Lily and Jasper [Flash Fiction]

Lily pushed her sunglasses down over her eyes and stretched. The summer sun was beginning to set, and the tree she’d been lying under would soon be at the wrong angle to give her shade. That was alright, though. Her skin was hardy enough to withstand the evening sun’s rays.
A hiccough made her look down. Jasper’s eyes, almost impossibly big in his small, chubby face, were inquiring. Lily was fascinated by the way he always seemed surprised. Every burp, every laugh, every awakening seemed entirely new to him and full of excitement.
“Is that enough tummy time?” Lily asked. “Hmm? What do you say, big guy?” Jasper hiccoughed again in answer. Lily smiled and lifted him up into her arms. She leaned sideways and dug around the big bag her mom had helped her organize, trying to find the bottle. She discovered it tucked sensibly in an outside flap where it couldn’t spill over into all the bibs, diapers and wet-wipes that weighed the bag down.
Fussing a little, Jasper eventually latched onto the rubber nipple and – of course – looked surprised at the liquid that he was sucking from it. Surprise turned to pleasure and he half-closed his eyes.
“You look just like me when you do that, you know? Just like me. We both love good food.” Lily had decided before he was born that she would talk to Jasper just like she talked to anyone else. She wouldn’t raise her voice even one note into the high-pitched tones that her mother and sister used. Her mother thought she was being pretentious, but Lily didn’t care. She was going to give Jasper what she’d given up when she’d discovered, six months in, that she was pregnant. She was going to give him the scholarship she couldn’t use yet, the love that her parents had only sporadically given her, and the respect he deserved from the moment he was born.
The only thing she couldn’t give him was a father, and she hoped that one day she’d manage to fix that.

Horror

Horror doesn’t only happen at night, you know. It happens on the streets of London and in the slums of New York. It happens in the homes of the rich and the poor alike. It happens in your back garden when you’re not looking, or right in front of you when you’re trying not to see. Horror is everywhere.

Believe me, I know. Why? I’m not sure you’d understand. I’m not sure you really want to know. See, there’s a problem with you people – you always say you want to know, but then you cringe and cry, snivel and beg, and I need to deal with it. It all gets very tiresome. So if you want me to tell you why I know about horror, you need to promise me that you can deal with what I’m going to tell you. Well?

Ah, there, I knew it. Once you’re confronted with what happened to everyone else who asked the same question, you back off. That’s smart of you. Sometimes you people actually do learn something. I like that. There’s nothing fun about playing with your food if it doesn’t know what the outcome is. The mouse, for instance, instinctively knows that the cat wants to eat it, so when a cat’s paw descends on its tail, it’ll bit that bit off in order to get away. Of course, once it does that, the cat will catch it by its body and eat it anyway. But the point is, the only reason it’s fun for the cat to play with the mouse is because the mouse knows what’s coming. And now, you do too.

Now, now, don’t give me that look, please. You knew from the moment you called for me what was going to happen. Yes, remember? You’re the one who called me here. You called horror upon you, and horror comes in the guise you gave it. It’s time for you to live with it simply being your own fault. You think you’re dreaming, I know, and maybe you are! But tell me… Right now, does it matter whether or not you’re dreaming? I’m pretty horrible either way.

 

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

… and the wind was blowing against the windows, making them shudder and rattle. It was almost impossible to see anything outside unless all the lights were off. Even then, the only thing that Patricia Nicole Baker could see was a blurry outline of the pine trees and their branches weighed down and tired from the barrage of water being dumped from the sky. It was a moonless night, and Pat knew what that meant. She shuddered, turned away from the window, and lit up every light in her small house.

It looked snug with the warm glow of half a dozen small lamps. There was the familiar lumpy couch, faded from red to pink over the years. There was the armchair, contrasting horribly with the couch, still a too-bright, too-light green. She’d picked both up at yard sales in town, years ago, along with the three rickety bookcases that stood side by side at the wall. Then there were the kitchen table and chairs, the familiar cupboards with little designs she’d painted on them. Pat walked to the bedroom, reassured again – the heavy wooden dresser, the floor lamp casting a blue glow through its shade, the double bed with crisp white sheets – she’d changed them just today – and the minuscule desk, just big enough for a laptop, a cup with pens in it, and a coaster for her drinks. The printer had to sit on the floor.

Normal, all was normal. Pat avoided the windows and puttered around, taking comfort in little tasks. She washed the dishes she’d used to eat her dinner off of, put the kettle on the stove, waited for it to boil and made herself instant coffee. Opening her mini-fridge, she drew out the bottle of fresh milk that she still got delivered to her – one of the perks of living isolated as she did was the rapport she’d built up with the farm-owners. Adding a dollop of milk and a spoonful of sugar, she picked up the mug and held it between her hands, enjoying the warmth it gave her clammy, cold hands. Striding to the bookcases, she looked through and found what she wanted. It was at the top of the right hand one, in the corner.

The children’s book she brought to the couch was well-worn. The spine was frayed and the front cover had some stains on it. The inside, though, was still beautiful. The images of the soft pastel colors washed over her, the familiar words forming in her mind without needing to read them. Sipping her coffee, she put it down on the floor beside her feet, took a deep breath and glanced at the old-fashioned clock on the wall. It was 9:45. Two more minutes, then, she thought. It was always at the exact time that it happened.

And then, on the moonless, stormy night, Pat lifted her eyes and saw a small figure standing in the middle of the room. He was dressed in a small, cheap gown with pictures of sheep on it. His hair was shaved off completely, though Pat remembered its original dirty-blond color. She knew that if he turned around, there would be a line of stitches at the back, looking fresh and congealed with some blackened blood. She’d asked for that – asked to see him without all the bandages wrapping his head. The doctors had allowed it, knowing there was no hope anymore.

Seth looked at her, his blue eyes shiny with tears.

“Mommy!”

Pat caught him in her arms, sobbing with him, hugging him so close she could suffocate him. Only she couldn’t, of course.

“Mommy, why?”

It was the question kids asked the most, especially very young ones. Pat had read all about it, about how you should give honest answers and admit it when you didn’t know. So she said, quietly, “I don’t know, darling. I don’t know, Seth-boy.”

Once they’d settled together, Pat opened the book, and started reading it to him in a bright voice. He stared hungrily at the pictures, laughed uproariously at the giraffe who got tangled up with his neck in a tree, pointed at the cute monkeys like he always did. Pat read slowly, trying to savor every page, but Seth was a little boy and he always wanted to know, even though he’d read it a hundred times before, what the next page held.

Once she would finish reading, she knew that Seth would fall asleep in her lap while she stroked his forehead. She always fell asleep, too. She knew that once she’d wake, he’d be gone, and she would wait for the next night with no moon, half fearful of his coming and breaking her heart all over again, and half fearful that he wouldn’t show up this time.

Dear Diary

I’ve been looking up more writing exercises, and I found one in a list, which is now saved on my computer because it has some other really good and interesting exercises in it. The one that I found, and that I am now posting a beginning of, is this: “Keep a diary of a fictional character.” So, I present to you a not very original character, Lucy:

Dear Diary,

While I know that keeping diaries is quite out of style in this day and age, I have decided to begin one anyway. Oh, you might be surprised at my saying it is out of style – after all, how many teen-novels are there these days that focus on journal writing? The Princess Diaries are perhaps the most known of these, though they are not the only books to adopt this style by far. So, once again, how can I say that diaries are out of style? Well, for one, almost no one writes or keeps diaries for themselves anymore, and so in that perspective, you are unique. You’re not to be revealed to the eyes of the internet-surfing hordes. No, you are to remain, quiet and peaceful, in the confines of this book.

But I digress. The reason for my starting a journal, a diary, an imaginary pen-friend, is perhaps one that could be mocked at, and yet I shall confide it in you, my diary, for you are to become the ultimate confidante on all matters concerning my life. The reason, therefore, is that I am utterly, without a doubt, and presumably for the foreseeable future, friendless.

Why, you ask, is such a charming young woman, writing with such a fine and elegant pen, friendless? Well, Diary dear, I shall tell you the reason for this mortifying fact. I have been sentenced, but that relation of mine which I despise and abhor but have no choice but be commanded by as she is my legal guardian – I have been sentenced, I say, to study at a boarding school. Not any boarding school – the most prestigious of modern girls’ preparatory schools, that which is named “Pratt and Smith School for Young Ladies.”

Yes, Diary. I have been sentenced, in short, to live like a girl from the Victorian age, only without the glorious dresses and the height of sophistication being the making of tea with the correct amount of sugar. Oh no, I will actually be forced to study and study and study some more in order to get accepted in two years to such schools as Yale, Harvard or Princeton.

This brings me back to my being utterly friendless. I am still only on the airplane to Vermont, where this school resides in the middle of what can reasonably be considered “nowhere,” but I have had to leave every single one of my incredible girlfriends behind me. I know for a fact that we’re only allowed one hour of phone calls to home a week at P&S, and that will certainly not be enough time for me to talk to Sarah, Jenny AND Linda. If I’m lucky, there will be modern things such as internet at P&S, but who knows?

And so, Diary dearest, you are my only companion and soul mate as of now, and I hope that I shall be able to entertain you with my miseries and trials at this most hated of places. I now leave you fondly to put away my tray-table and buckle my seat belt, as we’re beginning our ascent.

With much love and fondness for your pages already,

I am yours sincerely,

Lucy

Princess Without A Name [A Short Story]

Once upon a time, there was a princess who didn’t have a name. She lived locked up in a tower, like all princesses do, and had a jolly life there. She got plenty of exercise in the big swimming pool at the bottom of the tower, and read plenty of books in the big library on the first floor of the tower, and had plenty of food in the pantry on the second floor and got plenty of time to gaze outside wistfully from the one window that was on the third floor of the tower. It was a very good tower, as towers went.

The princess without a name was very happy there. She lived her life all alone, except for the girls that came to restock the pantry, and only read about other people in books. She had all the different stories of princesses in the library, and she knew how her story would go. She knew exactly what would happen with her life.

She felt lucky, knowing exactly what was to be. She felt glad to think that one day, her eighteenth birthday probably, or somewhere around that age, a prince would come riding on a white, or maybe black, horse. He would save her from the tower by breaking into it or climbing up it – or doing something else that was very athletic. Then he’d pledge his true love to her, and they would ride off together into the sunset and live happily ever after. The princess without a name liked the sound of happily ever after. It sounded like a nice way to live, though rather vague.

As her eighteenth birthday started drawing near, the princess without a name started worrying about two things. The first was that all the maidens and princesses in the stories had names. Not very good ones, no – for what sort of a name is Cinderella? Or Snow White for that matter? Stupid names really – but they still had names. The princess without a name had no name at all. She never really thought about it. She knew who she was, and that was that. She never felt she needed a name.

The second thing she worried about was that she would have to leave her tower. She really liked her tower, being stocked as it was with good things to do and to eat and to read. She even had a few friends, if she thought about it – the girls from the village who opened the tiny window in the pantry and gave her food every week. The window was much too small to escape from of course, but the girls liked having nice chats and the princess without a name rather liked hearing about their lives, unprincess-like as they might be.

Mind filled with worries, one of which being the creases in her brow from being so worried, the princess without a name’s birthday came and went and no prince or horse came near the tower. As the days passed, she started to forget a little about it. She kept about her routine, and even had the village girls find a few dozen new books to add to the library.

Still, fate is fate, and the day before the princesses nineteenth birthday, a prince appeared. He came riding – of course he did – but on quite an odd black and white horse that looked rather like a tall cow. His face looked very sweaty and his chain-mail wasn’t very shiny, but rather caked with mud. The princess without a name looked down at him from her window at the top of the tower and waited.

“O, fairest of maidens! Princess of these lands! I am Pip, and I have come to rescue you!” He shouted up at her, rather as if declaiming, badly, from a page. The princess stifled a giggle. Pip?!

“O lovely lady, will you tell me your name?” He shouted then, his voice breaking on the high pitch he put on the word “name.”

“I don’t have a name,” called down the princess. The prince blinked a few times. He looked like he was thinking very hard, and not managing well with it.

“Well, then after I rescue you, I’ll give you one, O star of mine!” He eventually yelled, sounding, and looking, rather pleased with himself at the solution he found for this unexpected development. The princess thought to herself. She looked back into the comfy tower room, her bedroom, and sighed a bit. She looked out at the prince and sighed once more.

“Maybe once you break in, we can live here?” She asked the prince a moment later. She really did like the tower. She heard the prince laugh an odd, trilling little laugh.

“Why, lady, I have a castle waiting for us far away from here,” The prince called back, still giggling. “That is where we shall live, get married and have our children! Why, this little place is scarcely enough to hold one little princess, how could it hold a family and servants and courtiers?” The princess without a name cringed at his words. A family? Servants? Courtiers? She wasn’t even nineteen. She wasn’t ready for all that. Happily ever after had always been vague, true, but never had she heard about the happy couples having babies and servants and courtiers straight off. Also, the princes has always been sweet, not annoying and fake like this one/. And they were never called Pip. And their horses looked nice.

The princess thought the matter over for a few more minutes while Pip, who had assumed that she wanted to be rescued already, toiled away at the door of the tower, trying to hack at it with his sword and muttering things like “Have at you!” and “Open sesame!”

“Pip! Hey, Pip!” She called, trying to get his attention away from her faithful door that was solid oak and seemed quite unwilling to let him in. Once Pip looked up at her, wiping sweat from his brow with his hand, she continued.

“Pip, your offer is so kind. But, you see, the thing is,” and she giggled with pleasure at the cliché from all the romance novels that she was about to use, “I’m not really willing to settle for less than the perfect one for me. And you’re not him, Pip. I’m sorry, but you can stop trying to break in. I don’t want to leave.” With those words, the princess who didn’t want a name given to her turned, walked into the depths of the tower and went for a long, aggressive swim in her pool.

She never saw Pip staring in shock at the tower. Nor did she see him hacking hopelessly at the door a few times. Nor did she see the big brass key that hung next to the door on the inside of the tower, just like she hadn’t ever seen it. She would see that key one day, when she wanted to. She would see the key and she would open the door for the knight she wanted and until then she had no need to know that she had the key all along. Her tower was enough for her and would be enough for her until the day she would choose that it wasn’t.