The March of Time


Life was simpler back then, I’m told
And how things change as we grow old
The children now are uncontrolled
I once was important, you know

I made my choices long ago
And built this world for my ego
We ran fast from the nuclear snow
Now I give my messes to you

What a gift! If only you knew
These towers of gold are my due
Rome never fell, it’s in my view
Here, I’ll play you a little song

All the things I ever did wrong
The face I wore to prove I’m strong
These things meant nothing all along
And now I am growing so cold

Life was simpler back then, I’m told
I never wanted to grow old
The march of time is uncontrolled
The march of time never ends

I was in a cynical mood today, and I think my general annoyance with life came out a bit more than I like. This poem is a warning that if we don’t actively make choices to preserve the lives that come after us then we are doomed to be the villains we once hated in our youth. Because time always marches on, and that free-spirited youth we cherish will eventually disappear like a dream. Eventually, it will belong to someone else.

Sometimes it’s good to remind yourself to not be a jerk. Money, power, and fame are nice while they last, but there’s no sense in keeping a trophy case in your grave. Even the pharaohs couldn’t keep their treasures buried with them, and they tried harder than anyone to hoard their wealth in death.

Anyway, I’m still in a bit of a mood, so I’ll leave things off here. I hope you enjoyed my poem, and I’ll see you next time!

Your friend,

CC Lepki

Remembering Death


The grass that swept between towering limestone monuments to the dead was well-manicured. But not too well-manicured. The graveyard was managed respectably, and the lawn was cut so that the final resting place of everyone’s grannies and uncles and whatever other loved ones they’d lost weren’t overgrown. It didn’t look bad. Just a bit tousled, maybe. A bit drab. A bit like a money pit where people were expected to pay thousands of dollars to put their family members in a patch of mildly well-cared-for dirt as if the dead cared at all where their abandoned shells ended up.

My dad’s patch of dirt was fresh. Cancer. I don’t want to talk about it. No, really. Just leave it. I’m fine.

His fresh dirt was mounded up to about the level of my shins, and someone placed a storebought wreath on the mound as if all those pretty little fabric flowers weren’t going to blow away in the wind and litter someone else’s final resting place. I stared at the wreath and wracked my brain for something to say, or some meaningful gesture that could respectfully send my dad off to the great beyond.

Nothing came to mind.

I didn’t really know my dad all that well if I’m being honest. My last pleasant memory of him was when I was six and someone commented on how enamored he was with my existence. At the time, I felt proud. My daddy loved me. Thirty-seven years later, I felt…something else entirely. I don’t know. I still don’t want to talk about it.

Rather than lift a prayer to heaven and wail loudly over the stranger I’d lost, I shifted uncomfortably on the spot and looked around the graveyard again. There were a lot more gravestones than I remembered from the last time I was there. It was like a morbid hourglass that measured time in human remains and engraved stone. Memento mori. Remember death. As if we could ever forget.

My grandma died when I was seven before I even knew to be sad when someone died. I didn’t shed a tear until my sister told me it was because I didn’t really love her. I cried a lot after that. My grandpa followed her a couple of years later. The romantic thing would be to imagine it was love that had him chasing her to the grave. It was not. Grandpa was a smoker.

I spent a lot of time in this graveyard, as a child. We would visit Grandma and Grandpa, then take walks along the winding path, counting out the lives of the people who’d gone before us. Some people’s lives were really long. Ninety-eight years. Ninety-nine. Others were a lot shorter.

Like Macie. A girl I knew in high school. We were in driver’s education together. She was pretty, popular, smart. I didn’t begrudge her for it. I did get a little annoyed that the driver’s ed teacher gave her a better grade than me, even though she was clearly the worse driver. I felt bad about it, later, after the car wreck that killed her.

My dad had already left my family, by then. I hadn’t spoken to him in months, so I never got to tell him how guilty I felt at being annoyed she got a better grade than I did. Or how strange it was to know someone who died without ever really knowing them. She wasn’t a friend. She was more than a stranger. I didn’t get the chance to ask him how you deal with a loss that isn’t really your loss. I didn’t get to ask my dad, so I asked no one. Those feelings stayed buried deep, and I held onto them like something precious.

Macie’s pink-tinted gravestone was somewhere on the other side of the cemetery from where I stood glaring uncomfortably at a thick earthworm that waved its body in the air as a temptation for any birds flying overhead. I wiped my palms on my jeans and peeked in that direction, though whether I wanted to see the gravestone or not was hard to say. Either way, it was hidden from my sight by the creepy mausoleum that contained a man-sized statue all the kids in town used to tell horror stories about.

Legend had it that if you peeked into the mausoleum at night then the statue would turn his head to look at you, his face agape in horror. He would steal your soul. He would chase you to the ends of the earth. He was the pig-man. Everyone had a different story. I remember my heart trembling as I held my breath, barely creeping up over the edge of the stained-glass window to steal a terrified glance at the mythic statue. We’ll both assume I managed to keep my soul, though I suppose it’s a pretty difficult thing to check. I can’t say I ever saw my own soul, personally, so maybe I wouldn’t notice if it suddenly disappeared.

Three more kids in my class died the same year as Macie. I didn’t know them as well, but the loss shook our entire school. There were candlelight vigils and a long line of kids trailing through the doors of the funeral home. I didn’t feel much of anything about it, really, except that there must be something wrong with me. Everyone else was so thoroughly affected by it, but it felt like any other day to me. A day with sad news: if you think about it, isn’t that all of them? My mom made me go to the funerals, even though I didn’t want to. She said it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t sure that was true. Watching their mothers weep next to their caskets felt profane.

If it were me, my mom would have wept like that. She would have buried her own heart in the ground with me. My dad wouldn’t have even known I was gone. Or he would have shown up at the funeral home three hours after the service and then shrugged and walked home. The daddy who loved me so long ago didn’t think much of his teenager. The angry, embittered person I’d become after he abandoned me wasn’t nearly as cute as the chubby little cherub who worshipped his every move. On the rare occasion when I talked to him, it was usually because my mother begged him to give me the time of day when my grades were slipping or because I was hanging out with kids she didn’t like. I would tell him that I was doing my best, and he would tell me that the proof is in the pudding and other colloquial dad-isms that made equally little sense. After each lecture, he would disappear for months, or for years or–as in the most recent case–forever.

The last time we spoke he’d admonished me for not being rich, not marrying rich, not doing anything of importance with my life, and generally being a waste of space. He couldn’t fathom why I turned out so miserably after all the effort he put into raising me. I told him I was doing my best. He said the proof was in the pudding. I told him my pudding tastes delicious, thank you very much.

Then he went and died. But I seriously don’t want to talk about it, so if you could stop asking, that would be great.

I don’t want to talk about the things I never got to yell at him about. Or all the memories of my life that he missed. He never showed up at my high school graduation. He wasn’t there when I got my associate’s degree, then my bachelor’s, and then the master’s. Dad didn’t console me when my pet mouse died when I was eleven. When no one showed up to my thirteenth birthday party, he hadn’t even remembered to call. There was no comfort from him when my best friend tried to kill herself when I was in college, or when she finally managed to finish the job ten years later. And I don’t want to talk about any of it. Not even a little. Because if I talk about it, I might end up resenting him. People say you’re not supposed to resent the dead. Even when you do.

I stood over my dad’s fresh patch of churned earth, thinking all the things I wasn’t supposed to think about him and struggling to understand what it all meant, in the end. Memento-ing mori. So many people at his funeral had so many pleasant words. His third wife cried as if the sun would never rise again. My aunts and uncles waxed poetic about how he was a loving husband and dedicated father. I stared dead-eyed at the horizon until the platitudes had passed, bearing the dastardly weight of people’s consoling hands on my shoulders as I wished that I had been anyone else’s child.

Long after everyone else shuffled uncomfortably away to do whatever somber activity was acceptable after a tasteful funeral, I stood by my father’s side. Without any pleasant words for the man who’d participated in my very creation. Dry eyed. Because, as my sister so wisely declared, maybe I didn’t love him. I scuffed my foot over a stray dandelion that grew at the edge of his burial plot. No answers revealed themselves in the dirt. I waited until the sun wavered over the horizon and the grass started to grow damp, but the burden of the unsaid only grew more oppressive with time. With nothing better to do and no easy answers, I decided to follow the example he’d set for me: I left.

This was a long one, but I was really happy with how it turned out. I wanted to tell a story about a character who lost an estranged family member and remembered their experience of that family member through tales of death. The purpose wasn’t to be morbid; I wanted to evoke feelings about the inevitability of death and allow the reader to feel the bitterness of the living. The main character in this story avoided their feelings, left too many things unsaid, and was eventually left dissatisfied with how things ended between them and their father.

I also thought this was a good opportunity to write a genderless character. More important than the sex of the protagonist, I wanted this person to feel very human. I was careful not to provide too many details that might sway the reader in one direction or another, and the end result is someone that I believe is easier to connect with on an emotional level. At least, I hope that’s the case

Thank you so much for stopping by to read my story!

Your friend,

CC Lepki

My Ugly Writing Journal

An Announcement

When I was first starting out as a writer, a more experienced author gave me the invaluable advice to never use a notebook with a beautiful cover. He said that no matter what you write in a beautiful notebook, it will never be good enough. It will never live up to its cover. And he was right. Whenever I tried to start a story or poem in a notebook with a lovely cover, I always ended up feeling intimidated and gave up easily.

Eventually, I learned how to bind my own books and I set about creating notebooks with covers that were intentionally messy and ugly. They became my favorite and most valued writing tools. With hastily scrawled writing reference on covers plastered with duct tape and spare bits of paper, I could approach all of my writing with confidence. So I thought, why not make ugly notebooks that other writers can use?

So I did.

It is my pleasure to announce the launch of My Ugly Writing Journal! This journal is designed to not intimidate. It will be the ugliest journal you’ve ever owned, and you will love it all the more for its hideous facade. My Ugly Writing Journal, in addition to boasting a terrible design with quick reference to plot points and the Story Circle on the front and back cover, also contains a brief step-by-step plotting workbook that will quickly take you from the brainstorming process, through a plotting questionnaire, all the way to an economic worldbuilding exercise that can help you focus your research to only the most important aspects of the world you’ve created. By the time you’ve filled out the pages of this journal, you’ll have everything you need to start writing your story.

If you want to find out more, feel free to check out my book page where you can see one of the ugly notebook designs and learn a little bit about why My Ugly Writing Journal is such a good resource. Or you can go directly to my sales page on and buy the journal write away. Whatever you decide, I hope My Ugly Writing Journal becomes a helpful tool in your writing adventures! Thanks for stopping by!

Your friend,

CC Lepki

so much for hope


let me drown in pillows
i’ll sink into the blankets
and let the storm pass overhead
memory foam seas take me away
let the bed frame be my lifeboat
and the headboard a gravestone
“here lies someone who tried
and who was never good enough”
curtains drawn and light dim
the sound of life moves by
there are sirens in the distance
but their music comes too late
i’m already too far into the depths
to be dragged down any further
they sing and fade away
and i lay dashed upon the rocks
never to return home
and never to leave my sea bed
i remember the days of joy
when the voyage was not so brutal
and we looked on to distant skies
with the innocence of youth
“ah. so beautiful,” we cried
“so much possibility
so much wonder”
so much for hope.

It might not surprise you to know that, lately, I’ve been feeling really run down. As I was lying in bed letting misery get the better of me, I had the passing thought of sinking into the softness of the mattress. Then I had a second passing thought that if I stayed in bed like I was doing, nothing would ever change.

Writing is pretty amazing in a lot of ways. Stories help us escape our reality, but the process of writing is therapeutic. I’ve been a huge proponent of writing therapy for many years, now. I’ve used it in my own life, as I did with this poem, but I also advocated for writing therapy in my professional career as a grant writer at a behavioral health nonprofit. There is so much science behind the benefits that writing provides to people experiencing depression, especially with regard to learning and practicing the technical skills of writing.

Today I was sad, and that sadness caused me to unexpectedly spiral back into the gloom-dungeon that is my depression. Writing helps me find the way out again. If you’re going through something similar, I recommend taking fifteen minutes out of your day to write out whatever it is that you feel. Let the writing carry away the pain so you can see beyond it.

And always remember that if you’re having a hard time or considering taking your own life, please seek help. Ask friends or family if you’re able. Find a behavioral health clinic or therapist in your area that can see you right away. Or, if you don’t have access to family or a therapist who can help, go to a local emergency room and let them know what you’re going through. They can help provide you with the resources you need to make it through. You’re worth it. (Call or text 988 to reach the national suicide and crisis hotline.)

Your friend,

CC Lepki

The Bagman


The forest temple was crumbling. Stone walls had long since given way to creeping vines and crushing tree roots that upended the floor tiles and crushed the worn old stone benches surrounding the altar.

The altar itself was hewn out of dark wood and surrounded by thorns. The tips of the thorns were covered in the blood of sacrifices long since forgotten. Piles of bones littered the floor and coated everything in fine white dust that clung to the tongue and choked the lungs.

Erowyn stood in the crumbling entrance of the temple, her mouth dry. The druid elder said this was the only place left where her soul could be cleansed. She needed the power the druids had to offer. Soon, the lich king would send his armies to the east and destroy the last stronghold of civilization. The druids held the power to overcome the lich king’s armies, but they would not part with it easily.

She stepped forward into the temple and unseen energy hummed. It was as if the walls themselves could peer into her soul. They knew her. They’d counted her every breath, seen to the heart of every thought. Erowyn’s skin pricked and the hair on her arms raised on end. Every instinct told her to flee this ungodly place.

One foot carefully stepped forward between a pair of vines. The other foot followed, just a baby step ahead. The altar came closer, bit by bit. Erowyn took a shaky breath. She could do this.

As she approached, wary of traps hidden among the thick vines and undergrowth that marred the temple floor, she noticed a simple bag perched at the center of the thorn-covered altar. It was made of worn, bare leather, but every stitch thrummed with power. It lay open on its side where she could see the distinctive ochre drawstring tipped with a golden feather. She stopped moving. Her breath hitched.

“Oh gods.” She rushed forward, snatching the bag of holding from the table. Tears poured down her face as she held the bag carefully so as not to jostle it too much. “Telor?”

She hadn’t uttered his name in months. The pain of his memory was too great for her to bear. But here it was, at last: the very bag of holding in which her best friend had escaped when their party had been overcome by the Lich King’s scouting party in the Marshes of Everden. The bag had been ripped from Erowyn’s hands and carried away, her friend along with it.

“Telor, I’m so sorry,” she cried into the open mouth of the bag. “Please come out. Please be alive. I need you.” She dropped to her knees. “Telor, please come to me. Follow my voice. It’s all my fault. We could have saved you. I should have saved you. Telor!”

A hand shot out of the bag. Erowyn dropped it, startled, and scrabbled away.

“Telor?” she asked. Hope and dread sank into her chest, warring with one another as whatever creature had answered her call scratched and clawed, trying to gain purchase on the crumbling stone floor of the temple.

The skin of the hand was pale like death, waxy and bloodless. The bones protruded, starved as the creature was. It hefted itself out of the bag, inch by inch. The arms were sickly thin. The hair on its head was long and filthy. The creature’s cheeks were sunken and its eyes were milky white. Clothes hung off of its emaciated body, faded and tattered.

He still wore the chainmail that Hildegard of Nighttown sold him. It had her sigil on the chest. And the tunic shirt he wore under it was a gift that Erowyn had woven from the fibers of healing herbs. His favorite dagger hung from the beat-up belt that still adorned his waist.

Erowyn sobbed and scrabbled to pull her yew wand off of her belt. “Telor. No. Please, no.”

Telor, or the creature that used to be Telor, was still only halfway out of the bag. His sightless eyes swiveled in her direction and he growled. He clawed his hands over the floor, dragging himself toward Erowyn.

Her hands shook. Every spell, every cantrip she’d ever memorized, was gone from her head as if they had never been. “Telor, please stop. I can’t do this.”

The creature was already halfway across the temple floor, his grunts of effort increasing the closer he came to the terrified woman.

“What happened to you?” she asked desperately. Her back was against the wall. There was nowhere she could go to escape him.

Pale white fingers closed around her ankle and his mouth dropped open as if to scream. Instead, a string of sounds issued from his throat as if spoken from far away.

“With me. Come with me. Join me.” He yanked at Erowyn’s ankle and she slid away from the wall.

“No!” Erowyn screamed, trying to yank her ankle free. “Telor, no! Please!”

His grip was too strong. She slid across the floor, going ever closer to the bag from which he was not able to fully escape.

It was her fault. If she had only been strong enough. If she hadn’t been so reckless in seeking out the Lich King, none of this would have ever happened. Erowyn wept and leaned forward to place her hand over Telor’s cold fingers.

“I know I deserve this,” she whispered. “I left you to die. I would do anything to take it back.”

“Then come,” he groaned. “Be with me.”

Erowyn smiled through her tears. “I wish I could, Telor. But there is more that must be done.” She raised her yew wand and released a spell that blasted Telor back into the bag of holding. Tears spilling down her cheeks, she crawled forward and cinched the drawstring tight, closing her friend inside forever.

“Forgive me, Telor,” she begged, holding the bag to her forehead. “One day, I promise I will free you for good. Wait for me.”

Erowyn tied the pouch to her belt and climbed up from the floor. All the mysterious energy from the druidic temple had fled, and she was at last alone. She allowed herself a moment of silence in the quiet forest. At last, with the final vestiges of fear drained away, she left the temple. It was time to seek the druid elders and receive the power for which she was due.

It was time to end the Lich King’s reign. She had a promise to keep.

Till we dream again

Writing Exercise

The bank teller tapped her pen on the table as she waited for the last of the paperwork to finish printing. Ellie stared at her hands, folded neatly in her lap. Her knuckles were white from gripping too hard as she fought the slight tremor that tried to work itself out through her body.

“This is it,” the teller said, sliding the papers in front of Jen with a meaningless smile. “Sign here and we can fully close your account.”

Jen signed the papers quickly. It had to be quick. If she didn’t do it quickly, she might not be able to do it at all.

The teller counted out five dollars and thirty-two cents, sliding it over to Jen. “Here’s the remaining balance in your business account. Thank you so much for banking with us these past six years. We hope you’ll consider us again for your future banking needs.”

And it was done. With that, Jen’s business which she’d worked so hard on for all these years was officially finished. It had been a pipe dream, really. The bakery had been the only thing she’d ever wanted for herself. She’d spent ages making wedding cakes and birthday cakes out of her home kitchen, scraping together money for her savings as much as she could so that she could finally afford her own shop.

The grand opening all those years ago made her feel like the sacrifice had been worth it. Sleepless nights, the days she went without enough to eat, all those nights she told her friends she couldn’t make it; all things sacrificed for the dream. That precious dream.

She carefully folded her copy of the paperwork and tucked the money into her pocket. Five dollars. That was all her dream had been worth, in the end. Jen walked out of the bank.

Her husband waited outside, leaning against their old beater of a car. Jen walked straight into his arms and pressed her face against his chest as she began to sob.

“It’s alright,” he whispered into her hair. “It’s all going to be alright.”

“I’m a failure,” she cried. “I should have never bought that shop. I should’ve gotten a normal job like everyone else. What is wrong with me?”

Her husband hugged her so tight that it drove the breath from her lungs.

“There’s nothing wrong with being brave,” he said. “You tried. That’s better than most people ever do. I’m so proud of you. You’re the bravest woman I’ve ever met.”

“What do I do now?” she asked. “The bakery was all I ever wanted, and it’s gone.”

He tucked her close under his chin and closed his eyes. “You take your time. You heal. And then you find a new dream. Because there’s never just the one. We always dream more than once.”

Jen sighed and nodded solemnly. He was right. He was always right. “It’s annoying how smart you are,” she teased.

Her husband laughed. “So what do you want to do?” he asked.

She thought about it for a long moment. “Ice cream. I want to get ice cream. And pie. Maybe some doughnuts. For healing.”

“Healing, is it?” he asked, poking her side. “And then?”

“And then we go home and plan. For the next dream.”

The Pain of Glory


A brown feather fell from Luke’s cheek. Not that he couldn’t spare the one. His entire body was covered in a mismatch of gray, white, brown, and striped chicken feathers that were plastered to his skin with hot tar.

He shook as he lifted one blistered hand to sip from the stout mug the bartender had generously placed before him. Luke’s body protested the pain. Protested movement. Protested living in this God-forsaken town of bigots and busybodies.

“What’d you do, this time?” the bartender asked, wiping up the few small feathers that detached themselves from Luke’s aching body to litter the bar.

“Nothing, as far as I can tell,” Luke said. He sipped from his mug again. “Except maybe live.”

The bartender snorted. “And exactly how were you livin’ so as to end up in such a state, Mr. Lucas-the-Snark.”

Luke shrugged, and immediately regretted the movement. “I may have fallen in love.”

“Love, is it?” the bartender asked. “I don’t know many loves that would leave a man in such a state.”

“Well, then you haven’t lived,” Luke said. He tried on a smile. It hurt just as much as anything else.

“Far be it from me to live so gloriously.” The bartender refilled Luke’s drink, for which he was immensely grateful.

Luke sipped slowly and sighed as the alcohol numbed some of the searing, burning pain in his body. “Some people are worth the pain of glory. Edgar Graves is doubly so.” He smiled into the mug at the memory of Edgar’s body pressed against his. The fingers gripping his hair. The sweet smell of tobacco and lemon candies, which were Edgar’s favorite indulgences.

Then there was the sound of Mrs. Grave’s high-pitched wail. The crash of glass against his back as she broke her precious antique vase against him. She’d wailed so loud that the whole town emerged from their late-night domiciles to witness Luke, half-dressed and bleeding from scratches down his back–some of which were from the vase and some of which were most definitely not–struggling to pull up his britches as he ran.

Bigots and busybodies don’t much appreciate a man who appreciates a man.

The bartender snatched the mug away from Luke with a deep scowl. “I think you’d best git,” the man growled.

Luke chuckled. “Yeah. You might be right.” He stood stiffly, picked up his leather stetson to place it on his head just so, and walked out of the saloon with not much of his dignity intact.

Still. It was a glorious night.

The Dreamer

Writing Exercise

Mary once dreamed of becoming an interior designer. She dreamed of marrying her first love, who had also become her first heartache. She dreamed of raising children in the home she grew up in. Instead, Mary sat by her bed with an open suitcase in front of her. It was empty. She shifted, looking around the room with an appraising eye, but not seeing much of anything at all.

She only had fifteen more minutes to pack her things, but she was at a loss as to what she should bring. Clothes, probably. Maybe the stuffed toy her best friend gave her in the second grade. The letters from her ex-boyfriend that she kept in the drawer of her nightstand.

She couldn’t take the doorframe with all the notches cut out, showing how much she’d grown since her family moved to the house. A few of the precious trinkets scattered around the room could go with her, but not many. Mary would never be able to fit the octopus bookends that one of her teachers gave her for her birthday. Nor could she take the three shelves of books that she’d collected over a lifetime.

What would happen to them, when she was gone?

Five minutes left. The suitcase was still empty. She wrung her hands.

Mary couldn’t pack her entire life into one small suitcase, no matter how much she wanted to take everything with her. There were so many things she had to leave behind. So many memories she’d made. So many dreams that would come to nothing.

The immigration agent poked his head in through the door. “Mary? We have to get going soon. Are you ready?”

He was a nice enough man. She didn’t hate him for doing this. Even though it hurt.

Mary stood and went to her dresser. She pulled out wads of clothes and shoved them unceremoniously into her suitcase. Everything else would have to be left behind. It was too difficult to look at them and remember the life that she was losing.

The agent sighed and walked into the room. He helped her fold the clothes, working silently at her side without complaint.

“Everything’s going to be fine. Think of it like you’re going home.”

An errant tear heedlessly slipped down her cheek and she wiped it away roughly. “This is the only home I’ve ever known. I don’t even speak Spanish.” She wiped at another rogue tear. “I don’t know anything about Honduras. How am I supposed to survive?” A chill of fear ran down her spine.

The agent looked down at his own hands. They were shaking. “A place will be found for you, once you get there,” he said. “You won’t be left on your own.”

“But I am on my own.” She shut the suitcase and rubbed harshly at her face. Her eyes were puffy; her nose and cheeks were bright red.

“I’m just doing my job.”

Mary picked up her suitcase. “When you decide to follow evil laws, it doesn’t free you of guilt just because you weren’t the one who came up with the law in the first place. May God judge between you and me.” She walked out of the room without looking back.

The agent clenched his shaking fist, steeling himself against her accusations. “It’s just my job,” he said again to the empty room. He’d once dreamed of joining the CIA. Traveling the world. Going anywhere and doing anything he wanted. Anything but this.

New Horizons

New Year’s Special

Jim clung to the side of the mountain. The next handhold was too high to reach comfortably. Sweat poured down his face.

He threw himself forward with all of his strength. Gravity caught up just as the tips of his fingers hooked over the ledge. Grunting with effort, Jim secured his feet against the rocky cliff face and leveraged himself over the edge.

It wasn’t the highest mountain or even the most difficult to climb. But it was a sacred place. At least, for Jim it was sacred.

He pulled two camping mugs from his knapsack and filled them from a stout thermos. Next to one mug, he set a framed photo of Hector, his best friend. Jim lightly tapped one mug against the other.

He sipped bitter coffee as he watched the horizon change colors before his eyes. “I’m just in time,” he commented.

For ten years, Jim and Hector climbed this mountain to watch the sunset on Hector’s birthday. This was the last year Jim would ever make the trip.

“It’s as beautiful as it always was,” Jim said. He rubbed his eyes roughly. “Good luck searching out those new horizons, man. I’m going to miss you.”

Maggots in the Meat

Writing Exercise

There were maggots in the meat. Professor Helena Slogar was no imbecile. She recognized a nefarious plot when she saw one. She’d been a participant in more than a few of her own.

Of course, from the outset, Helena didn’t trust the invitation from the Duchess of Swayzee. Not only was the woman a foul harpy, but she was also the ex-lover of the Prince of Boone. The same Prince of Boone whom Helena had married not three months past.

The prince loved Helena, and Helena adored…well. She adored his money. His glorious money, which provided all the funding she needed to continue her experiments. How could she possibly refuse him, knowing that all of her financial woes would become a thing of the past?

Duchess Swayzee was not as practical as Professor Helena Slogar. Swayzee cried. She begged. She threatened. But in the end, the Prince of Boone made his choice. A fine choice, indeed, as far as Helena was concerned.

But now, this. Maggots in the meat at the outdoor tea party the Duchess insisted Helena attend. Helena hiked all the way up the cursed mountain trail, only to find a fancy table with no other person in sight and platters brimming with maggot-infested meat. A fine joke, indeed.

To make matters worse, it started raining the moment Helena arrived. Hilarity upon hilarity. Her stomach rumbled. Long hikes always made her hungry, and now she wouldn’t get a single bite of food until she made her way all the way back down the treacherous trail and back into the safety of her home.

The sky thundered and rain poured down harder. With long suffering, Helena raced to the cover of trees nearby. She would catch her death of cold, at this rate.

Huddled, shivering under the tree, Helena did not see the dark figure that slunk through the shadows behind her. She did, however, hear the rustle of cloth as he prepared to strike. She turned just in time to see the man’s grizzled face and the sharp, poison-laced porcupine quill in his fist.

The man struck, bearing his weight down on Helena as she screamed. He stabbed her with the quill over and over until her screams became shallow gasps for breath. His task complete, the man dragged her to the sloped edge of the hiking trail and shoved her off.

Helena rolled down the side of the mountain, striking trees and rocks, scraping her exposed arms and legs as she went. After what felt like ages she splashed into the river below, and there she floated, perfectly still and barely alive.

Barely alive was all Helena required. She was a woman of science, not to be underestimated or trifled with. Poison? Ha! The moss of the snakeberry tree would draw out any poison from her blood. She clawed her way up the bank of the river and to the first such tree she found. Applying moss to her wounds, she hunted for local herbs to create tinctures that would keep her alive long enough to get home. Once the prince heard of the Duchess of Swayzee’s actions, he would be furious.

That thought alone set a grin on her lips and kept her moving, mile after mile, toward the Prince’s palisade. She limped, battered beyond recognition, through the city gates and onto the grounds of her husband’s home. Her heart leaped for joy. She was nearly there!

A solid hell planted itself firmly on her shoulder.

“I’ve been looking for you.” Her assassin guffawed heartily. “Can’t have you showing up back here. Not now that the mistress is consoling your hubby over the death of his love.”

“I’m not dead,” Helena said stubbornly.

“Trust me, love. You are.” The man took out his knife with a wide grin. A cold chill streaked down Helena’s spine. She tried to scream, but the sound never managed to escape her mouth. The assassin scooped Helena into his arms, covered her face with his cloak, and carried her off of the Prince’s property. It was straight to the butcher, for this one. His mistress had plans for the remains of Professor Helena Slogar and the bastard Prince who broke her heart.

One week later, the Duchess of Swayzee stopped by for dinner. The Prince, who’d been little more than a walking corpse since the disappearance of his beloved Helena, thanked her yet again for her support of him.

“Oh, dearest,” Swayzee said. “Of course. I would do anything for you.”

The head maid set up a seat at the Prince’s right hand. “You should be thankful, your highness. Her ladyship brought more of her delicious meat pies to sustain you.” She smiled graciously at the Duchess. “It’s the only thing he’ll eat, of late. Were not for you, I’m certain he’d have starved by now.”

“It’s the least I could do,” Swayzee informed the maid, trying to suppress her malicious grin. “After all the Prince has done, he deserves nothing less.”