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Terse Tales

Terse Tales: Creativity and Madness

Theme:  Image Prompt

I always struggled with the line between creativity and madness.

But I finally had it, shaping eccentricity into something that people would have to appreciate. I stood anxious on the platform, waiting for the reveal. So many years, so many failed versions of me: the shy child, lost and alone in my dreams; a demure, conformist adolescent; a rebellious adult; all leading to apathy that watched the world whizz by while I abstained. None of those faces had been what my art needed.

If only I’d known it would take someone believing in me. Landon had seen the beauty in me and my art, and this was thanks to him. I never would have made such an opus without him.

He understood me, was there when the muses fled. I smiled to myself, but the waiting crowd reflected it back. I never thought I would stand in a gallery with him beside me. He had helped me find this place, sell my first painting. And the owners could do nothing but admire my dedication. This reveal would not only make my career, but put them on the map as well.

Ultimately, even his unwavering support began to crack. Yet those prickles of doubt were just what I needed to push me forward to greatness.

Who knew it was a matter of medium, not inspiration.

The speeches slowed, and the crowd was looking at me, waiting. Deep breath, one sharp tug to reveal it all.

The sheet fell away, and I heard their gasps. But I could not take my eyes off the majesty of what I created.

Landon would be immortalized, forever my muse. He was the perfect medium to express the impossible I had always dreamed of.

I always struggled with the line between creativity and madness.

Terse Tales: Breaking the Cycle

Theme: The door hadn’t been there yesterday.”

Julia winced at the sound of the refrigerator slamming. She could hear the irritation steaming out as he breathed.

“Where’s the milk?”

“I think we’re out,” she replied, eyes down. You never made eye contact with an aggressive animal unless you wanted to fight.

He took a breath, hand on the table to steady himself from such an affront. Last night had been all apologies. He would be better, he swore. He saw where he went wrong. And, besides, now she knew, too, and could do better.

“We’re out of milk, and you didn’t think to get any? Or, what, did you empty it for your breakfast?”

“I had toast. I can make you some if you’d like.”

He collapsed into a chair and waved her toward the counter. There was a storm brewing again. He didn’t speak again until the toaster finished, causing Julia to jump.

“I’m really trying, you know. I just need you to meet me halfway. You’re in charge of the house stuff, so it makes me angry when you drop the ball.”

The words were calm, but they cut, and she knew how this would go. As it always had. “Meet me halfway” Don’t drop the ball.” “Carry your weight.” And once the words stop hitting hard enough…

As she buttered his toast, Julia remembered work yesterday, remembered Teresa. Her eyes had been filled with knowing and unsaid words. “If you ever need a place, I have a guest room. It’s yours as long as you need it.”

Escape. The door had not been there yesterday, but Julia felt a certainty growing within her.

He finished breakfast and sulked out of the apartment as a preamble to the evening’s inevitable outcome. She found an old duffel bag. It was time to open that door.

Terse Tales: The Annunciation

Theme: It was February when the Angels arrived.

“Do not be afraid,” they boomed from where they hovered beyond the edge of my apartment balcony.  Jack and Dozer continued their daily walk below me, unaware of what was happening in the sky. Jack waved. 

My brain insisted the amalgamation of wings, limbs, and eyes was human. And yet every angle I considered seemed more alien. The image sawed at the strings of my sanity as I tried to conceptualize a definition of human that encompassed these forms.  “Greetings, highly favored one. You have been blessed by the Lord of this world to bear the one who brings freedom.”

I could see snow falling around them; none had been predicted as it was unseasonably warm for a winter month. And yet there it was, drifting from the sky and piling on the balcony. A miracle.

“Have I gone insane?” I asked mostly myself, but the angel before me heard it all.

“Have faith, daughter. Believe! For even now, a son grows within you. He will grow strong and be the one to rule the heavens and the earth.”

Impossibly, I felt something move within me, a twist of limbs. My hands went to my belly on instinct.

My eyes stung with the sight of them as they hung there, motionless. It seemed as if I could almost see through the outward image to some truer form beneath, but it swam out of focus the more I tried. My head began to pound.

“Take heed, chosen Daughter. Through you, a new world comes.”

With that, they were gone. I could still feel something new within me, impossible yet true. I reached out a hand to touch the snow that remained, somehow unmelting in the sunlight.  It smudged across my fingers as I did. Not snow.


Terse Tales: Destiny Begun

Theme: Coming of Age

To be one second so ordinary and the next so transformed was a shock no one would handle gracefully. Lucia was, however, doing far worse than even that. 

When the bandits had sprung the ambush, she had been jarred out of daydreams by a flurry of adrenaline. Her eyes widened, heart raced, and her hands tightened on the reins. When they pulled her from her horse with blades at the ready and ill-intent in their eyes, something had changed. 

Some recess opened up within her mind and a hundred lifetimes exploded into her consciousness. Operating on a blend of habit an instinct, her body moved through the would-be attackers. One moment she was in their grasp, the next with a sword, the next watching those who could still do so flee. 

She had never held a sword before in her life, but it was clear one–maybe all–of those other lives had. 

Now she sat in the muddy middle of the road, still holding the sword that felt natural in her uncalloused hands. 

“I am the chosen avatar,” said a voice in her mind that both was and wasn’t hers. 

“I don’t want to be chosen anything,” she replied, satisfied that at least her spoken voice was unchanged. 

She poked the edges of the revealed memories, but delving deep seemed like an overwhelming endeavor. It was a morass of magic, battle, loss, and triumph. Always repeating. A line she would undoubtedly continue. 

But maybe not if she stayed here, mired in the mud. If she did not move, she could not be chosen. 

The new multitude in her mind reminded her this was utterly foolish and impractical. Yet she stayed until it grew dark, holding on to the moments when she had last been Lucia and only Lucia. 

Terse Tales: A Final Farewell

Theme: Lost Outside Image

Krul sat on the ridge and looked out at the landscape. It was the world he had seen since the day his eyes opened, and there was a melancholy in his posture. His limbs felt heavy, body seeming to sink into the loamy soil. Perhaps, he mused, he would take root there.

Quiet, unobtrusive steps approached. He knew it was Shala without looking at her. The ground flexed as she sat down next to him.

“It is a beautiful sight, ” she said after sufficient time had passed. He stayed silent.

Beautiful, yes. Arching canopy that glowed faintly in the twilight. Rich, vibrant earth in shades of blue, purple, and red. He was leaving a world built for him, and he might not return.

Earth. He has been once before. It was a crowded place with the wrong gravity, corridors that hovered too close to his form, chairs without space for his legs. And smells everywhere. Their atmosphere assaulted him every time he chanced a breath.

“I want to remember it,” he said into the silence.

Shala’s presence remained still, but he could feel her humming with thoughts she would not say. The planet was not the only thing being left behind.

“You will not forget. You will come home to us.”

Krul stuffed down his response. She did not need to know the assignment was marked in earth years, years that would leave him aged if he returned at all. Hope was good.

There was a loud buzz that resounded through his chitin. “My escort is arriving soon,” he said as she stood. Shala stayed seated.

Good, he thought as he walked away. She could remember this for him. She could remember him.

Terse Tales: Insomnia

Theme: Song Prompt Why do all the monsters come out at night? Why do we sleep where we want to hide?

Lyla had stared at the ceiling long enough to memorize every crack and imperfection. It was an ineffective distraction, and she felt the thoughts still whispering.

They’re going to figure it out. Figure out the fraud you are.

She tried to turn her thoughts down other paths, but each one ended in the same morass of negativity.

Remember that presentation to the boss? You skipped a whole slide and didn’t realize for ten minutes.

The memory of panic pushed her heart rate up until she felt that familiar heat of embarrassment. She remembered fumbling back in the slides and her words. And that look, the forced smile that betrayed annoyance. Impatience.

Incompetent. That’s what they all think.

Lyla glanced at the clock. 2:46am. For hours she had been trapped by this barrage of her mistakes, from recent to ancient history.

“No one even remembers that,” she told herself through gritted teeth.

You’ve never been good at much; why should it change now?

She rolled over in bed, squeezing her eyes tight as if she could ambush sleep into compliance. If anything, the voices seemed to get louder.

Now you’ll be exhausted tomorrow. Just make more mistakes.

With each new thought, she sought some pleasant place for her mind to hide.

You should call in sick. But then they’ll all see you can’t handle it.

A deep breath slowed her racing heart. She picked up the book from the nightstand and turned on the light. If she was going to contend with these internal monsters, she could at least wield a little magic to shove them back to the darkness.

Eventually, the book lay limp on her chest. She could finally breathe easy, mind free to explore the impossible world of her dreams where such mundane fears could not tread.

Terse Tales: Till Death Do Us Part

Theme: “It was magical”

I could not take my eyes off of him, even in such a simple moment. He was at the kitchen table, morning sun cutting through the windows and setting him aglow. After all that had happened, seeing him there made my heart race. I took a deep breath; it was important to be centered.

He smiled at me, watching me watching him. It was a perfect moment, everything still. I breathed in deep, inhaling the scent of fresh coffee. I just needed to stay in this reality as long as possible.

“You know I love you, right?” I asked, laying my hand over his.

He took a sip of his coffee instead of answering, but I could see it in his eyes. I knew he appreciated all I had sacrificed to give us this.

It was almost perfect enough to forget it was magical. To forget that the glamour would fade and I’d be left alone with the dregs of reality once again. I willed with everything I had to keep the charade up longer this time. Eventually, it had to stick, and we’d get the happily ever after we deserved.

I was concentrating so hard I almost didn’t hear him.

“Please,” he whispered, his eyes pleading with me from behind the broken smile. “Please let me go.”

I felt a surge of panic, of rage. How dare he threaten what I had made? Boiling anger spilled into the world, distorting the image until it finally broke apart. I was left staring at a bloated corpse across the table.

I pushed from the table and assessed the wards. His spirit was not getting away, because I would make it right. I would make it work. He promised me forever. It was not my fault he tried to break his promise.

Terse Tales: Recover

Theme: Transformation

James settled into his accustomed spot on the couch. His eyes began their habitual trip out the window—nothing was there, as always—before he snapped them back to the doctor across the room. She smiled, clipboard balanced on her knee.

“So, today’s our last day?” she began.

He shifted in his seat, reaching for one of the decorative pillows and pulling it into his lap. “That’s what you keep telling me.” It was supposed to be good-natured, but even he heard the edge at the end.

“It’s normal to have some anxiety. This is a change.”

He nodded but did not immediately respond. She left that silence long enough before leaning forward. “We’ll wrap things up today, but first, how have the past few weeks been?”

This was familiar, a comforting routine. In the beginning, this discussion had been full of stress, anger, anxiety, and grief. Now it was…boring. They checked in on the usual things—all going fine. She was right, of course; it was time to end. And he had even suggested it. But facing the reality….

“So,” she said after a while, “if you could go back to the beginning, what would that James think?”

He laughed at the image. “He’d think I was trying to trick him into something.”


“Yeah, I mean, look at me.” And James finally paused to do just that. “I went to my daughter’s recital last week,” he said quietly. “And I finally called Ricky. He’s doing good.”

“He wasn’t upset?”

James shook his head. “Hell, I haven’t had a nightmare this week.” Once he started, it was hard not to see the fruits of his determination.

At the end of the hour, he stood outside the office door, business card in hand “just in case.” It was time for the next chapter.

Terse Tales: Just Beyond

Theme: The World Upside Down Image

“You know the only option is to accept it,” she said, her words gentle yet firm.

“I know. I just–” the words broke. It was hard to see anything through this wash of tears. He brushed a hand across his eyes and the world blurred further. “How do you know?” he asked after a long, shaking breath.

“You don’t,” was the simple reply.

He studied the room around him, its chaos and senselessness. Things that had been overlooked now stood in stark relief. There was the picture of his sister, the keychain his friend had picked up on vacation, a t-shirt from a forgotten concert. This detritus of his life, now a testament.

“But what happened?” he asked. Clawing through his mind, he could find plenty of memories. But the end was blank. The empty space of a recently pulled tooth.

She shrugged, eyes wandering the room with polite curiosity.

“Can I say goodbye? Call my dad?”

She smiled, an ancient smile worn many times, as she softly shook her head. “The time for goodbyes has almost passed. Only one is left.”

She reached out her hand. He stared at it, world reeling and snapping into focus in succession. One moment, there was peace and acceptance. The next a maelstrom of doubt and uncertainty.

“They’ll miss me, though,” he said. His eyes searched hers, seeking mercy. “I don’t want them to be sad.”

“It is a human’s lot to love and lose.” She made a small gesture with her hand, urging him forward. “But joy comes with reunion. You can wait for them, just beyond.”

He did not try to wipe away the tears now, letting them fall as he took her hand. He looked at the world behind him–his corner of the universe–as it began to grow dim.


Terse Tales: Into the Deep

Theme: When you looked inside, you knew things would never be the same.

The water lapped against the boat, and I leaned back, letting the salt bake onto my body. It was time to head back to shore, but my boat was lighter than I had hoped. A little longer, a few more casts.

Then, there was a new sound.  I shook off the afternoon doldrums and leaned my ears toward the sound, a steady tapping coming from the side of the boat.

It was some detritus caught in the tides. A mundane explanation, certainly. I started to settle back and lose myself in thought again. But the sound changed. A tap, then a splash, then more taps repeating a pattern. As if the ocean were playing a rhyming game from my youth.

I stood, shaking off fatigue and the inertia of a long day. As I leaned over the edge and gazed down into the water, I froze.

Events that change the way you view the world should come with some sort of fanfare. I got nothing besides a still day on the ocean and the traditional melancholy of my thoughts. Yet my world was reeling. For in that water was a face.

It was mostly human, I reasoned. A swimmer, here, far from shore, I irrationally reasoned. But that did not account for the graceful swoop of its lower body, the tail splashing water at my boat. The face smiled, golden eyes reflecting familiar friendliness. I had no way to understand what I was seeing, but I knew it was beautiful.

The creature tapped on the side of the boat with a playful twist of its head. Those were human hands, but for the webbing. One hand reached out to me, warm, inviting, and kind.  I accepted.

If only I had known I could never go back.

Terse Tales: Capgras Syndrome

Theme: “Something was wrong”

Cheryl sat stiffly in the metal chair, taking deep breaths as Dr. Brown taught her; she studied the woman across the table. That woman had familiar blue eyes, a kind smile, and hair tucked into a nostalgic messy braid. Cheryl forced a smile.

“Hi, mom,” the woman said, hope and pain in her eyes.

“Addie?” Cheryl started. Dr. Brown nodded optimistically from where he perched on his chair in the corner.

“Yeah, mom, it’s me. It’s Addie.”

There were tears brimming on either side of the table. Cheryl let the edge of a true smile form. She reached across the table and took the young woman’s hand.

But something wasn’t right. Cheryl recoiled, all the joy vanishing.

“No,” she barked, “you aren’t Addie. Addie died. I saw her. She died.” The words were spilling out now, each more agonized than the last.

Dr. Brown was beside her in a moment. “Cheryl,” he said gently, “remember, we talked about this. Addie was taken to the hospital. She li–“

“No, my baby died. You are trying to trick me. It’s all a trick.” Now the words were a full-on yell, and none of Dr. Brown’s soothing made it through. He shared a glance with Addie, then tapped twice on the door behind him.

The orderly helped Cheryl out of the room, a mix of firm and gentle born of compassion and years of experience.

Once the door closed, Dr. Brown turned back to Addie, the customer service smile fading.

“That was a pitiful performance,” he spat. “We’ve got that woman as drugged as we can while keeping her conscious, and she wasn’t fooled for a minute.” His gaze was cold and Addie met it in kind. “Do better,” he hissed as he exited, “or you’ll get us all killed.”

Terse Tales: A Journey of A Thousand Miles

Theme: Road Trip

The music poured around her, filling the car with sound and energy. Kyla moved with the music, belting out the tunes as she shot down the highway towards lands ahead. She felt alive, invigorated, and so she drove on, car diving in and out of pools of light as streetlights flickered overhead. It was a path set out for her.

The car moved with her, acting as an extension of her own body. She was dragon and rider, knight and steed, moving with one singular purpose to the rhythm encompassing her. The road, now conquered, faded away beneath her tires and she pressed on.

There was plenty of music, designed precisely for an occasion such as this. The disc spun in the player and dozens more awaited, each promising a mix of nostalgia and joy. Lyrics poured out of her from places mostly forgotten as tears trailed down her cheeks, unacknowledged except to wipe them away when the road dissolved into a blur. She drove onward.

With the bursting light of dawn, she turned off the highway and onto the city streets, eventually coming to stop in front of an unfamiliar apartment she would call home. Silence settled in heavily once the car was off, and she felt her mind surging ahead. It would be a few hours yet before the office opened to get keys, but moving in would not take long. She hazarded a glance at the flotsam of her old life lying in boxes in the backseat, fragments of something before, but turned away. No time for the past now. She had made sure to fill the road behind her with enough noise to keep her thoughts from wending back that way.

It was a new day, and she planned to keep it that way.

Terse Tales: A Waking Nightmare

Theme: You weren’t supposed to wake up here.

From darkness to light. It all happened in an instant, the world exploding into vibrancy. I gasped— I could remember breathing, yet this felt like my first breath. The oxygen raced ragged down my throat, ripping into my lungs. It ached to breathe, it ached to see.

My brain felt unsure of how to parse the world. Light and shadow. Noises—someone was walking somewhere, something screamed, whether mechanical or animal I could not tell. There was an assault of smells that made me gag, either because they were unpleasant or because I had been so deprived. I gagged, flooding my senses with that bitter taste.

It was too much at once, and I felt myself drowning in sensation. As the flood subsided, I could piece things together, steadily understanding. Above me was the roof, wooden and in disrepair. The walls were dusty and stained. Those screams were certainly not mechanical. Those smells were certainly rot.

Worst were the shadows finding permanence. Bodies, lying on a table like the one I occupied. They lay there still, quiet, and unmoving.

And then there were the footsteps.

Something obscured my view, and my eyes struggled to refocus. Then there was a monstrous face, the source of the smell.

The eyes bulged at strange angles, barely contained by the flesh of its face. A ragged gash served as the mouth, a menagerie of teeth standing at lazy attention inside. It sniffed.

“Got another one,” it growled in a bubbling voice. It paused, head titled for a response, then shrugged. “Guess I’ll get this one.”

Rough hands on my body, like coarse stones tearing my skin. “Please,” I heard my voice, unfamiliar and harsh with disuse, “I shouldn’t be here.”

It laughed. “Of course you should. Now back to sleep.”

A needle’s pinch, then darkness.

Terse Tales: An Absence of Monsters

Theme: “The door crept open”

The growl came from the closet. There was no denying the fact nor any reconciling it with reality. Lana hadn’t been sleeping and now wouldn’t be anytime soon. Instead, she stared at the wooden door and clenched the blankets about her with the primal instinct they would protect her.

“Get it together,” she whispered through gritted teeth. The impossibility required rationality to reassert itself quickly, shoving the fear to the side. “There are no monsters in closets.”

As if to prove to herself and whatever had growled, she flung the blankets aside and put her feet on the floor. Once grounded, she expected to feel safer. Instead, she felt more certain she was going mad.

Did the knob move? The door shake? Lana strained her ears to listen for anything. Was that breathing or the AC whispering through the vents?

“This is ridiculous. You outgrew this stuff in grade school.” She stood and forced her legs toward the door.

The room was chilled, her palms clammy. She studied the narrow wooden door. It only really counted as a closet so her landlord did not run afoul of housing laws; no room for monsters in there. Lana gripped the handle and took a breath.

“Grow up, Lana,” she growled to herself in a final act of motivation.

The door crept open and–

There was Nothing.

Nothing, vast, infinite, and dark. Stretching into eternity and beyond for impossible depth. How was emptiness so much worse than everything she had imagined?

As the Void reached out to draw her in, Lana longed for fangs, fur, and claws.

Terse Tales: Star-struck

Theme: Luck

The crone had been clear with her instructions. Davalon had left the bottle under the full moon, had only water from the Halcyon Lakes since dawn, and now held the sweet-smelling elixir uncorked in his hand.

“Drink it before your task, and you will be guaranteed success. No follies will find you.” Before he left, she placed a hand on his arm, one finger raised in final warning. “Take care. This is a powerful spell. Do not squander it.”

He did not intend to. Steeling his nerves and belting his scabbard to his side, Davalon tossed his head back and drank the elixir, feeling a tingling swim through his body alongside the adrenaline. He prepared to leave for the arena, where his opponent was already boasting loudly.

The curtain to his tent swirled, and Maryalei appeared. There was a new stutter step to his heartbeat as she looked at him.

“I was not sure I would catch you,” she said.

Davalon felt his whole body vibrating with life; he was not sure if it was anticipation, fear, lovesickness, or the effects of the draught. “Marya,” he said before the words stuck. He felt like a schoolboy, not a knight-to-be. And yet, if the crone’s magic failed, when would he have this chance? “I am glad you came.”

She smiled, a hint of laughter in her eyes.

“After this,” he started, feeling a growing sense of confidence as his head swam with opportunity, “I would have your hand in marriage, if you’ll have mine?”

She rushed to him. “Of course,” she sighed, an unexpectedly easy victory.

At that moment, Davalon felt an empty feeling as the confidence fled and fear and nerves remained. One task, he recalled and hoped he might live long enough to enjoy what his potion had granted.

Terse Tales: Anticipation

Theme: They never saw it coming

Trevor bounced from foot to foot, waiting for the doors to open and admit his soon-to-be wife down the aisle. He felt sweat run down his collar, a heavy smile on his nervous lips. He had not seen her since yesterday’s rehearsal, per tradition and her request; he imagined her resplendent for him alone. So he looked to the heavy wooden doors at the end of the aisle as the organ geared up and started the notes.

It was a bar too far into the song and the doors had not opened. He shifted again, smile shuddering, still waiting. Then, a creak and groan as the aged wood slowly edged open.

His eyes found hers just above her harsh smile. And then confusion and panic settled in as another figure in a white dress started down the aisle as well, hand in hand. Her father was supposed to be walking her down the aisle, but instead, there was a second bride.

The nerves settled firmly into a knot in his stomach.

Anna walked down the aisle in time to the song, never letting her gaze deviate from his. His eyes swung back and forth between his bride and the other woman, trying to wake up from this nightmare. Finally, the song ended and Anna stood at the bottom of the steps. They had rehearsed; he would go down, take her hand, and help her up. Only he froze.

“I figured since you thought you could date both of us, you wouldn’t mind marrying us both?” she said with acid dripping from her voice.

Louisa smiled too, and he was trapped beneath their withering gazes. “Only I’m not sure either of us wants to say ‘I do.’”

Trevor fainted, the only way to save any dignity he had left.

Terse Tales: The Dating Game

Theme: “Laughter filled the air.”

Dave sat on the edge of the bed and shifted again, loosening the tie around his neck and grinning at the woman across from him. Susan? Sarah? One of those typical names. However, she was far from typical, he began to realize.

“So, I don’t normally do this. I know, big shock.” His nervous laughter filled the air, bouncing off the freshly pressed sheets and dusty curtains.

She just smiled, that same absent smile that had been plastered on her face since he opened the door. She tilted her head, and Dave got the sudden image of a gyroscope, her head rotating around the stable point of that lipsticked smile.

The woman at the bar had led the conversation, steadily building Dave’s confidence to Icarian levels. When he slyly passed his room key to her, he felt certain of the move. And then instantly expected her to laugh him away. Instead, she raised an eyebrow and tucked the key into the distractingly low neckline of her dress.

And now, that smile.

“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked nervously. “I got ice from the machine earlier, and—“

Her finger was on his lips, gently silencing him. She smiled wider and leaned over the edge of the bed. Maybe, Dave thought, this was normal and he was the weird one. Frankly, that had held true in most of his life.

“You’re the boss,” he said with another burst of nervous laughter.

“Oh, I’m much more than that,” she said. And the smile grew wider, showing more teeth than fit in a human jaw. Had they always been that sharp?

With practiced ease, she flew to his throat, successfully cutting off the scream before it could bubble out. The hunt looked different nowadays, but the outcome never changed.

Terse Tales: Daughter of Earth

Theme: Image Prompt

My feet could no longer feel the earth beneath them, but I remembered it.

I remembered the feel of dark soil under my soles, thrumming with the vibrancy of earth and whispering ancient ways to me. The sway of Mother Earth, the loving gaze of Mother Moon. The exaltation of all things feminine and trampled by the day-to-day life.

We danced, my sisters and I, beneath that moonlight. We leaped, held aloft in the arms of our two mothers, cradled in that space. In the smoke and stars, we saw visions.

I remembered breathing deep the perfume of wilted flowers and sweat, mingled with the bonfire scent. It was intoxicating and every time my feet dug into the soil, I could feel the bounty of life surge through me. We joined together to celebrate the divine around us, the divine within us.

Moonlight, starlight, dirt, and blood. In those moments, we existed not as human flesh, but as something carved from the essential elements and told to celebrate. I did not need air to live, only those moments of ecstasy. My worship kept my heart beating, my lungs moving, and I thrived on that inhuman diet on those nights of revelry.

The flickering shadows of the fire threw scenes of the future before us, cloudy, mystical. And somehow we did not see what was to come until the sacredness of our space was trampled beneath booted feet, feet that could not feel the hum of the earth. Their bodies were covered so that even the moonlight could not strike them.

My feet no longer feel the earth beneath them, dangling here in the in-between. All I feel is the grip of the rope, punishment for daring to touch the sacred.  

Terse Tales: The Knock

Theme: Escape

Jessie settled in her chair and let the beach surround her. Deep breath in and she tasted the salty air, slightly fishy, but pleasantly so. She heard gulls circling out at sea, their calls coming in with the steady rhythm of the waves. Her phone buzzed; she ignored it.

The sun was warm, bright. The sand beneath her feet radiated heat up through the soles of her feet, and she dug her toes down to find cooler sand below. The phone was ringing. Another deep breath, sinking into her seat.

She watched the waves come in and out, sea dancing with sunlight, white foam licking at the sand. Another ring, this time an email, and she let the waves carry away the distraction. Her ears settled on the roar of the waves.

Someone was knocking on a door, and she let her eyes drift across the sand. Now there was the sound of kids playing, calling to one another. A steady bubble of human chatter beneath the steady pulse of the waves. She breathed in time to the tides, in and out, with the same steadiness and certainty.

Just a peaceful day on the beach, blue skies, white sands, and–another knock. “Jessie? You in there? I brought the reports you asked for. I can come back later?” No footsteps. Lena was, despite her words to the contrary, waiting.

Jessie’s eyes snapped open, the beach fading from her mind as the office returned. Her peace lay shattered and dispersed in the piles of paper on her desk. She briefly noticed that her hands were digging into the arm of her chair. So much for a break.

She stood and opened the door before Lena could leave. Deep breath in, the subtle scent of salt, as the world reclaimed its space.

Terse Tales: When Opportunity Calls

Theme: The call came at midnight

The phone was ringing. I reached a hand toward the buzzing, glowing thing and sat up, trying to clear the sleep from my voice. 

“Hello?” It didn’t work, and my words came out with the familiar fuzzy, just-woken quality. 

“Mike? It’s Chris.” Chris. I checked the caller ID on the screen. New guy from work. Nice enough, but not the sort I would take middle of night phone calls from. 

“Uh-huh,” I added to the conversation, dropping all pretense. If you called this late–early–then you knew the person had been sleeping. 

“I figured it out. I was having this dream, and it just all–Boom!” 

“Figured what out?” 

“The time travel project, of course” 

“Time travel?” 

Chris laughed. “Why else do you think I’d be waking you up? We both know what a grump you are.” 

He was clearly drunk. Or high. Probably both, I reasoned. 

“Listen, Chris, I think you need to get back to sleep. We’ve got work tomorrow, and we can talk then.” I figured he would instead be sleeping off whatever this was, but did not say as much. I just wanted to go back to sleep myself. 

“Work? Mike, what are you–” he stopped midsentence. 

“It’s Wednesday morning, bud. Sleep it off.” 

“No, it’s not. We don’t–” 

He paused, there was an intake of breath on the line. Part excitement, part shock. 

“What’s the date, Mike?” 

“Now? It’s February 10.” I said after checking the phone screen. 

“February 10…” he trailed off, waiting for me. 

I sighed and ran a hand across my face. The smart thing to do was hang up. “2021,” I said instead. 

“Oh.” In his voice was surprise, confusion. “Oh,” he said again. This time somber and shocked. “I have to get back,” were his final words before the call disconnected. 

Terse Tales: Homesick

This is a new thing. Welcome to my first Terse Tale, chosen as a name almost entirely because of alliteration. I’ll be sharing some micro stories I have been writing for an online challenge over the past few weeks. These are 100-300 word stories based on a given prompt. I’ve always been rather wordy, so I have found it really tough and rewarding to try and tell a convincing story in a short format. Sometimes the attempts is a success, other times less so. But I have found myself thinking a lot more about what I say and how I say it when writing. Ideally, I will post these weekly for as long as I continue to write them!

So, in the interest of brevity, here is the first one, based on the theme “it was as if time itself stopped.”

It was as if time itself stopped. Or perhaps that was just wishful thinking. I wondered how long I could stay there silent, motionless, barely breathing. Perhaps they would just go away and I could imagine nothing was wrong.

They were touching me now, a hand light on my arm. I think it was supposed to be reassuring, yet it only served to threaten my careful shell of denial. And they were talking, but I could not be bothered to tune my mind to their words. I was in freefall and neither gravity nor time could touch me unless I chose to stop.

“We’re not going home?” My words broke through, surprising both of us, and they stumbled mid-sentence. A heartbeat of silence.

“No. The boosters were too damaged to get us off the surface.” They were repeating what they had already said, I realized, but the words felt all new to me, striking a fatal blow each time.


“Not with the storms and solar flares picking up. We’re lucky to have landed at all.”

Lucky, they said. Didn’t feel that way. I glanced at the small photo taped haphazardly to my work station. That small face that I knew would age years in the time I was away, but now–


“A few weeks, with rationing. No one could have predicted–” 

“And a few months until rescue,” I interrupted. They didn’t say anything more. They did not need to. I understood perfectly my sentence as I was to serve it. Weeks or months had no meaning; I would float through the remaining time left, but I was already dead. 

I grabbed the picture as I walked away. He and I were now both frozen moments in time, even if mine soon would run out.