Posted in Exercises, Stories

30 Day Shorts I

We’re on day three of my 30 Day Shorts challenge, so it felt like a good place to check in and see how it’s gone so far.

Day 1
I started a little piece, which ended up being an unseen scene from my current serial work. I ended up not using the day’s prompt. Title is still out on it.

Day 2 
What started as a ten-minute flash piece morphed into a longer piece connected to a longer story (not my current big project). It also let me take a look at some minor characters and some background relations. Currently I have it titled as ‘Children’.

Day 3
Started another exploration titled ‘Bloom’. It’s focused back on my serial, but also clears up some things about a character who’s been giving me development troubles. I ended up not using the day’s prompt.

How are you doing on the 30 Day Shorts challenge?

As a reminder I have both Aurarin’s Song and Crimson and Gold available for free on the 4th. Aurarin’s Song will remain free until April 6th. I also have all of my available and posted short stories on my short stories page.

Posted in Exercises, Stories

Setting Up a Challenge

With the last few days of March approaching, I’ve been looking towards things I want to do for April. Because I have a tendency to get distracted by new ideas, I’m trying to limit myself to three new project months a year. That should be April, July and November. These nicely sync up with the usual NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo events. Over the last couple of months however, I noticed that while I have a several ideas for larger works, I don’t have too many for shorter ones.

So, for April, I decided I wanted to challenge myself (of course, you are more than welcome and heartily invited to participate as well). For April, I want to try and write thirty short stories.

‘Short story’ tends to be a broad spectrum. From hundred words drabbles to a ten thousand word exploration, there’s a lot of ground to cover in ‘short story’. That’s part of why I find the idea so appealing. It’s a good way to explore new characters and ideas and to get other ideas moving and working.

On the other hand, that broad of an interpretation leaves me open to falling behind if I end up stuck on a short story that does end up being ten thousand words.

To keep myself from getting mired in a pit of a longer story, I’ve decided on two requirements:

  1. Write a total of 30 short stories by April 30th
  2. Shorts should not exceed 5,000.

That still leaves plenty of space to get everything done, if say I have a bad writing day and don’t manage to get anything written. I have a chance to catch up on the next good day if I can instead write two flash pieces or a couple of drabbles.

Just in case I get stuck, I’ve also come up with thirty lists of between three and seven words to help spark something should I need to. The idea is that if I don’t have any ideas already, I should challenge myself to write a story including all of the words on that day’s list. If you want to check out the list of words, you can do so here: 30DayShortsApril2020.

Are you up for a challenge?

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Potion

The café saw a steady stream of people throughout the day. Seeing one particular girl come up to the counter though, Oceania had to smile.

“Hey, Allison. Your mom know you’re drinking coffee?”

Allison shook her head. At twelve she’d started into that awkward and somewhat disproportionate stage of gangliness that might eventually give way to grace.

“I’m not looking for coffee. I kind of had a potion-related question for you.”

That was surprising. Her older brother worked on a magic protection team, as did her father. And Allison’s mother wasn’t exactly without her own magic. Potion-related questions coming from her directly were unusual.

“Alright,” Oceania said and leaned on the counter so she was level with Allison’s face. “What’s the question?”

“Is there a potion that could reveal magic?” Allison asked.

Oceania knew dangerous and stupid ideas when she saw them. There was a whole record and at least a couple of police officers that knew her and her bad ideas quite well.

“Depending on what exactly you need, maybe,” Oceania said. “What’s the situation?”

Allison considered it. “Uhm,” she said. “I…have a friend,” she said. “And she has magic. She thinks she does at least. She should. But, she’s not seeing it yet.”

Dangerous and stupid flashed all over that idea, but Oceania could see the possibilities.

Either she lied and told Allison there was no potion. Allison then had the chance to go looking for something else—a spell or a charm or who knew what else she might find. Alternately, Allison might accept it, and the disheartening realization that she would just have to wait until her magic decided to reveal itself.

Or, she told her the truth and had to fend off any attempts Allison made to get a hold of that potion.

A sigh escaped and she turned. “Carlyn!”

It took her older brother a moment to come out. “What’s up Alley-Cat?” he offered a high-five to Allison, who grinned as she accepted it.

“She’s got a question she needs answering. I’m taking a break.”

“Alright,” Carlyn said. His gaze narrowed slightly. “I’ll cover the front for you.”

“Thanks. Come on you. I know I got a yogurt in the back with your name on it.”

Allison followed into the tiny office they referred to laughably as their ‘break room’. It connected to the back patio, but Oceania stayed inside, pulling a yogurt from the fridge and putting it in front of Allison with a spoon.

“So, this friend of yours. Is she good at sports? Maybe kind of outgoing?”

A nod was Allison’s answered. “She’s on the same softball team I am.”

“I’ll bet she also wears number thirty-six too. I’d be surprised if her jersey doesn’t say Jacobs on it the same way yours does.”

Eyes widened and she ducked her head. “How’d you know?”

Oceania laughed as she sat down. “You aren’t the first kid in the world to wonder if they’ve got magic or why it’s taking so long to show up. And you’re most certainly not the first one to think there’s a spell or potion or something else magic to solve your problem. My main question is what set you to fussing about your magic.”

“If I have any,” Allison muttered and stuck the spoon in her yogurt with a scowl.

“Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Not what I’m looking for just yet. What happened?”

A hefty sigh escaped, pulling Allison’s shoulders even further down.

“One of my friends found out she had magic,” Allison said. “But—no one else in her family does. She just thought she was lucky up until Ricky Thames kept picking on her and she sort of accidentally cursed him.”

“She cursed him?”

“Not like a big one—and the teacher called out the protection team to fix it. She just made his zits spell out mean words.”

“And that got you to thinking?”

“She’s got to go to practices and do extra lessons for it now,” Allison said and pushed her yogurt away to lay her head on her table. “She’s months younger than I am and no one around her mas magic. I’m almost thirteen and everyone in my family has magic and I don’t.”

Therein lay the problem. Oceania already knew Allison was one of the tallest in her class. Not always easy, but understandable when your father was a werewolf.

Less understandable was how she couldn’t seem to work visions how her mother could, and never sported fang or fur in place of her hair and bright smile.

“Hate to break it to you, but there could be a lot of reasons why you don’t see your magic yet.”

“Like something wrong with me?” More of the core fear revealed itself and Oceania laughed.

“Honey, unless you’re out there hurting people for fun or to make yourself feel better, there’s nothing wrong with you,” Oceania said. “And that comes from a whole lot of experience in that department.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s called being a late bloomer,” Oceania said. “It just happens sometimes. Hell—er, heck.” Allison giggled at Oceania’s slip-up. “Heck,” she repeated. “Carlyn and my Dad didn’t even think the weird stuff I was doing was magic for the longest time. They kept brushing it off as ‘Oceania’s weird luck.’ It literally took me bringing a dead plant back to life right in front of them before they clued in. Sometimes magic is small.”

“How small?”

“Small in all the best ways. Maybe you’re just extra good at helping a friend feel better. Maybe you bake really well, or you never lose things. Magic ain’t always some big to-do.”

“Then how am I supposed to know if I have it or not?” Allison protested. “Isn’t there something you can do to at least show me that much?”

Oceania tipped her chin up a little. She did have a nice little magic revealing potion—mostly something she used to make sure money hadn’t been altered, and occasionally when she thought someone was poking around where they shouldn’t be.

“Before you dive off that end, do you really think that’s the best idea?”

“Of course it is! How could it be a bad idea?”

“I do believe your mother is a prophet.”

“Yeah,” Allison said.

“I’d be surprised if she hasn’t explained the limitations of what she can and can’t see.”

“Well, she can only see what might be. It’s hard to see things that will be because they’re flexible about when they happen,” Allison said. “And she can see what’s already happened.”

Oceania nodded. “That’s all stuff she can do. What about what she can’t?”

Allison was silent. “She can’t see her own fate,” she said finally.

“Why do you think that is?”

“I guess…I don’t know.”

“Because magic or not, somethings are better off not being messed with. Let’s say you could see your own fate. So you’d know in the next few minutes what would happen to you—good and bad. That includes stuff like getting hurt or losing something you value.”

“That doesn’t seem too bad,” Allison said.

“Not right away, but look at the bigger picture. Let’s say you know you’re supposed to argue with a friend on a particular day. So you just avoid them that day.”

“They’d understand once you explain, right?”

“Which means then everyone knows you can see the future in detail,” Oceania said. “And that means your friends get curious and they start asking you questions. Now, maybe you’re lucky and those questions have mostly good answers, but what happens when you see things like car accidents, or someone getting ill, getting hurt, all the bad stuff in life?”

“You could stop it.”

“Could you?”

“Well…you’d know when it’s going to happen,” Allison said but frowned. “But…if you tell someone something bad is going to happen, they won’t like it.”

“No, which means that argument you so cleverly avoided happens anyways—but now you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands because trying to stop something else bad from happening means you’ll only make that original argument bigger. Or, let’s say you stop a friend from getting in a car, and they avoid being hit by a drunk driver. That other driver is still drunk and he’s still a danger to others.”

“Someone else would get hurt.”

“Someone who you might not know. More than that, by letting that driver stay out on the road longer, the accident could be worse. Rather than injuries, it could mean killing someone else.” Oceania said. “Your mom calls it What May Be for a reason.”

“Because every choice we make affects what happens next,” Allison muttered. “What’s that go to do with knowing if I have magic or not?”

“What happens when you find out you do have magic?”

“Then I wait for it to finally show itself.”

“Kind of like you’re supposed to be waiting for it to show itself anyways?”

Allison paused. “Well…I guess.”

Oceania nodded. “And of course, since you know you have magic, you wouldn’t want to know what kind of magic it is?”

“Well…okay, that’d be nice to know too.”

“But see, you know you have it and maybe you know what kind you’re supposed to have. What’s stopping you from trying to use that magic before you’re ready?”

A long pause stretched before them, heavy and uncomfortable. “I could really hurt myself,” Allison said finally.

“More than that, buttercup. Magic appears when you’re ready for it.”

“But what if I’m never ready for it? What if I just don’t have it?”

“Then obviously you never needed it to start with. You’ve got a phone.”

“A phone isn’t magic.”

“No, but it lets you call your friends, and your family, doesn’t it? It lets you store photos of memories you want to keep, and share those same photos with the people you care about the most. You don’t need magic for the important stuff, and magic comes with its own downsides. Your friend, you said she had extra practices now?”

Allison nodded. “She’s taking them on Saturday and Sunday.”

“So I’m guessing she doesn’t have a lot of time to hang out on those days,” Oceania said.

This time, the widening of Allison’s eyes came with a slight pursing of her lips, as if she’d just realized something.

“She couldn’t come to the movies with us on Saturday because she had practice,” Allison said.

“Do you think she enjoyed knowing all her friends were watching movies and laughing with each other while she was stuck learning about something she has no choice in?”

A headshake.

“So while you’re fretting about maybe you do, maybe you don’t, she’s probably got some worries of her own about how all this magic is going to affect her life now.”

Squirming in her seat, it took a moment before Allison hung her head. “I guess I didn’t really think about it. I’m used to having magic in my life. It feels weird to try and think of it as anything but normal.”

“Oh it’s plenty normal. Sometimes it’s just so small it gets lost in all the other stuff out there. Rainbows are magic. So are kisses from pretty girls and laughing with your best friends. And sometimes, finding a penny on the street is all the magic you ever need.”

Allison nodded. “I…I still want to know, but I guess I’ll have to wait.”

“Sounds like a smart idea to me,” Oceania said and reached over to grab a lip balm tube from the side of the office desk. “You’ve been picking at your lips again. Put some of that on and go eat your yogurt.”

Smiling, Allison took it and dutifully applied it to her lips. As she did, the balm shimmered, almost a little like crystals.

“Thanks,” Allison said as she stood, picking up her yogurt and the spoon.

“Of course. I’d say you’ll probably get your answer here soon—but you’ve got to be patient. No more poking at it. It’ll show when it shows.”

“No more poking, I promise,” Allison said and waved as she headed back towards the main dining area.

Oceania sighed a little as she stood, heading to grab the bussing cart.

Instead, Carlyn stopped her. “What exactly did you give her?” he asked.

“Strawberry yogurt,” Oceania said and looked over at where Allison had apparently joined a friend from school and was now chatting and laughing. “And some Chapstick.”

Carlyn looked over. “Just Chapstick?”

Oceania held up the fresh tube of magic-detection potion. “Looked enough like it to me.”

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Prior Engagements

Romance, Everett decided as he stomped down the altar’s runner, was entirely useless.

He’d spent more than two and half years courting Miss Lavender, and now today of all days, she announced she wouldn’t be marrying him.

Not even to his face.

She’d sent a letter.

The last six months of wedding preparations had to be undone. At least half of what he’d spent was permanently lost. That much he’d expected for some places, especially for the church. They used the fees and money to help keep the church in running order.

The fact he’d had the priests offering their condolences as if someone had died was what bothered him the most.

He yanked the church doors open, striding outside without looking at what lay behind. A yelp and he fell backwards, having collided with someone on their way in.

“I’m so sorry.”

Her voice was gentle and Everett looked up. Her basket had spilled, dried flowers and a few carefully letter papers littering the steps. All the same, she held a hand down to him.

“It’s not your fault,” Everett said. “I shouldn’t be letting my temper get me into a mood to stomp around.”

She smiled as he took her hand. He hardly needed the help up, but accepted. Everett straightened his vest and bent again, scooping up the things he’d spilled when they’d collided.

“Thank you,” she said. “Although, may I ask what has you in such a mood?”

Such a light, gentle tone, like kisses from the air. He had to chuckle, a little darker. “My bride-to-be had decided she won’t be marrying me. I’ve spent most of the day running around and trying to undo all of the wedding preparations. I…” He glanced back at the altar.

It looked like any other day of the week with how it was set now. Three bowls. One each for the land, the sea and the sky. On his wedding day they would have been surrounded by sprays of flowers and ribbons. Their rings would have been blessed in each bowl before they were allowed to place them on their fingers.

Thoughts for another time, Everett decided and turned with a shake of his head. “I am sorry,” he said as she counted her papers. “Like I said, I shouldn’t be letting my mood make me stomp around.”

“For something that heartbreaking, it’s understandable. Just, perhaps, be a little more observant before you run into someone else, please?”

The soft smile on her face melted some of his anger away. “Of course,” he said. “I—I’m so sorry, I don’t even have your name.”

“Blair,” she answered and inclined her head. “And you’re Everett Atoll.”

“Uh—yes. I don’t recognize you.”

“I’d be surprised if you did. My father’s one of your newest business partners. Ashton Carrier.”

Blair Carrier. He’d not only run into a young, gentle woman, but Blair Carrier herself. Masterful writer and champion of charities across the region.

“I’m so sorry Miss Carrier,” he said. “Please, let me make it up to you.”

“Blair!”

That wasn’t her father’s voice but she turned towards it all the same. The man who came up had to be at least ten years older than her. He caught her hand with affection on his face. “Are you alright?”

“Fine, Jacob. A little mishap, nothing more. I just need to see these are handled properly and then we can get back home.”

Everett knew Jacob. He’d been introduced as a family retainer during one business meeting. Doubtless sent to help Blair with her errands today.

Jacob sighed and offered a mocking bow. “As the lady demands.”

Blair laughed and turned, lifting one side of her skirt as she bowed to Everett. “I have some things to see to. If you need help with anything, I’m happy to assist.”

He couldn’t hep but smile. “Thank you, but unless you happen to know someone in need of a white lace dress, I’m afraid everything else is out of my hands.”

“White lace? I might know someone,” Blair said.

“Really?’” It surprised him and Blair laughed.

“I do like having a few nicer dresses.”

“It’s—uh, perhaps I can help you here and show you the dress? It’s at Missus Cleary’s now.”

“I’d love to. Oh, Jacob. I’m sorry.”

Jacob however, held up a hand, a smile on his face. “It matters little and gives me time perhaps to ensure lunch isn’t forgotten before someone else finds a need of your aid for some reason.”

Blair laughed and shook her head before she turned another smile on Everett. “Give me the hour and then shall I meet you at Missus Cleary’s?”

“Absolutely,” Everett said. “Thank you.”

“The pleasure is mine,” she said and offered a little wave. He returned it as his mood lightened.

She vanished into the church and Everett gave himself a little shake while Jacob beamed after her. “She is a marvel,” Jacob said and inclined her head. “I’ll see to it that the cost of the dress is covered for Miss Blair.”

“It’s already paid for,” Everett said and turned. “I’m happier that I don’t have another reminder of my prior engagement hanging about. Perhaps I should have mentioned it was a wedding dress.”

Jacob chuckled as he followed Blair inside. Everett watched over his shoulder a moment longer before he shook it off. He’d get rid of the wedding dress—perhaps offer to have some alterations added so it wasn’t as clear what its intended purpose had been.

Besides, he decided, it was only Blair Carrier being the kind young woman she was known to be. It wasn’t as if Everett would be foolish enough to romance another woman.

Not at least, so soon after his prior engagement.


by A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this, you can find more of my works by visiting my books page or picking up a copy of my newest release, Crimson and Gold for Kindle.

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Cat Scratch

There was a very strict policy regarding the thief’s guilds in Bundia. Prevalent and sometimes impossible to get rid of, they were allowed to work specific sections of the city. Each of them jockeyed for control of the wealthier streets, challenging each other over and over.

There was only supposed to be one guild that had access to the palace, and even that was only for security reasons. They were paid a decent sum for protection from the other guilds.

As far as Mercury knew, the only way to take over from the current guild was to get into the palace and steal the collar from Princess Anise’s cat.

Which was the problem. The collar was missing, and no one had a clue who or how.

The entire palace had been searched, top to bottom. Was it possible that the cat, whom Anise had named Prince, had merely slipped out of it?

No, and further the usual cover for Prince’s pillow had been discovered hidden in a small venting room meant to help control the temperature of Her Highness’s room. There were a series of large channels between that venting room and Her Highness’s room which someone could reasonably slip through, if they were small enough.

Grates were being installed.

Mercury could figure out how, roughly. Prince always slept in Anise’s room. The displaced cover made little sense, but had the cat been wrapped up in it to help prevent scratches, that made sense. Pulling the cat back through the channels would prevent waking up Anise and alerting her.

Figuring out the how was easy. What he couldn’t figure out, was who.

Staring at the reports from all the guards that night, he couldn’t figure it out. Someone had not only gotten into the palace around some of the best trained guards in Bundia, but also around an entire other thief’s guild.

If it was only another guild trying to take over the palace grounds and get that pay, why hadn’t they come forward with the collar yet? It had been missing for two days already. It was almost as if they were taunting him.

A knock on the door made him look up. “It’s open,” he called. It would be one of his men, though they were all on edge.

It eased open and a soft laugh made him jolt. Could it be?

No, he realized as he looked up. Same red hair, same narrow chin, but this was Waller. The triangular scar on her jawline proved it.

“Alright, Waller. Spit it out,” Mercury said and leaned back. “What do you want? Tormenting your sister again?”

“No.”  She flicked her wrist and something landed on his desk with a rattle.

The collar.

Prince’s nameplate caught the light of the enchanted lamp, glittering and undamaged. Mercury took a moment to inhale.

“You stole the collar,” he said and sat up.

“Again, no.”

“Then one of your thieves did.”

“Yes,” she said and came to lean on his desk. He could see her appraising eye as it roved. “And that’s where you and I run into a problem. It took me two days to figure out what happened, and the only reason I figured to even check for that collar was because every one of the Lockets is up in arms about who could have possibly stolen it.”

That sounded a lot like trouble. “Then your thief—”

Waller caught the front of his shirt and yanked it forward. A killer she wasn’t, but she knew how to make life difficult for anyone she didn’t like.

“I have an eleven-year-old suffering from an unknown ailment and it started on the same night that damn cat scratched her. You tell me how to fix it, or you’re going to spending an awful lot of time explaining how two thieves managed to get in. I won’t just be taking a collar this time.”

He knew it too. Waller was good at what she did. Be that stealing a painting in broad daylight or stealing a person out of their bed.

“I will need to see her before I can fix it. If she got scratched, there’s a couple of possibilities.”

Waller studied him a moment before she let go of his shirt, allowing him to sink back as she straightened. He realized the collar was gone, no longer on his desk.

“Follow me then,” she said, and slunk out.

He only took the time to grab a dark jacket from the hook on the wall before he followed.

She stayed far enough ahead of him that she could have vanished at any time, little more than a beacon of where he needed to go and turn. He half-expected her to take him to a warehouse, but instead, they came to a seedy inn near the river.

There were a couple of others who gave him the same appraising glance he’d come to learn was tell-tale of a well-trained thief. A faint motion from Waller however, and they turned away. The contents of his pocket were safe, but only for now.

Room three was on the floor, and when Waller opened it, Mercury saw how her expression softened a little before she moved in all the way. Mercury took care, following her into the candle-lit dimness.

“Audrey? Audrey, I need you to wake up for a little,” Waller murmured.

The girl on the bed looked sick, and feverish. More importantly however, he could see the problem immediately.

Prince had to have scratched her, he realized as he knelt. Her hair had started to shift, a pair of cat’s ears rising at the top of her head. Both hands sported claw-like nails and he could see a tooth that had fallen out, the normal human canine replaced with a more conical, feline fang.

When she flicked her eyes open though, his heart stopped as he came to kneel next to the bed. They were wide and electric green, slit like a cat’s.

He still had his flask on his belt and pulled that off, opening it and gently tipping it to her lips. “Little sips, kitten,” he murmured.

She took a few and let out a whimper as she pulled away again.

“What is it?” Waller demanded and Mercury took a moment to recap the flask.

“My first question is if you knew she had magic,” Mercury said.

There was some hesitation on Waller’s face before she inhaled. “There’s been a few little things that made me suspect it,” she said. “But she hasn’t done anything to actively confirm it.”

“Well, here’s your confirmation,” Mercury said. “Prince is a Bundian Royal Cat. If you don’t have magic, getting scratched by one usually just leaves you with a sort of aura. You might be unable to lie, or you could always be able to tell the weather. Little things.”

“And if you have magic you get turned into another Royal cat,” Waller said and snorted.

“Only if you have enough,” Mercury said. “She’s been like this two days, you said?”

“Roughly, yeah.”

“Then this is probably about as far as it’ll go. She’ll probably get another fang, and she might get whiskers, but it’s always complete by day three.” Without thinking about it he reached back and smoothed Audrey’s hair down. She seemed to lean up to his touch and his lips lifted in a smile.

“Is there any way to stop it?”

“If there is, no one’s found it yet, but most people try to avoid getting scratched by them,” Mercury said.  “And the cats do have some control over whether or not their scratches trigger anything.”

“There’s got to at least be a way to make her more comfortable,” Waller protested and Mercury had to laugh.

“A few. You’re very concerned for her.”

“She’s one of my kids, of course I’m concerned for her. Bad enough she’s grown up in a thieves guild.”

There was something else Waller wasn’t saying. Mercury could take a guess at it. Audrey had the same narrow face, and her hair wasn’t that far off from Waller’s own.

This wasn’t just one of the kids in Waller’s guild. Audrey would be much closer.

Who her father was, Mercury could only guess. He said nothing, continuing to pet her hair.

“Either way,” he said as he looked up. “Your Feathers are now the guild in charge of the palace. You’ll have to make the formal claim of having the collar and it will need to be verified as the real thing.”

“How long is that going to take?”

“Checking the collar? Maybe an hour,” Mercury said.

“And what about Audrey?”

He considered it and stood. “You’ve got two options,” he said. “She is the thief, so rightfully you could have her stationed around the palace, which would mean she’s also able to get some training for that magic. Or, she continues as she has been in your guild, albeit with some cat-like reflexes now.”

“People will notice her appearance,” Waller said.

He considered it. “I know a charmer. They can make something to help with that, but they’ll need to start as soon as possible. It would have been better to start on the first night, but barring that, tonight or tomorrow morning.”

Waller hesitated. “Where is this charmer?”

“In the palace,” Mercury said. “I can take her there if you want.”

The only answer was a nod and Mercury stood, sliding out of his jacket and carefully using it to wrap Audrey before he lifted her, bridal-style.

Waller opened the door and Mercury hesitated. “Her being there will also make the claim a little easier to confirm,” he said.

“I’ll bring the collar back tomorrow,” Waller said. “Provided nothing’s happened to her.”

“Of course,” he answered.

As he started down the streets, the feverish Audrey in his arms, he had to smile. Who would have thought the so-called Princess of Thieves would have a daughter capable of stealing Mercury’s heart?