Your Own Worst Adversary

I wrote a story that I can relate to personally. So many of us try to make our pain or illness more palatable to others (and ourselves) by resorting to humor. It’s a joke now that millennials suffer from near constant existential crises. Low wages, high costs of living, the crippling weight of student loan debt that so many of us were promised we’d easily pay off. These things are true in many countries around the world, but not all. But for those that do suffer under the weight of the odds stacked against us, I hope this story is cathartic in how you can relate to it. I hope you know you’re not alone.

 

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“I’m both my biggest fan and my biggest enemy,” she said laughing. Her friends all laughed too, agreeing vehemently, comrades in their self-loathing.

Later that night, she sat alone in her bedroom, dirty dishes piled high on her desk, bed linens unwashed these past four months.

“I’m not going to apologize for being me,” she posted on social media as she painted her nails red.

Her worth was exponentially higher than she would ever acknowledge, although her heart yearned to believe it.

Serotonin and dopamine, too low most of the time, spiking only when she gave voice to her pain.

©2019 Heather Stephens

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Pray He’s Gullible

Here’s a 100-word story. The prompt was “gullible.”

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“No, my lord. I haven’t told anyone,” the servant girl said as she quivered in fear.

The king-consort pressed up against her, forcing her against the wall as his hands cupped her face. “You do love me, don’t you Yvreta? Have I not rewarded you for your silence and…cooperation?”

She swallowed the bile that rose in her throat. “Yes, your grace.”

But the queen was already on her way with twelve armed men. Six dead girls and finally justice would be served.

He kissed her, his tongue penetrating her mouth.

Survive, she thought, praying he didn’t pick up the knife.

©2019 Heather Stephens

Roof

The prompt for this one was “roof.” If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I try to avoid expressing things explicitly, choosing instead to allude to sensations and emotions. I hope they come afross clearly.

I get overwhelmed when I attend places with too many stimuli, like Disneyland or a carnival. Busy places with large crowds always exhaust me. People with sensory issues are vulnerable in places like that because the stimuli overwhelm them, and they lose cognitive clarity and sometimes are unable to function safely. Look out for one another in this hectic world.

 

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The bright lights overwhelmed her vision, and her eyes were beginning to hurt. She tried to regain control of her breathing—in, then out. Count to three. In, then out.

It wasn’t working.

She tried to smile warmly at the children shrieking with joy at the attractions, but deep down, she resented them. It was one o’clock on a weekday. Why weren’t these kids at school?

She wanted to go on one more ride, or play one more carnival game, but that wouldn’t happen. She hated that she had to leave, that she wasn’t strong enough to stay. Sensory overload.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Freedom

A new story. Bittersweet this time. The prompt was “freedom.

I’ve been swamped with schoolwork, but it didn’t feel right to me to write about being free from school. As inspiring as a story about a graduation after years of struggle would be, it just didn’t fit in my mind. And, of course, look around you. I wasn’t going to write about patriotic freedom either.

So I found some other inspiration.

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She never thought she’d be okay again.

She’d grown accustomed to his warmth, his lingering presence. Sleeping alone was foreign to her, and she got no rest the first and second nights.

But on the third, she found she was already starting to spread out as she slept instead of sticking to the left side, her side.

The whole bed was her side now.

It wasn’t what she expected. It certainly wasn’t what she wanted. But she had always prided herself on her tenacity and drive to work with what she had. She made her own destiny.

Slowly happy again.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Villein

The prompt for this week from Thin Spiral Notebook was villein, which means “a feudal servant entirely subject to a lord.”

This story is open for your interpretation. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the subtext, who these characters are, what they want.

 

 

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She blinked up at him demurely, batted her eyelashes.

The blond man smiled at her. What a pretty thing, he thought. What a pretty, little, stupid thing.

He pulled her closer, sliding his hand from the small of her back to rest on her behind. She tittered sweetly.

“My lord, we mustn’t. I heard your brother, he said you’re not allowed—”

He captured her mouth with his, silencing her.

She melted into his arms, like he knew she would.

He could always tell when a woman needed his help. A night with the heir grants commoners a little status.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Body Image

For school, I’m reading a lot of literature about body image in both men and women, boys and girls. It got me thinking, so I wrote this.

 

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She prepares her breakfast at ten in the morning. A little late, but she’d foregone the alarm today on purpose.

Self-care is allowing yourself the freedom to exist as is.

Months ago, she skipped breakfast most days. And lunch. She’d have lean protein and vegetables for dinner.

But today she is having a breakfast burrito. She had the same thing yesterday. She will likely have the same thing tomorrow.

She loves the way her hair now gleams in the sunlight. She loves the way her thighs now touch. She loves herself. Genuinely.

Self-care is living life on your own terms.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Mule

The prompt was mule. One of the definitions of the word mule is:

a hybrid plant or animal, especially a sterile one.

 

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My mother was a sex worker. My father was a married man, well-respected in his industry. I’m not sure where that leaves me. My mom did the best she could to support me, but when she died, she didn’t leave me with any knowledge of how to take care of myself.

So I turned to him.

My father didn’t want anything to do with me, but he was wealthy enough to give me a stipend every month, so at least I could eat.

Then he died too, and I was left to go hungry.

I don’t know who I am.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Dark

We’re not afraid of the dark. We’re afraid of whatever it is that is lurking, able to see us, but we can’t see it. How can you fight something you don’t see coming? How can you flee if you don’t know what chases you? Or if it’s chasing you?

A fear of the dark is a fear of the unknown.

 

 

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For the most part, she liked living alone.

Top floor, three padlocks on the door. She put wooden dowels in every window. No one would be opening them. Not even her; she kept forgetting about the dowels whenever she tried to air out a room after deep-cleaning.

But she worked swing shift, stepping off the bus at eleven and walking through her door at eleven thirty. She always asked the doorman if everything was fine, and he never reported any problems.

Still.

Every creak, every noisy neighbor, every shattered bottle in the alley made her skin crawl.

Haunted by shadows.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Rain

The prompt was rain, and it made me miss Washington yet again. I miss it so much. While it’s nice to be able to have access to a sandy beach with actually warm ocean water, I’d much rather reserve California as a place to visit. Not a place to live. Not for someone like me, with a soul like mine, that craves the rain. That craves the shadows under dark clouds.

Someone who hides from the sun.

It overwhelms me. I despise it here. And I just don’t understand how I could ever be happy here.

I’m dying a little with every sunny day.

 

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My mother told me it would be cloudy today. It is. The sky is dark, and it rumbles deeply, shaking my bones.

It’s a comfort.

The clouds opened up five minutes ago, and already the parched earth is coming back to life.

So am I.

I’ve always had an affinity for water, and when it falls from the sky, it cleanses my soul as much as it does the air and the earth.

This time, the rumbling makes the whiskey in my glass shiver like Jurassic Park.

The storm grows closer. I grow more comfortable.

Evolving with the ever-changing storm.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Bubble

This one is autobiographical.

I despise where I live. I want to move back to Washington, where communities have grown more organically, not as much of a bubble as where I live now.

I don’t belong here.

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Traffic at one o’clock?

Undoubtedly. The schools get out at 12:58 PM on Wednesdays. Everyone is picking up their children.

There are three elementary schools within a mile of my house.

I gave directions to the sweet lady at the grocery store. Which way to the Marriott? Oh, just take Street 1 to Street 4 and turn right. The road will bend, and you’ll see it on the right.

Yes, ma’am. Very efficient.

Yes, ma’am. My husband’s commute is only fifteen minutes. Everybody in this town also works here. No reason to look elsewhere.

Master-planned lives in a master-planned community.

©2018 Heather Stephens