Same Old - 268 words (prompt - story)

“It’s the same old story with you, isn’t Leah?” Meghan pushes the tissue box across the table.

Leah blows her nose noisily. “What is?”

“You meet some hot guy, you go out for dinner or to a show or two. You hold hands and watch the sunset. Then you lose your head. You think he’s It.”

“Garrett was different.” Leah watches Meghan refill their wineglasses.

“No he wasn’t. He was exactly like all the others—inferior to you in every way but one.”

“Which was?”

“He didn’t know a good thing when she stood right in front of him.”

Leah sips her Merlot before it spills from the overfull glass. Her fingernails are rimmed with dirt. She needs a manicure.

Meghan looks out at the garden, at the freshly-dug flowerbed. “Let’s go through your Prince Charming list again: Zac, Casey, Blake—”

“I get it!”

“Do you? Or are you going to try to persuade me that you should keep Garrett around, just in case he finally realizes all that you had to offer?”

Leah looks over at the sofa where Garrett has been lying unconscious for the past few hours.

“Guess not.”

“If you have any doubts, just remember what it felt like when he showed up at the party last night with that other girl.”

The memory of her humiliation flushes Leah’s face to bright red. She stands up and stretches. “Let’s load him into the back of the pickup. Where will we dump him?”

“Down the old logging road should be far enough. It’ll take him a full day to walk back from there.”


Photo from Wikimedia Commons: a logging road in the Copper Canyon area of Vancouver Island, BC by David Stanley

What You Wish For - 497 words (prompt - myrtle)

Dolly can’t remember the last time it rained. The dust grinds into everything, her hair, her skin. Worst of all, her eyes. It’s all part of life in the Okanagan desert. Heat and the dust in summer. Snow and cold in winter. Maybe Brad and she will move away, go to the coast and live in the rainforest.

For the past month Brad has been going out day after day, tracking a Sasquatch, the legendary Bigfoot. Lots of people have reported seeing it but it’s too elusive to capture. Most have given up but Brad is the best tracker around. Ask anyone. He’s First Nations, through and through. None of his people were taken to residential school and he learned the old ways.

Brad’s luck is changing, Dolly can feel it. She’s been reading the Tarot all week.

When Brad phoned at noon his voice was hoarse and he sneezed three or four times in a few minutes. Dolly has scattered lemon myrtle oil on his pillowcase to boost his immune system. She drips some onto the sofa where he sits every night and watches PBS.

With a glass of water in one hand and a joint in the other, Dolly settles on the cane-bottomed chair on the front porch. Dinner is simmering in the slow cooker and she hopes they’ll have something to celebrate tonight. Brad said he had exciting news but wouldn’t say anything more.

Over the far hills, dark clouds are gathering. Dolly whispers to the evening breeze, “Please let it rain.”

She hears Brad’s truck before it rumbles into sight. Even the dog wakes out of its heat-induced stupor and thumps its tail hopefully. Brad slams the pickup to a stop and runs up the stairs.

“Are you alone?” He peers into the house.

“Of course.”

Brad goes inside and checks the rooms, followed by Dolly. “God. What is that smell?”

“Lemon myrtle oil. To help you get over your cold.”

“My cold?”

“Yeah. You were sneezing…”

“Stay here. Just stay where you are. Close your eyes.”

She hears the truck door open. The dog barks, a high-pitched frantic yap. It runs past her and hides under the bed. In the distance thunder cracks. An acrid, sneeze-inducing smell reaches Dolly as two sets of footsteps march into the house.

“Okay,” Brad says.

When Dolly opens her eyes, her chin drops.

The creature before her is at over eight feet tall, bent at the waist to avoid hitting the ceiling.

Brad touches Sasquatch’s arm. “He will stay with us tonight. Then I’m going to take him to the coast, far away from the people who want to hunt him down and keep him in a cage.”

Dolly is speechless.

“Bigfoot is lucky for us,” Brad says. “He brings the rain.”

Brad doesn’t see the way Sasquatch looks at Dolly. She moans softly and holds out her hand. All these years she thought Brad was her true love. How could she have been so wrong?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Sign on Pikes Peak Highway by Gnashes30

Norwegian Wood - 381 words (prompt - river)

She disappeared the Saturday before Christmas, in the middle of a three-day blizzard. When the sun came out, people left their warm parlours, took their hunting dogs, and searched.

Four months later the ice on the Ragnhild River melted and Anette’s thin body floated to the surface, perfectly preserved by the cold.

By then Anette’s twin sister Brit was thirteen, softly shading from girl into woman. Her mother said nature was taking its course but Brit knew the truth. Without her best friend, she didn’t want to be a girl anymore. She was ready for adulthood.

Heartbroken by Anette’s death, the family moved to the city where they lived in a small apartment. Their rooms faced an identical red brick building across the street. There was no view of water to keep the hurt of the old wound flowing.

Brit became a doctor, specializing in trauma and emergency medicine. For the next thirty years she travelled from one war-torn spot to another, determined to save as many lives as she could.

In time, the endless sea of broken bodies haunted Brit’s dreams as much as they did her waking moments. She left the humanitarian organization and returned to the town where she grew up.

As soon as the river froze that first winter, she tied on her skates and pushed off. Alone on the ice, she raced downstream and back again. The wind whipped around her. In the middle of it, Anette’s voice rang out like it did so long ago. Backward crossover! Bunny hop! Brit executed the basic moves as if she had practiced them yesterday.

Forward lunge! the voice urged. As Brit broke into a deep lunge, her skate caught on a branch frozen in the ice. She flipped sideways. Landing headfirst on the rocky bank, she lost consciousness. The last thing she saw was Anette looking down at her, frowning.

She woke in her bed, fully clothed. Her skates were hung over her door handle.

“Hello?” She touched her head and found a lump on her temple. With blurry vision she stared into the room.

A thin form shimmered in front of her, just out of reach. “It’s not your time to join me yet, my søster. You have more lives to save before we skate together again.”

Image from Wikimedia Commons: A young girl enjoys skating at Indian Brook Reservoir by Imwren.

AWAY FROM IT ALL - 182 words (prompt - beyond)

Beyond the stinking factory floor, there is clean air.

Beyond the body-checks of strangers on teeming sidewalks, there is personal space.

Beyond the din of cars, sirens, and heavy equipment there is silence.

That’s what the advertisement said.

The hammock, weighed down by Lada’s inert body, hangs motionless between two palm trees. She refuses to move, lest the hammock swing and its leather straps creak like they did when she first climbed in. A warm breeze skips over her and silent waves lap the shore.

All year she saved for this holiday, often going without protein, always wearing her mother’s old clothes and shoes stuffed with plastic bags.

She has to soak up this vacation because it will be another year before she can come again. Drowsiness threatens to drag her under but she fights it. Not a single second of this break will be wasted in idle sleep.

A loudspeaker crackles and a voice booms over her private section of the diorama. “Lada XD356, your time is up. Please vacate your position or deposit $500 for ten more minutes.”


Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Hammock on a tropical beach by Micky

Double-Edged Sword - 461 words (prompt: Janus)

Two weeks after Alec’s funeral, Beatrice Hunt finally found the ring of keys he’d hidden. They were stashed in a hollowed-out Bible, in the bottom of a box of oily rags, on the top shelf of the garage. She pulled on her thin gumboots and slogged through the mud to the shed behind the silo. Four tries later, a rusty key coaxed the lock open. The door groaned shut behind her as Beatrice entered the dusty sanctuary.  

By the wan light of the naked bulb she looked at the world she’d been forbidden to enter for over forty years of marriage. A threadbare armchair nestled close to the cast iron stove. Beside it, an old hubcap overflowed with cigar butts on top of a leaning side table. Beatrice pulled her patched winter coat closer and stared at a lifetime’s worth of hoarded finds. Alec had foraged for books and magazines everywhere: garage sales, school fêtes, waiting rooms, library sales, recycling bins. How many loads would she have to haul away in her broken down Datsun before the door to the shed would open fully?

The real estate agent told her to clear out the house and all the outbuildings. Leave only the essentials. She sensed that the realtor meant the less of her shabby furniture around, the better. She wasn’t sensitive about how poor she was. Anyone could see the crumbling front steps and the window fixed with plywood.

The town people moving out here didn’t care. They were buying places that had been in families for generations, regardless of condition. These people needed plenty of room for their cars and boats and weekend visitors.

Beatrice had been begging Alec for over ten years to sell but he refused. Now it was all up to her. The kids didn’t want the place. They had smart city jobs in faraway countries. They weren’t coming back to plough the land and pick the crops.

She sank into Alec’s chair and the cigar-sweat smell of him wreathed her like a hug. She picked up the hubcap and emptied its contents into the stove. A few strong tugs opened the drawer of the side table. Beatrice jumped back as if slapped. Piles of erotic magazines bulged inside. Well-thumbed magazines.

She grabbed a handful and shoved them into the stove. With trembling hands she struck a match and lit them on fire. When they were almost burnt to an ash, she reached for another stack but they slipped from her fingers and fell to the floor. Business-sized envelopes drifted out of two of them. Return address: Janus International.

The most recent one was less than a month old and it showed that the investment account of Alexander Raymond Hunt was valued at $516,423 on that day.  



Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Cast Iron Wood Stove by Victorgrigas


Longing for Home - 462 words (prompt - fireworks)

Outside the glass and steel tower, fireworks explode, drowning the roar of the constant traffic. Anka moans, squeezes her eyes tight, and remembers the soft, welcoming darkness of home.

She can feel the embracing cold of the long Arctic nights. When she walked through the crunching snow, hungry wolves would nudge her pockets looking for food. Above the glistening ground, the Northern Lights danced.

“Soccer players,” Aama, her mother, explained. “All the dead people who have gone before us play in that curtain across the sky.”

“Even Daddy?” Anka asked.

“Especially Daddy.” Aama pushed the platter of bannock closer. “Eat, child. You’re too thin.”

Anka took the smallest piece and nibbled it slowly. “Can Daddy see me?”

“Not until you join him.”

“What if I whistle, can he hear me?”

Aama snatched the platter back. Her eyes blazed. “You must never, ever whistle at the lights! If you do that the curtain will touch the earth and the world will explode.”

When Aama died, Anka no longer cared if she lived another day. She took the last of the dried caribou meat and gave it the wolves. Looking up at the shimmering ghosts, she whistled and whistled but the world did not end. The wolves heard her pain and howled their sympathy.

The next day Anka climbed into a Falcon 10/100 jet and flew south to her new life in a concrete village. She met a man on the plane who drove her to his condo in a fancy German car.

“You can stay with me until you get on your feet.” He lifted her battered backpack out of the cavernous trunk of his car. He was kind and gentle. When he made love to her he asked, ‘do you like this?’ and ‘what about this?’

He looked up her name and told her it meant fertile and that he wanted to make babies with her. She shook her head. Babies were not part of her plan.

It’s New Year’s Eve. She has lived with him for a month now but the dim pink light of Northern midday beckons. He declares his love for her and begs her not to go. When she shakes her head again, he points to the fireworks display. “Look—there’s a chrysanthemum.”

Bright red flowers bloom in the night. She stares, slack-jawed.

“That one’s a peony,” he adds.

The bouquet brightens and fades.

“This is a kamuro. It’s named after a Japanese hairstyle.”

It looks like Aama’s hair: a spiky cap that burst out of her parka whenever she pulled back the hood. It is the sign Anka has been looking for.

“Maybe I can stay a while longer,” Anka holds his warm hand in hers. “As long as I can see fireworks in the midnight sky.”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Northern Lights at the North Pole, C

Ringing in the New Year - word count 415 (prompt - wood)

A heavy fog crept over the woods in late July, pressing the sky down against the earth. In the valley the sun stayed hidden all summer. Over the months that followed, crops failed, people grew thin, and the wild animals lay down in the forest and died.

No one believed the corporations would go that far. First they stole the crystal-clear water that used to flow through the village, keeping the pastures green and lush. Next they levied a user-fee on the clean air that the forest breathed over the land. Villagers refused to pay it and heavily-armed corporate soldiers, once paid to protect the citizens, blocked the roads out of the valley. When the fog machines rolled into place the, town started to suffocate.

As winter solstice approaches, the faint light that breaks the tedium of the villagers’ lives grows shorter and fainter. Elza and her band of blooded friends are the last line of defence. They scrounge through their grandparents’ trunks for bright clothing. Neighbours bring the last scraps of food for the ceremony.

Hand bells are set in a ring on the table. A fire is stacked, ready for a match. One large candle, made from the scraps of many hoarded candles is positioned in the centre of the rings.

“It’s time,” Elza says, looking at her watch. Blackness surrounds them but they know the exact minute that starts the longest night of the year.

The red-haired girl to Elza’s right says, “Let us take a minute to honour the Sun and all She brings us. May she return to our skies soon.”

In the silence, hope rises. Elsa picks up the first bell and a small boy steps forward and lights the candle. His twin brother puts a match to the fire.

Each young woman opens her heart and speaks of celestial blessing, asking the Mother Sun to return to their valley. She ends with three sweet notes from her bell. When all have spoken, the young women ring the bells in unison to celebrate their connection with Nature and all life everywhere. The gathered villagers bring out their bells and ring them with new hope and optimism.

The sound reaches the passes in the hills. The music is the last thing the soldiers hear before the explosives detonate. As the solstice ceremony concludes, the fog machines shatter and the roads to the outside world open again. The next morning, the sun filters through the wood and winterberries start to grow.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Seattle Sugarplum Elves by Joe Mabel

Ancient Wisdom - word count 444 (prompt: chest)

After the funeral, Zahra kisses the old ladies and cycles to the tea shop on the far side of town. Only the most notorious people meet in the falling down shack. It is one of the few places Zahra can go without being scrutinized by prying eyes. She was the last female born in this town of 1,500 people. Since her first menses, the citizens have waited for her to conceive, everyone praying for a girl child. Seventeen years have passed since then. Patience is wearing thin.

She sits at a table by the window and thumbs through the book inherited from her Auntie J, the woman who stood between her and the mobs who want to imprison her like a breeding mare.

The sweet smell of hot chocolate fills her nostrils as she tries to separate J’s theories from her own experiences.

Theory: put horse chestnuts around your doors and windows to keep spiders away. Fact: the spiders make webs over and around the chestnuts.

Theory: carrots are good for your eyes. Fact: beta carotene reduces the risk of macular degeneration later in life.

Theory: don’t watch TV while wearing rubber-soled shoes or you’ll go blind. Fact: untested. Zahra has never worn shoes in the house.

Theory: chicken soup will cure a cold. Fact: it reduces the inflammation of the lungs.

Theory: ice cream gives you nightmares. Fact: how could ice cream be anything but good?

Here’s what Zahra is looking for:

Theory: if your skin clears during pregnancy, you’re expecting a girl. Fact: Zahra’s skin has never been clearer.

Theory: if you pee on a spoonful of baking soda and it doesn’t fizz, it’s a girl. Fact: Zahra’s baking soda did not fizzle.

Theory: if a pregnant woman is craving sweets, she is carrying a girl. Fact: Zahra has been sneaking spoonfuls of sugar out of the storage bin.

Theory: if you have morning sickness, it’s a girl. Fact: Auntie J’s funeral was postponed until the afternoon because Zahra said she had to finish her field chores before she could attend.

Theory: if the father packs on a little extra weight during the pregnancy, it’s a girl.

Zahra looks up as the dark-haired man enters the café. A smile splits his face when he sees her sitting there. He nods, a brief acknowledgement that her escape plan is safe. Today he will take her through the mountains, to the city on the far side. They will be married and he will protect her from her enemies in the valley.

As he sits across from her she notices the way his belt strains over his rounded stomach. He used to be so slender.

© Maggie Bolitho


Photo from Wikimedia Commons: the fruit of the horse-chestnut tree. They are not true nuts but rather capsules. By Solipist.

Nine Tenths the Law - word count 484 (prompt - running stitch)

The squat was the grandest thing Willa had ever seen. With its sagging roof and silvered walls, it looked like it was waiting for the kiss of life. It was Willa’s first time out of the city, off the mainland. She hadn’t seen a deserted farmhouse before.

She’d met KJ that morning at a Street Art Festival, waiting in line to pay for a spot where a person could busk or sell crafts. After two hours, neither of them got a place.

“One girl told me she’d been here since six,” Willa said.

KJ shrugged. “I’m on my way to Spirit Bear Island tonight anyway. I know a special place there. Wanna come?”

Willa, who’d run away from home with a sack of knitted clutch purses, two changes of underwear, and her life savings of $250, said yes.

On the deck of the ferry, KJ sang lively verses about new days dawning and better times ahead. Willa perched beside her, knitting needles marking time to the music.

They hitchhiked to the top of a steep hill and KJ led the hour-long trek through the bush to the deserted house. There were sleeping bags left from some other squat which they dragged into the sun to air. KJ had almond butter and crackers. Willa had bags of raisins and peanuts. In the neglected orchard, the branches of the trees bent under the weight of rosy McIntosh apples.

The next day KJ busked at the Sunday market in the bustling tourist town. Willa spread a towel on the ground under a cherry tree and laid out her purses in tidy rows of rainbow colours. After three hours, all of Willa’s purses were sold and KJ had hauled in over $200. They also sold apples. Plus: $30. They’d scored groceries, weed, yarn, and guitar strings. Minus: $187.

Spurred by success, KJ wrote and practiced new songs every day. Willa bought golden thread. She joined the two sides of her clutches with it, using a decorative running stitch.

The following Saturday KJ doubled her take and Willa sold forty clutch purses.  

The first of the autumn rains rolled in under a black cloak. Willa looked up when a raindrop landed on her forehead. More drops tap danced around the kitchen floor. KJ swore and stowed her guitar in its case.

“Put your purses in the bag or they’ll be ruined!” she yelled at Willa.

They covered their packs with a tarp and hitched to town. The double-sided tent they bought was guaranteed waterproof and fit into the vacant living room as though engineered for the space. KJ drove the pegs into the floorboard with a large mallet.

That night Willa drifted off to sleep, warm and dry.

KJ spoke into the darkness. “Do you like it here, Willa? Do you? My gran left me this place when I was sixteen. We could stay forever if you wanted to.”

© Maggie Bolitho

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: McIntosh apple tree in Harvard, Mass by ashstar01


Detour Ahead - Word count 471 (prompt: guess)

I’m sitting in the Hungry Rosh waiting for my almost-ex-mother-in-law to join me for lunch. I’m halfway through my sabich, a pita stuffed with eggplant, hardboiled egg and tahini, and she’s not here yet. When she called this meeting I reminded her that my lunch break is only thirty minutes. The other flagman is waiting for me to come back so she can get something to eat on this pissing wet day.

Yep, thirty years old and I’m a flagger. That’s one of the reasons I’m a soon-to-be-divorced man. Beth thought she could make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. She likes a good home improvement job, Beth does. Originally she said it didn’t matter that she was a teacher and I had no ambition. The only thing I really enjoy is drawing comic strips for my own amusement. Beth said all she wanted was company, someone to make a home with.

We’d been married about a year when Beth came home with an application for art school.

“You should develop your creative talent.” She pushed the paperwork toward me on the sofa.

“Nope.” I tossed it on the floor. “I hated school. Never going back. My comics are revenge on the idiots who almost kill me at least once a day.”

At that moment I'd captured perfectly a guy in a Beamer giving me the finger as he raced through our construction site.

“Look at this fool.” I held up a masterful caricature. “He can’t see the cops waiting at the other end of the block. They had a blitz on road safety today and this loser caught a $250 fine.”

Beth didn’t even glance at my sketchpad. She stomped out of the room and slammed the bedroom door behind her.

A bulky SUV squeezes into the parking spot right out front of the Rosh. I recognise it as Millie’s. That’s what I call Beth’s mum: Millie, short for Mother-In-Law. I’ve got fifteen minutes to visit with her which is a relief. I figure she wants to talk to me about going back to Beth. It wouldn’t be the first time and my answer never changes. No. I’m not someone’s makeover project.

“So how are you?” She kisses my cheek and sits down across from me, doesn’t even bother to order lunch at the counter.

“About the same.” I shove the last of the sabich in my mouth and make a production of checking my watch.

“Sorry I’m late!” she says. “You’ll never guess what kept me.”

I shake my head because my mouth is full.

“Remember I told you I went to school with the guy who started the Dilbert comic strip? We skyped this morning and I showed him some of your strips. He wants to syndicate them. Are you ready for a career change?"

© Maggie Bolitho



Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Flagger on M-124 Walter J Hayes State Park near Brooklyn Michigan by Dwight Burdette

Protected - Word count 472 (prompt: visual - see below)

Sylvia’s mother’s house is so big it takes five minutes to walk from the conservatory on the west side to the library on the east. Not that anyone uses the library much. Every sunset a hostile, keening presence arrives in the room and the temperature drops five degrees. All of the servants leave before four in the afternoon.

Sylvia’s mother waited for years to buy the house, watching the price drop and drop. Finally she scooped it up for little more than land value.

“Stupid, superstitious people.” She talks with a mouth full of coq au vin. She has opened a bottle of fine champagne to celebrate their first night in the stone mansion. Sylvia pats her mouth with a linen napkin and says nothing.

After dinner, Sylvia’s mother leads her through all the ground floor rooms. “One day, my darling, this will all be yours. You will never want for anything in your life.”

Sylvia would like to remind her mother that the one thing she really wants has already been denied to her. Her courage fails and she follows her mother’s mincing footsteps through room after room. At the entrance to the library, she balks.

“Don’t tell me you’re as silly as these peasants!” Sylvia’s mother says crossly. “Okay I’ll close the door and we’ll never go in here.”

An icy laugh echoes from the darkness and the door slams shut before Sylvia’s mother can touch it. She glares at it. “These old houses are prone to drafts. I’ll have the carpenter fix that door tomorrow so it can’t be shut. Then we’ll show the world who really owns this place.”

When then they walk up the sweeping staircase to their bedrooms, the sound of that laughter reverberates in Sylvia’s ears. Does the ghost know her mother has brought her to this isolated place to keep her away from the world of music and laughter? Does it feel her pain and longing for the daring and beautiful Charlotte?

That night Sylvia’s mother sleeps soundly on her king-sized bed, happy in the knowledge that she is the richest woman in the land.

In Sylvia’s dark dreams Charlotte has climbed a tall tree. Sylvia hears her calling and follows the voice outside. The bark of the Garry oak scrapes Sylvia’s hands and bare feet as she climbs the gnarled trunk.

“Come closer, my love,” Charlotte coaxes. She’s in plain sight now, hovering over the end of the branch. Sylvia stretches, anticipating the warmth of her lover’s kiss.

“Sylvia! What are you doing up there?” her mother yells from the ground below. Sylvia wakes with a start and twists as she falls. She catches a low branch and her arms almost wrench from her sockets.

“You can let go now.” Charlotte’s voice swims in her head. “I’m waiting for you in the library.”


From the series Anonymous by Argentinian photographer, Sofía López Mañán