Archive for December 2009

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

December 30, 2009

With over 450 comments and an estimated 3,500 plus hits on the blog, 12 Days has ended, but people reading the stories hasn’t. And the paperback book isn’t even out yet!
I’m not even sure where to start to begin thanking all the writers, readers, and commenters who made this project bigger and better than what I had expected. I mean in reality, this was all a big risk. It was a big risk to ask for 12 writers. . . and even bigger risk to ask for 24. Then going up against NaNoWriMo and letting people submit whatever they want. . . yikes, I’m a literary madman! :)
But it’s everything I wanted. I cut the reins and said “GO!” and you 23 writers went crazy and made me proud! We’ve got stories that come in under 1,000 words and stories that reach out past 5,000. We’ve got heart felt stories about those losing their jobs in the sour economy all the way to zombie cows! (Thanks Jodi!)
To me, it’s perfect. It encompasses everyone’s true talent and ability. . . and it seems everyone had fun! It was amazing to see how many of you came back to respond to your comments and to comment on other stories. To me that shows how serious you all take writing and how passionate you are for the art. And trust me, that will shine through all your careers.
I was amazed that my poor phone didn’t stop vibrating for an entire 12 days. If it wasn’t comments, it was all you faithful Twitter-ers tweeting about the project. And to that – thank you! I personally hated Twitter until I understood how important of a tool it could be when used right.
I’m left right now kind of sad. . . sad it’s all over. I feel like I have had 23 of my best friends over for the holidays and they left. . . there’s empty plates, glasses with a few sips in them, and a sink full of dishes. So without being too cheesy, I miss you guys and gals already! I want another 12 days of stories! :)
I know this project was a first publication for a couple of you. . . I wanted to say congrats! And please remember me when your on the New York Times Bestsellers list. For others this project is another notch on a long belt and I wanted to say that I’m honored that you took time to write for the project and get involved.
And to all 23 writers – have a great holiday, a happy new year, and keep those keys clicking and pencils scribbling!

Oh, once this project is out in a book form and see the quality and response, I plan on trying my hand at another anthology. . . in time though, in time.

-Jim-

All the stories. . .

December 26, 2009

Here is a list with link to all the stories posted here on 12 Days!  If you haven’t ready any yet or just one two, be sure to check them all out. . . trust me, it’s like nothing you’ve ever read before in an anthology!

And early 2010, we will have the paperback book coming out!

Day 1 – December 14 – A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Christmas Return by J.M. Strother – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/christmas-return/

Time to Dance by Cynthia Schuerr – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/time-to-dance/

 

Day 2 – December 15 – Two Turtle Doves

Peace on Earth is at War by Jodi MacArthur – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/peace-on-earth-is-at-war/

 

The Turtle Dove by P.J. Kaiser – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/the-turtle-dove/

 

Day 3 – December 16 – Three French Hens

Three French Hens by Karen Collum – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/three-french-hens/

 

Three French Hens and a Shot of Brandy by Kathleen Gilbert – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/three-french-hens-and-a-shot-of-brandy/

 

Day 4 – December 17 – Four Calling Birds

Heirloom Birds by Lauro Eno – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/17/heirloom-birds/

Chuck and the Four Calling Birds by Jack Roth – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/17/chuck-and-the-four-calling-birds/

 

Day 5 – December 18 – Five Golden Rings

Five Golden Rings by David Sobkowiak – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/18/five-golden-rings/

The Moonfairy, the Angel, and the Puca by Nishida C. – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/18/the-moonfairy-the-angel-and-the-puca/

 

Day 6 – December 19 – Six Geese-a-Laying

A Goose’s Life by Suzie Bradshaw – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/19/a-gooses-life/

 

Royal Flying Mounties by Cindy Mantai – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/19/royal-flying-mounties/

 

Day 7 – December 20 – Seven Swans-a-Swimming

Bondi by Jodi Cleghorn – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/bondi/

 

Beautiful Woman by Jeanette Bennett – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/beautiful-woman/

 

Day 8 – December 21 – Eight Maids-a-Milking

Eight Maids A’Milking by Tony Noland – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/eight-maids-a%e2%80%99milking/

 

The Miracle at Hightop Farm by Jonathan Pinnock – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/the-miracle-at-hightop-farm/

 

Day 9 – December 22 – Nine Ladies Dancing

Happy Sunsets by Marisa Birns – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/22/happy-sunsets/

 

Nine Ladies Dancing by Michelle Dennis Evans – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/22/nine-ladies-dancing/

 

Day 10 – December 23 – Ten Lords-a-Leaping

The Tenth Lord by Emma Newman – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/the-tenth-lord/

 

Leap to the Sky by Devin Kennedy – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/leap-to-the-sky/

 

Day 11 – December 24 – Eleven Pipers Piping

Beautiful Noise by Laura Frechette – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/24/beautiful-noise/

 

Eleven Pipers Piping by Clive Martyn – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/24/eleven-pipers-piping/

 

Day 12 – December 25 – Twelve Drummers Drumming

Book Beat by Deirdre Murphy – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/25/book-beat/

 

The Thirteenth Drummer by Jim Wisneski – http://12days2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/25/the-thirteenth-drummer/

 

Book Beat

December 25, 2009

by

Deirdre M. Murphy

At first, it is just a soft rhythmic sound, like someone dropping three books on a table, one after another.  Then it is repeated, three beats and a pause, three beats and a pause, a deliberate rhythm intruding on the quiet, continuing like an alien heartbeat, barely muffled by the aisles of books.  The tired librarian looks up from the circle of numbers on the reference desk telephone, startled.  She’s been answering urgent questions about fairies, and magic, and transformations all day, and has been wondering if the whole world has gone crazy.

Then another beat is added, this unmistakably a drum’s voice, a higher sound, unlike any that she has ever heard in the library.  This beat is faster, staccato, calling feet to tap, to dance.  Her feet hear the beat, start twitching.  But this is a library—her library—and Marcia sets her feet to walking toward the disturbance instead.  Her feet walk to the beat, safe, controlled steps, and she frowns, planning what to say.

Then another drum joins in, then a soft rustle, reminiscent of rain, and some kind of bell or cymbal.  Marcia walks past dancing teenagers; their books forgotten on the tables.  They do not notice her walking past, though on another day, the mere sight of her would have settled them down.  Other patrons continue reading, but tap their feet or tap on the tables, adding to the noise.  There is a feeling of exhilaration—of life—in the air.

Resolutely, Marcia smoothes her features, tries to compose what to say to stop this invasion of exuberant sound into her quiet halls.  It is hard to think through the noise, hard not to feel as timid as she always feels everywhere else.  But she concentrates, plans her words:  This place is for reading, not dancing.  This place is for quiet, not noise.  This place is for books.  Get out.

Marcia rounds a corner, and stops, her foot tapping to the beat, unheeded.  Her planned speech is useless.  She cannot tell these musicians to get out and leave the place to the books, for they are books.  Nine improbably large books with impossible fold-out arms and legs—even the drums and cymbals seem to be a part of the books themselves, ready to fold neatly back inside when a page is turned.  They have heads too, and they smile at her, and one winks, all the while keeping up the beat.

Marcia has a sense of surreality—as if this were a dream, though she knows it isn’t.  Her dreams are quiet things, little adventures set in some book she has read, with herself cast as the dashing hero or, more rarely, being swept off her feet in the kind of romance she’d stopped hoping for in real life.  She looks around—no movie cameras, and no team of actors to operate book-shaped muppets, either.  So it isn’t some unsanctioned movie crew that has invaded her library, uninvited.

“Stop.”  Her voice, pitched to carry over whispering and antics, is completely drowned out by the books’ drums.  She takes a deep breath and mentally crosses a barrier she hadn’t even realized was there.  “Stop!” she yells, breaking a taboo, being loud in a library for the first time in her life.  She feels embarrassed, but also alive and powerful.

The books stop and look at her expectantly.  The silence feels empty, which disorients Marcia.  All her life, the silence in a library had felt full of dreams and stories, research and play.  Now people are staring at her, and she gets stage fright, and forgets her lines.  What should she say?

The silence stretches on; Marcia feels her face flush.  Finally, Marcia takes a deep breath.  “You—you have to stop.”  She feels silly—they have stopped, and her voice is too loud.  She lowers her voice to its usual quiet pitch.  “I mean, you can’t start again.”  Now, her voice is familiar, comforting, and she feels more confident.  “This is a library.  A place for people to read books.”

One of the books turns a page, and a soft voice like the sound of a turning page, says, “A place for people to experience books.”  It is a quiet voice, a sound that would have fit comfortably in the library, before.

A book flips open on a table nearby, the pages opening out and unfolding both downward and upward into a tall presence with small drums.  “We want you to experience us,” it says in a soft high voice, like the sound of pages being ruffled, and starts drumming. 

“Wait!”  Marcia protests.

A teenager in patched blue jeans and a papery-looking loose shirt walks up, nodding—his?  her?—head in time to the music.  Marcia looks at the outfit, which includes paper flowers in the long hair and embroidered flowers on the shirt and jeans, and decides it must be a girl.  But the teen’s voice is low enough to re-establish uncertainty.  “Let them play.  Isn’t it beautiful?”

Marcia shakes her head firmly.  “It isn’t proper.  This is a library.  Not a—a—”  Two patrons are dancing in the aisles.  “place for drummers,” she finishes lamely.  What do you call a place where drummers go together to perform?  She resolves that once she gets things settled, and gets back to her reference desk, she will look it up.

“But these are books.”  The teen smiles at her.

“Excuse me.  I have to make them stop.”

“Why?”

Why?  The question echoes in Marcia’s head.  She’s always been taught that library patrons should be quiet, silent if possible.  But why?  So people could concentrate?  But she concentrates better with music, or a cat purring, or at least little everyday noises that reassure her she isn’t alone.  But it is her job to enforce the rules, the standard of quiet in the library.  “Because!” 

“Oh, you poor thing, you’ve become trapped!”

“I’m not poor!  I have a good job.”

But the books gather around, expressing sympathy and patting her on the back or shoulder.  At least it isn’t as noisy as the drumming.

“Can you—”  One of the smaller drummer books leans in to whisper to the teenager.  “Can you free her, too?”

The teen smiles.  “We can try.”

“Free me?  What do you mean?”

“I think we should start with your clothes.”

Marcia looks down at her plain, blue dress, hose, and loafers.  “These are my work clothes.”

“They tie you to your preconceptions.  They limit you, just as much as Cinderella’s ash-stained rags.”

“What?”

The teenager pulls a wand from her clothes somewhere, and waves it around her head, then toward Marcia.  A sprinkling of sparkles, glints and stars and hearts and flowers, flow from it and down over Marcia.  Her breath catches at the beauty, and she tries to gather some of it in her hand.  It swirls around and becomes a bracelet of bright stones.  There is weight around her neck—a matching necklace, with a peace-sign pendant.  Several other necklaces, all bright-colored, bright enough to be called loud.  Under them is a soft, flowing shirt the color of a summer sky, with bright butterflies embroidered on it.  Below that is a long denim skirt, embroidered with hearts, peace-signs, and the words “make love not war”.  And that is all she is wearing, no shoes, not even her underwear or support hose. 

“How’s that?”  The teenager smiles.

Marcia shakes her head, and realizes her hair is down, loose.  “Where’s my clothes?”

“These are your clothes.”

“Change them back!”

“You can do that, if you really want to.”

“What?”

“Perhaps I can explain.”  The tall book points at the teenager.  “This is the Ontological Fairy.  Her magic can make you more you, but not less.”

The book with the big bass drum hits it enthusiastically.  “He helps your outer self match your inner self, your dreams.  If you have more than one aspect to your dreams, you can choose.”  The book folds inward, swallowing the drum and becoming just a book on the table.  Then it folds back out again.  “I am a book, and I am a drummer.  I can manifest as either, now.”

“Then you should go back to being a book.”

“But I wish to drum.”  And it starts to drum, and the other books join in again. 

Marcia’s foot starts to tap and she tries to yell over the noise, “Stop!”

The teenager leans toward her.  “Is that what you really want?”

“Of course.”

“Then change your clothes back.”

“How?”

“Just wish for it.  If your wish is true, it will happen.”

“So I could wish myself a millionaire?”

“Probably not.  Money is—superficial.  Impersonal.”

“But—”

The teenager waves the wand, and glitter collects in Marcia’s hand.  “Wish.  Picture what you want, and wish.  See what happens.”

Marcia closes her eyes and imagines her properly quiet library, her boring proper clothes, and a huge bank account, and wishes as hard as she can. 

She opens them again.  Not much has changed, she still wears the pretty, bright clothing, though now she has underwear.  Then she looks again—her hair now reaches to her knees!  

The teenager is waving her wand over a shelf of books.  Most of them just sit there, but a few fold out, start to drum, or dance, or paint.  Two stand there arguing passionately, unfolding charts and graphs.  She?  He?—The teenager looks up.  “Interesting.”

“Are you a boy or a girl?”  Marcia asks.

“I am potential.”

The word is like a key in Marcia’s brain, opening up possibilities.  “You—you’re the reason for all the calls I got this morning.”

The teenager smiles and waves her wand sending sparkles to every corner of the library.  “We are come to awaken the world.  Once you are awake, it is up to you.”

And then the teenager vanishes.

Books crowd around Marcia.  “Librarian, what do we do now?” one asks.

“I guess that’s up to each of us.”  She realizes her foot is tapping, and she’s wanting to join in.  She wishes for a drum and picks it up, finally admitting to herself that, for years, she’s wanted more out of life than a quiet library.

She looks around at the chaos and smiles.  Under the circumstances, that’s a very good thing.

BIO:  Deirdre Murphy is a writer, musician and artist who has spent most of her life squeezing her creative pursuits into whatever “free time” she could create.  You can find more of her fiction, art, and poetry on her blog, Dandelyon’s Worlds.  Recently, she has been awarded a Superior Scribbler Award for her blog, and won the artist category of the first Torn World Wiki Contest.  She has been published in MZB’s Fantasy Magazine and has a story in the November issue of Crossed Genres.  She also has poetry in the November issues of With Painted Words and Moon, an EMG-zine.

Deirdre’s flash fiction on her blog is listed here:  http://wyld-dandelyon.livejournal.com/64422.html  and her ongoing serialized story, Fireborn, starts here:  http://wyld-dandelyon.livejournal.com/35869.html

Deirdre lives in a Victorian house with purple trim, which presides over a garden hosting roses of many colors and a variety of herbs.  She has three cats and an ever-changing number of tropical fish, and dabbles in taming feral kittens.

The Thirteenth Drummer

December 25, 2009

by

Jim Wisneski

The triangle.  A strange intersection in the main part of my small town, where five roads somehow crossed each other with only one set of traffic lights.
     This was the place where every Christmas the town put up their annual Christmas tree, where Santa Claus came to town on a horse and buggy, and where hot chocolate and Christmas carols were shared with holiday smiles and handshakes. 
              The triangle was that, a triangle.  A grassy section that in summer boasted a water fountain, in fall had an empty cylinder where the water had been replaced by litter and left over lo mein noodles from the Chinese restaurant across street, and in winter became the base that held the tree. 
              During the “first night” festivities, it was a tradition for the town to sing the traditional 12 Days of Christmas song.  To spectators it was fun to see children dressed up as three French hens or four calling birds or five gold rings.  Most of it was designed for younger children with the exception of twelve drummers drumming.  This was because twelve snare drummers were needed for when the song ended; the twelve drummers in a beautiful unison would hold a snare roll while the townspeople counted down from ten to light the annual tree. 
              Being thirteen, this would be my last Christmas as a middle school student and my last chance to gain a spot in the snare roll. 
              This was a big event – a picture was taken that would be used in the local papers, the town newsletter, and many small businesses would have the picture posted all year round. 
              I spent the entire summer practicing the snare drum.  While others were setting up water balloon fights and chasing the ice cream truck down the street like a dog after a bone, I was huddled in my room perfecting the art of creating the snare roll.  I practiced by balancing drumsticks between my thumbs and middle fingers while my ring fingers ever so slightly tapped the sticks oppositely to create a roll. 
              By the end of summer I could hold a roll for four seconds.  It beat my previous record of zero but still wasn’t good enough for the ten count, not to mention the time before the count while the chosen speaker got the crowd excited for the big moment of seeing a large Douglas fir illuminated.
              “Let’s hear that roll,” my Dad would say poking his head in my bedroom.  His neck tie would be half undone.  His eyes would be worn out, deep pockets formed under his eyes.  It was funny to me because the second I started hammering on the snare drum, his eyes became normal, almost twinkling.  I knew it was because he was in a band when he was a teenager and had hoped the same fate for me. 
              “Sounds perfect,” he would always say.
              The twelve drummers’ part was such a big deal for the town that there was an actual tryout.  It was always held in the second avenue Laundromat.  Mr. and Mrs. Chen would move the washers and dryers for three hours on the last Saturday in November to hold the tryouts. 
              I spent Thanksgiving pounding the drum.  I could now roll for almost twenty seconds, which to me was more than enough time for the part.  My fingers had blistered, busted, and healed three times already.  In the center of the snare the once perfect white head was now worn out. 
              My mother offered a second helping of pumpkin cheesecake, my favorite holiday treat, but I declined.  Too full of a belly and I wouldn’t be able to stand holding the snare drum properly.
              That was the other hard part, standing.  I had perfected, or at least what I felt was perfection, the sitting and playing part.  Standing though was almost like learning the entire snare drum over.  But I did it.  No way was I going to let my father down.  He even joined me on numerous nights.  It was a refreshing sight for me to see my father sitting on the edge of the bed and not lecturing me about a bad grade or looking at the girls part of health class book or why I wasn’t allowed to have a crossbow.
              When the big day came, I was ready.  I woke up at ten, early for a Saturday, to prepare.  I wore my lucky jeans, my favorite t-shirt, the black one, and my lucky shoes.  Well, I only had one pair of shoes, but they had seen me through three bullies, an attempted river jump, and last Halloween when it snowed a foot. 
              I asked my father for privacy during the tryout, which he said he would respect.  I knew he parked around the back of the building and listened anyway, but I felt better standing with mostly people I didn’t know.  The line stretched down the block to Larry’s Hardware.  I sat on a hundred pound bag of salt, stuck my drumsticks in my socks, and rested my snare on my lap.  I looked at it as if it was a book containing the meaning of life.  By the time it was my turn to audition, I could have played the snare with my mind.  That would have been a shoe in for the part, but I decided I should use the drumsticks just in case my new mental powers failed.
              I was given about a minute to play my snare.  Freestyle too.  Anything I wanted to play.  Once my minute was up, a bell would be rung and I’d have to complete a drum roll.  Was it my best drumming audition?  I wasn’t sure, because it was my first.  I felt it went well, but the judges were stone faced.  I was almost confident that if I was able to pull off playing drums with my mind they still would have been stone faced.  The one thing that did lift me a bit was the sound of my father cheering from behind the Laundromat. 
             Monday the list was posted around town and in school.  Like I said, it was a big deal.  The list at school didn’t have my name on it.  I figured it was a typo and they had forgotten (even though there were twelve names on the list).  After school, I spent a full two hours looking around town at all the sheets.  They all said the same thing – I wasn’t one of the twelve drummers.  When I came home, the look on my parents face suggested they had read the list somewhere around town.  That night, my favorite dinner, meatloaf, was nothing more but an over cooked hamburger and the pile of corn in the corner of the plate was nothing but little, yellow pebbles.
            Christmas wouldn’t be ruined, just different.  I still focused on the list for that year – the toys, the games, the goodies, but no clothes.  My father, however, was taking it hard.  His tie wasn’t straight, his eyes looked confused, and the usual whistling of Christmas songs non stop faded to silence.  Then the night of the tree lighting came and my father didn’t want to go.  The free hot chocolate and adults’ only eggnog that Mr. Peters brought in a thermos each year gave my father enough strength to pull himself together and go.  I knew that not so deep down he was hoping to sip from the eggnog while watching me drum.
            During the first half hour of listening to the band play, I picked out what I felt were miscues and wrong hits in the drumming section.  It made me feel better until I realized Christmas wasn’t about picking on third graders for their mistakes.  Maybe if I had taken up drumming at their age, I’d be good enough to play for the Christmas lighting.  That thought hurt.  Then when I saw my father wave off a cup of eggnog from Mr. Peters, I needed to take action.
            Our mayor gave his yearly speech of prosperity and togetherness while I crept around a small set of bleachers.  The mayor started the song. . . “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me. . .”
            I walked slowly looking for the section of drummers.
            By the time “five golden rings” was chanted the first time, I grew nervous.  By the time “eleven pipers piping” rang out across town, my hands were sweating and I was waiting for my cue.  Then it came – “twelve drummers drumming. . .”
            The song countdown continued and I grabbed a spare snare drum, some sticks, and jumped up on the bleaches at the far end.  It took everyone a few seconds to realize what was happening, but they kept singing.  I watched, as people’s eye grew wide, they looked at each other with half smiles wondering if they were counting right.  My father saw me and at first shook his head. 
            Too late now, I thought and stood there proud.
            “And a partridge in a pear tree. . “
            And in perfect unison, I and the other twelve drummers held a perfect snare roll as the crowd counted down.  I saw my father smile.  He grabbed the thermos out of Mr. Peter’s hands and drank from it with joy.  Then the tree was lit and I jumped down from the bleachers and walked up to my father.  I wished him a Merry Christmas and got a free hot chocolate.
            I felt the moment was over, but the town didn’t.  From that night forward every small business and townsperson had the article from the newspaper with my picture above the caption:  THE THIRTEENTH DRUMMER.  My father bought four copies of the paper and had it laminated to preserve my achievement.  And if that wasn’t enough, the town now holds tryouts for thirteen drummers for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.  For me, I never tried out again for any musical gathering – my fifteen minutes in the spotlight were well lived. 

BIO:  Jim is the mastermind behind the 12 Days of 2009 project along with countless short stories, novellas, and novels. He also writes music – lots of it – and some of it can be heard at 1album1month. His projects other than the 12 Days project include his album(s), Soft Whispers Magazine, his A Line at a Time weekly project, and of course participating in #fridayflash. He doesn’t sleep, drinks lots of coffee, and listens to lots of Guns n’ Roses. His main site to keep track of all this fun stuff is Writers ‘n Writers on Blogspot.

Eleven Pipers Piping

December 24, 2009

by

Clive Martyn

The caravan was dark, the black velvet curtains kept out all the meagre light that came into the Piazza, which itself had been draped in shadows for most of the day. A few candles in small urns hung around the edges of the room casting a flickering light over the piles of ancient books that spilled over the table and chairs and the occasional naked, sleeping body. The caravan’s warm air was thick with a heady scent of pot, herbs and incense and Matthew took a deep breath outside before stepping in.

“Jimmy?” he whispered as he moved through the main living space towards the bedrooms. Before he put down each foot he checked for needles, although Jimmy had been clean for a couple of years now, he never took chances, having heard enough horror stories on the road.

“Jimmy, mate, where are you?” He said a bit louder, his British accent unchanged from years living in America.

All of Jimmy’s fans, both men and women, seemed to have the same long hair style and slightly wasted look, which made spotting him amongst the still and snoring bodies always difficult.

As he paused over a likely candidate, Jimmy called out from the main bedroom; his deep, raspy voice breaking the silence and making Matthew jump and swear quietly under his breath.

Opening the bedroom door, Matthew was surprised to see Jimmy sat cross-legged on the bed, looking not only sober but for the first time in a decade, excited and a bit nervous. There was a slight shimmer of sweat across his chest and tattoos. A black leather bound book, blending in with the trousers he wore, was on his knees and Jimmy closed it with a wide grin.

“Are they here?” he asked.

Matthew nodded, “Just arrived from the airport.”

“All eleven? All of them Scottish?”

“Of course. Just as you requested.”

“Sometimes you remind me why you are my manager, Matthew. This is one of those times.” A slightly maniacal look came into Jimmy’s eyes, a look that Matthew had always associated with his long and public battle with heroin but now it was always in his eyes after reading his strange books.

Jimmy pushed his long, greasy hair behind his ears and leant forward, staring unwaveringly at Matthew, in a way which made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

“Is everything else, done? Just like we discussed?”

“Jimmy, mate – everything. We had a bit of trouble with the Italian’s but I sorted it, alright? We drew the star like you said…”

“To the exact dimensions?”

“To the millimetre, mate – alright? Right in front of that creepy monument.”

Jimmy’s smile slipped slightly.

“It is not creepy, Matt, it is fucking beautiful and… fucking unique.”

“Alright, Jimmy!” Matthew said holding up his hands, knowing it was an argument he was not going to win – the weird fountain topped by a winged angel seeming to have captured jimmy’s imagination. 

Quietly and without looking Matthew in the face, he asked, “Did you find the girl too?”

Blushing even though he had had stranger requests over the years, Matthew nodded. He had never had to act as a pimp before.

“Is she?” he asked, not looking up, suddenly fascinated by the cover of the book on his knees.

“She is a virgin, yes.”

“Are you sure?” Jimmy asked, his head whipping up to stare again into Matthew’s eyes. Matthew nodded, finding his throat was suddenly dry.

“I need to meet them.” Jimmy said, picking up a crumpled black silk shirt. He pulled it on but left it unbuttoned, liking to display his full pentagram chest tattoo to the world and particularly the press.

“Who?” Matthew said, confused by the change in conversation topic.

“The pipers!”

“Jimmy, honestly mate, tell me why you need them? What is all this about, why choose Turin for your last gig? Eh? We’ve never been big in bloody Italy – I can’t remember the last time you had a hit over here.”

“1996,” Jimmy muttered with a smile. He sighed happily, “Matt – my old friend, all will come clear later alright? It is going to be the most amazing concert ever – in fact it is going to go down in history.” He laughed, again with a slightly maniacal edge, like in a moment he was going to hyperventilate.

“But Italy, mate?”

Jimmy started walking through the caravan, “It had to be here, Matt. Had to be.”

Jimmy walked out into the cooling December night air of Piazza Statuto. It had taken Matthew two years and a considerable amount of Jimmy’s money to get the Italians to agree to allow the concert in the centre of Turin, sealing off the ancient streets and allowing the Piazza to be used as an amphitheatre with the moment and fountain in the centre stage. Turin would have probably opened its doors wide if Jimmy had been anything other than a heavy metal rocker. The Piazza would have given on a plate, if he had been singing Opera or anything other than the pained and violent lyrics that were his trademark. It had taken so long and so much money that countless times, Matthew had questioned Jimmy’s sanity, just like the press had since his last stay in Rehab.

Matthew found however that the Piazza request was just the start of a long line of demands which took bizarre and stranger turns. Once Jimmy had only insisted on some vodka and wine back stage but now it was more likely to be the complete works of Aleister Crowley or some translations of strange Latin texts.

Bruno, Jimmy’s bodyguard was stood by the caravan talking to one of the crew and Jimmy called him over and whispered in his ear. As Jimmy walked off towards the tall, rock like monument around which the stage was being sound checked, Bruno walked into the caravan and started shouting, “Time to leave, boys and girls.”

Jimmy stood in front of the tumble of rocks that made up most of the monument, staring up at the angel at the top. He did not seem to notice the cold air. For the first time Matthew noticed the pentagram star on top of the angel’s head, a mirror of Jimmy’s tattoo – a bizarre addition to what was a beautifully craved angel.

After a moment of silence, Jimmy nodded and looked around to Matthew, meeting his stare.

“Where are they, then?”

Matthew led the way to a small caravan parked amongst the rest of the band and crew, strange noises like a cat being strangled were emitting from it.

Matthew grimaced and muttered “Should have brought some ear plugs!” before opening the door.

The eleven pipers were crowded into the small caravan. They all stood up as Jimmy poked his head through the door. All of them were dressed identically in purple and green tartan, with traditional white sporrans.

A couple looked really star-struck, their mouths hanging open.

“Evening gents,” Jimmy said, “You probably all know who I am, so no introductions. Very quickly I have a couple of questions for you each – if I may?”

The eleven pipers nodded or said “of course”.

“Are you all Scottish?”

“Aye,” came the reply from all of them.

Jimmy’s smile returned. “Excellent.”

“Did my manager send you the music?” Again they all nodded. “Play it for me,” he said, his voice deeper, lower – almost with desire.

They all stood up and arranged their instruments, blowing into the tubes to inflate the bags, and squeezing them under their arms. Matthew almost started to giggle but a look from Jimmy silenced him.

Together the pipers played a strange tune, almost hypnotic in rhythm, quite catchy but slow, like a lament.

Jimmy clapped his hands, “Excellent, excellent.” His excitement, and obvious pleasure, made the pipers all smile, and clap each other on the back.

Without another word Jimmy walked off back towards his caravan, which Bruno by now would have emptied.

“Relax gentlemen – we have an hour or so before you’ll be called to the back stage area.” Matthew said, smiling again at the excitement of the pipers who probably never thought in a million years that they would be supporting such a star act as Jimmy.

Matthew’s phone beeped and a simple text from Jimmy said, “Send the girl.”

He looked around but Jimmy had already disappeared into his caravan.

“What’s fucking happened to you, man” He muttered before wandering off to find the girl.

The next two hours flew by as they always did before a gig, with last minute crisis popping up, egos to massage and requests from Jimmy.

The crowds were impressive, even though they were far from home and in a country that had never really gotten Jimmy’s music or his persona.

The back stage area was really crowded especially with the pipers who stood practising or tuning their instruments, if that was the right word for the cacophony they were making.

When Jimmy walked in with the other members of the band, the crew clapped and cheered.

The audience who had been patiently waiting in their thousands, seemed to sense that the gig was about to start as they were stamping their feet shouting for Jimmy to come out.

As Jimmy walked past, Mathew noticed he was dressed a little differently than normal, in a full length black cloak, covering a white T shirt with a large red pentagram drawn on it. The red looked wet, reflecting the light slightly, and as if it had been drawn on with a hand.

“Matt – you have been a good friend,” Jimmy said clapping Matthew on the back as he headed onstage.

“Thanks,” he said embarrassed but flattered by this sudden confession.

Jimmy and the band walked out onto the stage and were greeted by a wall of sound – screams, shouts and whistles.

Jimmy walked up to the microphone which stood in front of the large star drawn around the statue.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you! You may have heard the rumours that this is my last concert…”

Shouts of “No!” and “Jimmy!” filled the air.

“… well unfortunately it is.”

A stunned silence greeted these words. Silence before again cries of “No!” filled the air, and a general wailing of his legion of fans.

“Time has come to try new things, my friends, new exciting things.” He smiled again.

“I have written a new song which I would like to sing it for you this evening. I say new but it has actually been in development for centuries – this will be the first time it has been played all the way though, properly. You’ll pick up the chorus very quickly – just join in.”

He strummed a couple of chords on his guitar, a slightly different and faster version of the tune the pipers played earlier.

The stage manager waved frantically for the pipers to go on, and carrying their instruments they followed the crew’s instructions, standing around the statue on points of the star.

Jimmy started singing but it was not his usual angry lyrics and it was not English – at first Matthew thought it might be Italian but it sounded different.

The pipers began to add to the noise – it was so different to Jimmy’s normal songs that the audience looked shocked, then this turned into some angry boos and shouts but these slowly diminished as the song picked up and everyone started nodding their heads to the noise.

Slowly the music started resonating, the bass from the massive sound system, throbbed and pulsed. Together it was strangely beautiful and familiar – even though the words and sounds that Jimmy was singing were alien and undecipherable. In amongst the words there was a series of sounds that Jimmy kept repeating and the audience picked this up, adding their voices to the song.

After a while whilst the audience sung, the band and pipers played, Jimmy passed his guitar to a sound technician and walked into the pentangle surrounded by the pipers and looking up at the dark stone angel that topped the fountain.

He sunk to his knees and dropped his cloak to the floor and peeled off his t-shirt to reveal his tattooed body. The camera crew which were showing live images on the big screens focused on his chest pentagram which was dripping blood, it looked like he had cut himself quite deeply.

Matthew looked around at the crew but no one looked concerned or worried, and he realised it must be fake blood or trickery of some kind.

Overhead there was a loud clap of thunder, even though the sky was clear.  Matthew looked up, as did large portions of the audience.

            From his pocket Jimmy pulled a vial of something which he poured over his hands. The cameras focused on him as he rubbed the dark liquid over them and then made a series of signs.

Again a clap of thunder cut through the air but this time it was barely audible over the sound system.

A flicker of movement on the monument caught Matthew’s eye. At first he did not know what it was – perhaps a bird disturbed by the music had fluttered past the angel statue, but he focused on the left wing, trying to work out what was different, what had moved, when it happened again. The angel’s wing looked momentarily as if it was being ruffled by the wind.

“How’s he doing that?” Matthew said to one of the crew, pointing up at the statue, “Is it a projection or something?”

The stage hand followed Matthew’s pointing and looked at the angel as well, with a similar look of perplexity. Together they watched as the wing moved, slowly in time with the chorus chant.

“What the fuck!” Matthew said, watching as the entire statue moved.

The angel had looked beautiful moments before, but now its stone face had twisted into a look of complete cruelty surveying the crowds.

The audience must have seen it too, the singing was quieter and screams of surprise were loud enough to make it over the sound system.

Again the wings beat, this time faster. The woosh of air made a couple of the pipers look up and stop playing.

“LUCIFER!” Jimmy screamed cutting through the singing, the few pipers still piping and the rest of the band.

“Lucifer has been released! Bow down and worship him!”

In shocked silence, the thousands of fans, the crew and everyone watched as the statue shook itself free from the monument and stretched its wings widely, a look of victory and pure evil on its face.

“He will reign for a thousand years!” Jimmy shouted, full of pride at his accomplishment.

Everyone on stage apart from Jimmy backed away, edging quickly towards the back. Many of the audience started to run starting a stampede. Screams of fear, pain and panic cut through the silence as people fell over and were trampled upon, and small riots started at the exits as thousands of terrified people tried to escape.

With several powerful beats of its wings, the statue lifted off from the rocks it had been attached to and drifted up into the air.

A deep, impossibly loud laugh – full of cruelty, evil and smugness – rolled out of its mouth as it floated down to the stage.

With a heavy crunch, it landed in front of Jimmy.

“Master!” Jimmy shouted, “I…”

Matthew watched as both the statue and Jimmy stopped and stared, distracted, at its stone feet. The laughter which had been close to making Matthew’s ears bleed had stopped, and the statue’s evil face was now twisted into a look of confusion.

A large crack had appeared in the statue when it had landed on the stage and as Matthew watched more appeared, feathering up its legs and criss-crossing over its lower body. The dark stone the angel had been carved from was breaking up.

A bellow of rage erupted from the angel’s mouth and it grabbed Jimmy by the throat lifting him high into the air.

The cracks from its legs, carried on multiplying and suddenly, slowly the statue crumbled into itself, sinking lower and lower as the stone broke into pieces and fragments, and its legs dissolved.

Jimmy’s feet were suddenly back on the ground as the statue got shorter and shorter. Rather than run away, Jimmy tried to hold onto the statue’s arm to keep it out of the pile of stone chunks on the floor but within seconds it was just dust he was holding.

Jimmy collapsed crying into the remains of the statue as another louder clap of thunder broke across the night sky, rolling out across the whole of Italy.

Several shocking and life changing truths emerged over the following weeks, months and years of speculation, press and religious frenzy as they delved into Jimmy’s madness and eventual trial – but there was one small interesting fact that came out in the countless interviews of the people that were there, that Matthew thought strangely might have saved the world from unspeakable terror:

Adam Adair, one of the pipers, although he liked to think he was truly Scottish, born and bred, was in fact French, born a thousand miles away in the South of France whilst his parents were on holiday.

The spell to raise the devil is apparently quite specific about the eleven pipers piping all being Scottish.

BIO:  A writer of dark fiction and poetry – in particular fantasy, sci-fi and horror, Clive has had short stories and flash fiction published in various magazines and is the editor of the Elements of Horror anthology of short stories due to be published in 2010. He has recently finished drafting his third novel about a haunted hospital, ‘The Hospital of Lost and Stolen Souls’, whilst his second, a vampire horror, is making the rounds around agents and publishers.

Beautiful Noise

December 24, 2009

by

Laura Frechette

 

    If you have ever been in an orchestra, you already know how the different sections have a bond. Percussionists, strings, woodwinds; they all usually keep together outside of rehearsal and performances. The symphony orchestra in this story was no different.

    It was December and the orchestra had just finished their annual holiday concert. The woodwind section, affectionately called “The Pipers,” usually went to the Wild Rover Pub after shows to continue their after-show high and perform Jazz and Irish jigs while drinking and enjoying each other’s company. After 2 am, they all went their separate ways and promised to call and check in the next morning. 

    As the hangovers tapered off, phones began to ring and text messages were sent. “I’m okay.” “Home in one piece.” “See you at rehearsal tomorrow.” Everyone confirmed their whereabouts except for Ashley, the Piper’s second clarinet player and the arranger of music for the orchestra. She was a light weight when it came to drinking, so the group figured that she was just hit pretty hard from the previous night’s festivities. 

     Ashley was always the first one to get to rehearsal and the last one to leave. She arranged the music for the director and in the event that someone was sick, she would visit them and nurse them to health. She had no family of her own. The orchestra was her family, and she loved making “Beautiful Noise” with them. The following day when she did not show to rehearsal, the Pipers began to sound the alarm. 

    For weeks they searched for Ashley after rehearsals and shows,. They filed a missing persons report, and the weeks turned into months. After almost a year, the orchestra began to believe they had lost their Piper forever.

*~*~

    The same December that Ashley had disappeared, a Jane Doe was found by the river. She was a vicitim of a senseless mugging, taking her purse that perhaps had $20 in it. The woman’s body was brutally injured; face swollen and bruised, fingers broken. She had no identification and had been left for dead. She was found by a few local residents and rushed to the nearby hospital where for two months she remained in a coma. As her hands began to heal, they made strange movements, and she hummed classical pieces as her body recovered. One of the nurses took note of this and mentioned to the doctor that if she woke up, music therapy might be helpful in her treatment.  

    It was February when she finally awoke. Her face was still very swollen and healing from major reconstructive surgery. If anyone knew her before and wanted to find her, there may be no chance of it now. Her hands and fingers had healed, but were very weak as was the rest of her. Her rigorous physical therapy included visits to a psychologist and hypnotherapist to attempt to uncover who she was. Music seemed to be a main theme. Concert halls and playing music with friends were all she could remember. She remembered the music but not the faces. 

    During one of her therapy sessions, Jane was brought to the music room and was asked to pick out an instrument. She chose a clarinet. It seemed familiar. She remembered how to put it together, how to moisten the reed. It all seemed right. She played a few notes, but didn’t have the breath control to play for long. “It feels right,” she said hopefully. “I just need to practice. I will remember.” Time passed and her playing improved. She worked as hard at playing as she did with her physical therapy. As she continued to play she also began to write her own music. 

    For her hypnotherapy, she kept trying to remember who her friends were. “All I keep seeing are the instruments. Two flutes, one of them with a piccolo, one clarinet, two oboes, a bassoon, a bass clarinet, a double bassoon, and two saxes,” she described dreamily. “We made music, but that’s not what I called it. It was… noise. Yes, beautiful noise. That’s it!” Jane was smiling broadly. 

    “What is?” inquired the doctor. He kept his excitement to himself, wondering if she had suddenly made a breakthrough.

    “That’s what I am going to call my piece, ‘Beautiful Noise’.”  

    “The orchestral piece you showed me?” 

    “It’s just for the woodwinds, but yes. An eleven piece woodwind section. Strange, right? I suppose I wrote it for them, the instruments I dream about.” She sat pensively admiring the inner workings of the subconscious mind. “I suppose I remember something, since eleven piece woodwind sections are hard to come by.”  

    “Well, here is something to think about,” the doctor said, handing her the latest arts section of the newspaper. “Next month, there will be a memorial concert for a musician and they are looking for original music submissions. I think you should apply.”

*~*~

    Upon seeing the submission, the director of the orchestra knew that “Beautiful Noise” would be the perfect piece to play for Ashley. He remembered how she used to help new orchestra members get over their fears by making loud, purposeful mistakes in rehearsal and stating, “What? It is just beautiful noise.” It was a phrase she used often and the music was exactly the piece to remember her by.  

    It was one year to the day since Ashley had gone missing when the holiday concert opened. Jane Doe and two of her nurses were in attendance to see and hear her piece. There were many tears as the director and the bass clarinet player shared stories of Ashley and her great kindness and how after a year, they had still not found her. The stories seemed familiar to Jane, but it could just be that she felt at home in the theatre.   

    The director introduced the memorial piece. “Ashley was a unique musician as all are. She related music to many aspects of her life and she truly made this group feel like a family. It is appropriate that this next piece is called ‘Beautiful Noise’ and written for the woodwinds. Ashley was very close with her fellow Pipers and often called some of their improvisational mishaps ‘Beautiful Noise’. We hope you enjoy it.” Jane’s eyes widened in recognition of the story. What are the chances that another clarinet player – a missing clarinet player –  would also call it beautiful noise?  

    After the performance, Jane went back to the car to retrieve her clarinet. “Let’s go to the pub down the street.”

    “It’s getting pretty late,” said one of the nurses. “We should get back.”

    “You’re off for the rest of the weekend. It can’t hurt to go for one drink. Besides I think some of the musician go and do improv there.”

    “How do you know that?” The other nurse asked with piqued interest.

    “I don’t know. I just do.”

    They got to the Wild Rover and sure enough the Pipers were there sharing a solemn toast, to Ashley. 

    “Excuse me?” Ashley said, tapping the bass clarinetist on the shoulder.

    “Hi, can I help you?”

    “I wanted to say you all did a really great job with my piece.” Jane couldn’t seem to find the words to ask if they knew her.

    “Oh you wrote it? Hey, we’ve been wondering where you came up with the name for it.” Some of the other Pipers turned to see who was talking.

    “Well, I’m, uh.” Her hands were shaking, words failed her. One of the nurses put her hand on Jane’s shoulder.

    They explained how Jane was a victim of amnesia and that she remembered bits and pieces about her past and Beautiful Noise was something that was prominent in her memory. Jane explained that she remembered the instruments and how they played together, but she couldn’t remember the faces or names of the musicians.

    The others looked at Jane with a little confusion. Her voice sounded so familiar, but looked so different. A flute player saw the instrument case in Jane’s hands. “Do you play?” the flute player asked.

    “I’m remembering.” Jane said nervously.

    The bass clarinet player looked closely into Jane’s eyes. “How badly were you hurt? How much surgery did you have?”

      “A lot. My cheek bones were shattered, a lot of the skin was cut up. I was told there was a lot of surgery, but I was in a coma for two months so I don’t remember looking like anything other than this.”

    “But you remember the music?” An oboe player asked.

    “Yea. It’s something that keeps me together. It feels familiar. Right. Like when I play, I’m home.”

    “Well let’s play then,” said the bass clarinet player picking up his instrument.

    They played and played until after last call had rung out. Slowly, the group began to realize that Jane Doe was indeed their lost friend, Ashley. She had found her family again and the Pipers were eleven once more. As for Ashley, her recovery was slow but with the help of her friends and their beautiful noise, she began to recall the life she had before.

BIO:  “Well where do I start with one of these things. Let me start by advertising that if you like my story please visit GypsyAudio.org to actually here some of my stories come to life in the form of audio theatre. I also do a lot of acting on that site and have since been dubbed the “Voice of Gypsy Audio,” which is pretty cool.  I am primarily a voice actor, but have recently started to take my writing a bit more seriously and have been happy with the results and feedback so far. I have a website www.gypsylaura.com. There you can keep up with all the stuff that is out there with my name on it.  I also want to thank Amanda Clark and Dave Sobkowiak for editing “Beautiful Noise”.”

The Tenth Lord

December 23, 2009

by

Emma Newman

            Only when she was certain that her grandmother was engrossed in her baking did Beth lift the edge of the embroidery canvas and peep underneath. The piece of paper was still there, tucked into the frame where she had hidden it that morning. She dropped the fabric, heart thrumming urgently. A flush of colour rose up from her chest to her cheeks. Could she dare sneak a peek now?

            She glanced at the door, slightly ajar, and listened to the sound of the cake batter being beaten in the bowl. She had a minute, surely? With trembling fingers, she plucked the secret from its place and held it in her lap.

            After another check, she looked down at it. It was brightly coloured and shiny, shinier than any of the paper in Grand-Mama’s impressive book collection. She was amazed at the vibrant colours. What luck that the high winds of the night before had deposited it in their window box, and that she had seen it before her grandmother!

            Forcing a swallow down her tight throat, she smoothed out the crushed edges on her lap and drank in the image hungrily. She had never seen anything like it before.

            There was a beautiful bottle made of deep purple glass, curved and exotic, with a large stopper shaped like a teardrop. Behind the bottle was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen, with dazzling green eyes and hair as neat as Grand-Mama’s eiderdown. She was looking up as a man was kissing her throat. The sight of him made her breath catch in her throat. He was so handsome, he must be a prince and the woman must be a princess.

            She read the words underneath the bottle. “Allure. Wear something he can’t resist.”

            Perhaps it was a potion of some kind, something to make one irresistible to princes. She looked for a map, instructions of some kind for obtaining such a thing, but there was none. She flipped the page over, this time with the torn edge down the right hand side. The picture there made her gasp out loud.

            It was a wood, filled with the most dramatic trees stretching into a blue sky. Gathered beneath the tree were young men and women, about the same as her by the look of it.

            The boys were touching the girls. One had his arm around a girl, one was holding hands with the girl next to him, but – oh but! – they were looking at a boy and girl in the foreground of the picture and their lips were touching!

            They were kissing each other, and they didn’t mind the others seeing too!

            There was some writing at the bottom, but before she had collected herself enough to read it, she heard Grand-Mama’s footsteps in the hall. She shoved the paper down the side of the chair cushion and grabbed her needle.

            “Elizabeth, lunch will be in one hour. That gives you enough time to practise your Latin. Put your embroidery away now, there’s a good girl.”

            “Yes Grand-Mama,” she replied meekly, praying that the old woman’s beady eyes wouldn’t notice how much she was blushing. She did as she was told, permitting herself one glance at the chair after she had left it to ensure that the paper was hidden. It was.

            “Open the window dear, you look hot.”

            As the old woman settled herself in the chair next to her, Beth crossed the room, and opened the large sash window, pausing to glance at the first spring flowers in the window box bobbing prettily in the breeze.

            “Hello!” A voice from below startled her and, unthinking, she leant out to catch sight of a young man standing on the gravel below. His bright white jacket and white trousers looked so odd against the creamy path and deep green of the dense hedges behind him. Almost like he had been drawn on paper, cut out and stuck on.

            She gripped the windowsill, pulling back into the room, flustered. Not another one!          

            “Hello?” he called out again. “Do you live in apartment five?”

            She glanced back nervously at Grand-Mama, but she was engrossed in finding a particular passage in her lesson book. Her hearing was fading, Beth reasoned that it might just be possible to get rid of him before she noticed.

            She leaned out slightly and tried to wave him away, tried to make it obvious to him that he needed to leave right now. But the strange fellow simply grinned and waved back.

            “Go away!” she hissed, as loud as she dared.

            “Don’t be like that,” he called up. “It’s taken me so long to find this place.” He consulted a scrap of paper in his hand. “Are you Mrs Spencer?”

            “No!” she waved him away again. She glanced back at her grandmother who was now frowning at her. “Just a wasp Grand-Mama,” she lied. “Please could I have a glass of milk before we start?”

            “Of course dear,” the old woman hauled her bones out of the chair and with bent back, went out to the kitchen.

            “Listen,” she leant back out over the window box. “You have to leave, right now!”

            “Does a Mrs Spencer live with you?” he asked, seeming oblivious to her panic.

            “You don’t understand!” she replied, ignoring the question. “My Grand-Mama will turn you into a frog!”

            He threw his head back and laughed. “That’s priceless! Is she a witch?”

            “Yes!” By now he was holding his sides, stumbling slightly as the belly laugh shook him. “I’m serious!”

            “So what are you supposed to be? A princess?”

            She blinked. Perhaps he was the one she had been waiting for. None of the others had guessed. “Are you a Prince?” she asked breathlessly.

            He shook his head, wiping a tear from one eye as he struggled to stop laughing. “Baby, I’m no Prince.”

            “Who’s that?” her grandmother shrieked from the doorway. “Who are you talking to?”

            Beth’s stomach lurched and she span around. “Please don’t be angry Grand-Mama!”

            “Is it a man?” the old woman hissed, but Beth didn’t need to reply, the dreadful blushing gave her away.

            She watched her grandmother dump the glass of milk onto the nearest bookshelf and storm over to the window. She pulled Beth out of the way with her talon like hand and peered down at the youth below.

            “I think he might be a Prince,” Beth gushed.

            “He doesn’t look like one to me,” Grand-mama replied grimly.

            “But he guessed that I’m a Princess.”

            The old woman scowled at her and peered back down at him. “What do you want?” she crowed.

            “I’m here about the advert. Are you Mrs Spencer?”

            Advert? Beth was puzzled. What on earth was an advert?

            “Well why didn’t you say so?” The old woman replied. “It’s number five, press the buzzer and I’ll let you in.”

            The old woman pulled herself back into the living room. Beth chewed her thumbnail anxiously. “Please don’t let him in Grand-Mama! Please don’t turn him into a frog!”

            “Hush now child,” came the reply. “You think he might be a Prince?” At Beth’s eager nod, the old woman smacked her wrinkled lips. “I’ll test him. If he passes, we might have a Prince in disguise – though I doubt it. And if he fails… if he’s just another filthy minded young upstart wanting to deflower you before your Prince comes, well… he’ll get what he deserves.”

            Beth bit her lip, hoping beyond all else that the young man waiting eagerly below was more than he appeared. “Couldn’t you just let him go Grand-Mama?”

            “No. He’ll get what he deserves, I told you. Now go to your room and don’t make any noise now. I need to make my special tea for him.” Beth watched her shut the window and followed her out of the room. She watched the old woman rubbing her hands together gleefully as she shuffled down the hallway, pausing only to usher her into her bedroom and lock the door.

            Beth sighed heavily and sat on the bed. She heard the door buzzer and listened to the sound of the young man climbing the stairs and being admitted by her grandmother. She didn’t even know his name.

            She looked at the glass tank at the far end of her room, and tears began to prick at the corners of her eyes. She went over and peered through the glass at the frogs sitting there despondently.

            “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I told you to leave, but you wouldn’t.”

            They croaked back at her. She imagined what they were trying to say. ‘Let us out!’ ‘Turn us back into men!’ I can’t let you out,” she whispered. “Grand-Mama would know it was me. I’m sorry.”

            She pulled herself away and went to the door, pressing against it, ear flat against the wood. She couldn’t hear anything; the kitchen was at the other end of the apartment with two doors shut between them. She wondered whether her Prince would be walking through her door soon, or whether he was soon to be a frog too. Unable to determine anything by eavesdropping, she drifted around her bedroom, looking at the framed pictures on the wall.

            Beth looked at the picture of her grandfather first. What a handsome fellow the old monarch had been, King Clark Gable the First. Grand-Mama still loved him very much, even now all these years later. Next she went to the picture of her father, the usurped King David Beckham the First. He was handsome too. Grand-Mama said she was beautiful because beauty ran in the family. Her gaze drifted to the portrait of her poor dead mother, Queen Gwyneth Paltrow. Such a sad smile. Grand-Mama said that she had the same blonde hair as her late mother, she wondered what it would have been like to know her.

            Beth moved on to the picture of the huge white castle. Even though she knew every single detail it had to offer, she spent hours gazing at it. To think that she had been born there, that she was supposed to grow up there. If it hadn’t been for that evil usurper, and his army of dark fairies, that her grandmother had told her all about, she’d be there now, with her mother and father. They’d play in the vast royal gardens and go horse riding and have picnics.

            But no, she was here, hiding in a small apartment in North London. She moved onto the next picture, one of her parents on the day of their coronation, this one a line drawing by the court artist. She took a deep breath and held the bitterness in check. As Grand-Mama had told her many times, she should be grateful. Grateful that Grand-Mama had seen the army coming, grateful that she managed to save her and these few treasures of their former life. Some days it was easier to be grateful than others.

            Beth wished that she had put that paper in her shoe, rather than stuffed it down the side of the chair. Who could have made paper like that? Where did it come from? It looked like it had been torn out of something, but she had never seen a book with paper like that before. And those pictures! They were beyond anything she had ever imagined before.

            She moved onto the picture of summer palace that had also been lost when her father was usurped. She knew so little of the world. She thought about the young man being tested now. What was that word he used? Advert? Grand-Mama had never told her anything about that. Her world was the apartment, sewing and lessons that all Princesses needed to learn. Perhaps adverts were something to do with the evil King’s reign. Or perhaps it was a secret code word that only Grand-Mama knew, like in the stories.

            That certainly was something she was grateful for; Grand-Mama was so careful to protect her from the evil King’s spies. They could be anywhere. Three of the frogs in the tank were young men who had been spies. If it hadn’t been for Grand-Mama, heaven knows what would have happened.

            She heard the key turn in the lock and held her breath. The door opened, and she knew instantly that her hopes had been ridiculous. A new frog wriggled in her grandmother’s claw-like grip.        

            Beth’s hands flew to her mouth and she squeezed her eyes shut. “Oh! Not another, not another!”

            “Now now, I told you he didn’t look like a prince,” Grand-Mama reminded her as she shuffled to the glass tank and dropped the new resident inside. He croaked in protest. “Now dry your eyes, be grateful I know what to do with these horrid young men, and pick a name for this new one. I have to clean up the mess, and have the building cleaner come to collect the rubbish, so you have stay in your room until I unlock the door. Magic is very messy as you know and it’s no place for a princess.”

            She left Beth standing in front of the tank, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. She looked forlornly at the new frog, croaking away in confusion and knelt down in front of him.

            “Sorry,” she said. “I did tell you what would happen.”

            Beth wept as she listened to the cleaner arriving, and the sound of thuds as the rubbish was taken out into the hallway. The steady heavy bump echoed in the stairwell as was taken away. How on earth could magic create so much rubbish?

            She took a deep breath and tried to think of something else. “Now I need to give you a name,” she told the new frog. “From henceforth, you shall be known as…. Lord White. In memory of those white clothes you wore when you came to find me. Lord White, meet your new friends. This is Lord Dimples, Lord Nervous, Lord…” She broke down, sinking the rest of the way to the floor, unable to bring herself to name all of her grandmother’s victims. The ten frogs croaked on, agitated by their confinement. Ten lords leaping futilely for the top of the tank, with as much hope of escape as the girl weeping on the other side of the glass.

BIO:  Emma sometimes feels a bit like a super-hero as she has two identities. By day, she writes B2B content for her business Your Nisaba (www.yournisaba.com) and by night she writes post-apocalyptic fiction and dark short stories for members of her short story club at Post-Apocalyptic Publishing (www.enewman.co.uk). Sadly she doesn’t have any super powers to go with her dual identities. Her debut YA post-apocalyptic novel ‘Twenty Years Later’ will be released in October 2010. She is mostly made of tea and lives in Somerset, England.

Leap to the Sky

December 23, 2009

by

Devin Kennedy

I

“You call that leaping? My eighty year old grandmother leaps higher than the whole lot of you! And, she’s got arthritis in both her knees!” Screamed a tiny bald man adorned in purple. “Leap like you mean it! Where is your passion?!”

I tried to stifle a laugh; the entire premise of this audition was ridiculous. In honor of Christmas, our town was putting on a Christmas play. The title? “A Day in the Life of Leaping Lord.” I wouldn’t even be here if I didn’t need stage experience. There was also the added perk of having a chance to work with Martin Skortise, the comical man in purple, was a dream come true for any aspiring actor.

“Be more graceful! Flow like an angel who has just gotten their wings!” Martin snarled. “How hard is it to leap while you’re facing the audience?”

I bit my lip as I watched the guys in front of me take a stab at leaping over the railings that were set up on the stage. They were all clad in stained tights—ones that presumably were a pristine white once. Martin, being the control freak that he was, made anyone auditioning wear tights, as they would have to don them for the final performance. Nearly all the auditioning men had not brought their own pair, so Martin made them dig out a pair in their size from a box.

I looked down at the lime green tights that encased my own legs. I felt silly in them, but I was glad I had them.

“You’re not supposed to fall on the guard rail! Get up! Get out of the way!” Martin screamed. I watched as the guy who fell got up, embarrassed. He was the only one besides me who’d brought his own tights. But, at least his tights were black. Martin pointed at the guy in front of me, indicating him to go next. The guy ran and took a leap, tripping over the rail. The guy did a face plant.

Martin threw his hands up into the air, breathing through his nose heavily. “What part of this do all of you not get? The ten lords a-leaping are graceful. They do not fall on top of what they’re leaping. They are not called the ten falling lords! They leap. They land. Simple! Get it right.”

Martin then pointed a gnarled finger at me. “You. Show me what you’ve got.”

I nodded and sprinted over to the guardrail. Right before I hit it, I leaped up into the air, propelling myself over the rail. I stretched out my arms, one in front of me, the other behind, as if I were an Olympian. I curled my right leg under me, letting my foot jet out behind me. I threw my left leg out in front of me, and turned my head to grin at Martin. I brought my right foot down gently as I landed perfectly on my feet. I let my arms drop as Martin applauded.

“That, gentlemen. That is what a leaping lord is! He looks at the audience! He has proper feet and hand placement. He smiles! He gets over the rail without tripping over it, without falling on it, and without knocking it down!” Martin said. “I need nine more of you to do just that. Get your heads out of your rears and start putting your body to work!”

I couldn’t help but smile as I made my way off the stage, heading for the first row of seats in the tiny auditorium. Getting praise from Martin made the idea of this play seem bearable. Doable, even.

II

I arrived at the auditorium early the next morning. Martin had gave up on having people leap over the guardrails, mostly because I was the only one who was able to do it. He had dismissed us and told everyone to come back tomorrow; the second part of auditions was now to commence.

Martin stood at a keyboard that was set up at the edge of the stage. He placed his fingers on the keys and struck each key delicately, letting each note kiss the air. He looked up and saw me watching him.

“You.” He said. “You’ve got a name?”

“Jack.” I replied. Martin nodded.

“You sing, Jack?”

“In the shower? Or elsewhere?”

“I don’t want to know if it’s only in the shower.”

“I was kidding. Yeah. I sing.”

Martin nodded again, cracking a small smile. I was glad he took well to my joking. “Come over here. I want you to sing.”

I walked over to the piano and Martin began to play through the scales. I hit every note he played, feeling that he managed to keep his smile.

“A good bass. And, you sing on key. Very good.” Martin said, clapping his hands together. “You can take a seat and watch everyone else. You’re in. There’s a pile of scripts on the end seat.”

“Thank you, sir.” I replied. Martin nodded. I headed off the stage and took a seat next to the pile of scripts. It was a page long, only a song on there. Typical Martin fashion, from what I’ve heard.

I watched as the guys from yesterday all came in, Martin auditioning them. Most did not make it. He managed, however, to find nine more guys who could sing.

“Since only one of you managed to leap over the guardrails, we’re going to hook you up to ropes, hoist you into the air, and you act like you’re leaping.” Martin said as the last of the auditioners was accepted. “And, because you’re all actors, one would assume you can accomplish a task such as that.”

He then paused, striking a key lazily on his keyboard. “Get up. Get your tights on, and let’s start this. We’ve got a lot to do in ten days.”

I stood up along with the rest of the guys. I was already wearing my tights, neon yellow today. I have to remember to tell my girlfriend to buy more manly tights. These guys might get the wrong idea about things. Not that my leaping skills help any.

Within five minutes, the guys and I were lined up on stage. Martin began to speak again.

“It’s a short performance. We have to let the rest of the twelve days have their performance time too. I don’t know why, but we do. We sing our song. We run off the stage, only to come back on, leaping over the guardrail, announcing our names, and the curtain falls.”

He paused, picking his own script from off the piano stand. “Starting from beginning to end, where you’re lined up now, that’s who you are.”

I looked down at my own sheet. I was Reynard. Lord Reynard.

“Now that everything makes sense, let’s go over the song.” Martin said, placing the script on the piano again. He brought his fingers down on the keys. We began to sing at once, naturally falling into our parts.

“We. We the ten lords a-leaping!

We! We are just happen to be seeking!

A place. A place where we can be known.

We do not just leap, though it’s a skill we own.

We have names. Have families too!

If you were unknown, you would be blue.

So, we’re here! We’re here to say.

That we will not be unknown for another day!

This is an outcry, that you don’t know us.

How do you even expect to gain our trust?!

We. We the ten lords a-leaping!

We! We are speaking!

So listen while you have the chance.

And, maybe, you can join us in our dance.”

Martin removed his fingers from the keys and smiled. “Good. After we do the song again, we’ll practice running off the stage. Then we’ll have you fitted for the harness so you can be lifted into the air.

III

“No, no, no, no!” Martin screamed. “It’s the third day of rehearsal and you still can’t manage to act while being hoisted over a guardrail? You don’t have to do anything but smile!”

The harness dug tightly into my ribcage. I was sick of being in it. I couldn’t move it without making the ropes attached to it move as well.

“Sir?” A voice called. A small woman carrying white robes and a bag ran down the auditorium isle. Martin turned.

“Gloria! My costumes! Tell me they’re something I can work with.” Martin said. The woman called Gloria ran up on stage and over to Martin. He took the white robes from her hands.

“These…these aren’t what lords wear!” Martin cried. He threw the pile down and ripped the bag from her hands. He pulled out a cardboard Burger King crown.

“And this is what I have to work with. White robes and children’s toys.” Martin sneered, disgusted. “These are the ten lords a-leaping! Where are their wigs? Where are their tunics and fake swords?!”

“The robes were just for measuring, sir. And, this is a community theater. We don’t have money for that kind of stuff. That, and all of the other plays needed money for their costumes.”

Martin threw his hands in the air. “For the love of Pete.”

Gloria shrugged apologetically and picked up the robes. She then shuffled over to us and placed the robes on the ground. She picked the first robe off the pile and handed it to the tall man in front of her. I watched as Martin put his hand on his forehead. “Gloria. Sweetheart. We have seven days before we have to perform. In front of an audience. Do this after rehearsal.”

Gloria nodded and picked the rest of the robes up, as well as her bag. She then shuffled off the stage and out of the auditorium.

“From the top!” Martin yelled.

IV

The curtain closed as the audience finished applauding. I looked at my fellow cast mates, disgusted. They had all gotten drunk before the show. Ten lords a-leaping had turned into nine lords a-slopped over drunk and one lord a-trying to make it all work.

Martin stood before us, shaking his head. I had sung my hardest, gathered all the guys up and pushed them so they would take their leap. Luckily, they didn’t have to say their names; Martin had been the one reading them off. He glanced at each of the guys, his eyes landing on me last. I swallowed.

“You’re all dismissed. It was a one night show. You gave the audience one. Go home.” Martin said. He then turned away. “Jack. A word.”

I walked over to Martin as the rest of the cast headed their own separate directions. Probably to make friends with the toilet.

“Thank you.” Martin said. He looked at me, sincerity in his eyes. “You held this show together. Not only are you a fine entertainer, but you know how to keep the audience from suspecting anything was going on. I’d like for you to audition for my next musical. I’ll send you a letter after the holidays.”

I nodded, shocked. Martin stuck out his hand and I shook it, grateful. “Thank you, sir. I look forward to it!”

Martin nodded and walked off to greet the audience. I smiled, looking down at the white tunic that hung over my green tights. Maybe I didn’t need a new color after all.

BIO:  Devin is a writer, just like everyone else in this anthology. Devin wishes that she were secretly rich so she could spend her whole day writing, and not have to look for trivial thing like a job. If you would like to know anything more about Devin, or maybe even read some of her other writing—which, she would love if you would–, you can email her at anticlimactic@live.com Or, if you just want to talk, you can email her there too. She’ll most likely answer you, unless she becomes too busy being famous. She’s kidding about that last part. She thinks.

Nine Ladies Dancing

December 22, 2009

by

Michelle Dennis Evans

It really was one of those mystical magical moments. A moment I will remember and cherish forever. You see, most people would have passed by but we didn’t and that’s why I have such fond memories, like when the love of your life notices you for the first time, that innocent excitement when you have anticipated something with hope and you find it happens just like that. Yes, just like that it comes to pass. My name is Dulcie, I’d love to tell you that I orchestrated the whole thing but really I was just a bystander. In the right place at the right time, as they say. All day I had had that feeling, like some thing was about to happen, and because it did happen and I shared the moment with others I just had to know their story so I could tell my story with their story about this mystical magical moment that took place.

The week leading up to Christmas had me flustered. I hadn’t finished my shopping, I had to work each day and I’d promised to prepare dinner for 10 people Christmas eve.

It was a hot morning, it always is at Christmas time in Queensland, the mall in Brisbane was so crowded but there was beauty in the carols that could be heard and every window was dressed to perfection. It was a feast for the eyes, red, green, silver and gold. There were Christmas trees and reindeers, Santa clauses and nativity scenes spotted all around. I walked the same path that I walked every day to work, thankfully my boss had given me half a day off. As soon as it was noon, I would hit the shops and get my shopping done.

__

Drew and Tracy we’re a fresh young couple, this was their first Christmas together, but they had argued about where they were going to spend Christmas.

‘My family is closer,’ Tracy had said, ‘It just makes sense to spend Christmas with them.’

‘But it’s tradition that we all get together at Christmas,’ Drew told her, ‘It just won’t seem like Christmas if I don’t see my family.’

‘You’re too late to book flights now though,’ said Tracy.

‘I could drive,’ he suggested.

‘But I don’t want to spend Christmas without you.’

‘Lets talk about it again tonight,’

‘I need to go shopping,’ she said.

‘Where will you be? In the mall?’

And that’s where they planned to meet, in the Brisbane Queen St mall.

__

Melissa, a single mum, planned to take her three children in to see the beautiful displays in the windows and enjoy some window shopping.

‘Now, remember,’ she had prepped her children, ‘we don’t have any extra money this year, so we are just looking and enjoying the music and lights.

‘Can we have McDonald while we are there,’ asked six year old Bobby.

‘I’ll packed some sandwiches. We’ll go to the square to have a snack.’

‘Will Santa give us a lolly?’ was four year old Peta’s question.

‘Don’t put all your hope in Santa,’ Melissa laughed, ‘If we see him he might have something.’

‘I’ve got some money in my bank account Mum,’ said Joey feeling all grown up at 9, ‘I can buy some things, can’t I?’

‘That’s your savings, Joey.’ She said, ‘It’s for you to keep until you’re older.’

__

I was dizzy with excitement but I knew I had to shop, I would think about dinner in the next few days but this was my scheduled shopping time to stay focused. I was like a mad cow, brushing off shop assistants, darting through crowds. I had my list, twenty-five people to buy for. It was a great mixture to hunt for, many children’s games and toys, some clothes, a hand bag, bottles of perfume, aftershave, a tie. I came to my 16year old nephew, the boy has everything. For him I bought music voucher. My arms were forced away from my sides with the bulky bags I carried, but I was done! I stopped for a well earned coffee.

__

Drew had rung Tracy mid morning, ‘Hey, the boss is letting us have this afternoon off, can you meet me earlier?’

Of course she was delighted to spend more time with her love so she jumped on the next train so she could meet him at his office.

Although the excitement wore off by the time he came out.

‘I can’t believe we haven’t decided what we’re doing on Christmas day!’ Tracy exploded.

‘Would it make you happy if I stayed here with you?’

She bit her lip, shocked that he’d given in so quickly, ‘Would you?’

‘Of course I will,’ was his response and they enjoyed a relaxing lunch followed by an afternoon of thoughtful shopping, for the handful of family and friends they were buying for.

­­__

Melissa thought she was never going to get in to the mall. First the phone rang, it was her mother wanting to talk about Christmas day, then the washing machine overflowed and water flooded through the laundry to the kitchen. Once she and the children had finished mopping up the mess, they all had to get changed again.  At that stage it was lunch so she made them all sandwiches using the last of the bread. Scanning the cupboard she found some crackers and a packet of chips that she threw into a bag for their snack.

They ran to the train station knowing that the next train would be arriving soon.

Melissa breathed relief when they were finally in the mall and enjoying the magical displays.

‘I’m hungry,’ Bobby had complained.

‘Let sit down and have that snack,’ Melissa had led them all to the square.

Melissa and her children sat on the edge of the square and I know you are getting the picture; they wouldn’t have been more than 5 metres away from me.

__

So this is where we were, this warm summer’s afternoon a couple of days before Christmas. For just a moment it all seemed quiet, I was thinking that I’d found the perfect place, I’d found a spot where only a couple of other people were, a spot to ease my dizzy head after all the shopping, where I could re-gather myself before heading home.

Then, as I said, I had that feeling all day that something was going to happen, music began to play, not Christmas music, not marching band music or music thumping from a passing car. Sweet heavenly music, harps, violins, cellos, charming music, you know, the kind that compels you to tune in too. I looked towards the music and there they appeared, nine ladies dancing. They did the most divine, graceful dance that I’ve ever seen. And they had a glow about them, something that drew my eyes and I just couldn’t look away, until the music stopped, and they were gone. That’s when I looked around me for other witnesses.

I breathed a sigh of relief, I wasn’t going crazy after all.  Drew, Tracy, Melissa, Bobby, Peta and Joey had all seen it too.

                                                                        Ends.

BIO:  Michelle is married to an amazing hot man!

They have 4 delightful children whom Michelle home educates.

Michelle writes to inspire, take people on a journey and escape their world.

She believes you can find healing or hope when you read about someone else’s story – fictional or truth.

Michelle is a Jesus follower and is working through a Diploma in Christian ministry.

5 years ago she began a Comprehensive Writing course, to meet her desire to write. Her life is full and at times overflowing.

Twitter @michelledevans or www.michelledevans.blogspot.com

Happy Sunsets

December 22, 2009

by

Marisa Birns

 

The women stood together in their pajamas and watched as the body was placed in the ambulance.

“That’s Ethel.” One of them whispered.

“She’s the third one this month.” Another added.

An attendant came over to shoo them away from the driveway. Maude, the de facto leader of the small group of women, led them inside after a last look behind her.

Ethel had been her roommate.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The women lived in a continuing care retirement community nestled in a bosky Maryland neighborhood. Though their rooms were in the independent living section of the facilities, they chose to share all meals in the main dining room. They were capable of cooking in their private, well-appointed kitchens, but they tired of such a chore several years ago. Our Kitchen is Closed is the group’s unofficial motto.

After a long afternoon of sitting alone in her study and mourning Ethel, Maude powdered her face and skimmed a comb through her steely grey hair before heading to the dining hall.

Her heels clacking across the tile floor alerted the others already seated to her arrival. Aida passed a plate with one chicken leg and small salad with no dressing, which Dolly placed at the head of the table for Maude.

After saying grace the women ate and chatted. The topic concerned losing bone mass due to aging.  Well, I’ve heard worse dinner conversations, Maude thought.
Dolly smiled at her tablemates. “I think I’ve shrunk two inches since I moved here.”
“Nonsense. You’re wrong,” Maude answered.

Betty turned to her. “I’m not as tall as I was either, Maude. Put your glasses on for once.”

“Don’t need my glasses. Anyone can see you are humped over like some old thing.  Sit up straight, for mercy’s sake!

The other six women swallowed their thoughts along with the main course.
Dolly tried again. “And just think, in 20 years, I’ll probably shrink some more.”

“Yes,” Maude said in a gruff tone, “It’s called decomposing, dear.”

After dinner the women joined the other residents of Happy Sunsets in the large Social Activities room. They sat at their usual corner by the picture window overlooking the expanse of lawn bordered with crepe myrtle and knitted while they talked.

Maude cleared her throat after a few minutes. The others gave her the attention she sought.

“I don’t want to die.”

The women stared, wide-eyed and worried. There wasn’t going to be another ambulance run, was there?

Maude frowned. “Stop it, you silly hens! I’m talking about…that.” She pointed to the center of the room where the basket weavers sat, then to a corner where the mah jong players called out “bam” or “crack,” and lastly, to the spot where the TV watchers fought over the remote.

“Every night it’s the same. Weekday. Weekend. Makes no difference.”

Dolly looked down at her left hand and twirled the gold band she received 50 years ago. “I remember when Joe and I went out every Friday night to dance.” She sighed. “It was such fun.”

Maude stood and walked to the window. While her friends reminisced and laughed about life before Happy Sunsets with their husbands, may they rest in peace, she looked out at the moonlit grounds and listened.

“I have a plan,” she finally said.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next morning at breakfast the denizens of Happy Sunsets found small white cards propped against their glasses of prune juice and read:

 

“Dance till the stars come down from the rafters
Dance, Dance, Dance till you drop…”

~W.H. Auden~

 

You are cordially invited to join the Nine Dancing Ladies this Friday evening at 8:00 p.m. in the ballroom (dining hall) for an evening of music and movement.

 

Please wear non-bathrobe attire.

At the appointed day and time, the ballroom gleamed and glittered with its polished floors and walls festooned with fairy lights and gossamer swags of fabric. The men and women wore Sunday best outfits. They stood in groups and laughed at old jokes. When the music started, they were ready. For the rest of the evening, everyone took turns dancing with each other. The nine ladies made sure of that.

So as they swayed and twirled and moved to the music, they were no longer Aida or Karen or Isabel.

Nor were they Liz, Betty, Catherine.

It was not Maude, Toots, or Dolly who coaxed the wallflowers to the middle of the room.

No.

For a few hours during this special evening they were nine dancing ladies joyfully sliding, spinning, and stepping with their partners to the syncopated beat of life.

BIO:  “My bio?  Well, all that I write, including short stories, can be found at http://www.marisabirns.com.  My twitter name is @marisabirns.  This will be my first published piece!”

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