On Life

Flash Fiction: A 500-Word Short Story About An Apology

Fellow writers–I don’t know about you, but after I’ve written a novel and it takes everything out of me, I need a break for a while. In my time of decompression, I like to stay in touch with the craft by writing short fiction. You never know where it could lead, and it keeps you thinking and telling your stories. Today’s story is about saying your sorry…to the person you need to say it to when an apology is owed. Especially a big one.

Out of the Circle

He always knew he’d be back. But when you make as many mistakes as he did, he certainly wasn’t expecting to be greeted with open arms, or even an acknowledgment that he existed. He might as well be dead, he thought often, as once he made the decision to go, he was gone, and they all treated him as such.

Unreachable. He made sure of that. A disappearing act that was difficult to follow.

He parked the car around the corner, as it was the same car he’d driven away in seven years ago, a Ford Taurus, and he didn’t want anyone to even take note of it or realize he was back on the street. He hated the car with every fiber of his being and wished he had something sportier, but he never sold it. He figured it was a part of his penance for his inability to stay, his inability to commit. Plus, he could barely afford to eat and pay his bills.

He’d hit rock bottom, and he wasn’t really sure, even now, months later, what had been the turning point. Ten different jobs, six different residences in the last seven years, and a host of “change of address” cards made him a certifiable mess. After finally waking up and realizing that he was destroying his own life one sip at a time, he decided that it might be the right time to reach out for help.

Was it the girl he thought he could love with the raven hair who shouted at him half dressed amidst rumpled sheets and liquor bottles strewn across the room? Was it the old man he’d shared a meal with at the dump of a diner on Main Street? Was it the kid who looked at him inquisitively as he sat on the park bench eating a cheese sandwich who said, “Hey, mister, what’s wrong with you? Why do you look so sad?” He wasn’t sure what the tipping point was or how he managed to climb out of the Scotch and Rum and Vodka, but he somehow got himself into a chair surrounded by others who had the same demons plaguing them every day as well.

In that first moment, as they welcomed him into the circle and he said his name aloud and admitted his dependency and why he was there, for the first time since he could remember, he felt less alone.

Twelve months after the circle, he found himself walking up the street to his old address.  The one he shared with her, the brunette with big eyes and a sweet smile. The one with whom he ruined it all. He pulled his hat down a little in case anyone was outside who might recognize him. He’d done his homework and knew she still lived in the house, though he was not sure with whom she shared her life now.

But he was there for a reason, and he didn’t care who was there with her.

He just knew he wanted to see her. That he needed to see her.

And that he needed to say the words he’d mustered up the courage to say for the last twelve months.

His knees were shaking as he rang the doorbell, and yet he knew he had the courage to do it.

He knew he wouldn’t leave until he looked her in the eyes and was able to say he was sorry.

imageStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

On Life

Writing Prompt Challenge

So, last night I posed a writing challenge to see who wanted to try and write a short piece of flash fiction (300-400 words) around a prompt. I posted three. I got no takers. But I did it.

Image may contain: text

Image may contain: text

I chose the third. I love writing prompts because they force you to immerse yourself in a scene, setting, or situation right away. They force you to be creative, and to use your creative juices in the best possible way. The challenge was to write approximately 300-400 words.

Here’s my result of Prompt #3.

The Young King

The young King’s hair was a rumpled mess, his clothes strewn across the floor, his crown askew and hanging off of the chair. The lingering smell of liquor plagued the room as the gold goblet next to his bed sat empty. He had banished everyone from the castle after an evening of dancing and celebrating at two in the morning—rather earlier than his typical four o’clock dismissal. It was nearly eleven, and the sun had risen high in the sky, the morning dew long dissipated from the lawn.

His mother had married his father, the former King, when she was younger than he was now. She had not been pleased with his antics last night. She publicly reprimanded him in front of a few of the guests, and he in turn, had caused a scene. He was twenty-three, and he had become King two years prior upon his father’s passing. She blamed him for the current state of affairs in the Kingdom, for his lack of leadership and foresight, and for his relentless pursuit of young women. She had fought him privately, but last night she could no longer hold her tongue, and she had, in his estimation, embarrassed him beyond reproach.

She stood looking at him now, he squinting at her through the hazel eyes that so often had reminded her of her dear, departed husband. The blinding sunlight, which she had allowed to stream into the room after pulling open the heavy curtains, was causing him to sit up in bed and acknowledge her presence.

“There were vial words said between us last night, most of which, I would like not to remember or repeat,” she said in a tone he fully recognized as one in which you do not offer a response. She was his mother, after all, and while he was by all means a man, she would always be his most trusted advisor and confidante. He felt a sense of regret at what he must have said last evening, but he offered no reply at present. “It’s your choice,” she shrugged. “You can continue with your worthless life, or you can become someone who matters.”

With that, she turned on her heels and began the walk toward the gilded double doors that shielded and separated his room from the rest of the castle. He was not one to apologize freely as his pride and defensive demeanor almost always got in the way of salvaging his relations, but as she crossed the threshold, she heard him call, “Mother—“

Flash Fiction | Stephanie Verni | 410 words


15781589_865992106837911_1585157622209528074_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of the newly released Inn SignificantBaseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree.  Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt. 
To visit Stephanie’s Amazon Author page and see her books, click here.

On Life

Friday Fiction: A Haunting One and A Romance

Creative fiction writers out there tend to dabble in flash fiction, which, quite simply is short form writing. It’s just like writing a short story, but even shorter. I practice writing short, short stories often, as they help writers tell a narrative within a minimum word count. I have my students engage in writing prompts, too. They are a great place to get an idea going to see where it may lead you. Of all of the pieces of short fiction I’ve written, the two below are my favorites because I think there’s potential for a longer story to grow out of each of these, whether it’s a short story or a novel.  The first is a ghost story (I never write ghost stories, so that one surprised me), and the second is the beginning of an interesting story that involves love and a fortune teller. I hope you enjoy them. Have a great Friday, all, and let me know what you think about these two that I picked and whether you think they are worth tackling in longer form.

If you’re looking for an update about my upcoming novel, I’m almost done editing. Looking forward to getting in your hands shortly!

Story #1 : AFTER I WAS DEAD

Photo credit: Daily Mail

A F T E R   I   W A S   D E A D

The enduring span of lifelessness is enough to drive me mad, as if I wasn’t driven half as mad when I lived in this ramshackle of a cottage. The cobwebs in the corners seem to have lingered for years, and yet, I haven’t been gone that long. The chandelier is full of heavy dust, the curtains look as if they may disintegrate into nothing, and the rug is almost unrecognizable, as it is covered in soot and dust and grime. It angers me that no one has cared properly for this place—this place I tended to daily. I’ve become bored with waiting, and so I decide to visit the larger home on which the cottage is set—the Hamlin Mansion.

After I was dead, I set out to let people know the truth about what happened that wintry Friday evening when the wind whipped and the trees were bent with snow. No one ever suspected that someone could have murdered me on the grounds of Hamlin Mansion, just five steps from the front door of the cottage. Why would someone want the governess dead? I could hear the roars from the folks in the town…she must have fallen and hit her head…the winds must have caught up with her and she did not see the tree limb…it was an accident of happenstance. I grew weary of hearing the townspeople make excuses for my death. It was covered up so well, I have to give him credit. There was little to no bloodshed, you see, so he was lucky in that regard. He struck me in just the right place, and where he became luckier still was that the snow piled so high that Mother Nature neatly disguised his tracks. All for the better for him, you see.

Light as feather, I can walk through walls now, something I only dreamed of doing when I was alive. I find my way to his room in the mansion, to the seemingly unlikely murderer, a boy of just sixteen, with demon eyes and glossy, albino hair. He is still unlike any other person I have—had—ever met in my lifetime. There was always something ruthless and unsettling about his looks as well as his manners. In this he is frighteningly unique. I dare say, he has no remorse about anything he does or says. He is an unlikely offspring to the lovely husband and wife who own Hamlin Mansion, Greta and Theodore Hamlin. This child of theirs is a sad outcome of what should have been proper breeding.

He sits in the corner of the room reading by lamplight, though the room is dingy and unkempt. He is permitted to treat his belongings and his part of the home with a complete disregard, and that is perhaps one of the final straws where I was concerned. As his governess, I did not accept his lazy ways, his cruel retributions, his off-putting mannerisms. It was my mistake that I stood up to him…questioned him…demanded that his studies be turned into me before the snowstorm hit…and reported his questionable behavior several times prior to my demise to the Mistress of the house.

I glide toward him. His water glass is next to the lamp on the table, and I focus with all of my might and lift it, then tilt it ever so gently, so that the full glass fills his lap with water. He screams. He stands up and begins to frantically wipe the water off of himself. He stares at the empty glass on the floor. I’m going to have fun with him, I think. Again, I concentrate and will the glass to float in the air and place it firmly in its place back on the table.

His face goes whiter than it ever has been, and his hair stands on end. He is a most unattractive creature.

“Who are you?” he shouts into the air, a frightful, frantic question piercing the silence.

I try to yell, but realize I make no sound.

But there is a quill pen on the table, and his book remains there as well.

I use all the power I have inside of me to open the book, grab the quill, and start to write. Much to my pleasant surprise, the ink is showing up on the page.

“You killed me,” I wrote.

He begins to hyperventilate, and I stand by and watch. The little brat. The little brat who got away with murder.

This could entertain me for days upon end, I think.

Story #2: THE FORTUNE TELLER

“That boy loves you,” the old woman next door calls to me as she sees Nick peel away in his black BMW. She is sitting on her stoop in the 98 degree weather, her dyed red hair in old-fashioned rollers, her socks gathered at her heels in her slip-ons. The look on her face indicates that she wants me to engage in further conversation. We have been friendly since we’ve lived next to each other in the row homes of Baltimore, but have never had a long, in-depth conversation.

“He may, but he’s leaving,” I say.

“Probably for the best,” she replies.

I’ve lived beside this odd-looking woman for almost a year, and she pretty much keeps to herself. She knows nothing of my personal life. Her name’s Mable, and I’ve heard others on the block refer to her as “the palm reader,” though she has no official business. I don’t believe in fortune tellers and have never engaged in any sort of it.

“Come here,” she says. “I’ll show you.”

For curiosity’s sake, I walk down the steps from where I am, and climb the four steps to meet her on her stoop. I’m tempted to see what she knows, trying not to let the tears fall in front of her. Her appearance alone warrants concern; there seems to be a twitch in her eye, and she’s wearing more mascara than a runway model. It looks uneven and gloppy. Her coral-colored lipstick goes beyond the outlines of her lips. It is difficult to take her seriously.

She stretches out her hand and asks for my palm. I extend my hand and turn my palm over for her to see.

PalmreadingShe examines it. “There is a lot of passion, here,” she’s pointing to the line that runs up across my palm in a curve where the line ends at the base of my fingertips. “There’s a great deal of love for that boy.”

I nod.

“However, you will not see him again after today,” she says.

I feel a lump build in my throat.

She continues to look at my hand. “You have a good career, but you’re not quite sure if you want to stay in it. You’re thinking of uprooting yourself and moving someplace far away.”

I get a little chill up my spine. I’ve had this particular thought on and off for the past month, and I’ve told no one. Not even Nick. Not my own parents, or my best friend, Ava.

She focuses on one particular line on my hand, tracing it with her fingertip for what feels like hours, studying it with concerned eyes. She looks puzzled.

“Interesting,” she says.

“What?” I ask, now confused.

“You will travel. You will go where you’ve considered going, and you will be happy.”

“Without Nick,” I say, more as a statement than a question.

“Yes,” she says. “There will be passion again, but only if you go.”

Nick and I have been together for a year. However, I can’t be with him long term, nor should we ever have been together. Nick is unhappily married. He lives apart from his wife, but they are not formally divorced. Nor are there any plans for them to be so. The passion with which Mable speaks is true; it currently exists, but it is a sick, twisted, unhealthy passion, and it has become the ruin of me.

Three weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to work for my friend’s father’s business in Rome. I’ve always wanted to go abroad, and have seriously contemplated accepting it.

I scoff at the idea of leaving for a moment, and then I stop. She sees my face, and gives me a crooked, quirky smile.

Mable is offbeat, eccentric, ridiculously dressed, and the oddest person I’ve ever talked to, but something tells me to listen. Something makes me take her seriously.

xx |

Stephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the upcoming novel Inn Significant. She is also a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

On Life

Friday Fiction | She Said, I Know What It’s Like To Be Dead

Ebenezer Scrooge

If you love the classic story of A Christmas Carol featuring Ebenezer Scrooge like I do, I hope you’ll be amused by today’s Friday Fiction.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I posted a short piece of fiction. I haven’t written flash fiction is so long. Today, I’ve attempted to write a short fictional story using a prompt from Brian Kiteley’s book, The 3 A.M. Epiphany. If you are a writer, and you don’t have Brian’s book, you should get it along with the sequel, The 4 A.M. Epiphany; they both contain writing prompts to get you thinking—and writing.

I worked hard this summer to finish my third novel, and I hope to have that out to you in January. In the meantime, Kiteley asks us to simply start the beginning of the piece with the following words that he pulled from lyrics written by Lennon and McCartney: She said, I know what it’s like to be dead. Here we go, as I beg Dickens for forgiveness, and allow Ebenezer Scrooge to say it like it is…from his perspective and not that of a narrator.

SHE SAID, I KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE DEAD

She said, “I know what it’s like to be dead.”

She scared the Dickens out of me when the clock struck one, and I cowered under the covers. She was a frail looking thing, and I wondered what exactly her last meal had consisted of before she arrived at her current state. I thought about what I had eaten earlier: methinks it was a bowl of broth with a bit of bad beef in it. Marley had screamed at me at the top of his lungs when I questioned the integrity of his ghostliness, as I defiantly blamed his apparition on what I had previously consumed. However, seeing this petite, white-haired woman made me wonder just how long dead she was. She stood there staring at me, motionless, as her white garb gently floated around her body.

“What is it like to be dead?” I asked, hearing the words echo in my bedroom chamber.

“You tell me, Ebenezer,” she said. “It seems that something inside of you has been dead for some time.”

I had no idea what she meant, as the last time I checked, I had been very much alive. I took immediate offense to her statement.

“And how is it that you are abreast of my current disposition, Madame?” I retorted.

“Death does have some benefits, Ebenezer. Your behavior has indicated much to me over the years. And you didn’t always have such a miserly and miserable approach to life.”

I felt this apparition’s presence as an annoyingly bothersome invasion of my privacy, like a wart that wouldn’t go away. The last time I had a woman in my bedroom had been many years ago, before my sciatic nerve became an issue, and I can assure you things didn’t go too well. Prior to that, I had lost my one true love, Isabelle, because I apparently worked too much trying to make the perfect life for the two of us. She was ungrateful for my dedication to the future we had planned together, and mentioned on too many occasions that I was ignoring her and her needs. I struggled to find truth in this statement. Hadn’t she liked the fur muff I had given her? The angel brooch? The plethora of books to fill her shelves? How many more material things does a woman need, and how could I have devoted more time to her when I had to keep the counting house afloat? Truthfully, I hadn’t had too much luck with women, and I was assuming the same was going to be true tonight. I’d forever sworn them off and vowed to live in solitude. Hence, my particular vexation at what I was dealing with presently.

Image result for christmas holly sketch

“So—do you have a name?” I asked.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.”

“That seems way too formal for this uncomfortable moment of familiarity and intimacy, wouldn’t you agree? You don’t have another name?”

“In life, my friends called me Eunice.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Why?”

“Well, that wouldn’t have been a name I wanted to be called in life,” I said.

“I beg your forgiveness, but Ebenezer isn’t that much better.”

“I like it fine,” I said, “though most people just refer to me as ‘Scrooge.'”

She scratched at her brow. She seemed a bit unnerved by my candor. I wasn’t often one to mince words. I’d always appreciated a direct approach in all of my interpersonal relationships, no matter how brutal it might come across, like when I scolded Bob Cratchit earlier for wanting to leave early on Christmas Eve, or when my nephew Fred begged me to come for Christmas dinner. What’s wrong with wanting to spend my only day off during the month of December alone?  I’ve got a stack of books to catch up on and I’d heard from reliable sources that Fred’s wife’s cooking left many leaving her dinner parties either still hungry or sick.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but is there a point to you continuing to float above my bed? Marley said you have something important to show me.”

“Yes, Ebenezer. I was sent here on the matter of your redemption,” she said.

“So, what you’re saying is that I have no choice in this matter. I must go with you, relive my past, and see how I could have improved?”

“That’s correct,” she said.

“That sucks,” I said. “Who really wants to go back and relive every single detail of a life lived? Most of it will be utterly mundane, with good and bad bits thrown in for excitement. It’s going to be so depressing.”

“One could approach it that way, or one could look at it as an opportunity to see that change is possible and that one really has had a wonderful life.”

“Ah, Eunice, I believe you are confusing two classic stories.”

“You are quite right, Ebenezer. Now do shut up and take my hand and let’s get this over with.”

***

xx |

Stephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice.

 

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On Life

A Really Short Story Told in Text Messages—Friday Fiction

suitcase

Leaving

She picked up the cellphone. The text message simply said, “Very clever.” It was his response to the previous text she had sent which stated, “It took me all this time to lose my mind…what on earth made you think I would want a piece of yours?”

She could picture him standing there holding his phone looking at her words and smiling. She liked the image of him doing that.

The funny thing was, she didn’t feel very clever in general. In fact, she felt quite inept, singularly stupid, and deliriously daft. She had only known him for a few weeks. What was she thinking? How could she have become so enamored so immediately? This behavior was unconscionable, ridiculous, juvenile. It went against every feminist bone she had in her body—her successful job, her financial independence, and moreover, the ability only to have to answer to herself.

“I’m not so sure how clever it is,” she typed.

“You know u r…and beautiful 2.”

She placed the last bit of stuff into her luggage and zipped it shut. She took a look around at the boxes that filled the apartment one last time, sat on the edge of her bed, and cried.

“Not so sure about anything, actually,” she typed into her phone.

“You r. U r just scared,” it beeped back.

***

This week’s Friday Fiction began with this short sentence prompt: The text message simply said, “Very clever.” I wanted to write a super short one to challenge myself to set a scene and feel a mood.

On Life

After I Was Dead — Friday Fiction

I’m taking another crack at Friday Fiction with a ghost story. I decided to push myself and try something entirely new. Writing ghost fiction…that sounds fun. I’ve never written a ghost story before, but I do enjoy reading them. The prompt from Brian Kiteley asks us to do the following: Write a story about a ghost who is bored by the immensities of time and timelessness. Make us sympathetic toward the ghost in a straightforward piece of narration…

Here we go…

Boo…

Photo credit: Daily Mail
Photo credit: Daily Mail

A F T E R   I   W A S   D E A D

The enduring span of lifelessness is enough to drive me mad, as if I wasn’t driven half as mad when I lived in this ramshackle of a cottage. The cobwebs in the corners seem to have lingered for years, and yet, I haven’t been gone that long. The chandelier is full of heavy dust, the curtains look as if they may disintegrate into nothing, and the rug is almost unrecognizable, as it is covered in soot and dust and grime. It angers me that no one has cared properly for this place—this place I tended to daily. I’ve become bored with waiting, and so I decide to visit the larger home on which the cottage is set—the Hamlin Mansion.

After I was dead, I set out to let people know the truth about what happened that wintry Friday evening when the wind whipped and the trees were bent with snow. No one ever suspected that someone could have murdered me on the grounds of Hamlin Mansion, just five steps from the front door of the cottage. Why would someone want the governess dead? I could hear the roars from the folks in the town…she must have fallen and hit her head…the winds must have caught up with her and she did not see the tree limb…it was an accident of happenstance. I grew weary of hearing the townspeople make excuses for my death. It was covered up so well, I have to give him credit. There was little to no bloodshed, you see, so he was lucky in that regard. He struck me in just the right place, and where he became luckier still was that the snow piled so high that Mother Nature neatly disguised his tracks. All for the better for him, you see.

Light as feather, I can walk through walls now, something I only dreamed of doing when I was alive. I find my way to his room in the mansion, to the seemingly unlikely murderer, a boy of just sixteen, with demon eyes and glossy, albino hair. He is still unlike any other person I have—had—ever met in my lifetime. There was always something ruthless and unsettling about his looks as well as his manners. In this he is frighteningly unique. I dare say, he has no remorse about anything he does or says. He is an unlikely offspring to the lovely husband and wife who own Hamlin Mansion, Greta and Theodore Hamlin. This child of theirs is a sad outcome of what should have been proper breeding.

He sits in the corner of the room reading by lamplight, though the room is dingy and unkempt. He is permitted to treat his belongings and his part of the home with a complete disregard, and that is perhaps one of the final straws where I was concerned. As his governess, I did not accept his lazy ways, his cruel retributions, his off-putting mannerisms. It was my mistake that I stood up to him…questioned him…demanded that his studies be turned into me before the snowstorm hit…and reported his questionable behavior several times prior to my demise to the Mistress of the house.

I glide toward him. His water glass is next to the lamp on the table, and I focus with all of my might and lift it, then tilt it ever so gently, so that the full glass fills his lap with water. He screams. He stands up and begins to frantically wipe the water off of himself. He stares at the empty glass on the floor. I’m going to have fun with him, I think. Again, I concentrate and will the glass to float in the air and place it firmly in its place back on the table.

His face goes whiter than it ever has been, and his hair stands on end. He is a most unattractive creature.

“Who are you?” he shouts into the air, a frightful, frantic question piercing the silence.

I try to yell, but realize I make no sound.

But there is a quill pen on the table, and his book remains there as well.

I use all the power I have inside of me to open the book, grab the quill, and start to write. Much to my pleasant surprise, the ink is showing up on the page.

“You killed me,” I wrote.

He begins to hyperventilate, and I stand by and watch. The little brat. The little brat who got away with murder.

This could entertain me for days upon end, I think.

On Life

Friday Fiction – The Beginning of a Love Story

cratewhite* * *

This week’s prompt asked us to begin with one simple sentence, which was this:

The old house, with its wildly overgrown garden, was silent, secretive.

Clearly, the weather on the East Coast this week influenced this story. Featured among the paragraphs are falling leaves, browning hydrangeas, and a good breeze. While it’s a little warmer here today than it is in the story, I was inspired mostly by the scenery and then by a love story. I wanted to give the first line of the prompt, with its use of the word “secretive” some clout; I wanted this to feel a bit secretive, haunting, and sad.

So, here it goes. Here’s this week’s prompt, which sits at 621 words of flash fiction.

old-zinc-galvanized-metal-milk-box-vintage-porch-box-for-milk-bottles-Laurel-Leaf-Farm-item-no-u720168-1

* * *

The Milk Crate

The old house, with its wildly overgrown garden, was silent, secretive. I made my way along the side of the house, the hydrangeas overgrown and brown, as autumn had set in and leaves covered the lawn. The rickety fence along the property line in the backyard with its peeling white paint seemed to bend in places, and the main gate was hanging by its top hinge. The only sound I could hear were the rustling leaves, and they fell gently to the ground, as the constant breeze purred. The garden must have been wild in the summer; the flowers were wilted, dead and devoid of any resplendent colors. For a moment, I remembered planting the freesia and four o’clocks; however, that time seemed to belong to someone else, not me.

How long had it been since I’d set foot on this property?

I walked closer to the large, picture window that at one time had spectacular views looking out over the hills, until the trees grew so big you could no longer see the rolling knolls. I stood on my tip-toes and tried to peer inside. I’m not sure what I hoped to glimpse on that November day, and what had compelled me to visit the house that particular afternoon; it was beyond my comprehension. I had driven four hours straight, alone, nonstop, just to see it again and walk the grounds. I’d never done anything so impetuous ever. Here I was, a Peeping Tom, wrapped up in memories and pain and nostalgia.

My hair blew in the wind, and I lost my balance for a second. The house howled for a moment, as if it were crying, trying to send me a message, and I felt a chill go up my spine. If only I had made the right choice, said how I felt, told him I loved him and loved him and loved him. If only I had stayed and tended the gardens and walked the creek and accepted a simpler way of life in this town. If only I’d not been afraid.

I’d not eaten anything in hours, my stomach too nervously twisted and tied to even think about it, but I began to feel lightheaded. Perhaps I should not have taken this drive today—perhaps I still was not ready. I walked back to the car to pull the apple out of my small, packed lunch that was sitting in a basket on the passenger seat. I walked to the front steps of the abandoned house and sat on the painted grey wooden steps. The apple was savory, juicy, and just how apples should taste in the heart of the season. It was chilly, but not cold. As I looked to my left, looking like an antique, was an old galvanized milk box. It was still there, and I remembered when he brought it home that day and sat it on the steps as if it were the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. “Now we can call this place home,” he had declared. I had laughed at him then.

I walked over to it to see if anything had been left inside the steel crate, curiosity and a need to be close to him running over my more conservative sensibilities. I opened the lid and stood in awe and shock and disbelief. I could not move.

While they were worn and aged and faded, there they were. The stamps looked antique, the ink pale, and I began to go through them, tears streaming down my face. One after another, after another, after another. All of them addressed to me. All of them to me with the same salutation…My Dearest Livi…My Dearest Livi…My Dearest Livi…

On Life

The Witch’s Memories | Friday Fiction

 

WitchThe Witch gathered up her things—the cauldron, the potion mixer, the wide-brimmed hat—and stepped over the woman she had just put into a deep sleep. The Witch left the woman lying on her back on the carpet, her form in an unattractive spread eagle position in her yoga attire, a bit of her belly flopping out of the waist of her pants. The truth of the matter was, the sleeping woman used to be her friend. Not any longer, however. The Witch did not care for her at all. It had finally come to that. The woman could never be trusted, and The Witch had been used for the last time.

Many years. For many long years she had been her friend. Funny how people use you when they know they can get something from you, The Witch thought. It’s interesting how when people needed a potion to help make their kid well or a cocktail to ensure a memorable party took place or be included in all events The Witch planned (and yet ignore the concept of reciprocity), The Witch was always the first one they would call. But when times were challenging for her—when The Witch had problems of her own and needed a friend—her friend could not be found.

Because, you see, that’s the thing about being a witch. Everyone wants to point her finger at you. Someone has to be the fall guy and everyone needs someone to blame. It’s been this way for centuries—witches always took the blame, whether that blame was warranted or not. Human nature has shown us over and over again that people enjoy watching others go down. Moreover, they often secretly wish and hope for it. They genuinely make their minds up about you before they actually know anything of your situation, and it’s mostly hearsay. Gossips and uncaring folks tend to judge first instead of asking if perhaps they could help in any way.

How misunderstood we are as a group, The Witch thought as she placed her paraphernalia in the two baskets of her bike and began pedaling for home. It was getting dark, and The Witch contemplated how there are not enough hours in the day to count how much good she had done. Whatever. It didn’t matter because it was the mistakes she had made in her own life that seemed to constantly be under a microscope, scrutinized and uncharitably condemned. It was always the way. The expression “seek first to understand” was never a concept others grasped with regard to witches, and quite frankly, she was tired of making an effort and getting none in return. It didn’t matter how kindhearted or welcoming she could be; witches would always continue to be the scapegoat because folks are unwilling to either take the blame or share the blame. Why do you think Elphaba got the reputation she did in ‘Wicked’?

She wondered whether the woman—when she awoke in only a few minutes, the most potent part of the potion having worn off by then—would have any recollection of what had transpired. There had been little struggle with the woman, and because she liked a good cocktail, she had gulped it down in two sips. The Witch had followed the spell explicitly—it was the one her mother had passed down to her from her own mother. The potion would merely remove all recollections the woman had of ever knowing and interacting with The Witch on any and all levels. No significant or lasting harm was done at all—just a mere vanishing act any magician was capable of executing. No memories of The Witch would remain in her reservoir when she awoke. She simply wouldn’t remember anything at all had ever passed between them.

WitchQuoteAs she analyzed this situation, it made The Witch angrier. How wonderful it would be for that woman to never remember their friendship, yet The Witch, with her sharp intellect, keen memory, and kind heart, still had to endure all the pain of it. Hurtful memories. The Witch considered lingering memories the most dreadful evil of all—a constant, excruciating reminder of whatever one wishes not to be reminded of in the first place. A penance of sorts.

By the time The Witch had parked her bike, she had come to the conclusion that she was ready. Finally. This time she wouldn’t chicken out. She walked into her studio and began to mix things furiously. There was a maniacal frenzy to the way she was churning the mixture, her eyes darting back and forth, her sensibilities heightened. The cauldron began to bubble, and the smell of rosemary, tea leaves, pine needles, pumpkin seeds, and peppermint filled the air. The scent pervaded The Witch’s nostrils and invigorated her. Then, briefly, she paused, leaning her head over the boiling cauldron, the steam enveloping her face, and she allowed herself to breathe it all in. She turned and filled a test tube with the boiling liquid to the top. She sat herself on the floor next to a pillow and drank it.

Within moments, she slid down, slumping on the pillow, the test tube landing safely on the edge of it. The Witch fell asleep for what felt like days, months, years. When she awoke to the morning sunlight streaming across her face, the birds rambunctiously chirping outside, and a lawnmower purring in the distance, The Witch sat up and yawned.

She stretched her legs and had the overwhelming urge to hop on her bike and ride into town for some coffee. The problem was, she just couldn’t remember where she parked it.

—Stephanie Verni, 2015

On Life

Fiction Friday | A Not-So-Happy Story of Love

For this week’s Fiction Friday, I used a prompt that asked us to write something we don’t normally write. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’m a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic. I usually write stuff that ends happily. However, today I didn’t. Today’s prompt asked me to write something about two people that doesn’t end well–that they do not end up together.

I have to admit, I just wrote this, and I’m depressed now. It’s like I want to go back and and change the ending, but I’m not allowing myself to. This time I’m allowing the characters who have been married for a while to not have a happy ending.

I don’t like it, but I hope you do.

The Wedding | 722 words

churchMegan could only see part of the back of Cecilia’s head. Therefore, she could only catch glimpses of half of the veil she helped construct. She was seated in the seventh pew of the church—an expansive, old-fashioned Catholic church with wooden pews, dim lighting, and shiny tiled floors that sparkled. Every noise, whether it was a cough, someone clearing his throat, or a child’s laughter, bounced off the massiveness of the cathedral ceiling. Unfortunately, the large man in front of her blocked her view of the altar. She gave up trying, and glanced at the Stations of the Cross, surveying them one by one, as they were positioned at each stained-glass window around the perimeter of the structure. The priest’s voice fluttered upward, enveloped by the beams, the archways, and the light. She felt the guilt churning, lurking deep within her. She sat five inches from Paul.

They by-passed the receiving line that gathered after the ceremony, and got in Paul’s new BMW. They were only there together because Cecelia and Evan asked them to be there. Evan was Paul’s best friend; Cecelia was hers, and had been for years. Since they’d left the house, not a word had passed between them. She’d gotten used to the silence, to only hearing her own thoughts as she rattled around in the quiet house. It’s amazing how much anger you can store up inside of you—and keep inside of you, she thought. Sometimes she wanted to scream; at other times she wanted to cry. She ran out of words. There were none left to say.

At the reception, they were seated at the same table, as few others knew the status of their crumbling—or rather exhausted—relationship. Nevertheless, today wasn’t about them, and they both did their best to smile and nod when talking to Cecelia and Evan’s guests. At no point in the evening did they look each other in the eyes. Why would they? Their eyes were nothing but empty, cold, and pathetic; they dripped with disgust. The rumble of conversation in the reception hall became dwarfed by the music as the band began to play.

Megan watched Cecelia move around the room with grace and fluidity. Was it only eight years ago that she had beamed the way Cecelia beamed now? Had she once been that happy? It was hard to fathom. Had he once looked at her with love and affection, with respect and admiration? Had they not promised…

He touched her hand, and she jumped.

“Dance?” Paul asked.

“You’re joking,” she said. He was looking at her in the eyes. She looked back.

“No,” he said, taking off his jacket and placing it on the back of the chair.

The expression that he’d worn on his face for the past few months, one mostly of frustration, gave way to a foreign expression she hadn’t quite seen before. She realized he had placed his hand back on hers, and they both got up from the table, his hand holding hers tightly now. They walked to the dance floor and crept toward the middle where many other happier couples were enjoying the music.

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d touched him, and yet they’d lived under the same roof for years, and even during these last months when she slept in the guest room, she hadn’t come closer than two feet from him.

Megan felt his hand lightly touch her back, and then he pressed her closer. She could smell his cologne, something she hadn’t smelled on his body in…months?

Their bodies moved together in sync, the band’s music forcing them both to remember to step, sway, and turn. At one point, he took her hand and twirled her. They both laughed. She hated him. Detested him.

Cecelia caught a glimpse of Megan and Paul dancing and smiled. It was her wedding day, after all, and this pleased her.

When the song was over, people clapped for the band. Not Paul. Paul grabbed Megan’s hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed it. She saw tears in his eyes. She felt a lump build in her throat.

“I did what Cecelia and Paul asked,” he said. “But saying goodbye here and this way might be easiest,” he said.

She did not reply. She stared at him, and he back at her.

He went to the table and grabbed his jacket off of the chair. She watched him walk toward the double doors. He stopped just as he reached them and paused. She caught herself holding her breath.

Then his hand touched the handle, and he was gone.

On Life

Withdrawal and The Staircase

StaircaseToday I decided that I would write a little something. I haven’t written anything creatively in a while, and it’s sort of getting to me. I’m going through withdrawal and I don’t want to go through withdrawal. I want to write something, and while I am far too busy to spend time writing what will be my next novel, I will tackle some short fiction, or what some deem Flash Fiction.

Here’s the prompt that I got from the 3 a.m. Ephiphany written by Brian Kiteley. It’s my “go to” book of prompts I use when I want to write a little something but need a push. The beauty of prompts is that it could potentially turn into a longer story—either a short story or a novel, even. One never knows where it will go. So, I’m ready to begin.

The Scenario: Write a story that starts with one of the sentences from the list below. This should be your opening sentence. 400 words. Go.

The sentence I chose from the list is as follows:

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs before she saw him.

This sentence has to be my first line. Where will I take it?

Let’s find out.

* * *

The Staircase

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs before she saw him. He could tell it was her by the shadow of her profile that reflected off the wall, her silhouette animated, floating upward as it bounced with her gestures, a result of the large, crystal chandelier that hung as a statement piece just above the middle landing over the polished, white marble floors. The scent of cinnamon combined with the freshness of the greenery wrapped with twinkle lights that decorated the banisters filled the air as Christmas music floated to the ceiling. He had not seen her in many months; at least, they had not come face-to-face. There were times he would position himself in the public library at the largest window in the fiction section just to catch a glimpse of her as she strode by on her way to work. She never knew he was there—just as she had no idea now.

When the shadow turned, he was still standing, gaping, his eyes lurking upward because he did not have the strength this time to walk away. She was only about fifteen feet from him, and that strong Vodka tonic—two tall ones to be exact—might have been enough for him to finally have the courage to say something to her, or at least to remain standing in the spot until she descended the staircase.

For a moment, the lights flickered—three quick flicks—and the music skipped a few notes as the wind outside roared. There was a subtle gasp from the guests at the party when the room darkened that one last time, but they persevered and illuminated the room just as she had begun her descent. He was still looking up.

By the time her foot reached the fourth step, she saw him. She reached for the rail with her right hand, and she paused on the stairs. Their eyes froze, locked in place, neither one daring enough to look away. He felt a pain shoot across both eyes and then ricochet into his chest. He wondered if she could see, actually see, what heartbreak looked like. Her dress sparkled from the lights, from the chandelier. Her lips were red and warm and moist. Her left hand found its way to her chin, yet she remained motionless, peering down the staircase, expressionless at first, but then—he could swear he saw it…he knew he saw it—the very corners of her mouth began to curve upwards, and he believed he witnessed the slightest twinkle in her eye.

* * *

On Life

The Fortune Teller—Flash Fiction

Image:
Palm Reading: A Little Guide to Life’s Secrets by Dennis Fairchild
What is Flash Fiction? It’s telling a short story in a limited amount of words. Some call Flash Fiction a story in 300 words, 500 words, or under 1,000 words. There are varying degrees of word counts for this type of writing, and some Flash Fiction definitions include a word count of 1,500 words. In today’s case, I’ve told a little story in 646 words. Usually with Flash Fiction, there is a clear beginning, a middle, and a wrap up. I wrote this story a couple of years ago, and polished it up a bit. Sharing it again because it’s one of my favorites!

THE FORTUNE TELLER

“That boy loves you,” the old woman next door calls to me as she sees Nick peel away in his black BMW. She is sitting on her stoop in the 98 degree weather, her dyed red hair in old-fashioned rollers, her socks gathered at her heels in her slip-ons. The look on her face indicates that she wants me to engage in further conversation. We have been friendly since we’ve lived next to each other in the row homes of Baltimore, but have never had a long, in-depth conversation.

“He may, but he’s leaving,” I say.

“Probably for the best,” she replies.

I’ve lived beside this odd-looking woman for almost a year, and she pretty much keeps to herself. She knows nothing of my personal life. Her name’s Mable, and I’ve heard others on the block refer to her as “the palm reader,” though she has no official business. I don’t believe in fortune tellers and have never engaged in any sort of it.

“Come here,” she says. “I’ll show you.”

For curiosity’s sake, I walk down the steps from where I am, and climb the four steps to meet her on her stoop. I’m tempted to see what she knows, trying not to let the tears fall in front of her. Her appearance alone warrants concern; there seems to be a twitch in her eye, and she’s wearing more mascara than a runway model. It looks uneven and gloppy. Her coral-colored lipstick goes beyond the outlines of her lips. It is difficult to take her seriously.

She stretches out her hand and asks for my palm. I extend my hand and turn my palm over for her to see.

PalmreadingShe examines it. “There is a lot of passion here,” she says, pointing to the line that runs from my wrist up across my palm in a curve ending at the base of my fingertips. “There’s a great deal of love for that boy.”

I nod.

“However, you will not see him again after today,” she says.

I feel a lump build in my throat.

She continues to look at my hand. “You have a good career, but you’re not quite sure if you want to stay in it. You’re thinking of uprooting yourself and moving someplace far away.”

I get a little chill up my spine. I’ve had this particular thought on and off for the past month, and I’ve told no one. Not even Nick. Not my own parents, or my best friend, Ava.

She focuses on one particular line on my hand, tracing it with her fingertip for what feels like hours, studying it with concerned eyes. She looks puzzled.

“Interesting,” she says.

“What?” I ask, now confused.

“You will travel. You will go where you’ve considered going, and you will be happy.”

“Without Nick,” I say, more as a statement than a question.

“Yes,” she says. “There will be passion again, but only if you go.”

Nick and I have been together for a year. However, I can’t be with him long term, nor should we ever have been together. Nick is unhappily married. He lives apart from his wife, but they are not formally divorced. Nor are there any plans for them to be so. The passion with which Mable speaks is true; it currently exists, but it is a sick, twisted, unhealthy passion, and it has become the ruin of me.

Three weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to work for my friend’s father’s business in Rome. I’ve always wanted to go abroad, and have seriously contemplated accepting it.

I scoff at the idea of leaving for a moment, and then I stop. She sees my face, and gives me a crooked, quirky smile.

Mable is offbeat, eccentric, ridiculously dressed, and the oddest person I’ve ever talked to, but something tells me to listen. Something makes me take her seriously.

 

About Creative Writing, Fictography

Fictography #22—Vivi’s Summer

From Rome, Italy. Piazza Novona. Photo Credit: Chrissie Werzinsky.
From Rome, Italy. Piazza Novona. Photo Credit: Chrissie Werzinsky.

* * * * * *

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

The above photograph was taken by a dear friend of mine, Chrissie Werzinsky, in Rome at Piazza Navona. Chrissie works for the Baltimore Orioles, and has for years, which is how we met many moons ago. Chrissie and I have a lot in common; we both love the Hallmark Channel, Pinterest, baseball, our Orioles friends, and novels that make you feel good. Luckily, my husband and I traveled to Rome before we had children, so I got to spend time visiting Piazza Navona. I was excited to see the photo Chrissie took and use it to create a story.

To set up today’s short fiction, people have asked me after reading “Beneath the Mimosa Tree,” if I plan to write a sequel. At this time, I have no plans of it. My mother suggested that I write a prequel, featuring Vivi, who is the grandmother in—and an important part of—the story of Annabelle and Michael, and write the background of Vivi’s life. With that in mind, I wrote today’s Fictography post. So, think of it as taking place in the mid 1950s, as Vivi gets the opportunity to go to Italy—Rome—for the summer.

I’ve been trying to keep these snippets under 500 words. Today’s is 469. #flashfiction

* * * * * *

Viv’s Summer

Her English was broken, but Giovanna was able to get her point across. In Italian, she spoke to her niece. “Don’t-a take any wooden nickels,” and “don’t-a bring any strange-a men here,” were the two warnings that Viviana—Vivi—took away from the short lecture that she was receiving from her aunt.

In a matter of minutes, the place would be all hers, as soon as Giovanna and Ricardo left for Capri for the summer. Giovanna had asked her to come, to stay the summer, to get away from old memories and broken hearts, and Vivi had accepted. She longed to separate herself from the suburbs of New York and be back in a city, a vibrant one, and one in which she had often spent time during her summers as a teenager.

The opportunity to return to Rome, however, required her to quit her corporate job, which she did rather abruptly without blinking an eye, and days later, she was flying across the Atlantic and back to a place she would undoubtedly call her second home. It would be a chance to reevaluate her life, and she yearned to find her creativity again—to write, to paint, and to draw. It was not often that one receives the gift of a summer of freedom, and she was about to embrace every waking moment of it.

Her aunt kissed her on the cheek, and Ricardo grabbed Giovanna’s last bag. The taxi had arrived, ready to take them on their own summer adventure. Giovanna pinched Vivi’s cheeks, and kissed her on each one. “There is cheese, huh?, in the box, and bread. You go-a to the market and you get-a whatta you need.” She stuffed a handful of paper lire into Vivi’s hands, waved goodbye, and they were off in the taxi.

Vivi stood on the balcony that overlooked Piazza Navona and let her long, dark hair blow in the breeze. Her aunt’s blooms were full and rich in the flower boxes, but Vivi could still see the action in the piazza. She reached for her Comet, and began to snap photographs, needing to translate what she was seeing into images she would develop herself so she could revisit as time marched on, and her days spent here were over. The vista from the balcony allowed her to zoom in on certain shots and see the world from up above.

The sun peeked through the clouds, and the morning became even more glorious than it already was. Vivi put the camera away, slipped on her Chloe Ballerina flats, put a kerchief around her hair, and made her way out the front door, carefully placing the keys to the place in her small clutch. For a moment, she felt like Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday,” off to participate in her own adventure.