skeleton keys

“Skeleton keys don’t unlock skeletons, you know,” said the boy. “It’s a real shame, too.”

“I guess, but this one will open my mum’s closet,” said his friend.

The first boy shrugged. “Yeah, but who cares about some old shoes and dresses. Come on, let’s go play outside.”

The door slammed behind them.

The skeletons in the closet relaxed in a clatter of loose joints. That was close.

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fairy willows

“Look, pussy willows.” I point out to my small person.

“What if they’re fairy eggs, and they’re going to hatch and make everything turn green soon?”

“Good one.” This is our game. Who can come up with the wildest ‘what if?’. The winner is our imagination. I consider my answer, sipping from my coffee. “What if the tree is a fairy nursery and the pussy willows are fairy babies swaddled up to stay warm? Shh. We don’t want to wake them up.”

“Wake up fairies!” My small person hollers. “It’s time to make everything grow again!”

There’s a rustle. A robin chirps. A crocus pokes through the leaf litter. Yellow coltsfoot blossoms dot the ditches. A rotten snowbank collapses and trickles into the water. My small person’s eyes grow wide.


She is still uncertain if she should be a scientist, an artist, or a unicorn veterinarian when she grows up. The crease above her nose tells me these are serious decisions.

I keep my vote to myself. “What happened to your dragon farm?”

“Oh, I’m still doing that but there’s a lot of free time in dragon farming. Especially if you’re helping.”

“I’ll be helping.”

She pulls a piece of paper from her bag. “I’ll make a list. Pros and cons. I want to be a scientist so bad but there’s so many sick unicorns who need my help.” She sighs deeply. The world is heavy on her shoulders.

Based on the prompt beloved

story’s end

“How do you know when a story is finished, mum?”

I take a deep breath. “That’s a loaded question, pumpkin. Every writer has a different way of knowing, and I can only tell you my way.”

She looks frustrated. “But how do you know?”

“I know a story is done when I can read it out loud without tripping over any lines or feeling self-conscious.”

She stares at me, a perplexed look on her face. I struggle to explain myself. “It might sound simple, but it takes a lot of work to get there. First I revise it a few times on paper, then I start reading it out loud, pen in hand to mark the spots that need work. Sometimes I’ve gotten my plot tangled in my first revisions, so I have to do undo all of that.”

She continues to stare, the furrow in her brow growing deeper.

I start to sweat. “Sometimes I’m so embarrassed I want to burn it, so I put it away for the rest of the day. By the next morning I’m ready to tackle the broken spots and sculpt my story into what I want it to be.”

I chuckle. “These days this involves pen, paper, and a clipboard resting on the baby’s bottom while she contentedly suckles. When I’m done I’ll feel happy and exhilarated.”


“That means happy and alive. When I wake up the next day, I might read it again and realize how much work is left. One day I’ll read it and everything will fall into place, a story that flows as smooth as the baby’s bottom it was edited on, and then, at last, I’ll know it is done. At least until my critique group tells me otherwise, but that’s another thing altogether.”

She shakes her head. “No, mum, I mean, how do you know when its finished?”

I stare, drawing a blank. “I don’t understand.”

She stamps her foot. “How do you know when to stop reading?”


She waits.

“Well, it usually says ‘the end’.”

writer at work, baby’s bottom not shown


forest tyrannosaurs


“There’s a wasps’ nest over here, come on!” said the boy.

“Are you sure?” asked the first girl.

“Yeah, it’s right over here – oh. Oh no.”

“What happened?” asked the second girl.

“Something got to it.” The boy poked at the broken chunk of nest with a stick.

“Something must have broken it open to eat the wasps,” suggested the first girl.

The second girl’s eyes grew wide. “What kind of a monster eats wasps?”

“One with an armored mouth?” the boy suggested.

The first girl nodded her head in agreement. “And thick, tough skin that a stinger can’t break through.”

The boy gasped. “It’s a T-Rex!” he wailed.

That was all it took. They all ran home in a dreadful fright, certain a tyrannosaurus rex lurked somewhere close.

A raccoon, munching on wasp larva high in the tree, watched them go, wondering what all the fuss was about.

pirate’s map


“Looks like a map to me,” said the boy.

The old man stuck his bottom lip out and squinted. “It’s a pirate map, indeed, matey.”

The boy leaned in for a better look. “How can you tell?”

The old man lifted a dirty, bony finger and traced the curves. “Arrr, I’d know it anywhere. It’s useless, boy, let it go. We’ll never find treasure with a map like that.”

“But grandpa, why not?”

“Well, you see where things get all squiggly here, that’s where the rum kicked in. Pirates are famous for drinking all the rum they can find. I stuck to tea meself in me pirate days. Called me a teetotaler, but here’s the thing: being sober, I was the only one who could draw a line to save me life. This here map’s been drawn by a drunk, look how it meanders about. I tell you the treasure’s lost as can be. Best forget about it.”

“Okay grandpa,” said the boy, and pretended not to notice as his grandpa cut down the bit of branch with the map and shoved it into his pocket.

the view from below


The little mushroom peeked around his big brother’s leg. “Is that it?”

“Yep. This is the Surface. It’s a weird place, lots of light and space, but most of it is empty because nobody likes leaving the ground. Kind of like us.”

The little mushroom sucked in his breath as a shadow flew over the sky. “What is that?”

“That’s a bird. They leave the ground whenever they like, and go soaring through all that empty space.”

“Someday I’m gonna do that,” said the little mushroom.

The eldest said nothing, hearing something in his little brother’s voice that made him think the boy might.


a creepy forest tale


The forest looked down the hill at the cabin. A curl of smoke wafted from the chimney.

“Legend has it,” said a sapling in a hushed voice, “that the human who lives there keeps a stack of CORPSES on his porch.”

The fir seedling listened, shivering with a delicious fear. “So that’s why there’s always ghosts coming out of the chimney!”


a hornets’ nest of questions


“They say that if hornets build their nest high, the snow will be high the coming winter,” said the man.

“How do you suppose the hornets know? Do they visit a fortune-teller?” asked his son.

“Does the snow fairy give them inside information?” asked his daughter. “That doesn’t seem fair.”

“Are they time-travelers?” asked his son’s friend.

“Is it possible unicorns use their horns to pierce hornets’ nests so they can protect children?” asked his daughter’s friend. “It might explain why they’re called horn-ets.”

The man stared at the nest and gave his head a small shake. He should have known better than to start a conversation with this group.