Holley’s Flood (A Short Story)

*A quick note: This is April’s short story, just a little late. Life happens, right? Anyway, enjoy, and be sure to check back at the end of the month, when I’ll post a story for May!!*


The heat came first. It scorched the newly green grass and wilted the daffodils to brown, drooping husks, and we all sat and languished under the bright, white sun. We couldn’t remember a spring drought so long and miserable. And so when the rain came, first as only a gentle patter, all we felt was the sweet sense of damp, cool, long overdue relief.

On the day the heavy gray clouds rolled in, just after lunchtime, Mr. Holley’s rickety tan truck made its way down the gravel holler and up our driveway. We heard him coming long before we caught sight of him. Mama was sitting on the carport, stringing beans for dinner, and I was at her feet, playing jacks.

“Afternoon, Mr. Holley,” Mama said.

Holley tipped his straw hat and told her, “Y’all better get ready.”

“What for?” This was me, my head tilted up and my hands stilled for a moment. The jacks and ball lay strewn around my scabbed-over knees.

Old Mr. Holley was known to all of us to be a little different. No one would call him crazy, not exactly, but he just seemed to look at the world in a way that others around the valley couldn’t understand. I thought he might be some kind of magic. Mama thought he was touched in the head, which is a thing we used to say, back then. Whatever the case, when Mr. Holley came to your door with a warning, you were just as likely to listen as not, depending on the day of the week and whether the sun had come up that morning.

“Rain’s fixin’ to pick up,” Holley said. “I reckon it’ll flood by Thursday.”

“After all this heat,” Mama said, “a good rain won’t hurt.”

“A little would be fine,” Holley said. “But I’m telling you, expect a flood. A big one.”

Mama nodded and said, “We’ll make sure we have oil and some water in the tub.”

Mr. Holley moved on after that, up and down the hollers and all through the valley, and despite his warnings, we just weren’t all the worried. No one could remember the valley ever having flooded, not in their grandparents’ time, or their grandparents’ grandparents’ time.

The rain started in the evening, just before dinner.

“Good for the apple trees,” said Pa, home from his day shift at the garage. “Especially after the drought.”

Mama told him what Mr. Holley had said, and Pa just shook his head and sighed.

“That poor man,” he said. “I remember him from when I was a little boy. Not quite right, but he’s always been a gentle soul.”

And that was that, at least for a few days. Mama didn’t make sure we had extra lamp oil or food, didn’t fill the tub with water, and Pa didn’t much worry about the house.

“Even if it did flood,” he said, “and it won’t…”

Here, he looked at me, his face calm and steady and brave.

“…but even if it did, we’re high up enough here that we’ll be just fine. Don’t you worry.”

Still, the rain didn’t stop. That first night, it fell in fits and starts, light showers and big, slow drips. But as the days wore on, sodden and muddy, it grew. Mists became walls, drips burst wide open into waterfalls, and I sat by the window, watching and waiting, afraid that Mr. Holley might just have been right after all.

Mama spotted me as she came through with the vacuum cleaner.

“Don’t you worry,” she told me.

“But it’s never rained like this before,” I said.

“Oh, it has. Trust me. I’ve been around a while longer than you.”

She put her hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze, and left a kiss on the top of my head. And even though she smiled at me, I could see something behind her eyes. Something tense and tight and all coiled up. I know now that it looked a lot like worry.

That night, sitting around the table eating soup beans and cornbread, we got the first report. It came from Mrs. Fugate, who lived just around the corner from the old red barn by the road. She’d walked over with a basket of oatmeal cookies, now drenched beyond recognition. Her shoes showed it, and she apologized up and down for tracking mud all over Mama’s kitchen floor.

“I sure am sorry,” she said, every word coming out faster and faster. “I just felt like I had to let you know. There’s water over by the wayside, out on the highway.”

“It can’t be that bad,” Mama said.

“The Warners and the Blackwells have gone to stay with family up the mountain. Left this afternoon.”

“Oh,” Mama said, and sat down in the nearest chair.

“They’re saying it’ll head towards town next. Jonas and I are leaving in the morning. Better safe than sorry.”

Mrs. Fugate left in a bigger hurry than when she came in, still apologizing for the mess, and Mama looked at Pa.

“We’ll be fine,” he said, and walked into the living room.

We heard the TV click on, and the droning sound of the news.

“Go on to bed,” Mama told me. “And don’t be afraid. Linda Fugate’s always going on about something.”

I tried to sleep that night. I tried my hardest. But all I could hear was the never-ending whirr of the rain, and all I could picture when I closed my eyes was water, a frightening rush of dark, powerful water. I’d never thought much about it before, but it hit me pretty hard that night, as I lay in the dark, that I didn’t know how to swim.

We woke up that morning on an island.

“How…” whispered Mama.

All around us, brown, muddy water lapped at the hillside. Pa stared at it from the carport.

“We’re high enough,” he said.

“Thank goodness,” Mama replied. “But what about everybody else? Oh, those poor people!”

“Nothing we can do,” Pa said. “Nothing but wait.”

In a million years, I don’t think we could have ever imagined this. People chose the valley because it was peaceful, because it was quiet, because it snowed just right in winter, and rained just right in spring, and the lightning bugs came out every year by the first day of summer vacation. There were no surprises in the valley, and life could go on day to day to day with certainty and rhythm.

“God almighty,” Mama whispered.

And we all just stood, stock still and in shock, until the terrible silence was broken by the hum, somewhere off in the distance, of a motor.

“Who on earth…” started Pa.

But we knew. We knew who. And it was no surprise when Mr. Holley rounded the corner in a small wooden boat, big enough for himself and maybe four other people.

“Holley,” called Pa.

“Mornin’,” Mr. Holley called back.

He pulled as close as he could get to the house. We could see that he had bags and boxes with him.

“I’ve just dropped off medicine for Ms. Amos,” he said.

“She’s okay?” Mama wringed her hands.

“Oh, fine. I told her what was coming same day I told you. She was ready.”

“Do you know about any others?” Pa asked.

“I’ve checked on most everybody,” Mr. Holley said. “The Fugates left last night. Only y’all and the Taylors left to go.”

“Holley,” Pa said, “how in the world did you come by a boat?”

“I built it,” Mr. Holley said. “Knew I’d need it. Just felt like the right thing to do.”

“You built it…” Mama said. And then she laughed out loud.

“Don’t y’all worry too much now,” Mr. Holley said, as if he hadn’t heard her at all. “Rain’s set to stop tonight. I reckon it might take a few days for the water to recede, but I brought y’all some water and jerky.”

“Thank you,” Mama said. “Thank you so much, Mr. Holley.”

“I have to get going now,” he said. “Still have to check on the Taylors, like I said, and Beula Price needs some kibble for the hounds.”

“Sure,” Pa said.

“I can drop back by, if you need anything,” Holley offered.

“I think we’ll be fine,” Pa answered. “But you keep yourself safe, Holley.”

We said some quick goodbyes, and Mr. Holley pulled away in his ramshackle boat and was out of sight within a minute.

“Well, I never…” started Mama.

“I know,” said Pa.

“How do you reckon he knew?”

“Good guesser?” Pa said. “Either that, or we all need to start really listening to Mr. Holley, don’t we?”

The floodwaters were gone in days, and the rain tapered off to reveal beautiful, blue, sunny skies. The destruction, the mess and the mud, it was a sight, but everyone, and I mean everyone was safe. Even Beula Price’s hounds. The papers called it a miracle. Mama did, too, and Pa always listened a little closer when Mr. Holley came to call.

To this day, if it weren’t in the record, I’d think it was all a dream. The valley has never seen that kind of weather again, and I doubt it will, even in the future. We still call it Holley’s Flood, not because he predicted it, and who can really be sure he did? But because he looked after all of us, because he saw fit to stay and help, even though, by some feat of guessing or magic, he knew it was coming. And when I look at the world now, I hope it’s full of Mr. Holleys, and of people just strange enough to listen to them.


Thank you for reading! This is the fourth of twelve stories I’ll write for my 2023 Short Story Challenge. The theme this year is: Wild.

Here are the first three, if you’d like to read them: 

Dark, Dark, Dark

Fairy Tale

Spring Mountain Child

I hope you join me and write some stories of your own this year! It’s fun, and I hope this will be a happy year full of good stories. But just reading is fine, too, and I’m glad you’re here.

The next story will be posted at the end of May.

Spring Mountain Child (A Short Story)

The winter ground had thawed and gone warm and soft on Spring Mountain when my grandmother first told me about the child.

“Wild as a fox at midnight,” she said. “But pretty as a picture.”

We were walking together from the church in town to the pharmacy on a sunny Sunday morning. My grandmother needed to pick up some medicine for my grandpa, and she’d promised me a Cherry Fizz if I came along quietly.

“Who was she, granny?”

“Well, here in town, they reckon she came from up on the mountain. No one’d ever seen her before.”

“But how’s that even possible? A little kid couldn’t live up there all alone.”

“Well, I never said she was alone,” my grandmother answered me, “now did I?”

“So she had a family?”

“No one knew,” my grandmother said. “She just appeared one day, like she’d been here all along. She sat out by the old ball field and watched the boys play a while, then she wandered off again.”

“What’d she look like?”

“She was just a little thing,” my grandmother said. “She had light blonde hair and blue eyes. Some people said she looked like she wasn’t quite of this world.”

We’d turned into the pharmacy by now, and my grandmother shopped while I sat at the counter with my Cherry Fizz.

“…holdin’ out long as he can…”

That was Granny.

“…making arrangements?”

Mr. Stevens, the pharmacist.

I knew they were talking about my grandfather. He’d been sick for a long time, as long as I’d been alive, it felt like. Other kids got to fish, or play ball, but my grandpa had never been well enough for any of that. So we played chess, and watched his shows, and drank Mountain Dew floats together on the front porch. I wanted him to live forever, but lately, his hands were too shaky and sore for board games, and he’d fall asleep in the middle of the news. He always told me you should watch the news. I knew Mr. Stevens and my grandmother were talking about Grandpa, and I didn’t like what I was hearing.

“Granny,” I yelled. “You done?”

My grandmother sauntered over and looked at me, stern and sharp, and said, “You remember our deal?”

“Yes’m,” I said, my head bowed.

“Just sit quiet until I’m done. Won’t be long, I promise.”

I did as I was told, and I did my best to tune out everything around me until I felt Granny’s hand on my shoulder.

“Ready steady,” she said.

“Ready,” I told her.

We set off towards Granny’s house, two blocks away and a couple of streets back.

“Granny,” I said.

“Hmmm,” she replied. She seemed somewhere far away, I thought.

“How’d you meet Grandpa?”

“I liked to run,” she said.


“When I was a little girl,” she said, “I liked to run. I could outrun any of the boys, easy, and they didn’t much care for that. Or for me.”

“I can’t imagine anyone not liking you,” I said.

And I really couldn’t. My grandmother made dinners for the sick and carried groceries for the weak and always had candy in a crystal jar on the coffee table. She ran church luncheons like no one else could. She took the time to decorate every little part of her house at Christmas. Who wouldn’t like her?

“Things were different back then,” she said. “I was different.”

“Different how?”

“Well, I was new, for one thing. My family moved here when I was about seven. They kept to themselves, and that was different.”

“Okay,” I said. “But different doesn’t mean bad.”

“No, it sure doesn’t,” she said. “But I think we sort of scared people, my folks and me. I liked being outside, playing in the creek and getting my hands dirty. I liked the way the dirt felt, like it was something alive.”

“Ew,” I said.

“And I liked worms and bugs,” she added, and looked down at me with a toothy grin.


“I didn’t go to school, since my parents taught me at home. I didn’t know a lot of people, but I sure liked to run, and I’d come into town every Saturday to play with the other kids.”

“They weren’t scared?”

“Oh, they were. But I think they wanted to prove they were brave,” she said. “They liked the challenge. Boys…” she said.

“So how’d you meet Grandpa, then?”

“Your grandpa was never much of a runner,” Granny said. “He’d sit off to the side, and he never really talked to me, but every time I won a race, he’d smile.”

“He liked you,” I said, in that kind of sing-song voice that kids always use.

“I reckon he did,” she said. “And one day, I sat down and said hello.”

“What’d he say back?”

“I guess it was hello,” Granny answered. “But you know, I don’t much remember, because we were always together after that, and we talked about a lot of things. I remember all of that, but not the first thing he said to me. Isn’t that sad?”

“Yeah,” I told her. “It is.”

“He didn’t like to run, but he did like the woods, and so he’d come up the mountain with me and we’d walk and talk. I’d show him my favorite bugs, and he’d show me his favorite flowers.”

“Grandpa doesn’t go in the woods anymore,” I said.

“No,” Granny replied. “No, he can’t move around like he used to. But we had lots of good years up in those woods.”

“I like that,” I said.

“I did, too,” she said. “I like our house just fine, but I love the mountain. Your grandpa does, too.”

“So that’s why you married him, then? Because he liked the woods?”

Granny laughed. “Oh, sweet pea,” she said, “there were all sorts of reasons. He liked the woods, and he liked me, and he was even nice to my parents. Came all the way up to their cabin and asked my father if he could marry me. Wasn’t one bit scared.”

“Do you miss those days?”

She looked out and ahead, and sighed. “I do, all the time. But I’m happy with life here. It’s darn good, in fact. Grandpa says he tamed me, and I say I couraged him.”

We walked for a bit in silence, until we got to their house. Grandpa and Granny lived in a brown and tan Craftsman cottage with a big front porch and a yard full of flowers. I loved that house. I love it, still.

We walked up the steps and Granny was just about to open the door. I looked up at her, at her long, light hair, tied in a bun on the nape of her neck. At her blue eyes that wrinkled when she laughed big.

“Granny,” I started, and then stopped myself. Even young as I was, I thought it wasn’t possible, and then I thought, well, if she wanted to tell me, one day she would.

“Go on now,” she said. “You can’t be starting something and not finishing. Ask what you wanted.”

“Are you her? The girl from the mountain. Is that you?”

She laughed again, a big, wide laugh and slapped her knee. “Oh, lord, child, is that what you think?”

I shook my head, vigorously. But then, I nodded, just small enough for her to see.

“If’n I was,” she said, “I’d tell you this: There’s a little wild in all of us, no matter where we come from.” And then, she winked.

I’d like to think my grandmother was the little wild child from Spring Mountain. I’d like to think she never lost that part of her, and that some part of me carries it, too.


Thank you for reading! This is the third of twelve stories I’ll write for my 2023 Short Story Challenge. The theme this year is: Wild.

Here are the first two, if you’d like to read them: 

Dark, Dark, Dark

Fairy Tale

I hope you join me and write some stories of your own this year! It’s fun, and I hope this will be a happy year full of good stories. But just reading is fine, too, and I’m glad you’re here.

The next story will be posted at the end of April.

Fairy Tale (A Short Story)

Once upon a time, the queen of the faeries fell in love with the king of the coffee shops.

They lived in a different kind of forest, where the tall trees were made of metal and brick, and the meandering paths were dark as pitch and hard as rock. This forest was loud and fast. The queen and the king knew of no other world, no better world, than this land of perpetual motion, this place that never slept.

It so happened that on the night the queen first saw the king, the forest lay blanketed in a wet, heavy tarp of snow, and the wind blew frigid and swift through the corridors of steel and stone. From her perch above the world, looking down upon her kingdom from the highest of the towers, the queen saw the king, wrapped tightly in his winter coat and bracing himself against the icy gale.

And she thought to herself that she’d never encountered a living thing more handsome.

But the queen of the faeries knew very little about humans, and so she devised a plan. In the days that followed, she watched him, followed him from his small room into the busy streets, memorized his daily rhythms, studied his life. Soon enough, the cold days turned warm and soft, and the air filled with the scent of blossoms and new life. The queen decided the time had come.

“This is foolish,” said one of her attendants, as she pulled a brush through the queen’s thick mane of hair.

“She’ll be bored of him soon enough,” answered another. “Human lives are short and sad.”

But the queen would not be deterred. That morning, as the sky turned pale and light, she gathered her closest confidantes around her and said: “I am not certain how long I might be away, but I must go. Be well, and think of me.”

And she turned away and left them. Had she stayed, she would have noticed their scoffing, giggling, the worry and doubt on each wary face.

“This will not end well,” she would have heard whisper.

The queen was not afraid, though she was not unafraid either. There was a new feeling in her heart, something fierce and unrelenting, begging to be set free. Love, she knew. Love, she’d heard, sends ships to the ends of the earth, men to their deaths, and now, she thought, a queen into a great unknown.

The brass bell above the door to King’s Coffee jingled a merry chime as she walked through it, hands trembling, face aflame. But she would do this. She approached him, the king, there behind the counter, and took a breath to speak.

“Morning,” he said, before she’d gathered her words. “Beautiful today, right? What can I get you?”

The queen had prepared for this moment.

“A cappuccino,” she answered. “Extra foam.”

And she smiled, her brightest, biggest smile, one that had melted hearts and broken armies, one that demanded notice, demanded a reaction, demanded submission.

“Sure,” he said. He looked away from her, down and to the left. He met her eyes again with a cup and a marker in his hand. “Name for that order?”

This, thought the queen, was not going according to plan.

“Um,” the queen began.


“No,” said the queen. “My apologies. You may call me Anna.”

“Got it,” he said, and scribbled something illegible on the cup.

“And yours?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your name,” said the queen. “It is only fair, a name for a name.”

“That’s a new one,” said the king. And then he smiled back at her, just a quick flash, there and gone. Enough for a hope. And he said, “It’s Nick.”

Love had a name, thought the queen. “Nick,” she repeated. “It’s wonderful to meet you, Nick.”

“Same,” he said, but added, with a note of apology in his voice, “it is. But, uh, if you could move down. There are other customers.”

The queen looked behind her then, and saw a long line of irritated faces. And someone elbowed her, actually elbowed her, out of the way.

These creatures, she thought, are beastly.

She waited at one side of the counter, and when her name was called, realized it was not Nick who would hand her cup to her.

“Thank you,” she said, nonetheless, and walked out, head down, and into the spring air.

A lesser being might feel discouraged. A weaker one might use magic.

“And I could,” the queen said to herself. “I could, and this would be done. He would be mine.”

But the queen did not want a king compelled to love her. What purpose in that? And so she returned, day after day, determined to know him better, and to win his heart.

The first morning she returned to King’s Coffee, Nick did not recognize her.

“Morning,” he’d said. “What can I get you?”

“Anna,” she told him.

“Right! Anna.”

“Cappuccino,” she said. “And thank you, Nick.”

He smiled, and she felt it again. Hope. There was hope.

The queen spent most of her time in King’s Coffee after that, though Nick did not always realize it. One day, glamoured as a tall, thin woman with dark hair and blue eyes, and the next, as a woman short, stout, and fair, today one person, tomorrow another, and each morning, always, just Anna, ordering her coffee. Nick’s routines were simple and kind. He’d help one customer, then the next, always with a cheery smile and a ready greeting. But the queen found she was not, as a whole, very fond of people. For every person who accepted Nick’s gentle friendliness, there seemed to be one who recoiled, who snapped, who grimaced and cursed.

One morning, ordering her “usual,” as Nick called it, she told him, “I want you to know that I find you an exceptionally nice person, Nick.”

She saw it, knew she hadn’t imagined that Nick’s cheeks had begun to turn a delightful shade of pink.

“Just doing my job,” he said.

“Well,” the queen added, “then you do your job much better than I would. I would not have the patience.”

Nick laughed, and how the queen loved the sound of it. “You’d surprise yourself, I bet,” he told her.

“Perhaps,” said the queen.

“Service isn’t a great job,” Nick told her, “not all the time, anyway. But I get to meet a lot of people, and most of them really are fine. Some are them are great.” He winked as he added, “Like you.”

The queen decided to sit down that day, as herself, at a little table in the corner. She caught Nick’s eye a few times, as he worked, and each time, it seemed some message passed between them, something more, better, something thrilling. She was drawn out of her reverie by a familiar voice. 

“They are a rough and mannerless bunch, are they not?”

The queen’s eyes focused on her closest friend, sitting comfortable in the seat across from her, as if she’d been there the whole time.

The queen nodded and said, “Some of them, yes.”

“You must come home,” her friend said. “Your people need you.”

The queen closed her eyes, rubbed her temples, a decidedly human behavior she had somehow acquired, and said, “I can’t. I won’t. My heart will not allow it.”

“Your heart will destroy all that you have built.”

“Then let it,” said the queen. “I cannot tame it.”

Especially not now. Not now that something was shifting, changing. The queen could feel it. She was close, her goal in sight. Her love, her hope, near enough to reach out and touch. Almost.

The queen woke the next day determined. She would move this forward, and by the end of this day, she and her king would “have plans,” as she’d heard those around her say. Perhaps dinner, as seemed to be a popular choice. She would ask him. He would say yes.

But it was not Nick who greeted her that morning. 

“Where is Nick?” she asked.

The man behind the counter did not smile. He barely looked at her at all. He focused instead on the line forming behind her, on worrying his hands with cups and a marker, and on plunking numbers into the register. “Accident,” he said. “Last night. What do you want?”

“I don’t understand,” the queen said, even as she felt her chest tighten, felt her stomach flip and her legs go weak and unsteady beneath her.

“Look, lady, I’m not here to answer your questions. Do you want coffee or not?”

“I’m fine,” she said. “No thank you.”

The queen turned, walked toward the door, and felt a tug on her shoulder.

“He talked about you last night,” said a small voice behind her. One of Nick’s compatriots, someone she’d seen often. “After you left. Said he was going to ask you out today.” The girl sniffled, wiped at a tear in her eye. “I just thought you should know,” she said, and choked on a sob. “I just can’t believe it.” And then she hurried to the back.

The queen walked out the door, into the daylight of a stark new reality.

“We told you this would end badly,” said her friend, again appearing from nowhere, hanging close by her side. “Human lives are fragile.”

And it was true that the queen did not understand death, not in the way that Nick would, that humans seemed to, and that she wished she could.

“I saw him yesterday,” she said. “He was just here.”

“Come home,” said her friend.

The queen could not, and did not, for a long, long time. She wandered dark paths, both within and without. She lived among the wild, lonely things, as she herself felt. Only when the pain dulled, when the weight of it began to left, did she return to her own kind and to her kingdom, though she was not the same queen. They say she was changed, perhaps forever.

“Are you happier, for having known him?” Her friend asked her this, one night, many years later.

“I am happy and sad, and lonely, and angry,” answered the queen. “I did not know I could feel so much.”

And they say she loves him still, the kindly king of coffee. They say her heart will never heal, will never be whole again, that some wounds will always remain open and aching. And that she watches, like a sentinel, from her favorite place upon the highest tower, far above that land of noise and motion and metal and coffee, for the day when her king, her Nick, will return to her once more.


Thank you for reading! This is the second of twelve stories I’ll write for my 2023 Short Story Challenge. The theme this year is: Wild.

Here’s the first one, from January: Dark, Dark, Dark

I hope you join me and write some stories of your own this year! It’s fun, and I hope this will be a happy year full of good stories. But just reading is fine, too, and I’m glad you’re here.

The next story will be posted at the end of March.

Dark, Dark, Dark (A Short Story)

The first letter arrived with the new year. In an unmarked, tattered envelope, typed on clean white paper, it read simply: “Come to the woods.” The second, two weeks later, added: “Full moon, 8:30.”

“Kids,” my father said, and tucked both letters as far into the trash can as he could get them.

We’d moved to the new neighborhood in December, just my dad and me in our old truck, packed with the paltry amount of worldly things we actually owned and all of our hopes and dreams for this new life.

“I’m a kid,” I told him.

“Sure,” he said. “But you have the common sense not to go running around in the dark in the middle of winter.”

He had a point, though it wasn’t common sense that kept me indoors and out of the night. It was fear. My shameful secret, that at fourteen and perfectly capable of knowing better, I was afraid of the dark. Dad didn’t need to know that.

“When is the full moon?” I asked.

“Three days from now,” he said. “Not that it matters.”

“It’s supposed to snow three days from now,” I said. “At least half a foot.”

“Common sense,” Dad said. “Foolishness, out in the dark in the snow.”

Our new neighborhood was surrounded by a thick circle of woods, which the realtor said meant that it would be nice and private, and which I found more claustrophobic and unsettling than nice. Our old neighborhood in the city had no woods. It did have traffic, and noise, and old Mrs. Devlin and her cats. I didn’t much miss Mrs. Devlin, but I did miss the cats. And the noise.

“You’ve done your homework?” Dad asked me, and pulled me out of my memories.

“Yes,” I answered. “And tomorrow’s reading, too.”

“Good girl,” he said. “I’ll get started on dinner. Why don’t you go and do something fun.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“You’ve earned it. All this unpacking. Go take a nap or something. Go call your friends.”

I didn’t really have any friends. Dad didn’t need to know that, either. He would worry. So I just said, “Okay,” and walked up the stairs to my room.

The new house wasn’t quite new. New to us, sure, but the wood-paneled walls and green bathroom tiles gave it away.

“It’s like the Brady Bunch,” I’d told Dad, when we’d first found the listing.

“That a bad thing?”

“I like it,” I’d said.

And I did. It felt homey, lived in, like it had a story.

“You’d love it, Mom,” I said to a small, framed photo on my bedside table.

My mom had died six months ago, and I still told her everything. We’d sold most of our stuff to pay for her treatments, even after insurance, something she told me I shouldn’t have to understand at this age. But you’re never the right age to lose a parent. I think she knew that, too. But Dad and I were okay. We were doing okay, in spite of everything. He’d even learned to cook. Mostly casseroles, but I wasn’t complaining. Neither of us particularly enjoyed time in the kitchen.

“We’ve been getting these weird letters,” I said to Mom. “What would you do?”

I could hear Dad banging around in the pots and pans, looking for his favorite baking dish.

“Yeah,” I told Mom. “Dad has one of those now, a favorite baking dish. Anyway, what would you do? Would you go to the woods?”


“I don’t really think it’s a good idea, either. But you know me.”

More silence.

“You did always call me Curious Kelly.”

The next evening, two days before the full moon, we found another letter in the mailbox. “Don’t be afraid,” it read.

“Yeah, right,” Dad said as he handed it over to me. “Not scary at all, random letters from a stranger telling you to come to the woods.”

“Murder probably but not entirely guaranteed,” I said.

But my mind was made up, not that Dad needed to know that, either. I figured, this was a safe neighborhood, and we’d made sure of it before we bought the house. Safe and quiet, except the fox screams, which we’d been told were totally normal for this area. How very bad could it be, whatever it was we were meant to find in the woods? I talked to a dead woman on a regular basis, right? I already lived in “weird kid” territory.

And besides, I thought, fourteen is too old to be afraid of the dark. Way, way too old.

So, that was how I came to find myself, two days later, venturing into the deep, wild woods in the tawny glow of the evening, with snow on the way.  I’d packed a backpack full of what I thought were essential supplies: a flashlight, a whistle, a book of matches, gloves, scarf, hat, extra coat, water, and most importantly, Mom. Well, her picture anyway. I found my way in easily enough, since the woods edged up to my own back yard.

How funny would that be, I thought, as I crunched over fallen leaves and balanced across downed limbs and vines. I could see the headline now: “Local Girl, New to Area, Disappears from Own Back Yard.” Best not to think too hard about that, I reminded myself. Bad enough to be out alone in the growing darkness.

And oh, God, the darkness.

There’d been plenty of light when I left the house, but out here, under the trees, it was like a canopy of gray-black, like the branches absorbed everything, like they left nothing for scared, pathetic teenage girls probably doing the wrong, stupid thing anyway.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. In and out, in and out. I focused just on me, on getting air into my lungs. I counted – five, four, three, two, one, one, two, three, four, five – and opened my eyes again. Bad idea.

I could swear I saw, well, I don’t know. And from my right side, I heard a scream. Just a fox, I was sure. Only a fox. But then, from my left side, I heard a sharp crack, a grunt, the sound of something scampering in the underbrush.

“Nope,” I said out loud. To Mom? Probably just to myself. “Nope, nope.”

And I turned, started to run, and promptly fell on my face.

“It’s like a scene from a horror movie,” I said.

The wind rustled through the empty tree limbs, a dry, sandy whisper.

“Okay,” I said. “Okay, now I know I hate the woods.”

A crow cawed, an owl screeched. I didn’t even know I knew what those sounded like.

I pushed myself upright, sat on the forest floor and pulled my knees to my chest. I tugged my backpack around and grabbed my flashlight. I clicked it on, checked the time on my watch. Only 7:45.

“I am such an idiot,” I added.

I could feel the dark, like a living, breathing, slouching, slogging monster, creeping up behind me, all around me. An angry dark. A lonely dark. A hungry dark.

I breathed in and out again, hoisted myself up. And I ran. As fast as you can run in the woods, anyway, I ran, all the way back to the house this time. I didn’t look back once. If this was a prank, some mean joke to haze the new kid, if someone really was in the woods waiting for me, or for Dad, or for whatever moron decided to actually go there in the middle of the night, I felt perfectly fine never, ever knowing the real truth. This mystery, as far as I, frightened, out of breath, and questioning every choice that had led me to this moment, was concerned, could remain a mystery forever.  

Dad asked where I’d been, once I came through the door.

“Library,” I answered. I think that was the first, and last, time I ever lied to my father.

“Good thing you got home,” he said. “Starting to snow.”

It was, and I hadn’t even noticed.

The next morning, we awoke to a world awash in light, bright and twinkling. Snow covered the ground, the trees, the truck. Half a foot had become a foot and a half overnight.

“Bet you won’t have school today,” Dad said, and he was right.

We spent the day together, since he certainly couldn’t get to work, playing board games and watching bad daytime TV. We made a fire in the fireplace, our first ever, since our old place didn’t have a fireplace. We made lasagna for dinner, also our first ever. And for dessert, we shared a pint of ice cream on the couch. I’d say it was the happiest we’d been since Mom.

“This is nice,” I said.

“Love you, too, kiddo,” Dad answered.

At about 7:00, I checked the mail. We’d forgotten earlier in the day, and honestly, we thought it wouldn’t even run. And maybe it hadn’t, because the only thing in the mailbox was a tattered envelope. I opened it, outside, where Dad couldn’t see. It said: “The woods are waiting.”

I tore both the envelope and letter into pieces, small as I could rip them, stuffed the pieces into my coat pocket, and went back inside.


Thank you for reading! This is the first of twelve stories I’ll write for my 2023 Short Story Challenge. The theme this year is: Wild.

I hope you join me and write some stories of your own this year! It’s fun, and I hope this will be a happy year full of good stories. But just reading is fine, too, and I’m glad you’re here.

The next story will be posted at the end of February.

Announcing: My 2023 Short Story Theme!

For the last couple of years, I’ve challenged myself to write one short story every month around a central theme. Other writers have joined, and it’s just been a lot of fun. So, onward with the tradition!

Last year’s theme was: Folklore. And while I didn’t write a story every month – December ended on a sad note, and I just couldn’t bring myself to write a story while grieving my sweet Gatsby-cat – it was interesting to look at aspects of folklore, how things become folklore, what folklore is and what it can do… Anyway, it was a good year for stories, December notwithstanding, and I’m excited to continue writing them. On that note –  

This year’s theme is:


There are all sorts of ways to be wild. There are all kinds of things that grow wild, become wild, live wild. But not us. Not humans. At least, not usually. I want to explore what it means to be wild. And if you want to join me, too, you should!

The rules are simple: twelve months, twelve stories, posted whenever you’d like in any given month. (Normally, I post towards the end.) You can link to this post, if you’d like, so we can read each other’s stories. 🙂

I hope 2023 is a better year just generally. And I really hope it’s a great year for stories.