Small Rebellions


Mother insisted on a pristine white dress for my former cotillion. It was traditional. The way things were always done was the way we were always to do things. She pursed her lips as she plucked away at the taffeta poofs that decorated the skirt and tugged against the tight lacing on the bodice, as if determined that her daughter’s waist should be even a centimeter thinner than all the other debutants. She plucked my hand away from the folds of the fabric where I’d buried them like a dark secret.

“Really, darling? Rose gold? I thought we agreed on rose pink.” She tutted at the color of my fingernails.

“We didn’t. I wanted to paint my nails black. You said no.” I tugged my hand out of her grasp and wrapped it back into the fabric. I didn’t like rose gold, either, but small rebellions are still rebellions.

“This is a party, not a funeral.”

“You didn’t let me paint them black for grandpa’s funeral, either.”

Mother scoffed. She picked up her wine glass from the counter and eyed me over it without taking a sip. “You’re not some hellion. What is this obsession you have with black nail polish? It’s unacceptable.” She spat the word unacceptable as if it was an insult. As if anything not normal was untrustworthy and wrong. To her, it was.

“I dunno, mom, maybe I just want my nails to match the color of my soul.”

She gasped. An honest-to-goodness gasp with one hand pressed to her sternum like a 1930s church lady. If she had a fan she’d wave it at her face and talk about how I’d given her the vapors. As it was, she set the wine glass back down a little harder than she should have, spilling bright red droplets over the counter.

I rolled my eyes. “It was a joke.”

“Jokes are supposed to be funny.”

“I’m surprised you even know what that word means.”

She flicked my ear. I smirked. Small rebellions, and all.

“I’d better not hear of you making any such jokes at the cotillion,” Mother chastised. “You have the family’s reputation to uphold.” She stormed out of the room before I could utter a word of retort.

I looked in the mirror at the soft, pretty little girl that my mother had styled me into. It’s not that I didn’t like to be pretty. I just didn’t want to be pretty like this. I didn’t feel like the girl she wanted me to be.

If I was a different person, maybe I would have torn the dress a little. Or a lot. I would leave it in pieces on the ground and run out of the room in the tattered remains. I would smear it with black eyeliner and brightly colored eyeshadow. I would be the hellion she envisioned. I would be worse than anything she could have imagined. But I wasn’t a different person. I was my mother’s designer daughter. There were expectations to be met, and no room for outlandish revolts. Only small rebellions.

My eyes lingered on the wine glass Mother left behind in her frustration. Normally she didn’t trust me around alcohol. Not that I’d ever imbibed. She didn’t trust me with much of anything, really. I traced my fingers through the red droplets on the counter, then slowly dragged the same fingers over the skirt of my dress. A streak of rose pink followed the trail of my fingers.

“Oh no! A stain!” I said quietly. Another small rebellion. Just like all the others. Little, pointless acts of civil disobedience to maintain my sanity. Some days, those small rebellions hardly felt like they were enough.

I touched the rim of the wine glass, considering. There were expectations of me. Those were important. My family was relying on me to…

To do what? To look good? To make them happy?

To be perfect. Even though I so clearly was not.

A slow smile spread across my face. The glass tipped precariously toward one edge, balanced carefully by my finger. The small rebellions were getting boring. Was it time for a revolution?

Mother stormed back into the room. “Well? Are you coming, or not? We have to leave in five minutes.”

I sighed. “Coming, Mother.” The wine trembled in the glass, still safely inside its container. There would be no revolutions today.

I wished I could shed my skin. Shed away everything that the world knew of me and live as the person that I felt like on the inside. I wished I had the strength to be unacceptable. Maybe then I could feel alive.

I had one of those days where living in my own skin felt a bit overwhelming. My whole life I’ve struggled with the feeling that I need to pretend to be less than I am in order for people to accept me. Today’s story was meant to embody that desire that exists within me to be unapologetically human in a way that I’ve never allowed myself to be. If I could find the strength to be unacceptable, something tells me I might finally be able to find the place where I can truly be accepted. But so often, just like with the character in this story, fear wins out.

Maybe one day we can all figure out how to shed our skin and transcend those limiting ideals that stop us from ever achieving the truest sense of our personhood. I hope that’s the case. Fear is our most debilitating emotion, but it’s certainly not our strongest emotion. So I’ll hold out hope.

In the meantime, I wish you luck with all of your own small personal rebellions. Thank you so much for stopping by to read my story!

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

The Reluctant King

Fantasy/Fairy tale

King Eirdsidh was only twelve years old when he became the ruler of Dhaingneach aah Sithiche. A child. Merely a babe, to the fae whose lives he ruled over. Ten years had passed since then, yet he still felt like a child.

“Again, my Blessed King,” his attendant encouraged.

Eirdsidh grimaced. They all called him that; blessed king. As if he had done anything to deserve such a title. He couldn’t even bring himself to hit a practice target at the end of the field. If incompetence were a person, it would surely look like Eirdsidh of Sithiche.

His agitation grew strong when the attendant, an old Cairn Sidh that protected the ruler in the forests of the Sithiche, handed him another arrow to string on the absurdly long bow that dangled from his fingertips. Eirdsidh hated hunting. He hated death. Yet here he was, practicing archery to lead the wild hunt as the king of the fae was meant to do. Had the rulers of old felt such disdain for the practice or was it only Eirdsidh that found it so repugnant?

Flowers stirred around his feet and vines crept up his legs, reacting as they so often did to the king’s discomfort. It was nature’s blessing, the sign that he was the rightful ruler. Yet it only ever served as a reminder of the burden that had been forced upon him since childhood. He clenched his jaw, shutting his eyes and breathing deeply.

It wasn’t the fault of the flowers that he was irritated. They only meant to provide comfort.

“Must I engage in such a dreadful thing?” Eirdsidh asked at last. He slowly forced himself to relax, sending peaceful energy back into the flowers that loved him so. They clung all the more tight to his body.

“M’lord?” the attendant asked.

He sighed again. “The hunt. It troubles me.”

“It is the duty of the King, to lead in such events,” the attendant insisted. He grinned, though, coal-black eyes flashing with mirth. “Austere Brid once threw a fit and shot a chamberlain. So much did she despise the Hunt, she tried to run away. He told her Queens should do as told, and she grew fast incensed. He dragged her to the training grounds and there she pierced his toe.”

Eirdsidh grinned, truly relaxing at the tale of Queen Brid, his predecessor. “Am I not strange for my distaste?”

“More strange if you agreed,” the attendant assured him.

Eirdsidh nodded, taking comfort that he resembled the well-loved queen in any way. He placed the arrow on the bow and aimed at the target once more. This time, he imagined the bullseye to be the toe of the fusspot chamberlain of old and released. The arrow hit the center mark with a heavy thud.

“A truer shot was never made, oh my Blessed King.” The attendant bowed deeply. The flowers and vines crawled further up Eirdsidh’s body, singing their joy at his pleasure. It was the first time in his life he’d ever felt like a king.

The book I’m writing is a fairy tale with a pixie as the main character. She and her sister have moved away from the land of the fae, but I’ve been thinking a lot about where they came from and the King who once ruled it before the humans gained power in the world. I like my idea of King Eirdsidh and his benevolent nature. Most of the time the fae are either depicted as sweet, innocent creatures or as cruel beings. My vision of the fae in this world is a bit of both, but also neither. Much like nature, I don’t see them as good or bad. They are what they are. Peaceful. Vindictive. Lively. Soothing. The world rarely exists in duality, and I didn’t want the fae in my story to exist that way, either.

This story is a bit of a prelude to my book, and I’ll probably write a few more short stories as a way to cement the history of the world in my head, even if I don’t intend to include any of it in the book itself. Sometimes it’s just nice to know a thing. This particular history of the world may not be directly important to the story overall, but it still has some influence on the way the world looks later on. Maybe next I’ll write a short piece about the end of King Eirdsidh’s reign, which is tragic and meaningful in its own right.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun writing this coming of age story about a young king coming into his own, and I hope you enjoyed it as well. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next week!

Your friend,

CC Lepki

The Forest’s Heart


The forest slept, and my unsteady feet
pursued a path through thicket, thorn, and bush
to long-forgotten shrines of nature’s heart.
With youthful rage and little thought besides,
my hands began a work of ill design–
to burn and break; as I was, deep inside.
As forest’s heart succumbed to ash and fire
and critters fled in fear of wrathful acts–
perpetuated by a foolish child–
the spirits of the forest mourned as one.
Their stirring cries awoke a kindred soul.
Emerging from the depth of night, the war-
rior was tall and fair. A crown of this-
tle tangled in his hair and silver eyes
observed my every move. The knight removed
a golden sword and lashed a mark upon
my skin. He grinned, his mouth too wide and long;
and death itself could not instill such fear.
I fled as fast as stumbling feet would go
into the boughs I once destroyed with glee.
Behind, the calls of wild pursuit came near;
but trees gave shelter I did not deserve
and kept the raging fae from drawing near
until, at last, the knight perceived my lair.
The golden flash of sword ripped through the air;
into my chest, the precious metal plunged.
A sting of fire encroached upon my core
and I awoke amid a plain of ash.
Inside the ring of blackened trees I’d felled,
my smoke-filled lungs expunged themselves at last.
The hunt of night before was but a dream,
and yet my weary thoughts could not forsake
the memory of shelter in the dark.
I plunged my hands into the ashy soil
and grew myself amid the ruined earth.

It’s been a while since I’ve written in iambic pentameter, but I decided to try it out again as practice for a book I’m about to write where certain characters only speak in iambic. It’s a fun exercise either way, and I hope you all enjoy what I was able to come up with this time.

I love the idea of a character finding respite in a place she tried to destroy and then mourning for the destruction that she caused. The last line, where she says she grew herself, was purposefully ambiguous. The story is a fairy tale, so I wanted the reader to decide whether growing herself was a reference to emotional maturity or if it was literal growth as the narrator became a tree to replace what she’d taken from the world.

Some of my writing practice from here on out will most likely include themes of nature and magic while I’m working on my current book. I tend to focus my writing practice on certain elements that will be helpful in crafting the themes and prose of whatever larger story I’m trying to tell. This type of practice also builds a certain level of excitement in me with regard to the books I write. It’s always exciting to try out new things that I might be able to use to improve my prose.

Anyway, thank you so much for reading my poem! I’ll see you again next week with something new!

Your friend,

CC Lepki



The forest wept quietly around Zephyr. He closed his eyes and breathed as the rain pelted his skin. Rainy weather never bothered him, but there was something hypnotic about the asymmetrical rhythm that it drummed into his hide.

“I told you last time, you’ll not get another ounce until I see payment for the last batch.” The man was heavily armed. He wore a waxed cloak that made the water bead and roll as it touched him.

“I could take it from you,” Zephyr growled.

The man scoffed. “You’ll get no more if I’m gone. We both know it. Who else but me would bother coming to your infernal forest?”

Zephyr growled, but the man wasn’t wrong. He prided himself on keeping the most dangerous forest in all of the Eastern Continent. No human in his right mind would dare encroach on Zephyr’s forest. Which probably said something about the man who now stood before Zephyr with the gall to withhold the thing that he most desired.

“If you haven’t got a way to pay then we’re done, here,” the man said.

Zephyr panicked. He reached out one massive forepaw and snatched the man off the ground. A high-pitched squeal tore from the man’s throat as his feet left the ground.

“Don’t go.” He meant for it to be a command. It was supposed to be a command. Instead, the words that ripped out of Zephyr’s chest came as a desperate plea. “I need it.”

The man breathed heavily, his skin pale and sweaty. He tried to speak. Failed. Cleared his throat, then tried again. “Then you must pay.”

Zephyr set the man on the ground gently. “Wait here. I will return shortly.”

He turned and loped through the forest to a nearby cave. A host of creatures scurried away at his approach. Jackalopes skittered into their dens. Wrens and dryads hid amongst trees and bushes. A lone dire wolf yelped and disappeared into a thicket of trees. Zephyr dove into the massive cave and breathed heavily. A spout of flame burst from his maw to light up his cave.

Once, the cave floor was lined with gold, diamonds, and precious gems. Great scrolls and magical texts lined the walls. He’d slept atop heaps of treasures from near and far. Now it was empty of nearly his entire hoard of treasures. Save for one.

He’d been a mere hatchling when the adventurer stumbled into his cave. He slew Zephyr’s mother and attempted to take her treasures for himself. Zephyr took the man’s murderous arms first. His hunger sated, he crippled the adventurer and enjoyed him slowly over the course of several days. When naught was left but a pile of armor and bones, Zephyr took the magical sword that the adventurer had used to pierce his mother’s flesh and he kept it. His very first prize. His first treasure. And his last.

Zephyr brought the magical sword to the man who waited patiently in the woods. The man jumped to his feet when Zephyr emerged from the weeping woods with a glowing sword between his teeth like a toothpick. He spat it at the man’s feet.

“This will be more than enough to cover my debt,” Zephyr snarled. “As well as the next few batches.”

The man stared down at the sword and smiled. “Indeed, it is.” He picked the sword from the ground and carefully tucked it into his belt before removing a pouch from an inner pocket and tossing it gently up to the monster who waited eagerly for the prize. “Try not to use it all at once.”

Zephyr barely noticed the man’s departure. His entire mind was focused on the small purple pouch before him. Glimmergreed. It was a drug that Zephyr has first tried only six months before. Even small traces of it could kill a human instantly. But for a dragon, it was bliss.

He took a small crystal between two claws and popped it into his vast maw. The colors of the forest grew more vibrant. He could suddenly spot fairies dancing on the treetops, celebrating the gloriously rainy day. His entire body vibrated with ecstasy. This was better than any heap of gold or treasure he could imagine.

Of course, it would run out soon enough. He had no more treasure to trade for the stuff. A shiver of panic ran through his spiny back and made his leathery wings flutter. Something would need to be done before then.

The man had mentioned a castle town, not far away. He called it the capital of the something or another kingdom. Zephyr barely remembered the rise and fall of human kingdoms. But kingdoms held treasures. And treasures could buy him more Glittergreed.

Zephyr popped another crystal into his mouth and shuddered with pleasure. Yes, perhaps it was time to venture into the human realm once more. For a good cause, of course.

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.”

Florence Everley’s Book Emporium


The air smelled like fresh ink and warm paper. Light filtered through stained glass to adorn the spines of row upon row of books in the packed bookstore. There was no particular organization to the books that lined the shelves. In some places, romance books were double-stacked against treatises on human rights. Adventures lay next to tragedies stacked on top of instruction manuals. But for the regular patrons of the store, it didn’t seem to matter. There was something special about Florence Everley’s Book Emporium, but no one could quite define it. No one who came to the bookstore ever left without finding exactly the book that they needed.

A harassed-looking father stormed into the shop with a baby slung across his chest in a carrier and a series of shopping bags loading him down like a pack mule. He looked around the bookstore in confusion before stomping up to the front desk. His eyes were wide and frenzied.

“Where is the children’s section? I need to find the Moo Moo Achoo book,” he demanded.

Florence smiled warmly. “If you take a moment to look around, I’m certain you’ll find what you need.”

“But-” he spun around, then turned back to her. “I’m really in a hurry. My wife will kill me if I don’t get the book.”

The woman smiled again, her face soft and comforting. “It won’t take but a moment. I can help you with the baby while you look.” She held out her hands and the man stared at her for a moment before sighing.

“Yeah, actually, that would be great.” He set his bags down next to the front desk and carefully handed off the sleeping child. “Is there…anywhere I should start? I don’t see any sections.”

“Why don’t you try in the back?” she suggested. “I have a feeling you won’t be disappointed.”

The man walked to the back of the store, his eyes catching on titles here and there as he went. As he walked among the quiet bookshelves his shoulders began to relax and he smiled, remembering the many days he spent lost among the books at the library in the town where he grew up. His mother used to take him there every weekend and she would spend hours reading him stories.

He stopped walking. There, sitting on a shelf in front of him, was an old children’s book about a stuffed rabbit that lost its way trying to get back to the child it loved. For a moment, he was completely lost for words. It had been his favorite story, growing up. He’d never been able to find a copy of it, before. Couldn’t even remember the title. But the moment he laid eyes on the cover, he knew that this was the story he loved.

The man picked up the book and flipped through the pages, tears coming to his eyes at the fond memories of the time spent with his mother. He’d lost her when he was only a teenager. Seeing the book now, after all these years, made him feel like she was with him again, if only for the moment.

“Have you found what you need?” Florence asked. She bounced the baby lightly in her arms, and the baby cooed happily at the movement.

He turned toward her with a gracious smile. “Yeah. This is exactly what I needed.”

Florence smiled. “Books have a way of finding people, here. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll get you settled.”

“Yeah. That sounds great.” He followed the woman back to the front of the shop with the book clutched close to his chest.

The King’s Messenger

Writing Exercise

Goose fat slid down the king’s chin. He took another bite from the meaty shank clutched tight in his clubbed fist and chewed, openmouthed, as he watched the lowly peasant that bowed before him in his chambers.

“You have news, then?” the king asked.

“I do, sire. I’ve come from the front lines to deliver an urgent message.”

The king chortled. “Good news, I expect. We’ve had the savages against the wall for months, now. Has their king finally come to see reason?”

“He has. It took all this time to convince him of what was right, but he finally agreed that this is the only path.” The peasant bowed more deeply, practically prostrating himself.

The king clapped his heavy fists together gleefully. “Then it is over, at last.”

“It is.”

The peasant stood. In his hand was a short sword the length of a man’s thigh. Without a sound, he leaped forward and plunged the sword deep into the king’s enormous gut. He pressed in until his arm sank into the fat of the king’s stomach. The king gasped, scrabbling weakly at the arms and neck of his assassin.

“This is the message, oh great king,” the assassin whispered. “You have been vanquished by the savages you so despise.”

“You…w…will die…here,” the king sputtered.

The assassin wrenched the sword from the king’s belly. “You first.” He reeled back and slashed the sword one final time.

Dystopian Story Concept


The garden smelled sweet. The fragrance of flowers mingled with the musk of earth and fresh mulch. Translucent windows at the outer edges of the garden dripped with moisture from the humid air. Evvie ran a finger across one glass panel and watched as water droplets rained down, clearing away most of the gathered condensation. The air here tasted better than it did anywhere else in the city; it probably even tasted better than the air in the penthouse of the Ivory Towers, far above the acid clouds and the wretched stink of the lower city.

“I’m getting too old to keep the glass clean,” Mama Mae said. She crossed her arms and scowled at the finger smudge Evvie left on the glass. “Keeping the soot off the outside is hard enough. I don’t need you adding to my workload, missy.”

“Sorry. I’ll clean it myself. I promise.” Evvie sat up and smiled warmly at her grandmother. At first glance, the two of them looked nothing alike. Mamma Mae’s dark hair was streaked with gray. Her face was leathery and dark, with high cheekbones and russet-colored eyes. In contrast, Evvie looked like the ghost that haunted the garden. Though she’d inherited some of her grandmother’s handsome facial features, her skin and hair were white like porcelain and her clear eyes were the palest of blue. She was the spitting image of her grandmother if the woman had been completely drained of color.

She was an albino, people often whispered. Like them. Evvie scrunched her nose in distaste at the comparison to the Nobility that people often made when they saw her. The Nobility were old money aristocrats who lived in penthouses that capped the Ivory Towers. They could afford to live above the stench of pollution, far beyond the filth of the lower city. Most of the Nobility were albinos, like her. But looks weren’t everything. Evvie belonged to Mama Mae.

“I heard there’s going to be a fair at the town square on Saturday,” Evvie said. “We could go.”

Mama Mae pulled up an old wicker chair and sat heavily. She drew her knitting into her lap but didn’t respond. All the same, Evvie knew what that meant.

“I could wear a wig. Everyone in the lower city is pale, anyway. I’d hardly stand out.”

Mama Mae sighed. Her needles clicked against each other rhythmically, counting time by the number of stitches the old woman formed into a line.


Evvie hated to beg, but it was a special occasion, and Mama Mae always said it was okay to be selfish every once in a while.

The clicking halted. Mama Mae looked Evvie in the eyes and held her gaze for a long while. Evvie held her breath, forever hopeful. At last, the older woman relented. Her knitting needles picked up their rhythm once more.

“I suppose we could pick out your birthday present while we’re there. It isn’t every day my baby girl turns thirteen.”

Evvie squealed in delight and bounced up from her spot on the floor to give her grandmother a hug.

“Careful! These needles are sharp!” Mama Mae chastised. “And don’t forget to clean those windows. My poor garden hardly gets enough sunlight as it is.”

“I’ll clean them inside and out,” Evvie promised. “For the next week.” She rushed to the supply cabinet to get the window spray and rag.

“Make sure you have your respirator when you go outside,” Mama Mae warned. “And don’t forget your sunscreen. My friend Gina said the radiation is getting harsher with the recent solar flares. Her son, Tom, got a nasty burn across his bald patch last week. Lord knows your poor skin is sensitive enough without adding radiation burns to the mix.”

“I’ll be careful,” Evvie said. She’d already pulled out the tub of high-strength sunscreen she used whenever she went outside.

“That’s my girl,” Mama Mae said.

Evvie grinned. She loved making her grandmother proud. Carefully and thoroughly, Evvie covered every square inch of her body in sunscreen–even the bits that wouldn’t come in direct contact with the light. She layered up her clothes, even though the summer heat made the outside feel like a boiling wasteland, and put on a thin medical-grade mask before covering it with her respirator. Next came the sunglasses to protect her sensitive eyes, and then a rain jacket with a hood, just in case she got trapped outside during an acid rain. She fished out some ice packs from the cooler to tuck into the inner pockets of her clothes and hurried outside.

Even with a mask, filter, and respirator on, that first breath of air pollution nearly made Evvie gag. She practiced her cyclical breathing for a moment until she got used to it, then hurried to clean the windows. Black soot and ugly green streaks that stuck like grease covered the windows despite the fact that they’d been cleaned just a day before. The same slime and muck covered the streets and all the houses nearby, giving the neighborhood a grayish-green tinge that always felt dirty.

None of the neighbors were as careful to keep the outside of their homes clean as Mama Mae, but then most people in the neighborhood could afford clean air filters. Mama Mae’s garden was the only source of fresh air that she and Evvie could afford, so it was important for them to keep the house–especially the greenhouse–free of grime. Papa Emmett’s life insurance money, left to them after he passed away, kept Evvie and Mama Mae housed and fed, but it didn’t afford them any luxuries.

Evvie dutifully scrubbed the windows and cleared the window panes. She soaked the house siding in solvent and power-washed the muck away. She rinsed out the outside air filters, watching the black waste water drain down the driveway and into the gutter. Then she power washed the driveway to get rid of the black streaks left from cleaning the air filters. By the time she finished, the ice packs had long since melted away and sweat made the inner layers of her clothes cling uncomfortably to her body. She trudged inside to the mudroom and stripped out of her clothes, placing them into the decontamination bucket before she slid into the entryway shower.

There were still the inside windows to clean, but Evvie’s stomach growled insistently after all the work she’d already done. Promising herself she’d only take a short break, Evvie made a detour into the kitchen.

Mama Mae stood by the counter, cutting up carrots she’d pulled from the garden.

“I thought you’d be hungry, by now.” Evvie’s grandmother pushed a plate across the counter and piled some fresh carrots onto it. “Eat up, baby girl. You’ve earned it.”

Evvie danced with delight as she ate her food. Fresh vegetables were a rare treat. Since farms had to be grown indoors and transported long distances, most people could only afford prepackaged produce. Mama Mae typically grew vegetables to sell at the Flea Market to make extra money when they needed it, so even with a home garden Evvie didn’t often get to have fresh carrots.

“They’re delicious,” the girl sighed around her mouthful. “So sweet.”

Mama Mae kissed the top of Evvie’s head. “Then you have something in common.”

Evvie wrinkled her nose. “I’m not sweet,” she said. Raising one skinny arm up, she flexed her bicep. “I’m a warrior.”

Mama Mae cackled as Evvie grinned impishly up at her. “My little warrior,” the older woman cooed happily, wrapping both arms around Evvie’s head as the younger girl munched cheerily on her carrot sticks. “You make my life, baby girl.”

“You make mine,” Evvie agreed.