Optical Illusion – #writespiration

Optical Illusion

Optical Illusion

I love what you’ve done with the place! It was so empty and wanting when you first found it. It’s too bad you and Stephen didn’t last as a couple. He would have loved this. Funny, how he disappeared.

Tell me, wasn’t this room larger? That wall seems so much closer, now.

In Writespiration #117 52 Weeks in 52 Words Week 21, Sacha Black offers a photo (above) and asks that we tell a story of why the room is empty – in exactly 52 words. My response is a sequel, of sorts, to the response by Jane Dougherty.

Out of Steam

Out of Steam

Out of Steam

True, it was a vast improvement over the toil of riding a bicycle thirty miles across the hilly countryside to the next town, and it had been a great ride, while it lasted. However, the limitations of his invention became quite clear in this first test run.

The heat generated by the boiler was unbearable, even with the wind-effect generated by higher speeds, but the real problem was in fuel range, a point driven home as he pushed his lococycle the last two miles into town.

Now, to find a homeowner willing to part with a bucket of coal.

This bit of flash-fiction is in response to the Friday Fictioneers prompt from Rochelle Wisoff-Fields – to write a complete story in 100 words or less, using the provided photo prompt. Word count here: 100.  (Other entries can be seen here.)

Yes, there were steam cycles in the 1860s: the Michaux-Perraux steam velocipede, with an alcohol-fueled engine, and the Roper steam velocipede, which was coal-fired with an exhaust stack.

Photo prompt ©: Jellico’s Stationhouse




On the darkest of nights, they stood together beside a mighty waterfall. High above them, the stars shone with a brilliance that surely was an indication of the love that bound them.

Deep in his heart, he knew there was little he couldn’t do, wouldn’t do, for her. From her presence and the love they shared, he gained a strength that was beyond any of his imagining. As they embraced, he drew on that strength, magnified by the power of the immense cataract before them, and reached into the heavens to bring down to her a star of the most dazzling brightness.

In his innocence, he did not consider just how immense that power must be, if he were to assume he could perform such a feat. Feeling the brilliance of that star in his hand, he drew it towards them, its glow visible through his fingers. As he opened his hand, they were surrounded by a light that seemed to be far more than that of the star he now offered to her as a gift. Looking up, he realized the terror he had wrought, as the heavens rained down upon them.

Reading Star in a blue sky, by Jane Dougherty, I thought of an illustration that she and I have used in the past. In an ensuing conversation with her I was prompted to write this story.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Fawning Attention


Blondine throws her arms around the neck of Bonne-Biche, by Virginia Frances Sterret,
from Old French Fairy Tales

Fawning Attention

This doting of hers over that white dear is getting old, fast. I understand that it was a true surprise for her to find the deer standing outside the door, apparently having lifted the door knocker with its snout. Even more surprising was when it nudged her aside as she opened the door and proceeded to enter the house. My house.

There’s something odd about this animal. That white is just not natural. Nothing seems to affect it. Even her favorite stained glass window, which casts shimmering rainbows as the sun arcs across the sky, has no effect. It’s always white!

This whole arrangement is very unsettling. It’s been days, now, and she continues to nuzzle and fawn over this intruder to my sanctum. And I’m getting hungry! I can’t even reach the bell pull.   My bell pull. It’s always served as a reminder for her that it’s dinnertime. I swear I saw that damned deer purposely tangle and shorten it.

I’ve always been respectful of our surroundings, but let me tell you – if I don’t get some attention, and soon, I’m going to start climbing those drapes she’s so fond of.

This is my response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge #27 – Rescue, using the image provided. The word count here is 199, and Jane’s critique is welcome.

*Following Jane’s suggestion in her comment, I’ve edited to remove any hint that this story is in the voice of the cat, until the very end. (Previous version: I can’t even reach the drawstring she’s hung for me to play with. When the bell rings, it’s always served as a reminder for her to feed me.) The word count is now 192.

Image source: Art Passions

Parting in Blue


Parting in Blue.jpg

Illustration by John Bauer for Among Gnomes and Trolls

Parting in Blue

From the moment he first appeared in the village with his white steed, he had not spoken a word. They had no idea who he was, where he was going or if he intended to stay.

And then there was the blue. The blue of his hat and clothing. The trappings of his horse. Even his eyes. Especially his eyes. They seemed to shine with a light and magic all their own. They radiated joy, and all who met him were light of heart in his presence.

Many wondered about the significance of his blue attire, but there seemed no sense in asking him about it, since he did not speak. However, they did speak of it amongst themselves. Once the children, who often gathered in a circle around him in the village square, seeming to feed off those radiant eyes, heard this talk, they did ask him about it. And, he did reply, in his own way. They were seated in a circle, with him in the center, in the town square. He rose and walked over to his horse, which was grazing under a large oak at the edge of the square. He took hold of the reins with one hand, gestured to himself with the other, then pointed down the road leading out of the village. When they questioned him further, he gestured to them, waving them towards him and pointed down the road once more.

As if under a spell, the children approached him. Lifting the young girls one at a time, he placed them on his horse, then he took the reins and proceeded to leave the square and walk on out of the village, the young boys following closely behind.

No sooner were they out of sight, when the people of the village felt a sense of unease. Knowing that the children were often gathered around their strange, yet most welcomed, visitor, they realized they were nowhere to be seen. Looking first in the square, and then in the few lanes that comprised the village, they found neither their children nor their visitor.

When hours drew into days, with all hope waning, they became quite somber. Sensing that their children were lost to them, forever, it was decreed that the display of the color blue would be forbidden for all times.

With a few more than the requested 200 words, this is my response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge #26: A journey, with the illustration provided. As usual, I leave a lot of unanswered questions. The word count here is 387. Jane’s critique is welcome.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

True Friend


Moonlit Night, Ilya Repin

True Friend

He spends more time here than I do, Rex, this faithful retriever that comes to this shore every morning, before dawn. I come to remember Paul and the joy he found when hunting with his dog.

He always saw so much more in Rex than as merely a retriever. They were companions, best friends who spent many hours hiking the trails near our home, but it was those trails that brought an end to their companionship.

The day that Rex came home alone, whining, was the worst day of my life. His anxiety could mean only one thing. Paul most definitely had suffered some sort of mishap. I immediately went to my neighbor, Tom, and asked him to accompany us on the trail. I knew that Rex would lead us straight to Paul. And, he did.

Paul lay at the bottom of an embankment, thirty feet below the trail, on his back, splayed across a large boulder. There was no sign of life, yet also no way to reach him immediately. I waited there with Rex, frantically, while Tom went for help. It was several hours before a rescue team reached Paul’s body. By all signs, his death had been instantaneous. I was devastated by the loss of this man, whom I loved so much.

Ever faithful, Rex waited at the top of the cliff. He even accompanied Paul to the ambulance at the head of the trail.

And now, every morning, he lies on the lake shore, waiting for Paul’s return.

This my response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge #24: Moonlit night, with the painting  Moonlit Night, by Ilya Repin
. The word count is 256.  As always, Jane’s critique is welcome.

**As Jane has wisely pointed out, I originally used “wait” (waiting) twice in the last sentence, so I’ve changed the first to “lie.”  After all, it’s been said that one should “let sleeping dogs lie,” so, of course, waiting dogs should lie, as well!

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The Dragons’ Egg


The Dragons’ Egg

For Thompson and Jones, it had been a simple, but boring, mission of surveying a newly discovered planetary system. Boredom ended when they encountered a meteor field while approaching the fourth planet. Multiple impacts sent their ship reeling, and they struggled to get into the escape pod before losing ship’s atmosphere.

As the egg-shaped pod broke free from the ship and left the meteors behind, they knew they could be headed for a potentially inhospitable environment, but decided the best course of action was to land on the planet below them and wait for a response to their distress signal. As a precaution, all view ports were shielded on their descent. What little data they gathered in the short time before landing was of a desert world, seemingly long-dead with no indication of any seismic activity.

Within thirty seconds of touching down, they released their safety harnesses and were about to open the view ports, when their craft began rocking violently. Their gauges showed no air movement, so this jostling was a startling development.

They stood on opposite sides of the pod as their ports opened, each of them staring into the face of a giant dragon.

This my response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge #23: Dragons’ egg, with a photo from Grantscharoff, Wikimedia Commons
 (edited here). The word count is 197.  As always, Jane’s critique is welcome.

Water Lilies and Sadness


Agneta och Sjökungen (Agneta and Sjökungen), by John Bauer
Illustration for Agneta and Sjökungen by Helena Nyblom (1911)

Water Lilies and Sadness

Why this vision, this dream that comes to me night after night? I ask myself that question, but no answer comes to me. I can think of no event for which this disturbing vision could be a forewarning.

It is an odd scene. A man, perfectly fit, stands underwater, circled by a school of fish. He is naked, with the current swirling his long black hair about him. His head bowed, he is reaching forward to place a wreath of flowers, water lilies, on the head of a beautiful woman standing before him.

She, too, has her head bowed. Her blond hair, laced with white beads that extend across her brow, is undisturbed by the water. Dressed in an Elizabethan gown, she holds a kerchief in her hand. She appears to be with child, yet there is a distinct air of sadness about her face.

What could be the significance of this dream? Do I know someone who is with child, yet saddened by the loss of someone dear? It could not be about the loss of her coming child, for, why the wreath?

All is well with my life, but dreams as ominous as this have been an invitation for misfortune to visit me in the past. I do not welcome tragedy, but I must have an answer, even should this vision leave me.

This my response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge #19: Under the Sea, with the painting
Agneta and Sjökungen, by John Bauer. The word count is 201.  As always, Jane’s critique is welcome.

Jane has asked for some sign of hope – or at least a clue to resolution – but this tale is meant to be haunting and unanswered.  However,  I have added the first sentence in the last paragraph (in italics) as a further indication of the likelihood of a hopeful ending.  The new word count is 225.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Calm Before the Storm

This is my response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge #18: Lost, with the painting by Olav Johan Andreassen, Stormnatten (Storm Night). I guess I should be glad to be under 400 words (392), but it’s nowhere near the requested 200 word count. I suppose you could call this another one of my cliffhangers. As always, Jane’s critique is welcome.

Calm Before the Storm.jpg

Calm Before the Storm

Heading to the shore may not sound wise during a possible evacuation, but that’s where our cottage sits, fifty feet from the beach, and it needed to be secured. Since my husband’s death, it had become a haven for our family. It always had been a place of happiness that held many warm memories, and, after Michael was gone, the calm beauty of the surroundings had a healing effect on the children and me.

This was not one of those calm days. The wind had picked up, and there was a good chop out on the water. We got to work, right away. The windows were boarded up by noon, and all seemed secure, but we couldn’t leave yet, in spite of the evacuation broadcast going out on the radio. Stronger now, the wind had shifted, and the angle of the breakers was such that it soon would drive the waves past the beach, in the direction of the cottage.

Several large boulders were strewn across the edge of the yard, just short of the sand. I have memories of the children scrambling over them, many years ago, but now it was time to put those rocks to work. Jason, my eldest, brought the Jeep around to the beach, stopping first to grab some chains from the shed. They probably hadn’t seen the light of day since his father used them to drag large pieces of driftwood onto the last bonfire he shared with us.

With the chains attached, I drove while Mary and Todd helped their brother heave the rocks from a standstill. Some were sunken so far into the soil that I was out there with them, digging and leveraging each of them out of the ground.

I don’t have anywhere near the stamina of my teenagers, and, with the wind raging around us, I collapsed as we tried to dislodge the final boulder. They moved me aside for a moment, and with Jason behind the wheel, and with tires spinning and tossing grass and sandy soil, he dragged that last rock over to our makeshift wall.

It was too late to join the evacuation, so the three of them carried me to the cottage, where we now sit in candlelight, satisfied that we’ve done just as Michael would have to preserve our haven. Listening to the howling wind of the storm battering the coast, I know there can’t help but be calmer days ahead.

** The text above in bold is an edit I made, in an attempt to follow a suggestion from Jane to find a sort of resolution to this story.  The original text was:

candlelight, listening to the howling wind, as the storm batters the coast. There

(bringing the word count to 407)

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Life Sentence


Lovers, by Felix Nussbaum (1928)

Life Sentence

During the lunch break of his evening shift, Leo wrapped his arm tightly around Elaine as they took their usual evening stroll along the outer wall. The moon and stars made a beautiful sight, but she shivered in the cold of that cloudless night. Leo couldn’t help but think of how she would shiver even more if she knew the man he had become.

It seemed like a lifetime ago, but Leo had been working in the prison for just three months. He had always been told it was a plum of a job, so, when he was offered a position as a prison guard, he jumped at the chance. He knew the job would not mean a raise in pay, but that didn’t worry him. Friends who worked as guards always seemed to have extra spending money.

It wasn’t until he was inside that he understood that the true economics of the position came at a price – the cost of his morality. The affluence of the guards was due to the possessions seized from the prisoners as they were incarcerated, and beatings were a common measure to stifle any resentment or dissent. In fact, over time, the severity of those beatings ensured that there would always be room for new prisoners and the wealth they provided. As a new recruit, his participation was required to guarantee his complicity.

Elaine was happy for the gifts Leo was able to provide her and the security his position seemed to offer for their future. He feared what she would think if she knew the source of those gifts.

She would not, could not, know the thoughts and concerns that were running through his mind. He would never be able to look her in the eye if she were to know the truth. In just three short months, Leo had come to wonder if he was the man she should marry.

This my response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge #16: Lovers, with the painting
Lovers, by Felix Nussbaum. It’s well over the 200 word guideline, at 318. It was at a fairly modest 267 words, but (of course) the more depth I tried to add, the longer it became. As always, Jane’s critique is welcome.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons