Free Fiction: Mary

Halloween is coming up (which means I need to get started on making costumes for the kids — and me!). I love Halloween — not as much as some people *coughcough* the people in my neighborhood who have had decorations up since early September *coughcough* — but I still enjoy the time of year. I take any excuse to dress up in costume and Halloween is perfect for that.

One thing I don’t love — but that my sister Amanda REALLY loves — is the spooky stuff. I’m so soft. My brain doesn’t forget things that it labels as scary, and it tends to bring them up at the worst possible times and then it refuses to let me stop thinking about them. I didn’t learn this lesson until unfortunately late, which is why I still have nightmares about Pennywise, but now that I’m wiser I tend to stay away from spooky stuff. I don’t write a lot of horror for that reason. It’s just not my wheelhouse.

Pretty early on when I started writing more seriously, though, I did a few zombie pieces. This one, so far back I was still using my middle initial, was picked up by Everyday Weirdness (and can still be found there.)

I don’t love this so much, but it is nice from time to time to look back at old pieces and see how my style has changed, and hopefully to see some improvement.


Sixth grade:
Mary was wearing
her brand new dress,
and when the children gathered ‘round,
sing-songing her new name,
she didn’t cry
until the nurse took her hand,
led her away,
cleaned her up with unfamiliar kindness,
and sent her home
still bleeding.

Five years in pictures:
kids squirting ketchup on her chair,
saying her name
in a chanty chaining rhyme—
“Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary”—
and then screaming like a horror movie bimbo
and laughing like hyenas,
making jokes about Carrie and prom night
because kids don’t know.

Five years in whispers and their fists behind the door.

The day before the first day of school
Mary cut her wrists in the bathtub,
sinking into the warm oblivion
where there were no taunts,
no hyenas.

The next day
Bloody Mary went to school.
took a big bite from the new year,
and when the kids screamed
“Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary”
and ran away,
they weren’t laughing,
and they didn’t get far.

The school nurse peeked out and saw her shambling
down the hall, gnawing on her lab partner’s lung,
and when Bloody Mary stopped
and turned,
she screamed.
But Mary grinned—
a horrible, bloody grin—
and kept on leaving breadcrumb trails
with Chet Parker’s teeth.

The nurse darted through the bodies,
ignoring their clutching hands and scratching nails,
locked the door to the teacher’s lounge,
crawled out a window
and ran all the way home,
still bleeding.


Free Fiction Friday: A True Story About the Devil and Jamie’s Shoes

I feel like doing a Free Fiction Friday today! YOU’RE WELCOME.

This story, A True Story About the Devil and Jamie’s Shoes, was written for a Shock Totem flash fiction contest prompt and was first published in the delightful anthology The Old Weird South, edited by Tim Westover. I liked the feel of it so much that I included it in my short story collection Peculiar Situations, available on Amazon.

I grew up in the mountains, and to get anywhere we had to go up and down and all around hills and mountains of various sizes. (In fact, my boys know the way to their gram and pap’s house as “Up the mountain and down the mountain”.) There’s one road in particular that takes a wicked curve at a wicked angle. It’s known locally as Peggy’s Curve and I was always admonished to drive carefully around that turn because PEOPLE HAVE DIED THERE.

No one ever told us who died, and for our entire childhoods my sister and I thought it was some teenage girl, probably on her way home from prom, obviously called Peggy. I scared myself more times than I can count by imagining her ghost haunting that stretch of wooded road, appearing in front of the car while I was driving or, more often, showing up in the rear view mirror after I sped past. I never saw the ghost of the long lost Peggy girl, and here’s why.

A few years ago my dad was telling stories of the area, and he finally — finally, after 30 years! — got around to telling us that Peggy’s curve was named after a truck driver who had been killed in a crash there. A man. Who had a peg leg.

I suppose the ghost of old man Peg could haunt that curve, too, but I’m no longer quite so afraid of seeing a ghost there.

I do, however, always drive very carefully around that curve.


A True Story About the Devil and Jamie’s Shoes

One Saturday me and my brother Jeff and our pal Jamie were coming home from a day’s fishing.  Our poles made shadows on the road and the laces on Jamie’s shoes were flapping, kicking up little puffs of dust.

It being summer, Jamie was the only one wearing shoes.  He never went barefoot, even though his mama tried to make him save them for school and church and threatened his life if he ever lost them.  We asked what was wrong with squishing through mud and marsh like the rest of us, and he took off the shoes and showed us the paper that lined the insides.  Turned out that Jamie was superstitious.  Last year at the county fair an old woman told him to write the names of the Apostles on a piece of paper and put it inside his shoe for good luck.  Now, Jamie is also sloppy, and couldn’t keep his shoes tied tight.  He always had extra scraps of paper ready in his pockets, just in case the ones in his shoes fell out.

We came up on the crossroads where Main Street runs out of town and all the way over to Durham and there was old Peg Barnes, leaning against the telephone pole.  His wooden leg tapped against the crutch he used and his grizzled hair stood out all around his face.  As we went past he grunted “This is it.”  We stopped – how could we not, with an opening like that just hanging there?

“This is what?” I asked.

“This is where I met the devil.”

Jamie got a little pale.

“They say never make a crossroads bargain,” Peg said.  “But I wanted my leg back.  So I came down here at midnight and shed my blood and when he came, I made a deal.”

Jamie was listening with wide eyes and Jeff was too.

“What kind of deal?” I asked.

“Old Scratch needs someone,” Peg said, “to stoke the furnaces away down in Hell.  That’s what he wanted: two men, to do his bidding.  I told him I’d bring him his men, sure, right here to this crossroads.  And here we are.  I figure a boy’s as good as a man, to the devil.”  He looked over at Jeff and winked.  My brother started to cry.

“You stop,” I told Peg.  “It’s gone far enough.  Say you’re joking.”

“No joke,” Peg said.  “I made the deal, and I’d do it again.”

The wind kicked up and the sky got dark.  We blinked the dust from our eyes and when we could see, there was a man.

I tell you, the devil didn’t look like much.  I’ve seen finer men, but he wasn’t shabby, and I’ve seen uglier men, but he wasn’t handsome.  He looked like every other fellow on the street.  I could tell he was the devil, though.  It was all around him.

“Afternoon,” he greeted us.  “How was the fishing?”

“Never mind that.  I’ve got what you asked for,” Peg said.

“Boys, not men,” said Mister Scratch, studying us.

“They’re strong boys, big enough to do a man’s work,” Peg said.  “Take any two you like, I don’t care.  Just give me my leg back.”

The devil looked at us and opened his mouth and said, “I choose –”

“Wait!” Peg said.  “Give me my leg first, or else you don’t get any.”

Scratch gave him a look but waved his hands.  Peg dropped his crutch and the peg fell off as his leg filled out.  Peg stared down at his two good legs, then took a few steps and whooped.  He ran in a circle, laughing.

“My turn,” Scratch said, and pointed.  “You and you.”

First I thought “Thank the Lord” because it wasn’t me or Jeff.  Then I thought “Poor Jamie,” and then I thought “Good” because the devil had also chosen Peg.

Peg stopped running the moment the devil’s finger tagged him.

“Well, boys,” Scratch said, “it’s time to go.”

He gave a raucous laugh and, with a whoosh of dust and the rush of hundreds of wings, turned into a giant crow that picked up Peg in one claw and Jamie in the other and lifted off.

Now this is where Jamie’s shoes saved the day.  As the devil flew into the air, Jamie’s shoelaces wrapped around the telephone wire that hung over the crossroads.  The laces tangled and caught, and there was Jamie, hanging from the devil’s own claws, stuck on the wire.

The devil glared back, but no matter how he flapped and pulled, Jamie wasn’t going anywhere.  It didn’t make sense, how he stayed in those floppy shoes.  The only thing we could think later was that those Apostles’ names held him fast somehow.  He wasn’t coming out of those shoes, though, and those shoes weren’t coming off of that wire.  Scratch thought for a moment and then flew under the wire, giving the laces some slack, hoping they’d come unstuck and let him carry away his prey.  He shook Jamie a little and a scrap of paper came floating out of Jamie’s pocket.  It hit the devil square between his eyes.

Scratch squealed, shaking his head to get it off, but it was stuck fast.  Jamie wiggled a bit and another scrap came down, and then it was snowing paper, a white blizzard of Apostles’ names swirling out of Jamie’s pants.

You know how sometimes you’re so scared you come out the other side where it hits you as funny and you laugh because there’s nothing else for it?  That’s what happened to us when Jamie’s scraps kept falling.

So there’s the devil, and there’s Jamie, stuck, and there were Jeff and me, laughing.  The devil hates being laughed at, and those papers must have hurt him something bad.  Faced with that, Mister Scratch must have decided that one man was good enough.  He gave up on Jamie and left, Peg still hanging from the other claw.  The papers stopped falling as soon as the devil let go and Jamie dropped, barefoot, to the ground.

No matter how we tried, we never could get those shoes off the wires.  Jamie got a hiding when his mama found he’d lost them, though, even if it saved his life.  You can laugh at the devil but there’s not much you can do about mothers when it comes to shoes.

FFT [poem]: There Are No Trees on Alpha Centauri

For today’s Free Fiction Thursday I’m sharing a poem that makes my sister cry.

I don’t do a ton of science fiction — science and math aren’t my strong suits, and although I love to watch sci-fi I’m not so much a fan of reading a lot of it. Still, every now and then an idea strikes me and I go with it although, true to form, I tend to focus less on the space and more on the emotion.

I fully expect we’ll have colonies on other planets in the distant future, and I would go if the planet were dying, but it would take something that dramatic for me to leave my Earth, my place — my home.

There Are No Trees on Alpha Centuari

It’s only a planet! the ads read,
as if we would be foolish for mourning it.
Who grieves for dirt?
And yes, it is dying.
And yes, we must leave.
We must look to the stars to live.
I know that.
But this land is in my blood.

Those are the trees they planted
when we were born.
Five generations have lived in this house.
My family has haunted these woods
since a time before rockets
and colonies
and smiling women in cheerful ads telling us to leave.

That is my uncle’s car
rusting away among the trees.
My grandfather built that clock.
My mother canned those peaches.
My sister pushed me down those stairs once,
and every Christmas morning my brother sat at the top,
waiting for us to wake up.

Even if I could pack them up
and take them on the ship
—  the bell that rang at our wedding,
the garden my parents built  —
they would not be the same.

This is not only a planet.
This is who I am.
This is my grandmother’s doily
over my great aunt’s sewing machine
in the extra room my father built
when I was three years old.

I will ride the rockets
and leave my place behind.

But when, in the moonlights of the colony,
I look towards the small star of Earth,
I will not see only a planet.
I will see three tall trees
and my grandparents’ grave by the church
and the hill in the backyard
that we called the End of the World.

I will see the light of our dying sun
peeking in the windows
shining on dusty picture frames
of memories the rockets left behind.

“There Are No Trees on Alpha Centauri” was first published by Silver Blade.

FFT: The Long Con

Happy Free Fiction Thursday, everyone!

Today I’m linking up The Long Con, a short story first published by Daily Science Fiction. (If you want free fiction EVERY day, not just Thursdays, DSF is not a bad place to start.)

The Long Con is probably one of my favorite stories that I’ve written. It’s a great example of how I like to look at a story and try to find what’s missing: in this case, why was Rumpelstiltskin so careless with his name? We can see from the rest of the fairy tale that Rumpel knows what’s up — he’s savvy, he’s clever, he knows how to be in the right place at the right time and how to make just the right deal — so why in the world would he just shout his name in the woods when he knows the Princess will be looking for it?

Why, indeed?

The Long Con

I knew the girl would never give up her child.

I knew before I asked.  That is the sort of deal you only make if you’re young and naïve and facing execution and the idea of a child is so very far away that it is an easy thing to give up.

But I asked her anyway, knowing that she would say yes then and say no later.

How she wept when I came to collect!  Oh, the tears that fell over that poor sweet babe!  How she begged and pleaded that I spare him, that I release him from her promise!

I thought the guessing game was a nice touch.  It kept her busy for a few days, and gave her hope.

And all the while, I was working.  I baked and cleaned and made sure the queen’s messenger overheard me sing the naming song in the dark woods.

She was so proud when she guessed that name!  The triumph in her voice!  The relief in her eyes!  I put on a show for her and she ate it like it was porridge that was just the right temperature.

“How?”  I screamed.  “How did you guess that name?”

I stomped and ripped and shouted.  I believe there was spittle, and I am certain my face turned red.

And then I left.

I went to my clean cottage that smelled of fresh bread and I waited.

The child was not yet walking by the time the whole kingdom knew of the twisted man in the deep woods and the clever queen who outsmarted him.  The young princeling heard the story at his mother’s knee and saw daily the huge rent in the floor where I had stomped my foot in rage.  Servants and peasants would watch him pass and whisper about the boy who had been saved.

At first it was enough that the story was about him and that it ended happily.  He enjoyed the attention, as any child would.  He would demand to hear the story, and when his mother reached the end of the guessing game the prince would yell out “Rumpelstiltskin!” with her.  I heard them in my forest home and smiled.

Because soon, he began to wonder.

“Why, Mama?” he asked.  “Why did the strange little man want me?”

And the queen had no answer.

The older he grew, the more it ate at him.  Why had I asked for him?  I could have had treasure, powers, half the kingdom, had I desired it.  Why had I wanted the baby?

The princeling was a handsome enough child, but his curiosity kept him inside, scouring ancient and dark tomes, when he should have been learning swordplay and horsemanship.  The riddle of his importance drove him to long conferences with grizzled soothsayers and dreary mystics and old witches who reeked of the potions they brewed.

I believe he would have been a good king, had not the mystery ground at him until he was as gnarled in mind and body as the ancients he communed with daily.

He was passed over when his father chose an heir, but by then he didn’t care, not the curious young prince.  Twenty years had gone by and he had no more answers than when he was a bright-eyed babe.  So he put his mind to a new pursuit — finding me.

He rode away one fogging gray morning and his mother wept, for she knew she would never see him again.  I think she finally realized the truth.

I had taken her child, after all.

He found me.  I let him.  He stood in my little cottage, as twisted and ugly as I, dripping swamp water on my floor, and he asked his question.


“Consider this your first lesson,” I said.  “Any common thug can take what they want.  The pleasure is in getting the prey to come to you.”

His eyes gleamed as he saw in my words the promise of power, of knowledge, of the joy of the chase, and I had him.  He was mine.

Any cut-rate sorcerer can make beauty from dross.  The real magic stood before me: a prince, become a monster.  Gold, spun down to straw.

If you’d like to read more fairy tale retellings like this one, be sure to check out Wolves and Witches, a collection of short stories and poems by my sister Amanda C. Davis and me, available from Amazon or from the publisher, World Weaver Press.