The Ledger (A Short Story)

*A quick note: This is May’s short story, just a little late. I hope to not make this a habit. I think history lovers will particularly enjoy this one, which is based very loosely on a true story. Thank you for reading!*


Night time is the worst time. At night, I can hear, but I can’t see, and the soldiers sound like wild animals in the dark woods. I know they’re out there, but I can’t tell where. I wonder if we’re safe. Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever truly feel safe again.

No one really believed the war would come. Maybe some did, but I certainly didn’t. Here in the valley, things like war and politics have always felt like villains out of a story book. We’ve settled our disagreements for years like civilized people. We’ve lived that way, too. And now it’s my job to protect us. Not with a gun and a uniform, but with my silence. No one suspects a widow.

When the ledger came to me, it came by chance. I’ll never forget that day, because that was the day everything changed, and amid the smoke and dust, the cries and the acrid smell of blood and gunpowder in the air, I found the one thing I can do. Women can’t go to war, can’t take up arms with our husbands and sons and march to the front. This I know all too well, because I’ve lost them both, my husband and my boy, and there was nothing I could do for them, no help I could render as they lay dying alone on a field far away. My hands were empty then. Now they hold the simplest treasure, and I will never let it go.

Mr. Partlow had always kept the ledger, neat and tidy and itemized, tucked away in a drawer in the apothecary he’d run since his father left it to him three decades ago. He was a good man, Mr. Partlow, and a fastidious record keeper. He could tell you who had the most coal, the biggest harvest of carrots and potatoes, the greatest quantity of grain, the healthiest livestock, and he facilitated those trades fairly and quickly, and noted everything in the ledger. At the time, those records meant security, knowing who had what, who could trade, who to come to in dire straits. You could say he kept the valley running. The day he died, the day of the first raid, he didn’t even have time to put on his apron. It was pure luck that I found the ledger before the enemy.

And pure luck, days later, that they didn’t take it from me.

The day the enemy came to call, the sun rose hot and heavy and bright white against the deep blue sky. It was too beautiful a day for the grief and anger hanging in the valley, but only God controls the weather. Maybe he was mocking us. I spotted the soldiers from my garden, five of them approaching from the east. I dropped the hoe and made for the house, but they reached me at the porch and blocked the door.

“Ma’am,” the tallest said.

“Sir,” I answered back, bile rising in my throat and dread in my belly.

“We hoped to trouble you for some water.”

That’s how they came to be at my table, looking for all the world like friendly neighbors sharing the latest gossip. I knew all along it wasn’t water they were after.

I sat in the corner, kept my hands busy with the beans I’d planned for dinner, and my mouth fastened shut. I owed them no kindness.  

“It’s just you then, ma’am,” the tallest said. He didn’t ask. He declared.

“It is,” I answered.

“All alone out here,” he said. He looked around the room, scanning each shelf and corner.

“Didn’t have much choice,” I told him.

“Must be hard, running this farm on your own. Hard to get what you need.”

So mild, so very conversational. Here was a lion stalking its prey. I would not be so easily outmaneuvered.

“I manage,” I said.

“No help from neighbors?”

“What neighbors would you be referring to?” I gestured out the window, to the empty meadows and the deserted road.

He barked a laugh, as did his comrades, and then all became quiet.

I shelled beans and looked down, kept my eyes away from his and my face a mask of calm, but my mind whirred in an anxious frenzy, wondering where I’d left the ledger. That single document, a record of everything everyone had, of what could be stolen, exploited, ransomed, killed for, and here it was in my house, in my hands, a hair’s breath away from those who’d do us harm. My mind’s eye scoured each room and found it upstairs, open and exposed, atop my unmade bed. I’d spent the last night reading it, reminiscing better days, recalling faces I’d never see again. Here was danger, so close, right out in the open. I couldn’t know what they wanted, couldn’t be sure they knew about the ledger, but I knew if they were here at all, they must be after something. Something more, anyway, than just water and a few minutes in my far from pleasant company.

“I’m sure you know the value of good neighbors just the same,” said the tallest.

“I suppose,” I replied.

“Then I suppose,” he said, “that you wouldn’t mind if we took a look around. We’re running low on supplies, see, and it would be very neighborly of you to offer us what you can.”

“I…” I stammered.

“We won’t be long,” he said. “I’ll just send the boys around. Quick and quiet as mice.”

I looked closely, for the first time, at the faces of the others. Young men, all of them, tired and dirty. One looked like he might fall where he stood. I could only hope he would be the one to scour the bedroom. Either way, I knew, I had no choice. So I said, “Do what you must,” and watched these strangers as they set about searching my home and stealing what little I had left. I prayed. I prayed and begged any higher power who might listen that they would overlook the ledger.

“They’re good young men,” said the tallest, who’d stayed behind, doubtless to ensure that I would stay put and not attack with some hidden weapon while his men were distracted.

I didn’t reply.

“Terrible business,” he added.

“Yes,” I said.

I could hear them, boots clomping upstairs, drawers opening and closing, cabinets squeaking and slamming. The minutes ticked by, each an eternity of worried torture. And then, they were done. The men returned to the table with sacks full of goods I couldn’t see, and the tallest thanked me and bid me goodbye.

“Stay safe,” he told me, as they stepped off my porch. I watched their backs until I could no longer see them, until they became as small and harmless as flies. I wished I could crush them just as easily.

“Go to Hell,” I said.

I tore into the house and took the stairs two at a time. I didn’t care about what else they might have taken, what chaos they left in their wake. I only cared about the ledger. I reached my bedroom, saw my blanket gone, and my sheets and pillows. But there, thank merciful Jesus, there on the dressing table sat the ledger, still wide open. Relief flooded my veins, washed over me like a spring rain, and I took my first full breath since I’d seen those soldiers coming my way.

I hid the ledger that night. I won’t say where, not even here, not even to myself. But it’s somewhere safe, somewhere, I hope, no one will think to look. And when this is over, joyful when this is over, it will still be there. I can’t return it to poor Mr. Partlow, but I know someone will keep it, when there is peace in the valley again.   


The Valley Chronicle, June 17, 2022

Contractors working to restore the old Poston House have made a remarkable discovery in the walls of the home.

“It’s pretty incredible,” said George Roberts, head of the project. “I’ve never had a find quite like this.”

Work began as usual on Monday morning, starting first on the old chestnut staircase. Hidden in the wall between the floor and the lath and plaster, just above the top step, they found what local historians believe to be the town’s Civil War-era ledger, a record of all trades and barters that opens an invaluable and fascinating window into the past.

“It’s truly a rare gift to have this artifact in our hands,” said Roy Galloway, curator of the valley’s Museum of Pioneer Life and beloved high school history teacher.

Mr. Galloway believes that Mrs. Gayle Poston, owner of the home at the time of the Civil War, hid the ledger for safekeeping.

“It would have put the whole community in danger,” he said. “She was a clever woman to hide it like she did.”

As for why the item was still there, Mr. Galloway says that when she died in 1864, before the end of the war, she likely hadn’t shared its secret location.

“No one knew,” he said. “That’s all I can think. Otherwise, we certainly wouldn’t have found it here today.”

Plans are currently being made to restore and preserve the ledger, after which it will be displayed in the museum for public viewing.

“Just incredible,” Mr. Roberts repeated, before getting back to work. He says the home should be complete and ready for its next owner by the fall of this year.


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

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

Dark, Dark, Dark

Fairy Tale

Spring Mountain Child

Holley’s Flood

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 June.

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.

February’s Short Story

It’ll be up tomorrow! It’s been a busy day choosing some finishing touches for our basement bathroom (which is still looking amazing and is so close to being done), and I feel like I need just a little more writing time. So, stop back by! This is going to be a fun one, I promise. 😊

And for now, enjoy this photo of a beautiful view from one of the local breweries here in my corner little of Virginia. We spent some time in the countryside yesterday and it was just lovely. If it’s going to be spring in winter, might as well enjoy it, right?

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.

Ancestor (A Short Story)

They say it all started with the boys. Two little boys dead in a barn fire, tucked into wooden coffins with beautiful, painted masks covering their burned faces. It’s quite an image – one account says they looked like dolls – and I can see why people remembered it.

I’ve been a descendant of Callie Belle Warner my whole life. Some people don’t believe me when I say that, because to them, the Green Witch of Highgarden is nothing but a fable. She’s the monster under the bed, the warning to naughty children. She’ll stalk you through the woods at night. She’ll trap you in a dark place, and you won’t come out the same. She’s a legend. She isn’t real.

I can promise you: She is.

See, that’s the thing about stories. They all start somewhere. Callie Belle Warner was just as real as you and me and Highgarden.

“And I think it’s about time we separate the woman from the witch.”

I’m standing at a podium in Highgarden’s Town Hall. I can tell by the faces in front of me, a combination of boredom and worry, that this speech of mine is not going well.

“Of course, to do that, we’ve got to accept that there was a woman named Callie Belle Warner, and that she lived at Green Hollow Farm, and that she had children who had children, and that eventually led to me.”

The mayor taps his pen to his yellow legal pad and gives the smallest shake of his head. This is, apparently, a hard sell.

“And I’m here tonight to ask that we, as a town, make an effort to tell her real story, my family’s story. Surely now, after what we’ve all been through these last few years, we can agree that a painful truth is better than a fancy lie. And that’s all I’m asking for tonight, that we tell the truth.”

I take a breath, and look down at my notes.

“She was just a woman, a young widow, and we’ve turned her into something awful. No one deserves that.”

I look back up. I trail my eyes down the line of Town Council members on the dais.

“And so, that’s what I came to say, and thank you for your time.”

Later, my mother drives me home.

“I don’t know why you’re so obsessed with this,” she says. “It makes absolutely no difference how people talk about this woman. She’s been dead for two centuries.”

“I’m just trying to be a good ancestor,” I say.

“You’re making our whole family look crazy,” my mother insists.

And maybe I am.

“I don’t understand why everyone always looks so worried and scared when I talk about this” I tell my mother.

“They’re not worried or scared,” she says. “They’re annoyed with you. You’re wasting their time.”

“The truth doesn’t feel like a waste,” I say back. “How long does this go on? How many more generations of us have to live with it?”

“You could just move,” she tells me. “You’re not stuck in Highgarden.”

“This is my home,” I say. “I shouldn’t have to move away to live in peace.”

“We do live in peace,” my mother snaps. “You’re the only one who can’t let this go.”

“I know,” I say. “That’s clear after tonight. I meant at peace with myself. I can’t live in peace with myself until I know I’ve cleared her name.”

My mother stays silent, and we leave it there.

The next day, I walk to the only café in town for coffee and breakfast. I sit down, and before I’ve even put down my bag, on the table next to me, I see it. The headline on today’s paper is big and bold and it reads: JUSTICE FOR THE GREEN WITCH.

“You did that,” May says, as she drops off my egg sandwich. “And here I thought no one cared.”

May’s family has lived in Highgarden as long as mine. No one knows quite how old she is, exactly, and I’m pretty sure she babysat me, my mother, and my grandmother. And maybe my grandmother’s grandmother.

“I don’t think they do,” I say.

I’ve scanned the article while she’s been standing beside me. It’s not friendly. People really do think I’m crazy.

May puts a firm hand on my shoulder and says, “Sometimes you have to fight harder.”

I nod.

She starts to walk away, turns back and says, “And sometimes it’s best to know when to quit.”

“It just doesn’t sit right with me,” I say to her back, as it gets farther and father away from me.

May’s around the corner, out of hearing distance and doubtless already busy with some other task. Outside, it’s started to snow.

When, I wonder, did all of this start? When did I become obsessed, because truthfully, I think my mother’s right and that’s what I am, with Callie Belle Warner?

I know when it really started for Callie Belle. It wasn’t the boys, not that anyone cares, it seems. For her, it was before she even arrived in Highgarden, on a ship across an ocean, where she met James Warner. He brought her here, built a farm, and died before he turned forty. He left her alone with four boys and no help. And then two of their boys died in the fire, and she shouldered the blame. Only a villain, someone truly evil, would have allowed such a thing to happen to her own flesh and blood. And when two more children died, one of fever and one in the river, she was blamed for that, too. And it only got worse from there. Even after Callie Belle died, every little misfortune was somehow all her fault.

I know this, because I’ve done my research.

I don’t know how it happened that Callie Belle Warner, the real woman, became Callie Belle Warner, the legend. And I don’t know how to fix it. But at least I know the truth.

At this point, I feel like I know Callie Belle’s story better than my own.

And so, with nothing else to do, and no one willing to listen, I open my laptop, and I write.

My mother, I write, she named me Calliope Belle…


I’m sitting in a chair, and a woman who talks fast and moves faster is applying powder to my face.

“Just be yourself,” she tells me. “Everyone’s so obsessed with this book. You’ll do fine.”

And then I’m in front of a camera, and the lights are hot and bright. I don’t know quite where to look. It’s like a dream, but it’s real.

Someone beside me asks, “So, tell me where you got the idea for this story.”

And from somewhere far away, I hear myself answer, “Well, I was just trying to be a good ancestor.”


Thank you for reading! This is the eleventh of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2022 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Folklore

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

The Winter Woman

The Lady in the Stars

Silly Superstitions

In Search

Sally’s Mill

Tabula Rasa

The Day My Grandfather Met the Devil

Ghost Light

The Tale of Beauregard the Brave

Witch Hunt

I hope you join me in the challenge! I think it’s going to be a very good year for stories. But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here.

The next story, this year’s last, will be posted at the end of December.

Witch Hunt (A Short Story)

A large black cat curled itself around the corner of the newly-opened bakery and came to a stop by the back door, where it sat, still and straight, waiting. The door opened, and an old woman stepped out with a bowl of milk in her hands.

“You be careful tonight,” she said. “No trouble, no tricks, and no stealing souls.”

The old woman winked.

The cat blinked once.

“Stay out of sight,” the woman added, and smiled, and patted the cat’s soft head right between its ears. “And be good.”

She turned and closed the door, and the cat was alone. It blinked again, lapped at the milk, and was gone.


No one actually believed what we said about the old blacksmith’s house. Or the soldier on the bridge. Or the witch’s cave in the woods. Or the Mill, for that matter. Oh, I’m sure there were some ghost fanatics and pretend-mediums who did, but by and large, the village knew that the stories we told were just that – stories. Silly ghost stories to get people out here, wandering around, spending their money and time, funneling cash into our pockets. Stories are powerful like that.

You can call me cynical, I guess. I just don’t think there’s all that much wrong with giving people what they want in exchange for a tidy profit that keeps a village alive. But I digress. My point is, we were not what you’d call a superstitious lot.

Everything changed the morning that Rosie Blankenship didn’t open her eyes.

It happened the day after Halloween. The village’s children had spent the night collecting candy, parading from house to house, a whirlwind of color and giggles, and Rosie, as she always did, had led the pack. Rosie always led. She never followed. She lived her young life in perpetual motion, a bright star to light the way, talking, singing, dancing, laughing, and so when the news broke that she wouldn’t wake up, none of us really knew what to say.

“But she’s still breathing?”

“There’s color in her cheeks.”

“I’m sure it’s just the flu or something.”

“She’ll wake up soon. I know it.”

But Rosie didn’t wake, and as the days ticked on and turned to weeks, somewhere under the concern, the well-wishes and wishful thinking, something darker and more dangerous started to stir.

“You don’t think…?”

“How would it even be possible?”

“No one would ever want to hurt Rosie.”


Everyone became a suspect, even me. A wave of paranoia washed over us, all of us, until one day J.B. Michaels went to the chief of police and said:

“I think the baker did it.”

“The new one? Don’t know much about her, but she keeps to herself and no one’s complained about her shop.” And he added, “Mighty fine apple cider donuts, too.”

The chief crossed his arms, meant to close the conversation.

“The kids were there last,” J.B. went on. “She gave Rosie a special treat, my boy said. Made him awful jealous. Said she liked her costume best.”

“You know as well as I do that your boy tells stories, J.B. Remember the bear in the school hallway? Cost me a lot of time and manpower.”

“All I’m saying is, I think she has something to do with it, and if you don’t do something about it, then I will.”

And J.B. did. Came to my place first and told me all about his talk with the chief, and his certainty that this outsider was to blame, and weren’t we going to do something about that?

“J.B.,” I told him, “I think you’re jumping to conclusions. She seems like a nice old woman, and I like her red velvet cupcakes.”

“I tell you, I think she had something to do with it. And what else could it be? It’s like she’s bewitched that poor little girl.”

“Now,” I said, and fixed him with a level, serious stare, “you’re talking like a crazy person. All that stuff, witches and ghosts and haunted houses, you know it’s not real. That’s a show for the tourists, J.B.”

“I don’t know anything anymore,” said J.B., “except that Rosie won’t wake up, and I don’t want my boy to be next.”

To this day, I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know how he turned made-up stories into real life fears, but by the next week, J.B. had rallied an angry crowd in front of the bakery, and they demanded the baker come out and explain herself.

“If you have nothing to hide,” J.B. yelled through the closed shop door, “then you have nothing to worry about.”

The baker did not oblige, and the chief showed up to break up the mob.

“You all go home and leave that woman alone,” he yelled over the murmurs and the protestations.

But all that anger needs a place to go, and J.B. did not give up.

There were small incidents. Someone spray-painted “WITCH” in dark rust red on the bakery’s front window, and later someone threw a rock through it. The baker had it replaced, though with what money, I don’t know. No one ever walked into her shop anymore.

Things came to a head once the weather turned truly cold. I don’t know if he had help, if he did it himself, or if someone, or several someones, worked with him. I honestly don’t know if he even did it at all. But on the first night of December, under a new moon and plenty of darkness, the bakery caught fire. And the fire spread fast, too fast for anyone to help.

In the smoldering ashes the next day, the police and firemen searched. If the baker was in there, the fire had burned hot enough to leave nothing of her to find. And if she wasn’t, she was lucky. Either way, she was gone. Not a trace of her.

“Chief,” I said, “you know who did this.”

“It’s too early to say.”

“It’s not, and you know it.”

“I know that this town has seen enough suspicion and sadness lately.”

And on a bench across the street, there sat J.B., looking as smug and self-satisfied as a dog in possession of a fresh new bone.

The ultimate cause of the fire, I learned later, was never determined. And J.B. moved away the next month. Good riddance, I say. And as soon as he was gone, things calmed down. People started talking to each other again, pretending they weren’t part of that mob, going about their business as if nothing had happened. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

And so that’s it. The baker’s gone. I realize, I never even knew her name. She’s not forgotten, and she likely never will be, but we don’t talk about her. J.B.’s gone, too. We never could prove he did it. We’ll never know if he did it alone. I think I’m probably the only one who really wants to know, at the end of the day. We carry on our October traditions, welcoming travelers and ghost hunters to the village. What else can we do? But there’s a wariness now, a dark cloud over us, a thick, heavy fog that just won’t lift.

And still, Rosie sleeps.


In a town, somewhere far away, a large black cat curls itself around the corner of the newly-opened bakery and comes to a stop by the back door, where it waits, patiently, expectantly. The door opens, and a young woman steps out with a bowl of milk in her hands.

“You be careful tonight,” she says. “Remember last year.”

The cat blinks. Its tail twitches.

“I mean it this time,” the woman says, and smiles. “Be good.”

She turns and closes the door, and the cat sits, alone. It blinks once more, laps at the milk, and is gone.


Thank you for reading! This is the tenth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2022 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Folklore

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

The Winter Woman

The Lady in the Stars

Silly Superstitions

In Search

Sally’s Mill

Tabula Rasa

The Day My Grandfather Met the Devil

Ghost Light

The Tale of Beauregard the Brave

I hope you join me in the challenge! I think it’s going to be a very good year for stories. But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here.

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

The Tale of Beauregard the Brave (A Short Story)

The air had turned crisp and the leaves had only started to fall when the news reached the Burrow about Lady Enfield.

“They say it could happen any day now,” said Bronwen, Beau’s mother, as she fretted with her apron. “I wish we’d heard sooner!”

“How many is she expecting?” Beau’s sister, Betsy, hurried around their tiny kitchen, clanging pots and pans and moving in an almost perfect imitation of their mother.

“They say fourteen.”


From his seat at the table in the corner, Beau watched quietly as the two of them clamored around pulling carrots and potatoes from the cupboards. He had just started to wonder what his job might be in all this ruckus when Betsy whined: “Beau’s daydreaming again!”

“I am not,” he replied. “I was thinking about how I might help.”

Bronwen twitched her nose and thought for a moment. “Somebody will need to take the basket over, once the pies are done and cool enough.”

“I could do that,” said Betsy.

“No,” answered Bronwen. “Beau can do it. It’ll be later in the evening by then, and I’ll need you here to help put the little ones to bed.”

Betsy sulked, but Beau was happy enough with his assigned task. It would be dark once he left Farmer Hutcheson’s place, and the moon was set to be full tonight.

“All right, mother,” he said. “I’ll go and get ready now so you don’t have to wait for me.”

The fact of the matter was this – though he hadn’t been daydreaming just then, Beau did have a dream. A big dream, and one that his mother and sister called ridiculous and impossible. But Beau knew that he could make it happen, only he didn’t quite know how.

“You big dummy,” Betsy’d said, the night he told her about it. “No rabbit can jump as high as the moon.”

“One rabbit did,” Beau had replied. “And if he could do it, then I can, too.”

“And what would you even do up there?”

“I don’t much care,” said Beau. “All I know is, I’m sick to death of brambles and foxes.”

Betsy had only shaken her head, and it hadn’t taken long for his gossip of a little sister to share his dream with every creature big and small from the Burrow all the way to Little Washington.

It didn’t bother Beau that he became a laughingstock. He figured everybody laughs until you prove them wrong. And he was intent on proving everybody wrong. He’d let them talk their empty talk, and then he’d give them something to really talk about.

And so, on the night he took the basket of pies and fresh-picked crabapples over to Lady Enfield, it happened like this.

He had just started out on the path to Enfield Farm when he met Felicity Fieldmouse on her way home from seeing the Lady herself.  

“Evening, Mrs. Mouse,” he said.

“Good evening, Beauregard,” she said. “On your way over to see Lady Enfield?”

“Mother and Betsy made pies,” he said. “I’m only the delivery boy. Is she all right?”

“Oh, she’s fine,” Felicity said. “Just fine. But you be careful now. It’ll be full dark and fox hour by the time you head back.”

“I will, ma’am,” he said.

“And Beauregard,” she added, “don’t you go on worrying your mama with your big talk and silly ideas.”

She nodded at him and moved on.

Beau walked a ways longer, almost to the farm. The shadows had grown and the sun had dipped below the horizon. Soon, the moon would rise.

“Almost time,” he said to himself.

“For what?” a voice answered.

“Who’s there?”

“I’ve gotten myself all tangled,” came the reply.

“Who might you be?” Beau asked.

“Well, I’m not sure I should say, on account of I don’t think you’d help me if you knew.”

Beau wasn’t a scaredy-hare, but he knew better than to get too close to a carnivore, especially alone and in the dark. And so he asked, “Well, do you plan to hurt me if I help you?”

“No,” the voice answered.

“And if I help you, you won’t change your mind?”

“No, sir,” said the voice. “I’m a bird of my word.”

Well, Beau thought to himself, that sure could be useful. But he didn’t have a chance to reply before the voice cried out, “Oh! I shouldn’t have said that!”

“It’s all right,” Beau said. “As long as you won’t harm me if I get close, I’ll help you get unstuck. But if you’re a bird like you say, I wonder if you might do me a favor in return.”

“I reckon that’s fair,” said the voice.

“All right, then,” Beau said.

“Oh, thank you,” said the voice. “Thank you very much! I’m just over to your right, I think.”

Beau placed the basket gently on the side of the path, and made his way toward the right, into a thicket of dead twigs and creeper vines. As he tiptoed carefully along the ground, he saw the stranger. He gasped and said, “You’re an eagle! How’d you get all twisted up in this mess?”

And the poor eagle was sorely stuck.

“Well,” said the eagle, “the truth is, I just wanted to see what was down here. My ma says I’m too curious, but I’ve always wondered what it might be like, just to walk around on the ground. Don’t do much of that, you see?”

“I see,” said Beau, and he set about getting the eagle untangled. It was quite the job, but Beau was patient. And the eagle was friendly, as it turned out.

“My name’s Everett,” he said.

“Beauregard Bunny,” said Beau.

“What’s got you out so late, Mr. Bunny?”

“Well,” Beau explained, “the Lady Enfield’s about to have piglets, and my mama and sister baked up a storm this afternoon so she’d have some nice treats once they’re born.”

“That’s mighty nice,” said Everett. “My ma’s not much of a baker.”

“Neither am I,” said Beau, “so I agreed to take them over. But, and here’s where I need that favor you promised…”

“I’m listening,” said Everett.

“Well, see, you might think I’m crazy.”

“No crazier than an eagle who wants to live on the ground.”

“I have a dream,” Beau started, and then stopped. “It’s a big dream. See, I think we’re only as small as our dreams, and I know I’m a small animal, but this dream is pretty big. And I think you might be able to help me, just like I’ve helped you.”

“And you have!” Everett crawled out of the vines and fluffed his feathers. “I was worried I might be stuck in there forever. I surely do owe you one, Beauregard Bunny.”

“Okay, then I’ll just come right out with it,” Beau said quickly. And added, “You better not laugh at me.”

“I would never,” said Everett. “You didn’t laugh at me.”

“I want to hop as high as the moon.”

“The moon?”

“Yep,” said Beau. “And I figure, if you fly me up as high as you can, that’ll give me a good head start, right?”

“Why would a rabbit want to go to the moon?” Everett asked, and cocked his white head to the side.

“The same reason you want to explore the world down here on the ground, I reckon. It’s something different, right? And some people say there’s already a rabbit up there, and maybe even a goddess, and I’m just so tired of doing the same thing every day.”

“All right, Mr. Rabbit,” said Everett. “You helped me, so I’ll help you. Climb on up.”

“Well, I’ve got to drop this basket off at the farm first. Would you want to walk along with me?”

“That sounds nice, actually. Real nice.”

And so the two new friends walked along the path together until they reached Enfield Farm. Later on, several of the Bunny family’s neighbors reported seeing them, an odd pair, laughing and talking together. They remarked that Beauregard had always been a bit different, and that they weren’t surprised at all, and what probably happened was that that big old eagle ate poor Beauregard for dinner. But Beau and Everett didn’t notice anyone at all. They found they were a lot alike, really, and then they laughed about that, too.

Lady Enfield had indeed delivered fourteen little pink piglets, and she was grateful for the lovely basket, she said, and for the apples, too. Beau said she was welcome, and wished her well, and told her to send a message if she needed anything.

Everett hid on the edge of the farm. He didn’t want to scare anyone. But when Beau was in sight, he called out, “All right and healthy with the Lady and her littles ones?”

“Right as rain in summer,” Beau said.

“I’m glad,” said Everett.

“Me, too,” said Beau.

“Now,” said Everett, “about that favor. Are you sure you’re not afraid to fly?”

“Oh, I am afraid,” said Beau. “But I’m going to do it anyway.”

“Then climb on up, and hold on tight.”

Beau had wondered what it would be like, to rise up and soar through the sky. It was better and scarier and more amazing than he’d ever imagined. He trembled to be so far off the ground, but he also breathed in the cold air and looked up at the stars.

“I’ve never seen them from so close,” he yelled over the rush of the wind in his ears. “They twinkle like diamonds!”

Higher and higher the friends climbed, until Everett said, “This is about as far as I can go. Is it enough, do you think?”

Beau shook off a wave of fear and doubt. “It’ll have to be,” he said.

“You’re sure about this?”

“I am,” Beau said. And then again, louder and firmer, “I am.”

“Then I suppose I should thank you before you go. I’m glad it was you who happened upon me in that awful mess.”

“You know,” Beau said to Everett, “you’re awfully nice, for a bird of prey.

“And you’re awfully brave,” Everett said to Beau, “for a tiny rabbit.”

“I’m glad you got stuck in that thicket,” Beau said. “Thanks for helping me.”

“Thanks for helping me,” Everett said, his voice thick with tears he was determined not to show. If little Beau could be brave, then surely he could too. So he just said, “Now hop, and hop high, and I just know you’re going to make it. And when you do, I’ll look up every night and I’ll think of you.”

And Beau did hop. He hopped as hard and as high as he could, right off of Everett’s back. And as Everett watched his new friend go up higher and higher into the night sky, he couldn’t help but shed a tear.

“You’re right, Beau,” he said, but to himself, because Beau was much too high up to hear him. “We are only as small as our dreams.” And with that, he flew away.

There are some who say that Beauregard Bunny never made it to the moon, that he fell back to Earth, just like he should have known he would. They say he was a foolish rabbit.  Others believe he’s still up there, and on the brightest nights, when the moon is a round, golden orb in the dark sky, you can see him. Everett, for his part, looks up every night, even to this day, and smiles at his unlikely friend.

And Beau? Well, he’d tell you that it’s an awfully good view from up there.   


Thank you for reading! This is the nineth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2022 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Folklore

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

The Winter Woman

The Lady in the Stars

Silly Superstitions

In Search

Sally’s Mill

Tabula Rasa

The Day My Grandfather Met the Devil

Ghost Light

I hope you join me in the challenge! I think it’s going to be a very good year for stories. But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here.

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