A Story for My Mommy, Who is Hurting


I don’t know that I have the words to tell you how much of a powerhouse my mom has been. Growing up she was always so strong, so unfaltering that it left a deep and abiding impression on me. I, too, find myself trying to be as strong and as stoic as she has always been.

I wrote this story for her a long time ago. It’s been sitting around collecting dust. However, after this month and my grandma’s passing I think she needs it more than I need to hide it in my computer. So, this is for you Mommy, I love you.


She wouldn’t have noticed the spot in the wall if it hadn’t been for Maribel.

After two days without the normally active cat trying to trip her when she was in the kitchen or doing other household chores, Connie Frampton began to worry. This fear caused Connie to set down the load of laundry she had been carrying and search for her pesky feline friend.

The grey tabby had been her own cat from the beginning, showing up on Connie’s front porch in the middle of the night, barely old enough to have opened her eyes. Full of curiosity and vitality, the kitten had brought joy to the Frampton household. Right now that joy was what Connie was searching for amidst the haphazard stacks of schoolwork, discarded socks, mismatched shoes, and general odds and ends that littered her house.

Connie tried to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be and to keep everything as clean as possible for her kids, but the fact she had children at all seemed to be enough to turn her house into a suburban jungle of extraordinary proportions. It was because of this clutter that Connie didn’t find Maribel until she began cleaning off the chairs surrounding the dinner table.

Once the bags, the skates, the hockey pads, and a pair of socks that appeared to have been transformed into moss-colored gelatin had been removed from the corner, she found Maribel staring at the wall.

“What’s the matter bella-kitty?” Connie asked, reaching down to stroke the cat’s back, the already tense muscles twitching under her downy fur. Maribel turned around, her pupils dilated until almost nothing was left of her green and gold flecked irises. She purred and twitched her whiskers, and, if cats could speak, Connie was sure this would be Maribel’s translation of Hello, friend.

After she stroked Maribel’s head for a few moments, the cat gently placed her nose into Connie’s palm and gave it a hard nudge before leaning back down to the small crack. Following Maribel’s lead, Connie quickly found herself crawling on all fours, leaning into the wall.

“Did you follow a bug into the hole?” Connie wondered aloud. Most cats were well known for their mouse catching abilities, but Maribel was more likely to stalk anything that happened to crawl by her. Whether it was beetles, ants, or flies, if it came in the house, it belonged to Maribel.

When she had been a very small kitten, barely able to jump on the couch, she had once sat in front of the kitchen cabinet door and meowed for two days straight. She had been so inconsolable that Connie had been close to just putting her out on the porch and letting her go explore in the backyard, mistakenly thinking the cat wanted to go back outside.

But when Connie had opened the cabinet and looked around, she’d found a line of ants marching across the tile. So she didn’t question the insanity of it all when she found herself crouched down on all fours peering into a sliver of cracked drywall that was only two centimeters wide. After all, if there was an infestation of something behind her walls, she wanted to know.

But it wasn’t bugs she found.

She could feel a soft breeze billowing out of the tiny crack. The tangy smell of ocean water assaulted her senses. Connie hadn’t been near the ocean in years, but she had never forgotten the sharp smell of the salt as it mingled with the air. Now, on the floor of her home in southwestern Oklahoma, the smell of the ocean didn’t seem as odd as she would have thought.

Another thing she hadn’t noticed before she leaned down was the way the crevice expressed a deep red light, as if a heat lamp were directly behind the wall.

Connie knew she should have moved, that she should have gotten up and shuffled around her house and tried to forget this, knew that if she stayed there too much longer the preoccupations of everyday upkeep and chores would somehow cease to matter. If she were to get up and move on in the next few seconds, however, she could put this whole incident behind her until the memory was filed away and forgotten.

After all, through the years there had been many things that had been buried. When she did allow herself to remember them, the only thing she could see or feel was the twisted metal of the wreck that had taken so much from her. It wasn’t enough that she had seen what the car had done to his flesh and bones, but sometimes, late at night, she could hear it shrieking as it twisted beneath him.

For a moment she thought about the cycle of grief that followed her and how there were things in life so tragic the best way to deal with them was to pretend they didn’t exist.

Besides, there were other things she needed to concentrate on.

Connie opened her eyes to the realization that she was lying on her side, her nose inches away from the wall. Maribel’s whiskers brushed the side of Connie’s face and she sneezed, causing Maribel to stare at her thoughtfully for a moment before inching toward the wall until the cat was so close her nose was pressed firmly against the crevice.

She then let out a long meow and began nervously pawing at the wall. The soft pads of her feet did nothing and it wasn’t long before she noticed the lack of progress and began clawing at the wall even harder.

Connie scooped Maribel up and carried her to the kitchen. At first the cat tried to climb over her shoulder and return to the wall, but the farther away they moved, the less she struggled, until eventually she was her normal, plump, purring self.

They stood like that for a long time, frozen to each other, neither one wanting to look back. Eventually Connie moved close enough to kick the swinging door closed before sitting Maribel on the ground. She poured herself a giant cup of coffee and leaned against the counter.

“What was that?” she wondered aloud. At first she had been afraid to say anything, afraid her recognition of the strange crack would cause the walls to split apart entirely.

But nothing happened.

Maribel continued to purr as she lay down in front of Connie’s feet and rolled onto her back. Without even pausing to think about it, Connie stretched out her foot and massaged the cat’s exposed belly.

Gradually fear and tension eased their hold on her, and although she knew it wouldn’t be much longer before the curiosity that had first pulled Maribel to the wall would return, she at least felt a little more balanced.

She rinsed out the cup in the sink, and then, to avoid opening up the door, she went ahead and unloaded then reloaded the dishwasher, scrubbed off the counter tops, emptied out the fridge (screaming only once when she encountered a Tupperware container that had completely changed colors on her), and swept the floor. When she was done, her kitchen was cleaner than it had been in months, maybe even years, but only two hours had passed. The kids wouldn’t be home from school for another three hours, and, until then, it seemed there was nothing to distract her. But somehow that thought didn’t seem as undesirable as it had only moments before.

Looking to the door, Connie noticed Maribel was sitting directly in front of it, staring back at her.

“Well, I guess we can’t ignore it forever, huh, girl?” Connie asked as she pushed open the door and the pair walked back to the dining room.

Connie’s cleaning rampage in the kitchen had not made the mysterious object disappear, but rather it was larger, widening to almost a half-inch across and over three inches tall. The warm, red glow now seeped out of its confined space and spread across the carpet, pooling in a circle on the floor as if it had substance.

Connie dipped her fingertips in the light and was immediately greeted with a tingling sensation that coated her fingers and spread out across her arm. She jerked her hand back and the feeling stopped.

Maribel sniffed at Connie’s hand and then leaned into the crack, pressing her nose firmly to the wall. Connie was about to push Maribel back when the cat disappeared through the hole.

If she hadn’t been sitting right there she wouldn’t have believed it, but she watched as Maribel’s full body flattened until it looked like a two-dimensional cartoon character, then slid through the gap.

Connie gasped, and called out for Maribel. A soft meow answered from between the walls, and Connie thought of her poor friend gone, lost to some other existence. There was only a brief moment of hesitation before she made up her mind to try and follow the cat.

Closing her eyes, Connie put her fingertips against the wall.

At first she felt nothing, not even the tingling that had greeted her earlier. Just the warm, salty breeze as it pushed against her hand and down her arm. She could smell the ocean and hear the cry of the seagulls. Her chest was burning and she realized that she was holding her breath, which she let out between clenched teeth as she opened her eyes. She had been curled on her side looking down when she touched the wall, but now she was sitting upright and she saw her bare feet were buried in sand.

Next to her sat Maribel, squinting against the brilliant rays of the setting sun.

Connie wasn’t sure what she had been expecting to find in between her walls, but a deserted island paradise was certainly not it. If nothing else, she had at least expected some odd form of talking cartoon cat to greet her. However, Maribel sat as stoic and as three-dimensional as ever, and the only vocalization was her constant purring.


The call startled her, but she had been looking at Maribel when it was spoken so she knew that it the cat had not decided to talk. Although, she was not sure who was calling to her.

Connie looked up and put her hand to her forehead to block the sun. Someone was approaching across the sand, the form rippling as it moved. It could have been the heat from the sand, or an effect of the setting sun, but Connie knew it was an indication of what she was about to see. She held her breath, waited, and tried to decide if she should run or cry.

It had been thirty years since he’d died. The loss still hung hollow in her abdomen, and the emptiness ached when she saw his face form in front of her.

She hadn’t meant for him to come to any harm.

She was his sister, his family, and he’d told her he was going to miss her wedding. While his justification had been that he could not get off from his two jobs for the entire weekend, she’d suspected he was punishing her for marrying Daniel. So when James had told Connie he wasn’t coming, it had been inexcusable. She’d cried, begged, and cajoled until he agreed to make the ten hour drive, attend the wedding, and immediately head home.

Only he never finished the return trip. He’d fallen asleep on the long stretch of I-40 between Oklahoma City and Albuquerque and driven off the road. She’d been headed to her honeymoon when she found out.

James touched her cheek, brushing his thumb across her flesh, reaffirming that he was as real as anything else here in the space in-between.

“And when our dad died two years later, and Daniel just fifteen years after that, whose fault had that been? Surely not yours, Connie, you can’t control everything.”

He was faded around the edges, like an old photograph. He had on his favorite pair of bell-bottoms and the Hawaiian shirt he used to wear all of the time in high school. His dark hair flipped up a little at the edges, and his green eyes crinkled when he smiled.

Connie put her hand over his and let her tears go. There were too many pent up tears, and she thought she would pass out from dehydration before she stopped crying. He sat next to her and held her hand. The sun never moved in the sky, but they stayed like that for hours, Connie in the middle with Maribel on one side and James on the other.

She remembered that the kids would be coming home soon, knew she should be getting back before they thought their mother was gone forever, but the sun seemed to have sapped her energy and her limbs were so relaxed she could barely move. For once she felt as if there might be something else in the universe, some other form of meaning besides guilt.

It was a good feeling.

A while later, Connie opened her eyes and realized she was once again sitting on the dining room floor next to Maribel.

The crack on the wall was almost completely healed. Only a thin gold line stood out against the wallpaper. If she hadn’t known it was there a few moments before, she wouldn’t have seen it at all.

Maribel snorted and sauntered back to the kitchen door while Connie stood up and walked over to the other side of the wall. When nothing happened, Connie sat down and stared at her sand-crusted toes.

“Where were we?”

Maribel looked at her and cocked her head to the side before letting out a brief chirp. Connie stared fondly at her cat.

“You aren’t going to tell me one way or the other, are you?”

A tail swish was Maribel’s only reply. Connie thought it wasn’t much of an answer, but maybe there had never been any answers. All she knew was the guilt was gone, and that was something.

“Yes, Maribel, that is definitely something.” Connie said as she slid her bare feet into a pair of slippers and picked up the forgotten laundry basket. She might not be able to prove what had actually happened, but somehow she knew that if she ever needed it again the crack would return, and Maribel would find it for her.

And that was also something.


I See You

Being an artist is about being raw and true to yourself and to your vision of the world around you. It requires you to be both fearful and fearless simeltaneously. I tell that to my students all of the time, but they are just words. I had forgotten what it was like to live in that limbo of being brutally honest, yet hidden in the depths. I had forgotten what it meant to be someone who creates because there is no other alternative.

You see I couldn’t stop creating if I tried. It’s built into me, into my genetic code. My grandma was the same way. Up until the arthritis curled her hands and bit into her hips she would sit for hours and paint or sew or crochet or string jewelry: anything to help create something in the world. 

She passed away this week, and I didn’t realize until then how much braver she was than I ever gave her credit for. I had spent my life looking at her through one lens, that of grandma. To me she was someone who raised her family and lived a typical housewife existence and who loved to craft as a hobby. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I loved her any differently because of this perception.

I just didn’t see her. I didn’t appreciate her fire, didn’t see her as a young woman who put her dreams on hold only to go back to college later when her children were grown so she could follow her dream. I didn’t see how much courage it would have taken for her to do this, to branch out into a world she didn’t really know and go back to school with people half her age in order to learn more and grow as a person.

After school she took her art on the road, going out with the items she created and putting them up for people to look at and criticize. This is the hardest thing for any artist to do, and she did it with grace and style. She never lost her love of her art or her desire to create.

One painting has always stuck with me. It was a Bengal Tiger standing in wispy blades of yellow grass against a coal black sky. His eyes were not filled in but he stood strict and at attention, his entire body poised against the unknown. When I was younger I used to stare at it for hours and beg her to finish. She never would. She told me once she just wasn’t sure if she could. I didn’t understand it then, couldn’t understand why someone would invest so much in something they could not finish. I understand now. In fact, I’m fighting with some of my own demons on my unfinished stories. This painting is with me now, a constant reminder to not leave things undone.

I was going through pictures after the service and all of a sudden I saw my grandma as she had been, a fully formed person. There were smiles and laughter, tears and doubts, and through it all the story of her life. The story I had always missed because I couldn’t take off my glasses and adjust my view. I see it now, though. I’m sorry I missed it before, Nene.

I see you now.


Picking Apart a Scene

I’ve been working on the new story now and it’s getting to the point where I need to pull apart and completely revamp a scene. Long story short, I added in another character long after the beginning and I need to find a way to get her fully integrated in the front half of the book. I don’t know why I work this way, but that is often my process.

Right now I keep going back and forth between what I need to do and what I want to do. I need to completely gut this scene and only take away the vital elements. The problem is over the last year or so I’ve grown attached to it and I don’t want to change it. It’s hard to create something from scratch and then tear it to pieces and rebuild it.

Think about how attached some people get to Lego sets they build. Now magnify that. Yep, that is what I’m going through right now. I need all of the luck you can toss at me.

The good news is that the new character, Orele, is pretty bad ass. I like her, and that lessens the horrible feeling that I have in the pit of my stomach when I sit down to write.

I Lost Heartsy

I had intended to spend yesterday working on my book. I’m trying to wrap up a storyline and merge in the elements for the next book. Weaving plot points around my characters in a believable manner is something I love to do, and in fact is one of the things that keeps me writing. I have an office that I share with my daughter’s art supplies. She is usually happy to paint and create while I write.

The day’s plan, however, went astray as soon as my daughter walked up to me with tears in her eyes.

“Mommy, I can’t find Heartsy.” She sobbed.

Heartsy is her latest stuffed animal cohort. She has no less than a hundred of them, but she randomly picks one out to be her favorite. This one was a white dog with blue hearts that her uncle had won in a claw machine.

And he had apparently gone MIA during the night.

To many kids stuffed animals are just toys to be played with, but to my daughter they are real living creatures, which was evident when I told her that I would help her look for him as soon as I was able to save what I was working on. Her tears grew heavy and she started heaving in great giant sobs.

“He’s alone and he’s scared and I have to find him right now.” Her voice was begging with me as she clutched my side.

“I know baby, I just need a second.” I tell her trying to calm her with one arm while simultaneously clicking on the save icon on the computer with the other.

“I’m his mommy. I have to find him. You would find me if I were missing, right?”

And with that, I was done. I closed the laptop and stood up. “Of course I would, baby. Tell me, where did you last see him?”

With that we set off on an adventure in cleaning and discovery that would last us until that evening. We found him, but along the way we found several different toys she’d thought she lost, a few pairs of socks and underwear the cat had hoarded under the chair, and the favorite toy of my 20 year old cat who had passed away a few months before.

Sometimes I’m very hard on myself for not writing and not completing my goals, but yesterday was a day of discovery that I needed on a different level. Without even meaning to we had a fun day of laughter and playing and imagination.

In the words of Ice Cube, “It was a good day.”

The Universe is Waiting

At birth we are given a roadmap:
goals and dreams to add to as we age,
each step changing the landscape into
something we might not recognize later.

Obstacles rise to greet us, what we become tied to our
ability to navigate the wilderness of our destinies, even the
branches that build new maps in unknown territories,
to recognize different dimensions in the lands
of what could have been and what must never be.

Passionate volcanos burn bright and hot,
lava-filled and waiting to erupt before fading
into the background of what was and falling into the
event horizon so new ones can rise up from the bones of nothing.

And still, the Universe is patient.

She waits for each of us to reach our treasure, never bothering
to ask if that is what we need. Assuming, instead, that the brightly held “X”
is the inevitable conclusion to each breath that passes through
our lungs.


Gingerbread Houses by S.L. Saboviec

Hello, everyone! My name is S. L. Saboviec, and I’m an SFF author. I’m excited to be part of Rhonda’s Giftmas blog tour, and I’m so glad to be here today on Kristina’s blog.

When I was growing up, my mother used to make miniature gingerbread houses.

She had a real assembly line going—at one point, she was making a couple hundred every Christmas. She would give them away to friends and relatives or sell them to my dad’s coworkers and at the church Christmas bazaar. People would go crazy over these things:


I’m sure you can see why. They’re 100% edible and 200% adorable.

A few years ago, I decided to make them myself. The picture above is my attempt in 2011. They turned out pretty well, but they were a lot of work. It takes three days to make them because you have to leave a day for drying between each of three steps. However, if you’d like to embark on some fun Christmas craftiness, here’s how.


Baking ingredients & assorted candies

Large mixing bowl

Cookie sheets



Mixer (Hand or bowl)

Sealable tupperware or bowl & wet cloth

Icing bags

Cake decorating tips (#4 or #5, #18)


Seriously, more patience




2 2/3 cups flour

1/8 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ginger

¼ tsp. allspice

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

¾ tsp. cinnamon

1 cup butter

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup molasses

This recipe makes 8-9 houses.

Sift together flour, salt, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Cream together butter, brown sugar, and molasses. Gently blend flour mixture into butter mixture well. Chill at least 1 hour or overnight in covered bowl. Roll out on generously floured board to ¼ inch. (Note: Cookies must be thin so they dry stiff and the houses hold their shape.)

Cut into shapes, and bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees about 7 to 10 minutes. Let cool slightly on pan before removing to wax paper. Let dry out on countertop overnight.



Make cardboard templates and cut from rolled-out gingerbread with a sharp knife.


1 x round base = 4 inches diameter

2 x Five-sided end pieces:

Bottom = 2 1/2 inches

Height of sides = 1 3/4 inches

Height to the peak = 3 3/16 inches (approx)

2 x Side pieces:

Bottom = 1 7/8 inches

Height = 1 3/4 inches

2 x Roof pieces = 2 inches x 2 inches



3 large egg whites at room temperature

½ tsp cream of tartar

1 pound or 4 ¼ cups powdered sugar

This recipe makes about 2 cups royal icing.

Combine egg whites and cream of tartar in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until frothy. Gradually add powdered sugar, mixing well. Beat for 7 minutes until dry enough (stiff).

Keep covered in Tupperware or with wet cloth at all times or it will dry out around the edges and top.

Glue houses together with Royal Icing. Use cake frosting tip #4 or #5 for gluing pieces together. Let dry overnight.


After 24 hours, use fresh & stiff Royal Icing again to add assorted candies to decorate. You can use whatever you want, but here are some suggestions.

Front – Tin-foil wrapped chocolate Santas

Front step and side “windows” – Smarties (US) / Rockets (Canada)

Roof – M&Ms or Reese’s pieces

Chimney – Tootsie roll cut in half

Fence around the outside – Red hots (For the picture above, I cut up a multi-colored gummy thing because I couldn’t find them.)

Front and back “window” at the top – Jujubees or gumdrops

Use cake frosting tip #18 for squiggling “snow.” Let dry overnight again.



Each house can be bagged up. They can be eaten or kept for years in the freezer to be used as decoration.

It’s a lot of work, but a fun family tradition. Enjoy.

Thank you, Kristina, for having me here today!


About Me:

gbh3I’m an author whose dark, thought-provoking science fiction & fantasy contains flawed, relatable characters and themes that challenge the status quo. My first release, Guarding Angel is available at several major eBook retailers and on Amazon in paperback: Kindle | Kobo | Nook | Google Play | Paperback (Amazon) | Goodreads. The sequel, Reaping Angel, will be released in spring 2016.

You can also follow me on social media: Twitter | Pinterest | FaceBook | My newsletter (No spam!).

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“A Million Pieces” By Rhonda Parrish

RP PictureIn exactly one week I have the pleasure of hosting Kristina on my blog. What’s more (Spoiler!), she’s going to be sharing a bit of Christmas flash in that post. Since she is sharing a story on my blog I wanted to return the favour on hers.

Every year I participate in Loren Eaton’s Shared Storytelling: Advent Ghosts. So far I haven’t figured out what I’m writing for this year’s (good thing I have a few days left!) but I am quite fond of the piece I wrote for last year’s. This story has been described as ‘heartbreaking’ and ‘haunting’, which is my way of warning you, this isn’t a happy little holiday tale, but I hope you like it!

A Million Pieces
by Rhonda Parrish

They say it’s the things which drove you crazy that you miss the most. I never much believed it myself. Not until I lost you.

It’s been a year now. And what a year. A year of rehab and therapy, lawyers and courtrooms. A year of firsts.

My first surgery. First steps without my walker. First birthday without you. First day back in our apartment, alone. First night—

So many things you could have counted. So. Many.

It used to frustrate me so much, your counting, but my love was deeper than my irritation so I stayed. Stayed though you counted every Cheerio in your bowl. All the bowls in the cupboard. Every spoon.

I loved you enough to stay though you counted your pills six times a day. And when you stopped taking them? I stayed then too.

I spent our last Valentine’s Day dressed up, crying and watching you crawl across the floor in your suit picking up each Q-tip from the Costco-sized box I’d spilled and counting, counting, counting.

I stayed through all that, yet you let a drunk driver tear you from me. One. One car. One driver. One crash.

Christmas was always your favourite holiday, and I’m celebrating in style in honour and remembrance of you. I’ve baskets full of Christmas balls scattered throughout the house, festive decorations, and the tree is up and decorated. I think you’d approve. The lights twinkling on it are reflected in the glass globes which adorn it and nearby the fireplace snaps and pops. Outside, snow is falling, piling up in the corners of our windows, and my want for you is so intense it’s nearly a physical thing.

I stare out at the city. From this high all I see is a sea of lights piecing the darkness. Like stars.

I look up, then, expecting to be disappointed; star-watching and snowfall so rarely go together, but through a clearing in the clouds, just to the left of the moon, one star gleams. It’s super bright and though I don’t know its name or if it’s a part of a constellation, I’d bet it’s one sailors use to navigate. To find their way back home.

I close my eyes.

I make a wish.

When I open them, something has changed. Not outside. The moon and star are still there, snow still falls and below steams of red taillights still move alongside the blue-white of halogen headlights.

I shift my focus from beyond the window, to its glass. The change is in here. With us. The window reflects the room back at me. Tree, fireplace, me…and you.

Your reflection is as solid as mine. Distorted ever so slightly by the flaws in the glass, but distinctly you. Your shaggy hair. Your hipster glasses. Your mouth which moves, your voice I hear.

“I missed you—” You reach for me. You reach for me and I panic and grab the basket of Christmas balls from the window ledge beside me. The wicker is hard against my fingers, unforgiving. I turn it upside down, pour out the balls which tumble over one another, and onto the floor.

You stop. Your graze drops to the floor, then back up to mine, reflected in the window.

“I—” you begin, then stop and chew on the corner of your pinky finger’s nail. My chest clenches at the sight, so familiar.

Your indecision is a vacuum sucking all the air from the room, slowing the tick-tock of the clock on the mantle until each sound is a long, drawn-out scream. I can’t move. Can’t breathe. My eyes burn, but I cannot cry.

“One,” you say, kneeling down and disappearing from my sight. “Two—”

I exhale. The grip on my chest loosens and the clock resumes its natural rhythm.

“Three, four…”

How many balls were there? A dozen? More?

Too few. Too few.

I step back and white heat rips through my heel as the ball crunches beneath it.

Blood stains the milky glass shards, drips from my foot to the hardwood. You reach for a piece, a shard, “Five, six, seven…”

A sob catches in my throat and I snatch a ball from the tree. It’s blue and glittery, the surface rough against my palm. I remember picking it out with you in the antique store we stopped at on our way home from the local theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol three years ago. You’d grinned at me then, so big I could see the gap between your bottom teeth, and your eyes shone with love. It was a perfect moment in a perfect day.

How many more of those days could we have had?

“Eighteen, nineteen, twenty—”

How many were stolen from me?

“Twenty-four, twenty-five—”

…from us?

“Twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine—”

I hurl it with all my strength so it shatters. I rip the next from the fir’s branches and smash it too. And the next, and the next.

I scream out my anger. I sob out my sorrow. My blood mixes with the fragments of memory spreading across the floor and woven through it all, your voice. Implacable. Counting.

“Three thousand four hundred and two, three thousand four hundred and three—”


Bio: Rhonda Parrish is driven by a desire to do All The Things. She was the publisher and editor-in-chief of Niteblade Magazine for eight years (which is like forever in internet time) and is the editor of several anthologies including, most recently, Scarecrow and B is for Broken.

In addition, Rhonda is a writer whose work has been in publications such as Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast, Imaginarium: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing (2012 & 2015) and Mythic Delirium.

Her website, updated weekly, is at http://www.rhondaparrish.com


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Mark’s Story

He drummed his fingers on the Formica counter, trying to find just the right phrase to put in the letter. This, after all, was going to be the turning point. This was going to be the day that he solidified his relationship with Lucy. This was going to change everything.

Unrequited love may have been something that Shakespeare wrote about, but this was different. This was his life, not some sixteenth century drama. When he thought of the perfect way to express this, he put the pen on the paper and scribbled it out, his hand moving across the paper as fast as he could to not lose his concentration. This was his latest attempt at getting everything down on paper, on getting it written out correctly.

Just as he was about to move over and dump the stale coffee into the sink the news flashed to a story about the special anniversary of the singer who had disappeared. Mark snatched up the remote and turned up the volume, checking to see if they had any new findings on the woman whose voice he had adored.

“…vanished without a trace on her way home from getting gas. Tonight it has been three years since anyone has heard or seen Shelly Green. If you have any information on this case, please be sure to contact the authorities using the special hotline number on the bottom of the screen.”

While she was speaking of the disappearance the broadcaster’s face was drawn and serious, but in the instant when the story shifted over to the children’s art festival her face transformed into a large wide smile, the trauma of the missing singer gone.

Life moves on. He thought, folding the paper up and tucking it into the envelope. He made sure that his shirt was tucked in and that his hair was combed. He knew that presentation was half of the battle to gaining her attention.

On the way to her he made sure to run the truck through the wash, the warm soapy water closing him off from the outside world. He leaned back against the headrest of the truck and thought about the letter in his pocket. He had memorized every line and now replayed it in his head imagining how it was going to go and what he was going to do. He liked to be prepared for every eventuality.

Twenty minutes later he was pulling up in front of her house, his sweaty palms gripping the steering wheel. This was his last chance. He knew that if she didn’t respond to him tonight that it was never going to happen, that he would have to move on.

He didn’t want to, but it was truly in her hands now.

When he got to the door he could see her sitting on the couch through the window, waiting. She was always dressed so perfectly, her long blonde hair fanned out to frame her face. When he stepped on the porch it creaked and she looked over at him and waved.

Waving back, he thought about the first time he had found her, stranded on the side of the road, trying to get help. The cell signal on these back roads was spotty, and he knew right away that he had to help her. Since then he’d been visiting her regularly.

Tonight they sat on the couch as usual, her palms pressed together and her knee slightly bouncing in anticipation. In the time Mark had known her he was always left a little breathless when they were together and he loved to sit next to her and soak up the scent of roses that seemed to seep out of her pores.

He was not sure what to say to her, but he knew that she understood because she never seemed put off or upset when he came around.

Mark sighed, this was his last shot though, he’d promised himself that if he didn’t work up the nerve to ask her to marry him this time then it was never going to happen. He wasn’t sure what he was so worried about; he knew that she would probably say yes. They spent all of their free time together and neither of them were seeing anyone else.

In fact, Lucy was almost a hermit. He wasn’t sure that she ever saw the outside of her cabin, let alone anyone else. While he wanted to do some grand gesture to let her know how he felt, instead he took the letter out and slipped it under the edge of her hand.

Smiling, she took the letter and opened it, her eyes slowly reading over the lines as he waited. Mark could feel his chest tightening and the blood pumping through his body was doing so with such force that small stars lit up the corner of his vision.

He didn’t know that he had ever been so anxious for a response.

Looking down, he fished the ring from his pocket and put it firmly in the palm of his hand, clasping his fingers around the band and pressing it deep into his flesh. When he looked back up he saw that she was staring at him, her dark blue eyes churning.

“Of course I’ll marry you, Mark.” I’ve always wanted us to be together forever.

He heaved a giant sigh of relief and handed her over the engagement ring. He thought about getting down on one knee, but he didn’t want to fall over or do something foolish to ruin the moment.

He held his breath, waiting for her to laugh at his clumsy proposal, but instead she just smiled sweetly and took the ring from him.

After a moment, she stood up and tried to grip his hand, “Come here, I want to show you something.”

“What?” he asked as he rose, pulling his shirt down and wiping his palms against the fabric before slipping his hand back into hers.

“You’ll see.” She whispered, and Mark walked through the room into the back of the house. In all his visits he had never gone to the back of the house. It was were the bedrooms were, and he knew how important waiting was for Lucy. She’d mentioned it more than once.

In his mind he wondered if because he had proposed now would be the night when they would finally be able to be together. He smiled to himself.

“I want you to see what forever looks like.” Lucy put her hand on the doorknob and looked at him one last time. “You ready?”

Mark nodded and took in a deep breath, and he was still inhaling and envisioning their night together when she pushed the door open and stepped to the side.

When he looked up he almost choked on that breath as he struggled to push the air back out in a solid scream. In front of him was a woman shackled to the wall. Her head hung limply against her chest and her blonde hair was matted with clumps of dried blood. He backed up a step, and tried to turn only to find himself falling.

A heavy object landed its first blow against his head, and then that pattern was repeated three more times in rapid succession. The last thing he could see through red tinged lenses was the woman’s face as she looked up and tried to call out to him, her gaunt features pulling tight against her cheekbones as she screamed. But he could hear none of it.

As the darkness sank down over him, he realized three things. One was that the woman had chunks of flesh missing from different points in her body, some of them healing at different rates so that it looked like this was an ongoing thing.

The second was that he had found the missing singer.

The last thought he had as he struggled to pull himself away from Lucy’s beating was how often he had eaten steak at her house.

She leaned over him, the soft scent of her floral shampoo now clogged his nostrils and he pushed himself away from her.

“I promise you forever,” she whispered as she leaned back and raised the pan above her head one more time.

“Oh no…” he managed to mutter to himself as world faded to black.


Warm Mudbath

Summer on the plains
with only the monotonous sunlight.
Thick heat seeped into our pores,
relieved by wind
and the occasional skinny dip
in the shaded river.
The only things to see our twinkling skin
were the turtles,
but they never said a word.
We laughed and played
as the mud-red
water washed away the
heat between us.