Category: original writing

(WP) The Color of Secrets

(WP) The Color of Secrets

               Indigo
was her name, but no one could figure out exactly why she was the way she was.

               As a
baby, and later, a toddler, she’d literally turn blue, either out of frustration
or heat.

               She’d
taken her strangeness, her peculiarity, as a fact of life. All her life she’d
been told she was special by her parents, weird and freaky by her peers. She’d heard
versions of both kinds of comments for so long that they bounced off.

               For a
while, people left her alone; it wasn’t any fun to a bully if you didn’t react.

               Until
this morning, when she’d tripped on the way to her locker and skinned her knee.

               That
all too familiar current of low laughter followed her, spreading through her
classmates like a virus.

               Much to
her own chagrin, she could feel her cheeks heating, darkening to a shade of
sapphire. She tried to cover the wound; it stung like hell. Much to her shock, the
blood that seeped through her fingers was bright, electric blue, the color of a
clear sky.

               For a
moment, she was stunned by the sight; it hit her like a blow to the chest.

               Was she
hallucinating? How was it possible for a normal human being to have blood that
was blue?

               She was
bitterly reminded of her cruel nickname: ‘Blue Blood’. It was ironic,
considering and she and her family were one of the poorest families in town.

               Cruel
laughter and whispers followed her, all the way to the nurse’s office.

               **

               After
an admonition about not running in the halls and watching her step, Indigo walked
out of the office, intending to return to class.

               Instead,
though, there was a pair of people, a boy and a girl, barring her way forward.

               “Hello,
Blue,” said the girl, dressed head to toe in different shades of green.

               “It’s
lovely to see you with my own eyes, at last.”

               She
grinned at Indigo, and her teeth were sharp, pointed. Something stood out livid
against her neck—gills?

               Indigo
was pretty certain that she had hit her knee, not her head. But it felt as if
she were in a movie, or a frightening nightmare.

               “Way to
sound creepy,” The boy murmured, rolling his eyes.

“You realize we’ve never met this
girl before?” He added.

“You don’t want to scare the poor
thing. This is going to be enough of a shock as it is without you intimidating
her, Emma.”

“I’m Porfirio, and this is my
sister, Emerald. Emma for short. It’s a pleasure to meet you. We’ve heard so
much about you.”

“How did you find me?” Indigo replied,
looking in between the two newcomers.

“Our father demanded that we find
you. We have a mission, you see. Emma, you, and I.”

“What are you talking about? This
all sounds like a bunch of nonsense.”

Emma piped up at last, bright eyes
on Indigo.

“Hate to break it to you, Blue, but
this is real life. Sounds like a comic book, though, doesn’t it?”

“We need to see you after school.
We have a lot to explain, Blu—I mean, Indigo.”

**

(WP) Phoenix’s Fire

(WP) Phoenix’s Fire

               The mansion that had once stood proud on the hill was nothing more than a pile of burned wood and stone.

               The family that had lived inside were all dead, burned to a crisp in their own beds.

               Still, this wasn’t exactly an open and closed case.

               The only member of the de la Fuego family that was unharmed was the youngest of them all, an infant named Phoenix.

               The firefighter who had saved her, a young woman by the name of Stone, was in shock. She’d even spoken to several local news stations about the incident.

               “Unfortunately, I did not arrive in time to save the rest of this poor child’s family. But I climbed what was left of the stairs, and I could’ve sworn that I heard a baby crying. I walked into her bedroom and there she was, sitting in her crib, unharmed, crying her little lungs out.”

               Stone looked away from the camera, a comely blush darkening her cheeks. Tears ran down her cheeks at the memory.

               “That little girl has some lucky stars, she does. She’s a living miracle.”

               **

The infant was placed in the care of Child Protective Services while the police and fire department investigated the circumstances of her family’s death.

The case grew more perplexing as time went on.

In the care of a social worker, Phoenix grew. She grew from a tiny infant to a chubby, apple-cheeked toddler with a cap of dark curls and bright amber eyes that were the same color as honey.

The social worker taking care of the child began to notice strange things about her ward.

The near-constant smell of smoke faintly wafting off of her, reminding Miss Haypenny of a campfire.

The way Phoenix’s eyes glowed whenever something went wrong or she was denied what she wanted.

Miss Haypenny began to suspect that the little girl she’d taken in was extraordinary.

**

Eventually, the investigation was put on hold. There was no accelerant used, nothing to suggest that the fire had been more than an unfortunate accident. People throughout the city donated to pay for the de la Fuegos’ funeral, though they had mostly kept to themselves and were called eccentric by the kinder folks in town, and weird and unfriendly by the others.

Miss Haypenny put the papers through to have Phoenix adopted, though if she were being honest, she had grown used to the little girl in her own home.

But perhaps it was better that she be adopted by other people. There was only so much of herself she could give.

And, if she was being completely honest with herself, Phoenix scared the hell out of her.

She suspected, somehow, that the girl had started the fire that had killed the rest of her family.

But that was crazy, the stuff of fiction. After all, this wasn’t a Stephen King novel.

Still, she could not quiet the voice inside her mind, that said that something was deeply, irrevocably wrong with Phoenix de la Fuego.

**

(WP) The Price of Power

(WP) The Price of Power

               “Your mission is to neutralize the superheroes that have been corrupted by their powers.”

               My boss looked up at me from her place at her desk, frowning silently.

               “I’m sorry to do this to you so soon, as you’re so green. But alas, time isn’t exactly on our side. Depending on how powerful the superhero’s abilities are, the more quickly that they are corrupted.

               Hate to break it to ya, kid, but you’re part of our last line of defense.”

               “All right, Captain. Who’s the mark this time?”

               I knew it sounded cold, but I couldn’t have done my job, had I seen them as anything more than a mark. All too often, I’d seen humanity corrupted by power they could not even begin to control, but until now, I’d been the sidekick. The second banana. The comic relief.

               Now, though, it looked like it was high time to step into a hero’s shoes.

               Still, I couldn’t ignore the fact that eventually, I’d be just like the monsters that I made a living taking out.

               I bit back a shudder; it would not do to show nervousness right about now.

               The Captain stared at me for a moment, studying me as if looking for holes in my armor, then turned her chair around and began to rifle through her filing cabinet, swearing quietly under her breath.

               Finally, she pulled out a thick file and pushed it toward me across the desk.

               I opened the file and was greeted by a snapshot of a slender, pale young woman with fanged teeth and a bloody grin. Below that were pages and pages of reports, photos, psych evals, scientific testing. It was all here.

               Still, I wanted to hear it from the captain.

               “She calls herself The Red Lady,” She said quietly. “Her powers were initially for healing. Used to be a nurse, one of the best in her field. But when she became corrupted, her blood began to infect her. She grew strong and eventually insane, and everyone else we sent to apprehend her was gravely injured or killed.”

               “No pressure, huh?” I deadpanned. She gave me a sad smile in return.

               “Go get ‘em, kid. And try not to die.”

               **

               When I arrived at the hospital that The Red Lady was holding hostage, the whole place was (understandably) in a panic.

               She was standing on top of the check in desk, clad in a tight scarlet bodysuit. Her face was covered by a white mask, and I couldn’t see if it was really her, but the holdup was confirmation enough.

               “Stop!” I yelled, and everything, all the sounds, narrowed to just that point. Her head swiveled in my direction, and a manic laugh bubbled up from behind her mask.

               “They’ve sent another wannabe to try and take me in?”

               I didn’t exactly have time to exchange pithy banter.

               After all, it was only a matter of time until my own internal clock began to tick toward my own implosion.

               In the meantime, I had a job to do.

               **

(WP) Reincarnation Nation

(WP) Reincarnation Nation

               I had the first dream on my wedding night, wrapped in the arms of my wife. It was the happiest night of my life, and we’d fallen asleep tangled together, with her head on my chest.

               As I drifted off to sleep, though, the hotel room started to disappear. The air became sweltering, and thick with humidity. The fragrance of wet earth and flowers surrounded me, and I gasped.

               I’d been having the several variations of the same dream, but the main detail was always the same: a beautiful woman, begging me to come back to her. Sometimes I didn’t even see her; I could just hear her calling, her voice sweet and mournful.

               Considering that I had just married the love of my life, I had hoped that the dreams would stop. But apparently luck wasn’t on my side.

               “My love, where are you? I’ve waited for you to come back to me, for so long… I need you, and I grow impatient. Husband, come back to me…”

               The voice was distant, echoing throughout the quickly forming jungle setting. All of the sounds were overwhelming, but her voice cut right through it all, slicing through my mind.

               High and sweet, I followed the source of the sound, hands trembling, though from fear or anticipation, I could not tell.

               When I finally reached the sound, the foliage parted to reveal the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.

               She was perched on a sun-drenched rock, her head turned upward. It exposed her long neck, and for a few moments, I was overtaken by the urge to take her in my arms and cover that skin with kisses. She wore a gown more fit for a ball than a romp in the wild, untamed jungle, hugging her curvy frame. It was emerald green, and the full skirt ended in tulle that sparkled. She was barefoot, but I could see tattoos covering her skin. Her hair was brown, and flowed loosely down her back. It was her eyes, though, that were truly arresting.

They were the bright, glowing orange of a harvest moon, and she turned her head to look at me, head tilting coyly to the side.

“You don’t know how long I’ve waited to see you,” She purred, stretching herself out on the rock; her movements were like a cat’s, languid and graceful.

“But you always did enjoy making me wait. Do you know who I am?”

I shook my head, struck mute by her beauty.

Something sparked in her eyes, and she clenched her fists, sitting up. She rose from the rock and stomped toward me.

“Allow me to enlighten you, husband. I am your goddess, your wife, the mother of your children. And I have come to collect you. It is time to rejoin us, your celestial family. I’ve had enough waiting.”

Though her voice was defiant, when she touched me, her skin was soft, and I shivered when she took my wrist in her hand.

When she took her hand away, I felt a weight on my wrist: a gold bangle, with moon and star charms dangling from it.

“Find me, my love. We need your help.

We don’t have much time.”

I awoke to my wife, Gabby, shaking my shoulder gently.

“Liam? Are you all right, love?”

“Yes,” I said, the word crumbling to ash on my tongue. I knew it to be a lie.

When I felt under my pillow, the bangle was there, as cold and smooth as it had been in my dream.

**

(WP) Silver and Gold

(WP) Silver and Gold

               Korrin was covered in soot and grime; the dust from the coal covered his body like a second skin. He felt, he thought ruefully, like a tunneling mole, his mouth twisting in distaste at the thought.

               He thought longingly of the sun on his skin, of the cool relief of the river.

               But his work was not done, even while his arms screamed for relief, the dull clanging of his pick the only sound under than the low voices of the other miners.

               It was unbelievably ironic that he had found work here, in the darkness of the mines.

               Being a Fae, he preferred to be above ground, where he could feel the grass under his feet, the sun warming his skin. At home, in Faerie, he could’ve easily indulged in those whims. But that had been before his powers had manifested.

               The King and Queen of the Dark Court had forced him into work in the mines; a powerful Fae with the ability to detect, forge gemstones, and imbue them with power.

               Apparently, he thought bitterly, he was too great an asset to roam free. He knew what a prison was, he wasn’t a fool.

               If he were braver, he would do the proper thing and end his life. A Fae who could not access nature, especially sunlight, was as good as mortal. Or dead.

               He shuddered, clenching his jaw against the unruly torrent of thoughts that had taken over his mind.

               This was his lot, and any other Fae, regardless of the price they had to pay, would be more than grateful to serve the Fae royals. But he wasn’t just any Fae.

               He was so distracted that he almost didn’t notice the way that the rock wall he’d been chipping away at fell away, replaced by a glowing golden outline, bright lavender runes shining in the dank gloom.

               Korrin dropped his pick, and it hit the ground with a ringing clank.

               What had he discovered? How?

               His heart raced, fluttering in his Adam’s apple.

               Through his door, was it possible to find escape from his shackles?

               Before he could muster up the courage to push his way through the door, he heard a female voice.

               He looked around, wondering if everyone in the mine could hear it, or if this was meant for him alone.

               Hurry, Korrin. Isn’t this what you wanted? To escape?

               He didn’t need any more encouragement than that, and he clenched his fists, pushing through the rock wall, expecting it to resist him.

However, he fell through the portal and landed on soft, green grass. He could feel the sun on his face, and he screwed his eyes shut; it felt as though he’d been underground for days instead of hours.

He looked around when his eyes adjusted; he appeared to be in the center of a bustling village, and he was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells. Everything felt foreign outside of the mines.

Then he heard the same voice that had urged him to come through the portal sounded behind him.

“You made it. I have a proposition for you, Korrin Gemheart.”

**

The Carseat in the River: Part Two

The Carseat
in the River: Part Two

For
a little while, we were quiet, digging into our food: a salad for me, and a
burger for Luna. She always craved comfort food after a long day or night at
the office, and I could hardly blame her.

But
I couldn’t focus on my food; I chewed mechanically, not tasting a bite. But it
made me feel more awake. The coffee was the real lifesaver, though. It gave me
something to do with my hands.

“I
know you’re dying from your questions,” Luna said at last, smiling at me
grimly. She wiped her mouth and set her napkin beside her plate. “So why don’t
you have at it?”

“I
wanted you to eat first, at least,” I said indignantly, frowning at her over
the rim of my mug.

She
looked like shit; she was pale under her olive skin, and dark circles stood out
prominently under her eyes. She hadn’t even changed out of the clothes she’d
worn to work the night before: a crumpled black shirt and high-waisted jeans,
and worn gray high-tops. Her hair was gathered in a high ponytail.

“What’s
got you so concerned about this?” Luna asked, refusing to be diverted from the
conversation.

“I
just have a bad feeling. I can’t really explain it,” I said, shrugging it off.

But
I could feel her scrutiny regardless.

“What
kind of bad feeling?” She asked, and relief made my stomach unclench slightly.

If
I’d been talking to anyone else on the force, I’d been branded as
overemotional. Hysterical. Told to call my kids, check on them, return to my
husband and take a few days off.

But
I should’ve known better, with Luna. She listened to me, cared about me, and
cops were taught to go with their gut feeling, but only if they had hard
evidence to back it up.

“I
just have a feeling that this one isn’t going to be clear-cut. I can’t explain
it. But when I saw it on the news…”

She
frowned at me thoughtfully, waiting for me to finish.

“This
one is gonna be rough, Lunes.”

She
finished off her coffee and asked for another cup. I got the feeling that she
was preparing herself for what she was about to say next.

When
the waitress turned away to get us our refills, she frowned at me; I could tell
that she had the same feeling as I about this.

“There’s
not a lot to go on, as I said. They just fished the car seat out of the
marshes, and much of the physical evidence was destroyed as a result.”

Of
course, I’d guessed this much, but said nothing.

“We’re
going to be conducting a search tomorrow morning,” She murmured quietly, making
sure to keep her voice down; the town busybodies didn’t need any concrete
reason to scare people.

Fear
was something that spread like wildfire, especially in a small town such as
this one, and the flames were already beginning, fueled by rumor and lies.

“The
chief said that he didn’t want you on the case, Ells,” Luna murmured, and her
eyes flashed. “He said that you always involve yourself way too much.”

That
arrogant son of a bitch, I thought, my heart sinking to my toes.

It
was almost as if our boss saw through me, to my tender core, and used all of my
insecurities, as a woman and a human being, against me.

“Well,
fuck him. He has no idea what he’s talking about,” I spat, and blushed when the
waitress returned to the table, setting down our mugs of coffee.

Besides,
it was too late. I had a personal stake in this, and I couldn’t just forget it.
Even if I had to ask Luna to keep me informed, I would get to the bottom of
this, even if I had to do it on my own.

**

(WP) All Hail the King

(WP) All Hail the King

               The revolution began in the bowels of the king’s castle; everyone from the lowest servant to the highest-ranking noble was sick to death of their ruler.

               “What a bumbling fool,” A noblewoman said, smirking over the rim of her chalice, filled with wine. “We really should get rid of him.”

               Low, quiet laughter followed her statement, as if the crowd surrounding her were amused by the suggestion.

               But some people, obviously, did not take her joke for jest.

               “That’s it!”

               A joyous voice rang out of the crowd: a young woman dressed in a servant’s livery, her eyes taking on a manic gleam.

               “We can start a revolution and kill the king! Don’t you see? If that idiot is slain, then the noble houses can put someone else on the throne! Someone of their own stock, and someone who can actually run the country.”

               “Surely you speak of treason,” someone said in a low, shocked voice, their eyes as wide as dinner plates.

               “The idea has merit,” said another noble, a smile splitting the lower half of their face.

               **

               Murmurs of revolution and unrest began to simmer throughout the kingdom, and the common people became anxious.

               **

For his part, however, the king, a strapping young lad of but seventeen, was not worried.

After all, he was King Alastair, and he had been divinely chosen to take the throne.

“Jester! Cook! I demand food and entertainment, this very instant!”

The two individuals in question ran to do the King’s bidding.

Really, how could he be unhappy, with all the word at his feet?

**

His two advisors, a pair of aging siblings, stood next to each other, on either side of the ornate throne.

“My King,” said the female advisor, named Amara, smiling tightly, “Do you not think that this is the time for festivities? After all, I’ve been hearing the most unsavory rumors about the common people.”

Alastair’s face darkened, with rage or disinterest, she couldn’t tell.

“That’s all they are, Amara. Rumors. I have you two for such things, do I not? Unless you aren’t satisfied with your employment. In which case, I could easily get rid of you and your brother and hire someone who actually understands the needs of a young king.”

“You are unwed, Your Highness,” Amara replied tartly, eyes narrowed. “Your rule is far from secure. I meant no offense; I only offer a word of caution going forward.”

“It would be wise of you to quiet down,” Alastair murmured through a forced smile and gritted teeth.

Amara’s brother, Cassius, shook his head at his sister, so subtly that the young monarch didn’t see it.

Caution indeed, he thought to himself. But that had always been his sister’s fatal flaw. She was too outspoken, too hasty, always eager to make her opinion known.

But if they wanted to succeed in pulling this off, they had to acquiesce, for now.

They would be no good to the revolution if they were sent to the chopping block.

**

(WP) By Land or By Sea

(WP) By Land or By Sea

               Mermaids being real, instead of fairy tales or folklore, was a fairly recent development.

               Of course, this prompted droves of people to attempt to change themselves into the seafolk, and to have their powers. Occasionally, a merperson would meet someone on land and choose humanity, to live on as normal with their spouse and children.

               But the process was mostly kept secret; it happened rarely, and it was not publicized. I suspected that that was part of the reason that people were so fascinated by it all: the mystery of it.

               After all, what little girl did not dream of having fins, of living undisturbed, deep within the oceans?

               That was true for me.

               But I would be lying if I hadn’t been searching for an escape.

               Every night, I went to the beach, clothed in a hoodie and shorts, searching the moonlit waves for the tell-tale signs of a mermaid dwelling there: a glimmer of sparkling fin, bright eyes peeking up at the star-studded sky.

               This had been the seventh day of my nighttime vigil, and so far, my searches had been fruitless.

               Nonetheless, I could not give up hope, not when it felt like this was the only avenue I had left.

               I sat down in the sand, taking comfort in the feeling of the grains on my skin.

               I took my bag off of my back and set it down beside me; it was full of snacks and bottles of iced coffee.

               In the back of my mind, a pessimistic little voice spoke, not for the first time.

               Even if you do find a mermaid, how do you propose you’re going to give up her fins and gills? And for you, of all people?

               You can only fight the inevitable for so long, Calypso. Why not just make it easier for yourself and accept it?

               But I tried to ignore it; I just couldn’t give up yet.

               **

               I must have fallen asleep, because when I awoke, the moon hovered just over the sea, the water cradling it in its grip, and the white sphere gleamed like a bright pearl.

               Just below, there was a mermaid laying on the waves, letting the ocean carry her closer to shore; the only thing I could really make out was a long, thick mane of hair, the color of stone.

               I didn’t dare breathe; surely my luck couldn’t have turned this quickly. Maybe she was a mirage, but I wasn’t in the desert.

                               A few moments later, the mermaid approached me, her powerful fin crushing the waves.

“Who are you, girl? What do you want? Why are you sitting out here by yourself, in the middle of the night?”

Her voice was soft and melodic, but up close, I could see that she was not young after all: Her dark skin was wrinkled, crows’ feet around her eyes and laugh lines around her full, lush mouth.

Who’d ever heard of an old mermaid?

“I’m here to ask for a favor, actually,” I replied, swallowing around a lump in my throat.

I felt like a character in a fairy tale, pleading for a boon she did not deserve.

“And what favor would you ask of me?” She rejoined, and I swallowed.

“I want to become a mermaid. I… I need to escape my life. And what better way than to give myself to the waves?”

There was a brief pause, and the mermaid stared at me; now that I could see her eyes, they looked more like a shark’s than a human’s.

“The process is painful. There are many who do not survive it. And if you were to become a mermaid, I would be human.”

“Please. Please help me.”

“Very well, girl. We’ll help each other out. My fins for your humanity. That seems an equal trade to me. Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Then it will be done.”

**          

(WP) Hoards of Knowledge

(WP) Hoards of Knowledge

               Legend has it that there is a dragon whose hoard lies deep within the mountains.

               What kind of hoard? A treasure hoard, full of gold and jewels and wealth beyond imagining?

               No, my child. It is indeed a hoard, but of a different sort.

               What kind of dragon doesn’t have a treasure hoard?

               Listen, child, and you will know.

               **

               This dragon feeds on knowledge, ravenous for words, paper, and stories. Unusual, to be sure, but not unheard of. Dragons are creatures that are just as varied as human beings.

               But how do you know that if you’re never seen one?

               Patience, child. We’ll get to that in its own time.

               Once upon a time, there was a scholar, one who thirsted for knowledge more than food, than drink. But she was a woman, so naturally, even as she studied in secret, she was opposed on all sides.

               ‘The lecture halls of our great nation are no place for a woman, for it is she who bears and rears the children, who makes the home a safe haven. Who are you, of all people, to defy our gods-given roles in society?’

               Naysayers from far and wide disapproved of the scholar filling her mind with words, stories, facts and figures, but she persisted, refusing to give up until she unlocked every secret that captured her imagination.

               One night, under the darkness of the new moon, people began to gather throughout the country, whispering about the stubborn girl who insisted on rising above what the world had seen fit to give her. Tempers and emotions ran high, stoked by alcohol and dissent.

               At last, the townspeople set out, armed with knives, pitchforks, axes and staves, determined to silence the scholar once and for all—

               What happened, Grandma? What happened to her? Please don’t tell me that this story of yours doesn’t have a happy ending! What kind of story doesn’t have a happy ending?

               Hush, my love. Let your old grandma tell her story. At her own pace. No interruptions anymore, yeah? And there will be a reward in it for you.

               **

               Where was I? Ah, yes, the townspeople. So, under the cover of near-complete darkness, for the stars seemed to be hiding their eyes for shame, they descended on the scholar, breaking into her tiny cottage at the intersection between the village and the forest.

               They took her from the house and in the scuffle, a candle that she had been using for light fell upon her papers, and the dwelling burned to ash. To this day, all that’s left is the bricks that the woman had used as makeshift bookshelves.

               What happened to the scholar, Grandma? Did they kill her?

               The fire that had burned down her only home had transformed her into a dragon. Blinded by rage and grief, she slew every last villager, except for one woman who had brought a book for her.

               Taking the volume in her jaws, she flew away, into the mountains.

               No one knows if she still dwells in those mountains, surrounded by the written word. Few even remember that there was a time that she was human.

               But Grandma. How do you know what happened?

               I was the girl who gave her the book, child. And I like to think that she rebuilt her horde of stories and tales from it. I hope that she’s happy, and that she has been allowed to do what she loves.

               She deserves the peace she’s been looking for all that time.

               **

(WP) Things My Father Never Told Me

(WP) Things My Father Never Told Me

               My
father passed away on a rainy October night, and the following week, we held a
funeral for him.

               The service
had been lovely, understated and populated by those who had loved him. I knew
he would’ve approved.

               After
the wake and the meal prepared by the men and women of our family, my mother
and I made plans to go through the rest of my father’s belongings, to box them
up so they could be distributed, per his will.

               The
meal was somber and slow, and we bid goodbye to the rest of the family. Before
we departed, I gave my siblings, Frida and Nathan, hugs.

               Frida
was still crying, her eyes red-rimmed and her normally sleek, brunette hair
disheveled. She wore a black sheath that hugged her hips and crimson flowers
along the neckline. She held me tightly, and I was enveloped by the scent of
her perfume, sweet and floral.

               “Come
see me when you’re done sorting through Daddy’s stuff?” She whispered in my
ear, and I nodded.

               Nathan
wrapped an arm around my waist, pulling me close to him, and I hugged him, burying
my face in my older brother’s neck. I could smell his aftershave, and I sighed.

               We’d
grown apart after growing up, from our parents and each other. Sometimes, I
think we were so focused on having independence of our own that we had lost sight
of what was really important: family.

               **

               I
wrapped a hand around my mother’s arm and escorted her out, feeling as though I
were in an old Hollywood movie, as if I was watching this all transpire outside
of myself.

               She
looked as if she had aged ten years since the death of my father. Her rich
brown hair had become lank and greasy, and the bags under her eyes made me
realize that she hadn’t slept very much.

               “Are
you going to be okay, Ma?” I asked, and she blinked, shaking her head as if
surfacing from a daydream. Or a nightmare.

               “Would
anyone be okay if their spouse passed on?” She quipped, and I bit my lip to hide
an inappropriate grin.

               “Fair
enough.”

               “Come
along, Scarlet. We’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us.”

               **

               Without
my father’s big belly laughs and jovial voice to fill them, the walls of the
house seemed empty. Abandoned. Too quiet.

Mom and I split up, with her taking
the lower story and me taking the upper.

The first place I started to clean
was Dad’s bedroom; there was no way my mother would want to go in here. It held
too many memories, as sharp-tipped as daggers.

I started moving his clothes from
the wardrobe to give to Goodwill, neatly folding them and putting them on the
bed.

I was putting his shoes in pairs at
the foot of the bed when I noticed a metal box glinting faintly behind some discarded
shirts. It looked like someone had put it there on purpose.

Forgetting about the shoes, I
reached for the box and found it locked. I frowned, looking around.

If I was my father, where were I
hide a key to something secret?

Driven by an impulse I couldn’t
quite understand, I looked inside his best pair of dress shoes, the ones he
almost never wore. I reached inside and found something cold, hard, and smooth
at the toe.

When I pulled it out, it was a
small, tiny key, hardly bigger than my fingernail.

I put it in the lock and turned it;
with a soft click, the lid burst open.

Letters, photographs, grade cards,
and child’s drawings all lay in haphazard stacks inside of the box. I began to
dig through it, and flinched when my fingers found a gold band, studded with
garnets and rubies that shone like congealed blood.

The picture that caught my eye was
my dad with his arms wrapped around a woman I’d never seen before: she was tall
and lean, with long, strawberry blonde curls and laughing green eyes.

What secrets had my father been
keeping before his death?

**