Free Fiction Thursday – My Father, the Popsicle

Good morning, everyone! We’re back on Thursday this week. Yay!

I don’t know about you, but at my house we’re gearing up for Thanksgiving, which seems very early this year to me. I’m just not ready for turkey day. I finally started cubing and drying out day-old bread for stuffing, and tomorrow night I go out to my friendly neighborhood Trader Joe’s on the hunt for a turkey that weighs less than twenty pounds. Wish me luck!

Now on to the free story. This week we have “My Father, the Popsicle,” a story about a girl who believed she was an orphan, right up until the day she got a letter concerning her father, who’s not quite as dead as she thought. Enjoy!

 

My Father, The Popsicle

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

Cover art Copyright Thierry Maffeis at Dreamstime.com

Jodi thought she was an orphan until one sweltering Thursday night in late June when she received The Letter from Billingsly, Wendham & Owens, Attorneys at Law.

That’s how she always thought of it after that.  The Letter.  Wasn’t that how you were supposed to think about things that changed your life?  Capitalized and important?

At first she thought the whole thing was a joke.  She’d just worked a double shift at Hot Dog on a Stick in the new mall south of town.  She was dead tired and sick of the smell of lemons, corn dog batter, and hot grease.  Her head hurt from pulling up her hair under that stupid striped hat, her shoulders ached from all the fresh lemonade she had to mix, and to top it all off, the air conditioning had been out on the bus ride home.  To say the bus had been fragrant was the understatement of the century.  She was in no mood for jokes.  Her roommate Harry had a pretty twisted sense of humor.  A fake letter from an attorney was just his style, but tonight the joke wasn’t funny.

“I ought to rip him a new one,” Jodi muttered as she opened her front door.  “Hear that, Harry?” she said to her empty apartment.  “I ought to rip you a new one.”

Not that Harry would be home yet.  Harry worked as a bartender at the only gay club in town.  Tonight he was on swing shift.  Whether he could hear her or not, after a day spent swallowing the snappy comebacks she wanted to make to clueless customers whose IQ wasn’t much higher than the hotdogs they ate, muttering about Harry’s lack of humor sure as hell made her feel better.

Still, the envelope did look kind of authentic.

Jodi dropped her keys and the rest of the mail on the coffee table.  It was all junk mail flyers and offers for credit cards neither one of them could afford, so it didn’t much matter where she left it.  She plopped down on the couch she’d rescued from a second-hand store, slipped off her sensible, style-free shoes so she could stretch her toes into the carpet, and ripped open the envelope.

She skimmed through the introductory stuff.  Dear Ms. blah-blah-blah I represent more blah-blah-blah bankrupt estate.  The word assets caught Jodi’s eye, but the word that brought her up short was father.

What?

If this was Harry’s idea of a joke, it definitely wasn’t funny.  He knew she had no sense of humor when it came to her family, or lack thereof.

She ended up reading The Letter three times in a row, each time with an ever-increasing shakiness in the pit of her stomach, not to mention a growing sense of unreality.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Friday – Another Door

Good morning, everyone!

Once again, Thursday has morphed into Friday this week. Hours have changed a bit at the day job, making my days a little longer. Combine that with the end of daylight savings time and a presidential election, and… well… this week just flew right on by.

I have good news, though. I have a brand-new five-story collection out, TURNING THE PAGE, all about strong women facing a turning point in their lives. This week’s story is from that collection. I hope you enjoy “Another Door.”

Another Door
Annie Reed

Copyright © 2012 Annie Reed

 Published by Thunder Valley Press

Cover art Copyright © Nataliia Bielous |Dreamstime.com

Mavis Trimble dug her husband’s grave beneath the white oak tree where he’d proposed to her thirty-one years ago to the day.

It took her the better part of the morning to hack her way with a shovel through the first few inches of cold, root-choked ground.  There were easier places to dig a grave, but Mavis hadn’t picked the spot just because it was where Edgar proposed.

The white oak was the tallest tree in the windbreak behind their Iowa farmhouse, and Edgar had been a tall man.  The rope swing Mavis’s daddy had hung from the oak’s branches was still there, frayed now with age.  When she was a girl just beginning to notice that boys were good for something other than teasing, Mavis used to sit in that swing and dream about the handsome man she’d marry someday.  Edgar hadn’t been all that handsome, but he’d been a good, decent man who’d loved her with all his heart, and she’d loved him with all of hers.  Mavis wanted to lay his memory to rest in a spot that was special to her no matter how much hard work it took to dig the grave.

Before the sun climbed high overhead, Mavis gave up on the shovel and started attacking the rocks and roots with a pickaxe.  She worked up a serious sweat as she got into a steady rhythm with her swing.

It felt comforting to be warm.  The sun wasn’t much good for that these days.  The sky as far as she could see was filled with the same dark, ashy clouds that had been there the day before, and the day before that.  The clouds made the sun look like a pale, pitiful ghost of itself.

She should have started with the pickaxe, but the pickaxe had been in the heavy equipment barn, and that had been Edgar’s place.  Mavis didn’t like to go in the barn anymore.  The tractor and cultivator and corn harvester they’d put themselves in debt to buy were her husband’s babies, and they looked forlorn and abandoned without Edgar to take of them.  No one had used the machines since her husband left to fight in the war.  Mavis doubted anyone would ever need to use them again.

The life Mavis and Edgar had worked so hard to build for themselves was gone.  The farmland might have been in Mavis’s family for generations, but Edgar made it bloom.  He’d planted hundreds of acres of corn year after year, an ocean of green that stood eight feet, ten feet high, almost as far as the eye could see.  All that hard work had finally started to pay off.  This year had looked like the second in a row their family farm would turn a profit.

Their ocean of green was dead now.  The middle of August, and the stalks were brittle and dry and frozen, and like everything else in the world, covered with dry, dusty ash.

Mavis knew she should have worn a mask over her mouth while she dug, but did it even matter anymore?  A coughing fit nearly doubled her over, and she had to lean on the handle of the pickaxe to keep herself upright.

“Pitiful,” she said when she got her breath back.  The grave she worked so hard to dig was twelve inches deep, if that.  It was almost like the land was refusing to believe what Mavis knew in her heart.

“He’s not coming back, you hear?” she told the farm.  “I’ve accepted it.  Why can’t you?”

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – First Steps

Good morning, everyone! It’s time for Free Fiction Thursday, which means it’s also one more day closer to Friday. Yippee!

This week’s story is “First Steps,” a blend of contemporary fantasy and women’s fiction. Fifty years ago Callie fell in love with her best friend. High-school sweethearts who spent their lives together, Callie still loves her husband, but most days Jed doesn’t even know who she is. Frustrated with her life and worried about her future, things look bleak for Callie until one magical night when everything changes.

Enjoy!

 

FIRST STEPS

Annie Reed

Copyright © 2012 Annie Reed

 Published by Thunder Valley Press

Cover and layout Copyright © 2012 Thunder Valley Press

The first steps were the hardest.

Jed used to tell her that back when they were both in junior high and she complained to him about having to walk the balance beam in gym class.  Callie didn’t have the world’s greatest balance on land, much less on a four-inch wide beam of wood three feet off the ground.

“I’m going to break my neck,” she’d said over a tray full of cafeteria food.  “You just wait and see.”

Jed had smiled at her.  “Not your neck.  Your arm, maybe, or your ankle.  You know… stuff you don’t need.”

He’d stuffed a piece of french bread pizza into his mouth, pleased with himself.  Callie would have smacked him a good one if Mr. Thedes hadn’t been on lunchroom duty.  Mr. Thedes had no sense of humor.  He was almost as bad as Callie’s dad, who would break her neck if she got herself suspended for fighting with her best friend in the cafeteria.

The first steps are the hardest.

Jed had been right, but he’d also been wrong.  Second steps weren’t any easier.  Sometimes all you could do was take one step after the next and let your body walk on automatic while your mind drifted away somewhere else.  Some place pleasant.

Wherever you needed to go to get yourself through what lay ahead.

Callie parked in an empty space in the back row of the nursing home’s lot.  Monday evening, only an hour left for visiting, no wonder the lot was only half full.  Callie could have parked her car closer, but she needed the time—the extra steps—to prepare herself, especially tonight.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Names in the Sand

Good morning, everyone! How’s your Thursday going so far?

Here in my neck of the woods, it was hot enough yesterday to make me wish for some walking-on-the-beach time. Like the main character in this week’s story, it’s one of my favorite things to do (when I’m actually on the coast, which isn’t often enough). I hope you enjoy “Names in the Sand.”

 

Names in the Sand

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

Cover photograph by the author

 

Cissy wrapped her leather jacket more firmly around her shoulders and tried not to think about what the wind was doing to her hair.  She’d saved up for months for a trip to the beach.  She’d be damned if the cold snap was going to stop her from enjoying the sound of the surf and the sea birds, and the laughter of the few brave kids out on the sand playing keep-away with the waves.

At least the sun was out, not that it was doing all that much good to keep her warm.  She’d dressed in layers, something menopausal women learned to do for self-preservation against unexpected hot flashes.  She could use a good hot flash right about now.  Even with the leather jacket on top of her windbreaker on top of her sweatshirt on top of her blouse, she was still freezing.  If she didn’t warm up soon, she’d have to give up staring at the ocean from behind the concrete retaining wall that separated the parking lot from the beach a good ten feet below, and go watch the waves from the warmth of her car.

The kids on the beach didn’t seem to feel the cold.  Cissy watched a group of teenagers — two girls and three boys — tramp across the sand wearing nothing but shorts and t-shirts.  The boys were carrying boogie boards, the girls beach towels.  Wires trailed down from their ears to whatever MP3 players they had stuffed in their pockets.  Cissy wondered if they even heard the sound of the waves over whatever music was popular with teenagers these days.

Someone had written a name on the sand — SPENCER — stomped out in huge, rambling letters  above the high tide mark.  The teenagers walked right through the letters, smearing the S and the tail of the P and taking the top off the E and the N before they headed down toward the waves, leaving the rest of the name alone.

What a shame.  Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to leave his name in the sand in a spot where the waves wouldn’t obliterate it.  For a moment Cissy thought about going down to the beach and fixing the smeared letters, but her legs gave her trouble these days, and slogging through dry sand would make her calves ache for days.  Poor Spencer, whoever he’d been, would have to settle for semi-posterity, at least until more children and teenagers and careless adults scuffed through his name entirely.

If Harry was still alive, he would have fixed the letters for her.  Harry would have done anything for her, and he had for nearly thirty years.  He’d even sat by her side on innumerable park benches and picnic benches and glider swings, nose buried in a book or snoring quietly behind dark glasses, while Cissy sat and enjoyed the outdoors, no matter where that outdoors happened to be.  Sometimes she brought her crocheting with her, and sometimes she brought a book or a camera, but most of the time she just sat and watched the world go on around her.

This late spring visit to the Oregon coast was the first trip Cissy had taken since Harry passed away last November.  Her friends thought she was nuts to make the trip by herself.  Amanda was certain Cissy’s car would break down in some back roads town and she’d be set upon by thieves who’d think a middle-aged woman traveling alone was easy pickings.  Nora thought Cissy would attract the attention of “unsavory types,” which in Nora’s book was anyone who didn’t have six figures in a money market account and houses on both coasts with a condo or two somewhere in the middle.

Cissy’s daughter was the only one who had simply wished Cissy a good time.  “Have fun, Mom,” she’d said, her voice scratchy over the old cell phone Cissy refused to replace with one of the new smart phone models.  “You deserve it.”

Cissy wasn’t so sure about that.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Night Passage

Good morning, everyone! How’s your Thursday going so far?

This morning it’s cool and rainy here in Northern Nevada. According to the snippet of news I heard on the radio while I was trying to wake up, chains or snow tires are required on the mountain pass between here and Sacramento. Spring in Nevada. Never know what you’re going to get.

Just like the characters in this week’s story. “Night Passage” is about a woman and her rebellious teenage daughter traveling from Las Vegas to Reno at night to avoid the heat when car troubles strand them alone in the desert. “Night Passage” is mainstream women’s fiction, and will be available to read for free for a week. Enjoy!

 

Night Passage

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

The road stretched in front of Joleen, a dark ribbon in the darker night.  Something glittered on the asphalt ahead of her, but she couldn’t tell if her car’s headlights reflected off pieces of quartz or broken glass.  Either one was a possibility.  Even this far out in the desert broken beer bottles littered the sides of the road, twentieth century man’s way of marking his territory.

Casey sat in the passenger seat pretending total interest in the ghostly shapes flying by her window.  Joleen could tell her daughter still was angry by the tense set of her shoulders and the way she kept her face turned away from her mother.

Joleen steered around the mess on the road as best she could on the narrow, two-lane highway.  She hoped it wasn’t glass.  The tires on her car were old and worn, and she was afraid glass would go right through them.  The bright lights of Las Vegas had faded to a dim glow on the horizon far behind her and Goldfield was at least 40 miles to the north.   She didn’t want to have to stop out here in the middle of nowhere to fix a flat, especially not at night.  Except for gas, she didn’t want to stop at all until she got to Reno.

“Are you hungry?” Joleen asked just for something to say.

Casey didn’t respond.   No one could do the silent treatment better than an angry thirteen-year-old girl.

“Because if you are, we’ve got snacks and sodas in the back seat,” Joleen said, trying again.

A sigh.  Not much, but it was a chink in the armor, something Joleen could work with.  It would be a long, long drive if Casey decided to stay angry the whole way.

Maybe a little music would help.

“Why don’t you find something to listen to?” Joleen fumbled for the tape case without taking her eyes off the road.  “We’re can’t pick up a station out here, and if you’re not going to talk to me, then I need something to keep me company.”

This time she got the rolled-eyes, oh Mom look, but her daughter took the tapes and rummaged through them.

“I know you didn’t want to move,” Joleen said.

“Look, Mom, I don’t want to talk about it,” Casey said, slamming the tape case shut.  “Like my opinion would mean anything anyway,” she added under her breath.  Thirteen-year-olds always added something under their breath, that first sign of future rebellion.

Joleen took a deep breath.  “So what do you want to talk about?”

Casey popped the tape in and turned back toward the window.  “Nothing,” she said.  “I don’t want to talk about anything, okay?”

So much for that plan.

Rock music blared from the speakers.  Obviously one of Casey’s tapes.  Joleen didn’t know the name of the band, but at least it might keep her awake.  If she didn’t go deaf first.

Thirty seconds later, Joleen reached for the volume control.  She actually liked most rock music but that last guitar riff made her fillings vibrate.  She glanced down at the tape deck to make sure she found the right knob.

“Mom, look out!”

Joleen jerked her eyes back to the road.  She caught a glimpse of a large animal right in front of them.  Heart in her throat, Joleen spun the wheel hard to the left and slammed on the brakes.  Not good.  She made it past the cow — she could see now that it was a cow — without hitting it, but the car started to skid, tires squealing.  The rear end of the car slid around toward the front, threatening to send them into a spin.  Joleen turned the wheel back to the right and took her foot off the brake, praying that the car would right itself.

That’s when the tire blew.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Names in the Sand

Howdy, Internets!  How about a free short story to celebrate this day before Friday?

Last month I spent some time on the Oregon coast, mostly for workshops, but this time the weather and my schedule cooperated, and I got some quality beach time.  This story was inspired by some of that time I spent on the beach.

Names in the Sand

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

http://www.annie-reed.com

Cover photograph by the author, layout by Thunder Valley Press

 

Cissy wrapped her leather jacket more firmly around her shoulders and tried not to think about what the wind was doing to her hair.  She’d saved up for months for a trip to the beach.  She’d be damned if the cold snap was going to stop her from enjoying the sound of the surf and the sea birds, and the laughter of the few brave kids out on the sand playing keep-away with the waves.

At least the sun was out, not that it was doing all that much good to keep her warm.  She’d dressed in layers, something menopausal women learned to do for self-preservation against unexpected hot flashes.  She could use a good hot flash right about now.  Even with the leather jacket on top of her windbreaker on top of her sweatshirt on top of her blouse, she was still freezing.  If she didn’t warm up soon, she’d have to give up staring at the ocean from behind the concrete retaining wall that separated the parking lot from the beach a good ten feet below, and go watch the waves from the warmth of her car.

The kids on the beach didn’t seem to feel the cold.  Cissy watched a group of teenagers — two girls and three boys — tramp across the sand wearing nothing but shorts and t-shirts.  The boys were carrying boogie boards, the girls beach towels.  Wires trailed down from their ears to whatever MP3 players they had stuffed in their pockets.  Cissy wondered if they even heard the sound of the waves over whatever music was popular with teenagers these days.

Someone had written a name on the sand — SPENCER — stomped out in huge, rambling letters  above the high tide mark.  The teenagers walked right through the letters, smearing the S and the tail of the P and taking the top off the E and the N before they headed down toward the waves, leaving the rest of the name alone.

What a shame.  Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to leave his name in the sand in a spot where the waves wouldn’t obliterate it.  For a moment Cissy thought about going down to the beach and fixing the smeared letters, but her legs gave her trouble these days, and slogging through dry sand would make her calves ache for days.  Poor Spencer, whoever he’d been, would have to settle for semi-posterity, at least until more children and teenagers and careless adults scuffed through his name entirely.

If Harry was still alive, he would have fixed the letters for her.  Harry would have done anything for her, and he had for nearly thirty years.  He’d even sat by her side on innumerable park benches and picnic benches and glider swings, nose buried in a book or snoring quietly behind dark glasses, while Cissy sat and enjoyed the outdoors, no matter where that outdoors happened to be.  Sometimes she brought her crocheting with her, and sometimes she brought a book or a camera, but most of the time she just sat and watched the world go on around her.

This late spring visit to the Oregon coast was the first trip Cissy had taken since Harry passed away last November.  Her friends thought she was nuts to make the trip by herself.  Amanda was certain Cissy’s car would break down in some back roads town and she’d be set upon by thieves who’d think a middle-aged woman traveling alone was easy pickings.  Nora thought Cissy would attract the attention of “unsavory types,” which in Nora’s book was anyone who didn’t have six figures in a money market account and houses on both coasts with a condo or two somewhere in the middle.

Cissy’s daughter was the only one who had simply wished Cissy a good time.  “Have fun, Mom,” she’d said, her voice scratchy over the old cell phone Cissy refused to replace with one of the new smart phone models.  “You deserve it.”

Cissy wasn’t so sure about that.  How does a woman who wished for her husband to die deserve to have fun living the rest of her life without him?

(read the rest of the story here)