Foreign Correspondence

Her oxfords had been laced, her lips rouged, and after a final peep in the mirror, she flung open the door.

“I’m terribly sorry,” said the man in the hallway, hand poised to knock and a bewildered look on his face.

“For what?”

“I…” He smoothed his hair and tugged his tie straight. “I’m terribly sorry to disturb you, but it seems our mail was misdelivered. Poor record keeping. I’ve yet to stay at a hotel without appalling records.”

There was a pause, each watching the other expectantly, until the man in the hallway cleared his throat and continued.

“I was awaiting some letters, but I received this instead.” He tugged a rumpled envelope from his suit pocket. “Is it yours?”

She looked down at the address written in a thin, angular hand. “No, that’s not me.”

“Oh. Well, it was worth a try.” He fidgeted with the letter, glancing down the hall. “I suppose I should… check the next room then.”

“You’re not a Mr. Sinclair, by chance, are you?” she asked.

“I am! How did you know?”

“These were delivered earlier.” She turned back into the room and retrieved a bundle of letters from beside a vase of blushing roses. “It’s quite a stack,” she said, handing them to him.

He shrugged bashfully.

“Adam,” she said.

“What?”

“Or Archibald.” She shook her head. “No, that’s not it. I thought Alfred at first, but now I’ve met you, that’s not right either.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand…”

She pointed to the letters, each neatly addressed to ‘Mr. A. Sinclair.’ “Albert?”

“Arthur.”

A smile bloomed on her lips. “Of course! Arthur Sinclair.”

“Like the president,” he laughed, but her forehead crinkled in puzzlement.

“Continental Congress…?” he added miserably.

“I never was very good at history,” she said. “Well, that’s one mystery solved, and it isn’t even noon.”

But Mr. Arthur Sinclair did not move from the doorway.

“There is still this one,” he said, and he looked down at the lone envelope then up at her, a glimmer in his eye of a half-fledged idea struggling to take flight. “Perhaps… we could try to find its owner. It has to belong to someone.”

“I’m sure the front desk can take care of it,” she said, stepping into the hall and pulling the door shut behind her. “I’m off to the museum. And your letters must be important if you came looking for them.”

“What, these?” He crammed the unfortunate stack into his pocket. “Business, notes from acquaintances, that sort of thing. They’ll keep. Besides, we might find a letter for you.”

“Oh, I doubt it,” she said with a little laugh, but her gaze flickered back to the envelope in his hand. “Still, I guess it doesn’t hurt to check. The museum can wait.” She put a small bronze key into the lock on the door. “And everything will be slightly older when I get there.”

The lock clicked. She put the key into her bag and took the letter from Arthur, smoothing out the wrinkles. “Mrs. R. S. Lafayette. She sounds important. Do you think she’s French?”

“It’s possible.”

“I’ve never been to France,” she said wistfully then looked up and down the hall. “Where should we begin?”

“Farther down?” Arthur suggested, and she started forward, her small heels silent on the thick, floral carpet.

“Should I know that name? Lafayette?”

“He was a general,” Arthur said, hurrying after her. “In the Revolutionary War.”

“Then perhaps they’re related. That must be very interesting, being related to someone famous.”

Arthur was walking beside her now. “And what name will we be inquiring after?” he asked, intently studying the wallpaper. “Mrs…?”

“It’s Miss.” She was fumbling with a button on her lace glove. “Miss. H. Langstrom, and the H is for Helen.”

“Like Helen of Troy,” Arthur said blissfully.

“I hope not.” And Helen knocked on the door of 208.

It was answered by an immense figure framed by bright sunlight and the tinny scratch of a string quartet on the Victrola. “Yes?” she bellowed.

“Mrs. Lafayette?” Arthur asked.

“Yes!”

“I received some mail of yours by accident, and I— I mean, we, this young lady and I, were hoping to return it to you.”

“Isn’t that sweet of you?” the woman said loudly and took the letter from Helen, disregarding the spectacles on the silver chain around her neck and holding it arm’s length to squint at it. “Why, yes, this is mine! How did you find me? Some mix-up at the front desk, no doubt. These things happen, and I almost didn’t answer the door what with my sister on long-distance. She’s in California, if you can believe it.”

She stopped for a breath, and Arthur cut in. “Did you receive any letters? Addressed to someone else perhaps?”

“Well, I did now you mention it,” she said in her tone of eternal surprise. “Thought it odd. Meant to ask the bellhop when he came up with lunch, but I was on the phone with my Charles, and when I turned around, the boy had vanished. Left without his tip. Now… where did I put it?”

She disappeared into the room, talking all the while. Arthur smiled wanly at Helen.

“Here!” came a piercing cry, and Mrs. Lafayette returned waving a thin envelope. “This was kind of you. Such a sweet, young pair. I must tell my sister about you.” The phone trilled behind her. “That’ll be her now, wondering where I’ve gone to. I better answer before she thinks I was murdered or some such nonsense. You’ve never met such a frightful gossip. That woman could talk the ears off a potato.”

The envelope was thrust into Helen’s hands, and the door shut.

“It’s for a Mr. Green,” Helen said, brushing at a jam smudge on the corner. “And she wasn’t even French.”

“201.” Arthur grimaced. “I believe I met him already.”

Helen sniffed the envelope. “Perfume. And an entirely impractical handwriting. I can only assume this Mr. Green is in the middle of a torrid affair.”

“If he’s who I think he is, I doubt that,” Arthur said, moving closer to Helen to let a bellhop carrying a silver domed tray on his shoulder pass. “The perfume must be Mrs. Lafayette’s.”

“But it isn’t her handwriting,” Helen said and looked up at him with a glint in her eye. “There’s only one way to find out.”

201 was occupied by a squat, balding man who glowered at them from a cloud of cigar smoke. “No, thank you,” he grumbled.

“I beg your pardon?” Arthur said.

“Shoes, encyclopedias, whatever it is you’re hawking, I don’t want it.”

“Oh, we’re not—”

“They’ve got women now too,” Mr. Green said, scowling at Helen.

The door was swinging shut.

“Now, hold on!” Arthur protested. “We have a letter for you.”

“I don’t want it.”

“It’s from a woman,” Helen yelled through the closing door, and it paused a crack from the jamb.

Mr. Green’s pruny face glared out before he snatched the letter and peered at the handwriting. “You stealing my mail?”

“No!” Arthur said. “We—”

“Bad enough they let you go door-to-door in here,” Mr. Green grumbled. “Find someone else to pester.”

“But—”

The door slammed, and Arthur stared at it. “He didn’t even remember me.”

“But it was his letter,” Helen said with a little sigh. “I suppose that’s it then.”

Arthur looked down at her, pulled himself to his full height, and pounded a fist on the door.

“See here,” he said when it opened. “We did not steal your letter. And we are not salesmen. This incredibly charming young lady is Miss. Helen Langstrom. She’s staying two doors down from you. We’re looking for a letter that was sent to your room by accident, and—”

The door shut again, right in Arthur’s face.

“It was sweet of you to try,” Helen said gently.

An envelope popped out under the door.

“It’s been opened,” Helen said, gingerly picking up the tattered envelope. “And it’s addressed to a Miss. Penelope Barker.”

“A young lady is staying in the room next to mine,” Arthur said. “She wasn’t in earlier, but she might be now. We could try there.”

Helen hesitated. “Being a postman isn’t as exciting as I expected. Delivering the mail isn’t as interesting as receiving it.”

“You have to walk that way to the lobby anyway,” Arthur said.

After a moment, she agreed.

“Which room is yours?” Helen inquired as they walked down the hall, then, not waiting for an answer: “It must be nice traveling with acquaintances. Your wife.”

“I’m not married.”

“Oh.” She stopped and looked up at him. “Well, I’m sure you’re very busy with your studies. I imagine a historian doesn’t have time for things like silly day trips. Or maybe a teacher.”

“Nothing as important as that,” Arthur said, the tips of his ears turning pink. “I read a lot of books. Too many books.” He glanced darkly toward 201. “Books are easier than people. It’s that one,” he said, pointing down the hall.

A slender, bright woman in a vibrant satin robe opened the door. “Well, hello!” she said, smiling a glossy smile and looking mostly at Arthur. “What can I do for you?”

“We have a letter that belongs to you, Miss. Barker,” Helen said, holding it out to her.

The woman, who didn’t deny being Miss. Barker, took it and fingered the torn edge. “Did you read it?”

“Of course not,” Arthur said indignantly.

“Pity,” she said, flashing white teeth at him and cocking a shoulder. “You might have enjoyed it.”

Arthur cleared his throat. “Did you receive any mail that wasn’t addressed to you?”

“’fraid not.”

“Thank you for your time then,” Helen said and turned back to the hall.

“Feel free to come back and check another time,” the woman called after them before she laughed and shut the door.

Helen was picking at a leaf in a flower arrangement sitting on a nearby pedestal.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur said. “I thought we’d find something.”

“I didn’t expect we would,” Helen said quietly. “I don’t get many letters.”

“Surely the people you’re traveling to see would write you, or… your family at home.”

She turned and looked up at him. “People always think that. That I’m going to see someone or waiting for someone or… Well, maybe I am. But if I am, I don’t know it.”

“You’re traveling alone too,” Arthur said.

“Yes.”

“Do you often travel alone?”

She sighed. “It’s that or stay home alone. And there are so many more interesting places to be alone. They all have someone, don’t they?” she said, looking down the hall. “Even if it’s only some writing on a piece of paper.”

“Miss. Barker is also a young lady traveling alone,” Arthur said valiantly. “It’s very modern of you.”

“I highly doubt she spends much time alone,” Helen muttered. She looked toward the broad marble staircase leading to a lobby teeming with travelers and tall plants in massive pots. “You seem to know a lot about history. I suppose you’d find a museum a bore.”

“I bet I wouldn’t!” Arthur said.

“But what about your letters?”

Arthur was gazing down at her upturned face with a dreamy expression. “What letters?”

Helen smiled. “I should warn you, I spend more time watching the people than the exhibits.”

Before they left, Arthur stopped at the front desk and pressed a folded bill into the manager’s hand. “Please give my compliments to whoever delivered the mail.”

Kaput

Blog Update:
The name of this blog is changing from “In the Writing Studio” to “Tiny Tales.” This is an aesthetic change only. The content and posting schedule will remain the same (podcast episodes on Monday; short stories on Wednesday). All content will continue to be free. If you like my work, you can support me on Kofi or Patreon.
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And now, as promised, today’s short story
:


                Ruined. Doomed. Kaput. That was the state of my day after wading through the chaos of work, cramming myself like a sardine onto the crowded bus, and fighting my way through driving rain to the grocery store, only to discover that my lifeline, my reason for living, had been replaced with empty shelves. I stared blankly at the chipped metal, errant droplets pattering from the hem of my coat onto the dingy tile. I didn’t ask much from the universe. The usual really: not getting hit by a bus, my apartment not burning down, my hair and teeth not inexplicably falling out. But this? This was a low blow, even for the distant and indifferent cosmos.

                “Excuse me.” I flagged down the bleary-eyed teen in a green vest wheeling a cart of bread down the aisle.

                He slumped forward to lean on the cart, his head swinging to face me, which I assumed was as close as I was going to get to ‘can I help you?’

                “Do you have any Oreos?”

                He stared past me to the empty shelves.

                “We’re out.”

                “Could you look in the back?”

                “We’re out,” he repeated, resuming his agonizing trudge down the aisle, one of the wheels on the cart wailing with each rotation.

                Maybe a packet nestled somewhere out of sight, waiting for me. I shoved aside the other, lesser cookies, hoping for a glimpse of cheery blue and the chocolate delights within. Not just any Oreos either, the double stuff. All I wanted was to slouch on the couch with a packet of Oreos on my stomach, twisting those little disks apart, numbing my mind with some pointless TV, and pretending nothing else in the world existed. That wasn’t too much to ask, was it?

                The slouching teen reappeared, a blue packet in his hands.

                “Here.”

                My savior! But my hopes were dashed as he extended it to me, and I tried to keep the disgust from my face, willing the corners of my mouth into a friendly smile instead of a sneer. These weren’t Oreos. They were abominations, cream sandwiched between two deceitful yellow wafers. Anyone who thought they were even in the same genus was an idiot.

                “Thanks,” I said, taking the packet of little Judases. If they had mouths, I’m sure they’d be laughing at me.

                When he disappeared around the corner, I shoved them between the chocolate chip cookies and Swiss rolls. Having no Oreos was better than having yellow Oreos. Chocolate Oreos were soothing, nostalgic, comforting. Yellow Oreos taunted you, made you embrace your own mortality and tasted bland while doing it.

                I cast a last glance at the shelves, still refusing to accept that they were empty, before trudging to the front of the store, hoping I could drown my sorrows in a few travel-sized packets from the register. Maybe the world knew something I didn’t. Maybe the apocalypse was upon us. What other explanation was there for a store in the twenty-first century being completely and utterly out of Oreos? Tomorrow the world would end, and some lucky bastard out there would at least have a pack of Oreos when it all went up in smoke. If society did hurtle back to the stone age, I knew who I was hunting down first.

               My search by the registers, accompanied by the relentless beeping of scanned items, like an erratic EKG, was just as fruitless. A cart rattled by, limping on a stuck wheel, and a blue packet perched on top of the pile of lunch meat and chips and broccoli blazed out like a beacon. “Milk’s Favorite Cookie.” Forget milk. They were my favorite cookie. Milk could get its own.

                “Excuse me, where did you find those?”

                This was what I was reduced to, scavenging from carts like someone bumming for cigarettes. If I wasn’t careful, someone might think I had a problem, like I was standing there scratching at myself and looking for my next hit. But I did have a problem, dammit. Forty-five little creamed-filled problems.

                “The candy aisle,” she said, nodding down the row of nondescript aisles toward the one I had just emerged from.

                I stared sadly at the passive blue packet. I could grab them and run, fly out the door, my raincoat streaming out behind me like a cape while all the bleary-eyed attendants stared after me, murmuring to themselves, “who was that?”

                But no, I only stood there, at least no longer dripping, watching the cart slowly roll away with a rumble as its lame front-wheel shuddered, leaving straggled black streaks across the dingy tile. From the sheer volume in her cart, I guessed she was a mother just trying to feed her ravenous children. Those Oreos were destined for school lunches and grubby little hands, not my pajama-covered tummy.

               I stood forlornly at the end of a closed register, gazing out at my fellow shoppers weaving in and out of the aisles, their wet shoes squeaking on the floors. The world wasn’t ending. It would turn just as reliably and relentlessly as always, and in time, my distress over a solitary pack of Oreo’s would be nothing more than a faded memory, sparks of electricity that vanished into the ether instead of working its way into the web of experiences that came together to form me. In a year’s time, it wouldn’t matter one bit whether the shelves had been empty or full. It was just another day, like so many others, so many other identical, indistinguishable trips to this same store. If anything, this should be a wake-up call, a reminder that the real things in life weren’t sold in packs on store shelves. Those things faded into a lost haze of existence. The real things, the real memories were out there, waiting to be taken, waiting for me to go and take them.

               With a sigh, I trudged toward frozen foods. Maybe they had Oreo ice cream.

The Monkey

                Oranges were the only thing that damn monkey would eat. The lettuce and apples were flung away, but the orange he’d take in his wrinkled feet, retreating to the highest perch he could find. There he’d sit, ripping off hunks of the rind with his fangs and spitting them onto the floor, his piercing gaze fixed on me.

                The dealer had parked in the dusty parking lot of an abandoned building and was lounging against the side of his unmarked van when I pulled in. It was the kind of van you thought twice about parking next to, with dark curtains pulled over its barred windows, but a friend of a friend told me he could get you any pet you wanted, no questions asked. Calm and low maintenance, the dealer assured me, pulling a cat carrier out of the back of the van. Through the mesh door, I could see a small mass of brown fur curled up in the corner, the thin ribs etched into its fur heaving. He looked so fragile, so frightened, so vulnerable. I handed over my envelope of cash without another thought.

                I set my TV to play jungle sounds and talked to him whenever I was home, acclimating him to the sound of my voice, but I was given little reward. He refused to play or groom. His fur grew matted and frayed. He only sat and stared at me, lurking in the highest corners he could find, and as the weeks went on, it began to drive me crazy. Everywhere I went, he eventually appeared: on top of bookshelves, huddled under furniture, always staring, until I felt like I was being hunted in my own home. If I tried to get near him, I was greeted with glistening fangs, and bristling fur, and that black gaze prickling up the back of my neck.

                I tried taking the oranges away, to force it to eat something else or better yet to take its precious oranges from my hand, but it would only angrily fling away the undesirable food before retreating to its perch. It would rather starve to death than come near me. I shut the oranges away in the refrigerator with a slam. I had given it food, water, toys, ropes to climb, and a place in my home, but the ungrateful thing wanted nothing to do with me. It left claw marks in the refrigerator while I slept.

                The dealer said it needed time to adjust, like all animals put into a new environment. He laughed when I said it was staring at me, whispering into the phone as I met the black gaze. He wouldn’t take it back. He even had the gall to suggest I get another one of the vile creatures. ‘Company,’ he called it.

                The thing moved closer now. I hurled slices of apple at it, screaming at it to stop staring, jumping, thrashing my arms, trying to chase it away. But it never flinched. It gazed blackly, unwavering, its tiny fists clenching.

                Tomorrow. Tomorrow it would stop staring. A black trash bag would see to that. And I shut my bedroom door to keep the creature out.

                I woke to the light from the hallway spilling through the open door, illuminating the face of the monkey perched on my chest. Black lips curled back to reveal glistening fangs. It peeled my neck like an orange.

Day 65

Day 65

The wind uncovered another bunker today, and Elder Simon found some paper inside. He gave it to me and showed me how to use it. I’m supposed to write down what I see so we won’t forget, but I don’t know what there is to forget. There’s only sky and sun and sand. I keep it wrapped up in my blanket when I’m not using it so the wind doesn’t try to take it. Isaiah wanted some, but the Elder said he’s too young.

There was food in the bunker too, the kind wrapped in metal, and Xav has to break it open so we can eat. I asked the Elder how it was done, but he didn’t know. Someday I’ll find the edge of the sky and maybe the answer will be there. Xav says there is no end to the sands. He remembers more than I do of wandering through them, so maybe he’s right, but sometimes I think I see shimmers of purple on the horizon.

It’s been 65 days near as I can tell since we came to the camp. We wandered through the sands for I don’t know how long before they found us, half-dead and burned from the sun. They say Isaiah must be my brother since our eyes are the same color, but they don’t know about Xav. We don’t remember either.

Day 67

They gave the new bunker to Xav, Isaiah, and I so we don’t have to sleep out on the sands. They put sand over it to block it from the sun, and it stays a little cooler inside. Every day Xav has to push the drifts away from the door so we don’t get buried inside.

Day 70

There was a cloud in the sky today. I stared at it for so long that giant spots hovered in front of me the rest of the day, and I wondered if I would have to wear a cloth tied around my eyes like Old Marga. I don’t think she’s that old, but the sun made her all dry and wrinkled. Last week Xav told me my face was going dry like hers. It didn’t feel any different! But I couldn’t see to tell, and I started crying. Elder Simon yelled at Xav for making me waste my moisture on the sands instead of putting it in the filtrator. He made him haul all the buckets out to the edge of camp. Xav didn’t say he was sorry, but he brought me a rock he’d found and said I could use it to hold my papers down so they didn’t fly away.

Day 74

The filtrator broke down today. Elder Simon is teaching Xav how to repair it. He’s the youngest man in the camp next to Isaiah, but Isaiah is just a kid.

Day 78

Vita walked into the sands today and didn’t come back. Elder said it was selfish, taking her moisture with her. I can’t blame her. Maybe she wanted to know what the purple haze was too. Xav got angry when I told him I wanted to go and said he’d shut me in the bunker if he had to.

Day 79

They found her. They wouldn’t tell us what they did after they brought her body back to camp, but that night Xav told me they emptied her moisture into the filtrator. I’m glad. It was a good thing to die for: keeping us alive. It’ll be easier with fewer of us needing water. They took her back out into the sands and burned her body. I hadn’t seen fire before. I watched the flames flickering late into the night until they died away. We can’t bury our dead. The wind refuses to let them rest. Isaiah found a skull half-buried in the sand once, and it scared him so badly he wouldn’t leave my side the rest of the week. Xav finally hauled him, kicking and screaming, back to the bones to show him it was nothing to be afraid of.

Day 81

Xav kissed me today. He brought me some water and said he hated it when I cried and that my face wasn’t dry. I forgot what he was talking about at first and had just remembered when he grabbed my face and shoved his lips against mine. I stood there with my mouth hanging open, and he ran out the door. I told Old Marga when I was helping her beat sand off the tents. She laughed and said I should let him, that the camp would die with me if I didn’t. I didn’t know what that meant, but it scared me. I told Xav what she said later that night. His face turned red, and he said he wouldn’t do it again if I didn’t want him to. I told him I guess I didn’t mind as long as he didn’t run away afterward. I liked it a lot more the second time.

Day 84

The filtrator broke down again. It took them most of the day to get it working. Xav looked pale when he came back from helping, but he won’t tell me what’s wrong.

Day 85

Xav woke me in the middle of the night last night and said we were leaving. He won’t tell me why, just that I had to be quiet. We took Isaiah and started walking.

Day 86

Xav stole the water from the camp. I was furious and told him we had to go back, but he won’t. He dragged me until I realized I wouldn’t know how to get back even if he let me go.

Day 87

The wind stole most of my pages. I only have this one left. We’re hiding under the blankets from the sun. The wind covers us with sand and that keeps it cooler. Xav makes us walk through the night, no breaks. Isaiah started crying, and Xav slapped him. I wish he hadn’t, but it made Isaiah stop crying. Xav won’t tell me where we’re going. I don’t think he knows.

Day 90

Isaiah won’t wake up. Xav keeps carrying him anyway.

Day 92

We left Isaiah in the sands. I wrapped him up in my shawl. Xav yelled at me, saying I would need it against the sun, but I won’t leave him to become the bones that scared him.

Day 93

The purple haze is back on the horizon. I saw Xav cry today. He was looking down at a little green spiral in the sand and fell to his knees, sobbing. I don’t know what it was. He took my hand and made me walk until the sun started to creep over the horizon.

Day 95

Water. There’s so much water. It stretches out like the sands that lay behind us. But it’s all salty. Xav curled up in the sand for a long time after we tasted it. He won’t speak. He doesn’t have to. Our water is gone. Tomorrow we’ll try to follow the coast, but for now, I’ll give this page to the wind then sit with Xav and watch the sun come up. It’ll be time to sleep soon.


The writing prompt for “Day 65” was provided by Reedsy.com: write about another day in a heat wave.

Tiny Tales: An Announcement, A Contest & A Teeny Tiny Tale

Writers! There’s an important announcement in here for you!

The latest episode of Tiny Tales is now live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Buzzsprout, and the Tiny Tales webpage.

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).

This Week’s Episode:

Episode 44: Survival Tiny Tales

To what lengths would you go…for survival?Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/rerule)

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

After Dark

They never talked about what they did in the shadows, after dark when the house was still. Their quiet voices would float through my slightly open door, but it was only a wordless murmur. Once I tried to follow them, but my mother saw me and whisked me back to bed. I knew it must be something important, something forbidden, maybe even something sinister. After their door closed, I would sneak out of bed, creeping on bare feet to inspect where they had been, but they were too sly to leave any evidence.

So, one night I pulled the blankets up to my chin and pretended to be asleep. My parents whispered beside my bed, my mother feeling my forehead and cheek with the back of her hand, but I kept my eyes tight shut and waited. The next thing I knew, my father was kissing my forehead to wake me up, and I realized I had done my job too well.

The next night, I tried again, only this time I pinched my arm to stay awake. Finally, my door creaked shut, and their voices faded down the hall. I slid out of bed and crept after them. They were sitting together in the shadows, faces close, my mother’s hand on my father’s cheek. She lifted herself over him, bending her face to his neck. He grabbed a handful of her hair and tugged at her clothing, but she didn’t let him go.

I had read a book once I wasn’t supposed to about creatures of the night and what they did in the dark. It had given me nightmares, but now I understood why my mother had been so upset when she caught me with it. She was trying to hide the evidence. I backed away in horror. The floor creaked under my feet, and she straightened up, whirling to face the shadows.

I sprinted back to my room, diving into bed. Footsteps followed me, and my heart pounded as my door creaked open. Whoever it was eventually left, and I lay there, terrified, until I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.

I woke to my mother bending over me and scrambled away with a shriek. My father burst through the door a moment later. I tried to tell him, tried to let him know that I knew my mother was a monster, but he just laughed and said I had a nightmare.

“But she bit you!” I wailed. “I can see the bruise.”

He whirled on my mother, eyes wide, clutching a hand to his neck, and she burst out laughing. I wrapped my arms around his waist, hiding behind him. Now he knew the truth. He sighed, his shoulders sagging, before shaking his head at my mother who was still laughing.

“Well…” he said, sitting on the edge of the bed and holding out a hand to her. “We were going to have to do this eventually.”

I learned several things that day, but surprisingly, none of them involved vampires.


The writing prompt for today’s story was from www.writerswrite.com: “They never talked about what they did in the shadows.”

~R. E. Rule

**All writing on this blog is the exclusive property of R. E. Rule and is not to be reproduced or retransmitted without permission from R. E. Rule. Link and email sharing is welcome as long as proper owner/authorship is attributed to R. E. Rule.**

What Butterflies Wonder

The prompt for today’s story was, “She was on her way home when it happened. She knew she could never see her family again.”

I decided to set a timer for 15 minutes and write whatever came to mind. I edited a few things for readability, but this was the result.


           She was on her way home when it happened, when she knew she could never see her family again. They wouldn’t understand the transformation. She hadn’t noticed it herself until she caught a glimpse of a stranger in a rain puddle and stared down at the wavering reflection, finally realizing when she reached up to scratch her nose that it was her own. Even if she did go home, they wouldn’t realize it was her. Or maybe she wasn’t her anymore and had somehow become someone else when she wasn’t paying attention. It could happen. Sometimes other people said they weren’t quite feeling themselves. The problem was, she was feeling more herself today than she’d ever felt.

            She stared down at the reflection and wondered what she was supposed to do if she wasn’t quite herself but wasn’t quite anyone else either. She decided to follow a street she’d always wanted to go down—the brick walls looked so inviting—but never had. The windows she passed were full of interesting wares, but her reflection fascinated her more.

            She waved at passersby. Normally she was shy, but she wasn’t herself today, and she hadn’t decided if who she had become was shy or not. There was no reason she had to be. This her had never been told she talked too much or been anxious in a room with strangers, so why wouldn’t she wave cheerily to them in the street? A few waved back, but most just cast a glance in her direction before passing by. It didn’t bother her. Why should it? This her wasn’t worried about what they thought of her.

            The buildings fell away, and the shore stretched out in front of her. She walked onto the pier, the water growing dark and frothy between the boards under her feet. At the end, she gazed down at the face looking back up at her. That face seemed to know who it was even if it wasn’t her face. It didn’t seem distressed by how different it looked despite being attached to her personage or frightened by the dark water churning over her. Maybe that person knew something she didn’t, since it wasn’t her but also had to be her.

            She wondered where she was supposed to go since she couldn’t go home. She could try to go home, try to convince them she was still who she was. Maybe if she adjusted her hair just right, maybe slouched a little, they wouldn’t notice. But then she wouldn’t be her anymore, or whoever this her was she was looking at. She’d just be someone pretending to be her, and that didn’t seem very appealing. She could leave and go far away and then she could be her. They would wonder where she’d gone, what had happened to her, why she had stopped being who she was, but she hadn’t. Staying would have meant not being who she was. They wouldn’t understand she had to leave so she could be who she was.

            She sat on the edge of the pier, swinging her feet lazily, leaning her chin on her folded arms resting on the railing. Maybe caterpillars felt this way, and that was why they locked themselves up in their cocoons, trying to look as much like a caterpillar as possible, but inside they were ripping apart and reforming, breaking and mending until everything was inside out, and when they emerged, all the other caterpillars said, “You’ve changed. You’re not you anymore. We don’t like this new you.”

           And if the caterpillar-turned-butterfly listened to them, it would never spread its wings and fly but spend the rest of its life trying to chew leaves and crawl over twigs. But butterflies didn’t do that. They spread their wings, and soared on the wind, and drank from flowers. Maybe they worried they’d made a mistake, if they thought of their caterpillar families and wondered, but surely, she thought, it must be better to fly.


I’ve been reading Alice in Wonderland. Can you tell?

~ R. E. Rule

Leaving the Mountain

            There were six of us in our little tribe, when we were young and ran free across the mountains like a pack of wild things, feet muddied, hair tousled, cheeks reddened by the wind as we planned our next great conquest. We ruled with the order of the innocent, strict but merciful. Then we turned thirteen, and our fate was stamped onto our skins.

            Mitra, the bravest, always the first to plunge into dark caves or scamper across fallen logs, who planned the assaults of our imagined foes, was told she should be meek and her voice hidden away.

            Ordin, the gentle one, who kept bugs in his pockets and nursed fallen baby birds, who tended bloodied knees, was told to pick up the spear and take his place as warrior.

            Tiva, the fair beauty, with her gentle voice and dexterous fingers, who sang with the birds and wove crowns from tender vines, was taken to labor in the fields.

            Nex, the strong one, who carried us when we were tired and knew the woods like a wild animal, was locked away with parchment and quill.

            And Salin, keeper of my secrets, who fought back to back with me against our invisible foes, would stay while I was sent away to learn to mend and tend. We were told we would meet again, would spend our lives together, but when we did, I could not look him in the eye nor speak without invitation and all my secrets must be mine alone again.

            So, we left the mountain, leaving behind only muddy footprints and the echoes of our laughter.


**Today’s short story was based on the prompt: Young. Wild. Free.**

~ R. E. Rule

32. The Fruits of One’s Labor

The writing prompt for today’s story was: “All good myths begin with a red apple.”


Once upon a time in a small kingdom, there lived a prince. The kingdom possessed neither wealth nor great knowledge, and its people were not known for their beauty or skill. So, when the daughter of the wealthiest king in the land was offered in marriage to the prince of her choosing, the prince’s father sent him to ask for her hand so they might improve their standing in the world.

The prince set out, pondering as he traveled what he might offer to the woman he hoped to make his bride. They had nothing of value to give, and he knew that princes would be coming from near and far with gifts of splendid riches. As he walked, he chanced upon an old woman resting next to a stream and stopped to join her, enjoying a drink of the clear waters and a moment away from the hot sun and dusty road.

“Where are you headed, young man?” she asked.

“To win the hand of the princess… Though I have nothing to offer her except myself, and I am afraid that is precious little.”

The woman looked him over then leaned closer.

“There is a legend of an apple, beautiful beyond compare, that grows within the mountain beyond this forest. It is said that retrieving the apple gives its eater true enlightenment.”

“Within the mountain?” he asked doubtfully. “How could an apple grow inside a mountain?”

“Those who have seen it know, no one else.”

The prince pondered this for a moment, gazing thoughtfully into the stream. When he turned to ask the old woman how she knew this, she had vanished. Refusing to step before the princess empty-handed, the prince set off toward the distant mountain. When he reached its foot, he could see far above him a cave cut into the mountainside but saw no way up the sheer cliff. Still, he refused to turn back and slowly began to climb.

The rock crumbled and broke beneath his fingers and he bloodied his hands on the sharp stone, but every time he considered turning back, he looked up to find the cave slightly closer and pressed on. The sun fell in the sky, darkness came over the land, and the moon was high above when his bruised and calloused hands finally grasped the ledge at the mouth of the cave. Exhausted, he fell into a deep sleep, and when he awoke, the sun was rising, spilling its red light over the misty forest.

“I have never seen a view more breathtaking,” he marveled, the pain in his hands forgotten. “If not for the princess, this would be reward enough.”

But he could not forget his errand, and he plunged into the darkness of the cave. The light of the sun was soon left behind as the mountain swallowed him up, and he wandered, lost, guided only by his sore hands on the slick walls. The air became dense and musty, and his eyes ached from the blackness. He considered turning back, but each time, he could only wonder if the tree would be around the next curve and struggled onward instead.

At last, he came to a wall of broken stone where the ceiling of the cave had fallen, sealing the passage. He sagged to the floor, exhausted and wondering if he should finally give up. Days could have passed while he wandered in darkness, and he didn’t want to miss his opportunity to ask for the princess’s hand.

“But it could be there,” he said. “Right on the other side of this pile of stone.”

Determined not to go to her with no gift, he set to work moving aside the rocks, carrying each one away to clear the passage. They were heavy, and his back ached from the work, but as the stones moved aside, a ray of light shone through, and he rejoiced at the sight.

“I forgot how beautiful light was,” he wondered. “And the joy of clean air.”

With renewed vigor, he hauled away the stones until he was able to squeeze through and found himself in a cavern. At its center, bathed in light streaming down from cracks within the mountainside, stood an ancient tree. From its gnarled branches hung a single red apple, and at its base flowed a stream. The prince eagerly drank from it, washing the blood and dirt from himself before carefully picking the apple.

Certain that the princess would be pleased with his gift after all he had endured to retrieve it, he hurried back through the dark caves, down the cliff, and onward to the kingdom.

When he arrived, the castle was overflowing with princes there to present their tributes to the princess and ply for her hand. They presented her with gifts of gold and song and knowledge. One gave her a beautiful poem written by the finest writers in his kingdom, another an intricate gold statue shaped by the most talented craftsmen, and still another a treatise on wisdom written by the wisest philosophers. When it was his turn, he reverently placed the apple at her feet.

“My lady, I have traveled through hardship and suffering to bring you this.”

He told her the tale of his journey, of the beauty of a sunrise, and the joy of light.

“This is all you brought?” she asked when he had finished. “One apple?”

She kicked it away in disgust, seeing only fruit where he saw his toils, and instead chose to marry the man who had brought her dresses fashioned by the finest weavers. The prince took up the apple, carefully wiping the dust from it, and returned to his father’s kingdom. When he arrived, his father asked if he was successful in winning the princess’s hand.

“No, Father, but I brought something better.” He held forth the apple. “I climbed a cliff, wandered through darkness, and with the sweat of my brow retrieved this apple of enlightenment. Take it.”

His father sighed, patting his son’s shoulder with a shake of his head. The prince, dismayed by the poor reception of the gift he had toiled so hard for, decided to eat the apple himself so he might gain its enlightenment and see his foolishness as others did. But when it was gone and only the core remained, he felt no different.

“Perhaps the old woman was mistaken,” he sighed. “But I feel no poorer for having retrieved it.”

He planted the seeds, and from them grew a tall tree that produced many beautiful apples. Its children were cultivated into large orchards providing sustenance and shade to the kingdom. In the years that followed, whenever the prince looked at the tree, he remembered his journey and smiled.