Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Bloom

Jeremy sat with his knees drawn up to his chest, staring at his grandmother’s garden. He heard the screen door creak open and then a sigh from her. “What’s wrong, muffin?”

He shrugged. He didn’t want to say it, but he knew he couldn’t lie. Something always kept him from uttering even the tiniest lie.

His grandmother settled next to him. Her hair only had a few grays in it, the only sign that she was fifty-five. Otherwise, she looked almost young enough to have just been his mother.

For a moment, they were quiet before she inhaled. “You know, I never could get those daffodils to survive long enough to bloom.”

“They need dryer soil and more sunlight,” he said. He knew that from talking to them.

“Do you want to help me move them then?”

Maybe. It would give him something to do, something to keep his hands busy so he wasn’t brooding.

But he wasn’t sure he wanted to either and shrugged.

“Is this about your parents?”

Annoyance and anger sparked up. “They don’t want me,” he said.

“Jeremy, they—”

“They gave you papers saying that you could make any choice you wanted or needed to. They don’t even know what school I go to. They didn’t know I’d joined the debate club. Most of the time they just send me to go get dinner on my own when they have a date night or some stupid trip and I have more of my things here than I do at home. I didn’t even pack anything this time. They’ve been home less than a week and they already decided they had to go somewhere else. They don’t want me.”

His grandmother paused a moment and inhaled as she looked at the garden before she looked back at him.

“It’s a little harder to explain,” she said.

“I don’t need it explained,” he answered and poked at a knot in the wooden railing next to him. “I figured it out. Why do they even bother taking me home if they’re just going to turn around and drop me off again anyways?”

“Because they do love you,” his grandmother replied and Jeremy snorted. “That’s something you do need to understand. They do love you. They’re just…”

“They like the idea of having a kid but not the work.”

His grandmother sighed and looked down at her hands, where they were callused and scarred from years of work.

“You know, I had your mom when I was barely eighteen,” she said. “And I tried so hard to make sure she had every opportunity.”

“I know,” Jeremy said.

“But, for whatever reason, she had you when she was barely eighteen herself. Some kids aren’t ready to have children, and as much as I don’t want to admit it, your mom is one of those kids.”

“She’s not even here.” Jeremy put his head down. “And she hates the weird stuff I do.”

“That weird stuff is magic,” his grandmother said. “You and I both know that.”

“Yeah, but try telling either of them that. I get told I can’t have magic because that would make me a Caster and I’m not supposed to be a Caster.”

“People are supposed to be a lot of things.”

“Like supportive parents,” he muttered it to himself mostly, but his grandmother chuckled.

“Yes,” she agreed. “But they aren’t always what they’re supposed to be. And that means that even when they’re not expected to be something, sometimes they are.”

Logically, it checked out and Jeremy knew it.

And yet, it still burned him. He knew what the plants were in need of, could feel the power in streams and the occasional windstorm.

Rather than answer, he grunted and put his head down.

His grandmother chuckled. “I’ve got to get those daffodils moved,” she said. “Do you want to help?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“That’s fine. I have cookies cooling inside if you decide you don’t want to help, and I’ll be down in the garden if you do want to.”

He had to smile as she stood, going down the steps. “Thanks,” he said.

“Only for you,” she said and kissed his head. “Don’t eat too many cookies. I’m making chicken casserole tonight.”

 “Spicy chicken casserole?”

“I could be talked into it, but it does take a little bit of work and I really do want daffodils this year.”

He laughed and jogged down the steps. “They just need a little more sunlight,” he said. “I know the perfect spot for them.”


by A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this short, you can find more on my short stories page, or by checking out my published books. Thanks for reading!

Posted in General

Working Titles

Titles are either simple to come up with, or they’re difficult. There’s not a lot of in-between about them. I’ve already gone over one of the ways to come up with and generate titles, but those suggestions don’t always feel right at first. Titles can take time, and that’s where the working title comes into play.

A working title isn’t much more than what you call your story while it’s still a work in progress. Dependent on your publishing route, an editor may suggest a title change for marketing purposes, or just based on style. It’s also possible that you’ll go through several titles before finding the one that fits your story.

You don’t need to put much thought in a working title. In the case of very early drafts when you’re still feeling out the rest of the story, you can simply use the first thing that pops to mind–the wizard boy, or the hobbit’s ring or something else to help you denote which story is which. Alternately, you can use the working title as a note to help, a la I Write Sins Not Tragedies.

You might also find it helpful to use the working title as a way to test out your actual title. It can help to put WT at the end so you can avoid attaching to any titles that don’t work for that story.

What are some of your working titles?

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Where Fate Ends

The horses snorted a little as the cart drew to a stop and Briom glanced at the boy next to him. There was still a chance to change his mind, he realized.

Reminded of why he was doing this, Briom’s resolve hardened. “We’re here,” he said.

His face serious for being only eight, Davise slid out of the seat easily. Briom waited a moment longer before he joined the boy on the ground. There were only three steps up to the door, but he was careful, waiting for Davise to go up them first. He knocked, the fine material of his thick cloak opening to reveal the heavily embroidered belt he wore and the thick chain around his neck.

It took a moment for the door to open, though the face behind it didn’t look even remotely surprised. Her dark brown hair had been pulled over one shoulder, and one brow quirked up.

“Hello,” Briom said.

“Well come in then,” Liria said and stepped back.

He motioned Davise in first, and then followed. Liria shut the door behind them. “Mind the glass,” she called and lead the way to the back. “I just put the kettle on.”

Most of the front room was taken over with shelves dedicated to books, but the central shelves were full of detailed glass sculptures. He marveled at these for a moment before stepping through the short door and into the kitchen. “Go, sit,” Briom said and patted Davise’s back gently to encourage him to do so.

Liria smiled. “There’s a cushion on the one in the middle,” she said.

“Thank you,” Davise said politely, and moved to that one, climbing into it and smiling as he settled into it.

Briom couldn’t but smile at that and inclined his head at Liria. “You look good,” he said.

“You mean I look better than the last time you saw me,” she said.

“That’s—well. It’s been a few years.”

“Briom, you haven’t seen me since I was a teen,” she said.

A rare laugh escaped him. She was right and he had to shake his head. “Yes,” he agreed.

“Who is she, Papa?”

He looked over and smiled a little. “This is your Aunt Liria,” he said. “She’s got magic, just like yours.”

Davise’s eyes widened. “You mean with the ice?”

“Indeed!” Liria said. “Specifically, it’s called cyclical magic, and our particular kind deals with the magic of winter. More—ah, forgive me. I’m rambling.”

The kettle whistled and Liria turned, moving to pull it off. “Let me make it,” Briom said and Liria looked at him and he smiled. “It’d be an honor.”

Her gaze narrowed slightly but she nodded. “Very well,” she said.

He smiled a little as he made the tea. He kept careful track of the cups as he added the sugar, he knew his son would like, and a dose of something extra. “Do you take sugar, Liria?”

“Oh, no, I can’t stand the stuff,” Liria said. “Some rather unpleasant memories associated with sugar.”

His son frowned a little as the tea was set in front of him. “What do you here?”

“Oh, for Reverie? Not too much. Mostly just teach.”

“Mostly?”

“Yes, mostly. Occasionally I’m a little bit of a merchant, storyteller, mediator.” Liria considered it. “That list of titles really has come down. Disappointing.”

“What do you mean it’s come down?” the boy asked.

“Oh I used to have dozens of titles. Let’s see, there was being a scholar, and a professor, tiny bit of a thief but really that one I’m not terribly proud of, adept, messenger, traveling merchant, adventurer in generally.”

“You’ve gone on adventures?”

“Oh plenty,” Liria said and sipped her tea. “Let me see, where to start?”

Briom was silent, letting Liria entertain his son with a story. As she told it, Davise began to nod, tired from the travel and from the additive in his tea.

It was only when his head nearly hit the table and he jerked awake that Briom chuckled. “Bed, I think.”

“Are we sleeping in the carriage?”

Briom didn’t answer right away, only glancing at Liria, who inclined her head slightly. “No,” he said. “We’ll stay here the night.”

Liria smiled as Briom stood, coming over to guide the boy over to the small room off the kitchen. The bed was made, he saw and Liria pulled the covers down. “Sleep well,” he murmured as Davise tumbled into bed.

He stepped out again, closing the door softly and resting against it for a moment.

Liria’s hand was gentle on his elbow. “You know by leaving him here, he won’t be able to leave. He will be Reverie’s next protector.”

“I know,” Briom said and turned away. “But our father is sickening, and I can feel it sinking in. You said you never found a way to break the curse on the home.”

“No,” Liria said and turned away, going to the kitchen table. “It’s worse. There is no curse on the home.”

“What do you mean?” Briom said.

“It’s not a curse, it’s the price of magic,” Liria said. There was a tiredness in her voice as she said it. “Magic extends its price until fully paid. Someone who owned the home before our father used a spell at which point likely killed the original spell caster. Since the spell was cast, the price needed to be paid, if there was no familial or emotional connection to carry out the cost then it would have settled into the area.”

“Then if we moved the family home it would no longer affect us?” Briom asked.

“That’s where things get tricky,” Liria said. “The Baron made it our family home, and when he did so, it could very much mean that the price of that magic will follow our family no matter where they go.”

Briom sighed and had to sink into a seat. “Can you—you’re an expert in magic. Isn’t there something you can do?”

“Unfortunately, not. The price for magic can’t be changed. It’s nonnegotiable, and situations like this are exactly why any magic user needs to be so careful with their spells,” Liria said.

He put his head in his hands with a groan. The silence fell around them for several moments before he exhaled and looked up at her.

Liria was right, he hadn’t seen her in years, though he was grateful she hadn’t mentioned exactly when he’d seen her last. Though watching as she fought their father and a powerful binding spell was something that still haunted his nightmares.

“I can feel it,” Briom said finally and looked up at her. “Father’s gotten sick, so a lot of his responsibilities are mine and I can feel it. Like some lurking beast around every corner. It’s…it’s not like Father yet, but it’s there.”

Liria nodded slightly. “Well,” she said. “If this is truly what you wish, then I’ll look after him, but I do hope you know what you’re dooming him to. He will be Reverie’s next protector.”

“I’d rather doom him to a long life at the edge of this miserable forest than a short one as the next Baron of Storms,” Briom said.

She smiled slightly. “I suppose that’s that then,” she said. “Well, the other bed isn’t much, but I suppose I can at least offer it to you for the night.”

“No, I need to be going. He should sleep until about midmorning.”

“Then I’ll wake you with the dawn,” Liria said.

Briom looked at her. “You can’t be serious,” he said.

“I’m really not much of one for jokes. Outside the realm of my talents, really. Lies, half-truths, stories, those I can all tell. Jokes really do escape me.”

He was silent for a long moment before he nodded. “Very well,” he said. “But I won’t rob you of your bed.”

“Oh hardly,” Liria said. “I’ve known you’d bring your son to me for years. I have two guest beds and I have mine. You’re just going to have to make do with the second guest bed, that’s all.”

“How long have you known?” Briom asked.

“Oh, let me see, I think…twenty six years now?”

“He’s only eight,” Briom said.

“Fate has a funny way of working out like that,” Liria said.

Briom frowned. “You’ve had your fate read?”

“Multiple times, actually. This was just one certainty that never changed. There are others.”

“Like what?”

Liria smiled, a little sadly. “I’ve already told you,” she said. “He can’t be Reverie’s protector if he’s the Baron of Storms, and he can’t be the Baron if he’s Reverie’s protector.”

The realization of what she was saying punched his gut. “He’ll become protector when you die,” he said.

“Yes,” Liria said. “That’s years from now. I have a few adventures left in me and you have your fate to live out still.”

“Do you know my fate?”

“I’m many things, but a Fate Reader I am not. If you want to know where your fate ends, that’s something you’d have to ask someone with a different kind of magic than what I or your son possess. Neither of us can tell you.”


by A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this and would like more to read, you can find more on the Books page and the Short Stories page.

Posted in Exercises, General

30 Day Shorts IV

Part I is here. Part II is here. Part III is here and you’re on part IV right now!

Day 18 and 19
Absolutely no shorts written. To be fair, the 18th was also another writing-free day.

Day 20
I got a short written early this morning. Hoping I get more done as I’m about five shorts behind.  Current title is ‘Learning’.

Day 21
Finished one short early in the day titled ‘Petal Soft’. I also managed to start another short before bed titled ‘A Sister’s Love’.

Day 22
Managed to finish the short I started yesterday. Also did another short currently titled ‘Big Announcements.’ Still well behind where I should be but getting closer to catching up.

Day 23
I managed to get three very short flash pieces done today. The largest of them, currently titled ‘An Adventurer’s Binds’ is only 306 words. The other two, ‘A Suitor Declined’ and ‘Desert Wood’ are 230 and 233 respectively.

Day 24
Just one short finished today, bringing my current total up to twenty-two. Latest title is ‘Words and Actions’.

 

Posted in General, writing

30 Day Shorts III

You can check out the first two parts here and here.

Day 11
I ended up not writing anything today. Mostly spent it working on some art instead of writing.

Day 12
Another writing-free day. I spent it looking through my various projects and organizing some notes.

Day 13
Got some flash pieces done! They were more to get me back into the mindset of a particular series so aren’t much more than fluff scenes. I ended up with two; ‘Puppy Love’ and ‘Marry Me’.

Day 14
Ended up using today’s word list to get a short piece done for my main project. It spanned a little longer than I expected it to, clocking in at just over a thousand. Currently titled ‘Genius’.

Day 15
Nothing short written today, but a little bit more done on one of my main projects.

Day 16
Again, nothing short written, but a lot of good stuff written for my main projects. A little worried about how I’ll catch up on all the shorts at this point, but that’s the point of a challenge is to push and see how much I can do.

Day 17
I got a short flash piece done this morning! While I’m still behind, having one done takes some of the worry off. Current title is ‘Housekeeping’.