Tag Archives: short stories

Review: All There Is; Love Stories from StoryCorps

All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorpsAll There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps by Dave Isay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not a crier by nature. The Notebook didn’t make me cry; though I do always get a lip quiver when I watch Moulin Rouge, I don’t cry; and I don’t typically read a book or watch a movie with the intent that it’ll evoke some strong emotion.

So when I say that I have found the book I’ll keep handy in the event I’ll ever join a soap opera and need to sob on demand, know that means something.

All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps can make me cry in two pages. Not gentle tears, but complete face-twisting uninhibited emotion. And you should absolutely read it.

All There Is is a compilation of true stories collected by StoryCorps as part of their mission to collect stories of people’s lives. These will be given to the storyteller as a family keepsake and another copy goes to the Library of Congress, to pass on to future Americans. It’s a simple mission, but incredibly powerful. If you’ve never heard StoryCorps on the radio, go watch this animated version. It’s one of the stories in the book, but it’s a little different to see it. Go watch right now.

I don’t think this book is necessarily supposed to be sad. The first section is all about finding love, and the stories are all happy endings, and you can practically hear the giggles in the narrators’ voices as they describe their first dates with the people they spend their whole lives with. It’s charming and so authentic, though, it strikes a chord on your heartstrings like nothing else. It makes you believe in true love.

The second segment is about love lost, and that one packs a definite wallop. In fact, my fiance took the book away from me, because by the third story in, I was clutching him and crying uncontrollably. So, to be completely honest, I haven’t read the whole book–yet. I’m going to need to space it out, because this book is so moving it needs to be taken in small doses.

The final section is on love found again. If it’s anything like the first two, I’ll need the tissues handy.

This is no Chicken Soup for the Soul. No, All There Is is your favorite Chicken Soup story turned to 1000. It’s so raw and heartfelt and emotional, so matter-of-fact, so inherently inspirational and compelling, that I promise it will be like nothing else you’ve ever read.

Even if you’re not a crier and can’t bring yourself to read something that’s going to clear out your tear ducts, I recommend you buy this book, to support StoryCorps in their mission. Or donate to their cause.

It’s money well spent.

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Black Cat Salon

As soon as she stepped through the door of the Black Cat Beauty Salon, Madge knew something was wrong with her 3 o’clock appointment. It wasn’t just the young woman’s dour looks or moping demeanor, though those were good enough hints. No, Madge had been in this business long enough to know a heartbroken lover when she saw one.

“Hello there,” she said cheerily. The girl started, as if surprised that she’d been noticed. “In search of a bit of pampering?”

She nodded, her loose bangs flopping off and quickly over her downcast eyes. “Yes please,” she said.

“Do you have an appointment?” Madge asked, in her chipper-saleswoman voice.

“N-no,” the girl stammered.

“Well, you’re in luck, I’ve got openings,” Madge said, coming around the counter to take the girl by the arm. In another era she would have commented on how nice and meaty the girl’s arm was, but those days were behind her now. Leading the customer toward the worn but plush seat, Madge said, “what can I do for you today, dearie? Haircut? Eyebrow threading, maybe?”

The girl winced. Not the right tactic. “Oh, I know. Manicure. Just the ticket,” she said firmly. “Go browse the colors while I get set up.”

Her client looked briefly bewildered, but then got up and scanned the wall of polishes. Madge watched her from the back room as she picked up first one, then another pale pink or shimmering gold. She let the girl linger, and busied herself with pretending her supplies weren’t already ready.

“Find one ya like?” Madge finally asked, beckoning the girl over.

“Oh, I dunno,” she said, shy. “I like both of these, and it’s just so hard to choose.” She showed Madge the two shining bottles, one a deep lusty red and the other a pale grey. Interesting, Madge thought. The colors they pick are always so telling.

“Ah, that it is dearie, that it is sometimes. ‘ow ‘bout we use that one?” she asked, pointing out the red bottle. “I find it has a bit of a magical effect on a girl.”

“Does it?” the girl asked, brightening only momentarily, before saying gloomily, “I could use some magic.” She sighed in that melodramatic way only the young seem to manage.

“Sure does. It’s called Bewitched, ain’t it?” Madge said, winking conspiratorially.

“Oh, ha,” the girl said, the “ha” closer to a cry than a laugh. “That’s too bad.”

Madge took the girl’s hands and led her back to the chair. “What’s your name, dearie?”

“Sam. Samantha,” she said, leaning back into the firm little chair.

“Well, good, Miss Sam, just you let me take care of you now and you’ll see things are better for it in no time,” Madge said as she took out her clippers and began snip snipping at Samantha’s long tattered nails.

Sam stared off into space until Madge said, “So, dearie, are you going to tell me what’s troublin’ you or not?” She put down the clippers and held Samantha’s thumb firmly, sanding off the rough edges with a lavender nail file.

“Oh, it’s not a big deal or anything,” Sam said. And sighed again.

Madge stopped filing and looked Sam in the eye. “I’ve been around long enough, missy, that I know that kind of moping ain’t fer nothing. No sir. It’s about a boy, isn’t it?”

She went back to filing, barely glancing down at Sam’s fingers as she worked, and Sam gaped at her. “Is it that obvious?” she asked.

“’Course it is, dear. Might as well out with it. It’s part of my job, listening is, you know.” Madge rounded off another corner on Samantha’s pinkie, and turned her attention to buffing the nails.

The girl mournfully told her story while Madge worked on beautifying and painting her nails. It was a story she’d heard frequently enough over the years: there was a charming lad at the girls’ workplace, totally out of her league, and she was pining away while he didn’t even notice her. Madge just listened, and pursed her lips as she focused, applying two even coats of Bewitched red.

When Samantha had run out of lamentations, Madge looked up and said, “Well, dearie, I’m sure it won’t be that way for long. Why, I bet you’ll have a run-in with him real soon now, and you’ll find he’s been just as heartsick all this time. Now put your hands here to let this little light work its magic.”

Samantha obediently slipped her hands under the ultraviolet light, and said “Really? You think so?” Maybe it was just the little bit of pampering, but she felt happier than she had when she’d come in.

“Darlin’, I know so,” Madge said.

Six minutes later, the timer went off, and Samantha paid for her manicure (leaving a more substantial tip than she might have at another salon) and went off with a smiling gracing her face and a lightness to her manner.

Madrigal sighed as she watched the girl go. Witchcraft sure wasn’t what it used to be.

 

—-

I really like this concept for a character, preferably a main character rather than a background character, but I’m a bit stumped. What problems could a witchy beautician resolve, do you think? What trouble could she get into?

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The Grammarian’s Five Daughters

I found this fabulous short story that uses a fairy tale/fable structure to examine the values of different types of words. It’s beautiful.

Once there was a grammarian who lived in a great city that no longer exists, so we don’t have to name it. Although she was learned and industrious and had a house full of books, she did not prosper. To make the situation worse, she had five daughters. Her husband, a diligent scholar with no head for business, died soon after the fifth daughter was born, and the grammarian had to raise them alone. It was a struggle, but she managed to give each an adequate education, though a dowry — essential in the grammarian’s culture — was impossible. There was no way for her daughters to marry. They would become old maids, eking (their mother thought) a miserable living as scribes in the city market. The grammarian fretted and worried, until the oldest daughter was fifteen years old.

Then the girl came to her mother and said, “You can’t possibly support me, along with my sisters. Give me what you can, and I’ll go out and seek my fortune. No matter what happens, you’ll have one less mouth to feed.”

The mother thought for a while, then produced a bag. “In here are nouns, which I consider the solid core and treasure of language. I give them to you because you’re the oldest. Take them and do what you can with them.”…

I’ll let you find out what happens next, but do go read it. It’s delightful.

It made me wish there was a similar story about punctuation. Maybe there is! I’m a fan of the way commas herd words together in small-but-appropriate-sized bunches, and the way periods are always there to give us a break. The interrobang (?!) is rare but mighty, and apostrophes help us cut the crap.

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Small-town Girl, Livin’ in a Lonely World

First, go ahead and get the song good and stuck in your head. You know you want to.

Now that that’s taken care of, keep clickin’ and read this great list of the appeal of small towns as settings for a story. Basically, in summary, small towns:

  • Harbor undercurrents of deep emotion
  • Have lots of secrets (because anything that’s not a secret is common knowledge)
  • Are really interconnected
  • Are friendly but also distant toward new folks
  • Are an easy snapshot every reader has built-in
  • Have a limited number of suspects but lots of motives*

*I suspect the last part is why “Murder, She Wrote” worked so well!

I think this is a great post, but these things extend not just to a small town, but to any small community. I grew up in a big suburb, but it might as well have been a town of 200 because everyone at my church knew everything that was going on (or that they assumed was going on), and you couldn’t get away with anything. High school is often the same way; you’ve got a small population that is heavily involved in itself. (I’m finally watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and you can always tell when someone is going to die because they’re a new person to the cast for that episode.)

I did live in a small town, or two, and I think this list did leave a few things out. Small towns often:

  • Aren’t up-to-date on current trends (in other words, are “a little bubble of the past”)
  • Don’t have as many resources
  • Are small for a reason
  • The pace is slower, but the emotional stakes are higher

My observations have a lot less to do with people than Elizabeth’s, but can really inform the world and the options available. Unless it’s a really big crisis, the CIA aren’t likely to come to a small town in Wisconsin; the people there are just gonna have to handle their problems themselves, and they probably like it that way.

What is unique about your setting? What made you choose that place for your story?

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12 Months of Experimental Tales

This month, inspired by one of my absolute favorite authors, I set out to write 12 short stories, using prompts selected by Neil Gaiman. I later found out that this kind of short, quickly written fiction is known as “flash fiction.” (Look at that! I was part of a thing and I didn’t even know it!) I’ve never participated in this kind of writing exercise: the last time I wrote fiction in response to a prompt was in the one creative writing class I’ve ever had, which was in high school and acted mostly like a therapy group for teenage angst.

Twelve stories. It took me nearly a month to complete the challenge (though I never went over an hour in writing each one, so mission accomplished. Technically my writing time was the same as Gaiman’s, though I didn’t have the luxury of three consecutive days of writing–thank goodness I also didn’t have the camera crew). While I loved it, I’m also glad I don’t have these unfinished prompts hanging over my head anymore!

What I’ve Learned from the Calendar of Tales

  1. Prompts are great
    Like I said, I haven’t written from a prompt with any regularity in awhile. I don’t remember liking prompts, but these were nice and juicy and open-ended. I enjoyed having something percolating in the back of my mind. In fact, I often chose to work on the Calendar Tales because of the intriguing prompts..meaning I sometimes neglected my longer fiction pieces (I still love you guys, promise!)
  2. Short fiction can be liberating
    Maybe I’m just a little backwards, but I’ve heretofore preferred longer fiction. I just didn’t see the point in sitting down to write something I knew was going to be short; better to use that energy on a longer project that can pack more punch. But the short word count on these was great: I could say whatever I wanted! I didn’t have to bother explaining where everything came from or making sure each little loose bit was tied together. I just needed to say enough to establish the scene and the problem, and get out of the way. In a lot of the stories, I’m imagining a lot more that just didn’t fit, and I’m okay with that. I hope the reader enjoys filling in the broad strokes, too.
  3. Accents are hard
    For the August tale, I knew I wanted a twangy Texas grandma as the narrator. It’s an accent I thought I could fake pretty well, but I ended up spending the most time on that story out of all of them as I struggled to figure out how to spell the words the way they should be pronounced. I wanted her to be twangy and kind of like Gertrude Beasley, a plain-speaking sassy-as-hell real woman from the barren 1920s of west Texas (My First Thirty Years is a tough read sometimes, but it’s now available to download on Kindle, if you’re interested). I had the hardest time figuring out how you might say “child” with that accent! I think I got it, but it took a lot of trial and error. I have a lot more appreciation for those who write accents frequently.
  4. Ducks Can be Scary
    I don’t watch horror movies. I don’t read horror novels either (except for when I’ve started a book without realizing it’s horror but can’t stop because I have to know what happens), and I struggled to make it through 75% of Joe Hill’s excellent Horns on audiobook before I couldn’t take it anymore. So I didn’t really think I was going to be writing horror. But the April story–I just knew it needed to be terrifying, because the idea of scary ducks was both absurd and believable to me. I think it did a decent job at it, but I think the better lesson is that it’s good to try things even if you think it’s beyond your abilities.
  5. Beta readers are good people
    I fit the writer-as-hermit stereotype pretty well, but it’s something I know I need to work on. Just before starting this venture, I met some great folks at ConDFW, one of whom was just foolish enough to say he’d be a beta reader for me. (Hey there Bryan!) After I wrote each piece, I sent it over to him, giggling like a fiend and hoping he found it just as funny/clever/scary/whatever. And biting my nails when I didn’t get an email back instantly. I’ve been leery of sharing my work before, but this project was different. Bryan caught some dumb mistakes and I’m really grateful for his help. Lesson learned: Beta readers = good.

I’m glad I took on this challenge, and I think it produced some fun and interesting results. I hope readers enjoyed them, too! Read all of the calendar tales.

What writing challenges have you participated in lately? What do you learn from them?

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A Calendar of Tales: December

(Prompt: Who would you want to see again?)
“My 18 yo-runaway-self so I can show her that I find someone to love & own a home of my own – it did get better.”

This side of town is darker than I remembered, grungier. I remembered it as an artistic, safe-ish place, full of fun and interesting people; seeing it now, I wonder how this ever seemed appealing. I don’t go to areas like this, not at night.

But it’s December 1987, and I know I have a hard year behind and ahead of me. I’ve thought about it for a long time—these visits don’t come cheap—and this seems like the best time for me to come, to offer myself another chance. I’ll have another tough year after this, but I remember how terrible this winter was for me. I hope that coming now will mean I’m happier.

I pull my coat closer and step through the portal onto the street, remembering to close it behind me as I go. My younger self will be within 6 blocks of here; I never did travel far, those days.

I checked the store room of the Indian restaurant on 9th first; it’s warm there, and the owners sometimes gave me some rice at the end of the night. But the servers are still bustling, so I move down the block, in the sheltered alcove next to the Dumpster overlooking the park.

I see my boots first, two sizes too big and unlaced most of the way. How did I ever walk in those, anyway? I shake my head and make a noise in my throat, “ahem,” and stare down at my 18-year-old self.

Gawd was I a scrawny thing.

“I don’t know what you heard”—it’s shocking how pale I look—“but I don’t do that no more,” my young twin says diffidently.

“I’m not interested in anything you have to offer, Sam. I’m here to offer you something,” I say, extending a hand.

Young Sam glares up at me from under that beat-up old hat. I thought I looked killer in that hat; I still have it. “Who are you?” I sneer.

“I’m you, in the future. You’re me, in my past. I know, it’s hard to explain, but trust me on this. Time travel is invented in 2047, and it’s 2056 in my time now. I’ve—we’ve—led a good life, and I wanted to come tell you it’s going to be okay,” I say. I offer my hand again, hoping my younger self will take it and walk with me.

He disappoints me, mistrustful, but I understand. “Gawd I don’t age well,” he grimaces, disgusted.

“I thought I might show you how things are going to turn out,” I offer. “If you’ll come with me just here…”

I gesture toward the open wall. Young Sam stays out of arm’s reach, but gets up and follows me. Good enough for me. Fumbling with the switch, I activate the portal.

“That’s going to be your home, Sam. See? It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s got 5 bedrooms—five! I think sometimes I should sleep in all of them, just because I can…” I turn and look at my younger self, practically feeling the desperation in him. “You have a family; better than you’ve ever dreamed. You even get a respectable job, and it pays for two top-of-the-line hovercars, and vacations in Bermuda and Taipei and all over the world.”

He’s leaning in, as if he wants to grab the house right out of the portal. I can feel his longing; I remember its echoes in my own heart. “That’s my future, huh?” Young Sam says.

“Yes, Sam,” I say. “It’s all going to be alright.”

“So you’re telling me you came all the way from the future to show off all the cool stuff you’ve got?” He opens his arms, angry. “You came here to goddamn brag, old man?!”

“What? No,” I say, flabbergasted. “I remember how bad this year was, how bad the next was, and I thought if you saw that things were going to work out, you’d feel better and it wouldn’t be so hard.”

My younger self snorted. I don’t remember being so rude. “Man, I get stupid when I’m dumb. You think I want some crazy asshole to come up, tell me he’s from the future and show me a bunch of shit I can’t have? Well, no thanks. I’m not waitin’ around for no punk-ass future.” Out of nowhere, young Sam slams his open palm on my hat, pulling it down over my eyes. While I’m blinded, he yanks the portal fob from my hand and knocks me to the ground.

I look up just in time to see those stupid unlaced boots disappearing into the portal.

“Well, that didn’t go exactly as planned,” I say to the Dumpster, dusting off my hat and sighing. “Thank goodness I bought the time travel insurance.” I walked back to the sidewalk to wait for the time governors to pick me up and dump my stupid younger self back in 1987.

Kids in these days; no respect for their future elders.

Read more of the calendar tales.

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A Calendar of Tales: November

“My medical records, but only if that would make it all go away.”

Roslin fiddled anxiously with her datapad. She’d been waiting for this meeting for nearly three years; so much hung in the balance. It was odd to be wishing she was sick enough, the sickest person they’d seen, really, but that was what she had to do, had to be, if she wanted priority placement in the program.

She breathed rapid, shallow breaths through her oxygen tube. Of course, Roslin always breathed poorly, limited by her faulty, broken, accursed lungs, but this was worse than usual. She flicked the regulator to increase the flow of the life-giving supply, and tried to slow her breathing. Too nervous. Had to calm down.

A nurse appeared at the door. “Roslin?” he called, mispronouncing her name.

“Here,” she answered, her voice hardly a whisper. “Here I am.”

Roslin guided her chair forward, careful on the hard turns that could disrupt her stabilizers. The nurse nodded and held the door open. “Follow me, please.”

He led her back into a sparse conference room. At the table placed perpendicularly to the entrance sat five people: the program representatives. The people who would determine her fate. Roslin could find no smiles, no reassuring looks. She sucked air nervously into her failing lungs.

“Ms. Roslin Miller?” A woman on the far right flicked through a datapad. “Cystic fibrosis patient, already rejected one set of donor lungs; also incompatible with all known synthetic lungs?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Roslin wheezed. “I’ve had a number of challenges.”

“That seems like an understatement.” The speaker this time was a man on the left. Roslin didn’t know how to respond, so just sat silently.

The man in the middle folded his fingers into a tent. “Do you understand the implications of what we are offering with this experimental program, Ms. Miller?”

“Yes,” Roslin said. She breathed deeply, trying to compensate for the difficulty of speech.

“And why should you be selected, Ms. Miller?” The man, this whole group that was weighing the fate of her life, seemed so indifferent. If her broken, disabled body was not enough, weren’t the detailed medical records they each read with such detachment?

“My only hope – left is to be – admitted. Please — accept my application. — I have already – more than – outlived – doctors’ expectations.” She panted for a moment, struggling. “I don’t know – how much more time – I have.”

“Thank you for your time, Ms. Miller,” said a new speaker, a petite woman sitting toward the left. “Please give us a few minutes to confer and we will have our response as soon as possible.”

With that, the five people stood and stepped out of the room.

The next five minutes were the longest of Roslin’s life. What if they said no? What was left for her then? She blinked her eyes closed against the depression lurking, and said a prayer. To anybody, anyone who would listen; God, the hospital, this panel. Please. Please let it work out this time.

When the door clicked open, Roslin froze with terror. The faces of the panelists were unreadable. Oh god—

“Ms. Miller,” the center man said, “We believe you are an excellent candidate for the process.”

Elation. Pure ecstatic elation.

The next hour was a blur. Fingerprinting datapads, releasing indemnity, contacting her mother, her emergency contacts, preparing for the procedure, settling in the chair in the shining metal hospital room.

“You understand all risks and possible side-effects from this procedure? You voluntarily agree to this experimental process?” the nurse asked the questions for what felt like the 10th time.

“Yes, yes,” Roslin said eagerly.

“Then the process will begin in a few moments.” He left the room, and Roslin heard the door behind her click closed.

The air filled with a buzzing hum, the temperature growing warmer, a too-hot coat worn in summer. Roslin sucked air into her impaired lungs, frightened of the heat, of the building pressure. The machine above her clicked on, and a blue light scanned her from head to foot and back again.

The mix of air in her breathing tube changed: the nanobots released into her system to reprogram her genetic code—to repair her body from the inside out.

Roslin screamed.

Every cell in her body burned with an internal fire, erasing the record of damage done, of every attempted and failed medical procedure, of each tortured breath.

Roslin burned as the Phoenix process remade her anew.

—–

“Roslin? Roslin, baby, wake up. Roslin?”

Roslin blinked slowly, eyes heavy. “Hello?”  She stretched and yawned, rolling toward the voice.

“Hey baby.” The woman smiling down at her looked kind, the wrinkles around her eyes relaxing at Roslin faced her.

“Hello,” Roslin said again. She took a deep breath and sat up, and the woman at the side of her bed gasped in surprise and covered her mouth with her hands. “Are… are you my mother?” Roslin said uncertainly.

“You can breathe!” The woman who might be her mother said. “Oh my god, baby, you can breathe!”

Roslin considered for a moment. “Yes, I can. Is that unusual?”

“The procedure worked! It’s a miracle!” The woman rushed forward, arms extended. Roslin balked, and the woman stopped. “Don’t you remember? You went through the Phoenix process? Just yesterday. You have—had!—cystic fibrosis, but they’ve cured you, baby!”

Roslin stared back. “I—I don’t remember.”

A nurse in green scrubs came in. “Mrs. Miller, come with me, please,” he said, and took the older woman aside.

“Mrs. Miller,” he said when they were out of the room with the door closed. “We’re finding that retrograde amnesia is associated with this kind of procedure. Roslin may not remember anything from her life before yesterday’s surgery. It seems…” he paused, pursing his lips. “It seems that her genetic deformity may have been interrelated with her memories of the illness. We cured the genetic mutation; it’s possible that we also rewrote her memories from the time of her illness.”

“What?” Roslin’s mother said. “My daughter has had cystic fibrosis her whole life. What does that mean? What will she remember?”

The nurse looked away. “She agreed to the Phoenix procedure. We have all the documents…She may not remember anything. It may all be gone.”

The elder Miller stared in shock. The nurse tried for a bright side: “It is possible, with time, that she will remember parts of her old life. But I recommend you focus on her rejuvenated future.”

Mrs. Miller wiped the tears from her eyes and walked back into the room that held her daughter, new-born at 43 years old.

Read more of the calendar tales.

(This story inspired by my friend David Miller, who has cystic fibrosis and as I was writing this was getting his new lung transplant after three years on the waiting list! Please consider being an organ donor to help people like David.)

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A Calendar of Tales: October

“A djinn. Not to make a wish. But for the very best advice on how to be happy w/ what you already have.”

431. 433. 435…ah, there it is. David stopped in front of the sliding metal door marked 437. He savored the possibilities for a moment—what treasures might be held in this nondescript storage locker?–before fitting the small brass key to the padlock. The lock snicked open and David felt his back twinge a little as he pulled the door up.

Inside, the room was stacked with… boxes. Just cardboard boxes, smelling of old paper and dust.

Well, it’s not supposed to be obvious. David sighed and stepped in to open the boxes, carefully. His wife had been encouraging him to find some kind of hobby; he found fishing boring and he scored too high for golf. While watching TV one night, she’d suggested this: searching for treasures by buying abandoned storage units. She’d made it sound fun, exciting; an adventure!

This was not an adventure. This was an awful lot like work.

David went through the boxes, one by one. It seemed like the contents of a shabby apartment, mostly. Now that he was a quarter of the way in the room, he had revealed a beat-up couch with monstrous red rose fabric. It probably wasn’t sellable—he’d more likely have to burn it, it was so hideous—but it made a good place to rest for now. He flopped into it, sending up a cloud of dust that made him cough and sneeze.

He opened the next box. It held a bunch of knickknacks, mostly. One looked like a kids’ trophy; maybe he could Sherlock-Holmes it and find the kid and return his long-lost trophy!

David rubbed at the dust, trying to read the inscription.

“ALA-KAZAM!”

A voice boomed and echoed in the metal-walled locker, and David doubled-up, trying to clear the sudden smoke from his lungs and eyes.

“What the hell?!” David said.

“IT IS I, THE GREAT SAFWAT, DJINN OF ARABIA,” the blue smoke-monster grinned down at David from where it hovered. “WHAT IS IT YOU WISH OF ME, LORD AND MASTER?”

“Um,” David said. “Sorry, gin? I haven’t been drinking the right mix. I only get a hangover.”

“I AM NOT A BEVERAGE AND THIS IS NO LAUGHING MATTER,” Safwat said. “I MAY GRANT YOU THREE WISHES, AS YOU DESIRE.”

David scratched his head. “No kidding, wishes? Huh. What do other people wish for?”

“TREASURE BEYOND IMAGINING,” Safwat said. “POWER. LOVE. VENGEANCE. PEOPLE WISH FOR MANY THINGS.”

“And you just give it to them?” David shook his head. “Sorry, I’ve gotten a lot of junk mail in my day, and this frankly sounds too good to be true. Am I on a reality show? Where’s the camera? Don’t I have to sign a waiver or somethin’?”

“MY OFFER IS TRUE,” the djinn said.

“Rrriiight, sure it is. So the person you gave ‘treasure beyond imagining,’ what happened to him?”

“HE WAS SULTAN OF THE KINGDOM.”

“Well that sounds pretty good. Lived happily ever after, I suppose?”

“LIVED HAPPILY UNTIL HIS REIGN ENDED.”

“Long and happy life as a king? That sounds decent.”

“HIS REIGN WAS 4 DAYS. THE PRIOR SULTAN DID NOT APPROVE OF MY FORMER MASTER.”

“Heh, yeah, I can bet that didn’t go well. You didn’t say that he’d replaced another guy to take the king gig.” David shrugged. “So what about someone else—how about vengeance? How’d that one go?”

“MY LORD WISHED FOR HIS LIFE’S WORK TO BE REMEMBERED FOR ALL TIME, WHILE HIS PEERS WERE FORGOTTEN.”

David nodded. “That sounds like a pretty good wish. How’d it work out?”

“SHIPBUILDER THOMAS ANDREWS IS FEATURED IN MANY MUSEUMS AROUND THE WORLD, AND ALL KNOW THE NAME OF HIS PRIMARY VESSEL.”

“Oh? Which one was that? I’m not a big naval buff—“

“TITANIC,” the djinn interjected.

“—Oh. Yikes,” David tutted through his teeth. “Apparently these wishes need to be specific. So what did you give the last person you talked to?”

“HE WISHED TO BE REUNITED WITH HIS LOST LOVE,” Safwat said. His voice continued to echo in the small space; David hoped no one could hear it.

“And you did that for him?” David asked.

“YES.”

“And then they were, what, happily ever after?”

“I DO NOT KNOW THEIR EMOTIONS. BUT THEY ARE TOGETHER. FOREVER UNITED IN DEATH.”

David’s mouth hung open. “See, that’s just what I’m talking about. I bet the guy didn’t even know this ‘lost love’ of his was dead. And so he made that wish and you killed him and oh my god that’s why he stopped paying for the storage unit!”

David stood up and paced the room, then turned and shook a finger at Safwat. “That’s what we call a bad deal. You’re not really providing a good incentive to make wishes here.”

“IT IS MY PURPOSE,” Safwat said.

“Yeah, well, I think I’m good. All your wishes end in death! No thanks, I think I’m set. I’ve got a nice—small, but a realtor would call it ‘cozy’—house, a wife who cares about me and makes excellent pies; I’ve got a job that pays the bills. The only problem I had was a lack of a hobby. And I think I’ve found another one to cross off my list. This one’s no good either!” David threw up his hands.

“WOULD YOU LIKE TO WISH FOR ANOTHER ONE?” Safwat said, sounding almost pleading.

“No thanks, I’ll figure out the hobby on my own.” David approached the cloud of blue smoke with hand extended. “Nice meeting you Safwat. Can I drop you off somewhere or something?”

The cloud of smoke eyed David’s hand and continued hovering. “I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. EVERYONE WISHES.”

“Yeah, well, I’m good, thanks. I’m heading out now, so go back into your trophy or let me know where to take you. I’ve got gas for a good 50 miles.”

Safwat hesitated. “YOU WOULD ALLOW ME TO LEAVE MY VESSEL?”

“Sure, go ahead, why not. Nice talkin’ with ya, Safwat. Have a good life, or eternity, or whatever.”

The blue mist swirled and spiraled. David took that as a sign the conversation was over, and slid the door down, locking it again with the key. A moment later, a handsome man dressed in a blue tunic appeared outside the storage unit.

“Woah there, startled me,” David said. “That you Safwat?”

The man nodded. David smiled. “Well then, here, why don’t you take this key? You’ve got enough in there to set yourself up with a decent apartment.”

Safwat took the key uncertainly, and David went home. When he arrived, he kissed his wife and told her he’d give fishing a second chance.

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A Calendar of Tales: September

“My mother’s lion ring, lost & found 3 times over… Some things aren’t meant to be kept.”

Nothing among the fey is upfront; I knew that. Still, when Mother gave me the lion ring, I believed it to be a genuine gift, freely given from love.

‘Twas foolish of me.

It was a test. But now I have caught wind of it, and know just what to do.

‘Twas the spring of my Awakening year. Immortal we may be, but not ageless, and Mother’s gift marked the beginnings of my adulthood. The little daemon in the ring was now my responsibility, to be fed three drops of mortal’s blood every day and thus kept complacent. That was my duty, and my honor.

The first time the ring was out of place, I admit I panicked. I ransacked my bower, overturned my bed of petals and dew, upheaved the thistle and grass. With burgeoning wildness I ran through the gardens—I must have been a wicked sight, a holy terror to behold. Just as I was ready to throw myself upon my Mother’s mercy, beg for her aid, did I hear the titter of laughter on the quietest breeze. I found the leprechaun hiding in my eaves and snatched him up, shaking him until he released my precious ring.

With only minutes remaining, I slipped into the village of mortals and squeezed the drops of blood from the seamstress’s pricked finger.

To prevent further loss, I wore the ring on my right hand, so I could never forget it. While I bathed in the deep foamy surf, a selkie  appeared. My kind don’t often interact with the seal-swimmers, but she was friendly, and we soon set about to splashing with great joy.

It wasn’t until she swam off that I realized the ring had gone. White with rage, I dove into the sea and chased the blubbery villain. I followed her into the depths, but that is where she is mighty and I am weak. Thinking she had won, she splashed about, mocking me, the ring held firmly in her teeth.

But the fey are never without friends. I called to the dolphins, friends of the court, and their hard noses and strong fins showed the selkie how foolish she had been.

Now not trusting the ring even on my finger, I wore it on a shining silver chain around my neck. I was in the human village, visiting the houses of those who honor the fey, leaving gifts where appropriate and snatching trinkets from the unwary. I had slipped the gold from a drunkard’s pocket when I ran—quite literally—into the most beautiful man I had ever seen. His skin oozed loveliness, and I wanted to melt into his arms forever. We talked, and I walked with him into the fair places in the woods, and all was wonderful. Heady with love, I brought him to my bower to enjoy the riches of life, and he asked me for the ring. Drunk on his affections, I slipped the chain off my neck—

–and how he howled in pain as the iron I’d had inlaid burned his skin, shattering his glamor and revealing him as the gancanagh he truly was.

That last incident was too much; for a fey to use his glamor on another of our kind is high treachery. He kneeled there, weeping in agony, and in my anger I scalded him again and again with the wicked ring, ‘til he confessed his motive: my Mother had sent him.

—-

So now I know just what to do. In the village is a man, too proud and brash. He disrespects the Old Ways and shows no graciousness for the fey. I have left the little daemon where he shall find it. Now it shall not trouble me further, and it shall have all the mortal blood it needs.

Some gifts aren’t meant to be kept.

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A Calendar of Tales: August

“August would speak of its empire lasting forever whilst glancing, warily, at the leaves cooking on the trees.”

“’Course there ain’t no chupacabras. But that don’t mean they ain’t real. They usedta run all round these parts. No, chiyle, there ain’t no chupacabras no more cuz Lucky Lyra Riley done cooked ‘em all up good.

Now, if yer thinkin’ this is gonna be one-a dem Pecos Bill tall tales, don’t. My stories are all true. I ain’t got no time for bullshit like them stories. Who ever done hear of a blue ox anyhow? No, chiyle, this story is the truth, God’s honest. I done seen it with my own two eyes.

It happen one summer back when the whole family lived in west Texas, back when the plains was still wile’. Now I was just a little sweet thang, cuter even than you, if’n you can believe it.

It was August, back when there weren’t no school cuz the days was too hot. Sometime I’d sit out behind the dogs just to catch the breeze off their tails, true enough.

August in Texas lasts ferever. It’s jes’ like today, but worse by a million degrees. Ain’t nothing you can do about it back then, neither. You wake up hot, you sweat all day an’ taste like salt, you go to bed hot, and even the lightest sheet weighs heavy like 15 blankets. Mmm-mm. It was godawful hot. An’ this August was perticularly uncomfortable. It jes made you want to up and die already. Even if you went to tha bad place, you was probly better off.

We was all layin’ about on the porch, hidin’ from the sun and prayin’ for a breeze, when in to down comes Lucky Lyra Riley. She’s ridin’ her horse, the finest animal you ever did see, with eyes like rubies and hooves that could crush a man an’ keep on goin’. I ain’t never heard tell of no otha animal half as wondrous as that horse.

An’ there on top is Miss Lyra. Oooh-ee. She was a fine lookin’ woman, and brave, braver than 10 men, though you wouldn’t see them say so.

She was comin’ to town cuz she done heard tell we had a chupacabra problem. And boy did we! Every night we done had to wrangle up all the littlest kids and our animals  so’s that those dread beasts wouldna come suck up all their blood. That meant we had 5 people, 18 goats, and 14 chickins in our little 3-room shack when it was hotter than hell!

So we says ‘thank ya Miss Lyra,’ and invited her in fer dinner. She said she would mighty well like a bite, and she came in and tole’ us all her ‘ventures. Anyhow, Miss Lyra finishes eatin’ and she says ‘thank ya kindly’ and heads off into the night.

The nex’ mornin’, roundabout 10 a.m., we sees Miss Lyra come cloppin’ back to down. Her horses’ whithers is all foamy from runnin’ and it drinks up enough water for our whole herd-a goats. She tells us she done been chasin’ them chupacabras, but they’re wily, ohhh how wily they is.

She stayed an’ rested in the shade all day—us kids went fer rides on her great big horse—and at night she went off again into the wilderness. In the night we heard a mighty scuffle way off in the plains—barkin’ and shots fired an’ whatnot, and it was very excitin’ but we was all scared for Miss Lyra because we got bigger chupacabras than anywhere else in the whole state. We’re afraid she got et up.

But no, come mornin’ there she is, her horse walkin’ behind her. She got a bandage on her arm, but it’s ok, and she got a brace of jackalope to boot. She says them chupacabra’s built a trap fer her out in the wild places, an’ they nearly got her, but she is smart an’ got away.

We cooked up those jackalope fer dinner that night, and dem horned rabbits was the best tastin’ food I ever did et. You better believe it.

We kids knew what was comin’ next, and we was all so excited we couldn’t sleep none. Daddy let us sit on the porch an’ wait up. The moon was high and we could very nearly see all the way to El Paso, an’ we sat there an’ watched Miss Lyra ride off into the wilds.

It was a frightful scene. Them chupacabra ain’t nuthin’ like what you see on the tellyvision now; no sir. They was as big as a mule, but could shrink up real small, too, to sneak in and bite ya. Miss Lyra was out there with her mighty horse, and we can see she ropes the biggest one up good, but it pulls and pulls and pulls.

Her horse, it digs in its feet, but them chupacabras runs in packs, and they all get on up to the rope and pulls back. Well, Miss Lyra ain’t called Lucky fer nuthin’, cuz alla sudden, out comes a big ole’ rattler, angry at bein’ disturbed in his sleep. He jumps up and bites the chupacabra, and it lays down dead.

Now Miss Lyra only got the weaker chupacabras to deal with, and she sets  her horse up into an amazin’ gallop, draggin’ that dead blood-sucker all around the plain. The other beasts, seein’ their leader so shamed, come runnin’ along after it, howlin’ and barkin’, but see, that jes’ be part of Miss Lyra’s plan. She spurs her horse to run faster, faster than any beast ever did run, and the chupacabra draggin’ along behind. Well, the horse ran so fast, that chupacabra jes’ burst right into flame!

The others are quite surprised by this, as you might imagine, but they keep on chasin’ Miss Lyra. So she has ta keep runnin’, and her horse, it is draggin’ this fiery devil dog along behind.

My daddy, seein’ what’s comin’, rounds up all us kids in the wagon and we runs away, fast as we can. You see, Miss Lyra’s chupacabra chase done lit the west on fire!

Them dogs stayed on her heels all night long, and half the west got done burned right up, in a fire so fierce it made smoke thicker’n night—so we got the cool weather we had prayed for. Miss Lyra done ride off, right into the sunrise, and took them devil dogs with her.

And that’s why there ain’t no chupacabra ‘round no more. They all got burned up by Miss Lyra and the sun.

Now go run along to bed, ya hear? Go on, git!”

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