Boxes // A Short Story

Boxes // A Short Story

The boxes were small and square with colors varying from red to green to a very light shade of pink. Her favorite was gold, and the latch was broken from opening and shutting it so often.

She kept the boxes in the bottom drawer of her dresser, and on days where the tears were too many for her heart, when a lonely ache settled in her from head to toe, she opened the drawer and chose one from the dozen.

There were other boxes too. Ones she tried not to keep, but they wouldn’t seem to go away. Here and there, they were tucked around her room. One held down a stack of paper, three propped up the corner of her sagging ottoman, and others cluttered up the windowsill like faded plant stands.

She tried throwing them out, but there always seemed to be more, so she did her best to keep them busy and useful so she was never tempted to open them. They were as much a part of her life as the treasured boxes, but if she could ignore them, she would.

The last time she’d given in had not gone well. She had opened every single box in one evening and the contents tore into her soul. It took several of her most treasured gifts to make her feel better.

As the years passed, the little drawer gained a few more boxes. One was silver, a gift from a boy who made her feel very special once. Another was pink and white striped from her best friend, and three others followed that matched it.

When she changed houses, she moved all the good boxes with her and left the others behind, jumbled in a pile of dust and ready to move on. One of the boxes from a friend stayed behind with them, the good gift turned sour from a bad friendship end.

She decided in her new room, her new life, there was going to be a change. The precious boxes were going to be on display, where she could see them every day and be reminded of their contents without risking wearing them out with opening and closing. She needed their constant encouragement to be brave, to know she was loved, and to get somewhere in life.

She set them up in a perfect row across the back of her desk, then laid back on her dorm bed and ran through their contents with her eyes.

The gold one was from Grandmumma on her fifth birthday. “Well, aren’t you just the sweetest little thing today?” Grandmumma’s accent would warm her heart every time she let the words out to visit them. 

The green ones, a card on Christmas, a compliment from a stranger, and the deep red one was a congratulatory speech on winning an essay contest. The sky blue ones, from Mom and Dad, near in shade to a few she had left at home, ranged from “I love you” to “I’m so proud of you” to “I see you and I hear you”. She had kept every one.

The striped boxes, down one from their original number, were twinged with the bittersweet knowledge that maybe her friend didn’t mean them anymore, but she kept them anyway. The same with the one from the boy.

Her new life began, and it was busier and fuller than anything she had ever imagined before. She barely needed to open the boxes those first few weeks, but the number of dingy gray, accusing red, and gloomy black boxes cluttering her floor and windowsill began to grow almost without her noticing it.

She tripped over one on a particularly exhausting day and slammed her knee on the end of her bed. Tears that had been wanting to burst out all day took their opportunity, and she sank down onto the floor. For the first time since she had moved, she saw just how many boxes there were and something told her to open them. Open them all.

“Imposter.” “You’re going to fail this test.” “Ew, that outfit does not match at all.” “Some people are just too sensitive.” “Sorry, I just don’t think we’re right for each other.” “If you’re ever going to accomplish anything, you have to just grow up.” “You’re not a very good friend.”

The boxes with her voice hurt the most, but she had to hear them. She searched through the room, finding the ones hidden in her closet corners, two under a pile of clothes on the chair, one inside the left shoe of a pair she’d bought for a date that was canceled.

The boxes piled up around her, and she buried her face in her hands, letting the tears flow. The last time this had happened, she’d wiped her eyes, cuddled up on her bed, and opened the drawer full of delicious reminders that she was very loved.

It had been enough. 

But as she looked up at the little army of boxes lining the back of her desk, she knew it wouldn’t work this time. There simply weren’t enough good words to combat the bad ones. She decided to do the only thing she knew how. 

Spreading out an old blue blanket, she piled the boxes, some half open and half empty, into the middle and tied the corners tight around them. Then she shoved it into the back of her closet. Tomorrow she would take them to the campus dumpster and have another fresh start. Tonight at least she couldn’t see them. 

Sleep washed away her tears, and she began her day with only the bruise on her leg to remind her anything had happened. Months passed without her thinking of the lumpy bundle and kicking new boxes without a second thought under the bed.

She met a new friend who was also a boy. His “I love you” was the most beautiful box of them all. She slipped it under her pillow and stared at it in the starlight every night before she drifted to sleep. 

Time passed and her house changed again, this time to one she shared with the sweet boy she married. The beautiful boxes were stacked on a shelf, and the others were added to the blue bundle and tucked into the corner of the garage.

The collection of precious boxes began to grow faster than ever before. It seemed like every day she added at least one, maybe two to the precious little hoard. The boy seemed to shower her with all the boxes her heart had ever craved, and she was learning to give them to herself. She had even rediscovered a book full of them straight from the heart of God.

One day the boy gave her her first dingy box, and she added two more herself. She disappeared into their room to hide them away, but he followed to apologize and saw them for the first time. 

His words were so humble, so tender, and filled with such love that she dropped the boxes to catch his words in a new one she knew she could revisit whenever she needed.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m keeping your words.” It was strange that he had asked but even stranger that she’d assumed it was something everyone did until this moment. 

“Why?”

“I need them. For when I don’t have enough. For when I need to be reminded of how loved I am. And the others are just an accident.”

He shook his head and pulled her into a hug. “You don’t have to hoard these anymore. There will always be more.”

The tears filled her eyes, and she dropped the box on the floor with the others to lean into his hug. 

In the days that followed, she learned to catch less and less. Letting them bounce freely around the room and her heart, trusting there would be more. She even opened the boxes on the desk, freeing the tattered memories and kissing Grandmumma goodbye. 

The dark ones couldn’t matter anymore either. If she never caught them, they flitted away, no longer supporting her life or weighing her down. 

Now she was free.


I hope this story spoke to your heart in some way, and I pray you learn to speak good words to yourself and trust them from those who love you most. 💙

Blanket // A Short Story

Blanket // A Short Story

He was yelling again the day she found the blanket.

It was soft wool and bright blue, hidden underneath the bed she’d crawled under.

It fit just perfectly around her shoulders, and she wrapped it tight until it was as snug as a mother’s hug.

She put it on again the next time he yelled. Then when his eyes said he was about to. When his lips tightened along with his hands. When he closed his mouth and stepped out the door, the blanket trailed behind her all the way to the dining table.

She might need it when he came back.

She wore it more and more often the taller she grew. The blanket no longer trailed behind her, but she slept in it every night and the blue dulled to gray. 

One day she discovered if she wore it up over her head, he couldn’t see her and decide to be angry with her.

She pulled it tighter over her face until only her eyes peered out, watching for the next sign of his anger.

She began tripping, walking into things, and she no longer fit under the bed. It was hard work keeping herself wrapped up and trying to see where she went. 

When she went into the world, others saw her blanket, and as much as she tried they saw her. Some pointed and laughed, but most others just looked away or smiled sadly.

She asked someone why and they answered that adults didn’t wear blankets any more.

She took it off in a moment alone, where she knew she was safe from looks and anger. Her arms tingled from the cold air and it felt strange having her whole face in view, but her heart began to tremble. It felt as if everyone could see it and anyone could take it. 

So she found a way to put a small piece of the blanket around just her heart.

Others spoke to her and looked her in the eyes. Safety grew up around her in real hugs, and gentle faces, and as he grew quieter and older himself.

She began to cry, to share her fears, to experience things she’d missed when the blanket blocked her world. She told him what he’d done, and he gave a slow, sad nod.

The tears began to wash away the gray shreds of blanket, but a few pieces remained, holding her heart tight, hurting it as it tried to grow wings.

She tried to pull it off as easily as she’d put it on, but the threads had grown with her, seeming to become a part of her heart. They had held her together, and she wondered what she would be when they were gone.

The first string fell off on a bright summer day when she knew she was loved. Another snapped into pieces when he said he was sorry. The others followed slowly throughout the years, until she sometimes forgot there were any strings at all. 

She woke up one morning with her heart scarred but free, and she wept. This time with joy. 


Hurts can be healed, hearts can be freed. ❤️ I hope this story spoke to yours.

(Lovely graphic by Plethora Creative. All similarities in the story to people living or dead is purely coincidental.)

Short Story Review: Right Number

Short Story Review: Right Number

“Cousin Beth and Izzy bring Christmas to Emily’s apartment even though it’s August and over 100 degrees! Brent has disappeared and Emily hasn’t been able to reach him by phone for several weeks. She guesses he’s off on an assignment and can’t make contact for safety reasons… or can he?

This short story takes place a few weeks after the end of Book 6, Once Upon a Dime and can be read for free on my blog at perrykirkpatrick.com.” (from Goodreads)

Okay, this was the absolute cutest thing ever! I loved Emily’s dynamic with Izzy and her cousin Beth, and it was fun to see more of Brent’s POV again. 😉 I loved the little hints of possible things to come in season two, and I think now I need to celebrate Christmas in summer sometime. ❤

A Very Bookish Christmas Is Out!!! (+free chapter)

A Very Bookish Christmas Is Out!!! (+free chapter)

Somewhere between turkey and Black Friday sales, A Very Bookish Christmas released! ❤ I’m so excited to be sharing this anthology with some of my favorite authors, and I can’t wait for you all to read it. ❤ (I think I’ve said all that before, but it’s true. XD)

Buy on Amazon

Add on Goodreads

But first, introductions.

The first story in the anthology is by Rebekah Jones. It’s called “Gingerbread Treasures”, and it’s inspired by the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s pretty brilliant fun. Here’s a quote I like…

Next is “Molly and Anna” by Sarah Holman (inspired by Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter). I read an early version of the story, and I loooooved the theme of reconciliation. It was also super Christmas-y and adorable. ❤

I haven’t gotten to read J. Grace Pennington‘s story “Sylvie of Amber Apartments” yet, but that it’s inspired by Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery and this quote below makes me want to read it. 😉

Last in the anthology is my story “Sincerely, Jem”, inspired by Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, chock full of cheesecake, and a little bit quirky with a theme that is close to my heart.

In honor of our anthology release, here is Chapter One of “Sincerely, Jem”! Enjoy! 😉

Chapter One: Christmas Dresses

The only problem with Christmas dresses, Jessie decided, was that they didn’t have pockets. How was she supposed to carry her inspiration book with her? She spun in a circle, admiring the sparkly plaid skirt again, then leaned on the edge of the dresser and stared down at her little book. 

It was perfectly pocket-sized, barely larger than her hand, and the hardbound red cover would be sturdy enough for all the weird places she intended to take it. Only a few pages had been filled so far, but she was sure a party like tonight would be the perfect place to collect more inspiration.

She traced the word “Inspire” splashed across the cover in gold, then opened it. There were still a few minutes until it was time to leave, and she was proud of the way she’d lettered a favorite quote from Daddy-Long-Legs on the first page. “I saw a street car conductor today with one brown eye and one blue. Wouldn’t he make a nice villain for a detective story?”

She felt as if Judy, the character who had penned these words, might have been the only person who could understand exactly how satisfying it was to walk through life seeing a story in every face. If she were going to be an author someday, she had to find inspiration somewhere. With such an excitingly varied thing as a Christmas party that evening, it felt wrong to leave the book home.

She would bring it. Maybe it would fit into her coat pocket or her older sister, Ember, would have room in her clutch.

“Mom just sounded the five-minute warning,” Ember said from behind her and stabbed one last bobby pin into her hair.

Jessie jumped and moved aside to share the mirror with her sister. “Thanks. Did Ben say he was coming?”

“Yeah, he texted me a minute ago to say he was.”

Jessie smirked at her in the mirror and fluttered her eyelashes. 

Ember laughed and swatted at her. “I’ll remember this when it’s your turn.”

“Well, you better have a good memory because I have the tail end of high school and six billion books to write before then,” Jessie declared, smoothing a dark strand of hair back from her face. Her half-updo had become the unfortunate casualty of taking off her apron and searching under the couch for shoes. It remained to be seen what cramming into the minivan in snow gear would do to it.

Ember noticed her frowning and jumped into action. “Let me help you with that,” she said, quickly pushing her in front of the mirror and releasing her bobby pins. 

“Two minutes!” Mom called from the kitchen and the hall light shut off.

Ember’s hands moved quickly over Jessie’s hair, transforming it into a pollyanna that twisted slightly back from her ears. She nodded at their reflections in satisfaction, and the girls ducked from the room together.

“Right on time,” Mom said, holding out plastic-wrapped plates of cheesecake to them. “Dad’s warming up the van, and Amy and Owen are already out there with him.”

They stepped out into the snow-adorned world and shuffled their way across the driveway. Jessie’s nose and cheeks were flushed with cold by the time Owen slid open the side door and vaulted to the back seat to make room for them. 

“Thanks, bro,” Jessie said, setting her plate down on the seat and hoisting herself up into the van. Sitting down between her younger siblings, she strapped in and set both plates of cheesecake on her lap so Ember could climb in. 

“Now all we need are Mom and Baby Noel,” Amy said, tracing a smiley face on the foggy window. She added pigtails to match her own. 

Jessie smiled to herself and wondered why fog plus waiting always equaled pictures. It almost sounded like the perfect subject for a poem. She hadn’t officially started a poetry section in her inspiration book yet, but now was as good a time as any. Reaching into her coat pocket, she came up empty except for an ancient library receipt. 

“Here, take these. I forgot something.” She shoved the plates of cheesecake toward her siblings and rocketed out of the van.

Walking as quickly as possible across the driveway, she passed Mom coming out of the house with the baby bundled up in her carseat.

“Forgot something. Be back in just a sec,” Jessie called over her shoulder as she slipped off her snow boots and wove her way down the dark hallway to her room. 

She ran her hand along the top of the dresser, feeling the hairbrush, a random necklace, and nearly knocking over a decorative candle before finding the small flat book. She picked it up and shoved it into her coat pocket, then ran back down the hall and took her place in the van moments later.

“Sorry about that,” she said, breathlessly, as Dad backed the van out of the driveway.

“What did you forget?” he asked, looking at her in the rearview mirror.

Jessie held up her red notebook with a sheepish grin. 

He winked.

“What are you bringing that for?” Ember asked, turning slightly in her seat. Her light-brown curls smushed against the seat, and she gently moved them over her shoulder to protect their shape. 

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe there will be interesting people there.”

Ember grinned and shook her head, turning back around. She held out a finger to the baby in the seat next to her, and Noel closed her little fist around it. 

It was times like these, Jessie decided, that she really wished she could draw. Words and doodles came more easily to her than lifelike pictures. She twisted a curl that had escaped her half-updo and tried to remember the all-important reason she’d run inside for her book. Ah, yes, window fog and waiting. 

In her scrawly mixture of print and cursive, Jessie wrote the title to a new poem: “Window Fog and Waiting Wanderings”. Hmmm… maybe the alliteration was cheesy. She crossed it out and tried again. “Foggy Wanderings”? 

Amy leaned against her shoulder and watched as words formed from the tip of her pen. “Did I inspire that?”

Jessie nodded, her thoughts worlds away. She didn’t usually write poetry, but something about the sparkly winter scenery sliding past them and the excitement of the coming party felt particularly inspiring. 

“Somewhere between the window and the world, warmth and cold meet, to form a wintery canvas there, and pictures bright and sweet.”

She began to murmur the next verse. “Waiting opens up our hearts, and our imaginations, to share the images inside our minds, in the form of…” She couldn’t think of a word that fit.

Owen read over her shoulder and made a suggestion. “In the form of goofy faces.” He turned away and swiped his finger across the window. “Like this one.”

His sisters leaned around him to look and burst into giggles.

Ember put her free finger to her lips and nodded toward the baby. She had fallen asleep, sunny curls against the side of her carseat. Jessie smiled and turned back to her poem. How did one fit in a goofy face and still keep a peaceful, poetic tone? That was definitely something to think about. 

The poem morphed and changed, restarted and morphed again as the trees grew thinner and the houses grew thicker as they drove further into town. 

“I think it’s perfect, Jesster,” Owen said when Jessie showed him the fresh page and tidy verses she’d copied over. He nodded with conviction and pulled shyly at his curly hair. 

“Thanks, bro. I might change the last line sometime, but I think it’s done enough for now.” She grinned at Amy. “Now will you two sign it as my helpers and inspiration?”

Owen held out his hands for the book, and she bit back a smile as he carved his name with his best attempt at tidy handwriting. Amy’s turn was next, and she added a little heart after her name. 

The rest of the ride passed in the quiet stillness of daydreams and keeping the baby asleep. Jessie glanced at her fondly and reached out to tweak her little sock. The age gap between Amy and Noel was over seven years long, so she’d been a nice, big surprise just in time for Christmas last year.

Maybe she would write a poem, or at least a poetic essay, about that sometime.

“We’re there!” Dad announced, and she shut her book quickly, slipping it into her coat pocket and sitting up to see their surroundings.

Her jaw dropped.

The house was saltbox style with a red door and more strands of Christmas lights than Jessie had seen in her life. Wreaths decorated every window and the posts of the porch were wrapped with red ribbon. A shimmering Christmas tree filled an entire downstairs window, and she secretly hoped she’d be allowed to inspect it. 

“It’s like something from a storybook!” she breathed, stepping out of the van behind Ember.

The cold air of winter filled her lungs and her whole body with excitement, and it was all she could do to not rush toward the door. This was going to be a beautiful and inspiring party.

Copyright 2019 Kate Willis

Merry Christmas season! ❤

(Cover by Jessica Greyson, graphics by Rebekah Jones.)

Short Story Review: The Great Lab Escape

Short Story Review: The Great Lab Escape

“What do you do when you discover you’re the first cat to learn to read?
You run!

Before Mia was the remarkable detective cat, she was a test subject at Caput Laboratories. When she begins to notice words jumping off the page, she’s determined not to spend the rest of her life in the lab.

Everything goes awry when her plan to intentionally fail her test backfires —badly. Can she make her escape with only her wits and her newfound reading skills? And will she make it in the big world outside the lab’s walls?

This is a short story prequel to The Kitten Files mystery series, and takes place several weeks before The Case of the Tabloid Tattler.” (from Goodreads)

I was gifted a minibook copy of this short story and read it one sitting while I was supposed to be cleaning my room. *grins sheepishly* It was quite enjoyable and a great origin story for Mia! Also, I enjoyed the descriptions of her learning to read since that’s about how it felt to me when I started reading. 😉

Recommended! But also, clean your room. 😉

Flash Fiction with Anna

Flash Fiction with Anna

So, my cool sister Anna had this cool idea. I think it was Sunday night when we were accidentally having talking time. She had the idea for us to choose a photo and both write a story from it. It was rather hypothetical until yesterday when we got excited and decided to do it. 😉

We both hopped on Pinterest, sent our favorite pictures back and forth, and finally decided on one. We wanted something with more than one character that could literally fit any genre so our stories wouldn’t end up very similar. (And believe me, they are very different! XD)

Last night, during official talking time, we started writing our stories in notebooks, then finished them today, and swapped them for beta-reading. That part was extra fun. We had some good laughs while helping each other clarify and improve our stories. ❤ (And Anna was extra cool and gave me some of her chocolate.)

 

 (The sorts of weird conversations we have…)

Our stories ended up being VERY different from each other. For some reason, I looked at the picture prompt and immediately thought dystopian. XD Anna, on the other hand, wrote a really cute, sweet, and meaningful contemporary story. I really love the descriptions in her story, and the message goes really well with the message of her blog and the message of her WIP “Eagledare”. (No spoilers.)

imageforflashfiction

(Our picture prompt. We couldn’t track down the owner of this picture, but whoever you are, it’s awesome. 😉 )

Three random facts about my story (you can read it here): 1, the main character was originally named Erin because that’s all I could think of. 2, I patterned my idea of the stairwell off the stairwell in the nursing building at my school. 3, the first line popped into my head out of nowhere, and I had to fit a story to it.

Three random facts about Anna’s story: 1, “Nunchuck” is actually something she calls people as an endearing insult. 2, the house in it reminds me a ton of a house we visited a lot when we lived in rural Oregon. 3, I totally picture Mr. Flint as a 98-year-old man we knew years ago.

Without further talking, I present to you…

Truly Fantastic by Anna Willis

Life was officially horrid, she decided, and “fantastic” was definitely NOT the right word. Britt threw her backpack down at the base of the ancient, warped stairs and frowned at it.

“Fantastic day to you too,” her brother struggled up the stairs, dragging a dilapidated cardboard box after him. The stairwell groaned under the weight.

Stomping up after him, Britt rolled her eyes. “Nothing is “fantastic” about this move, bro, and you know it.”

He raised one sarcastic eyebrow at her from under his team’s baseball cap.

“Camp was way too short like always, then the second we get home, all ready to be school superstars, Mom and Dad decided to pack us off to some deserted jungle to live in a house older than great-grandpa.”

“AND there’s no cell service in this stupid place!” their older sister yelled, rocketing past with her nose in her phone and almost falling over the box.

Her brother flashed a big toothy grin, “Look on the bright side, sis, you only have bears to dodge while on your phone instead of rush hour!”

Ducking her arm, he fled as she gave chase. The sounds of thumping and heated argument burst from the loft, and Britt found herself wondering for a moment if the floorboards would hold.

“Honey?” a voice called from somewhere deep inside the woodstove Dad was trying to get working. “Electric company called and said the roads are too slick for them to get up and see what’s wrong with the wiring to the lights and oven.”

Great. Cold dinner, no TV, and no staying up past dark to unpack and learn the house.

From down below she could hear Mom’s panicked jabbering about a mouse nest she had discovered in a kitchen cabinet, and overhead rain drilled relentlessly on the tin roof so loudly it could make a person go insane.

Britt kicked the top step. Flinching in pain, she curled up on the loft’s thin carpet and bit back the tears.

“And on top of all that my head hurts, and it’s too cold in here, and… and,” she was sniffling into her arms now, “everybody is so grumpy.”

Heavy cloth dropped over her face, and the girl let out a muffled shriek, scrambling out from under it.

A boy comfortably straddled the bannister just above her.

Britt glared at him, “What was that for, Nunchuck?”

“Sweatshirt. Put it on.”

Britt glanced at it. “It’s too big.”

“It’s warm.” The boy dismounted the railing and forced the sweatshirt over her head.

He was right, and she burrowed deeper into it with a meek, “Thanks.”

“What are you doing here? I mean, who are you?” She was terrible at first impressions.

“Mom sent me from our cabin just across the crick to welcome you folks. You know you’re our first neighbors since old man Flint died? And he BUILT this place!” Gesturing toward the loft behind them, he continued with the hint of a grin, “I’ve already met your brother up there; showed him the attic trap door. Oh, and I met your sister, but I’m not sure if she met me… found a spot of patchy cellphone service.”

“Oh. Didn’t Dad lock the door?”

He shrugged. “No one locks their doors around here.”

Slinging one leg over the stair railing, he offered her a hand. She stared at it. “Come on, I want to show you something,” he urged.

“You’ve got to be like the most popular dude in school and years older than me,” she rambled, taking his help and climbing on in front of him, “Honestly, aren’t you way too old to be doing this?”

He laughed, and it blew her blonde hair into her eyes. “Never!” he cried, giving her a shove.

The walls blurred by and a small scream of delight escaped her throat as they slid down the ancient roller coaster. Rolling off at the end, she landed beside her discarded backpack, laughing tears.

“That was probably…” she squirmed in laughter, gasping for breath, “THE craziest, most childish thing I have done since forever!”

He flopped onto his back next to her and folded his arms across his ribs, waiting for her to stop laughing. Finally he spoke, quietly, “This is what I wanted to show you.”

Britt blinked, “What? Where?”

He lifted his arm and pointed straight up.

Moving her body up a few steps, a bubble of laughter rose inside her. “A crack in the ceiling? Really?”

“It’s more than that. Look closer.” His voice was perfectly serious.

Britt peered at the ceiling far above them and saw an array of subtle pastel colors gathered around the ragged break in the white plaster. It was a landscape scene, painted masterfully so that the ceiling repair was a beautiful mountain range with a sunrise melting into the emptiness above it.

Britt sucked in her breath with appreciation. “No one would ever know that was there!”

“I came by one day, and Mr. Flint had propped a ladder on these stairs and was painting on the ceiling. The house had settled at some point and broken the plaster in a big ugly gash.”

Britt pressed her tongue against the back of her teeth, hard. “Dad and Mom said this move was going to be a ‘fantastic change’ for us, but so far it has been everything but fantastic. It’s breaking the family apart and making everything ugly, just like this ceiling was.”

He shifted and tightened his arms around himself against the cold. She realized the sweatshirt must have been his.

His eyes were still taking in every stroke of the artist’s brush in the painting. “Ya know, Mr. Flint couldn’t completely repair that break,” he answered, “but he did his best and then worked to make the whole thing beautiful in his unique way. He was cool like that.”

Britt jumped to her feet, and, startled, he did the same. “I’m going to do that too. Help me?” She dropped her eyes and then raised them again, determined to start repairing things right then and there. “Listen, sorry I called you nunchuck… Friends?”

She flopped the long sleeve toward him, and he shook it solemnly.

“Friends.”

Grabbing her backpack, Britt pulled out a half-eaten bag of marshmallows and ran to find her sister and brother. “Sis, stop moping and bring that pile of blankets. Bro, do you still have a flashlight from camp? Good, grab it.”

Minutes later they halted in front of the glowing, warm wood stove. Dad’s tired face broke into a grin at their surprise. “The neighbor guy showed me how!”

Britt matched his smile and victoriously raised the marshmallows in the air. “Let’s have a truly fantastic s’more party for dinner!”

Her new friend produced a pocket knife and passed it to the brother who excitedly skewered a marshmallow and promptly burnt it. Mom found bowls and served hot chocolate. Her older sister giggled and happily tossed her phone aside to rapid-fire marshmallows at Dad.

Britt dropped to her stomach to avoid the sticky war. The fire giving her face a toasty, tingly feeling, she whispered to the boy sprawled on the wood floor beside her. She wasn’t sure if he could even hear her over the cheerful chaos around them. “Thanks for showing me there really can be beauty.”

The End!

 

Wasn’t that great?

Check out Anna’s blog to read about her experience of writing her story and read my dystopian story called “The Storm Upstairs”.

Short Story Review: The Notes in Our Hearts

Short Story Review: The Notes in Our Hearts

thenotesinourheartscoverTwo generations, one song… (from Goodreads)

FTC DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy of this book. A positive review was not required. These are my honest thoughts and opinions.

Since there isn’t much of a blurb for this short story, I went into it pretty blind. And I loved it. 😀

World War II tore apart the past, but a song weaves through two generations, binding hearts together and bringing hope.

There were some pretty beautiful sentences in this short story (yay for Kindle highlighter!), and Gram and Olivia’s relationship was sweet. I loved the song! ❤ I imagined it to be a lot like Rosemary’s song from The Giver movie adaptation. Gram’s encouragement to Olivia was also really special, and the romance (or romances? :D) was sweet. SPOILER ALERT! A guy asking permission to kiss a girl goodbye has got to be the most respectful, darling thing. END OF SPOILER!

There were some parts where I would have loved to have Gram’s story acted out instead of just narrated. Also, a little more on the happy times with James would have been nice. 😉

Best quotes: “Don’t ever forget, Livie, God has a plan for your life greater than all the sorrow you may ever feel.”

“The last few measures danced from the keys whispering of the hope of the future and the love of the present.”

Altogether–happy. It ended perfectly. ❤ I look forward to seeing what else this author writes! 😉

Short Story: Lanterns

Short Story: Lanterns

I wrote this story for my creative writing class last fall. It was a little outside of my usual writing style, but I enjoyed writing it. So, I present to you, this dystopian allegory “Lanterns”.

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Day or night, the City was always alive. Never silent, never still. A long stream of hunched people snaked away from the factory gates. Smog filled the air above the factory section, obscuring a bright moon.

Diamond had never seen the towers so closely before. The sleek towers rose above the smog layer, home to the people who could see far enough to rule. They built the factories and paid the workers. And they built the roads across the river.

Afraid to be caught staring, he ducked his head.

The column shuffled to the side to let another pass. Workers for the factory. The next shift. Their thin coats were buttoned to their chins, and they studied the cobblestones beneath their feet.

Diamond stamped his boots impatiently and rubbed his cold hands together. He winced as he traced the bandage on one palm. His work had given him a cut ready to turn into a scar.

The column lurched forward again. Buildings hunched along the streets, their narrow windows glowing orange from the furnaces within. The ashy, sharp smell of industry faded as they broke out of the maze of streets.

Outside the gaslit factory section, the cold air tore at the workers. Water from the swollen riverbanks seeped into their shoes. They straightened slightly at the soft light that met their eyes. The lights here came from lanterns, set in niches along the wall.

“Almost ‘ome, aren’t we?” a raspy voice ventured.

“Yeauh,” another answered.

Diamond looked back at the towers. Their lights were far away now, and he shook off the oppressive feeling he had known all day. It was new to him. Just like the factory job and the itchy sweater he was wearing.

He glanced at the others, still plodding in a line. They weren’t waiting for work or food or pay. No wardens had organized them; it was all they knew to do. They passed the first niche in the stone walls that held the river back from the bridge. Lantern light glowed on the tired, sooty faces.

Diamond stepped out of line and broke into a run. The cool air felt good on his cheeks, and he lifted his face to the moon. He passed another lantern before he slowed to catch his breath.

“Not tired, that one,” an old man in two coats remarked.

A young man glared at the sky from under his hat. “Give him a few more days at the factory, and he’ll walk like the rest of us.”

Diamond shuddered inwardly at their words. Between the wardens and the towers, he already felt tired when he worked. It was a temptation to let the work slide like others did. They all got paid the same no matter. He shoved his hands into his pockets.

The wind was picking up, and the column began to hurry a little. A few anxious faces tore themselves from the path to look at the sky. Diamond ran again. Mother was waiting for him with listening ears and hot soup. Perhaps she had something to soothe his cut.

He stopped running once he was alone, but his thoughts caught up with him. They demanded he sort them out. “I don’t like the wardens, but no one does. They watch too closely like they think we want to make a mistake.”

Diamond kicked a loose stone. “My work’s all right,” he told himself. He pressed on his bandage to relieve some of the pain. “It wasn’t a bad first day.”

A gust of wind slammed into him from behind, and he stumbled forward. He sat down slowly, leaning his back against the wall and holding on to his shaking knees. He blinked. The lanterns had flickered out.

The river rushed on the other side of the wall, and the stones were cold through his sweater. Diamond shut his eyes. It was no darker than if he had been sleeping. There was nothing to fear. He just had to think. A muffled sob broke the stillness, and he realized it was his.

His eyes sprang open. Maybe the moon would guide him home. Only a sliver peeking out from behind the cloud, just enough to prove he hadn’t gone blind. He took a cautious step forward. Then another. Two more before he hurried into a walk.

A loose pebble turned under his heel, and he fell to his knees. The tears were back again. Silent but desperate. They ran down his cheeks and slid off his chin. “Help me, please. I can’t get home.”

Diamond reached out to touch the cold stone wall. “Help me.”

The wind whipped at him, stirring his hair with its freezing blast. He shivered and shoved his hands into his pockets. Pulling himself to his feet, he felt a small something shift in his pocket. A match! His fingers closed around it. What was it doing in his pocket?

“The lanterns!”

He reached his bandaged hand out to the wall and slid his fingers along it, taking hesitant steps. The eerie quiet amplified the pounding of his heart. It skipped a beat when his hand touched nothing but empty air. A niche. With trembling fingers, he drew the match out of his pocket and struck it on his boot. The end burst into flame with a sizzle.

He looked at the rusty, steel lantern, puzzled. It was already open. He shrugged and lit the wick. A gust of cold wind rushed down the road, and he shoved himself against the niche to shield the lantern. It died down in moments, and he ventured to look at the lantern. The flame still shone bright.

Diamond shut the lantern and took it by the handle. The soft light illumined the road around him. “Thank you,” he whispered. “I can go home.”

The way before him was bright, but he ventured a glance behind him. So much swallowing blackness. Diamond’s heart sank when he remembered the column of people. He looked toward the light and back to the blackness. So many were lost just like he had been.

He turned his feet away from home and broke into a run. The precious lantern swung by his side. He heard a gasp and a shout as he rounded a bend in the road.

“Where did you get a light?”

“May we borrow it?”

“We’re saved!”

“Tell us!”

The voices scrambled over each other. Faces questioned and pleaded in the flicker of his lantern.

Diamond caught his breath. “We must walk together.” He helped lift an old woman to her feet. “The light is meant to be shared.”

He shone his light on hunched workers staring listlessly at the silver thread of moon. More stepped into the light. The old man with two coats let a tired mother lean on his arm. A few others carried children, and they all followed Diamond down the cold stone road.

“Who is it?” A harsh voice spoke when the light seeped up the shadows. A young man leaned against the wall, snarling. His hat was pulled down tight over his ears. “Wardens? Come to take us to the endless halls. Bad workers we’ve been, eh?”

“No, it is only Diamond and the others,” he spoke out. “I have brought a light.”

The man’s laugh mocked. “A light, eh? How long will that burn?” The man gestured to the empty lantern in the niche near him. “Something or someone put out all the others.”

“I found a match in my pocket. A gift, I don’t know how. The others weren’t closed against the wind before, but I made sure mine is,” Diamond explained.

One of the workers spoke from behind him. “Tary, does it matter? He has a light. Come with us.”

Tary shook his head. “Follow the kid, fools. I’m staying here. I enjoy the darkness anyway.”

“Let us light your lantern then,” Diamond pleaded. He reached forward, but Tary pushed his arm away violently.

“I said that I enjoy the darkness,” he hissed.

Diamond could feel the workers behind him tense. He sighed and turned away. There was nothing he could do. Still, he couldn’t believe someone would refuse this gift. Not after the terror of waiting in the dark.

The group grew larger than the circle of light, and they lit another lantern from its blaze.

Diamond turned. “Do we have everyone?”

“Everyone but Tary.” The words were low and dismal.

“Where’s Byona?” the old woman asked.

He found himself surprised that they knew each other’s names. “We’ll find Byona and then we’ll turn toward home,” he decided.

They found the girl near the entrance to the road. The tower lights glittered like eyes, and she shivered in their gaze. The old woman hobbled over to her.

“Byona, Diamond has brought us light.” She let go of her cane and laid a withered hand on the girl’s shoulder.

Byona brushed strands of hair out of her eyes. They were large in the glow of the lantern. She fixed them on Diamond but spoke to the woman. “He has?”

Diamond nodded. “It is for everyone who will follow it. A gift.”

The girl smiled and stood up. She put her arm around the old woman’s shoulders, and they melted into the group.

“Now we go home,” Diamond whispered. His words hung on the air as the clouds parted to show the moon.

The people were no longer a column when they reached their quarters. They were a huddled mass of humanity, sharing the gift they had found. Joy and gratitude formed into words. Neighbors called a hearty goodnight by name.

Diamond was alone again when he trudged down the street to his row. He climbed the steps to his flat. Leaving the lantern on the steps, he looked out into the night.

“Thank you for the gift.”

 

Copyright 2018 Kate Willis

Short Story: The Dance

Short Story: The Dance

I wrote this short story for the Twelve Days of Christmas on Noble Novels. I was assigned Day 9 with a theme of nine ladies dancing and the nine fruits of the Spirit. It was a challenge, but I managed to bring it all together in this story! I hope you enjoy it. 

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        The schoolhouse looked almost unrecognizable under the garlands and lights that decorated its plain, white boards. One of the boys had dared another to hang a wreath on the bell tower, but the schoolteacher had put a stern end to the plan. They didn’t need anyone getting hurt before the big dance planned that night.

        “Everyone inside. There’s much more work to do in here,” he commanded.

        The handful of students shuffled inside and instinctively sat down at the nearest desks.

        Mr. Richards strode up and down in front of his desk. He wore overalls and a dark blue cap, but he still commanded attention from each student. “The desks need to be moved out of here first. Jonah, Theo, Robbie, and I will take them to the shed.”

        “Yes, sir,” Jonah said, saluting smartly.

        Mr. Richards ignored this and turned to the two girls who shared a desk nearby. “Savannah and Annslie, you’re my cleaning crew. Lewis and Nat are here to help you with whatever you need.”

        The younger boys groaned at the big boys who had landed a much more interesting job.

        Annslie’s hand shot up.

        “Yes, Annslie?” Mr. Richards asked. An amused smile played on his face.

        “When do we get to decorate more?”

        “Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Daigle will be bringing decorations later tonight. I’m sure they’d be grateful for your help.”

        Annslie turned to Savannah with excitement. “This is going to be the most exciting evening ever.”

        Savannah smiled and squeezed her hands together under the desk.

        Mr. Richards clapped his hands together. “Class dismissed.”

        The students rushed out of their seats and set to work. For a while, things grew as dynamic as a dance itself, with the cleaning girls and their unwilling helpers staying away from the desk movers.

        “I don’t think they like this job very much,” Annslie said in an undertone, throwing a glance at Nat half-heartedly scrubbing the floor.

        Savannah looked at the boys and followed their gazes to the big boys carrying desks out the front double doors. Scrubbing floors could look very boring in comparison. Time to show her classmate a little kindness. “Lewis,” she said, sitting up on her heels. “I don’t like ladders very much, but the inside of the windows needs to be cleaned. Would you mind doing them for me?”

        His ears perked up and his blond hair stood a little straighter. “Definitely.”

        “I’ll show you where to find the cleaning solution and some rags,” Savannah said, dropping her rag and pulling herself to her feet.

        Nat watched them go, giving a dejected sigh.

        “Think we can finish this section of floor before she gets back?” Annslie asked with a twinkle in her blue eyes.

        Nat’s freckled face grinned. “Let’s race.”

        Meanwhile, Savannah rummaged through the cleaning closet, looking for a clean bucket. Lewis found a ladder and lugged it out to the nearest window.

        “Where in the world is that bucket?” Savannah groaned. “I hate closets like this. Never opened except once a year. Never cleaned out except once a century.” Her voice grew more muffled as she waded to the back of it.

        “It’s okay, Savannah. I can wait a little.” Lewis said, gathering a few rags.

        She let out a sigh. “Sorry, I was letting impatience get the better of me. Will you see if Annslie and Nat need any help while I keep looking? It might take a little while.”

        “Sure thing,” he grinned.

        Savannah felt calmer as she moved systematically through the piles and stacks and bins. “Sorry, Lord. Please help me to be patient, even if the job is unpleasant,” she prayed. She banged her shin into a metal cart. “Ouch. Ah ha! There’s a bucket.”

        Dragging it out of the cave-like closet and into the schoolhouse, she brushed the cobwebs out of her light brown hair and sent Lewis to fill the bucket. She was just about to look for Nat and Annslie when a voice above her head stopped her.

        “Little Miss Muffet, did a spider frighten you away?” Jonah pulled a spiderweb out of her hair. “Doesn’t look like you got away fast enough,” he teased.

        She bit her tongue and thought through what to say. A soft answer would be best. “Thank you for getting that one, Jonah. I don’t have a mirror with me today so I wouldn’t have caught it.”

        He looked surprised at her reply. “You’re welcome, I guess.”

        Mr. Richards signaled that the big boys’ task was done with another clap of his hands. “Now for the tables. We’ll need two on each wall.”

        Savannah slapped her hand to her forehead. The floors! She had completely forgotten she was helping Annslie. She ran across the room to the floor scrubbers.

        “Aw, man. She’s back,” Nat frowned.

        Annslie just laughed at him. “We had a goal to finish half the floor before you got back.”

        “You almost got there, though. You two are pretty fast at this.” Savannah plunged her rag into the murky bucket. “Sorry I abandoned you, though.”

        Annslie shook her head. “We knew you’d come back. You always do the jobs you’re assigned to.”

        “I just hope we get done in time,” Nat said then grinned. “I’m getting a little sore.”

        “Maybe the time would pass faster if we sang,” Savannah suggested. “It’d bring a little joy into this schoolhouse.” She looked around the room.

        The desks were gone, replaced by bare floorboards and the four long tables waiting for refreshments. Robbie and Lewis were nearly done washing windows. Jonah jabbed at the rafters with his duster, knocking cobwebs down.

        “What songs do you like?” Annslie asked Nat.

        “I’ve always liked ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’. The ‘glorias’ are especially fun.”

        “Glorias” echoed around the room as they continued to scrub. Mr. Richards walked by with a few boards and lent his rich voice to the singing. Jonah whistled along off-key. After half a dozen choruses, the floor crew stood up, stretched, and high-fived each other.

        “All done?” Mr. Richards asked, coming over to approve their work.

        “All done,” Nat grinned.

        “Great job. Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Daigle will be arriving soon, but until then, take a break,” their teacher said.

        Savannah glanced at the schoolhouse clock. The dance was starting in less than an hour. Now was the perfect time to run home and change into her formal clothes. Annslie thought the same and left quickly.

      The boys put away their ladders and dusters and flew out the front doors. Only Mr. Richards and Theo were left, assembling a makeshift stage for the fiddler to stand on. Savannah felt a little guilty leaving them when there was still work to do.

      A sharp cry of pain echoed through the schoolhouse. She turned on her heels. “What’s wrong?”

       Mr. Richards was holding his handkerchief against a cut on Theo’s hand. “Savannah, first-aid kit, please.”

     “Right.” She dove into the closet once again and easily found the red box.

      Theo clenched his teeth as Mr. Richards poured antiseptic onto the cut. Savannah put gauze on his hand and gently wrapped a bandage around it. She wondered if he would be a better soldier than Jonah pretended to be.

      “Thank you, Savannah,” Theo said. “Sorry about that, Mr. Richards.”

      “Accidents happen. It’s all right. Thank you for bringing the kit, Savannah,” the schoolteacher said.

     “You’re welcome.” Her eyes traveled to the clock again. Only half an hour left. Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Daigle would need her help. She’d better hurry.

      Savannah ran across the snowy schoolyard, stopping at the street to look both ways before dashing across to the little row of houses. Annslie stepped off the porch of one.

      “Savannah, you’d better hurry. We don’t have much time,” she called.

      “I hear you. I’ll be back soon.” Savannah went inside.

      Mama waved to her from the kitchen, and she stopped to give Baby Tommy a kiss on his curls. Hurrying up the stairs, she closed her bedroom door behind her and slipped into the special blue dress laid out on her bed. The full skirt swooshed around her as she walked. She ran a cloth over her dusty shoes and brushed one more cobweb out of her hair.

      A sound outside brought her over to the window. The ladies were carrying decorations from an old station wagon into the schoolhouse. No time to curl her hair. Settling for a twist at the base of her neck and a small blue bow to match her dress, Savannah ran back across the street moments later.

     “Just in time.” Annslie high-fived her.

     “Thank you so much for volunteering to help, girls.” Mrs. Daigle laid a gentle hand on each girl’s shoulder. “The Ladies’ Guild couldn’t put on this charity event without you.”

     Savannah smiled. “We’re glad to help. What can we do?”

     There were tablecloths to be spread on the refreshment tables. Decorative candles placed in holders. Holly wreaths hung on the inside of the doors. Boys on ladders hung Christmas lights and garlands from the rafters.

     “Gladys, whatever do we do about the chalkboards?” Mrs. Howard groaned. “Mr. Richards tells me they are permanent.”

     Mrs. Daigle put a finger to her plump chin. “We’ll write ‘Merry Christmas’ on one and ‘welcome’ on the other. That should be good enough.”

     Theo was adding the final touches to a chalk Christmas tree when the first neighbors arrived.

     “Probably time to get off the refreshment table,” Annslie said in an undertone.

     “Right.” He got down and put the tablecloth back in place.

     Robbie scuttled by with a ladder to stow in the cleaning closet.

     “Have you seen Savannah anywhere?” Annslie called after him.

     “Nope. Last I knew, she was sweeping the steps again, but you know her. Here, there, and everywhere.” Robbie grinned and shook his head.

     Savannah finally found a chance to rest when the schoolhouse was humming with people. She couldn’t dash back and forth anymore even if she tried. The room was packed with people—fathers, mothers, and children, big and small.

    She filled a cup with hot apple cider and took a sip. A few of the older girls wandered up to the table.

    “Hello, Savvy. Nice dress. Is it new?” one of them asked, taking a dainty bite of a cookie.

     Savannah smiled, even though she disliked the nickname. “Yes, this is my first time wearing it. I love the full skirt.”

     “It does look pretty darling,” another girl agreed. “Too bad you didn’t curl your hair, though. That twist looks plain with it.”

     Their comments stung. She had tried to look her best, but there just wasn’t time. She looked the older girls up and down. Perfect hair, stunning dresses, and nails painted. There was dirt under her thumbnail. She didn’t bother looking at the others.

     They turned back to the desserts, and she slipped away to the porch. She didn’t belong in the sparkly, joyful schoolhouse.

     “Savannah, what are you doing out here?” Mama asked, coming to the door.

     She sighed and focused on cleaning out her nails with a small twig. “Feeling sorry for myself, I guess.” She inclined her head toward the older girls. “Look at them. Perfectly dressed. They look like ladies right out of a storybook. And here I am. I have a new dress, but apparently, I ruined how it looks by not curling my hair.”

     Mama smiled and shook her head. She sank down on the bench next to her daughter. “You and I both know that you ran out of time because you were helping at the schoolhouse so much.”

     “I know. It’s just that now I feel like an eyesore.” Savannah turned to her mom. “Do I really look that bad?”

     Mama laughed. “Of course not. You look very nice.”

     “Thank you.”

     “Now, I’ve been talking to your friends, and according to Annslie, you’re ‘the most helpful creature that ever walked the face of this earth’. They all have something to say about how you showed them love or helped them find joy. Jonah remembers teasing you and how you controlled your tongue.” Mama put an arm around her shoulders. “The fruits of the Spirit you are displaying to others are beautiful in God’s eyes. Now go in there, forget what the girls said, and have peace knowing that your actions are pleasing to God.”

      Savannah smiled, happy tears glistening in her eyes. “Okay. Thank you, Mama.” She stood up and smoothed her dress then took a step forward into the music-filled schoolhouse.

      “Savannah, can you dance this one with me?” Lewis asked.

      She took the younger boy’s arm and grinned. “I’d be delighted to, sir.”

The End

 

All nine of the fruits of the Spirit are portrayed in this story. Can you find them?

 

A Gift for YOU!

A Gift for YOU!

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas! Well, not quite yet but it’s only 12 more days! 😀 In the meantime, I have a gift (or two) for you. 😉

Giveaway!

I’m giving away a free signed copy of my little book The Twin Arrows! *dances in circles*

First, the synopsis…

“Two children. Two journeys. Twin arrows.

Ryla follows her father’s parting instructions as closely as she carries his gift. Her protectors are kind, and safety is certain inside the convent’s strong walls. But now she must leave and what lies ahead is uncertain…

Her brother Drewin won’t wait any longer. The knight promised to escort him isn’t coming, and gossiping neighbors threaten to reveal his identity. He strikes out on his own, sure he can outrun the danger…” (Read reviews on Goodreads)

Next, the giveaway. 😀 Click HERE to enter! 

Also, my new Christmas short story is permafree! 😀 😀

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I wrote this story to give a short snapshot of generosity and joy at Christmastime. One reviewer said, “This reminded me in some ways of a Pixar short.” (Which frankly delighted me because Pixar is AWESOME.) You can pick up your free copy here.

So many fun things. Tell your friends. Eat chocolate. Merry Christmas! 😀

(It’s rule one of the universe that there must be fine print. Polka-dotted paper does not come pre-ripped.)