I’ve started a group writing project that includes over a dozen writers with hopefully more to come. My gosh… you’re completely insane. Yeah, I know. I totally needed something else to add to my plate. Since it’s consuming so much of my time, I thought I might as well tell you about it.
My newest bout of insanity is a collection of themed short stories called A Year of Moons. There are thirty-nine topics, all based off of the names of the different moons each month. (I picked three per month plus three extras. I do know how many months there are in a year.) And if thirty-nine topics weren’t enough, I’m planning on having five stories per topic. (I may drop it to three. But we’ll see.) January has Wolf, Old, and Ice. February has Snow, Hunger, and Storm. March has–you get the point. Each story has to somehow relate to the topic.
I got the idea while watching Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass. He did a collection of short stories called A Calendar of Tales with a story for each month. I thought a themed short story collection was genius! I just had to do one! Because I totally didn’t have anything else going on or other projects that needed to be finished!!!
So far, I’ve had over twenty stories turned in by various authors and plenty others are scheduled for the future. There have a been a few bumps; trying to figure out copyright and publishing information, writers signing up for a dozen stories and having to drop half to all of them when life gets in the way. But despite all the challenges, the project is chugging along steadily and some amazing stories are being turned in each month. It’s crazy how different two stories both based off the topic Wolf can be.
Then again, the variety in stories isn’t surprising when you take the current group of writers into account. The youngest is eleven, the oldest is in his twenties. Some have been writing for years, others have only just started. Some of the writers have never done short stories before, others do them all the time. Most of them write fantasy most of the time, a few never write fantasy. The different styles and ideas are fantastic.
But I’ve talked enough about the stories, it’s time to show you some. (FYI, I have permission from all the authors to share their work.)
Angelina, who went by Angie, was a girl with very few friends. Talking to new people made her anxious. So did presenting in front of the class and being called on by the teacher and making phone calls and walking places and paying for things at stores. Yes, Angie was a very anxious nine-year-old girl.
But as much as people made her anxious, animals gave her comfort. She had a cat of her very own, Socks, and her parents had two others, Kricket and Paul. She didn’t know why one was named Paul. They used to have a dog as well, an old, fat Labrador named Penny, but she was hit by a car a few years back. So they just had cats now.
One day Angie learned that some birds were quite intelligent, crows and magpies and the like. You could train them to talk and do tricks. Her parents wouldn’t let her actually get a bird, but they did have magpies in the yard every day.
So then, using weeks’ worth of her allowance, Angie bought a bag of bird seed. The first day she put it out, a Saturday, she sat by the large kitchen window and watched the yard, keeping track of all the different feathered visitors on a notepad. There was only a slight hitch when she saw Paul stalking across the yard towards a sparrow. Yes, she scared away all the birds when she ran out, but at least none of them were eaten.
After that, she always made sure the cats were inside before putting out bird seed.
She did the same thing on Sunday. And on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday she put seed out when she got home from school and sat at the kitchen window while she did her homework. This was her routine through the whole bag of birdseed.
Her parents, seeing how much Angie enjoyed bird watching, bought her a bird identification book, a new journal to keep track of her feathered friends, a birdfeeders, and a whole new bag of seed.
So Angie kept watching.
The magpies were the most frequent visitors, having nests in the yard, and they often chased off other birds with cries of indignation.
One day, when the weather was fine and Angie was itching to go outside, she sat still as a statue in the yard. There were fewer birds that day, but some came anyways. Especially the magpies–they weren’t afraid of her.
This too was fitting into her schedule, and Angie soon spent nearly all her free time watching birds. She started watching them in the park, and on the walk to school, and through the windows at school as well. She started carrying bags of birdseed with her, along with her identification book and journal. She even started looking for books on birds at school, daring to ask the librarian and her teachers for recommendations.
She learned the word ‘ornithology’ and loved the way it looked and sounded–writing it in the margins of her books when she was bored. She drew birds, she collected feathers, she learned about their anatomy.
And then–tragedy of tragedies–her classmates found out about her deepest passion. It happened when someone bumped into her desk, on purpose or on accident she never could decide, and sent her books spilling to the floor.
There they were for the whole class to see–birds, birds, birds.
After that, she had a new name. Bird Girl. She went home early that day, complaining of a headache.
Poor Angie. How cruel can children be? She never asked about birds again, or fed them on the way to school where her classmates might see her. Instead, she kept it all at home. Her parents noticed the shift of sadness, but Angie never told them what happened.
It is good for our story that Angie had a strong spirit. She didn’t let the mocking chase her away from her love, from all her little friends. No, it drove her closer.
Magpies never laughed at you, and they liked shiny things. So she brought them gifts, having no one other than her parents and her cats to give gifts to.
She spent more time outside that summer than she ever had before. She knew where all the magpie nests were in their yard, and even rescued a magpie chick when it tumbled to the ground. Unfortunately, Angie also tumbled to the ground on her way down the tree. On the way home from the doctor’s office, left arm sealed in a bright white cast, she had to promise her mother to be more careful climbing trees.
She drew birds on her cast–magpies, mostly.
Soon Angie was a ten-year-old, then an eleven-year-old, then twelve and thirteen and fourteen. She was still anxious, but about different things. And of course, she still loved birds. Her parents bought her books on birds and biographies of famous ornithologists for her birthdays and Christmases. She visited science museums and wildlife preserves and zoos. She talked to a few real-life ornithologists, who were more than willing to teach their profession to an excited child.
Her friendship with the magpies grew as well. She left them shiny things, and they would bring others back–leaving them on the doorstep, the outside table, her windowsill. They would eat out of her hand and perch on her shoulder. She could sit in the trees and watch them in their nests without issue. (And she was more careful climbing, just as she’d promised.
Once she left the magpies a drawing she’d done of them. The next day, she found a piece of worn paper with dark markings all across it. If Angie squinted, she could pretend it was her.
One Saturday night when she as nearing fifteen, a night most important to our story, Angie’s parents went out on a date, saying they might not be home till after midnight. That was just fine with Angie–she wanted to look for nocturnal birds at the park and knew her parents would never let her if she asked. So she didn’t ask.
Her mind was so fixed on birds that she didn’t have the mental space to be anxious about walking through the streets at night, or sitting in the middle of a pitch black park–her, a girl of just fifteen who no one would know where to look for.
Angie didn’t see an owl as she’d hoped, but it was nearing midnight and she needed to head home. Once again, her head was up with the birds. But then something glinted in the street light. She was always looking for shiny things now, to gift to her magpies, so she turned.
The shiny thing was a gold chain necklace–one around the neck of a man. A man Angie was sure she’d seen standing in an alley entrance a few streets ago.
Now she had the headspace to be anxious. Don’t walk too fast. Don’t walk too fast. You’re not scared of him. You’re not. You’re not. Her footsteps sped up anyways, her breathing hitched. She glanced around wildly, looking for someone else on the street, someone who might help her.
There was no one.
Faster and faster she went, and she could hear the man speeding up behind her. Where was the alley that led straight to her street? She walked down it all the time, it was clean and open. But where was it? Where?
That one. That had to be it.
She dove into the alley, now at a dead run, sobs choking in her throat. It didn’t her long to realize she’d made a wrong turn. The unforgiving wall that blocked her path was the biggest clue. She turned to run back the other way–but the man was already in the alley.
Angie was about to scream–for help or to beg to be left alone she didn’t know. She never got the chance, the man screamed first.
Something swooped out of the night sky, colliding with his face. He clutched at his eye, swearing and yelling. Another something flew down at him. Then another.
A whole flock of birds pecked and clawed and screamed, but the man screamed even louder than them. He dropped to the ground, writhing, and the birds went with him.
Angie could stay still longer. She darted past the storm of feathers and blood, racing through the streets. She was still sobbing when she got home.
Her parents found her asleep in her room, laughing quietly when they saw she was still fully dressed–assuming that she’d been in the back yard with her friends.
Angie was awakened by a tap tap tap. Sitting up with a start, she glanced willy around the room, half expecting to see the man hiding in a corner.
Tap tap tap. There, at the window, was a magpie. It looked intently at her, cocking its head and bouncing twice. Tap tap. It pecked at the window again.
She slid off her bed and hesitantly opened the window. The magpie hopped inside with a quark, ruffling it’s blue-black feathers. A flutter of wings announced the arrival of two more magpies. They flew right up to Angie and dropped something on the floor.
A golden chain, covered in blood.
She backed away, staring at the chain. I didn’t imagine it. I didn’t. She could never tell her parents what had happened now. Never.
The three magpies watched Angie a moment, before one fluttered to the floor and hopped towards her with soft chirps. It fixed her with a dark eye stare. Angie met its gaze, and for the briefest second she swore its eyes flashed gold. But before she was sure about it, the three magpie took flight, swooping through her window and out into the sky.
Ever after that, Angie could always find a magpie nearby. No matter the time or weather, there was one of the birds nearby. And when she was inside, and oft times when she wasn’t she would see funny looking people with blue-black hair, the darkest eyes, pure white skin, and thin beak-like noses. No one else seemed to notice them, and when they caught Angie staring they would give her a quick smile.
Angie, now seventeen, is still studying birds. She works hard in school, where no one calls her Bird Girl anymore, and plans on getting a degree in ornithology. And she’s still a little anxious, but not much, because her friends are always nearby–the feathered ones and real people as well.
Not to say that these magpies aren’t very much real. You just have to know how to befriend them.
A Bitter Taste
Arthur J. Fox
Do you remember what it was like that summer? We were still young; a gangly, ginger haired boy and freckled girl who always wore mismatched socks because she wanted ‘to make a statement’. It was hot that year; a sticky, humid, suppressive summer.
Suppressive. We used that word more than a few times. We used it talking about our parents, or school, or adults in general. We’d heard people on the news talk that way, and liked the way it sounded. Kids, they’ll believe anything when they feel stuck.
You and I, we didn’t know each too well at the beginning of that summer. But by the end we knew each other too well. We did things we shouldn’t have, and we did them for all the wrong reasons. Anger. Boredom. Morbid curiosity. At the time, the only thing that mattered was that we didn’t get caught. Sure, an awful lot of people suspected we were the ones who graffitied the school, but they only speculated. About that and lots of other things.
We saw ourselves as rebels, innovators, leaders of a new era in a small town. Everyone else saw us a terrors. In a way, they were right. We’d got a taste of what power was like, and were doing anything to
Do you remember what it was like? When we kissed for the first time that summer? It wasn’t magical, no, we were too old for magic. It was real. Real as the dirt beneath our feet and the willows above our heads. As rushing as the stream beside us, as sweet as the honeysuckle nectar, as powerful as the dark storm that hovered on the horizon.
Oh yes, there was a storm after that. We were caught up in it, all summer long. And when school came around again, we just couldn’t get off that high of humid, unfettered, summertime madness. They may have thought us terrors in the summer, but it was nothing compared to us at school. We tried to drag our classmates into that storm of high ideals and rebellion as well. Some followed, others stayed rooted in the life they already had.
How proud we were each time another joined us. We were rebels, we were innovators, we were leaders.
We were fools.
Do you know how hard it is to find work without a highschool diploma? Do you know how hard it is to get hired when you have a history of doing and dealing drugs? Yes, that summer was something else. Something we enjoyed at the time. We drank it up like the gods and their ambrosia, only to find later that our eyes had deceived us and now we were sick on poisoned water. At least we had fun for a while, right? I need you to agree with me, it’s the only consolation I have.
I still can’t kiss someone without thinking back on that first kiss, there in the heat and mysticism and hope of that summer. But it doesn’t taste like thunder and nectar anymore.
It just tastes bitter.
Jordan was in the door, chugging from one of those plastic gallon jugs of milk and watching the golden morning outside.
I was at the kitchen table. In the shadow.
And what was going through your head?
I don’t know. Oh, I guess I was worried. The chickens were all out and running around the backyard, he always hated them. And I was glad.
I — I remember when he finished the milk, and he sort of rubbed it off his face, and he said something like, “Aren’t you happy here?”
Yes! Of course! But it was weird, you know? He’d just shown up, he should have tried to make me say I didn’t like it where I was, he should have tried to get me to want to leave with him. Or something.
But he didn’t.
He almost seemed… He almost seemed sad.
And did you know at this point?
I think I knew from the beginning.
May. Eight years ago. We were in a field, with all those pretty yellow weeds, wildflowers. [Rubbing hand against eyes.] It was perfect, disgustingly romantic. I loved it. So much.
The thought. You have to keep them separated; the dream from the real underlayer. Then you can ignore what’s really happening. You don’t have to look at it. You can just live in the… romance…
I think we should go back to the farmhouse.
He wiped away the milk and said that, and I hadn’t seen him in a year! I thought we were gone for good. He was being so slow, I was about to have a freaking heart attack.
And were the kids in the house at this point?
The kids? No, they were at their grandma’s house. I sent them over as soon as he got out of the truck. Her house is just across the field. Madison was picking all those wildflowers. None of the kids had ever lived out in the farmland before, they thought it was magical.
What? Don’t you have any more questions?
Yes. Did you ever feel unsafe–around Jordan?
No. Not really.
Yeah. He was terrified of me.
Why do you think he came back?
He couldn’t help it. Like he said; I’m his wildflower. The ones you can’t ever get rid of–my mom spent a year pounding at that field trying to kill them and the next May there were more of them than ever.
You look scared, too.
We only have a few more moments.
And you’ve got one more question? Shoot it out.
Um… Okay. If you could go through that day again, if you could make any different decisions — what would you do?
Would I have let him live?
Would I have let him follow me into that new, perfect, disgustingly romantic dream and drive away the new man and my life?
What kind of a question is that?
[Leaning back.] He was a weed, honey. It was time for him to go.
Scarves of Red
“Vive la Révolution!” The crowds chant and throw their fists at the sky.
“Vive la France!” I scream, my voice small and light in the shoving mass. We are proud of our land, how dare they try to stop us?
We are getting closer to the platform where those hateful, selfish people will die. The frost bites at our noses, so we huddle together, swallowed in our coats. Mine is beautiful; it was a gift. It’s pink, laced with delicate strawberries.
I hate blood shed, but this… this is righteous.
I smile at the handsome young lady beside me. “I can’t believe,” I shout, “that anyone would tax us when we can’t pay, oui?”
“Oui!” she answers. Her voice is light and pretty. Some man adores her, I am sure.
The pack is moving forward, and my stomach flutters. The red scarves around our throats fly like war banners.
It stood in the marketplace, beams dark against the sky. The platform is stained red. I shiver as the blade glitters in the sunlight.
The crowd silences; we are standing on edge, waiting for the executioner. Someone shuffles. Finally the dark snake of prisoners came, pushed by men in black. The first prisoner climbs the step; I feel suddenly sick. The blade would take the young man’s head, and it would roll at our feet. I turn away. What girl would mourn his death? Who would clean the blood?
“Last words?” The executioner croaks. Everything is silent; a child giggles. Was this righteous after all? Yes, I thought, yes. The young man says nothing, he only lets loose a sob. I will not look.
The executioner is not satisfied. “Why are you dying today, young man?”
“I have rebelled against… the Revolution.” It is a strong voice that shakes.
My hands tremble; my face is cold. Something feels wrong, as if I knew the voice. I turn slowly to stare at the man. His eyes catch mine and flick away. There were tears in them.
I swallow; it is all a dream. I couldn’t be the girl. I couldn’t. “Michael,” I hear myself whisper. “Michael!”