaving for work in the mornings. Maybe he had arranged to work from home. They started having groceries delivered. Sometimes one of the Jones’ would be waiting outside to bring them in, having exited from the garage or even a window. Other times, the delivery worker would leave the bags on the front stoop, and it would be hours, or the next day before someone came to get the groceries.

What did happen when a house went into a coma and died?

I couldn’t imagine it would be anything good. What were the Jones’ thinking, keeping you in that place? I suppose it seemed like a miracle when Mrs. Jones got better. The house had become their savior. Perhaps if Mrs. Jones tried to leave, her sickness would return. They had to make the house work. That, I think, is why they kept you there. Because they wanted to believe she was going to be okay.

This is all just conjecture on my part. As you’ve seen, the Jones’ and I were never on speaking terms. But I can’t explain their otherwise aberrant behavior any other way.

At some point, I suppose they must have realized they were wrong to stay in the house. By then it was too late.

One night, I awoke to the sound of a car alarm. My normal procedure when this happens is to silently curse the owner of the car and grit my teeth until it stops.

The alarm was close. Flashing lights came through my blinds and made striped patterns on the wall. I scrambled to the window and saw it was the Jones’ car.

There was a chance the car alarm had gone off for any of the myriad stupid reasons car alarms go off, but I couldn’t afford to believe that. No, someone inside the house had set it off, calling for help the only way they could. I grabbed my headlamp, and ran across the street.

Getting in was a lot harder the second time. Though the key was in the same place, I couldn’t unlock the door. The lock wouldn’t move, as if it had fused solid on the inside. The knob wouldn’t even twist. I had to break a window, but the first few seemed to have rotted drywall behind them. Finally I found a real window, shattered it, and clambered inside.

I couldn’t believe it was the same living room. It looked like a haunted fun-house fever-dream. The walls leaned at drunken angles, the ceiling sloped down oddly to one corner, and the floors and walls were rotting and full of holes. And it was far, far larger than it should have been.

Shadows ran through the rooms. The shapes of humans going about their daily business. Kids running, someone vacuuming. The house was hallucinating.

It was like the horror movies Meghan occasionally convinces me to watch, and yet it felt very different. Nothing evil lurked in this place. It was just sick. I don’t know whether that made me feel better or worse. The house didn’t want to hurt me or you, or anyone else for that matter. But there was nothing I could defeat, either. No way to fix this. Nothing to do but find you and get out of here.

I called out, but the only answer was the scraps of murmured conversation coming from the shadows.

Being careful to avoid the rotted floorboards, I headed across the living room to the doorway where the upstairs staircase should have been. Instead, I found a hallway that hadn’t been there before, and I decided to explore it in hopes of finding the stairs. The floor sloped upwards, and the ceiling sloped downwards as I crept along. By the time I got to the staircase at the end of the hall I felt like an adult in a child’s playhouse.

I’ve never liked stairs, and these were not helping. They were steep, and narrow, and I worried the house might forget whether they were supposed to go up or down. Nevertheless, I climbed, holding tight to the banister.

When I reached the upstairs hallway, I called out. Again no one answered, but I could hear you crying, almost obscured by the sounds of water rushing and pipes rattling. I made my way down the hall. The weird angles made strange optical illusions, forcing me to feel my way along the gritty, decaying walls to your room.

The floor tilted so much, your crib was nearly on its side. You looked up at me, blinking in the light of my headlamp. Your tears stuck your long eyelashes together in clumps and made tracks in the dust on your cheeks. I picked you up and vowed I would never let go.

I made my way out into the hall, still calling out. There was only one other door, at the far end of the hallway. Water seeped out from within. A bathroom, perhaps. Muffled splashing rose above the creaks and murmuring voices, and someone called out for help.

I opened the door, still holding you tight.

My brows furrowed. I didn’t understand what I was seeing. It was as if the toilet bowl had fused with the bathtub and become an enormous, filthy pit in one corner of the bathroom.

The water swirled, gurgling and bubbling. I saw hands, grasping at nothing, and a mop of hair. Not a shadow, this time, but a person. I couldn’t reach them without slipping into the water.

I ran back outside, searching for something to use to help the victim escape. I grabbed the curtain rod from your room, but by the time I got back, the water had mostly drained away. It was murky and still, slowly rising.

I called out again, with no answer.

Someone had gotten sucked into the pipes. But were they dead, or would they come out somewhere? I still couldn’t see any other rooms, but there had to be more. Maybe the basement?

The floor became increasingly spongy under my feet, and I wasn’t sure how much longer it would support my weight. Getting you out had to be my first priority.

I decided against meddling with doors and broke open the first window I came to with my elbow, turning my back to shield you from the shattered glass. By a stroke of luck, because of the slumping house, it was significantly closer to the ground than it should have been. I jumped out the window backwards to avoid landing on you, crashed through a shrub, and struck the ground hard.

I lay among the tattered remains of the shrub for a while, with you held tight to my chest. You were shrieking but unhurt. I wasn’t so lucky. My ankles and my knees ached, but especially my rear, which had taken the brunt of the impact. I sat up, and sang to you until you quieted. Slowly, I stood up. A sharp pain stabbed my ankle, but it was manageable.

I called 911, and said the house was collapsing. Which it was, in a way.

We sat on my front step and waited. You cried yourself to sleep in my arms.

Relief washed over me when the fire truck pulled up to the Jones’ house. Then I watched, dumbstruck, as the president of the homeowner’s association came out and argued with the fire fighters. Her raucous voice carried enough for me to get the gist of what she was saying. The house was fine, it just looked like that, and certain neighbors were prone to making prank calls. The firefighters knocked on the door, but when no one answered, they prepared to leave.

It was unbelievable. But then, the house only looked wonky from the outside, not broken-down. If they’d just gone in…

Most normal people wouldn’t have reacted by running off with you. They would have made a scene about the people still possibly trapped alive in the house. They might even have pointed out the broken glass. But I have never claimed to be normal. I just wanted to get out of that horrible situation, and I wanted you with me.

I went inside my house, and packed a bag. Before leaving, I peeked out my front door to check for possible witnesses.

Mrs. Clementine walked up and down the street, calling your name. It was hard to see in the light of the street lamps, but she seemed rumpled and dirty. Had she gone inside the house to look for you? Well, she was too late.

I crept out to my car, and placed your sleeping form in the footwell before leaving that ridiculous place forever.

We stopped at a supermarket on the way to a hotel; I bought a car seat and other things you’d need. It wasn’t a simple procedure, but I managed it somehow. I had no choice. Once we were finally tucked away in the hotel room I put you to bed. The room was safe and quiet, but I knew this wasn’t over yet. I downloaded Tor onto my laptop, and started looking up how to buy a fake birth certificate on the dark web.

“Don’t tell me I can’t kidnap a baby,” I muttered.

The following months were some of the hardest of my life. After barely escaping the neighborhood without anyone noticing I had taken you, I couldn’t risk coming back. So Meghan had to deal with the landlord and oversee the movers. She had some choice words about my decision, especially since we couldn’t share our discoveries with all the subscribers, followers, and Patreon patrons who made this investigation possible. Just in case anyone from the neighborhood saw what we posted and came after you.

Even so, she supported me through all of it. I’ve heard some people say their friends would kill for them. Sometimes I think your Aunt Meghan really would.

The stress of rebuilding my life while coping with single motherhood would have done me in if not for her. Even with all our precautions, I was terrified someone would take you away, and your cries for the Jones’ nearly broke my heart. But the first time you called me Mama, I knew I did the right thing.



Short Stories

A Hole in the Sky – Short Story

Image by Simon from Pixabay

“What do you mean, a hole?” Thon stumbled but caught himself, struggling to keep up with his longer-legged sibling on the steep grassy slope.

Dahlia slowed to a trot and then stopped to look back. “A hole. Or a window, or something.”

Thon caught up to her and stomped his front hoof. “You’re not making sense. The sky is empty. You can’t have a hole in something that isn’t there.”

Dahlia twitched her whiskers imperiously. “You’ll see when we get there.”

Thon’s ears flattened in annoyance. Everyone thought he couldn’t understand things because he was too young, but how could he when nobody would explain anything?

“I’m not going all the way up the hill if you won’t say what you mean.”

Dahlia continued up the slope, tossing her next words over her shoulder at him. “Well go back then, if you’re going to be such a kitten.”

Thon scrambled up the slope, grumbling to himself. He was not a kitten. He was almost ten years old, which she knew perfectly well. It wasn’t his fault his legs were so short.

Angrily crashing through a clump of poufy-flowered grasses, Thon was rewarded with a spray of pink pollen in his face. Thon sneezed and shook himself. He frowned and looked around in time to see Dahlia disappearing behind a stand of aspen trees.

With a mischievous grin, Thon bent down to grab the base of one of the grasses in his mouth, and yanked it out of the ground. He continued up towards the grove, holding his head high to keep his prize from dragging on the ground. The fluffy flower would lose some of its pollen on the way, but there should be enough left to make pelting Dahlia with it worthwhile.

When Thon passed the grove, he found Dahlia standing on a rock at the top of the hill. She stared quizzically at the sky.

“See?” she said.

Thon didn’t see. It looked perfectly normal. Except for one patch where the sky was a slightly different shade of blue, and the clouds didn’t match up. It was like looking at a wall painted to look like the sky, but there was a window you could see the actual sky through. Only they were both the real sky.

“That’s weird,” Thon said. Or at any rate, that’s what he would have said if his mouth wasn’t full of plant material.

Dahlia turned to look at him, to make sense of his garbled statement. Thon was about to pounce and attack her with the flower when a roar split the sky. It was the loudest sound either of them had ever heard.

Thon ducked his head down between his front legs to block his ears, but that didn’t do much good. It just kept going on and on, like an angry waterfall.

The two creatures ran for cover in the trees. They didn’t notice the small, bird-like object crossing the odd-looking patch of sky. If they had, they couldn’t have imagined the chaos going on above.

In the cockpit of the Boeing 787, the pilots were struggling to understand why they had made landfall several hours ahead of schedule, and why the coastline looked nothing like they had come to expect after several years of flying the route from Houston to Sydney. What was worse, they had completely lost all GPS navigation, and could not raise anyone on radio.

To the great relief of everyone involved, after about five minutes the 787 found itself flying over the Pacific Ocean once again, and the sky above the hill where Thon and Dahlia hid amongst the trees was once again quiet.

Want more? Check out:

Bridge: Part One

Green: Part One

Roots: Part One

Short Stories

Green: Part 4 – April WordPrompt

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

I thought it was over after I threw out the strange orchid. It wasn’t.

For the rest of the day I kept to the guest bedroom, trying to pretend the whole thing hadn’t happened. I was psyched about the job opening in my old classmate’s firm, and so I cyber-stalked him and his colleagues and their competition. Just to get a good sense of what I was getting into.

I also kept putting resume’s out other places, just in case. It wouldn’t hurt to have more than one offer on the table.

When I eventually had to come back downstairs for food that evening, I found my sister staring at one of her houseplants. It looked like there was an odd sprout in it, but I wasn’t really familiar enough with the flora in this house to know whether or not it was unusual.

She wasn’t petting it, which was good enough for me.

The carpets seemed to have acquired a greenish tint in places. Maybe from the dust the orchid puffed out when I took it too the garage. I vacuumed, and that helped a bit.

It didn’t get better. It was never got as bad as it was that first day, but the house was steadily getting greener and fuzzier. I told myself it really wasn’t that much different than it had been before. Maybe the furniture had always been growing mossy stuff.

I vacuumed twice a day to keep the worst of it out of the carpets at least, and got rid of anything particularly orchid-like growing in the other houseplants. None of this seemed to bother my sister, either the growing things or my interference with them.

She didn’t leave the house, or answer the phone. I had to remind her to change clothing and feed herself, but she would if I told her to.

It was all beyond ridiculous, but it was temporary. The meetings with my former classmate and his colleagues went fantastic, and before I knew it, I had an official job offer and a start date. I was getting my life back.

It seemed like an eternity but finally the morning came. I carefully lint-rolled every bit of plant material off my work clothes, and reorganized my favorite briefcase.

I hustled downstairs, aiming for the front door. Fluff and dust kicked up in my wake. I would have to re-lint roll myself in the car. No matter. I opened the door to leave.

“Are you going?” said my sister.

I stopped.

My sister stood by a tall potted tree fern that was now dripping with something like spanish moss. She hadn’t said a word to me unless I spoke to her first in days.

I scratched at my arm. “Yes. My new job starts today. I told you that.”

“Are you going to leave me?”

A queasy knot settled in the pit of my stomach. I could leave. In fact, I had already perused a few apartment listings, and contacting landlords to arrange viewings was on my to-do list for next week.

But what about her? She wouldn’t leave, I knew that. Or if she did, she would take it with her. Her clothes already had fuzzy greenish patches, and her complexion was pale and sallow.

“No,” I said. “I’m going to stay here with you.”

I closed the door, and we walked over to the couch. A big potted hibscus tree sat in the middle of the room. It’s flowers were huge. They’d once been white, but now they were light green and dramatically splattered with dark red spots.

Dust hung in the air, visible in the rays from the window, and almost seemed to shimmer.

My phone rang from my purse by the front door.

The dust looked like krill drifting in the ocean currents. I sat on the couch with my sister and thought about whales swimming through the living room and sifting pollen out of the air.

Want more? Check out:

Bridge: Part One

A Hole in the Sky

Roots: Part One

Short Stories

Green: Part 3 – April WordPrompt

Click on the links for Part 1 or Part 2 if you missed them

The job search went better than I expected that morning. I didn’t quite manage to land a job offer on the first day, but I did have a good lead. Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I put out a message on LinkedIn, just letting everyone know I was in the market for a new opportunity.

As it happened, a few friends of mine from college had put together a business venture two years ago. Their endeavor had been much more successful than mine, and they were looking add someone with my skill set to the team. It was better than I could have hoped for. What better way to get back up on the horse? And this time with some backup. I had a lunch date set up with their team in two days.

By the time I’d hammered out the details, I was starting to get more than peckish. I glanced over at the clock. 11 am already?

No great surprise, time does march on. But I was surprised I hadn’t heard anything from downstairs. My sister must be up by now, and yet there had been no exclamations of surprise, or excited phone calls to other botanically-inclined friends. Had she left for work, or errands, without noticing somehow?

That hardly seemed likely, given how excited she was about it yesterday, even before it doubled in size. I didn’t know what to expect when I came downstairs, but if I’d made a list, what I saw would have been at the bottom of it.

My sister sat at the table staring at the orchid with a vacant, sleepy smile. She was petting one of the orchid’s large, fuzzy leaves. As I came closer, I realized to my horror that the hairs on the leaves were embedding themselves in her skin, giving her palm its own fuzzy green-brown coat.

“What are you doing? Stop that.” I grabbed her hand and pushed the orchid away.

She looked startled for a moment, but her face soon reverted to a wide-eyed calm. “It’s really soft. Feel it.”

I’d known my sister to do some kooky things, but this was bizarre. She almost seemed high.

“Um, no thanks. You just say here for a second,” I said. “And I’ll get rid of this.”

I carefully picked up the orchid by the bottom of the cracked mug, careful not to let the leaves touch me, and then hustled out of the room. My sister watched me remove the orchid passively, which was somehow more disturbing than if she’d fought to keep it. The orchid shed dust like pollen or spores all over the place as I carried it through the house. I tried not to jostle it.

What was I going to do? Duct tape, I thought.

They use duct tape like a waxing strip to remove soft hair-like cactus spines. That would probably work. I chucked the orchid, mug and all, into the garbage can in the garage. In one corner of the garage my sister had a disorganized table with a bunch of tools and home-repair type items on it, and I poked around there until I found the duct tape.

My arm was itchy.

I looked at the duct tape and I remembered how for most of my formative years I thought it was called duck tape and didn’t this duct tape actually have yellow ducks on it or was it actually spots? I should probably actually call this duct tape duck tape only it actually didn’t have anything yellow on the tape no spots or ducks or geese or anything. I used to be afraid of geese but they’re actually far too small to back up their threats so I really should have been afraid of swans, because they’re just as aggressive but they’re huge and I think they could kill a person. They’re so beautiful too they would get away with it because no one would believe it a swan could get away with murder so easily plus how would you arrest a swan they don’t have wrists to put handcuffs on?

I blinked.

The orchid was in my hand again. Or maybe I had never dumped it at all?

I threw it away, again or perhaps for the first time, making sure it didn’t touch me. Only it already had. An itchy patch on my arm the size of a silver dollar was studded with those fine hairs. My stomach growled and my feet hurt from standing. How long had I been here?

I laid a strip of duct tape over the patch of hairs, and pulled it away quickly. The irritating, and possibly worse, hairs came with it, bar none. Excellent.

When I went back into the kitchen I found my sister where I’d left her. I used the duct tape to remove the stinging hairs on her hand.

“Does this hurt?” I asked.

“Nope,” she said.

“Why were you doing that?”

“I don’t know. It was soft.”

“Don’t do that again, okay?”


“Good. I’ll make us brunch.”

She still seemed very out of it, but I was fairly sure that would wear off with time. And that, I hoped, was the end of it.

Click here for the conclusion!

Short Stories

Green: Part 2 – April WordPrompt

If you missed Part 1, click here.

I couldn’t sleep the first night at my sister’s house, the first night of my exile. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was the responsible one. I was supposed to be successful, too. That’s how this works. If you work hard and take care to proof-read your homework, you get better grades than your sibling who goofs off all the time and doesn’t take anything seriously. This had held true my entire life up until this point.

Why, in the unforgiving world of adulthood of all places, had the situation suddenly been reversed?

It wasn’t as if my sister was particularly successful either, drifting from one side-hustle to the next while relying on thrift stores and dumpsters to make ends meet. I’ve heard her brag about how little she spends on food or heating in a month. As if living like a peasant is an accomplishment.

And yet there I was, a dependent slug living on her charity after years of schooling, and several more of gainful employment. It was only temporary, of course. Tomorrow I would polish my resume, and start making calls to contacts. Within a month or two, I would be employed again and back in a modern, tastefully-decorated apartment in an up-and-coming area of the city.

The most productive thing I could do right then was get a good night’s sleep. But I couldn’t.

Not uncommon, for the first night in an unfamiliar environment. I should cut myself some slack. Since I couldn’t sleep anyway, maybe I should start going through online job postings, just to get a sense of the market. I grabbed my laptop and crept downstairs. There wasn’t a desk in my sister’s spare bedroom, and using a laptop in bed is terrible for the posture. I plan on having a long, upwardly mobile career and I do not intend to look like a hunched old granny just as I hit my peak.

I settled myself at the kitchen table. Light from my laptop screen irradiated my face and ensured the rest of the room would appear cloaked in darkness despite soft moonlight seeping in from the windows. I pulled up a job search site and began to consider search terms, but my gaze kept drifting to the plant on the table.

Everything about it annoyed me. It had no purpose; it was just clutter. Don’t get me wrong, I like decorative objects if they evoke something useful. Serenity, for example, as most self-respecting orchids do. This thing looked like it might already be rotting, an effect enhanced by the broken mug it was planted in. It didn’t evoke anything in me except disgust, which seldom enhances productivity.

This aesthetic did fit the room, which was both the only remotely positive thing I can say about it, as well as a sad commentary on the state of the kitchen. It wasn’t filthy, just messy and cluttered. Full of herbs hung up to dry and drop dead leaves on everything, and jars of other herbs or peppers left to soak and have their essence extracted like medical specimens in jars.

I considered one jar of herbs and vinegar. It had a considerably higher ratio of vinegar to plant material than the other jars. I picked up the jar, unscrewed the lid, and tipped some of the excess vinegar into the broken mug housing the orchid. I put the jar back exactly where it had been, and wiped up a few drops that fell on the table or slid down the side of the jar.

There. Now the orchid would be put out of its misery, and the herb/vinegar mixture would be more like the others. By any objective standard I was helping.

I packed up my laptop and headed up to the spare bedroom to attempt sleep again. I might not have accomplished much in the way of job searching, but I had done something. What kind of namby-pamby life form could be done in by a salad dressing ingredient anyway? If the orchid did die, it just proved how pointless keeping it around had been in the first place.

The next morning I awoke to the sound of my alarm clock, as I had for as long as I could remember. I’d gotten very little sleep, and the raucous chirping was particularly painful. Technically I could have done without it, as the hour was meant to accommodate a long commute and I had nowhere to go. Still, I saw no reason to dwell on that, and sleeping in would only encourage the kind of laziness that would extend this hiccup in my life. My sister wasn’t awake yet, and wouldn’t be for an hour or two.

I went down into the kitchen to get coffee brewing, hoping that there would be something decent available. My sister had said something alarming about dandelion coffee earlier. I paused as my fuzzy mind detected something wrong on the kitchen table.

The orchid was now at least twice its original size, its wide, furred leaves spilling down onto the tabletop and hiding the mug entirely. I blinked several times, commanding my sleepy mind to make sense of this. It wouldn’t.

I dug a nearly-empty container of instant coffee out of the back of a cupboard, made myself a cup of something tolerable, and hurried upstairs, leaving the orchid to its nonsense.

Click here for Part Three

Short Stories

Green: Part 1 – April WordPrompt

I tried to hide my annoyance as my sister and I made frequent pilgrimages to and from the moving van. It was nice of her, really, to take me in after my bold, but carefully calculated, choice to dive in and start my own business ended in failure. Perhaps it wasn’t so carefully calculated after all.

My sister was thrilled that we’d be living together, or at least she pretended to be. No, she probably was thrilled. There wasn’t any real reason for her not to be. We’d always gotten along well.

But as we aged out of adolescence and became firmly entrenched in our adult years, I felt like I’d grown up. Whereas she…hadn’t.

I mean, her house was proof enough of that. Full to the brim with silly pseudoscience knick-knacks. The essential oil diffusers, the himalayan salt lamp. Enough potted herbs to season an entire banquet. And all the furniture was made of this dark distressed wood that always gave the impression of being sticky.

I knew I was mainly upset about the way my life had gone off the rails, and was projecting those emotions on everything annoying around me, but knowing that didn’t change how I felt. At least my sister had stopped talking about how wonderful this was going to be, and had moved on to blathering about some a-MAZE-ing orchid she’d just bought. It takes much more than some little flower to amaze me, I can promise you. But at least this topic didn’t require much input from me.

Finally all of my stuff was at least moved into the house, if not put away. Most of it was going to have to stay in boxes in the basement for the time being. There just wasn’t anywhere else to put it.

I ducked under an overgrown spider plant hanging in the entryway, heading into the kitchen in search of promised lemonade. A small plant bearing a few lackluster buds, and covered in brownish fuzz sat on the kitchen table. My sister rotated the broken mug it was planted in, examining the plant from every angle.

“That’s not it, is it?” I pointed at the plant, which only served to remind me that I was at least a month overdue for a manicure. Fat chance of that.

She nodded enthusiastically. “Wait until it blooms. They say the fragrance is something else.”

Oh good, now the house would smell like a perfume shop as well as a health food store.

I sipped my lemonade, watching my sister as she stared at the orchid. I didn’t like that plant. Why, I couldn’t have said. But something was wrong with it.

Click here for Part Two

Short Stories

The Bridge: Part 2 – March WordPrompt

For months, maybe even over a year now, she had come to the bridge everyday. It was a good routine, even though she never accomplished what she ostensibly went there for. It got her out of the house. The walk was very pleasant, good for the mind and the body.

One way or another, today it was over. Tomorrow she was moving to another city. So today she would either cross the bridge, or she wouldn’t.

One would think the right course of action now was to finally cross the bridge, since that was ostensibly why she’d come. That was the obvious answer. She stood at the end of the bridge, where the boundary between land and bridge blurred as dirt and moss crept onto the wooden planks.

But not crossing the bridge had almost become a tradition in and of itself. She couldn’t deny that. Still, even though she hadn’t crossed the bridge, she had always intended to do so eventually. Would failing to ultimately cross the bridge render all those other days meaningless?

Surely not. And yet, she couldn’t deny it would necessarily rob them of some meaning, at least.

Slowly, almost unwillingly, she began to walk across the bridge. Butterflies rose in her stomach as she passed the furthest point she’d ever reached, and kept going into the veil of branches and leaves that hid the other side of the bridge from sight.

It was longer than she’d realized. There was a curve in the bridge, as she suspected. As she walked she thought she could feel the bridge start to wobble under her feet. A few yards further, and it started creaking ominously.

Finally, she saw the other side of the bridge, where the wooden planks met land again. Only they didn’t. The bridge was broken, and stopped short about three feet from the land.

Obviously, it would be necessary to turn back at this point. But she had come so far. Now that she was out here, she didn’t want to turn back. Suppose she could jump the gap? She didn’t have a great deal of experience in jumping over things. But surely that distance was doable.

The boards immediately in front of the gap were not very stable, and they creaked and sagged as she edged her way closer to the gap. But finally she got close enough and flung herself onto solid earth. She stumbled but caught herself.

There, she had done it. She looked around. It was, in all honesty, not that much different from the forest on the other side of the bridge, albeit thicker and the undergrowth grew thick and exuberant.

There was something of a path, though the forest had begun to retake it. Obviously since the bridge was broken, it must have been a long time since anyone had travelled this path. She found a strange satisfaction in that. The path belonged to her. And anyone else with the guts to jump the gap, but there couldn’t be many others.

Actually, she was a bit worried about getting back. She knew she could make the jump now, but she would have to land on those creaky planks, instead of the solid hillside. That could wait, now that she was finally here, she had to fully take in the moment.

She walked down the overgrown path, noticing flowers and birdsong and the way the light fell through the leaves. A hummingbird flitted through the woods. These were rare in her region. She’d only seen one once before, and to see one now felt like a reward for finally making the crossing.

As she walked, though, anxiety about getting back pooled in her stomach. Soon, perhaps too soon, she felt she had to return to her side of the bridge just to be sure she could.

The bare planks stretching out towards her felt mocking rather than reassuring. She looked down into the gap uncertainly. The slope of the hillside and thick branches made it difficult to judge how bad a fall might be. It wasn’t a tremendous distance, at least not until past the point where she was likely to fall. But it would almost certainly be more than the maximum jarring hop one might undertake voluntarily.

But jump she must, whether she was bound to fall or not. There might have been some controversy about whether crossing the bridge was strictly necessary, but getting back was certainly mandatory.

She gathered herself, took a running start, and jumped. Her foot struck a plank; it bent but seemed to hold, but her other foot struck an unstable plank that twisted underfoot and she lost her balance. She fell, crashed through branches, hit the ground hard and rolled downhill into the creek.

Wet, muddy and stunned, she sat up. Her jeans were torn and her leg badly scraped, but on the whole, she was unharmed. She sat in the creek for a few moments while her mind caught up with her predicament. The cool water felt good on her bruises, but the water made her clothes heavy and uncomfortable.

She stood up on shaky legs and began to slog through the creek towards her side of the bridge. At this point, she had to concede that she’d never been meant to cross the bridge, though it was conceivable she might think differently later.

Want more? Check out:

Green: Part One

A Hole in the Sky

Short Stories

The Bridge: Part One – March WordPrompt

She came to the bridge again today. Maybe this time she will cross it, but probably not. After all, she’s been coming to this bridge every day for months now. Why should today be any different? Maybe she will step on the bridge this time. She’s done that before. Maybe she will walk on it a bit, just to that clump of moss, where the shadow from the birch bough falls.

Deep down, she knows she’ll probably never cross the bridge. Perhaps she doesn’t even want to. She must want to, otherwise why would she keep coming? Yes, she wants to cross the bridge, and someday she will. But crossing the bridge isn’t really the point. She keeps coming every day, and sometimes she steps on the bridge. That’s progress, isn’t it? That’s the main thing.

The bridge is long. Much longer than the sort of bridges people normally consider crossing. It’s old, which is why mosses grow on it, and made of wood. It cuts through the trees clinging to the edge of the ravine, spans the big creek. Further on it looks like a hill rises up to meet the bridge but she can’t quite see where the bridge ends. But as she’s already decided, actually crossing the bridge isn’t really the point, as long as she does it some day.

Certainly not today. But she will probably step on the bridge today. She should make sure her shoe laces are properly tied first. The shoes are new, at least new to her. She bought them at a thrift store, and it didn’t look like they’d seen much use. Her laces were tied already, but not with a double knot. So she retied the laces, making sure to end with a square knot, so the bow lay perpendicular to the length of her foot. Then her shoe laces would be much less likely to come untied if she walked on the bridge.

But probably not today. It is cloudy, and looks as though it might rain. There are damp patches on the bridge already. It might be slippery, especially with the moss.

She turns to leave but hesitates. This is why she wore the running shoes in the first place. In case of slippery patches or big splinters or bugs, possibly. Visiting the bridge is enough progress for anyone, but she’s here already, so she may as well walk on the bridge.

She takes three steps on the bridge without it creaking. By now she knows the creaky spots pretty well, at least up until this point. She takes another step, and it creaks. Another step, and it doesn’t creak.

She hasn’t decided what to make of the creaking, though she’s spent a lot of time thinking about it. Is it a complaint? A greeting, of sorts? A warning?

Sparkles of light reflected off the creek below peek up at her through gaps in the boards. She can’t see any more of what lies on the other side of the bridge. It’s still shrouded in shadow and branches. The bridge might curve a bit, actually. The point where she thought the end was might just be a curve where the bridge goes off in an other direction.

It is a very long bridge.

That’s enough for today. She turns around and hurries back to solid ground. On the walk home, she thinks about corners and curvy things. Maybe she will make cinnamon buns.

Click here for Part Two