Category Archives for "Stories"

Feb 17

Fantasy Friday: The Raven

By Melinda VanLone | Stories , Thoughts

City Park...New Orleans ©Melinda VanLone

“Nevermore.”

Marcie frowned at Diego as they walked. He’d completely interrupted her thought. “What?”

“Nevermore.” He offered her a crooked grin. “Quoth the raven, and all that.”

She grabbed his hand and pulled him to a stop. “Have you heard anything I’ve been saying? Anything at all?”

“You’ve been ranting for almost an hour. I listened to every word, I swear.”

“They why are you suddenly quoting Poe?”

Diego pointed up. “Haven’t you noticed? He’s been following us. I think he likes the sound of your voice.”

She looked up and saw the bird, high above them. It didn’t move, or make a sound.

“Creepy.” A chill trickled down her back. “I don’t think it’s a he, though. I think it’s a she.”

“Lenore?” Diego nudged her, laughing. “I suppose it could be.”

Marcie pushed him back. “I’m serious. She looks hungry, too.”

Marcie jumped as a soft voice behind them sent her heart into overload. “She is. She’s very, very hungry. It’s been a long time since she’s feasted.”

They turned to see a woman standing in the path behind them. Her long black hair blended into a black cloak which draped from her shoulders to the ground. Her black eyes sparkled as though lit by a private, internal sun.

The woman extended a hand, her long elegant fingers offering to swallow theirs. “Come. Join us.”

Marcie backed away from the hand as if it were on fire. Her heart rushed blood through her ears making it difficult to hear.

“Diego, come on!” She screamed, but Diego didn’t turn. He inched toward the woman as if mesmerized.

“Diego!” Marcie tugged at his arm but he shrugged her off.

He placed his hand on top of the woman’s as if he were her lover. The woman placed her other hand on top of his. Her eyes flashed. Marcie blinked at the sudden bright light on an otherwise grey day.

When she opened her eyes, Diego was gone.

A raven now perched on the woman’s hand. She cooed at it, then lifted her hand to the sky. The bird flew up to the top branch to join the other.

“Who are you?” Marcie could barely whisper the word, her throat was so constricted.

“My name is Lenore.” The woman lifted her lips into a wide smile that never reached her eyes.

Feb 10

Fantasy Friday: Romance on the Gallery

By Melinda VanLone | Stories , Thoughts

Sharon stepped out onto the balcony and took a deep breath. The fresh morning air, touched with damp, was a delight. She knew later in the day it would feel more like a sauna, but for now it cleared her mind and awakened her senses. She glanced over to her right and started when she saw a man sitting in the chair under the tree, staring back at her. She relaxed as he nodded his head and smiled.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there.” She offered him a smile.

“I did not mean to frighten. Please, join me. The morning is pleasant, and I could do with pleasant company with which to share it.” The man made a surprisingly elegant gesture to the chair next to him. He must be an artist, or maybe a musician. There were so many of them here.

Sharon sat down. Now that she was closer to him, she could see he was quite good looking, in an old fashioned sort of way. He wore a suit, of all things. Maybe he had a business meeting later. His hair was a bit long, sandy, and his eyes were dark brown. They twinkled as he watched her examine him.

“My name is Henri Renaud, at your service ma’am.” He tipped an imaginary hat at her and offered her a half-bow.

“Very chivalrous, Mr. Renaud. I’m Sharon. Are you enjoying your stay in New Orleans?”

She was puzzled to see his face dim momentarily. It brightened a second later as if a cloud had merely passed over the sun.

“How could I fail to enjoy such lovely scenery?” His blatant stare left her soul stripped bare.

She felt heat rise in her cheeks. What a flirt! There was something very old fashioned about the way he spoke. He sounded French, but it was more than that. She was about to ask him where he was from when he coughed. A loud, wracking cough. The kind of cough someone with pneumonia might have after smoking a cigarette. He covered his face with both hands as the fit possessed him.

“Are you ok? Do you need some water? I can get some from my room. Here, I’ll be right back!”

He waved his hand in protest as he bent over in another cough. Sharon ignored him and raced back into her room. She grabbed a glass from the tray by the TV, then filled it with water from the bathroom tap. Better than nothing. She hurried back out to the veranda. Henri looked quite at ease again, the coughing fit gone as if it had never been.

“Well, just in case.” She sat the water down on the table between them.

“I appreciate the kind gesture. Tell me, what brings someone so lovely here at this particular moment?”

“Oh, I just needed a break. Work was getting…well, let’s just say my job isn’t something I look forward to when I get up in the morning. I thought if I got away for a bit I might find it easier to take.”

“You are unmarried?” Henri raised an eyebrow. “I’m delighted to hear it, and yet surprised. There is no one to take care of you?”

She laughed. “No, not married. I haven’t found the one yet. Though I do keep trying. Who knows, maybe I’ll meet him on Bourbon street.”

Henri shook his head, and frowned slightly. “You will not find what you are looking for on Bourbon street.”

“Where would you suggest I look, then, Mr. Renaud?” She tilted her head at him.

“I would suggest that this gallery is an ideal place to start your search.” His eyes twinkled, and he tipped his imaginary hat again.

The next moment he was bent over double in a cough that shook his entire body.

Sharon jumped up from her chair. “You need help! I’ll be right back.”

She raced back into her room and picked up the phone next to the bed. She hit 0 without even thinking about it. After waiting a second or two she realized she’d never heard a dial tone. She had her cell, but she didn’t have the number of the hotel programmed in. It would be faster just to run down the stairs.

Sharon ripped open the door and pushed through it. She ran as fast as she could down the old, narrow hallway, down the stairs and to the check-in desk. The chair behind the counter was empty.

“Shit.” She pounded on the counter with her fist. “Help! Someone help”

She saw a bell on the counter and started to beat on it. The sound rang through the empty foyer. Ding. Ding! Ding! Ding!

Finally, she saw a man come around the corner from a room somewhere in the back. His gray hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in days. When she’d checked in, she’d found it endearing. Now, though, not so much.

“Help! There’s a man on the upstairs balcony who is choking. Please, call 911.”

“I’m sorry?” The man looked confused.

She stomped her foot. “Call 911, dammit! There’s a man choking to death upstairs. He must be staying in the room next to mine. He’s on the balcony!”

The old man shook his head. “There cain’t be. You the only guest on that floor. All the doors are locked. And nobody’s come through the door this mornin’. I’d have heard the bell. There just cain’t be anyone on that gallery. ‘Cept you.”

“I’m telling you what I saw, dammit. A very nice man is dying! Right now. Where is the damn phone, I’ll call myself.” She moved around the desk and pushed past the old man, frantic to find the phone. Her heart pounded in her chest. He was dying! Dammit, she couldn’t move fast enough. Her hands fumbled through the papers on the messy desk.

“Ms. Preston.” The old man’s quiet voice cut through her panic like a knife. “Ms. Preston. You the only living guest on that floor.”

“He’s dead already?’ Her voice squeaked. “He was still breathing when I left. He’s just sick. He needs help.”

The man shook his head, his eyes filled with kind sadness. It was an expression usually reserved for funerals or really sick people. “Ms. Preston, the man you saw died a long, long time ago. His name was Henri, and he’d come to New Orleans to seek a new life, and, some say, a wife. He died in the fire. The big fire that wiped out the town. Surely you heard the stories.”

The old man put a comforting hand on her arm. “He just ain’t been able to let go of his quest. He only shows hisself to women, and I can see why he took a likin’ to you. But he ain’t in pain no more, Ms. Preston. And there’s nothin’ anyone here can do for him.”

Sharon stood there, shaking. Adrenaline coursed through a body that suddenly had nowhere to go. She felt tears rise in her eyes and tried to blink them away. This just couldn’t be true. Never mind the sad story. She knew what she saw. And heard. He was there. He was real. She’d seen the sparkle in his eyes. She wasn’t losing her mind. She wasn’t. Was she?

“Will he still be there? To say goodbye?” She whispered. She could barely breathe, the sobs choked off her air. More than anything, it hurt to think the first man who had felt real to her, the first man to show the kind of interest that could mean a lifetime together, didn’t actually have a life at all. He was probably just a figment of her imagination, brought on by too many Hurricanes and maybe a little voodoo.

“I can’t imagine he’ll be able to stay away from a pretty thing like you. Not during Carnival.” The old man offered her a smile. “Go on, now.”

She made her way slowly up the stairs. Tears streamed down her face but she didn’t bother to brush them away. After all, she was alone on the second floor. Nobody there to see.

She stood in her room for a long time, staring at the open balcony door. Would he be there? How was this possible? She didn’t believe in ghosts. This was ridiculous. But, he’d been so nice. She’d been so excited by his courtesy, his twinkling eyes, his smile…his genuine interest in her. Wasn’t that what she’d come to New Orleans for? Something new, something different?

She half giggled through a sob. Well, he might not be new, but he was certainly different.

If he was even still there.

She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and ran a nervous hand through her hair. Then she stepped out onto the balcony.

Jan 20

Fantasy Friday: Beauty and the Old Tire

By Melinda VanLone | Photos , Stories , Thoughts

“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Serin squatted down next to the old tire. Her crisp, blue uniform created a contrast against the green field behind her.

Bran wondered how nobody had picked up on just how beautiful she was. Her black hair whipped around in the breeze now that she’d taken it out of the regulation ponytail.

“You have, you just didn’t recognize it when you saw it. They used to use these on transports all the time. Now they’ve all been recycled into the running tracks and things like that.”

Bran knelt on one knee beside her and leaned an elbow against his thigh for support. He pulled on a blue flower, and the whole thing came up by the roots. He’d only meant to pull the top off. He thought it would look fantastic in her hair, but not with roots and dirt dangling from it. He tossed it aside, then wiped his hands on his pants.

“Not that.” Serin turned to glare at him. “That!” She pointed at the tire.

Bran leaned in. He sniffed, wrinkling his nose at the smell drifting off the rubber object. He didn’t see anything unusual. Just the tire, overgrown with weeds.

She sighed heavily. “Of course I know what a tire is, you idiot. They teach history in school, you know. I meant this thing.” She leaned down and poked at the bit of purple that he’d tossed aside.

“The flower? You serious?” His heart thumped in his throat. He knew she’d been sequestered in that fancy, rich girl’s school but he’d never anticipated this. “Ain’t you ever been outside?”

“Of course I have been outside.” She drew herself up to standing, and stared down at him. She looked every bit the heir to the fortune she was supposed to be.

Bran stood up. He moved closer to her, pushing past the normal personal space she allowed. “You don’t, do you?”

“I…” She gulped, then stepped back.

He stepped forward. “You’ve never seen a blue bonnet? What about the rest of it? Have you felt the sun beating down on your face and shoulders? Have you ever felt swallowed whole by the sky? Have you ever felt truly free?”

Serin tried to step back from him, but he shot his hand out to grab her arm. He leaned closer to her, until he could stare straight into her eyes. Damn, he could get lost in those eyes. They blazed like the summer sky. He saw fear. He saw comprehension. He saw hope. Above all, he saw a spark of something he’d been hoping for himself.

He cupped her face with his other hand. “There’s so much more than what they teach in those schools, Serin.”

He didn’t lean in. He wanted her to want this as much as he did. He wanted her to make the first move. He wanted her…that’s it. He just wanted her.

Her eyes twinkled, and he saw her lips curl in the faintest hint of a smile. When she spoke, her breath caressed his cheek and warmed his heart.

“Show me.”

Jan 13

Fantasy Friday: The Girl in the Window

By Melinda VanLone | Stories , Thoughts

“You know, we’ve walked by here every day for a year and I’ve never noticed that before.” Stella paused on the cracked sidewalk. She rubbed her arms. Even in her red wool jacket, the chill made her joints ache.

“What?” Margie continued on for a few more feet before she stopped. She tapped her foot, and then pushed the loose strands of gray hair out of her face.

“There’s a face in that window up there. A young girl.” She nodded toward the upstairs window of the old house in front of them. “No, don’t be so obvious!”

Margie squinted at the window. “I don’t see anything.”

“She looks sad. Or thoughtful. Something. I’ve never seen a girl playing outside.”

“Kids don’t go outside anymore. They sit on their cans in front of computer screens and have virtual lives.” Margie snorted. “Come on. I’m cold.”

Stella shuffled her feet. The girl in the window watched them go.

*****

The next day, Stella slowed well before the house, to give herself time to look at the house and the window. Most of the leaves had drifted to the ground over the past few weeks, leaving the view unobstructed. The house hadn’t seen a paint brush in over a decade, she’d guess. She’d never seen anyone working in the yard. Without leaves on the trees to dress it up, the lonely house looked dejected. Bare branches reflected on the glass, making it difficult to get a good look inside. They reached the same crack in the sidewalk as the day before. Stella paused. Yes, there she was.

“She’s there again. The girl in the window.”

“Stella, I don’t have time for this today. So what if a girl lives there.” Margie reached out to tug at Stella’s hand.

Stella allowed her friend to pull her along. She was right. It made no difference. Not really. Yet, she seemed so sad. Thoughtful beyond her years. Isolated. Stella felt her heart sink as she thought of what life must be like for the girl. Whatever kept her in that house must be serious.

*****

Every day, for a week, they took their walk. Every day, for a week, Stella slowed to a stop by the crack on the sidewalk and peered up at the window. And every day, for a week, the young girl looked thoughtfully down at her. She never smiled. She never waved. She never pointed. She never left the window.

The days turned blustery and frigid. Storms would arrive soon, bringing with them a coating of snow and ice that would make these walks treacherous until the spring. She and Margie were getting a little too old for ice skating down cracked sidewalks, so they decided they’d take one more walk and then start using the local mall for their exercise.

Out of habit, Stella stopped at the crack in the sidewalk by the old house. She glanced up. The girl in the window stared down at her for a moment, then stepped away from the window. Stella blinked, then squinted. The window remained empty.

“I’m going to go say hello.” She turned to the front door of the house, then beckoned for her friend to join her. “Come on, it’ll only take a minute.”

“I’m getting my hair done, Stella. I don’t want to be late.” Margie heaved a sigh.

“Just a minute.” Stella marched up the steps to the door and knocked. Margie remained on the sidewalk.

After several loud knocks, Stella was just about to give up when the door swung open. An old woman stood there. She had to be in her late 80s, maybe even mid-90s. Wrinkles cascaded over her face. She wore a faded, shapeless blue dress and a kind smile. A faded blue ribbon held her gray hair in a tight ponytail.

“Yes?” The old woman raised her eyebrows.

“Uh, Hi,” Stella stammered. “I’m sorry to bother you, it’s just…I just wanted to say hello to the young girl in the window. We pass by here every day, and it seems rude to not say hello.”

Behind her, Margie stomped her feet. Probably to urge her to leave, but she made it look like it was to hold off the cold that was setting in by rubbing her arms briskly.

“You mean my window?” The old woman furrowed her eyebrows.

“Yes, the upstairs window. The one by the old tee and the holly bush.” Stella pointed to the side of the house. “She watches us every day.”

“I’m the only one here, and I assure you I haven’t been upstairs in years.” The woman smiled. “Perhaps it’s just reflections in the window looking at you.”

Stella looked back at Margie. Her friend had started to pace back and forth.

“You’re sure? There’s no young girl upstairs?” Stella looked the old woman straight in the eye.

“No, dear. It’s been any years since anyone referred to me as a girl.” The old woman’s eyes twinkled. “I do appreciate the visit. Perhaps when the weather warms up I could join you on your walks.”

Stella nodded. Her mind raced. “We’d like that.”

They said good bye and the old woman slowly closed the door. “I know what I saw,” she muttered.

*****

The old woman returned to the living room and sat down in her favorite chair. She picked up the cup she had sat down on the small table next to the chair and took a sip before she began to rock.

“They seem nice.” The soft voice next to her made her smile.

“Yes, they do.”

“They come by every day.”

“Yes, they do.” The old woman looked up. A young girl stood next to her. She wore a simple, shapeless blue dress and her pale hair was pulled back into a pony tail with a bright blue ribbon. “You are welcome to join them. I’m sure the one lady would be happy to have you.”

“The other isn’t as grouchy as she seems.” The girl smiled. “You won’t mind?”

“No, dear. It’s time. They’ll stop by once more.”

“How can you be sure?” The girl frowned.

“Human nature, dear girl. Human nature.”

*****

The next day’s weather forecast was grim, but Stella insisted on one more walk.

“Come on, the sidewalk is dry! Just one more. I know what I saw. I’ll prove it!” Stella threw gloves at her friend.

Margie grumbled, but she tugged on the gloves, then her coat. “Fine. One more time. But that’s it. I’m getting too old to hang out in the cold like this.”

They stepped out into the gray light and started walking. Stella set a brisker pace than usual. She was anxious to get to the house. Margie complained that they were moving too fast, but Stella barely listened. The girl had to be held captive or something. She’d prove the girl was there, then she’d call the police. There was something very wrong about that house.

They reached the crack in the sidewalk and stopped. Margie stomped her feet. “Hurry up, then. I don’t want to hang around here all day and catch our death.”

Stella squinted up at the window. It looked black. The sun, obscured by clouds, refused to cast any shadows or illumination into the room beyond. The young girl wasn’t there. She stared hard, willing the child to show herself. She remained stubbornly absent.

“Damn,” Stella whispered.

“Told you. Can we go now?”

Stella stepped forward, then paused. “I know she was there.”

“Well, even if she was, it’s no business of yours. Come on, let’s go.” Margie tugged at her arm, then started walking ahead of her. Stella reluctantly followed, glancing back every other step at the house. As they reached the end of the street she could swear she saw the door open. But the old woman didn’t come outside and after a moment she shrugged and told herself she was being silly. Tomorrow they’d go to the mall where they’d be warm.

*****

“Are you sure?” the young girl’s worried eyes surveyed the old woman.

“Yes, dear. I’m sure.” The old woman rocked. “It’s time. You go on.”

The girl nodded, then leaned down. The old woman stopped rocking to accept a kiss on the cheek. She smiled.

The girl turned to go. She opened the door, took one last look at the old woman, then stepped out into the cold and shut the door behind her.

*****

Stella stomped up the steps to her house. It had already begun to snow. There would be no more walking outside until the spring. It was just as well. Her recent obsession with the girl in the window wasn’t healthy. Just inside the door, she shrugged out of her coat and threw it on the coat tree.

A soft tap at the door startled her. She turned to stare at it. Now who would be out in weather like this?

She looked through the peephole and saw nothing but snow falling. Must have just been the wind, she told herself. She headed down the hallway toward the kitchen.

A soft tap behind her stopped her. There was definitely someone there. She returned to the front door and pulled it open. The stoop held nothing but footprints in the gathering snow.

“Hello?” She called out. Nothing answered her. Even birds were huddled down to wait out the storm. The world had taken on a hush that she’d always found magical. “Well, whoever you are, come in. It’s cold out.” She laughed at herself, then shut the door.

*****

Later, she sat drinking her tea and thought back to the tapping at the door. Something odd struck her that she hadn’t paid attention to. There’d been two sets of footprints on the step. One larger, one smaller. Like those of a girl. When she went back to check, however, snow had coated everything.

She shook her head. She was being silly. Still…she headed upstairs to the guest room. Just in case.

Jan 06

Fantasy Friday: How Mary Saved The Lawn

By Melinda VanLone | Photos , Stories , Thoughts

Yes, this tableau really is in someone’s yard, in Philadelphia. I nearly went to the door to ask why, but thought better of it.

“Mary, wait!” Patch grabbed my arm, which interrupted the spell I’d spent the past five minutes focused on.

“It’s now or never, Patch.” I gently removed the offending digits, then spread my arms out wide once more. My robes cascaded over my arms in a satisfying way. I never felt more regal, more…feminine, than when I was casting.

“You don’t get it. If you go through with this, I’m a goner! Dead meat. Nothing but a pile of scrap!”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, you’re nothing of the sort.” Honestly, he could be so exasperating. He always exaggerated. Like the time he swore we were nothing but lawn decorations. How wrong he was! Obviously we were all more than ornamentation.

“Just look at Charlie over there! Look what you did to him.”

I glanced over my shoulder at Charlie. “He’s just taking a nap.”

“That’s no nap. He’s stone cold!” Patch put his hand on my arm again. I hate that. I can’t cast when someone is touching me. I tried to pull away but my feet were anchored to the ground – a side effect of the previous spell.

“He’s resting, Patch, nothing more. Now for the love of the Lord, let me do my work. This place needs my intervention.”

“This place needs to be condemned.” Patch let my arm go, but I could tell he was pouting.

“There is no place so far gone it can’t be saved with a little magic.” I spread my arms once more, and began the spell again. I felt it wrap around us, a binding of faith and magic and all things joyful. It was a wondrous moment, one of my best. A roar assaulted my ears, and the ground shook.

It began to rain. Hard.

“I’ve done it!” I would have jumped up and down with glee, but my feet remained anchored to the ground. “Did I tell you I’d do it! I’ve saved this place!”

It took awhile for me to notice that Patch hadn’t responded. I thought he must be pouting over my success. I turned, and saw only a pile of straw where Patch had once stood. Water puddled around the tattered remains of his shirt. I guess he was right, he was a goner. He should have had more faith. Without faith, my spells tended to have unexpected consequences.

“Charlie, I’m glad to see you truly believe.” I squinted at Charlie, so still by the tree, the weight of the cross he carried a burden even in rest.

“I believe you’re an idiot. They turned the sprinklers on, you fruitcake.” Charlie rolled on his side; the cross fell to the ground beside him.

I blinked. Sprinklers.

“I have the power to turn on sprinklers!” I shouted to the heavens. What wondrous, joyous news!

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