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

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The Duke and the Thief

I’m doing a blog challenge put on by Amanda McCormick. She gave this prompt: a stolen ring, fear of spiders, and a sinister stranger. I’m writing a fantasy novel, and I thought this blog challenge was the perfect opportunity for me to write a short story from the universe in which my upcoming novel takes place. I offer it to you here, for free. Sort of to give a taste of the kind of writer I am when I’m not cramming ideas into a hundred words.

Enjoy!

 

Molly

 

All she could determine about the shrouded figure in the corner was that he was a man. She considered her options. The ring she’d pilfered from her lady’s coffer was in a pouch tied to her garter—the garter she’d taken off so she could sleep comfortably.

Stupid. On the run from the duke’s guards and she thought of comfort? She shouldn’t have dreamed of being comfortable until she was over the border into Amerilis. What kind of thief was she anyway, to have fled only two town over before stopping to rest?

A piss-poor excuse of a thief, even if she’d only even taken the job out of desperation.

The ring, rumored to be magic and protective against liches, was the only target of her caper. First, she’d been instructed to take a job working for Duke sil Varstra’s daughter, his heir. The sil Varstra child had the ring, although to Molly’s reckoning she’d had no idea of its power. She’d be off to university soon, and Molly hadn’t had time to grow attached.

She was an odd child anyway. Fourteen and colder than ice, and she always peered at you so strangely, glancing above your head before she’d answer any questions.  It gave Molly chills just thinking about it.

So she’d taken the ring. She made it two villages over, with barely ten miles to the border of Amerilis, and she’d stopped. She’d stopped! What kind of fool was she to think she could steal from sil Varstra and get away with it? An uneducated girl like Molly could have married a farmer boy and lived life in blissful peace, but no.

No, for the sake of her piece of shit brother, she’d taken this gamble. Her once-in-a-lifetime gamble to square all his misbegotten bets. And based on the way the stranger in the corner was watching her as she pretended to be asleep, she’d lost.

The man wanted the ring. Molly was sure of it. If it came down to it, if she could just get to the window across from the ring, she could throw herself out of it. She’d break a bone or two on the way down, but she’d come away with her life. More than she could say if the man had his way.

Dressed in only a pale pink shift, Molly quietly took a deep breath and rolled out of bed, landing on her feet in a crouch on the left side of the poorly stuffed mattress. She lunged headfirst toward the window open to the summer night.

The wind was knocked out of her as someone grabbed her shift from behind, pulling the collar tight against her throat. She reached for the window in desperation, her eyes watering.

Now she’d face her doom.

Instead of a knife to the throat, the hooded stranger tossed her back onto the bed. “Where is it?” a smooth, deep voice asked.

This wasn’t Molly’s fight. She knew not why the yellow priest from Amerilis wanted the ring, and she wasn’t about to die for his chance to have it. She gestured to the foot of the bed. “On the floor there. In a pouch. You can’t miss it.”

The man moved so smoothly he seemed to shimmer as he took two long steps to the foot of the bed and bent down. He held up her garter with one black-gloved finger. She blushed. “Just take it,” she said urgently. “I’d rather not die for it. I won’t say anything, I swear.”

The man deftly untied the pouch from the garter and pulled out the ring. Content that it was the same ring as the one she’d stolen, he looked back at her. He watched her for a long moment, as if he were deciding whether or not to kill her.

“Please,” Molly begged. Her fists tightened, clenching the threadbare quilt covering the mattress.

The man reached one hand up and pulled his hood off his head, exposing a familiar face above a glowing pendant shaped like a tarantula.

Molly’s jaw dropped and she frantically scooted back on the bed against the headboard.

“Why did you take it?” Duke sil Varstra asked. His salt-and-pepper hair gleamed in the moonlight.

“Someone paid me to do it. They said they’d get my brother out of jail and pay his debts. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and I don’t want to die. I just wanted to give my brother a chance to see his family again, though I curse him for his sins,” Molly said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

The duke would kill her now that she’d seen him. There was no doubt about it.

“Is your brother so good to you, that you would risk your life for his?” the duke asked, having dropped the garter and was tying the pouch to his own belt.

“It doesn’t matter. His family needs to eat and without him, they’ll starve,” Molly weeped. “Please, I can find another way, but they’ll die if I can’t find a way to feed them, either by getting him out or by sending them my wages.”

“You’ll never get any wages from my House,” sil Varstra said plainly. Molly’s face fell. A thousand crowns for two months work—gone.

The duke turned squarely to face her, taking one step toward the bed. Molly flinched.

“Who was it who hired you?” he asked. Molly couldn’t find a reason to lie.

“Some priest in yellow and blue robes. He was Amerilian. He didn’t offer his name,” she spat desperately.

Duke sil Varstra nodded and untied a pouch from the other side of his belt, opposite to where he’d tied the ring. He tossed it onto the bed, where it clinked. It was practically overflowing with crowns. “Feed your brother’s family. Find work. Don’t step foot in my duchy again,” he said, his baritone voice dripping with disdain.

With that, he left.

Molly let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding and began to weep anew. She’d escaped with her life, but at what cost? She didn’t know, but she wasn’t about to find out. She dressed quickly, tying the new pouch to her garter.

She had a second chance. She wouldn’t waste it.

 

©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

I am a Writer.

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I think it always sounds so pretentious when people call themselves a writer. I don’t know why, but whenever I do it, I feel like a fraud. Yes, I write 100-word stories semi-regularly. Yes, for several years I made my living content writing on a freelance basis. But I know in my heart that what I really mean by “I am a writer” is I am a novelist.

I have not yet completed a novel, so I don’t think I really am one.

But I want to be one, and They™ always say “Fake it ’til you make it.”

So that’s what I do. I write because life is too hard for me, and I want to create worlds in which good wins. I write because I have regrets and I want to create characters that find redemption, even when I, myself, don’t know if I’ll ever find my own. I write to be heard. Doesn’t everybody just want to be heard?

I’m taking part of a blog challenge run by Amanda McCormick. I have trouble keeping up with this blog (in so small part because I want to update it and expand it but I can’t afford someone to design a good website for me. Even if I purchase a premium theme I’d need help actually using it and I can’t afford to pay someone to do it) and I think it would help me connect more with readers and, honestly, myself if I updated my blog more often.

Don’t worry. Everything I post here will be relevant to writing or reading or me. It won’t be a spam dump just to attract views. I promise. PINKY promise.

Stay tuned!

 

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

Bath

The prompt was bath.

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Candlelight glimmering. She closes her eyes and tilts her head back to rest against the back of the copper tub.

He lifts the heavy bowl of warm water and tips it over her head, careful to make sure the water flows over her long, lustrous hair instead of over her face.

He runs his hands through each lock, squeezing the lavender-smelling suds out of it. The water gleams with soothing, scented oils.

She opens her brown eyes, meeting his black ones. He doesn’t smile; neither does she. There is no need for it.

They know to whom they each belong.

 

©2018 Heather Stephens

Library

I don’t want anything on an enormous scale (except time). I don’t want an enormous amount of money. I don’t want an enormous amount of fame. I just want to be heard. I want people to see my books at Barnes and Noble, even if they don’t choose to buy it. I want to be heard.

Most of all, I want my books to be available at libraries, free to access for anyone. I want people to find a friend in me, solace in me, even if they never talk to me personally. I want to help.

Maybe someday.

This week’s prompt from Thin Spiral Notebook is Library.

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Rustling papers. A whisper. The pitter-patter of a toddler’s feet as they try to find the book about giving a mouse a cookie.

There. Spreadsheet done. Now she can work on her passion project—her first book.

Maybe someday it will be available here, in these sacred halls, accessible by anyone in her community. Maybe someday a teenage girl will stumble across it and it will change her life.
Maybe someday a shy college boy will read it and realize he could be a better man.

Just a dream, for now. Attainable, but not yet.

Eventually, someday will be today.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Respect

The prompt was respect. As a parent, I feel it is important to teach your kids, especially your sons, not only what respect is, but what it looks like. Your kids (whether you have them now or will later, or you just know some kids that aren’t yours) watch more closely than you think and they absorb everything. Model good interpersonal relationships for them so they can make healthy social decisions later.

 

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She wasn’t having it tonight. Doing the dishes should not be requested more than once.

It isn’t like she didn’t give him time to relax first. She gave him a full hour after he’d gotten home from work. She’d asked him first on her way out the door to go to yoga. Again when she got home.  Again after her post-workout shower. Again when she bathed the kids.

Their son watched them both as she asked for a fifth and final time. Her husband smiled, apologized, and rose to finish the dishes while she tucked the children into their beds.

 

© 2018 Heather Stephens

Windows Update lost my files.

 

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Over the years I’ve heard all sides of the Mac vs. PC debate. I’ve never been a fan of Macs, being raised on PC at both home and school. I’m 30 years old, and I’ve been loyal to PC the entire time. Microsoft has never screwed me over, to be honest, and in fact, I’m even a fan of Windows 10.

Until.

A recent Windows update over the past week gave me a fright when I couldn’t find my folder of documents for my collection of flash fiction that I’ve been working on for a year. I know, I know. I can hear you screaming at me to back up my work. I will from now on.

The update made it harder for me to find documents saved solely on my PC, only giving me quick access to my OneDrive documents.

“But Heather,” you ask, “If you can save to OneDrive, why wasn’t that folder saved there too?”

Good question.

And the only answer I have to that is I suffer from extreme laziness. A byproduct of disability. When you spend so long not even being able to do anything, you grow accustomed to it. So while I am physically incapable of doing things like workout for an hour or go to work consistently, I also have developed a preference for the quick-and-easy solutions to all of my problems. It’s a learned mindset, and one I do not want to teach my children.

But the good news is I found the folder and I’m back at work on my Little Book of Flash, as well as my horror short stories. While I intend to finish the two novels that I’ve started, I think at this point of time in my life, big projects that are easily broken up into smaller pieces are the way to go. Each 100-word story I finish will boost my motivation to write more, which will lead to the bigger victory of finishing the book. Every horror short story I post and narrate will do the same.

I feel good about this. My body may not want to cooperate most of the time, and my mind is even less generous, but at least I have goals.

Maybe someday I’ll reach them.

New Adventures in Writing

I want to broaden my horizons.

I am working on my fantasy novel as well as a literary fiction novel. They’re both going fairly well (for first drafts, anyway). I’ve always wanted to be a novelist, ever since I was a little girl.

But these years I’ve spent writing 100-word stories has taught me that I excel at short stories. I get overwhelmed easily in most aspects of my life, and writing is no different. When being concise is necessary, I thrive. It is a completely different experience than trying to organize a novel with 15 characters.

‘I could choose to accept that maybe I’m just not gifted at novel writing, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s merely a symptom of my BPD–I want to please everyone, so I’m trying to write books that will please everyone. Intellectually, I know that’s impossible, but here I am.

So here I am, thinking about my short-story writing abilities that I feel far outmatch my novel-writing abilities. In my free-time, I read a lot of horror, both published works and user-uploaded stories on the internet. I think I’m going to try my hand writing those. Short stories, serials, etc. I think I could do well.

I’ll still be posting 100-word stories frequently. Even more frequently than the past six months have shown. I just also might be posting links to my horror stories as well.

Join me down the dark path.

 

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