Talking Turkey

A little fowl fun. Turkey or goose?

While the old birds shopped for Christmas presents, Felix and Mort made their annual Black Friday visit to the local tavern to plan Christmas dinner. They’d taken charge of the cooking years ago, and ever since the first year – when they’d admittedly ruffled a few feathers – the girls happily had left them to it.

They pored over recipes and shared reviews while Phil, the barkeep, kept the bourbon flowing. Felix spread out his clippings and arranged them into piles. “Time to talk turkey.”

Phil leaned on the bar. “Having turkey this year?”

“Goodness no!” Mort shook his head so hard his chin wobbled. “Goose! We always recommend goose.”

Phil raised an eyebrow. “What about Christmas traditions?”

“I’ll have you know, goose has a very long history.” Felix searched for the magazine article. “All the way back to the ancient Egyptians. Did you know that Marco Polo reported seeing geese in China? And Queen Elizabeth ordered that goose be served every Michaelmas in honor of her victory over the Spanish Armada.”

“But what about Ben Franklin?” the barkeep pointed out. “He was a big fan of turkey.”

“A turkey if there ever was one.” The two cooks laughed. “He should have stopped at electricity.”

“Nothing beats goose,” Mort said. “Goose fat has a far better flavor than peanut oil. Some people even save it for cooking. Did you know you can buy pure goose fat on Amazon?”

Phil shook his head. “My wife hates all the grease.”

“Aah…” Felix said, taking Phil under his wing. “But everything about roasted goose tops turkey. The skin is crispy. A goose is juicier than a turkey, and its dark, succulent flesh has a distinctively rich flavor all its own, with just the right amount of gaminess. Most importantly, the meat isn’t dry; it flakes off the bone.”

Mort’s beady eyes turned dreamy. “Alongside the golden goose, I’m thinking airy potato dumplings, red cabbage, and a baked apple with lingonberries. And apple sausage stuffing.”

“And liver paté,” Felix added, waving a recipe like a flag.

Mort sifted through the piles. “Shredded confit! Or we can pack the meat into pastries for deep-fried goose spring rolls.”

Phil replenished their bourbon and slid a recipe from the pile nearest him. “Goose crown pink with celeriac and cranberries. I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds good.”

Felix sighed. “We need to make a decision and get our ducks in a row. How about classic orange and thyme-scented goose? With all Mort’s fixings.”

“Sounds perfect.” Mort beamed. “We should slow-roast for 4-5 hours at 120C. We’ll still get crispy skin, but the breast will stay tender. Then for the last half hour, we’ll turn the temperature up to 220C.”

“You’ve convinced me,” Phil said, topping off their glasses. “I’m trying goose this year.”

“Your wife will love it.” Felix grinned and swayed on his perch. “Oh, my. I’m feeling loose as a goose!” He rested a wing on the bar, holding himself up.

Phil helped them gather up their recipes. “Time for you two turkeys to head home or your gals are going to cook your gooses.”

With a laugh, the two strutted from the bar, wattles wagging and tail feathers fanned. “We did it,” Felix chortled. “Another successful convert.”

“It was easy.” Mort danced a little turkey trot. “He was a sitting duck.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate.

And to those who don’t, I wish you a week full of gratefulness, love, and laughter.

Man in Control: Flash Fiction

Pixabay image

Brandon donned his latest acquisition—a  genuine silk suit. The industrious little silkworms bordered on extinct, and he finally ranked among the international elite who could afford their cocoons. His was new money, thanks to polished attorneys and creative accountants, both armed with tarnished ethics. 

He’d given himself two hours to make the one-hour trip from his penthouse to the corporate highrise across the gorge—one of a host of towers. And not the tallest. But he was only thirty-five, and the world was his chessboard, the match a move away from mate. In a few hours, a significant portion of the conglomerate’s assets would fall under his control.

He slipped into the leather recliner of his midnight-blue slider and tossed his briefcase on the seat beside him. “Headquarters. Skip the traffic and take the flyover.”

The slider’s cyber-system hummed to life. “Flyover not recommended.”

“Heavy traffic?”

“No traffic detected.”

Brandon mugged a face. “Then take the flyover.”

“Flyover not recommended.”

“Why not?”

“Flyover not recommended.”

“Override.” Brandon detached the console and typed his passcode, pleased to finally use the feature. He liked the idea of control, driving the slider instead of the slider driving him. The upgrade had cost him a small fortune. It would pay for itself that morning.

As the vehicle glided forward, Brandon closed his eyes and relaxed his shoulders. The slider veered from the congested rails onto the flyover, cruising into the pre-dawn darkness.

At the peak over the gorge, the slider decelerated and stopped. Brandon glanced out the window at the black depths below. Sunrise would soon carve sharp shadows across the cliffs and turn the river into molten gold.  “Proceed.”

“Not recommended.”

“Overide.” He typed in the code.

“Not recommended.”

“God damn it. Override.” He stabbed the console and received the same reply. After a quick check of his watch, he peered into the darkness ahead. “Is there a traffic problem?”

“No traffic detected.”

“What the hell? How long to back up and take the other route?”

“Estimated time three hours.”

Brandon barked a curse. He leaned forward and rubbed his hands together, changing tactics. “Override slider functions.”

“Not recommended.”

“Override braking system.”

“Not recommended.”

“Okay, how about override acceleration?”

“Not recommended.”

Brandon’s fist slammed onto the console, and the glass screen cracked. He tossed the damaged hardware onto the passenger seat. There was no point. His fate was sealed. He’d lost out on the biggest deal of his life.

“Cyber system impaired, reverting to manual overrides.”

“Ha!” Brandon checked the time. He’d make it if he flew. With the brake released, he pressed forward on the throttle. The slider responded, accelerated. With a laugh, he opened her up, and the bitch roared like a beast with a taste for speed.

The machine screamed down the other side of the flyover, lurched sideways on a damaged span of rail, and leaped into the sky. The sunrise blinded him as the slider plummeted, its throttle clutched in his white-knuckled hands. The golden river smashed the windshield into his face, his life, in the end, beyond his control.

***

destiny

disavowed

underlings deal and grasp

gold with white-knuckled fists

rapt in night’s deceptive dreams they fly

eyes blinded by a distant sunrise

snared by reckless desire

seconds gained and years lost

illusions

of control

***

It’s been a long time since I shared a flash story. I hope you enjoyed it.

I combined it with a syllabic poem in response to Colleen Chesebro’s weekly #TankaTuesday Wordcraft Challenge. Her challenge was to make up our own syllabic form! Well, that was fun. The one above has syllables 3/3/6/6/9/9/6/6/3/3. I named it a Distillate because it’s a distillation of a larger story. My guess is that every story’s theme can be captured in a poem, no matter how large the book. What do you think?

A Readers’ 12-Step Program #TBR

Thanks to everyone who took the time to write and read responses to the TBR story challenge. I’m delighted to share my offering. I hope you enjoy the story. Happy Reading!

Readers Anonymous: A 12-Step Program

I have a book problem. Check. First step done in my 12-step program.

Sucking in a breath, I push through the library’s wooden doors, ready to deal with my kindle addiction. The fluorescent lights shine on colorful shelves and comfy chairs, and I resist the temptation to browse. Some of the titles pop from the spines as if sprinkled with magic dust. The covers of fantasy books attract my eyes like lodestones. Down by my ankle, my Kindle tugs on my jeans and whispers, “Just read the blurb. Do it, do it, do it.”

I drop my gaze to the chubby little pest and shake my pant-leg loose of its grip. “No. We’re here to deal with your insatiable appetite. This has to stop.” My stubborn kindle digs his claws into my right boot, and I march to the meeting room in the back, dragging him across the worn carpet with every other step.

The room is almost bare of distractions. Someone with foresight covered the bookshelves with mismatched tablecloths. Four folding chairs form a circle, occupied by four women with a variety of e-book readers, every one of the devices glowering in defiance. The women look harried, and they scooch over to make room for one more chair.

They start introducing themselves.

Shelley smiles broadly and goes first. She’s in her twenties, a sales rep, who knew she had a problem when she started reading thrillers while stopped at traffic lights. Getting rear-ended propelled her into the group. She thinks she’ll be ready to move on after a few more meetings, but her e-reader squirms on her lap like a hungry toddler in a candy store, ready to raid the chocolate bars.

The woman to Shelley’s left rolls her eyes. She’s Mildred, a middle-aged reader of horror and a voracious fan of Clive Barker and Stephen King. She keeps her pudgy Kindle on a leash, which she’s tied to her chair. The growling beast has finished off a jar of red herrings, and Mildred ignores the thing as it shreds the corner of the carpet with its serrated teeth. “I keep him in a locked cage at home,” she says as if she’s kicked the habit.

“But, dear, you haven’t removed his internet access,” the next lady points out. “He’s sneaking anthologies.” Harriet is about ninety, sitting primly in a black coat and lace-up boots. The flattened hat on her gray head sports a flurry of raven feathers. She’s a life-long reader of Gothic romances.

When it’s Harriet’s time to fess up, she sighs dramatically. “My switch from hardcovers to paperbacks initiated an inevitable slide down the slippery slope into ebooks, and I’ve become addicted to having books at my fingertips.” Her kindle swoons into her leg and bats its eyelashes seductively. She frowns and locks the things between her heels.

“I like the instant gratification too,” I admit. “As soon as I finish a book, I like starting a new one.”              

The next lady in the circle pats my knee and snaps her gum. “We all do, dear. I’m Greta. I’m a sci-fi binger.” She dresses like she’s going to a dance club the minute the meeting adjourns. She crosses her legs, and her spikey heel whacks her battered tablet flat onto its cover. She scoops up the pot-bellied blimp and sits it on her lap. “I put the thing on a diet. You know… buy one, read two.”

The other women nod knowingly, including me.

“Then, I’ll have one of those days. You know the kind.” Greta huffs. “We just fall off the wagon and start buying trilogies, and suddenly I’ve lost months of progress.”

Mildred rolls her eyes. “I told you not to sign up for Kindle Unlimited.”

“But it’s such a good deal,” Shelley pipes in. Her e-reader squirms from her lap and waddles to the door leading to the stacks. He collapses and starts wailing.

“And that’s what you end up with.” Mildred cants her head toward the tantrum.

“Try to ignore him,” Shelley whispers.

His misery is hard to overlook, but it’s my turn. “Well, I’m Diana, and I’ve noticed that my kindle is growing a paunch. I know there are people with nearly a thousand books, and I’m not that bad yet…” All four of them suddenly look everywhere but at my face. “But I have months’ worth of reading that I’ll never get to, and it’s only getting worse.” My greedy little Kindle grumbles and snivels until I stuff it in my bag and close the zipper. “It doesn’t stop. It’s insatiable.”

“They lack restraint,” Harriet says. “Too much passion and desire.”

“Never a dull moment though.” Mildred gives the leash a tug, and her kindle gnashes its teeth. “Save it for when we get home,” she mutters, and it plops down on its haunches and glowers.

Greta unwraps another piece of gum and pops it between her scarlet lips. “I’ll admit, I can’t remember the last time I was bored. I just finished the best book, my favorite this year. I’d definitely recommend it.”

“Oooh,” Shelly hurries to the door and grabs her e-reader. It quits hollering and gurgles at her. “What’s the title?”

“Shelly!” Mildred frowns. “No new books!”

Shelly stops short and pouts as she takes her seat. “But… it’s Greta’s favorite.”

“I read an excellent romance mash-up by an indie author.” Harriet’s face lights up. “It had the perfect blend of thrills and lust.”

“Gah!” Shelley looks stricken. Her e-reader drools on her hands.

I give her a commiserating smile. I want to hear about the books too. Just the sound of a great title makes me want to snuggle up with my roly-poly Kindle and read. I unzip my bag and let the poor starving porker out. It climbs onto my lap, looking morose. The group sits silently for a moment, both ladies and e-readers. The steam’s run out of our meeting.

“I don’t know if this group is the right fit for me,” I say.

Shelley tucks her hair behind her ear. “It is kind of depressing.”

“There’s a degree of hopelessness.” Harriet’s lips pinch as the brightness in her face dims.

Greta gazes down at her tablet. “I never liked book-diets. They’re just fads. They never work.”

Mildred draws in a resigned breath, and her gaze pins me to my chair. “Do you have any ideas as to how we can make our group function better?”

“Actually, I do.” I smile at the ladies. “How about we turn it into a book club?”

Writing Challenge – The TBR Pile

pixabay compilation

I don’t know anyone who owns a Kindle (or other ebook reader) and isn’t buried in books. We groan as we add more to the stack… then laugh about it and buy more! That’s my situation anyway.

I thought it would be fun to start 2022 with a writing challenge:

Write a story or poem about your TBR pile.

If you want to play, here’s how it works:

  • Deadline is January 23rd
  • Post the story or poem on your blog
  • Link back to this post or leave your link in the comments below
  • Keep it family friendly
  • I will reblog as many of the entries as I can through the end of the January
  • I’ll close comments here, so readers will head your way to comment.
  • In early February, I’ll post a round-up with links.
  • You may use the (attribution free) pixabay image above if you want to
  • And most of all, Have Fun!

Happy Writing and Reading!

The Shadows We Breathe #NewRelease

I’ve been on hiatus for a few days with a sore back and, upon returning to the blogosphere, was delighted to see the release of Sarah’s latest anthology. I’m honored to have my work included with that of her other talented contributors. Many thanks, Sarah! I’m closing comments here as I’m heading out for some treatment (and pampering). Hugs!

Lemon Shark

3D_Mockup_Vol1_watermark logo

It’s here! 🥂🖤 🎉

The Shadows We Breathe is now available in eBook and paperback!

eBook

Paperback

I am so grateful to have worked with seven talented, amazing authors to create this gorgeous anthology of short fiction.

 

Thank you to all the authors who contributed. And to Loni Townsend and Allie Potts for their help and patience in explaining techy stuff I don’t understand. 😜💕

 

Blurb

WE ARE ALL PART SHADOW 

Life promises joy and sorrow. Alongside the light, there will always be traces of darkness. It is the nature of being human.

In this anthology, we explore relationships—how they sculpt us, hurt us, help us, and reveal our deepest desires.

Eight artists, whose words paint worlds, bring you stories of heartache, loss, hope, and forgiveness. They unveil the intimacy and complexity of relationships.

Whether family, friend, or lover, connections to others can hold us up or break us…

View original post 366 more words

My Mother’s Song

Image by Sue Vincent

A while ago, I wrote this 99-word story for the Sue Vincent Classic at Carrot Ranch, and I never got around to sharing it here. Sue has since passed away, leaving a hole in our writing community, and I miss her. I hope you enjoy the story.

My Mother’s Song

Even on a day of grief, the living abide no idleness. Bodies need nourishment, goats tending. The hearth yearns for fire before the wind sweeps us all beneath the dirt. I loathe our hill, the leaden clouds and cold toes, black spots on the moldering potatoes.

For years, I’d griped about my tasks while my mother had sung with the rhythm of her washboard. Of a beauty I couldn’t behold.

Now, without her, I face the quilted valley, the snow-laced mountains, branches gilded by the sun. Only now do I see, and my heart bursts with my mother’s song.

The Proposal

Back on February 1st, Carrot Ranch kicked off the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic as a way to support Sue in her in journey through cancer and show her how much she is loved by this creative community.

Winners were announced on March 22nd. And what a fabulous outpouring of talent. To read all the 99-word stories and 99-syllable poems based on Sue’s photo prompt, click HERE.

I’m delighted to share one of my entries.

The Proposal

When he’d asked for her hand, he’d promised a white-washed farm in the patchwork valley. Verdant fields and tart cherry trees perfect for pies. He’d offered gardens and pearls and the earnest comfort of old-fashioned love. And each time, she’d denied him.

Then they’d climbed her autumn hill, where the valley flowed like an emerald river, and beneath the woolen clouds, the sun’s long brush painted the mountains with light. He grasped her hand and dropped to a knee. “If I build you a cabin on this golden hill, will you marry me?”

So certain was her answer.

Yes.

Liminal

Photo prompt “Hidden” by Sue Vincent

Liminal

Her sable brush roamed the canvas. Delicate strokes of umber and ochre for the barren branches. Burnt sienna for the dying autumn leaves.

She paused. Amused.

Had she painted autumn’s abandoned twigs? Or young buds, heralds of the coming green? She savored her newfound uncertainty. Fall or Spring? Snow a foretelling of what was to come or a last gust of cold breath before the skies turned blue?

Her lover leaned over her shoulder, adding bergamot to scents of oil and turpentine. “Why the gray skies?”

She angled a smile. “Because the liminal world is rarely black and white.”

~*~

I wrote (3) 99-word stories for the Sue Vincent Rodeo over at Carrot Ranch. Then, I read the fine print and discovered I could only submit (2). Uh oh. Decisions, decisions. Well, this is the one that I didn’t submit.

Remember that submissions can’t be previously published, even on your blog. If you want to try your hand at a 99-word story in honor of Sue, you can saddle up and read the rodeo rules at Carrot Ranch.

The Terrible Night Before Christmas

787

A Christmas tale from 2014!

I thought it might produce a chuckle and a Ho Ho Ho.

The Terrible Night before Christmas

The whole escapade started with the black cat. Santa leaned forward in his rickety office chair, puffing on his stumpy pipe and wreathing his head in smoke. He pecked with two chubby fingers at his typewriter, finishing a last letter to a second-grader in the Bronx. The kid was bound for disappointment this year, the result of a spectacular imagination and a dose of new-fangled animation that left make-believe characters appearing plausible. A challenge for the elves who prided themselves on unabashed creativity.

Dear Chuck,

I hope you enjoy the train set, hand-carved by a master elf in my workshop. I realize you requested a live dragon, but creatures that breathe fire are not only exceedingly rare but generally discouraged in apartment buildings where they’re apt to smoke the place up if not burn it down. Be good and Merry Christmas.

Yours Truly,

Santa Claus

He slumped back in the worn seat, adding the letter to his “regrets” pile. That’s when the black cat appeared in the window, yowling to come in. How a cat haunted the North Pole in the midst of winter was beyond him. No doubt, a practical joke offered up by the elves who reveled in some idle time now that this year’s orders were filled. He’d have to remember to check the sleigh’s bench for Insta-Glue. Last year’s mischief had cemented his britches to the seat, requiring him to deliver gifts in his skivvies.

He cranked open the window to let the creature in, hoping a blast of bad luck didn’t blow in with the snow. Not that he was superstitious, but Christmas Eve was the wrong time for screw-ups.

Just then, the alarm clock on the mantel burst into a raucous version of Jingle Bells, jolting him into action. He quickly slipped on his black boots, red coat, and furry hat, crammed the letters in a back pocket, and kissed Mrs. Claus on the cheek before bolting out the door.

The sleigh stood ready, the reindeer harnessed and snorting in the crisp air. Behind the driver’s bench, the elves had wedged a dozen red sleds and a mountain of bulging sacks. Shiny bows and curlicues of ribbon peeked from the cinched openings, and the elves had sprinkled the entire load with magic dust as white as new-fallen snow.

Santa checked the seat and studied the reins. A quick inspection of the runners revealed not one string of tin cans, and he made certain the reindeer weren’t sporting cowbells. Finally, he hefted the bags of magic dust, and satisfied that they were full to the brim, he clambered up and took the reins for the long winter’s ride.

With deliveries to Canada wrapped up, Santa breezed through New England. He descended on New York long after the children were all nestled in their beds. He planned to zig-zag his way south to the tip of Patagonia and eventually west across the Pacific toward the International Date Line, the last leg of his journey. Despite the late hour, the Bronx sparkled. Light-entwined trees and storefront displays twinkled with color. Christmas trees glimmered behind darkened windows, and from above, the streetlights formed strands of holiday cheer.

The reindeer landed on the roof of Chuck’s apartment building, raising the ideal amount of clatter. Santa hopped down and did a few lumbar stretches for his back. He lifted a sack from the sleigh and reached into the final bag of magic dust, tossing a handful over his head. With a finger pressed to his nose, he nodded. And nothing happened.

Another handful. Nothing.

He tentatively licked a finger…”Sugar!” Santa scowled and shouted at the reindeer, “Those blasted elves are going to pay if I have to stuff every perky little head in the coal bin!”

After several minutes of ranting, he puffed up his rosy cheeks and blew out a sigh. He grabbed his set of emergency lock picks from the sleigh’s toolkit, slung the sack over a shoulder, and headed to the stairwell.

Quiet as a church mouse, he crept through the building, picking locks and sneaking into apartments. Dutifully, he ate gingerbread cookies and drank milk, packing carrots into his pockets. He stuffed carefully-hung stockings and unloaded his sack beneath the bright trees before tiptoeing back into the hallway and starting on the next door.

In Chuck’s apartment, the sugarplum cookies were homemade. Santa snacked first and then rearranged the presents beneath the tree, placing the train set and letter in front, and flanking it with gifts for the girls. He was just closing the door with a soft click when a light flipped on and he heard a tense voice, “Who’s there?”

Santa took off at a scamper, not glancing back as the apartment door opened. “Hey, you!” the voice yelled. “I’m calling the cops!”

As Santa ran, he cursed the naughty elves once again. In a panic, he burst through the building’s front door onto the snowy street and took off down the slick sidewalk, the bundle of toys bouncing on his back. His belly jiggled like jelly as he high-tailed it around a corner, trying not to slide into traffic. Police sirens wailed, and a horn honked as he dashed across the street. Ducking into a narrow alley, he tripped on a filthy snow pile, whirled into a trashcan, and landed flat on his back in the city’s ashes and soot. Lights flashed as a police car screeched into the narrow entrance.

The fluorescent lighting in the police station gave Santa a headache. A plastic tree sat atop a file cabinet, decorated with looped strings of popcorn, and the remnants of a holiday celebration littered the desks.

Santa’s interrogation hadn’t gone well, his candid explanation regarding recent activities rendering him fingerprinted, photographed, and handcuffed to an interview table. His captors were arranging for a mental health evaluation and overnight accommodations, prospects that didn’t bode well for Christmas.

“We’re booking you on breaking and entering,” the tired-eyed detective stated. “Do you have an attorney?”

“I was delivering presents,” Santa explained again.

The man sipped from a cup of black coffee and ate snowman cookies from a paper plate. “Want one?”

“No, thanks, I’ve already eaten about two billion.”

“Yeah, right.” The detective shook his head wearily. “So you were delivering presents with a lock pick. Isn’t Santa supposed to use magic?”

“Ordinarily, yes,” Santa assured the man. “But the elves gave me sugar instead of magic dust.”

“Uh huh.”

“They’re ruthless pranksters,” Santa explained. “Last year they glued me to the sleigh.”

“Uh huh. And the carrots we found stuffed in your pockets are for the reindeer?”

“Precisely.”

“What about the sack of presents?” the detective asked. “Some children are going to wake up without gifts under the tree.”

Santa heaved a sigh and scratched his cherry nose. “Only if I don’t finish my route. I’ve two continents to cover before dawn.”

“That’s only three hours from—“

The interview room door opened and a uniformed woman entered. She leaned over the table and whispered in the detective’s ear. His chin drew back as he frowned at her. “Is this a joke?”

“Nope. Eight tiny reindeer. I counted.”

“On the roof?”

She shrugged. “And a miniature sleigh filled with presents.”

“Stolen?” the incredulous man asked.

“No one’s missing anything,” she informed him. “In fact, they report unexplained gifts.”

“Holy…moly.”

While both officers stared at Santa, he raised his eyebrows and smoothed his white beard. “I have a route to finish if you don’t mind.”

“Uh…yeah…okay. I guess.” The detective unlocked his cuffs. The pair not only escorted him from the station but drove him back to the apartment building. With the officers in tow, he hiked the stairs to the snowy roof. The reindeer pranced and pawed their hoofs, impatient with the delay.

“You should probably get rid of this,” the detective said, handing him a folder. “We’ll just pretend it never happened if that’s alright with you.”

Santa accepted the folder, and after they removed the yellow police tape from the sleigh, he passed each of them a gift from his sack. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” the two murmured in unison.

With a twinkle of his eye, Santa mounted his sleigh. He whistled and shouted the reindeer’s names. Eagerly, the team dashed to the edge of the roof and leapt. The sleigh dipped, and then the harnesses snapped taut as the reindeer flew up over the city rooftops with their sleigh full of toys.

As the dawning sky pearled the horizon, Santa left the team in the elves’ care, too tired at the moment to exact his revenge. Mrs. Claus met him at the door and took the folder as he unbuttoned his coat and kicked off his boots. “My, my,” she exclaimed. “Here’s one for the photo album.”

Santa glanced at his mug shot as he plotted this year’s retaliation, a merry grin curving his lips like a bow. “Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho.”

Reaching #Writephoto

photo copyright Sue Vincent

Black limbs jutted from thick boles. Their skeletal twigs clawed at her clothes, snagged her hair, and scratched her arms. She’d lost her way in the twilit forest but didn’t dare turn back. Couldn’t surrender. Not after coming so far.

She pushed forward, stumbled over gnarled roots that writhed from the earth like snakes. Her imagination ran in wild spirals and panic stole her breath. Soon darkness would filter between the boughs and force her to stop, at the mercy of the autumn cold, the hunger coiling in her stomach. Wolves roamed the uncharted terrain.

Why had she fled with so little preparation? Had she made a mistake? Could she have endured her troubles a little longer? Even as a child, when her mother died, she’d dreamed of flight. Her father had fallen prey to a widow’s deft manipulations. He’d fawned over his new bride, unable to acknowledge her cruelty, terrified of the truth, of his grief.

Until he too rested in the graveyard.

She tripped over a root and pitched to the ground, bloodying her palms and gouging a knee. Lips pressed between her teeth, she brushed pine needles from stinging hands and slowed her pace. Animals rustled in the underbrush, and an owl hooted overhead. She cringed and stepped gingerly between the trees, outstretched fingers snapping the dead twigs threatening to blind her.

Despite her resolve, her current situation elicited a muttered curse. A year ago, she’d made a poor choice, but the only one her naive desperation had conjured. She’d fled her father’s home, a decision well and good, but she’d charged straight into a debacle with seven other men. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

She’d escaped a life of cruelty for one scarcely better, one where safety had depended on servitude. She’d slaved for them: cooked, cleaned, laundered. They’d expected cheerful smiles, merry entertainment, and endless doting from a paper-thin woman without a heart or soul or choice. They hadn’t allowed her beyond the garden, scared her with threats of wild beasts and dangerous hunters, of being murdered. And all the while, their own faults had gone ignored. They were lazy slobs, grumpy and witless. Even the happiest among them didn’t lift a finger.

The sun was losing its battle with the moon. Spindly shadows lengthened as night crept through the canopy. When her endurance dropped through the soles of her shoes and trudging onward seemed pointless, she crested a hill and gasped. The forest parted. Beyond the last filigree of barren branches, the day’s final rays graced a serene valley. Twilight reached over the distant hills in a ribbon of golden hope. Snow White smiled, free to chart a new path. She squared her shoulders and set out for a future of her choosing.

**

Oh, it’s so fun to be participating again in Sue Vincent’s Thursday #Writephoto challenge. Happy Writing!