Category Archives: short stories

New Year’s Resolutions 2012

New Year’s Resolutions 2012

I can’t figure out which is more unbelievable: (1) that I’ve let nearly two months go by without posting here, or (2) that it’s time for New Year’s Resolutions again. Every year on the blog, I take the New Year’s Resolutions I made last year and evaluate how I did with keeping them. Then I make new resolutions for the year to come. I’ve been doing this for, what, going on six years now? Hey, it’s a tradition! And it’s always instructive about how my goals — and even my attitudes — can change.

thomma lyn grindstaff, southern fiction, appalachian fiction, heart's chalice, magical realism

Here are my old resolutions for 2011, in bold type:

1. Get Heart’s Chalice submission-ready. I WILL do this. No kerTHUNKs. No excuses.

*applause* — I accomplished this goal. I got Heart’s Chalice whipped into fine shape, thanks to my faithful Beta readers and to the expertise of my wonderful editor, Susan Helene Gottfried, whom I have titled Editor Laureate of the Universe (fellow indies, if you’re looking for someone who can help you polish your manuscript to a high shine, look no farther than Susan: she’s both a top-notch writer and a top-notch editor).

2. Get an agent for Heart’s Chalice (and future novels).

Here’s an example of how goals can radically change. I decided to go indie instead, and I’m self-publishing my fiction as ebooks (so far, I’ve released two novels including Heart’s Chalice, a novella, a collection of flash fiction, and two individual short stories). Going indie isn’t right for everyone — heck, there’s no one path that’s right for everyone — but it’s right for me, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. If you’re interested in Heart’s Chalice (it’s a page-turner, even if I do say so myself), it’s for sale at Amazon’s Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Smashwords. And you might like to check out a stellar review. To browse the rest of my offerings, check out the sidebar of this blog, my website, or my Amazon Author Page.

3. Keep my freelance writing going — very important, high priority, and freelancing is wonderful, as well, for honing my writer’s tool kit.

*applause* — I accomplished this goal, too, and I am proud and happy to be working as Content Specialist for Blue Volcano Media, an outstanding web marketing and creative content company that’s growing, growing, growing. Exciting times lie ahead! *~*~*happy dance!*~*~* Working for Blue Volcano Media is an important part of my writing career, and I’m delighted to be a part of such a fabulous team.

4. Perhaps write completely different sorts of novels under a pseudonym. I’m going to be very mysterious about this. *singing* — “Oh no, I’ve said too much… I haven’t said enough.” LOL (apologies to R.E.M.)

kerTHUNK. And no, I’m not going to explain the mystery, either. Just forget I ever said it. T’was a bad idea. For me, anyway. (What was I thinking?!)

5. Get my original music out there. I have many songs and instrumental pieces, and they’re tired of being cooped up.

kerTHUNK. For numerous reasons, it just didn’t happen. But 2012 will be a different story (read on).

6. Draft Deirdre of the Sorrows.

kerTHUNK. Didn’t happen. Deirdre is still on my mind’s shelf, though, and it will be written soon.

And here are my New Year’s Resolutions for 2012.

1. Currently, I’m planning a novel-to-be, working title of Maestro. The brainstorming is going fabulously, and my muse is kicking up her heels. Maestro is already hitting my sweet spot, and I haven’t even started writing it yet. In 2012, I want to get Maestro finished, edited, and available for purchase on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.

2. I’d also like to get Deirdre of the Sorrows finished, edited, and available for purchase on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.

3. Continue to do my very best work as Content Specialist for Blue Volcano Media — what a wonderful job!

4. Get my original music (songs and instrumental pieces, composed on the piano and played and sung by yours truly) out there.

5. In addition to Maestro and Deirdre of the Sorrows, I’d like to write and make available for purchase other pieces of fiction, including short stories and possibly a novella or two. When you’re an indie author, it’s an excellent thing to have numerous fictional pieces available for readers who discover you and love your work.

6. BLOG MORE. And yes, I mean that. Both here and on Grace Notes, my creative writing blog, where I’d like to post flash fiction related to my works-in-progress.

7. This one isn’t a goal. It’s a “maybe.” But possibly — just possibly — I’ll release one or more of my titles in print.

Happy New Year, everybody! :D

Catching Up… and Going Indie!

Catching Up… and Going Indie!

Oh my goodness, will you look at the tumbleweeds on this blog! I’ve neglected this poor little blog since July, but it seems like I’ve only turned around twice while three months somehow zipped by. My summer was a blur. I stayed extremely busy with my freelance writing endeavors — good busy, but busy nonetheless.

Our garden did fabulously. It was the best yet. You wouldn’t believe all the green beans, and we had huge, red tomatoes. We grew cabbage, green and banana peppers, onions, potatoes, and squash out the yin yang. We love squash, and this year, we planted the yellow variety as well as zucchini and butternut squash (YUMMY). We ate stir fry until we almost popped.

I’ve been hiking as time permits, but that has slowed way down. Still, I take opportunities as I can to get up on what I think of as the Magic Mountain. It’s a wonderful place to get perspective, and I don’t mean just visually. Fall is in full swing on the mountain, and the autumn colors are gorgeous. Here are pictures from a (fairly) recent hike.

fall leaves, autumn, east tennessee, southern appalachia

Autumn Leaves and Blue Sky

mountain trail, east tennessee, appalachian mountains
Sunlit Mountain Trail

autumn leaves, east tennessee, appalachian mountains

Fall Comes to the Forest

=-=

Last but not least, I’ve decided to get my fiction out there as an independent author. Soon, I’ll publish four books to Smashwords, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Amazon Kindle (all digital formats, but at some point, I might decide to make print editions available). By soon, I mean very soon. I’m in the process of finalizing the formatting on my mss, revising my website, and soon, I’ll add links on this blog and upload my revised website.

Without further ado, here are the books I’ll be offering:

Heart’s Chalice (novel, dark edgy women’s fiction)
Destiny rarely gives a woman a second chance at love, especially not with a man who died twenty years ago.

As a young woman, Laurel misinterpreted a psychic vision, causing the death of her first and only love. She has lived with the guilt ever since. Two decades later, struggling to free herself from a toxic marriage, she’s pulled to an alternate reality where her beloved still lives. There, she’s the dead one, and he and their children are grieving for her. When she tries to contact them, they think she’s a ghost or a product of their wishful thinking.

She desperately wants to remain in her family’s reality and connect with them. By enjoying a long, happy life with the man she loves, she can rectify her mistake and free herself from her guilt. But she’s running out of time. Every shift between realities damages her body further. And her soon-to-be-ex will stop at nothing to shackle her to a life she despises.

~*~

ripples, ripples short stories, thomma lyn grindstaff, stories by thomma lyn grindstaffRipples (short stories, magical realism)
If Heart’s Chalice, the novel, is a waterfall, then these short stories are its ripples.

 The short stories in Ripples can serve either as the reader’s introduction to the characters who populate my novel Heart’s Chalice, or as a supplement for readers who have already read the novel.

Most of the stories in Ripples take place before the main action of Heart’s Chalice, when Laurel and Nate are teenagers, growing up in their famlies of origin. Some of the stories, however, are woven into the novel’s in-between spaces.

 ~*~

patchwork stained glass, thomma lyn grindstaff, novels by thomma lyn grindstaff, novel by thomma lyn grindstaff
Patchwork Stained Glass (Novel — Book Club Fiction)
An atheist falls for a country preacher. Can love triumph over two conflicting ideologies?

Romilly Shepard spent her childhood with abusive parents, and as a college student, she finds comfort in the hard facts of science. She lives with her friend Martha, also an atheist, and they see each other as like-minded rationalists who stand elbow-to-elbow against a hopelessly irrational world. Intent on debunking, Romilly and Martha sign up for a comparative religion class, but the instructor, a graduate student and preacher named Ernest, challenges Romilly’s assumptions. His open-mindedness and tolerance broaden Romilly’s mind and win her heart.

Martha feels betrayed by Romilly’s love for a preacher, and Ernest’s congregation thinks Romilly is a heathen in need of salvation. Friction mounts between Romilly and Ernest, and she fears she’s nothing more than his Convert-an-Atheist Project. But when a chronic disease threatens Ernest’s life, labels given by other people no longer seem so important. Romilly takes a crash course in faith and hope — faith in Ernest’s love, hope for his healing. In doing so, she learns to embrace their differences and not fear them, but has her awakening come too late?

~*~

thy eternal summer, novella by thomma lyn grindstaff, thomma lyn grindstaffThy Eternal Summer (novella, contemporary romance)
Can an older couple overcome the memories of their deceased spouses and enjoy a spicy Golden Years romance?
(This novel was previously published in 2006 by Chippewa Publishing, which went out of business in 2007. The rights reverted back to me, so now, I’m re-releasing it.)

Sarah Harrison is a housewife and the mother of two grown children, but her marriage is tainted by alcoholism and emotional abuse. When her husband Ed drowns in a river at an RV park in Tennessee, she’s on her own for the first time in her life. She can’t drive the Winnebago to return to their home in North Carolina.

Max McCloud, newly retired from NASA, is parked next to Ed and Sarah’s Winnebago. He designs aircraft components online with his friends and misses his late wife, Adela, who died the previous year. He befriends the newly widowed Sarah and offers to drive her home in her Winnebago.

Can their new friendship and potential romantic attachment overcome the memories of their deceased spouses and provide them with the kind of Golden Years they both desire?

=-=

Why am I going indie, you might ask. My answer: Why not? These days, opportunities made possible by the internet have created many intriguing paths an author can take, and one size never fits all. Of course, writers — especially new writers — need to do their research so they’ll know what they’re getting into. But I’ve been doing this fiction-writing thing for quite a while now. I’ve learned a lot, and I feel good about the path I’m preparing to walk.

Trade publishing — whether with big New York houses or smaller houses — is great for some, but for others, especially us do-it-yourself types, self-publishing holds considerable promise. I’m excited about this new venture, and I hope you will be, too.

So watch this space (and this blog)!  More information is on its way, as well as more frequent blog posts. :)

Oh, How the Garden Grows!

Oh, How the Garden Grows!

The broccoli is floreting:

The cabbage is becoming heady:

We’re staggering our corn crop this year.  Here are the elder rows, reaching for the sky…

…while the youngest are beginning to sprout.

We’re also staggering our green bean crop.  Here are the elder rows, which should start beaning out soon now…

…and here are the young’uns.

And meanwhile on the mountain are multiple clusters of ghost flowers — even more than last year.

The tadpoles are doing well, and as long as we keep getting decent rain, their pond should prove sufficient for frogging out.

And last but never least, the mountain laurel is blooming.

On the writing front:  I’m brainstorming my next novel-to-be, Deirdre of the Sorrows, while I allow Heart’s Chalice, the novel for which I recently completed first-pass revisions, to bake.  Come July, I’ll dive into second-pass revisions for Heart’s Chalice.  In the meantime, my muse is having great time with Deirdre.

I haven’t felt as creative with short fiction and poetry lately, but that creativity is going, instead, into music (songwriting).  Believe me, I’m not complaining.  I love time spent at my piano.

Catching Up (or trying to)

Catching Up (or trying to)

I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long.  Time has really gotten away from me.  *blinks*, is 2010 already half-gone?  Or nearly so?  It simply can’t be!

Sigh.  Plea to time:  SLOW DOWN, why don’t ya!?

Let’s see — first off, my friend Gwen Mitchell bestowed upon me the Soulmate Award.  Thanks, Gwennie!

It comes with four rules:

1. Five recipients.
2. Make up something about the people you give the award to.
3. Link to the people you give it to.
4. Link back to the original award post.

Bwahahaha. *rubbing hands together*  Here we go:

Dorothy Bumber.  She and I, kindred spirits, both have faeries who live in our gardens and tend our flowers and veggies.

Ann Pino.  Her rabbit, Cadbury, and my cat, MaoMao, are one and the same, and their secret lies in shapeshifting.  And in all seriousness, please check out Ann’s newly released novel, Maelstrom.  It rocks — quite literally. One heck of a fun read.

Susan Helene Gottfried.  Trevor and Mitchell, from her fictional band ShapeShifter, are actually real people, and they like to come over and jam with me while I play my piano.

Jannie Funster.  She and I are twins separated at birth — storytellers and musicians who tell stories through our music and make music via our stories, and we commune on projects whilst we dream.

Leah Utas.  We are both ardent mountain climbers and are looking forward to the challenge of Mt. Everest.

And speaking of awards, my friend Paige gave me the Happiness 101 Award.  Cool beans, and thank you!

As part and parcel of this award, I must tell ten things that make me happy.  Not hard at all, I assure you.  I’ll even provide photo illustrations, where appropriate. ;)

1.  Watching the garden grow.  Or should I say, explode.  We used fertilizer this year, and well… talk about some huge vegetation.  The cabbage plants are enormous, and the potato plants are twice as tall this year as last.  And though I feared we’d have a dry spring, we’ve gotten fairly decent rain.

Check out this garden.  Soon we’ll be getting all kinds of yummies, and in the meantime, we’ll keep picking the bugs off the potato plants.

Our potato plants (hopefully, you can’t see the bugs):

Broccoli plant working on a floret:

Ginormous cabbage plants:

Green bean plants that are already climbing their wires:

Tomato plants, already hanging full of developing tomatoes:

And sprouting corn:

2.  Hiking.  I’m not a writer who can do constant BIC (butt-in-chair).  I consider myself productive, actually quite driven, but I’ve got to get out and shake off the mold on a regular basis.  No, on a frequent basis.  And for me, that means going to the mountain.  Every hike is different.  There’s always something new to see.  For example, fresh ghost flowers, growing in the same location as the old ones from last year, which are still standing like mummified matchsticks.  As you can see, the new ones are just now pushing themselves out of the dirt.  Ghost flowers are fascinating — rare and strange and lovely.  You can read more about them here.

Thanks to recent rain, the tadpoles on the mountain are thriving and still have a well-watered pond.  Here’s a tadpole hanging out in a skeletonized leaf:

Soon, there’ll be scrumptious snacking on the mountain — behold, blackberries in development.  In my appetite for blackberries, I rival any black bear.

The forest looks particularly lush after a spring rain.

The mountain laurel is starting to bloom.  Here are the first blossoms I’ve seen, this warm season.  The rest of the laurel will soon follow suit.

And no series of spring-on-the-mountain pictures would be complete without a dazzling drift of daisies.

3.  Writing novels.  I’m proud of myself, having recently completed first-pass revisions to Heart’s Chalice.  But much work remains to be done on that novel.  I’m going to let it bake for the rest of June, then come July, I will dive, in earnest, into second-pass revisions.  This story has been a long time coming together, but I believe — hope — it’ll be worth the wait.

During June, I’ll brainstorm rewrites to House on Bear Branch, to be retitled Deirdre of the Sorrows.  I also have a completed novel, Patchwork Stained Glass, on my plate, on which I have put final polish.  And more novels are bubbling in the constantly-churning stew of my mind.  Stay tuned for updates.

4.  Writing short fiction.  Check out my story blog, Grace Notes, to read flash fiction based on my novel-in-progress, Heart’s Chalice.  I haven’t updated Grace Notes in a while, because I’ve been focused on revising the actual novel.  Another consideration — I don’t want to tap out Heart’s Chalice short fiction before the book can come out.  But I will be writing short fiction again, you can count on it — whether about Heart’s Chalice, or another novel.

5. Playing piano and writing music.  While my inner editor has been ruthlessly whacking at my novel, my muse has come out to indulge my other great artistic passion:  music.  I’m entering a new songwriting phase, and I’m finding it particularly delightful.  At some point (hopefully soon), I plan on recording my music and making it available online.

6.  Ballicai.  In other words, my much-loved cats.

Marilyn MonREOW:

Dorydoo:

Brainball and MaoMao:

7.  Writing and reading poetry.  Often, my poems become song lyrics.  If they’re sufficiently lyrical and rhythmic, that is.

8.  Studying philosophy.  I’ve been doing quite a bit of that lately.  Everything from ancient Greek thought to modern philosophers.  The meaning of philosophy is “love of wisdom”, and that’s a direction I seek to grow: in wisdom.

9. Blogging.  Yes, I still enjoy blogging, even if time is passing too quickly, I keep crazy-busy, and I don’t wind up blogging as often as I would like.  I’m fairly active on Facebook, and from time to time, on Twitter.

10.  Love and friendship.  Speak for themselves, in a way which can’t be done justice in words.

Spring is Getting Springier!

Spring is Getting Springier!

The daffodils are still spiffy…

The rhubarb has grown…

The garden is ready to be planted…

The periwinkle is blooming on the mountain…

Buds are forming high in the trees…

And waterfalls are flowing…

Flowing…

And flowing…

And (you guessed it) flowing.

Writing update:

  1. Check out Grace Notes for more of my flash fiction (I’ve been writing stories which are based in the world of my novel-in-progress Heart’s Chalice and peopled by its characters, though in the fullness of time, Grace Notes will encompass stand-alone flash fiction as well as flash fiction based on my other novels).
  2. Deep-edits of Heart’s Chalice are going well.  I figure I’m close to halfway through.  It’s a painstaking task.  I wrote the rough draft so quickly for NaNoWriMo — pumped out 135,000 words in a month and a half.  The heavy revisions (which involve much cutting) are proving to be NaNo’s Revenge.  The story is there, but I’m working hard to excavate, clarify, and amp it up.  I love the story and its characters, and I intend to do my very best job by them.
  3. As ever, I’m the Queen of Rewriting.  I have several stories which I hope to rework and get out there.  My long-term readers might remember House on Bear Branch, a novel I wrote for NaNo in 2007.  It’s had two and a half years to bake, and now, I’m planning to rewrite it, change the title to Deirdre of the Sorrows and turn it into a spooky love story.  I’ll work on Deirdre of the Sorrows while Heart’s Chalice bakes for its next pass of revisions.
  4. And there’s Patchwork Stained Glass.  Which was known back in 2006 as Occam’s Razors.  Guess what.  I want to rewrite it yet again.  Yes, I can hear the groans.  But what’s the famous quote by James Michener — “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”  Ha!  Rewriting can make all the difference between a story that’s “pretty good” and one that’s WOWIE KAZOWIE.  In Patchwork Stained Glass, two young people fall in love who have different — and opposing — ideas about spirituality.  Will love triumph over ideology?  Well… you’ll have to see.  Heck, I’ll have to see, given the fact that I plan to rewrite the thing. ;)
  5. Last but not least:  there’s Thy Eternal Summer, a novella I wrote back in 2005.  A love story featuring an older couple, it was published in 2006 by a little e-pub which went belly-up the following year.  I’ve thought about revisiting the story, spiffing it up, and offering it as a serialized tale on my blog.

When Pigs Fly (flash fiction)

When Pigs Fly (flash fiction)

(I wrote this for Sunday Scribblings – more of Laurel and Nate, from my novel-in-progress Heart’s Chalice. These flash fiction pieces, though they take place before the main action of the novel, are not necessarily being written in chronological order. Another point of interest for this story:  it takes place in the late eighties, before digital cameras came along.)

“I know the perfect picture,” Laurel said. “Come on.” She led Nate into the house, and they found Mom sitting in the living room, reading a magazine.

Mom set her magazine aside. “Hi, kids.”

Laurel and Nate replied in unison.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Hi, Mrs. Nave.”

Nate took a seat on the couch, and Laurel approached Mom. “Look what Nate just gave me for my birthday.” She held out the silver, heart-shaped locket she wore around her neck. “Isn’t it gorgeous?”

Mom touched it, then moved her hand away. “It’s sweet.”

Rolling her eyes, Laurel joined Nate on the couch. The locket was infinitely better than “sweet”, but she wouldn’t argue. “It needs a picture,” she said. “Of Nate.”

“Well, I should think you have lots of those,” Mom said.

“Yeah, but I need one where his face is small enough to fit. Remember the picture you took of me and Nate standing by his car? When he got his license?”

Mom thought a moment, then nodded. “It should be in the envelope with the rest of that roll of film.”

“So where’s the envelope?”

“In my bedroom.” But Mom made no move to go get it. Instead, she studied Laurel and Nate as though she’d pressed them into a slide and put them under her mind’s microscope.

Something about the locket had gotten under Mom’s skin.

Laurel took Nate’s hand and gave him a sidelong glance. He looked much cooler than she felt. Was it grace under pressure? Goodness knew he’d had plenty of opportunities to perfect that over the years.

“Don’t you think you two are a little young to be so serious?” Mom asked.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake.  It’s a locket, not an engagement ring.” Mom didn’t have to know that Laurel and Nate talked about getting married when they were old enough. Maybe once they were out of college.

“You’ll be out of high school before you know it.” Mom fixed her gaze on Nate. “Have you thought about what you want to do with your life?”

Laurel squeezed Nate’s hand. I’m sorry, she thought at him. He squeezed her hand back. It’s okay, his squeeze said. This was her mom, after all. And parents could get nosy. Maybe Nate appreciated a nosy parent. His parents wouldn’t care if he tried to hitchhike to the North Pole on a polar bear.

“Well, Mrs. Nave,” Nate said, “Laurel and I are going to Southern Mountain State University, and you know I like to write stories–”

“Stories are no way to make a living,” Mom said.

As Laurel nibbled on her tongue, Nate said, patiently, “I want to become a science fiction novelist. And while I’m working on that, I plan to support myself by teaching.”

“Teaching doesn’t make money. You’re a smart young man. You ought to talk to Laurel’s dad about studying law.”

Nate was as likely to become a lawyer as he was to become the Abominable Snowman. “But writing is Nate’s dream,” Laurel said.

“He has to face facts and live in the real world,” Mom said. “Dreams aren’t going to put food on the table.”

“Nate will give up his dream when pigs fly.”

Mom pressed her lips together, and the three of them sat in awkward silence. Laurel shifted uneasily, and Mom drummed her fingers on the arms of her recliner. Nate, on the other hand, didn’t twitch.

Finally, Laurel asked, “So will you get me that picture?”

Mom stood up as though it took all her effort and headed out of the room.

“Your mom doesn’t think I’m good enough for you,” Nate whispered, lowering his chin to his hand.

“No, you’re perfectly fine,” Laurel said as she gently rubbed his back. “It’s just that Mom doesn’t have any imagination.”

It Won’t Pass for Flowers (flash fiction)

It Won’t Pass for Flowers (flash fiction)

(I wrote this for Three Word Wednesday — more of Laurel and Nate, from my novel-in-progress Heart’s Chalice. These flash fiction pieces, though they take place before the main action of the novel, are not necessarily being written in chronological order.)

Laurel kept her hand on Nate’s knee as he drove them to the trailhead. Nate’s brother, Ian, had moved to Florida six months ago. Aside from one call, no one had heard a word. Since it was Ian’s birthday today, Laurel knew he was weighing heavily on Nate’s mind.

When Laurel and Nate were little kids, Ian had brought them to the mountain for summer picnics. So when Laurel had suggested she and Nate honor Ian by taking a hike on the mountain, Nate had lit up as though she’d flipped a switch.

“Let’s explore,” he said as they parked at the trailhead. “See what we find.”

Sounded great to her.

They got out of Nate’s car and hiked up the trail. Everywhere Laurel looked was a riot of green, every shade imaginable. The mountain laurel, her namesake, was in bloom, delicate blossoms in light pink and white which looked like wedding bouquets.

They reached the area of the forest where they’d picnicked with Ian years ago. They’d never been farther than this. Here, they must choose between three trails.

Nate scratched his chin. “Which one?”

Two of the trails were marked with yellow, indicating well-used horse trails. But the third, unmarked, rose parallel to the creek branch. “Let’s take that one,” Laurel said.

“You have a good feeling about it?”

“I think we’ll run up on something interesting.”

Grinning, Nate picked a laurel blossom and tucked it tidily behind Laurel’s ear.

They hiked on. The trail got steeper, and Laurel wiped sweat off her forehead. If she and Nate kept at this hiking thing, they’d get in better shape. But they were moving on at a pretty good clip. Too good a clip. Nate tripped on a tree root, pitched forward, and broke his fall with his hands.

Laurel caught up to him. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I–” he began. His gaze riveted on the brush that lined the trail. “Oh crap.”

Laurel looked. A skunk hunkered with its head lowered and its tail held high. She’d heard somewhere to talk to skunks to calm them down. But what should she say to a skunk?

“Run!” Nate cried.

That was the last thing they should do. “No, no, we need to–”

Before Laurel could finish, Nate scrambled to his feet, kicking up dirt and making one heck of a racket.

She who hesitates is lost. The skunk let loose. Laurel had smelled skunks before, but always from a distance. This skunk was only five feet away. Oh, the stench! It soaked their bare legs and arms, and the front of their shorts and tank tops. Laurel got some of the spray in her mouth and gagged.

“Blargh!” She spat, then clutched at Nate so hard she pulled him down. They tumbled on the trail and landed in the brush. The skunk waddled away as fast as it could go. Laurel and Nate would be lucky if they didn’t get poison ivy. That would be just peachy: the mother of all itches on top of the the mother of all stinks.

Nate roared, his eyes bulging. Scrambling to his hands and knees, he puked on the edge of the trail. Laurel tried breathing through her mouth, but that was even worse. She gagged again.

She flopped back onto her butt. Silence, except for the rustle of branches in wind.

Then Nate brayed laughter. Disbelieving, Laurel turned to look at him. He rolled back and forth on the trail, howling and stinking, stinking and howling. She began to laugh, too, so hard that her tears flowed. She crawled over to Nate and they held each other, shrieking laughter into each other’s reeking shoulders.

When Nate could talk, he said, “Yup, we ran into something interesting, all right.”

“It never occurred to me…” Laurel shrugged, still giggling. Sometimes her premonitions and feelings threw her for a loop.

Or made her stinky.

But something told her to keep hiking. Just a little farther.

“Let’s go back and get rid of this smell,” Nate said. “I’ve got baking soda and hydrogen peroxide–”

“No, let’s go on.”

“What?” he said, goggling at her. “You want to get sprayed by a battalion next?”

She smiled. “Trust me.”

He raised an eyebrow at her, then nodded.

Yup, Nate’s a keeper.

They hiked on up the trail. A faint roar reached Laurel’s ears. Big water. Her entire face broke into a smile. “I was right,” she said, as much to herself as to Nate.

“What?”

“There is something wonderful up here.”

“Wonderful sounds better than interesting.”

“Come on.” She ran up the trail, and Nate followed. The roar got louder; the creek branch grew narrower. The ragged brush by the side of the trail became a tangly laurel thicket.

Laurel and Nate crested a hill. And into Laurel’s view came a waterfall, eight feet high and majestic as water frothed and foamed down into the creek branch.

“Look,” she said, pointing. “A shower.”

Nate chuckled. “If only we had some soap.”

They splashed into the creek branch. Laurel reveled in the water rushing against her legs almost as much as she thrilled to Nate’s warm hug.

No matter how many skunks on their trail, love didn’t stink.

Dreams (flash fiction)

Dreams (flash fiction)

(I wrote this for Sunday Scribblings, prompt “ethics / ethical.”  Here’s more of Laurel and Nate, from my novel-in-progress Heart’s Chalice.  Chronologically, this story takes place before the action of the novel.)

If only Laurel could give Nate a hint. But as Mom said, second sight wasn’t an exact science.

They sat on the soft ground between the cedar trees. The waterfall’s roar was louder here, but they didn’t mind. It seemed a part of their conversation.

“If it helps, I believe in you,” Laurel said.

“But what if I just plain suck?” This morning, Nate had gotten a rejection from Ad Astra, a well-known science fiction magazine.

“You don’t suck. Remember, you got acceptances from both Vortex and Neutrinos.”

“But they’re small potatoes. They’d publish anything.”

“That’s not true,” Laurel said, caressing his knee. “You’re running yourself down again. Stop it.”

The worry-lines in Nate’s forehead smoothed a bit. “Sometimes your faith in me is what keeps me going.”

Laurel picked up a twig and drew random designs in the leaf-litter. With his talent and hard work, surely Nate would build a name for himself as a science-fiction author. From her second sight, she got glints and glimmers of a future for herself in music. But for Nate, all that came through was a question mark.

That wasn’t so weird. Laurel’s visions couldn’t be forced. Nate understood that, in theory, but oh how he angsted, in practice! To his mind, it meant he was destined to fail. If he was this hard on himself at sixteen, he’d drive himself nuts at thirty.

He scooted toward the rightmost cedar tree. “Let’s forget about it and chill out.”

“Sounds good.”

Nate reached the tree and leaned back against it. Laurel moved toward him, then she stopped. The periphery of her sight filled with haze. A vision. But of what? Nate, the tree, the waterfall, the creek branch. Everything was the same.

No, something was changing. As Laurel watched, carvings slowly manifested on the tree’s trunk, above Nate’s head: his and Laurel’s initials, surrounded by a heart and emblazoned, in Nate’s handwriting, with “forever.”

Dimly, Nate’s voice registered. “What’s going on?”

He moved toward her, and the carvings on the tree disappeared. The haze framing her sight whirled in and obscured her view of everything: Nate, the tree, the creek branch. She flopped back on her bottom and looked wildly around. No matter where she tried to focus, it was the same. Nothing but gray. It reminded her of the night she and Nate had hiked in thick fog, unable to see more than five feet in front of them.

The gray disappeared so rapidly that the afternoon sunshine stung her eyes. She groaned and sat back on her bottom.

“Are you okay?” Nate asked.

Laurel didn’t know what to think. She joined him at the tree and snuggled in his arms. “Yeah. I just…” Should she tell him what she’d seen? If the carvings happened, they should be done in their own time. And the fog… who knew? Maybe it meant “be patient.”

“What did you see?” he urged.

She couldn’t tell him.  He’d worry too much, and worrying about mystery – trying to dissect it – only led to more mystery.  And Nate didn’t want mystery.  He wanted answers.

We’ll find out what Nate’s future holds.  Together.

“It was all jumbled up,” she said. “But let’s just say you’re stuck with me.”

He squeezed her close. “That’s the most important thing of all.”