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.

Since she came to bridge everyday to cross it, one would think the right course of action now was to finally cross the bridge. 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 traveled 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