Category Archives for "Stories"

Dec 30

Fantasy Friday: Leap of Faith

By Melinda VanLone | Stories , Thoughts

Evie stared up at the building and shuddered. She’d never liked the tall ones. She’d rather keep her feet on the ground. Probably her gypsy heritage. The highest she liked to get was the back of a horse. But if she wanted the ability to save her people, she had to do it. She had to go up.

Inside, a massive foyer lined in swirled, black marble echoed with her footsteps as she approached the reception desk. The guard glanced at her, grunted, then pointed to a door next to the desk. Above the door, the word “Up” glowed green. A door on the other side of the desk sported the word “Down” in red.

She squared her shoulders and stepped toward the Up side. The door slid open as she approached with a soft, slick sound. It all seemed too easy. It felt like a trap. Still, her people counted on her. They needed this. They needed the ability to protect themselves from forces beyond their feeble attempts to fight. She stepped through the door. It slicked closed behind her with a click.

A number above the door glowed green and counted. 2..3..4..15..25. She blinked. The numbers jumped all over the place. 45..53..92..69..24…12…103. What the…

“Hello? This thing is broken. Anybody?” Her voice sounded thin, even to her own ears. She gulped, trying not to let the complete lack of response bug her. She’d heard that the journey must be made alone. Legends suggested some sort of test, but none explained exactly what. She hadn’t expected the test to be in an elevator, heading up a high rise to a floor you couldn’t see from the street. The numbers continued to jump all over the place. She closed her eyes and waited. It was better if she just didn’t watch.

A soft click startled her. Her eyes flew open, and her hands formed fists before she could stop them. The elevator door had evaporated, or so it seemed. Fog greeted her. Nothing but fog. The same fog she’d seen from the street, she assumed. She could see nothing in it. No people, no shadows of office furniture, no reception desk. Just the fog. The air smelled fresh and clean, something she hadn’t experienced in a long, long time. Even then it had been in the deepest part of the forest. She took a deep breath and savored it. It smelled like fresh overturned earth after a spring rain. The kind that wiped away the soot and made everything new again.

A soft ding sounded from inside the elevator. She glanced up, and saw the word “Exit” flashing in red above the door. This must be her floor, then. Except…there was no floor.

“Hello?”

Fog swirled.

“Hello? Is there a..well, a platform or something?”

Fog swirled.

“You don’t expect me to just walk out into the open air do you?”

Fog swirled.

Her heart pounded.

Evie gulped, but the movement caught in her throat. She looked down from the door. Fog swirled. She looked out. More fog. Exit flashed, faster now. The door must be about to close.

Her people…she was the only one to save her people. But nobody had told her it would mean stepping out of a perfectly good elevator into nothing but fog. What would happen? Most likely she’d plummet down however many stories that was to the pavement far below. Fog couldn’t hold her, no matter how dense. She licked her lips.

What if she didn’t step out?

She couldn’t face her people. She couldn’t go back and tell them she’d been a coward. They were counting on her. They would die if she didn’t. All of them. And if they died, she’d wish she had too.

Fog swirled.

Her heart pounded.

EXIT EXIT EXIT EXIT

Gathering every ounce of will power she possessed, she inched up to the edge of the door.

Fog swirled.

She lifted her right foot and extended it out.

Fog swirled.

Evie said a quick prayer to the Light, took a deep breath, and stepped out of the elevator.

*******

Not a nice place to leave it, I realize. It’s nearly New Year’s Eve and I feel like we are all about to step off the 2011 elevator, into the fog that is 2012. What will happen? Will we plummet to our deaths as the Mayan calendar ends? Will we find, like Indiana Jones did, that the leap of faith is rewarded with a nearly invisible path which will catch us? Or maybe something less dramatic. Maybe the fog will cradle us and give us a soft landing in the new year.

Thank you so much for keeping me company through my blogging journey in 2011.  I hope the new year brings you all that you hope and wish for, and maybe a hint of fantasy as well 🙂 

Happy New Year!

 

Dec 23

Fantasy Friday: Which Chair Would You Choose?

By Melinda VanLone | Stories , Thoughts

Meghan hadn’t noticed the chairs before. They graced the yard which stretched along the side of a house on the street she took every day. Usually she walked with her head down; too anxious to get to work and get the day over with to notice her surroundings. These days, however, she found herself walking slower. Taking her time to get to work. Dragging her feet. Dreading the day. Taking her time to get home. Dragging her feet. Dreading the evening. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d looked up while walking.

The day was slightly sunny with a chance of crap. Pretty typical for Philadelphia, and her life in general. She had no idea what made her pause, but she found herself stopped outside the fence which enclosed the small yard. She stared with fascination at the chairs she’d never noticed before. The way they were grouped in friendly conversation. The ease with which they surveyed the yard. She glanced around. The street remained remarkably empty. She must be late. Again. She’d be in trouble no matter when she showed up, so she might as well take a moment.

Her hands gripped the picket fence until a thorn from the brambles poked her finger.

“Ouch!” She stuck the offended finger in her mouth to suck off the blood. To her right, the gate swung open.

“Must be a ghost, inviting me in.” She laughed to herself. It wasn’t smart to trespass on private property in this part of the city. Still…she took a few hesitant steps toward the gate. She took a deep breath, then before she could talk herself out of it, she rushed through and over to the chairs. She pictured the home owner running out to demand she remove herself at once, and started to get an explanation ready. Hopefully they wouldn’t be carrying any loaded weapons.

Up close, the wood chairs looked weathered, but solid. Inviting. Enticing. It would be so relaxing to sit in one of them, if only for a moment. But which one. The choice seemed important, somehow.

“This is stupid. What possible difference could it make.” She shook herself and laughed. The sound was nervous and high pitched.

“What would you see?”

The old creaky voice behind her startled her so much she gave a small shriek as she swirled around.

“I’m sorry, I was just…” All excuses all flew out of her mind as she found herself confronted by a woman old enough to be her grandmother. The woman’s eyes twinkled, and a kind smile played on her face. Meghan relaxed a bit. “I was just admiring your chairs.”

The woman nodded. “What would you see? Which one draws you most?”

Meghan turned back toward the chairs. “I’m not sure. They all seem nice.”

“Which one draws you the most, Meghan?” The old lady whispered, but the words reached Meghan despite the distance between them.

She contemplated the chairs. Each drew her. If she had to pick one. If she were forced. If the woman insisted.

“I like them all. But…that one. Just a tiny bit.” Meghan pointed to the one on the right.

The old woman laughed. It was a nice, soft laugh. A comforting laugh; full of joy.

“If you would see the future, then you must sit. Please, sit.”

Meghan turned back to the woman. “What do you mean, see the future?”

For answer, the woman merely waved her hands toward the chair.

Meghan shrugged, then stepped forward and slowly lowered herself into the chair. She felt the hard wood under her legs, and saw the old woman smiling with delight.

The world around her swirled, as if someone hit a fast forward button. Meghan gripped the arms of the chair in panic. She screamed, but no sound emerged. Seasons flew by. Snow, heat, snow, heat. She lost count of how many times. It all blurred around her.

When things settled, she remained in the chair, but the chair was on a beach. Ocean waves crashed against rocks in the distance on the right, and licked the shore in front of her. A little girl worked diligently on a sandcastle a few yards away. Another splashed in the waves not far from the first. Seagulls cried over head, the sun warmed her shoulders, and salty air tickled her nose. She tried to stand, but found she couldn’t move from the chair. Frightened, she called out.

“Who are you? Where am I?”

The child didn’t respond.

Meghan looked around, frantic. The old woman had vanished along with the house.

“Sandra, come splash!” The child in the waves slapped her hands in the water. “The water is wonderful!”

“Oh don’t do it, Sandra, ocean waves are dangerous!” Meghan shouted out to her.

“I’m busy, Jenny! I’m building a castle!” Sandra didn’t even look up. Meghan watched as she carefully patted down the sides of the structure with wet sand. The waves reached a bit further up the shore, inching closer to the castle.

“Come on, come swimming with me! It’s fun!” Jenny stomped around, laughing as the water splayed out. She scooped some up with her hands and threw it toward Sandra.

“No, Jenny, I don’t like to swim.” Sandra took a bright, yellow bucket and began packing it with sand.

“How do you know, you’ve never tried it!” Jenny sounded exasperated.

“I just know.”

Meghan tried to get up again, but her arms remained locked on the arms of the chair. The ocean waves crawled higher on the beach and kissed the edge of the sandcastle. Sandra scrambled to shore up the side which threatened to crumble at the watery onslaught.

“Come on, Sandra! The waves are perfect. We can ride them to shore, see?” Jenny jumped as the next wave reached her and rode along with it, coming to rest on the sand just a few feet from Sandra. She rolled over on the sand and giggled.

“Help me save my castle!” Sandra was frantic as she tried to protect her little house from the impending doom.

“Let it go, Sandy. We can build it again.” Jenny held out a hand to Sandra. “You always build castles. Come try something new.”

Sandra sat back, looking defeated as another wave covered her feet and washed away half of her castle. Meghan’s eyes brimmed with tears as her heart went out to the girl who’d worked so hard on something so easily destroyed.

“It’s just sand. Come on.” Jenny took Sandra’s hand and pulled her up. “I’ll show you just when to jump.”

Sandra took one last look back. For a moment, her eyes met Meghan’s. With a start she realized the girl could see her. Sandra gave her the smallest, watery smile. Meghan smiled back. For no good reason, tears streamed down her face.

“Go on, play in the waves. Try something new.” Meghan couldn’t stop the small sob that escaped as she encouraged the girl.

Sandra nodded as she allowed Jenny to pull her away.

The world around her dissolved with the next wave. By the time the water receded, she found herself in the small yard in Philadelphia. The yard, and the street, stood empty. Meghan rose from the chair slowly, then left the yard. On the street, she started to walk toward the store where she worked. Then stopped. She looked back at the yard and the three chairs. The future. The woman had said the future. In the back of her mind she could hear Jenny calling “Come swim! Try something new!”

Meghan hesitated, then started off in a direction she’d never taken before. It was time to find a place to swim.

****

If you happened upon three chairs, and if they happened to be the sort which could show you the past, present, or future, and you could only choose one…which would you choose?

 

 

Dec 16

Fantasy Friday: Leaves and Leave-taking

By Melinda VanLone | Stories , Thoughts

I read somewhere on the internet this week that it’s a bad idea to use my own fiction as a blog post. And since it’s written on the internet, it must be true, right?

Their theory is that as I query agents for my WIP, they will Google my name and find said snippets of fiction and…I’m not sure what horrible thing is supposed to happen then. But something. Perhaps I’ll never be published? Or perhaps they will see my writing style here and hate it?

What say you? Is it bad to put short stories or snippets of fantasy on my blog?

While I’m waiting for your answer and advice, here’s another snippet for your amusement.

A cold wind brushed the leaves on the sidewalk as Christa stood next to the fence and waited. The leaves danced and rustled at her. “Come play” they whispered.

Play. Right. How long had it been? Decades? She’d lost joy a long time ago.

She looked over the fence into the yard beyond. A small tricycle, rusted brown, held dead flower stalks. A deflated basketball lay next to it. Beyond that, a tattered curtain fluttered through a hole in a window of what had once been a cheerful yellow cottage. Her heart felt as deflated as the ball. Empty. Alone.

A giggle just behind her left ear startled her. She jumped, whirled around. Leaves along the empty sidewalk greeted her. Another giggle tickled her earlobe.  She spun to find the flowers on the tricycle upended on the ground. Her pulse quickened. She broke out in a sweat. The cold breeze played across it and sent shivers down her spine.

Another gust of wind scattered the yellowish-brown leaves like confetti before her. A memory brushed up against her mind: herself as a child, skipping through a pile of leaves. She took a step into them, trying to clutch at details which eluded her. A giggle in her ear made her stop and turn. Nothing but the house there. Dead. Useless. Just like her.

She turned back to the trail of leaves.  A small child, maybe six or seven years old, stood where a moment before the sidewalk lay empty. Laughter danced in the child’s eyes, even though her cheeks were pale. Crimson leaves formed her dress, and her hair seemed made of ivy.

“Come play!” The girl giggled, and played with her skirt.

Christa shook her head. “I’m too old.”

“You’re not. You’re never too old to play.”

The little girl reached out and took her hand. Christa looked in wonder at their hands pressed palm to palm. Where she expected to see an old woman’s wrinkled, age-spotted, arthritic appendage she found her hand matched that of the girl. She looked up into the sparkling eyes. She was afraid to ask, but she had to. She had to know.

“I can’t go back, can I?”

“Why would you want to?” The girl tilted her head to the side. “It’s more fun to go forward. Look at the leaves, they don’t go back. They never go back. They begin again, instead. Come on!”

Christa let the girl pull her down the sidewalk. Her heart lifted as they kicked at the leaves. It was, after all, more fun to move forward.

Dec 09

Symbol of Freedom

By Melinda VanLone | Stories , Thoughts

“What are they?” Jeneka couldn’t keep the awe out of her voice. The statues loomed in the afternoon sun, large, intimidating, and breathtaking.

“Horses.” Jake stood a short distance from her, as if wanting her to experience this on her own.

She moved closer to the largest one. Some genius had formed metal into the most magnificent thing she’d ever seen. The portrait galleries in the museum didn’t come close to this. The sun bounced off the creature at angles that made it appear to move. She could swear the tail flicked in the slight breeze. They looked like no metal she’d ever seen before: golden brown with hints of green. From a distance it all appeared smooth, but up close she could see the seams where someone had welded the parts together to create the whole. There were seven of them in total, and they ran through the courtyard with a joy she was sure she’d never felt. The smallest, the baby, cavorted in front of his mother. The largest towered over all of them and commanded the most attention. She stood next to it, entranced by the sheer size. She reached out and brushed it with her fingertips. Then she laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” Dru’s voice behind her sounded tense.

“I’m not sure what I expected to find in the Historic District. Murder. Rape. Maybe strange diseases. But not this. This is…” She couldn’t find words for what this was. Her head barely reached mid-leg on this magnificent creature. And unlike the buildings which marked the entrance to the forgotten wasteland, these figures remained pristine. Intact. Whole. Unmarred by graffiti or even bird shit. She put her palm on the horse’s nose. She almost expected it to snort.

“Beautiful. And we don’t deserve it, right?”

She turned to glare at Jake. “Of course you deserve it. Everyone deserves to have beauty in their lives.”

“What?” A confused look settled on Jake’s face.

“You believe that don’t you? Whatever the station in life, everyone deserves happiness?”

“Well, sure. But…” Jake trailed off. His eyebrows furrowed and he stared at her as if he were suddenly afraid.

“What is it?”

“You done that three times now. The first time I thought it was nothing, but this time I know it isn’t.”

She tilted her head to the side. “What?”

“You knew what I was thinkin’. Just then.”

“Anyone would know what you were thinking. You said it!”

Jake shook his head. “I didn’t say nothing. Not since we got here.”

It was her turn to be confused. “You’ve been talking the whole time. We’ve been having a conversation, or hadn’t you noticed? I thought you said you didn’t do drugs.”

Jake stood a little straighter, clearly offended. “I don’t do drugs.” He pointed an accusatory finger at her. “You got somethin’ freaky goin’ on. Somethin’ ain’t right.”

“The only freaky thing going on here is you,” she retorted. She stared at him, one hand still on the nose of the magnificent statue. The metal felt cold under her hand, even though the day was quite warm. He almost looked scared! Who would have thought, the brave, tough leader of a gang in the Historic District afraid of her, the scrawny geek from Oceanside.

“Look, I’ll show ya.” Jake turned his back on her, but didn’t walk away. “Nobody knows when the horses got here. They are older than the buildings. They are our symbol of freedom from the tyranny outside.”

“Well, that’s interesting but why the history lesson?” What the hell was he talking about? Tyranny?

Jake turned to face her, his face pale. “What did I just say?”

She held her palms out. “You know what you just said, for crying out loud.”

“Repeat it.” His voice was shaking.

“Nobody knows when the horses got here, they are older than the buildings. And something about tyranny.” She stepped closer to him. He stepped away from her, his hands up. She stopped, unsure why he was keeping his distance. “What’s wrong?”

“That’s what I said all right. But I didn’t say it. Not out loud. Just stay right there.” Jake took a deep breath. His facial muscles twitched; his eyebrows furrowed; his lips formed a thin line. When he spoke again, she could hear him, but for the first time she noticed his voice was right there, in her head, instead of coming through her ears like it should.

The horses can’t be seen from the outside, because they are in the exact center of the Historic District. Some say they can come to life, but that’s just crap talk.

Her mouth fell open. She gaped at him. Her pulse beat against the side of her neck and she felt suddenly a bit nauseous. Her hand flew unconsciously to the necklace hiding underneath her shirt.

“What did I say?” Jake crossed his arms in a satisfied way; a man who had finally made his point. “Repeat it!”

“The horses are in the exact center of the Historic…District…” Her voice trailed away. She gulped. “But…I…” She gulped. She shook her head and tried again. “Your lips didn’t move. Jake, your lips didn’t move! How did you do that?”

“I didn’t.” He pointed a finger at her again. “You did.”

Nov 11

Fantasy Friday: The Historic District

By Melinda VanLone | Stories , Thoughts

With death in fast pursuit, Jeneka kept her feet moving. She’d been running full out for over 30 city sections. Her lungs burned, her legs cramped, and tears leaked out of her eyes making it impossible to see much. She’d attracted a lot of attention along the way, too. A frightened 16 year old running for her life was bound to catch someone’s eye even in the worst sections of the metro, even if no one had offered assistance. She couldn’t help it, her every instinct urged her forward even though her mind told her to slow down and try to think.

At first she’d just run with no clear destination. She tried dodging here and there to get rid of the men trailing her, but it didn’t work. She’d tried taking an airway car to a different sector, but they were waiting when she got off the car. She kept going, until she suddenly realized exactly where she was headed. She didn’t like it one bit, but her body didn’t care. Her body said that was exactly where they needed to go and took her there despite what her head thought about it. Through all the internal arguments, adrenaline kept her moving.

As she neared her destination, Jeneka paused to catch her breath. She bent over double, hands on her knees, and focused on just pushing air in and out. Behind her, a never ending river of street lights and air cars. In front of her, the most dangerous section in the entire eastern section of Metro. The Historic District. Declared a historic landmark over 400 years ago, it was all that was left of the old cities, the old ways, the old United States. Even law enforcement avoided it. It was anarchy. Sure, the laws applied, but nobody was about to go rushing in to enforce them. Most people figured if you walked through the entrance of a cesspool you deserved whatever you got on the other side.

All sorts of rumors floated about. Gangs. Riots. Drugs. Sex. You name it, you could find it there. But they didn’t like money in the Historic District. A basket of food might get you at least 10 feet inside the gate unharmed. A pair of good shoes might score you a blow job. Liquor? You might lose your head. That was something to fight for.

The buildings rotted from the inside out. Brick and mortar fell off in chunks. The last brick was made 100 years ago; nobody was ever going to repair them. But, somehow, they managed to stay upright. It must be a good way to build, to withstand all that.  Why did everything have to be shiny and new, anyway? There was a certain character in these old buildings. She liked how they didn’t block out the sun. She liked how nothing was flying overhead. And she liked how she was probably going to be able to get rid of the people following her, simply by crossing the gate.

Jeneka looked behind her. In the distance, she saw three men running toward her. The white they wore stood out against the black and steel structures behind them. She shook her head. Stupid. They weren’t even trying to blend. Arrogant. Assholes.

As she regained her breath, one hand flew to her chest to double check. Yes, the necklace was still there, tucked away underneath her shirt and bra. She could feel her heart pound against it. She looked at the gate again. A few more steps and she’d be…safe? Wasn’t it ironic, that the one place she could think of to seek sanctuary was the one place guaranteed to kill her? In her panic, she thought she’d be safer with the gangs and drugs and whatever else might lurk there than out here, waiting to get caught. Whatever these guys wanted, they had killed her guardian to get it. She had a feeling they’d kill her too. Certain death running toward her from behind, near certain death waiting for her ahead. Some choice.

She took a deep breath. Shame she didn’t have money or even food to barter. She took a step. She let out her breath. Steeling herself, she forced one foot in front of the other until she’d drawn even with the gate. An empty street stretched out in front of her. 4 or 5 story buildings lined broken sidewalks as far as she could see. Nothing grew. Nothing moved, but she knew eyes watched. She took one more deep breath, and plunged across the gateway before she could change her mind.

Her breath caught in her throat as she waited to be attacked. Nothing happened. The street remained quiet. A sigh of relief escaped, and she turned to look behind her. The men still followed her, but they’d slowed their pace. They wouldn’t cross the gate. Or would they? Just in case, she turned and started to run.

She ran smack into several pairs of arms. They grabbed her and pushed her toward a very large chest. Before she could scream she was hustled off the main street by the biggest man she’d ever seen, down a dark alley and through a small door into a dank, unlit room. A metal door clanged shut behind her. Darkness and silence enveloped her. Her eyes struggled to adjust to the dim lighting even as her ears strained for any sound of pursuit. She heard nothing but the sound of several people catching their breaths, and the beating of her own heart. Gulping, she tried to speak. A large hand covered her mouth. She felt hot breath, smelling like garlic of all things, on her ear.

“Keep it shut.” The words, mixed with the darkness, scared the pants off her. She shut her mouth and tried to steady her breathing.

As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she began to see people-shaped shadows in the darkness. Everyone remained motionless statues. What were they waiting for? Were they going to kill her? Rape? Sell her to the men chasing her?

Would they let her live?

*******