The tension in my shoulders is a fraying string that holds me together.  My ribs are a cage that presses down on my heart to keep it from running away and leaving me behind.  My legs tell me they work just fine but I can hear the weariness in their voices that beg me to stay sitting on the floor just a bit longer.

Days like this are hard because they are mundane.

It is warm outside finally.  The sky is growing a dark kind of blue that makes the evening look like it’s yawning, the kind of color that belongs in the backdrop of a grainy polaroid photo.  The trees and grass are impossibly green with glints of golden light from the low hanging sun.  Time feels strangely slow, until I think about tomorrow and the next day and the rest of the week and suddenly my limbs have gone boneless.

Like a child spooling in their kite string because the wind has gotten too difficult for flying, I’m pulling my thoughts back into the present and making them focus on the feeling of carpet under my toes.  My gaze turns from out my window to inside my room.

It’s a mess again but at least my bed is made.

A growing collection of mugs sit in clusters on my dresser, my desk, and my floor, holding used tea bags and coffee dregs.  There’s a stack of books I want to read on my headboard, three of them have bookmarks stuck inside that haven’t moved in weeks.  Blankets form a mound on the floor because even though it’s too warm to need them, I like how soft they feel against my skin.

I don’t let myself linger on any one thing.  Not yet.  Not today.  Today I am drained and fragile, and must store up strength before taking on more difficult things.

I open my window.

It’s a short drop to the ground below.  I’m tricking my legs into forgetting their heaviness by telling them that we’re going to do something ridiculous and fun.  I take with me a beat-up journal and a container of glue, because really, that’s all I’m going to need.

I wander aimlessly down the sidewalk, humming something tuneless and fleeting.  Up ahead, there’s a Bradford pear hanging its branches over my path, white blossoms fading and casting their petals to the ground.  Its fragrance hangs in the air like humidity.  The smell isn’t good or bad, but simply a scent that frames so many memories, and so it makes me remember being a kid.  It makes me remember the fears I got over and the ones that linger.  The hopes I forgot and the ones I didn’t.  How I didn’t care about the bruises I collected from trying things because I was too busy wanting to try them again.

This is where I stop.

I sit under the tree and open my journal to a blank page.  Smooth, sturdy, cream-white paper.  I cover it with glue.

I don’t have a brush to spread the glue, so I’m using my fingers, making sure it gets everywhere I want it to be.  The grass that edges the sidewalk is vibrant and the sort of height that calls out to lawn mowers.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s mown by tomorrow.

I grab a fistful and tear the grass from its stems.  One by one, I pull out my favorite blades and stick them haphazardly to my glue-covered pages.  The tips of my fingernails are getting stained because the feeling of tearing up grass is cathartic and I’m trying to fill the pages until they are green overlapping green.

I apply another layer of glue while wondering if I’ll be able to close the book when it has all dried.  I suppose I’ll find out tomorrow.  The thought makes me smile, mostly because it’s silly and I have no reason not to.  It takes me much longer to gather flower petals than grass, but I fill my lap with the fallen white petals and start sticking them to my new layer of glue.

I’m there until twilight, covered in glue, thinking about nothing of consequence and humming without a tune.  I don’t need to do any of it right or well.  I just need to do it for the sheer joy of it.

Carefully, I climb back into my room and leave the journal open on my desk to dry.  Firmly, I shut my window and draw the curtains to the darkening sky.  Smiling, I peel dried glue off my fingers, barely realizing that my shoulders are no longer a fraying string desperately holding me together.

Tomorrow will be its own creature.  I can face it in the morning.  For now, I am growing sleepy, and my bed is looking safe and soft and entreating.

It’s been a day.

And not a bad one at that.



I hadn’t been to this city since the day it fell.

It had been chaos then, fear rising from every street corner and doorway, voices mixing into a chant that shook the ground: Get out get out get out.  Eyes wide, hands gripped tight to whatever they valued most, heads turning to glance over their shoulders as they fled.

It had been smoke and bursting pipes, shifting ground and rising water, stale air and confusion.  I remember thinking: anywhere but here.  I remember thinking: I have to run.  I remember thinking: don’t look, don’t look, don’t ever look back.

And here I am.  Returning.  The city is a different creature now.  Shells of buildings, not quite empty but vacant nonetheless.  Seagulls scream from their nests on collapsed rooftops.  A soft roar of the rising tide echoes down abandoned streets.  The sea claims a third of the city during high tide, carrying in sand and shells and discarded seaweed to leave where it pleases.

Cracks in concrete spread out like spiderwebs, buildings droop against each other in a state of settled catastrophe.  Old cars on flat tires are filled with bird nests and spiderwebs.  Open doors sag on their last hinges, and walls are left with a patchwork of windows and shattered glass.

Flowering jasmine sprouts from every crack and crevice, every pile of sand, soft white flowers gluing scraps of a city together, their powerful scent filling the air like perfume.

I pick a few of the flowers as I make my way down second street, startling a flock of pigeons and a raccoon.  My fingers are shaking and jittery, twisting the flower stems together to keep my thought from racing away from me.  I can’t believe I’m here.  I can’t believe I made it.

The building used to be a flower shop.  Its glass doors are still shut, locked even, though the glass has long been shattered.  I carefully step through the empty panes and take in the space that used to hold the most color in the city.  Empty canisters and vases filled with dead flies, dead stems and cobwebs, swirls of fine sand drifted in from the wind and gathered on the floor.

He’s sitting on the counter, stacking cylinder vases in a pyramid.  He looks up at me with eyes of sea glass and dreams, and it’s only a moment later that I have my hand in his, fingers locked together.  There’s something unbreakable in our shattered gazes.  Something we built when our guts shouted at us to get out, get out of this terrible place.  Something we grabbed when our minds said you have to run, run, run.

Something I clung to when I told myself you can’t look back, don’t ever look back.

I think perhaps I can hear an echo of the pounding hearts that fled here the day the city emptied, or perhaps that is my own heart matching beat with him.  We’re in shock, amazed we made it, not quite ready to believe it.

We walk out and find where the beach begins on seventh street.  Washed up seashells poke out of drifted sand, stones beaten smooth from constant turmoil gleam in shafts of sunlight.  Abandoned lives and washed out dreams surround us, forgotten and left to lie in peace.  This is a place for the claiming of waves.

This is a place for the forgotten, the wandering, the runaways.

We sit on the roof of a rusting car, tucked close to each other’s side, listening to the water as it says shhh, shhh, shhh.  We’d promised to get out, to find somewhere safe, to do it together.

Together, or not at all.

The sea is lapping at the deflated tires beneath us, not quite able to reach farther, but seemingly stretching out to us, saying shh, shh, it’s alright now.  I rest my head on his shoulder, and his heartbeat says we made it, we made it, we made it.  I squeeze his hand, and it tells him we’re out, we’re out, we’re out.

No one will find us here, in the ruins of a city fallen to the sea.  We can finally take the time to hear our thoughts and figure out how our lungs are supposed to breathe.  Jasmine perfume fills the air, and I’m starting to remember what it is to imagine something more than running away.  His hand often intertwines with mine, a reassurance that I’m here.  We made it.


Where the sea washes up on deserted streets, learning to settle, to be what it has become.

Together, or not at all.

Swamp Sage


The Valrose swamp is a beautiful place where no one ventures near, and I find it interesting to ask them why.  They say it’s because of the humidity, or because the waters are cursed, or because it holds strange creatures that should not be.  They’ll say it’s too far from civilization, it doesn’t have enough sunlight, it’s too wild . . . really anything they can think up on the spot.

I can’t say they’re wrong, though I don’t believe the waters are cursed.  Some will argue when I say it’s beautiful, but most will concede the point.  Those who argue are the people who are too frightened to look.  Or perhaps, to frightened to feel.

The waters are a deep shade of orchid purple, their smooth surfaces interrupted by lime green reeds growing in the shallows, by ripples of commotion reaching outwards, by bubbles breaking the surface.  Water striders dart across the surface to the shrill music of crickets and cicadas.

Ancient trees cover the sky with polished ivory leaves, their smooth pearly branches drooping down to touch the earth and dip into water.  A thick carpet of moss covers every inch of the ground, climbing rocks and fallen branches and the base of tree trunks.

Beetles in dark hues of green and blue and yellow fly through the air and sometimes bounce off trees in their hurry.  Dragonflies with crystal wings glide low to avoid them.

And frogs.

Frogs of every color.

Bright, saturated, poisonous colors.  They are warnings, cautionary tales, beacons of danger.  They are the guardians of Valrose swamp, and they are my greatest curiosity.

I study most of the plants and creatures here, but none more than these colorful frogs.

I kept one once.  Caught it in a jar without touching it myself.  It was green and black and purple swirled together, like how oil looks when it gleams under the sun.  I fed it every bug I caught until I could figure out which ones it preferred.  I dropped in silver leaves and spongy moss and twisted sticks, observing carefully and writing it all down as bit by bit I grew attached.

Here is what I learned:

The frogs love to eat the pale crickets that sparkle in slivers of light, the emerald green minnows that gather in the shallows, and the fat inchworms the color of steel.

They love to touch the ivory leaves, but once they do the leaves shrink and turn a muted gray.

Exposure to their skin causes moss to turn bright violet, thriving more than any of the other samples I’ve grown.

Glass walls cannot contain them forever.

At first, copper spots blurred sections of the glass, like the surface of an aging banana.  A little longer, and spiderweb cracks spread over the surface.  I went to get another jar to relocate my frog, but when I came back there were only withered leaves, twisted sticks, violet moss covered in dusted glass, the top half of a jar, and the absence of a colorfully gleaming frog.

My journals are filled with discoveries, and sometimes those discoveries are disappearances or failures or unfortunate consequences.  There is more than you might imagine in research, the rise and fall of emotions, the breaking out of questions, the occasional answer that makes everything shift just enough to click into place.  Sometimes, I think of it as a story, one of longing and feeling and relinquishment.

It is a delicate thing, to love something wild.

It is my life.

Imagine It


Tucked away amongst rolling hills and winding roads, just off the edge of a charmingly cobbled-together town, there’s an old dirt road overgrown with weeds that leads to an abandoned cottage.  Looking back, I’m surprised I noticed it when I happened by.

I turned my feet down the old road and walked up the slanted front steps to the empty cottage.  It only took opening the front door before deciding it was home.

The place was fading into creeping vines and dripping branches, its inside covered in dust-settled sheets and curled autumn leaves.  The air was silent and open, filling the rooms in a way that hope fills the chest– not yet fulfilled, but ready.

Out the back door was an overgrowth of vegetation with a lining with trees.  A garden hid within the chaos, unnoticed until I found myself stepping on a tomato, and recognized a vine of beans climbing up a sapling.  I started there, searching, weeding, assessing.  It was like a scavenger hunt, with prizes scattered everywhere and small curious creatures watching from a distance.

I’m not sure how big the garden was when it had been planted; once abandoned, the plants seemed to have taken up a mind of their own, going wild with their strange new freedom.  I found tomatoes climbing up old corn stalks, carrot roots wrapping around rocks, and zucchini plants crawling over everything.  Two apple trees framed the back door, standing like protective mothers over clusters of wild onions.

Back inside the cottage, I found stairs to the attic.  I thought it would be empty.

I was very, very wrong.

Each box seemed wrapped in the melancholy of being set aside with no intent of being taken out again.  I opened each one gently, wondering who put them there and never returned.  What had this home been before?

Pins and buttons and needles and thread.  Fine china and quilts and baskets and jars.  Sewing patterns.  Lace curtains.  A pair of bright red slippers.  There was a typewriter boxed up with folded handkerchiefs and stacks of loose papers filled with poetry.

Bit by bit, I carried them all back down and filled the empty shelves and cabinets and drawers.  I gathered the white sheets that covered the furniture, washing them and hanging them outside to dry.  I took out the pins and needles and thread and placed them on the table.  I dug around until I found a pair of sheers, and then I brought in the sheets with determination in my step.

I hadn’t done much sewing, but I knew a bit and I had time to learn, and there were lots of sheets to practice with.  White scraps of fabric had invaded the house by the time I tried on a dress that fit.  Fluttering sleeves fell over my shoulders because I couldn’t figure out how to make any other kind of sleeve work.  It was the lightest I’d felt in months, wearing that dress.  I made a few more, each one with a bit more patchwork than the last as I ran out of big pieces of fabric.

In the evenings I would wander down the overgrown dirt road until the trees overhead parted and left me with the open sky.  Wearing a pair of red slippers from the attic and my white patchwork dress, I would watch the evening sky seep into a dark backdrop, and wait for the first of the silver stars to appear.

If I told you the stars bathed the road in shimmering light, would you believe me?  Not in the way the moon lights up your room if you forget to close your blinds, but like stardust glinting from a thousand silver fires.

You don’t have to believe me, I only ask you to imagine it.

Imagine red slippers softly treading over packed dirt and sleeping weeds, dancing with the stars.  Imagine a wisp of a breeze swaying the trees, bending their elegant branches like a ballerina’s arms.  Imagine looking up at the glittering stars and breathing deeper than you usually let yourself, because the air is clean and the night is big enough to convince you that you aren’t suffocating.

Now loosen the tension in your shoulders.

Here’s the truth: If I hadn’t weeded behind the cottage and searched, I wouldn’t have found a garden.  If I hadn’t been willing to cut the sheets, I wouldn’t have made my dresses.  If I hadn’t gone through the attic and carried things down, the house would have stayed empty.

Here’s the truth: I don’t even know if the stars truly bathe me in fantastical light.  Maybe my life is normal and my imagination has run wild.

Either way I’m dancing under a starlit sky with a smile on my face.

Forgotten Garden


It’s the height of summer.  Clouds blanket the sky and thunder rumbles on the horizon.  Bees are hurrying, working hard, preparing for the coming rain.  The air is warm and still, smelling like grass and dirt and clouds about to burst.

The day is speaking, gentle and firm, in a language that gardens love.

I live here in the forgotten garden, surrounded by tall stone walls and an iron gate, covered over time in clinging vines and moss.  The people who made this place loved it, that much I know, but what happened to them is left to speculation.  People haven’t seen this place for a long time since.

Green leaves turn up to the sky, some folding in on themselves in anticipation of rain, as they continue producing oxygen and releasing it to the air.  Such a normal behavior, and yet, different than the leaves outside these walls.  Different, in that here is the only place I can breathe.

This garden does more than grow.  It reaches out with thin stems and trembling leaves.  Its roots pull in what it needs and then a little extra to pass along.  It makes the kind of air that has been lost to the world, and gives it to any creature that happens by, such as myself.

A dying nymph, lost without her forest.

I cannot leave this garden without losing the air that keeps me alive.  These walls hold me in as much as keep others out.  I find it to be a rather pleasant fate; if I cannot have my forest, then give me a garden such as this and I will be happy.

It is beautiful here, and I work hard to keep it that way.

Rows of lavender crowd the winding paths on either side, clusters of tiny purple flowers hugging their pin-straight stems, smelling like lazy evenings and soft smiles.  I like to weave them into my hair.

There is an arbor tunnel made of something lasting, but what exactly I cannot tell, as it is completely covered in dripping vines of honeysuckle.  The entangled honeysuckle shades the path beneath it while smelling like sugar and mischief.  Its vines like to play a game with me, where they wander off and try to take over the rest of the garden, and I stop them from growing anywhere that isn’t their arbor.  There is no winner to the game, for they were made to grow and I was made to tend and neither of us wish to deny our nature.

Near the center of the garden is a small fish pond with a cascading fountain, the stones surrounding it concealed by a deep, soft carpet of moss.  The fish swim in flashes of bright reds and yellows and blues.  I’ve given each one a name in the language of the forest, and I think they’ve named me in the language of the river.  If I ever see a river nymph again, I will ask to know what they have named me.

Trees are scattered throughout the garden, and I love each one as dearly as if they had grown in my own forest.  There’s a weeping willow near the fish pond, large and old and gentle, with swaying branches that brush the ground.

There are several dogwoods that stopped growing when they were not much taller than me, their slender branches stretching out like the arms of a ballerina, and they burst with creamy four-petaled flowers every spring.

The crabapple is a gnarly old tree nearest to the iron gate, and its deeply pink blossoms fill each crook and knot of its branches, giving it a strange, wild sort of beauty.  It told me its name once, a name too difficult to pronounce even in the language of the forest, and I think if it had a human form it would be smirking at me.

Two snowbell trees stand together by an old stone bench, their branches spread wide and tangling with each other, their white clusters of flowers looking wintery and calm.  I like to sit on that bench when they are in full bloom, letting the white petals fall onto my hair and shoulders.

Thunder rolls quietly through the air, closer than ever, the clouds overhead heavy with anticipation.  I am waiting to see a lightning flash, because that is what nymphs wish upon, and I have a wish for the stormy sky today.

I wish for a gentle, curious soul to wander across the iron gate and climb it.  I wish for them to fall in love with this garden as I have.  I wish for their company, for their wonder, for their hand in mine as I show them around.

Electricity pricks at my skin, and a raindrop hits my cheek.  A lost forest nymph, rescued by a forgotten garden, wishing on the first lightning flash of a midsummer storm.

It is beautiful here.

I wish with all my might that I could share it.

Crayons and Walls


I’d finally gotten it, my own small house with simple white walls and soft carpet.  I had organized bookshelves and color-coded food containers and silverware that isn’t missing spoons.  I had clean windows and a shiny kitchen and a place for everything I had.

I also got something else, something unexpected that came with the house.

I got a ghost.

He messes up my food containers.  He puts my potato masher in different drawers and gets it stuck there.  Once, he threw flour all over the bedroom.  I’ll still find it in cracks and corners.  He’ll pull books off their shelves and leave them on the floor, on the couch, on the counter, on the bathroom sink.  I have to sort through my mail quickly or else it gets strewn under my dining table.

One day, he started drawing on my white couches.

I had tried nearly everything to get him to stop, but nothing worked.  The couches, though, my beautiful couches, pulled me to my last resort.  I desperately hoped that it would work.

That next evening, I came home with three 64-count packs of crayons and a bucket.  I could already see that my kitchen was a wreck again, but I would deal with that later.

My ghost usually avoids me, because I yell at him about the messes he makes, but as I started dumping crayons into the bucket, I could feel his curiosity pulling closer.  It was as if he were trying to peer over my shoulder.

I dumped all of them into the bucket.  All 192 of them.  He was definitely close then, and I started speaking calmly and clearly while I had his attention. “These are your crayons.  You can have the walls and color on them all you want, but if you touch anything else, I’m taking away the crayons.” My beautifully clean white walls.  This is the price I would pay for my sanity. “Please, just let me have some peace, I’m willing to trade.”

With that, I sat down at my dining table to sort through bills.  I heard rummaging in the crayon bucket, and when I looked up, my ghost was drawing.  The rubbing sound of crayon against the wall was enough to make me cringe.  Taking a deep breath, I focused on the bills and told myself it was only a wall, and my kitchen and bedroom and books were safe.

We spent the evening like that, and when I was finished with my work I braced myself to look at the wall.

He’d drawn balloons and golden sunflowers near the floor, bright and messy but in a way that someone might want to have it as wallpaper, if it weren’t done in crayon.  Higher up, he’d drawn books.  Stacked and scattered, some open and some closed, colored in solid blacks and browns and blues.  I walked over to look at them, and after a quiet moment, my ghost picked up a red crayon and drew a question mark over an open brown page.

“You probably wouldn’t find most of my books interesting.” I told him.

The crayon dropped back into the bucket.

When I came home the next day, I set down my bags and went straight to the wall he’d been coloring.  He’d drawn boxes of different colors, all stacked on top of each other to make a precarious looking tower.  It took me a while of staring before I realized they were my food containers he liked to take out.  Blue and orange stars spread across most of the wall, almost managing to tie the different drawings into one sort-of integrated piece.

I went back to the bags I’d brought home and pulled out a couple story books. “I got these, you might like them.” I set them on the table. “I can read one to you tonight.”

There was a phantom breeze that wafted past, and then my ghost pulled out a red crayon and drew a heart next to his drawing of a stack of books.  A strangely nervous smile pulled the corners of my mouth. “Okay then.” I said.

That night, I read one of the books to a mostly empty room.  I wasn’t quite sure if he was actually there until the end.  As I rose to put away the book, he drew another red heart on the wall.

Next, he drew my potato masher, and I realized it had been forever since I’d made mashed potatoes.  I told him I would show him how I used it, and another red heart appeared on the wall.

He drew stacks of papers and a couple envelopes, and I told him most of them were bills and ads.  Still, when I opened the mail, I started explaining what each envelope held and why I was throwing them away.  Another red heart appeared on the wall.

He drew music notes, and I started to wonder what kind of music he liked.  I branched out and started playing all sorts of music, watching for the little red hearts.  Searching through music I didn’t normally listen to, I found I liked a lot more than I thought.

It had been a long time since I just danced for the fun of it.

I started narrating most of my day out loud, and my walls became more and more covered in waxy colors.  I’ve found I don’t mind them that way, not when they tell me a story.  Not when the story is speckled in red hearts.

One evening, I found my ghost coloring on the hallway walls, and I thought about how it would feel to run the crayons across the walls.  It was a sort of forbidden thing, but they were my walls, and they were being colored anyway, and maybe it would be fun.

I sat down next to the bucket, and my ghost paused his drawing.  Before I could ask if I could join, he’d pulled out a purple crayon and dropped it in my lap.

The hallway has one of my favorite walls now.

I sometimes wonder how I’d lived before, without this color in my life.  Comfortably, sure, with a routine and calm days and white walls.  I still have some of that, but with little nudges to try something else or to rethink why, keeping everything from becoming dull.

And I think, now, I’m a little less lonely.  There’s always a bit of curiosity somewhere near my elbow or scribbling on my wall.

Sometimes, that’s exactly what I need.

Cave Echoes


Kenny’s got my hand and he’s holding it tight.  I have a hard time keeping up with his long strides, but I know he won’t leave me behind.  I’m lost already, but Kenny isn’t, he says we’re going to the river.  He didn’t say where we’ll go when we get there.  I hope he isn’t thinking of trying to swim.

There’s always something on the ground to trip me up, so I don’t look up as we run, but I can hear the rushing of water.  We’re close.

It’s louder that I thought it would be.

The ground is getting rocky, and tree roots arch out like they didn’t expect the dirt to end.  My ears are filled with a terrible roaring sound, and there is mist in the air.  I look up for just a moment, my breath catching at the sight of rocky cliffs and the waterfall pouring over them.

“Careful Meg,” Kenny tells me, “rocks are slippery.  We can’t rush.”

My legs feel like jelly.  We’ve been rushing the whole way here, but I don’t want to slip on the rocks.  I hold tight to Kenny’s hand and follow him as we get closer to the rushing, pounding, roaring waterfall.

The spray of mist is all around me, soaking my hair and clothes as Kenny pulls me right behind the curtain of water.  I can’t hear what he’s saying to me, but I can see now that the rock cliff has a cave behind the waterfall, and it’s the best hiding spot for us.  As we go deeper, the crashing of water dims to a small, constant noise and I can once again hear other things.

The cave ends in a rounded out room that is lit up by the faint glow of some sort of lacy moss hanging from the ceiling.  The room is not as cold as I expected it to be, as if the rock around us has soaked in the sunlight and had nowhere else to put its warmth.  I finally let my hand slip out of Kenny’s grip while we look around.

Lining most of the wall are yellow flowers that look like roses, except they couldn’t be.  They are growing straight out of rock and away from the sun, but they don’t look any different and smell exactly like roses.  The floor is yellow from their petals falling and resting on the damp stone year after year.

There’s an old bookshelf leaning slightly to the left, and it holds a collection of rocks and unused candlesticks and keys of all shapes and sizes.  A pleasant steady beat of a ticking clock echoes around us, punctuated by the occasional drip of water from the cave ceiling.

I start exploring the rose bushes, brushing my fingers over their soft yellow petals, my heart slowing to a normal beat.  Kenny is looking at the shelves, rummaging through the collectibles and then at the case itself, reaching his hand to feel the top and twisting around to peer behind it.

I want to have these flowers in my hair.  They smell like sugar and springtime and laughter, and I so want those things to stay with me always.  I check the stems for thorns, but there doesn’t seem to be any.

Kenny moves on to looking through the bushes, but he doesn’t seem to be looking at the flowers.  I sit cross-legged on the cave floor and start picking roses.  Their stems are too thick to weave into my hair, but maybe I can keep a bouquet with me when it’s safe to leave.

“We shouldn’t stay here.”

I look up and Kenny is standing next to me, looking worried.  I hold the flowers I’ve picked in one hand while I use the other to stand up too. “We can’t go, they’re still looking for us.”

“I don’t like it here, we need to go.” his eyes are darting around, as if he can hear our pursuers in the echoes of our voices.

“We can’t go yet.” I say, “They’ll catch us for sure.”

“Meg!  Look around, what do you see?”

Frowning, I look around.  Kenny didn’t get scared.  The closest he got to scared was when we had to run.  This is a good hiding spot, why would he want to go back out while they are looking for us? “I see smooth cave walls, dangling moss, yellow roses, and a bookshelf.”

“What do you hear?” Kenny is watching me now, and I can see that he’s properly scared.  It’s making me uneasy.

I sigh and close my eyes, trying to shake the feeling and listen for whatever has Kenny spooked. “I hear the waterfall, my voice,” I tilt my head, listening hard. “A clock ticking, and your feet shuffling on the ground.”

“Where’s the clock, Meg?”

I turned towards the bookcase and open my eyes, frowning at the shelves.  That’s where I’d put a clock, if I had one.  There isn’t anywhere else to put one but the cave floor.

“It’s so loud, it has to be right next to us.  But there isn’t one.”

I turn back to Kenny. “Well maybe it’s–”

He isn’t there.  My heart stops dead as I spin in a circle. “Kenny?”

“Where’s the clock, Meg?”

I turn again, his voice an echo bouncing from every wall.  I hadn’t heard his feet move.  He had been right next to me, and even now his voice is right by my ear.

I reach out my hand, but he isn’t where he’s supposed to be.  All I see are yellow roses and lacey moss.  All I feel is rock beneath my feet and flower stems pressing my skin as I squeeze them tightly. “Kenny?”

His voice is still here. “Where’s the clock?”

The clock is gone.

I need to leave, but I don’t.  I’m not sure I can.

Kenny is gone.

Day and Night


Our city is one of two in the same space.

Let me explain.

There are the day dwellers, and there are the night dwellers.  We do not cross paths, we are strangers to the other.  I do not know why.  Our laws were made long before I was born, and their reasoning was lost even longer ago.

I am of the people of the night, in the city called Kef.  Our life is lanterns and music, venders and firepits, dancing and whispers.  We work and play and sometimes we blur the lines between the two because they look so similar in the flickering light.

The grey hours before dawn is when we scramble into the shadows before the sun can burn us. 

They say that’s what happens. I don’t know how the day dwellers survive it. I imagine their skin is red and scarred.

I imagine their eyes are blinded.

I’m told the sun sets in a flaming sky, and the haze of dusk is the smoke left behind.  At day we draw our curtains and close our eyes to the light that pierces through the cracks.  At dusk we wake, and we don’t dare open the curtains until the darkness truly settles.  We do not venture into the dawn.  We do not set foot in the day.

I am breaking that rule today.


* * *


There is a city within my city that I have never known.

Let me explain.

There are those who live in the day, and those who live in the night.  Neither knows the other.  They cannot.  It is law.

I’ve always wondered why.

I am of the people of the day, and ours is the city of Heliol.  When I look down from my apartment I see flowers and hats and carts milling in a kaleidoscopic mass.  We trade goods and whistle on our way to work and call out to each other from across the block, because why wait to start a conversation when you can already see each other?

When the sunset spreads over the sky before dusk, we hurry home before the darkness can pull us in.

They say darkness is cold, and it never lets go.  They say the shadows hide monsters of claws and teeth.  I want to know what kind of people would live in it.  I imagine their skin to be blue from the cold.

I imagine their hands have sharp claws.

I’m told the night sky holds thousands of flames, but that not one of them warms the earth.  At night we close our blinds and hope that sleep comes before the darkness sets in.  We wake at dawn, but we wait until the first rays of light peek between the blinds before opening them.  Since I was old enough to be sung lullabies, I knew not to step into the faded world of dusk.  We do not wander into the night.

I am breaking that rule tonight.


* * *


My heart is pounding, each beat asking me why I didn’t listen to it sooner.  Dawn is lighting up the sky, and I’m the last one left scrambling down the street for the safety of home.  I was out far too late.  Home is still blocks away, and the sunrise has already begun, lighting the once-dark and comforting sky with flames of color.

I’m out of breath, and I know I won’t make it.  The first rays of light will come down any minute and burn me.  I duck off the street and head into the still-darkened end of an alley.  Perhaps the light won’t reach me here.  

Perhaps I can sleep somewhere and wake again in the comfort of night.


* * *


My blinds are still open.  I’m waiting in my room for the city to go to sleep, and I can’t stop watching as the last of us scramble to get home.  The sun is setting, turning clouds pink and orange against a fading blue sky, and I can’t tear my eyes away.  My breathing is fast and nervous.  We do not step foot into the night.

Not until me.

The sky fades into dusk and into a world I’ve only ever shut my eyes to.  I wonder how much of it is something I will be able to see, even with my eyes wide open.  The streets are still, and darkness falls upon them like a featherlight blanket.  Maybe I’m scared.  I would know if I were paying attention.  I grab a jacket and slip out of my room.

Maybe the night has always called out to me, and I am finally answering.


* * *


Everything is so bright.  I’m still hidden in shadow, but it is only a faint echo of what shadows should be.  Noises are rising from the street, the sounds of voices and cart wheels and bells.  I haven’t dared to look towards the commotion.  Doing so would mean poking my head out of this fragile remnant of a shadow and exposing it to the light that burns.

I am wide awake.

I am shaking.

I cannot stay like this, waiting forever for the day to be over.

There is nothing for it.  Not in my mind.  I lift a hand out into the light, wincing in anticipation.  Waiting for the heat and pain and regret.

Instead, nothing happens.  I stare at my hand, then cautiously peek out from my hiding place, letting the light hit my face for the first time.  It is warm, but only barely.  Lighter than the warmth of a hearth fire.

And beyond the alley . . .

Their skin is not red and scarred.  Their skin is not pale like mine, either.  They are . . . they are . . .

They are colors and detail and contrast.

I step out a bit further.


* * *


The city is washed in a shade of deepest blue.  Edges and corners blur into their surroundings.  People are once again filling the street; their skin is pale, but I do not see claws or fangs.  They carry lanterns, big and small, warm flickering light amongst the blues and purples of night.  I am afraid that if I move I will break this moment.

I am dreaming.

I am breathless.

I need to join them before they fade away.

It is not as cold as I thought it would be.  The night is still, and the warmth of the day seems to linger in the ground and buildings around us.  I take a few steps to the edge of the street before stopping in wonder.

The sky holds thousands of lights.

I’m not sure if the sky has ever felt so vast before now.  The lights twinkle and shine, clusters of them filling every space that isn’t blocked by a cloud.  I swear I saw one move, flashing in a streak of light and then disappearing so fast that I couldn’t be sure I hadn’t imagined it.

Slowly, I lower my eyes, and before me . . .

Flickering light beckons to me.  Soft music streams by my ears.

This is . . . this is . . .

This is soft and vast and hidden.

I slip into the street.


* * *

There are so many blooming plants, their petals open and exposed to the gentle breeze.  I hear people calling out to each other from across the street, some only making a passing remark before carrying on, leaving their friend to laugh as they part.  Everyone is known here.  Everyone is seen.


The music is coming from an open fire, and no one notices as I watch, swaying to the medley.  I hear whispers all around me, but it’s as if they are coming from the wind itself, disembodied and entrancing.  A few others are dancing, and I realize I can join them.  They don’t care who I am.  I’m just me.


An elderly woman nods to me with a warm smile, and a gentleman says ‘good morning’ as I pass by.  It is as if I could stop and have a chat with anyone I come by.  I want to try it.  I want to talk in more than whispers.


I am floating, I am flying, there is music and laughter and dancing and nothing else.  I reach out, and someone takes my hand.  We dance together, not a word spoken, but I feel in my heart that we could be friends.  I don’t want to stop.


I call out a greeting to a vendor as I approach, and he leans on his cart to ask me about my day.  Just like that, I’m having a chat, and it is open and joking and warm.


The music ends and begins again and again, pushing and pulling at us to dance and watch the flames and dance again.  Someone whispers hello and I whisper back, and we say nothing else.  There’s no need to.


The day is not nearly as long as I thought it was.


I look up, and realize the lights in the sky are fading.


I don’t know,

I’m not sure,

I think I might,

But could I,

Want to–

Just for a while–


Spring Wishes


It’s raining in the strawberry patch.  A light drizzle on a warm spring day, enough to make the world a softer place.

My bangs are plastered against my forehead, and my basket is already several shades into a darker brown.  I’m careful of where I step; there’s strawberries everywhere, and if there aren’t strawberries, there are worms breaking through the surface to breathe.  I think I hear a cardinal singing.

I think I could live my whole life inside a moment like this.

The air is sweet and soft and kind, and it brushes lightly against my cheek.  I swear it whispered to me a wish I’d made when I was nine.  The memory gives me an old smile, one I haven’t used in so, so long.

The strawberries are bright red, and they are warm from the sun but cool from the rain.  The small ones are the sweetest I’ve ever had and the big ones linger on my tongue long after they’re gone.  I drop them in my basket, vivid color against the rich brown wood.  Of course, I eat some of them too, because eating them is just as much a part of picking berries as filling the basket.  And nothing tastes as good as strawberries picked in the rain.

Near the edge of the patch there’s a smooth cherry branch, dropped from its tree and resting on top of the strawberry leaves, a single pink blossom still clinging to the end.  It’s a perfect fit in my hand, and the air wraps around me when I pick it up, whispering old memories once again.

A wish for butterflies that hold a candlelight glow.  

A wish for friendship with birds to know.  

A wish for every hope, to hope stronger.

It pauses to listen, it always has.  I smile and whisper back, A wish for this moment to linger a while longer.

A breeze picks up, just enough to rustle the trees and kiss my cheek.  The scent of strawberries fills the air, as if they’d all burst at once.  The misty rain pauses a moment, droplets floating mid-air, and they sparkle like magic.

I hear whispers all around, and they are telling me, we listened, we remember.  The strawberry plants nod in a flurry of greens.  Wishes take time, and we have gathered enough time for you, for now, for this.

The rain falls again, but even lighter than before.  The strawberry leaves are still fluttering, and somewhere amongst them rise hundreds of delicate glowing wings.  There are a few that land on me, butterflies wrapped in pulsing candlelight, and where they land they warm my rain-soaked skin.

I hear a robin sing close by, and it is joined by the cry of a blue jay.  Somewhere in the distance I can hear crows singing their throaty chorus.  There’s a flapping of wings, and a bluebird lands on my wrist.  It looks up at me, and its eyes hold the kind of trust I never see in birds.  It doesn’t flinch when I reach out to touch its feathers.  I think I could have cried.  Perhaps I did.

The very last of a breeze brushes over my shoulder, and I hear the faded remains of its voice.  Look, and it is so quiet I hear it beside my heartbeat, one last gift before we go.  The butterflies lift, parting enough to point me the right way.

A friend.

Standing in the patch, holding a basket that has deepened a few shades deeper brown, I see a boy with auburn hair plastered against his forehead.  He’s looking up at the butterflies, their warm light reflecting in his eyes.  I walk to him, and he turns to me with a smile, like we’ve known each other for years.

Hello, I say, and a cardinal lands on my shoulder.

Hello, he answers, and he holds out his hand. I moved here a few days ago.  Want to pick strawberries with me?

I say yes, and we shake on it.  A lark sings somewhere behind me.  The moment lingers, and time does not hurry, and we pick strawberries in the misty spring rain under the candlelight glow of butterfly wings.

Hats and Polka Dot Dresses


I’m supposed to be doing math.

Sometimes it seems like I’m always supposed to be doing math.  I’m sitting cross-legged on my back porch because momma wants me to feel the sun.  It feels good, but it doesn’t help with math.  It makes me warm and curious and lazy.

There are ladybugs on the porch, red as momma’s lipstick and dots as black as ink.  They’re enjoying the sun too, and when one lands right on my math problem, I give up.  The ladies are having a party, and I want to join them.  So I do.

My bare feet hit grass as I chase after the ladybugs still flying in the air.  They sway like scribbles in the air, like they’re dancing, and I’m hanging from them like a puppet with hands outstretched.  A squirrel chatters at us as we zig-zag too close to its tree, but it does nothing more because the ladybugs are too small for it and I’m too big.

A stick snaps under my feet, and it’s only then that I look down and realize where they’ve been landing when I loose sight of them.  There’s a few on my white shirt and a couple crawling on my jeans, hitching a ride.  I carefully gather them into my hands and walk them back to the porch.  One of them spreads its wings and then lets them settle, like she’s detangling her skirts after dancing so wildly.

They need hats.

I scramble for my notebook and tear a tiny strip off the bottom.  I look back at the ladybugs, frowning.  They’re so tiny.  I tear a tiny piece from my strip and try to roll it into a party hat.  It’s bigger than the bug’s head, and doesn’t stay on.

So I tear off another piece.

My fingers are little, but not quite small enough to twirl hats the right size.  Specs of white lay scattered on the porch before I try a different style.  Party hats don’t fit ladybugs, and quite right, too.  They’re dressed too fancy in their polka dot dresses for pointy hats.  They need one of those floppy-brimmed hats that I would wear to a tea party.

I’m getting good at tearing off the teeniest pieces of paper now, and I leave them flat as I try to place them on top of their tiny black heads.  I never realized how shaky my hands were until now, but even so, the hats start to stay.  One ladybug has to leave early, and she flies into the air with her hat still on.

I hope the other ladybugs will appreciate her hat.

The day is falling into one of those deep blue evenings, the ones that have frogs singing and squirrels chattering and a blue jay causing a ruckus somewhere in the trees.  The air is still warm but the grass is cool, and it takes longer than it should to realize the dew is already settling.

The sun is gone.  The sky is still light and washed in warm colors, but somehow I failed to notice the sun disappearing.  It is time to go back inside, and I gather my math books into my arms and take a last look at my porch party.

Flakes of white lay scattered like shredded confetti.  A few pieces sit atop the most fashionable ladybugs this side of the neighborhood, who are crawling around to show off to each other.  A few pieces have made it to the yard, either fallen from a ladybug or carried by the breeze.

I’ll still have to do my math, but then it seems I’m always doing my math.  Sometimes, I think everyone should pause a minute.  They should get back to their work, of course, to be sure.  But they should also pause it every once in a while.  Sit on their back porch.  Feel the warm afternoon sun.

And make hats for ladybugs in polka dot dresses.