Categories
NYC Micro Fiction NYC Midnight Short Fiction

NYC Midnight – Micro Fiction 100 – Round 2!

The results are in for the 1st Round of the 100-word Microfiction Challenge 2020!

That was the headline in the email I woke up to. I was 100% certain I would NOT find my name on the results page. TBH, I wasn’t even going to look. I had decided I wasn’t going to enter a submission the very minute I read that my genre was HISTORICAL FICTION.

Before you get all affronted and scream, “What’s wrong with historical fiction?!” let me just say that I have absolutely nothing against Historical Fiction. I just don’t think I’m capable of WRITING in any genre that requires world-building OR historical research.

At the eleventh hour, I decided I paid my money…it’s only 100 words. I should just throw something together and toss it back at them. So I did. I blurred through the 100 words in a few minutes and hit send before I even read it. It was a toss away entry just to justify the contest fee. I knew there was a slight chance I’d get a genre I’d hate to tackle. You pay your dues, you take your chances. I thought, “Maybe next time?”

So, this morning–after contemplating whether or not I would even check the results–I opened the email and took a peek.

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Turns out I must have done something almost right in those 100 words! I made it through to ROUND 2!

1ST ROUND RESULTS:
For the 1st Round Results, go to https://nycmidnight.co/31a6Ees to see the top 20 stories and honorable mentions in every group.

So here’s the instructions for the upcoming ROUND 2, from the NYC Midnight email:

ATTENTION TOP 20 IN EACH GROUP!
If you are listed in the top 20 of your group, congratulations on advancing to the 2nd Round kicking off at 11:59PM EDT (New York time) this Friday, June 26th.  In the 2nd Round, the 1,600 advancing writers will be placed in new groups and will be challenged to write a 100-word story based on a new genre, action, and word assignment in just 24 hours.  The assignments will be posted on nycmidnight.com, e-mailed to everyone from feedback@nycmidnight.com, and will be announced through our facebook and twitter pages.  Best of luck!

It looks like I will be getting an email Friday night. Here’s to getting a genre I’m more comfortable writing…or, you know…getting pushed out of my comfort zone again. (-;

For anyone interested in learning more about the various contests going on at NYC Midnight, here’s a link to their site: NYC MIDNIGHT.

The next thing in the hopper for the NYC MIDNIGHT contests —->

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I guess this is the point in the post where I embarrass myself by sharing the 100-word fiction piece I threw together at the last minute with some duct tape and a little Spackle:

Death in Soho

As I usher little Annie into bed, I discover the sheets still carry the stains left behind by Mother and Father. The thick Cholera miasma of their dying fills the air. I light the candle to keep the darkness at bay. Annie moans, holds her belly, and soils the sheets.

“My sweet love,” I coo. I pick up Mother’s hairbrush, run it slowly through Annie’s hair to soothe her.

The cloppy dance of a hansom clicks the cobbles as it passes by the open window. A neigh and then silence. In the quiet, I feel the first tinge of cramps.

 

To those other writers who made the cut into ROUND 2, Congratulations and Good Luck moving forward! To those who didn’t, Congratulations on stepping out of your comfort zone and jumping off that cliff into the unknown. AND…Congratulations for putting yourself out there! Every submission should be celebrated! Clicking SEND is the victory…

Categories
Camino Camino de Santiago Short Fiction Short Story

Light Near the End of the World – A Camino de Santiago Short Story…

A LONG short story for those in isolation looking for travel fiction! This short story is set on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Read it now for free. Enjoy, share, be inspired…

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Light Near the End of the World ~ A Camino de Santiago Short Story

By Kevin Craig

Copyright © 2018 Kevin Craig

 

Just a moment more in the shade to re-energize, Corinne thinks to herself. Just one more moment. That’s all I need.

She runs her beads through her fingers. She no longer expects miracles, but she is still put at ease by the mere physicality of the ritual. The prayers and faith had abandoned Corinne days ago, but the impulse to wind her rosary through her fingers remains.

She sits still for a moment and contemplates everything she has left behind in Canada. She thinks of Robert and how badly he had wanted to walk the Camino, of how much he had planned for it before falling ill, and of how much his death threw her own life into turmoil. She thinks about how much her life was still in turmoil when she set everything aside to make the journey herself, as if it would somehow fulfill Robert’s desire.

She knows the turmoil will be there awaiting her return, that she will still have to figure out a new way to live without Robert. Twenty-eight years of marriage. Eventually one forgets how to do things alone. And yet she has taken on this stupid journey by herself. Even after everyone tried to talk her out of it. Yes, it will all be back there waiting for her. Like prey waiting to pounce, she thinks.

Corinne wipes her tears with the purple hiking scarf she has kept around her neck for most of her journey. Then she prepares to get back on her feet and continue the morning’s walk.

Just walk, just walk, Corinne thinks. The two words have become her everything during the most difficult moments of her journey. It has been therapeutic to repeat the mantra over and over whenever she begins to think of nothing but giving up. These words are her new prayer. Just walk. Just walk. How easy it would be to stop walking, take a bus or a cab to the nearest airport and escape back to Canada. How utterly easy.

Or maybe she could end her Camino in a cab, take it all the way to the centre of Santiago de Compostela. Like a thief and a cheat. Corinne has thought of this scenario many times, even in her sleep as her aching body tosses and turns restlessly on those horrid albergue beds. She has often awoken in those hostels with escape in her heart. But now, these thoughts seem so strong they frighten her.

At times it’s the mere thought of giving up that drives Corinne’s forward momentum towards Santiago, her sheer stubbornness forcing her onward. And at other times she simply considers herself insane and wonders why she doesn’t throw in the towel. Since Ponferrada, it’s been the only thing she has wanted to do. Stop walking. Give up. Relent.

And yet, since Ponferrada she’s known she’s been so very close to her goal. Every day, closer. Just walk. Just walk.

Corinne stands. She puts her beads into the breast pocket of her windbreaker and harnesses her backpack onto her shoulders. As she tightens the strap across her belly, she waves to two fellow peregrinos who pass by the bistro table at which she has been sitting. The café is in a perfect location, just outside of town at the very apex of a steep and treacherous hill. Pilgrims are almost certain to stop here. And when they do, there’s always the Tarta de Santiago—the lovely Spanish almond cake—to comfort them. The cake of St. James. And café con leche to wash it down, of course. Having finished hers long ago, Corinne has only been delaying the inevitable.

Another peregrino passes as she adjusts her backpack. “Buen Camino,” comes the oft-repeated refrain from the weary traveller who clearly shows exhaustion from his completion of the steep climb.

“Buen Camino,” Corinne replies. At first she found this greeting a strange thing to say. It hadn’t come naturally from her lips. But after so many days on the Camino—weeks—it now comes without thought. It’s her new ‘hello’. You see a fellow peregrino—pilgrim—you say it, come what may. Morning, noon, and night. Wherever you may be. “Buen Camino.” It sometimes serves as the entire conversation between two passing ships. It says very little, and it says everything all at once.

Corinne stretches her weary limbs, feeling the ache of exhaustion in all of them.

“Well, St. James, prepare to meet this old girl in a few days. Almost there. Let’s continue this fight to stay on our feet, shall we?” Even as she whispers the challenge to herself, she doesn’t believe it. She fears she is only lying, delaying her inevitable failure.

Finally, Corinne pushes her chair in, scritching the pads along the cobbles as she does so. She enters the sunlight beyond her protective tree cover. As she does this, a shadow crosses over her. She looks down at the cobbles and notices a man’s bare feet walk past her sightline. She glances up just as the man turns his head in her direction.

“Buen Camino,” she says. The man’s face lights up, as though hers is the first voice he has heard all morning. He seems too refreshed to have just made the trip up the hill. There is no huffing or puffing coming from him. She returns the smile that had instantly blossomed on his face.

“Buen Camino,” he says.

As she picks her walking stick up from the table, the man motions with a flick of his head for her to join him. “Going this way, Madame?” he asks, pointing to the road before them. He speaks with a French accent. Everyone on the Camino has an accent of some kind.

“Aren’t we all?” Corrine says as she laughs a little and falls into stride with this new peregrino stranger. She wonders, not for the first time, at how easy it is to instantly begin conversations out here on The Way of St. James. No introductions are ever necessary. She feels as though she is somehow having one long—endless—conversation with a never-ending stream of strangers.

“All of us who have been lucky enough to be called, oui?” the man says. “We are so fortunate, non?” He turns and offers her a smile filled with bright white teeth and dimples. His face is a road-map of fine wrinkles that seem to spread away from the corners of his mouth. His is a kind face. She smiles back.

Corinne does not feel the same sentiment, however. Not now, anyway. She feels anything but lucky. Her feet scream defiance with every step and in the back of her mind she still plays out her alternate plans to finish the Camino in a car, or not at all. She imagines herself falling into the backseat of a cab, even as she says, “Yes. We are certainly blessed to be here.”

The man stops walking and extends his hand to her. Corinne halts and takes the proffered hand in her own, shaking it. After letting go, she can still feel his remarkable heat warming her palm.

“Jesse,” he says. “I am from Lourdes. France. The place of miracles, non?”

She immediately knows this stranger. Marta, whom she had walked with from somewhere around Burgos to almost all the way to León, had mentioned Jesse numerous times. She had, in fact, sang his praises as though he were a prophet. Corinne tingles from the closeness of the calming vibes coming off the man. She knows already he is just as Marta had described him.

“Corrine. From Huntsville. I mean, Canada. Ontario.”

It is as though his unheard voice had echoed in her head ever since Marta had told her about him. At the time, she had taken Marta for either a liar, a fool, a dreamer, or all three. Corinne knows how the heightened sense of wonder and awareness on the Camino turns every little story or experience into something more grandiose and wondrous than it actually is. But maybe this time Marta had been on the mark. There’s something about Jesse, something Corinne can’t quite put her finger on.

“Canada. It’s beautiful.”

“I like it,” she says. Now she can’t help but smile. They walk in silence for several minutes. Another lovely thing about the Camino, she thinks, strangers can be silent without it being awkward.

“My friend Marta mentioned you. At least I think it was you. She said you spent an evening together in Pamplona, that you had a feast with a large group of people. She said you held court. She spoke very highly of you.”

“Marta is too kind. Yes. I am the Jesse she spoke of. Marta is lovely.”

Corinne catches the slight blush that rises in Jesse’s cheeks.

“It was a fun night,” Jesse says. “I remember it well. We were filled with the wine and philosophy that night. The moon, Corinne, it was so full. It made madness in the piazza that night. Excitement. Electricity, non? It may have brought with it the dance, even. Or perhaps the dance came with the red of the wine and not with the shine of the moon?”

She tries to estimate his age. Surely he can’t be younger than seventy. But she remembers that Marta had told her he had walked the Camino three times. That this is his fourth pilgrimage in only two years.

“There have been many magical nights on The Way, Jesse. Nothing about the Camino ever surprises me anymore.”

“It is almost done now, though, Corinne,” Jesse says as they continue on. She wonders at his bare feet and makes a mental note to eventually ask him about his reasons for walking without shoes. She wants to know if there is a pair of shoes tucked inside his backpack, just in case. “Where from will you get your magic after Compostela?”

“That’s a very good question, Jesse,” Corinne says. “Today, I’ve been wondering if I even have enough magic to finish the journey. The closer I get to Santiago, the farther away it seems.”

“No. Do not say this. We are so close, now. It would be a shame. Today—soon—we will hit Portomarin. You do not want to miss that bridge, that staircase. It is a place of beauty to walk into. Keep walking. I promise you a picnic at the top of the world today. Just beyond Porto.”

“Believe me, that’s exactly what I’ve been telling myself non-stop. Just walk, just walk. It’s getting harder every day, even though I can almost see the finish line now. A picnic, though. This sounds promising.”

They fall back into silence, with nothing but the click, click, clack of their walking sticks and the muffled voices of strangers about them carrying on their own conversations. Corinne stretches her shoulders as she walks, relieved that her pack has begun to feel a little lighter since her rest back at the café. Perhaps her feet do not hurt as much. She appreciates the company of this new stranger. He’s a distraction from the despair she has been sinking into for most of the morning.

“Do you believe in The Way of St. James, Madame?” Jesse says after the two walk in relative silence for a number of miles.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Corinne says, perplexed by the question. She looks at Jesse and decides it is okay to go deeper. One has to weigh what to share and what to keep to oneself on the Camino. It’s easy to give it all away, here. “My husband dreamed of walking the Camino, Jesse. He planned it out, he bought everything we could possibly need for the trip. We had matching packs, matching sleeping bags, matching everything. The house slowly filled up with guidebooks, walking sticks and hiking boots.”

Jesse smiles as Corinne lists off the items. But there is concern behind the smile. Corinne imagines he is working out the outcome of Robert’s planning on his own.

“And yet, he’s not here,” Corinne says, stating the obvious. “As Robert planned our Camino, fate planned a very different outcome for us. For him. Colorectal cancer.”

“Oh dear,” he says. “I am so sorry.”

Corinne sees the sincerity in Jesse’s expression. It makes her want to cry, but she holds herself together. She can’t believe how easy it is to talk to this stranger.

“So here I am, walking Robert’s beloved Camino. I know everyone says you should only walk the Camino for yourself. But honestly, it was always more Robert’s dream than mine. I have never been much of an adventurer, Jesse.”

“But you have found beauty, non?” They begin a rather steep incline and Corinne attempts to turn her focus to the road under her feet. The last thing she needs is to fall on this asphalt and get a bad case of road-rash.

“I would be heartless not to,” she admits. “It has changed my life. It’s just that somewhere along the way I think I lost my drive, my focus. I often wonder if I even had it to begin with. Maybe I was simply struggling with next steps, and avoided them all in coming here.”

“Perhaps you began the Camino for your husband,” Jesse says. “But it is time to finish it for yourself. Perhaps you need to change your focus, non? Do the rest for Corinne.”

“All I know for certain is that I don’t want to give up on Robert’s dream. I need to see this through, but every day it becomes harder and harder. It feels like someone keeps moving the goal-line while I sleep. It sometimes feels like the never-ending journey.”

“I have walked for others, too, Corinne. It is a weight in itself to do so. Maybe don’t walk for Robert, but walk with him. Know that he is with you. The dead, they are more present than you may think. They are with us, non? Here.” Jesse pats his chest over his heart. “They are here always.”

“You’re a sweet man, Jesse,” Corinne says. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you different.”

They walk in silence for several moments while Corinne ponders their conversation. Just as she goes to open her mouth to speak, Jesse puts up a hand to stop her.

“Wait. Don’t talk. Stop.”

She stands still in her tracks. Jesse puts a finger to his lips to silence her before she is able to ask why. The stillness that arises from the absence of the clicking of their walking sticks is almost deafening.

“We will turn this corner and the bridge to Portomarin will come into view. And downhill we will go, Corinne. The vista, it will be like magic. Prepare to meet the wonder.”

She smiles at Jesse and wonders when he will allow them to resume walking. It seems a pause is necessary, though. She fears the buildup will be too much, that she will feel let down when they finally continue on around the corner.

“We begin,” Jesse all but whispers, bringing a solemnity into the moment. “We’re off to see the wizard, non?”

Corinne smiles. She is more than familiar with the Wizard of Oz analogy repeatedly discussed along the Camino de Santiago. The yellow arrows of the Camino taking the place of the yellow brick road that led to Oz. The apostle James taking the place of the wizard. If I only had the nerve, she thinks.

They click onward. When they make the corner, the bridge and the water and the town beyond them come into view. Corinne gasps. The beauty is more than she had anticipated.

“It’s so…Jesse, it’s gorgeous.”

“Is it not beautiful?” Jesse says. “Come. It is downhill from here. And a bit of a zig and a zag. It’s further than it looks, though.”

“I believe in The Way of St. James,” Corinne says, newly inspired by the view of Portomarin in the distance. She cannot help but feel lifted while taking in this new vista. So much beauty on the path. She has long suspected beauty to be the thing that has kept her walking when every bone and muscle in her body has begged her to stop.

“Ah, but you have missed my meaning in the question, Corinne.” Jesse says. “I can see with my eyes that you believe in beauty, oui? Beauty is a religion of its own, one we share with all humanity. What I wanted to know is if you believe you are walking towards the apostle of Jesus. They say St. James is buried at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Are you walking for the apostle? Toward the apostle?”

Corinne still, after all this time, does not know how to answer Jesse’s question. Instead of rambling through the confused and confusing state of her faith, she pulls the rosary beads from her breast pocket and shakes them for emphasis.

Jesse smiles. Corinne shrugs and returns the rosary to her pocket. The two peregrinos continue down the steep incline toward Portomarin.

“So you are a believer, then?” Jesse says. Corinne can tell he will not allow the beads to stand as her answer to his question. “And The Way is a religious experience for you, Madame? Was it to be a religious pilgrimage for your Robert, then?”

“Oh, Jesse,” Corinne says. She can’t help but laugh at the idea of Robert making this trek as a Catholic pilgrim. He had lost his faith long before she had. In all their years together, he attended church only for weddings, baptisms, funerals, and, perhaps, midnight mass on Christmas Eve. “Marta told me about your talks that night. I should have known you would suss out the truth from me. Eventually.”

Jesse winks. Corinne laughs, and to his credit Jesse joins in on the laughter.

“Robert was not very religious,” Corinne says. “By not very, I mean not at all. And I have no idea when or where I started to lose it. My faith, that is. I can rub these beads as much as I want, it’s not bringing me any closer to the faith I let go of, Jesse.”

“Perhaps this is why you walk the Camino, non?”

“Maybe?” she says. “I’m willing to leave it open for now. I’m not sure I know the reason, but I don’t think it’s required. Granted, I thought it may have started to dawn on me by now. I’m winding down, right. Not much further to go. And not a single epiphany. No magic. No miracles.”

“Perhaps you need to check in at Santiago and ask yourself, Finisterre? Many peregrinos continue their walk from Santiago on to Finisterre, to the ocean at the end of the world. They say the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela is merely the light near the end of the world. That Finisterre is the place to go to finish your journey. Or even after this, there is another end of the world, Corinne. Two ends. In Muxía, is the second. If you travel to the end of the world, perhaps you may find yourself. And with yourself revealed, faith will be restored. Non?”

“You make it sound so simple, Jesse,” Corinne says. “Even with your silly two ends of the world. Alas, I’m not sure that’s how it works. I don’t think faith works that way at all.”

“Mmmm. Maybe, Madame. Maybe. Then, perhaps faith is easy and to deny it is difficult? You say no miracles, no magic. But have you been looking for them? We often miss the miracles, non?”

They walk on in silence. The click click click of their sticks echoes in the near-tunnel in which they pass, made by the overlapping tree canopy that temporarily shelters them from the incredible view. Corinne indulges her sudden compulsion to touch the breast pocket that harbours her well-worn beads, and she feels comforted in knowing they are still with her.

“There are many reasons to walk the Camino,” Jesse says. They finally break free of the trees that had shielded them from the approaching vignette. The bridge is far closer than it had been the last time she had spotted it. “One need not have faith to walk The Way. It is no longer a pilgrimage only for the faithful.”

“Oh, I know that, Jesse. Robert made that perfectly clear while he planned our pilgrimage,” she says. “I met a man just this side of León who said the Camino was his weight loss plan.”

“He did not study the Camino beforehand, non?” Jesse says. They both laugh at this. “So much rich food and wine on the Camino. It is hard to say no.”

“He told me he came to a conclusion and that he wanted to re-brand the Camino The Food and Wine Tour of Spain. It would throw off less people that way.”

“He has his point.”

“Buen Camino.” They have slowed down on the incline and now a couple passes them by, both greeting them as they pass.

“Buen Camino,” Corinne says.

“Portomarin,” the man says, raising a walking stick above his head as a sign of victory. His partner looks back at Corinne and smiles.

“He is a little excited. We heard good things about the pizza here,” the woman says.

“Enjoy,” Corinne says as the couple motors past them. The woman waves and they are soon gone, lost to another zag in the road.

“I don’t think they know of the hill to the top of the world we must walk after we go through the town. Their pizza will be the rock that slows them down on that hill, Corinne. Come with me to the shops and we will pick out the best bits for a picnic after our climb up that hill.”

“Marta told me you have done the Camino before. I suppose you know all the secrets along the way by now?”

“A good many of them, my friend. I know the best place to picnic in all the journey. Perhaps in all the world.” He winks at Corinne. “Come with me. I will show you the way. We are almost upon it.”

“You haven’t steered me wrong yet.”

Jesse laughs.

Soon they are near the bottom of their steady decline into the valley that holds the Miño River and the bridge that will take them over the river and into the town beyond.

Once they arrive at the foot of the bridge, Corinne stops and takes her backpack off. Jesse follows suit. Corinne does a few jumping jacks in appreciation of her temporary weightlessness.

“Oh, it feels so good,” she says. She takes a few steps out onto the bridge and stops to look out over the water. “It’s incredibly beautiful, Jesse. I don’t suppose you would humor me with a selfie together, would you?”

“Certainly,” he says as he joins her. They pose for a serious shot with the river sprawling out behind them, as it reflects the sunny cloud-speckled sky above. After Corinne takes the shot, the two look at one another. Jesse smiles and they turn back to the phone and make funny faces. Corinne captures the silliness and they both laugh.

Corinne feels light as air for the first time in days. She forgets her aches. She would skip across the bridge if not for their fellow peregrinos making their way down the steep hill toward them. They return to their packs, toss them back over their shoulders and continue on across the bridge.

“Oh my,” Corinne says as they arrive on the other side. There is a rather large stone staircase leading up to the town and it looks like the only way in. “Ever since they came into view, I’ve been trying not to think about these stairs.”

“They are not as bad as they look,” Jesse says. “Do you know about the ghost of this town that at times comes up out of the river?”

“I know nothing of this town but what you’ve told me. I’m afraid I’m a bad tourist.”

“They dammed the river, some years ago,” Jesse says. “Or flooded it. I’m not sure. The town was once in the bottom of the valley. Now the old town is under the river. What they left behind of it, anyway. Anything old and beautiful and wanting to be kept, they moved up the hill to the new town. Brick by brick, they say. The old church of San Juan of Portomarin was moved this way. One brick. Two brick, three brick, four. They numbered every brick so they could put it all back together again once they carried them up the hill.”

Jesse pantomimes moving one brick at a time for Corinne.

“Wow,” she says. She’s not sure if she has said this out loud or not. “Will we see this church?”

“But of course,” Jesse says as they arrive at the foot of the steps. “But first, the Spanish steps to the arch at the top. Fifty-two steps. I have counted them three times. This will be my fourth, and they will number the same, no doubt.”

“Wow,” Corinne says once again. This time she knows she has not made a sound as she mouths the word in awe of the man at her side.

“Once we are inside the arch, we will make our way to the piazza that holds the church. We will be at the shops, the square of town.”

“This is magical,” Corinne says as she begins to make her way up the steps. Her feet are as light as clouds. Her body soars as if the only thing holding it to the earth is the pack on her back. Thirty-six, forty-one…she counts every step. Fifty-one.

“Fifty-two,” she says as she puts her foot down on the last step. “That wasn’t so bad.”

In her singularity, Corinne did not notice that Jesse has not followed her up the steps until she turns back and sees him standing at the bottom. As she does so, he waves to her from where he stands on the first step.

“This will be my last climb ever of these steps, Corinne,” Jesse says. He shouts to be heard, with his hands cupped to his mouth. “Excuse me for taking my time.”

“No rush, my friend.”

Though he is not winded when he finally catches up with her, Corinne can see for the first time that he’s indeed an old man. His face seems to turn into a mask of sorrows between the bridge and the top of the steps. It somehow appears more sunken now. He has aged with each of the fifty-two steps.

“I am doing all the lasts on this Camino,” he says as they move away from the arch to allow other pilgrims to pass through.

“Buen Camino,” a woman with a cane and a bright pink bandana says as she pushes through the arch and continues on up the hill.

“Buen Camino,” Corrine replies, smiling. “We made it to the top.”

“That we did,” the woman says, turning back to offer Corinne a victory fist and a smile of her own before moving on into town.

“I am sad more and more, Corinne,” Jesse says, bringing her back to the moment. “I will not know what to do with myself after The Way.”

“Start again,” she says. She puts her hand on his forearm, squeezes. She all but says, there, there to him.

“This is my goodbye to the Camino. I feel my heart is full of The Way and I will be done when I get to Santiago. All the last times are piling up, Corinne. Last Ponferrada, last Melide, last Portomarin, last Burgos, last Sarria. Last everything.”

Because she really wants to know, and because she feels the man needs a change in the topic of conversation to bring him back to his cheerful self, she asks the question she has wanted to ask from the moment she first laid eyes on him.

“Do you have shoes in that pack, Jesse?”

“Oh no,” he says. “Not this time. I did not trust myself before. I carried shoes I did not use. Each time. I put my faith this time in St. James. No shoes for me.”

“Aren’t you afraid you will somehow hurt your feet? Cut them?”

“I was. Each time. And each time I walk, I am okay, non?”

“So, no shoes. I like that,” Corinne says. “I like you, Jesse. Marta was right about you.”

“Marta, she is the woman with her head in the clouds and her feet above the ground.”

“There may be a little truth in that statement.”

“Come, my new Canadian friend,” Jesse says. “We go now to that church with the bricks. And after, to the picnic at—”

“The top of the world? Yes. You have me intrigued.”

Corinne looks about for the next yellow arrow, spots it and moves in the direction in which it points. Always, the arrows have shown her the way. If she were to admit to having a modicum of faith in anything, it would be in the arrows. They will take her to where she wants to go. She only wishes the arrows would appear for her back in Canada. How easy it would be to follow yellow arrows for the rest of her life. Once again, she pats the pocket that holds her rosary beads. Just to be sure, she thinks.

“Yes, yes,” Jesse says. “Just some wine, some bread, some fruit and cheese. Simple things that will taste divine. To go along with the divine view. You shall see, yes.”

“Sounds good to me.” And it does. Corinne can sense the emptiness in her belly. She knows she’s overdue for a meal.

~~~

“It’s beautiful,” Corinne says. She stands right before the church and looks straight up at its looming presence. “The windows are stunning. Periwinkle, my favourite blue. It looks like a castle.”

“Every brick, they carried,” Jesse says, ignoring her comments on its aesthetic values. “One at a time, up from where the river now flows.”

“Wow,” Corinne says. She steps back and snaps a couple shots of the church, then waves Jesse in for a selfie with the monolithic façade in the background. “Say cheese.”

Jesse smiles and she takes the shot.

“This supermercado is the best in the village. The freshest plums, Corinne. That is the secret when picking your supermercado. Find the one with the freshest of plums.” They walk across the piazza and step inside the cool dark store.

~~~

Before they reach the top of the hill, Corinne once again wipes tears from her eyes with her purple hiking scarf. Jesse had told her it was a large steep hill. After the one she scaled just prior to meeting him, though, she thought it couldn’t be half as bad. It is.

All the way up the hill, they walk on sand that is almost orange. And the hill is so steep, all Corinne can see when she looks up to the peak is sky. A sky as blue as the sand is orange.

To Corinne’s left, there is a wall of rock and earth. To her right is what looks like a sheer drop into a deep valley below. The wide orange path she walks upon is clearly manmade, carved into the side of the massive hill.

“Look there, Corinne,” Jesse says. “That woman there, waving? She is at the top. We are almost there, yes. You can. Do it.”

“Oh, I know, Jesse,” she says. “I’m just tired these days. Too many hills. Too many miles. Too little sleep.”

“We’ll nourish ourselves at the top and you’ll feel new again.”

“I certainly hope so.”

“It will be so.”

They continue on in silence, conserving their energy for the climb. Soon they reach the peak and Corinne stops to remove her backpack. After tossing it to the grass just off the path, she crouches down low with her hands on her thighs, stands back up and stretches her arms in the air.

“Made it,” she whispers to herself. She looks down at her boots and notices that the sand has given them an orange tint.

“Now,” Jesse says, smiling at her. “Turn yourself around and look down the hill. You will see that we are now at the place of the top of the world, non?”

Corinne turns to face the hill she has just conquered.

“Oh my God, it’s beautiful. Jesse, it’s incredible.” She can see for miles. The entire town of Portomarin and all the surrounding area is spread out before her. It’s as breathtaking as any other place she’s seen along the Camino. “It really does look like the top of the world.”

“Come,” Jesse says from somewhere behind her. “We will sit here in the grass and nourish our stomachs as this view nourishes our hearts. Our souls. Oui?”

“Oui,” Corinne says. She blushes, feeling foolish for replying in French. She worries it was rude of her. “Yes. I mean, yes. Sorry.”

“No, no. It is okay, of course. Everything is okay here.”

She takes one last look at the panorama spread out before her. She then picks up her backpack and joins Jesse on the grass a few feet away. He has taken out a small camping blanket from his backpack and has spread it out on the grass. He’s already sitting on it. Absently, he pats the spot beside him while he takes out the food they picked up at the grocery store back in town. Wine, cheese, a baguette as golden as the sun itself, olives, crackers, grapes, sardines, and paté. And plums, of course.

Corinne slips out of her orange-stained hiking boots, sets them down in the grass, and sits down. She takes a small butcher paper wrapped package out of her backpack before casting the pack aside. She unties the string that holds the paper in place, and lays out the gorgeous selection of chorizos and sobrasadas she picked up from the butchers beside the supermercado. Her mouth waters as the spicy aromas of the sausage meats fills the air about them.

Jesse opens the wine after producing a corkscrew from an inner pocket of his jacket.

“You look for Ribeira Sacra on the label, Corinne,” he says with newfound solemnity. “This is the best. You see the river we crossed? The Miño?”

“Yes, the one into town.”

“That one, oui,” he says. “That river, it helps to feed the grapes that make this wine. The Mencia grape.” He brings the tips of the fingers of his left hand to his lips and kisses them. “Perfect wine.”

“You’re making me feel too happy, mister,” Corinne says. “I have almost forgotten how miserable I was before running into you earlier. What are you doing to me?”

“One just has to forget their feet to enjoy the Camino,” Jesse says. “When we met, you thought only of your feet. Only of your feet.” He laughs, pulls out two clear plastic cups from his pack and pours the deep red wine. He sets the bottle down in the grass, leaning it against the side of his pack, and passes a glass to Corinne. “Shall we toast?”

“To new friends and inspiration,” Corinne says. She raises her glass high and waits for Jesse to bring his up to join hers.

“To finishing the journey, Corinne. To Robert, who is with you always. To a promise to walk into the light near the end of the world. All the way to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. For him. And for you, also.”

Their cups meet, but Jesse holds his against hers and catches her gaze. He smiles. She knows what he wants from her.

“Yes, Jesse. Yes. I promise. I promise to walk all the way, to not give up. I promise.”

They laugh as they bring the cups to their lips and drink the wine.

“There you go,” he says. “See. It is easy, non? Your promise, it makes it official. No taxi.”

Jesse gives Corinne a look so stern and severe, she’s taken aback and unsure how to react. While she’s pondering her response, though, his face breaks into a wide smile.

“Oh my God,” Corinne says, “I thought you were serious. You horrible man.”

They laugh together and Corinne can’t shake the feeling she’s known this man forever. Marta was so right about Jesse. There’s something almost magical about the man. As Corinne eats and drinks her way through the best picnic she’s ever had in her life, she tries to remember the pain and defeat she felt before Jesse. It was almost like he came out of nowhere at the precise moment she needed a miracle to keep her moving.

“What do you do back in Lourdes, Jesse?” Corinne says. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Of course, of course,” Jesse says. “It is what I used to do, now, Corinne. I am an old man. I do not do much of anything anymore. I was a teacher.”

“Ah,” she says. “That seems apropos. You have that temperament. It makes sense to me.”

“It has been many years now since I have taught. I am now a peregrino only, non?”

“When was the last time you were home,” Corinne asks.

“Hmmmm? It seems so long ago. Impossibly long. I miss my home sometimes. Alas, my heart, it stays on the Camino for now.”

“But surely you’ve been home between your Caminos?”

“It’s almost like I no longer remember that place. Lourdes disappears when I walk, until it fades from memory.”

“I can almost understand that, Jesse,” Corinne admits. “Home seems so far away. But for me, it’s a love hate relationship. It’s so beautiful here. I just can’t seem to find inspiration these past few days. I’m so tired. I knew what I was doing this for in the beginning. Or, I thought I did. But I’ve kind of lost sight of things.”

Corinne takes a last sip of wine and sits the plastic cup in the grass just beside the blanket. She lets out a long sigh. With the sigh comes the realization the picnic may not have been enough to lift her spirits from the point of despair she had felt prior to Jesse’s arrival.

“Come, come, now.” Jesse stands up and takes a deep breath in, then slowly exhales. He steps off the blanket into the grass. “This,” he says, motioning towards everything within their sights. “This place. Don’t forget to see it. Come, Corinne. Stand up. Up. First, take off your socks. Join me.”

Corinne does as he says and slips out of her socks. Jesse reaches down and offers her his hand. She takes it and he helps her to her feet. “Do you feel that? The beautiful grass between your toes? Cool, oui? That breeze? That calmness. The air itself. Do you feel the tranquility?”

Corinne stands still as a statue beside this man who is calmness personified. She continues to hold his hand and she can feel the strength coming through it, the heat. She enjoys the coolness of the grass on her aching soles and between her toes. She doesn’t speak. She closes her eyes, inhales deeply, and listens to the silence.

“This, Corinne. This is inspiration. This place—all the places along the Camino—this is how you find the way. One beauty at a time.”

She stands still and breathes. She knows Robert will still be gone when she returns to Canada, and that she will still be on her own attempting to navigate life alone after so many years of being a party of two. She knows that the overwhelming sense of sinking and flailing she felt when Robert first passed will swallow her up again the moment she steps off the plane in Canada.

“What have I done?” Corinne manages in a little more than a whisper. She considers, perhaps for the first time, that her struggle to finish the pilgrimage might not be coming from her aching limbs and exhausted body at all. Perhaps she doesn’t want to complete the journey because of the things waiting for her at the finish line in Santiago de Compostela. “What have I done, Jesse?”

“No, no,” Jesse says. “You mustn’t cry, ma chère. It will all be okay in the end. You are a strong woman. You must convince your head,” he says, patting the top of his head. “Of what your heart already knows.” He pats his chest.

“How can you, a stranger, have more faith in me than I have in myself?”

“You are worried about your after. The world is a scary place, maybe, after the walk to Santiago. But the strength that brought you here will also bring you home. The courage you have collected along the way, it will take you to your new life.”

Corinne feels the truth in his words. She sighs once more, this time in relief. Because somehow she knows everything Jesse says is true. That she will fulfill her new promise to him, and walk all the way to Santiago. That she will find a way to carry on after the journey, to build a new life. A life without Robert. A life with something else.

“Can I hug you, Jesse?” she asks as she finally lets go of his hand and faces him. “I could really use a hug right now.”

“But of course, ma chère. Come,” he says, opening his arms to her. She falls into them and he wraps his arms around her. Her sense of peace is now complete. They stand in this embrace for several minutes as a gentle cooling breeze builds around them.

Her resolve is now fully strengthened. As Corinne slowly pulls away from Jesse’s embrace, she knows she has considered her last taxi and daydreamed her last escape. She knows she will use only her feet from this point forward, and that they will carry her all the way to the cathedral. And beyond.

Corinne realizes that, somewhere inside, she has known this outcome all along. She is Dorothy, who finally discovers she has held the secret to getting back home to Kansas within her during her entire journey to Oz.

She doesn’t know where this last surge of strength has come from, but maybe it’s not important how she found it. As long as it’s there.

“Come,” Jesse says. “We pack up our picnic. We are about halfway to Gonzar. You can walk to Gonzar before nightfall. An easy hike, oui. It is lovely there, Corinne. We are on the home stretch to Santiago.”

“The light near the end of the world, right Jesse?” she asks absently.

“That it is, Madame. That it is.” He returns to the blanket and begins to pack things up.

For a moment, Corinne is content to remain motionless. She feels such serenity, she does not want to move for fear of losing the sensation. She’s almost sad to see the end of the picnic, but knows she should get back to the path if she wants to get to Gonzar at a reasonable time. It’s exactly where she had intended to end the day’s journey. She joins Jesse in tidying up after their picnic.

After the food is packed away, Jesse shakes the blanket free of crumbs, rolls it up, and returns it to his pack.

“There. We are done. Almost time to walk,” Jesse says, triumphantly. “Gonzar or bust, non? You will soon be a pilgrim in the light, Corinne, near the end of the world. Four more days, maybe. But first, Gonzar. We go.”

“Let me just put these boots on,” Corinne says. She finishes what she’s doing and sits in the grass. She pulls on her socks and, after a heavy sigh, straps into her bulky hiking boots. She contemplates going barefoot tomorrow and wonders how it would feel to spend the day with nothing between her soles and the ground. As she rises to her feet, the weight of her boots make the decision for her. She’ll give it a go.

“Ready,” she says. As she surveys the field for any errant traces of their picnic, two pilgrims reach the top of the hill. They leave the orange sand path and approach the grassy area where Corinne stands.

“Buen Camino, peregrino,” the first young man says as he drops his backpack in the grass. He has long blond hair, pulled back in a ponytail. He’s shirtless and out of breath from the climb. “What a hill! Good God, I thought I was a goner.”

“Buen Camino,” the second young man says. His head is shaved and glistening with sweat from his efforts. He takes a bandana out of his back pocket and wipes the sweat from his head. He then sets a paper shopping bag down in the grass. It’s from the same grocery store where Jesse and Corinne had picked up their own supplies. “Looks like we had the same idea.”

“Buen Camino, pilgrims,” Corinne says. She smiles, knowing they plan to stop for a picnic of their own. “It’s a beautiful spot. Well worth the climb. I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourselves up here.”

“It’s lovely,” the young man with the ponytail says. “Are you Canadian?”

“How did you—” Corinne begins, but stops herself when she sees the young man point to the Canadian flag patch on the back of her pack. “Oh. Ha. Yes. I keep forgetting that’s there. Huntsville. Ontario.”

“We’re from Halifax,” the man with the shaved head says. He returns the bandana to his back pocket and shucks his backpack. “I’m Ryan. And the hippy here is Eric.”

Eric smirks and shakes his head, as though he has heard this teasing admonishment many times before.

“Nice to meet you,” she says. “I’m Corinne. And this is—” She turns to present Jesse to the new pilgrims, but he is nowhere to be seen. “Where’d he go?”

“Where’d who go?” Eric says as he unrolls his sleeping bag, unzips it, and spreads it out on the grass like a blanket.

Ryan kneels down on the bag, once it’s spread out flat. He starts to unpack the small bag of groceries. Eric flops down beside him with a loud groan.

“My new friend. Jesse?” Corinne says. She doesn’t like the panic in her voice as she calls out to him, but she’s powerless to turn it off. “That’s odd. He was just here with me.”

“You know pilgrims,” Ryan says, laughing. “Here one minute, gone the next. It’s a never-ending sea of faces. We’re all impossible to keep track of.”

“But we ate together. We only just now finished our picnic. We were preparing to set off to Gonzar when you arrived. We were tidying up and getting ready to leave.”

“Ma’am,” Eric begins. Corinne flinches at his choice of words, but says nothing. Before he continues, he removes a scrunchie from his hair, letting it fall out of its ponytail. He shakes it out while massaging his scalp with his fingers. “You were alone. I saw you standing there as we approached. I mentioned to Ryan that you were at the top, and that we had almost made it.”

Eric sweeps his hair back up, pulls it tight, and puts it back into a ponytail. He uses the same small scrunchie to hold it in place.

“But that’s impossible,” Corinne says. “He was with me the whole time. We walked together for most of the morning. Then we had our picnic. He was right here.” Corinne stamps her feet in the grass, as if to show Eric where Jesse should be. “I don’t understand where he could have gotten himself to so quickly?”

Eric examines Corinne with so much suspicion, she feels ridiculous. “Maybe he set off and you just didn’t see him leave,” he finally says. Corinne knows he doesn’t believe her. He can’t hide his skepticism. “Perhaps he—”

“You don’t understand,” she insists, her volume rising. She attempts to adjust it, so as not to come off so shrill. “We were speaking seconds before you arrived. Seconds.”

“I’m telling you, Ma’am, you were up here alone when we—”

“No. Eric,” Ryan begins. He looks up at Corinne and smiles, but she can’t tell if it’s genuine or if it’s out of some sense of pity or appeasement. He turns back to his friend. “You know the stories as much as I do.”

“Come on, man,” Eric says. “That stuff doesn’t happen in the real world, Ryan. The stories are just stories. Everyone wants this magical Camino story to take home with them. None of them are real.”

“I’m sorry,” Corinne says, “but what stories are you referring to?”

Ryan gets up off his knees and approaches her. “All along the Camino people talk about them. The pilgrims who aren’t really there. The ghost peregrinos. Apparitions. Travellers who appear and walk with other pilgrims. I thought it was bull, to tell you the truth. I’m not sure I believe it, still. But maybe.”

“Yeah. And maybe I’m not the hippy after all, you mean,” Eric says. “Come on, Ryan. You’re obviously freaking the lady out. Stop with the crap.”

“It’s not crap,” Ryan says, turning on Eric. “That woman from Ecuador. If her story wasn’t convincing, I don’t know what is.” He turns back to Corinne. “I’m sorry if this is something you don’t want to hear. But so many people have had encounters like what you’re describing. Things happening that can’t be explained. People being there and then suddenly not there. The woman from Ecuador told us a pretty convincing story about a pilgrim who helped her out when she was in danger.”

Corinne is too stunned to speak. She replays the day in her mind’s eye, tries to make sense of Jesse’s sudden disappearance. Why would he just leave her like this? She thought they were getting along so well.

“It was only a convincing story if you want to believe it. But that lady from Ecuador was off her rocker,” Eric says. He turns to Corinne. “She was twist-tying fortune cookie sayings to tree branches. She wore tie-dye leggings and had flowers in her hair. Listen, we can pack up. It’s Corinne, right? We can pack this up for now and eat later.

“Why don’t we all rush ahead together? Maybe we can help you find this Jesse guy. I’m sure he just decided to go on ahead. Everyone’s on their own schedule out here. We all walk alone and together. Even Ryan and I split up for hours at a time some days. We always meet up again eventually.”

“It’s not like that,” she says, finally able to speak again. She has an epiphany and feels relief wash over her. “Oh. Oh. My phone. We took pictures. I have pictures. Selfies. On the bridge over the River. Miño. Coming into Portomarin.”

“There. See,” Eric says, more to Ryan than to Corinne. “She has pictures. End of mystery. He just decided to move on and do some solo walking. That’s all.”

Eric looks relieved he doesn’t have to give up his picnic after all. He remains seated.

Corinne reaches for her phone. She desperately needs to see the pictures of Jesse. As she fumbles through the screen-lock and opens her photo gallery, she realizes she didn’t bother to look at any of the shots while she was taking them.

Ryan and Eric look on as Corinne scrolls through her photos, seeing them appear in reverse order from how she had snapped them. A couple selfies with the church in the background, followed by photos of the church by itself. Next, a goofy shot of her on the bridge, followed by a shot where she’s simply smiling. The surface of the river behind her in the bridge shots is a perfect mirror image of the blue sky above her. The sun glints off everything, making everything brighter than bright.

No Jesse. She swipes back and forth, looks at all the photos again and again. He is nowhere to be found in any of the shots. No goofy face shot, no smile shot, no Jesse in front of the church shot. No Jesse.

Corinne drops her phone in the grass and takes a step away from it, as though she fears it.

“What?” Ryan says. He is now at her side. He puts an arm around her shoulder. “What is it, Corinne?”

“I took pictures of Jesse.” She counts on her fingers, moving her lips as she does so. “Four. Four that I’m sure of. Maybe five.”

“Okay,” Ryan says. He lets go of Corinne and reaches for the phone. He holds it in front of her so she can unlock it. The gallery is still open. Corinne watches as Ryan swipes through the last twenty or so photos in the gallery. “Holy shit.”

“What? What?” Eric almost looks defeated now. He gets up off the sleeping bag with as big a groan as the one he gave when he first flopped down onto it. He takes the phone off Ryan and looks through the photos. “How can that be? Are you lying to us? Why would you make shit like this up? Are you crazy, or something?”

“Okay, okay, Eric,” Ryan says. “Let’s not get personal.” He takes the phone back from Eric and hands it to Corinne. She puts it in her back pocket.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Corinne says. “I wouldn’t believe me either.”

They stand in silence for several minutes. A group of peregrinos trek past them on the path and they all simultaneously voice their greetings. It comes so naturally they don’t even need to think about it. “Buen Camino.”

“I was going to end my Camino today,” Corinne says. There are tears in her eyes. As they begin to fall, she swipes them away with her purple hiking scarf. “I was going to either find a way to an airport and fly home, or jump in a taxi and ride it all the way into Santiago. I swear to God, I was seconds away from giving up.”

“And Jesse found you?” Ryan asks. Eric sighs in exasperation, as though he’s had enough of the idiocy they’re suggesting. When Corinne looks at him and sees his expression, though, she can tell he’s undecided. Maybe even spooked.

“Jesse found me.” It’s all she says. It’s all she needs to say. She had given up and the Camino responded by giving her Jesse.

“Oh my God,” Ryan says. He holds out his arm. “Look. Goosebumps.”

“There has to be some kind of explanation?” Eric says, attempting to remain rational. “There’s no way this could—”

“He didn’t speak to anyone else,” Corinne says. She runs through the entire time she spent with Jesse in her head. Every time they confronted fellow peregrinos, he had only smiled whenever greetings were exchanged. He held back at the supermercado. He spoke about the pizza in Portomarin only after the couple had passed out of their lives. “Not a single person.”

As she wipes at her eyes, Eric says, “I’ll pack up these things. We’re going to walk with you. At least until Gonzar. Come on, Ryan. Help me with this stuff.”

Eric returns to the sleeping bag in the grass. He begins to pack their food away. Just as Ryan turns back to help him, Corinne grabs his arm.

“No,” she says. Eric stops what he’s doing and looks up. Ryan turns back to Corinne. “You know what? I got this.”

Eric steps away from their picnic once again and joins them. They wait for Corinne to continue.

“I got this,” she says. “For the first time in days, I think I got this. You boys have your picnic at the top of the world. That’s what Jesse called it. This place. The top of the world. You enjoy this. I’m going to take a walk.”

“But—” Eric begins.

“No. Really. This morning I was a wreck. I very nearly gave up on a promise I made to my husband months ago. Almost threw it all away. Am I spooked? Yes. Of course. But Jesse was a lovely man. I don’t know how to explain it. I should be screaming. I should be losing my mind. But I feel so…full. I feel full right now.”

Corinne has an epiphany, drops to the grass and begins to untie her boots.

“What are you doing?” Eric says. “I thought you were leaving?”

“I am,” she says. She slips out of her boots, rises and carries them to the edge of the path. She sits them down in the orange sand, pulls off her socks and stuffs them inside the boots and turns back to the two young men. “I am leaving.”

“You’re going barefoot?” Ryan says. “That’s dangerous, isn’t it? Shouldn’t you at least take them with you? You know, in case you change your mind.”

“I have changed my mind, Ryan. I have. Don’t you see? No. Barefoot was good enough for Jesse. It’s good enough for me.”

Corinne returns to their picnic area and picks up her backpack. She is filled with something like air. No light, something like light. And she never wants to lose this feeling. She slings her pack over her shoulder and straps it in place. The young men look on with similar expressions of uncertainty.

“Have either of you ever heard of Santiago de Compostela being referred to as the light near the end of the world?” she asks. She is smiling now, and it feels so good to be out of the misery she had slipped into earlier. Before Jesse.

Eric and Ryan look at each other. They scrunch their faces and shrug before turning back to Corinne. Together, they say, “No.”

Eric says, “I don’t know of any nickname for it. I know they call Finisterre the end of the world. And Muxía is the second end of the world. But I’ve never heard of that.”

“Neither have I,” Corinne says. “Until Jesse told me about it. I wonder what he meant by that. Perhaps the light of the cathedral guides pilgrims to the end of the world. Perhaps it is only a threshold, and not the end of the journey.”

Eric shrugs again.

“I like that,” Ryan says. He smiles, reaches forward and extends his hand. He reconsiders and opens his arms. Corinne gives him a quick hug. “I like that a lot.”

Corinne turns to Eric and opens her arms. He comes in for a hug. He seems overwhelmed, as though he’s still struggling to make sense of everything.

“I’m going to Gonzar now, gentlemen. And in a few days, I’m going to walk into Santiago de Compostela on my own two feet. No taxi. No bus. No donkey. I promise.” She raises a hand, as though she is swearing an oath to them. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after I reach the cathedral in Santiago I’m going to keep going. To both ends of the world. To Finisterre and beyond, to Muxía. As God is my witness, I’m adding to my journey.”

“Well,” Ryan says. “It was lovely to meet you, Corinne.” He smiles and shakes his head. “I was not expecting any of this.”

“Neither was I,” Eric says. He looks as though he needs to sit down. To Corinne’s surprise, he comes in for another hug. “Buen Camino, peregrino.”

“Buen Camino to you both,” Corinne says. She holds herself together, knowing she is on the verge of both crying and of laughing uproariously. She knows she needs to move, to start walking. It’s the only way she’ll be able to keep herself together. “Enjoy your picnic at the top of the world.”

They smile and watch as she turns to make her way back to the path. As her feet leave the soft grass and she touches down on orange sand, she can feel the grit between her toes. It’s not an entirely unpleasant feeling. She could get used to this. In fact, she remembers doing this as a child. She remembers feeling the earth beneath her feet, between her toes. She’s surprised by how little she allows herself the sensation now.

Corinne turns and waves to the young men in the grass. They wave back before wandering over to their sleeping bag.

Before she returns her focus to the path, Corinne remembers something. She pats at the pocket that holds her rosary beads and feels comfort in knowing they’re still there. Then she walks off, looking over her shoulder only once. To see her abandoned boots one last time.

“Thank you, Jesse,” she says only to herself. “Wherever you are, whoever you are. Thank you. Buen Camino, my friend. See you in the light.”

Just walk, Corinne thinks to herself as her freed feet touch down again and again on the soothing warm sand, turning them orange in the process. Just walk, just walk.

THE END

In Loving Memory of Connie Grisley, a fellow pilgrim who helped me to find my way.

connie

 

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Categories
Paris Short Fiction Short Story

The Light Here Makes it Real

A short story set in, surprise, Paris. For your isolation consumption…

The Light Here Makes it Real

They talk about the light here as though it were some great shakes,” Reeny says. “The light in Paris. The light in Paris.”

She takes a sip of her latte and lets the cup drop noisily back onto its saucer. “But they never mention the rats, do they? Not when Ted and I lived here. Not in the brochures, not in the movies I’ve seen, and not in the books I’ve read. Not a goddamned rat among the lot of them. Not one. Cripes.”

You can find all the bad bits if you look hard enough, Reen,” I say. “But are the rats really bothering you? They’re just wandering about the shrubbery, going about their business. Don’t look. Ignore them.”

I know my reply doesn’t help, but Reeny is exhausting at the best of times. She gave up on Paris before we even reached our taxi at the airport two days ago. She’ll never see its beauty. Not again, anyway. Not after Ted. “Every city in the world has its bad bits, Reeny. But if you squint, they disappear. That’s when the light gets in.”

Christ, Annie,” she spits. “You sound like a brochure. Are they paying you for saying this crap?” She swipes at a tear and sighs. As usual, she’s unwavering in her ability to hold onto negativity and sadness. In Reeny’s eyes, it would be wasteful to abandon these anchors that keep pulling her back down into the abyss. They’re character building, and she’s under reconstruction.

I can see Notre-Dame Cathedral from where I sit here on the corner of Rue Saint-Louis en L’ile and Rue Jean du Bellay. It sits just beyond the little bridge. We’re at the same cafe table where we began our day yesterday. Croissants, latte, orange juice and biscuits. Reeny will probably have the same breakfast every morning. She does not stray far from what she immediately becomes comfortable and familiar with.

I’ll give her today, but come tomorrow I will order on my own. I will choose whatever strikes my fancy on the menu and I’ll ignore the raised eyebrow of consternation she delivers. We’re on vacation. I will not conform to her demands here. Not in Paris, of all places. Paris is a feast and I shall partake, come what may.

Who flies a goddamned kite in the city, anyway?” Reeny says, seemingly out of the blue. It takes me a moment to locate her point of reference. A crimson red dragon with an impossibly long tail floats above the buildings in the narrow streets across from the cathedral.

It’s lovely,” I say, smiling at the whimsy of the dragon as it dances in the clear blue morning sky.

They’re asking for trouble,” she says, looking at it scornfully. “It’ll get stuck in the trees, or wrapped around a pole. The string’s bound to be cut. They’ll lose it forever. The end.”

My heavens, Reeny,” I say. I take the last swill of my orange juice and wipe my mouth with my white linen napkin. “You’re being so negative. We’re in Paris. We should try to enjoy our time here.”

I’ve never been accused of being negative before,” she says. I guffaw, but immediately regret it.

What?” she asks, astounded that I would be amused by her statement. “What did I say?”

Reeny Persaud, come on now. I’ve known you since grade school and I have called you out on your negativity for a good forty years now. Negativity is at your very foundation. It’s the very core of you.”

She begins to pout but can’t keep a straight face for long. A smile begins to form on the outskirts of her mouth and she gives in and allows it to blossom. I return the smile and add a wink.

Ooh. You make me so angry, Annie. Why are you the only one who can manipulate my emotions like this? I want to bask in my misery. God, I hate you sometimes.” She laughs.

Come on,” I say, tossing my napkin at her. “We’re done here. We’ve wasted enough time on breakfast, if that’s what you want to call it. Let’s get out into this beautiful day before it’s gone. A day in Paris is worth a week anywhere else in the world.”

I question your math, but okay. Please remember, though. I’m in mourning. I’m allowed to be moody. I’m allowed to wallow. Please don’t take that away from me.”

Understood,” I say as I rise from the table and leave a couple Euro under my saucer for a tip. “But I’ll not have you disparaging innocent kites and wishing them dead. I’ll call you out every time you try to kill a kite, my friend. Their only crimes are dancing in the wind and looking pretty.”

Stop being so bubbly,” Reeny says. She looks down at the table and then back at me. “You do know you’re not supposed to tip in Europe, don’t you?”

I’m sure the money will assuage their contempt at my breach in etiquette. Let’s go, Reen. It’s looking very much like a Montmartre kind of day.”

***

We take the Metro to Abbesses Station. I hope I’m right in assuming Reeny and Ted didn’t spend a lot of time in Montmartre while they lived here. I’m trying not to pour more salt on the wounds I opened up for Reeny yesterday by taking her to Luxembourg Gardens and the Tuileries. These places meant far too much to her and Ted. They carry too many memories. My hope is that Montmartre is safer ground to cover.

As we climb up out of the underground, Reeny confirms my suspicions. She looks around as we climb the steps to street level. Her smile is a good sign.

Believe it or not, I haven’t been back here since our senior year class trip,” she says. She points to the sign above the steps that reads Metropolitain. “Remember when Rob Kenner tossed Cheryl Demsey’s sweater up over that sign?”

I do. It was hilarious until we all realized nobody could reach it. My God, Ms. Dubois was furious. ‘Merde, merde!’

I learned a couple French curses that day,” Reeny says. “Thank God for the horrendous clown on stilts who took pity on us and saved Cheryl’s sweater. With her theatrics, it was almost an international incident.”

Ha,” I say. “Absolutely.”

So what exactly are we doing in Montmartre, anyway?”

Well,” I say as I lead her off in the right direction. “I thought we’d begin with Sacré-Cœur and end up somewhere near that pretty pink restaurant and stop there for something to eat. It’s such a lovely place.”

La Maison Rose. Ooh. It’s been a while since I was a tourist in Paris. I always wanted to dine at La Maison Rose. We only got to walk past it with the class.”

That’s the spirit, baby girl,” I say. I can feel my shoulders relax a little and I realize just how tense with worry my whole body had been. I’m relieved she’s gradually stepping into this day willingly. Perhaps things are looking up. “It’s a ten minute walk. We’ll be there in no time.”

We walk in silence for several minutes, quickly finding a pace that works for both of us. She slows down a bit and I speed up as much as my bad knee will allow.

I just realized we’ll be looking down at the city once we get to the cathedral. We’ll see everything spread out before us.”

That’s kind of the point, sweetie,” I say. I turn to look at her and catch her swiping tears from her eyes. I rest a supportive hand on her shoulder, but say nothing more.

It’s just…It’s our city. It’ll always be our city. I’m not sure it was a good idea to come back so soon after…”

She trails off, but she doesn’t need to finish for me to know what she was going to say. So soon after cancer, after death, after loss. Perhaps this entire trip was ill-planned. I just thought that being in the place she loved the most in all the world would somehow bring her closer to Ted, while at the same time miraculously helping her to let go. I’m a bad friend.

We continue to walk in the direction of the cathedral. She manages this mini breakdown while walking, at least.

Sweetie,” I say, “I know it’s hard. Remember, I’ve been through this kind of loss with Steven. I know what you’re going through. And I know it takes a long time to find a new normal. Believe me when I say I understand. You still wake up wanting him in your life so badly, you think about staying in bed and giving up. I get it, I really do. It’s been eleven months. I just thought seeing these places would make you feel closer to him. I’m sorry. I thought Paris would be difficult, of course. But I also thought it would give you some sort of peace. I thought you would feel his presence here, in a good way.”

I do, Annie, I do,” she says. She’s trying. “Ted’s definitely everywhere here. We spent three whole years living in Paris together. It changed us. Of course I see him in every shop, on every corner. But I’m grateful we’re doing this. I, just…I can’t believe it’s been almost a year. I remember when he first got sick, how I couldn’t imagine living my life without him. I do get that you know how it feels. Being here is just so overwhelming. It’s bringing back a past reality that no longer exists.”

We’re almost there,” I say. I guide Reeny across a narrow street and point off into the distance. “We can turn up this street, I believe, and come up on the church from the back end.”

She allows herself to be led, allows me to take her hand and lead the way.

It’s overwhelming,” she repeats.

I know. Maybe it’s good that we’re here. Maybe the places in which you find him will help you in some small way.”

Maybe,” Reeny says. We look at each other. Her eyes are damp and I feel helpless. Hopeless. “How do you feel about Montreal, Annie?”

That’s not fair, Reeny.”

I don’t mean it in a bad way, sweetie. This is not a competition on mourning. But it’s hard for you to go to Montreal, is it not?”

Absolutely. But I also love seeing the patio where Steven spilled the plate of spaghetti and meatballs down the front of his white button-up. Or the place where my heel snapped off between two cobbles and Steven helped me hobble to the closest shop to buy flats. I love smelling that particular sweet pungency of the Quartier Latin, and how nowhere else in the world smells the same. I love the way—”

Okay, okay,” Reeny says. She laughs and it sounds as lovely as Paris rain. “I get it. And, yes, I feel the same way. Why, the only reason I attacked that kite earlier was because I had a momentary tinge of happiness remembering a kiss Ted and I shared on that bridge by Notre-Dame. You know the one, where they have all those ridiculously infuriating love locks now.”

Reeny Persaud, you take that back. They’re not ridiculous. Love is not ridiculous, especially in Paris. L’amour n’est pas ridicule. Did I get that right? Just, how dare you! Those locks are precious.”

Okay, okay. You’re really keeping me on a short leash today. Precious, indeed. But that kiss, that day. It was perfection, Annie. We spent hours upstairs at Shakespeare and Company. You’re only allowed to read the books up there, you know. Ted found one that enthralled him. We sat on one of those horrid little benches that, if you patted it, the dust motes would rise and fill the air. It was wondrous.”

I guide her past the final turn and the back of the cathedral looms before us. I slow our pace, because it’s good that she’s talking, remembering, reliving.

I leaned into his shoulder and daydreamed about nothing while he sat reading, turning pages like it was a marathon he wanted to win. And after, we were crossing the Seine and stopped in the middle of that bridge to take it all in. Like we were tourists in love with the light. Like we hadn’t lived in the neighbourhood for two years already.

Paris is like that. You go about your daily life, forgetting its beauty. You just live. Then one day you see it, you sigh and think to yourself, Mon Dieu. C’est trop belle. My God. It’s too beautiful.

We stop walking and face each other. We both smile, but Reeny’s expression holds a pain so deep it wounds me.

Yes,” I finally say. It comes out as a whisper. I move to wipe a tear from Reeny’s eye and she allows me to do so.

Look at me,” she says, laughing. “I’m a mess.”

This is a good mess, Reen.”

The thing is, it’s never too beautiful. Beauty hurts because it’s supposed to hurt. But it’s a good hurt. A hurt that brings deeper love.”

She’s lost her train of thought. She attempts to find the thread while I think of the kite and hope it made it through the morning intact. Reeny will find her way back, if I give her enough time. We begin to walk alongside the cathedral. As we approach the vista at the front that opens up onto the entire city of Paris, she lets out a deep breath.

The thing about that day, Annie,” she begins as we continue onward. “On that particular day, we sighed at the same time. We both fell in love with the beauty of the city at the same precise moment. Ted turned to me and he said exactly what I was thinking. He said, ‘The light here makes it real.’”

I put my arm around her as we stop at the top of the stairs and prepare to turn our gaze onto the city below.

He was talking about the city, yes,” Reeny says. “But he was also talking about us, about our love, our life, our world. We kissed. By then I already knew I’d love him forever. But that day, the way we fell into sync so perfectly. The way the city re-bloomed for us. The way the light hit the Seine, and the cathedral, and the trees. That was my one perfect moment. You only get one.”

And I’m sure it was his too,” I say, because I don’t know what else to say. I know she’s avoided looking at the panoramic view so far. “Ready to see this?”

I take her hand in mine and squeeze. We smile at each other and she shrugs. We turn to take in the city. Reeny looks at it for several minutes in silence before turning back to face me. Tears course down her cheeks.

That’s the thing about Paris, Annie,” she says. Her sides hitch as she attempts to keep her composure long enough to complete her thought. “The light here. It makes everything real.”

THE END

Categories
NYC Midnight Paris Short Fiction Short Story

The Woman Downstairs – A Short Story

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Today, I’m going to share another short story. I wrote this one last year (2019) for the NYC MIDNIGHT SHORT STORY CONTEST. My heat in round one had 3 stipulations. The genre had to be DRAMA, it had to involve PET-SITTING in some form and one of the characters had to be a FIANCEE.

I decided to write a pastiche to Rear Window.

It WON 1st Place in my Round One heat!

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Here’s the feedback I received from one of the judges for THE WOMAN DOWNSTAIRS:

“The writing is top-notch, perfect for the setting. The POV character’s world of the dog and the window reminds me a bit of REAR WINDOW, and the dog is like the cast, keeping her from going out. The drama she watches and the drama she lives come together at the end.”

THEY GOT THE HOMAGE! Yay!!!

Without further ado, here is the story…

THE WOMAN DOWNSTAIRS

“Madame. Pas de cheins,” the waiter says as I sit down. He tsks and points to a sign in the window. It’s of a dog being crossed out by an angry red line. “Go, go. No dogs. S’il vous plait, laissez. Go.”

I thought I would be okay if I sat at the farthest table from the restaurant’s entrance and tied Chewy up to the outside of the fence separating the patio from the sidewalk. I quietly get up, untie Chewy’s leash and make my way along the sidewalk towards Notre-Dame.

I underestimated the strain house-sitting for Stacey would put on me. It sounded like a lovely idea at the time. How could a third-floor walk-up on Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île in Paris not be a dream come true? The apartment is mere steps from Notre-Dame Cathedral and walking distance to most other major sights. Even with her little Yorkie included in the deal, it seemed doable. The dog-sitting was incidental, really. Paris was mine.

Robert was supposed to join me on day three so we could spend the rest of the three weeks together. We needed the little vacation prior to the chaos of our impending wedding. Two and a half weeks in Paris together sounded like perfection, a way to get back on track after our disastrous year. I wanted to show Robert the city, have some fun, and put the past behind us.

Alas, he’d have to actually show up for that to happen.

I take Chewy to the little parkette behind the cathedral and sit down at one of its many benches. It’s a perfect place to feel sorry for myself, complete with gargoyles glaring down disapprovingly from above. With no breakfast in my belly and no Robert at my side, my misery is complete.

I pick Chewy up and smother him in kisses. He rubs his face against my cheek and I’m reminded I’ve gone another day without makeup. I never go anywhere without it. I blame Robert. It’s my eighth day in Paris and I’m still alone. It’s my favorite city in the world and because of him, I’m miserable. Every day brings another excuse, another delay in his arrival.

After festering in the shadows of the cathedral for a few minutes, I place Chewy on the ground and we head back to the apartment.

Once inside, I return to Stacey’s kitchen window. The only habit I’ve picked up since my arrival has nothing to do with the city sights. I’ve become fascinated with the woman downstairs, a strange once pretty woman who wears nothing but a graying white camisole that barely conceals her morbidly obese body. Thank God she never looks up. When I originally told Robert about Downstairs Lady, I gave her the name Fanny-Mae. I can be so cruel sometimes. Robert and I did that thing where we create fantasy worlds for the unsuspecting quirky characters we stumble upon. We give them names, spouses, children, problems and dreams. Backstory.

I played our little game over texts this time around. I couldn’t bring myself to send Robert a discreetly stolen snapshot like I usually do, though. Downstairs Lady is different. Taking her picture would somehow steal her soul, her inescapable beauty. I couldn’t insult her honor that way. When I tried to explain this to Robert, he asked if I was okay. “Are you taking your pills?” “You need to stop obsessing over this lady.”

I promised I was taking the pills I never once opened and he promised he’d soon join me in Paris. Our lies canceled each other out.

Stacey’s window looks into Downstairs Lady’s dining room window, where she’s trapped in an over-sized hospital bed in a room not designed for beds. Through her casement windows, which are left open day and night, I can make out the bottom of an ornate chandelier that hangs above her bed. Being in a circular courtyard, our windows are extremely close to each other. I can even catch whispers of conversation.

She eats relentlessly while watching black and white movies on a small TV. She leans up on one elbow and fills her face with the endless supply of food her gorgeous dark-skinned French lover brings to her bed. He’s always cooing sweet nothings in a sexy voice filled with longing. Mon petit ange, mon amour, mon tendre. I decided to call him Henri. I melt each time Henri enters the little vignette the window allows me, or opens his mouth to coo. What must it be like to have his kind of love? I adore how she owns it and how she unapologetically lounges about, erotically certain of her powers. She could lead a revolution. This is why I changed her name to Belle days ago.

I fill Robert in on Belle’s daily food consumption, while I myself forget to eat. I only break my vigil at the window long enough to drag Chewy throughout the streets of this little island. And I speak only when Chewy’s neighborhood fans stop us in the street to worship his undeniable cuteness.

Robert assesses me with each text I send, evaluates my mental state with each of our infrequent calls. I know I’m slipping, but can’t stop it. I struggle between over-exaggerating my fall and disguising its depths. Which side of the scale will bring him to me quicker and which will push him away?

The constant silence reminds me I’m shutting down. Robert calls this Phase One. “I know it’s bad when you stop talking.” I’ve been startled by the sound of my own voice lately, after going hours at a time without hearing it at all. He suggests bike rides and jogging as possible remedies, but this would be a moot point if he would simply join me in Paris. That would solve everything. I think.

***

“Hello?” I say into my cell as I struggle to gain my bearings. My screen reads five-thirty a.m.? He’s done it again. My twelfth day in Paris and he still can’t get the time zones right. “Robert? It’s not that difficult. You’re six hours behind.”

“Emma, I’m sorry,” he says. He sounds overly animated, like he’s been drinking. “I forgot.”

“Why are you awake? It’s…” I do the math. “It’s almost midnight there. You’re never up this late when you’re working.” There’s a din of muffled voices and laughter about him, accompanied by the pounding bass of dance music. “Where are you?”

“Sorry, baby,” he slurs. “I miss you.”

“Robert, hang up. That’s so rude,” says an unfamiliar woman’s voice in the background. There’s a rustle as his phone is jostled.

“Robert,” I say, now fully awake and sitting up. Chewy eyes me with suspicion from the foot of the bed. “Who’s there? Where are you?”

“Just out for drinks with a few guys from the office, Em. Crazy day. We needed a reprieve.”

“Robbie, come back to the party. I’ll smash that phone if you don’t hang—”

The ambient noise cuts off, along with my connection to Robert. I place my cell back on its charger and try not to think about what just happened, try not to think about his cheating or how it led me to my last breakdown.

My head drops onto my pillow and I turn away from the glaring moonlight streaming in through the un-curtained windows. I need more sleep but within minutes Chewy is in my face, licking and whining. He’s been awakened too early and won’t be appeased until he does his business.

Once dressed, I carry Chewy down the spiral staircase to the ground floor. I forego the inner courtyard for an opportunity to explore the awakening city. We make our way through the alleyway that leads to the narrow street and I wrestle with the large creaky door that separates the two worlds.

Finally, something I can love the way Henri obviously loves Belle. Paris. In my gloom, I’ve forgotten how enchanting Rue Saint-Louis can be, and how it comes slowly to life in the mornings. The street cleaners make their way up the sidewalks, spraying down everything in their wake to wash away yesterday’s layers of grime. Tiny delivery trucks crawl up the roadway, dropping off goods to the local stores before the impossibly narrow street becomes too congested for them. Shop doors open and entryways are swept clean.

Chewy offers a few reticent yelps to the street’s interlopers while I attempt to push Robert’s phone call from my mind. His past cheating fills my head and my heart begins to race with the panic of a new certainty. He’s doing it again.

We walk towards the cathedral and make a left at the next footbridge in order to head down for a walk along the Seine. The sky plums above us and I decide we should see the sunrise, now that we’re out in its beginnings. My beautiful Paris.

As I descend the stairs to the path along the river, my cell goes off again. I look at the display. Round Two.

“I’m sorry,” Robert says. “I know how that probably sounded. I’m home now and ready for bed. I don’t want you to think—”

“What am I supposed to think, Robert?” I try to sound level, but it’s impossible. “That history doesn’t have a way of repeating itself?”

“It’s not what you think,” he says, panic slipping into his voice. Panic, with a side of irritation. “You have to trust me. This isn’t fair.”

Come, goddammit,” I say. “If you want to prove something to me, put me first. Put everything else aside and join me in Paris like we planned.”

“I can’t, Emma,” he says. “It’s not that easy. It’s such a bad time here. We can’t seem to get ahead of—”

“Liar. It didn’t sound like you were having a bad time when you woke me up earlier. Were you at the Black Stallion again? Getting your fill?”

“Jesus, Em. Between your paranoia with my imaginary flings and this woman you’re obsessing over in the window, you have no room for anything else. You’re slipping again. Why would I want to go there just to hear more of this? We can trade insults over the phone.”

“Imaginary flings? Really?” I ask. I stop walking. Chewy glances up at me with what looks like concern. I take a seat at a nearby bench and Chewy settles in at my feet. “Cheryl was not a figment of my imagination, Robert. Why are you doing this? I’m your fiancée. We’re getting married in two months. Please put your ‘work’ aside for one hot minute and come? It’s Paris, for God’s sake. No one should need to be convinced to come to Paris.”

The inflection I place on the word work has the desired effect. He runs with it.

“Stop accusing me of cheating. It was one time. I’ve apologized. I can’t do anything else to prove my dedication to—”

I disconnect, put my phone on silent and slip it into my purse. The sun has somehow risen without me noticing. I get up and make my way back to the apartment with Chewy. It’s almost time for Belle to begin her day. I love the way Henri interacts with her. It reminds me that love and tenderness still exist in the world. Perhaps their intimacy had something to do with me renaming her Belle. She is loved and beautiful to him.

This woman won’t leave my head. I can’t believe Stacey never mentioned her. There’s heartache and happiness happening right outside her window and she’s never once mentioned it to me. Perhaps she hoards it as her own little secret proof that beauty exists.

***

Chewy stirs me from my sleep with a low grade constant growl, a sound I haven’t heard in all of our two weeks together. There’s a ruckus in the courtyard below my open window and it’s lit like a fairground down there, enough to fill my room with a soft glow.

I scoop Chewy up and move to the window. The courtyard is filled with firemen, police, and EMTs. They make frantic gestures and speak in super-fast French I wouldn’t even be able to comprehend if I had polished up on my high school French prior to coming to France. The scene is chaotic and their conversation is in a state of escalation. I think of Belle and bring my gaze back up to her window.

More EMTs and firemen. My heart sinks. This can’t be. She’s hidden behind the swarm squeezed about her inside the tiny room. Some work on her as others look around the room and out the window to the crowd of first responders gathered below. They all appear helpless, lost.

Henri storms into the room, desperate, hands flailing. I can hear snips and bits of his words. Enough to feel his love on fire. Through tears, he tells them she is beautiful, asks them to be gentle and tells them she is loved. This much French I can piece together from the little I know.

Chewy’s urgent barks cause all heads to turn in my direction and I’m finally discovered. I scurry away from the window, humiliated, and prepare to take Chewy outside. Making my way through the commotion of the courtyard, I have to walk past the first responders who only moments ago caught me ogling. The sting of my humiliation heats my cheeks. I’m relieved to escape to the street, even though I’m terrified for Belle and desperately want to know what’s happened.

I walk for hours, barely able to keep myself together. Chewy steals glances my way, silently pleading with me to end our walk and take him home. But I can’t go back. I don’t want to know.

My cell rings. Despite seeing Robert’s name on my screen, I answer it.

“Emma?”

“I can’t do this, Robert.”

“I’m at the airport, Em. I came. I’m in Paris. I just landed.”

Now he comes?

“I think she might be dead,” I say, ignoring his statement.

He sighs and I know Henri would never be this exasperated with Belle. He’d have endless patience. “I’m on my way. Okay?”

“I can’t go back there. I can’t see that bed empty.” My words stop me in my tracks and niggle at my mind. They ignite something inside me, but I can’t quite grasp what it is. I bend to pick up Chewy and realize how spent he is. His panting fuels my guilt.

Frozen amid the busy sidewalk, I cuddle Chewy for dear life as the true meaning of my words sharpens into focus. Robert is the there I can’t go back to. Our empty bed is the one I can’t bear to see again. Our time apart has clarified what I knew all along.

“Tell me where you are. I’ll find you.”

“No,” I say. “I’m in Paris. You can’t have it. Paris is mine.” He groans in palpable frustration. But I finally realize it’s too late for us. “Goodbye, Robert.”

I shut down my phone to remove his ability to argue. With Chewy in my arms, I run all the way back to Rue Saint-Louis. I need to know.

THE END

Categories
Short Fiction Short Story Stratford Rotary

2019 Rotary Stratford Short Story Contest

I’ve just been made aware of the upcoming open-to-submissions date for the next FREE Rotary Stratford Short Story Contest. The 2019 Rotary Club of Stratford Short Story Contest will begin taking submissions for short stories of no more than 2,500 words of any genre on MAY 1st, 2019.

Submission window is:

MAY 1st – AUGUST 31st, 2019

There are two categories, based on AGE—Youth & Adult.

19 and under-Teen (must have parental or guardian consent)

  • First: $300
  • Second: $200
  • Third: $100
  • 3 Honourable Mentions

 

20 and over-Adult

  • First: $500
  • Second: $250
  • Third: $100
  • 3 Honourable Mentions

NO CONTEST FEE!

Submission Deadline Again: AUGUST 31st, 2019

LINKS:

CLICK HERE FOR CONTEST RULES AND REGULATIONS AND TO SUBMIT

CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE LIST OF LAST YEAR’S WINNERS

FULL DETAILS AND ELIGIBILITY

Contest Announcements:

  • Shortlist Announcement: September 2019
  • Winner Announcement: October 18 – 27, 2019 during the Stratford Writers Festival
Categories
NYC Midnight Paris Short Fiction Short Story Short Story Challenge

NYC Midnight – Round Two and Me!

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The entrance stairs to my third floor flat in Paris in Rue St Louis.

I honestly can’t believe this, but I get to move forward to ROUND 2 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2019! The first cut of this challenge is the deepest. It just went from over 4,500 writers to only 750 writers in the 2nd round. Just after midnight last night (or, I suppose, this morning) the Round 1 results were posted. Not only did I make the Top 5 in my heat, but I made FIRST PLACE. I know, I’m just as flabbergasted as you are! But after I read the results three (or four, or five) times, I decided I was reading them correctly. It’s right there in black and white, come what may…

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I have been writing short stories quite a lot lately, and they’re always set in cities that I have visited in the past few years. I decided not to stray from that theme with this one. I guess it’s working. My heat in round one had 3 stipulations. The genre had to be DRAMA, it had to involve PET-SITTING in some form or another and one of the characters had to be a FIANCEE. I wrote a story from the perspective of the apartment I actually stayed in while in Paris in 2014. I had the good fortune of being told by the hotel concierge when I arrived at my hotel on Rue St. Louis on the Island that they had a special apartment down the street. He said, “You’re a writer, no? We would like to give you the full experience!” He took me for a walk down the street and showed me a top floor flat with a view to a courtyard below. As if he was afraid I would say no and demand to be taken back to the hotel, he offered me a daily discount to stay in the incredible flat. He had me at hello. I saw the woman downstairs while I was staying in that flat. I put her in my pocket, knowing I would use her at a later date. Thanks to the NYC Midnight challenge, because the prompts called her willowy ghost back into existence.

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See those three windows at the very top? That’s where I called home when I was in Paris. They looked down into the closed circular courtyard below. And…maybe into a few of the windows below, too. (-;

I’m stunned, really…so so happy and excited too. I can’t wait for the next round, even though it terrifies me. I can work around the other stipulations, it’s the genre challenge I fear the most. I tend to stay in my lane as a reader and as a writer…which means I could definitely miss some of the subtle nuances of quite a few of the potential genres I could find myself facing. I shudder to think!

And I won’t have long to worry about the gunshot that goes off and sends a scary genre-bullet my way. THURSDAY AT MIDNIGHT—that’s when I’ll receive the 2nd round challenge. And the 750 writers still alive in this challenge will have 72 hours to submit their 2000 word stories for the next round of judging.

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Nina, a dear friend I met while in Paris for the Left Bank Writers Retreat in June 2014. We spent a lot of our free time together, exploring all of Paris on foot. This is us atop the Arc de Triomphe.

Here’s what the 2nd Round officially looks like:

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I’m so thrilled that I held on to that woman these 5 years. When I run across my potential characters in real life, they sort of haunt me relentlessly until I get them on the page. She was particularly insistent. She’s free now. And I thank her from the bottom of my heart, both for sticking around and for pinch-hitting when I needed her most. Cheers to the woman downstairs in Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, Paris! I am eternally grateful for ‘meeting’ you.

GOOD LUCK TO MY 749 FELLOW ROUND TWO WRITERS! Full disclosure: Every July I travel up to Huntsville, Ontario for the 72hr Muskoka Novel Marathon. That’s right…I write an entire novel in 72 hours. I’m ready for this challenge! BRING IT!

Categories
Anthology I Will Tell the Night Short Fiction Short Story Trevor Project

Love_Is_Love Anthology and I Will Tell the Night Aesthetic

Two things. The first, I’m thrilled to announce the release of an anthology in which I have a short story! Love_Is_Love released yesterday (Jan 24/19):

Love_Is_Love: An Anthology for LGBTQIA+ Teens

All proceeds from the sale of the anthology go to THE TREVOR PROJECT (The leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. The Trevor Lifeline: 866.488.7386.)

My story is called THIS IS ME IN GRADE NINE and it follows a trans girl in the moments leading up to her first day of high school.

Here’s some cover love for you! The strength of the Rainbow Fist in the Air is divine:

 

 

YOU CAN PICK UP A COPY OF THE ANTHOLOGY HERE. PLEASE CONSIDER DOING SO, AS THE TREVOR PROJECTS NEEDS YOUR HELP IN ORDER TO CONTINUE TO THRIVE.

The second thing? During part of the festivities on Twitter this month for #LGBTRelease I made a NOVEL AESTHETIC for my upcoming release I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. I wanted to share it here. 🙂

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Steven & Finn and their cross-country journey to healing, complete with BEETS.

The origin story for the title of I WILL TELL THE NIGHT can be found at this recent blog post HERE. Details on its release to follow, but it is SOON.

Categories
NYC Midnight Short Fiction Short Story Short Story Challenge

Col. Mustard in the Study with a Revolver – 2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

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Okay, not quite the same thing…but close! The 2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge kicked off Midnight Friday January 18th. We have 8ish days to submit our short stories for the first round of the competition. Each writer was sent an email with their 3 story stipulations: GENRE/SUBJECT/CHARACTER. The fun has begun. Here’s just a few samples of the first round heats:

Genre                                  Subject                             Character

  • Suspense                       Impossible                            a witness
  • Thriller                         Witnessing a crime             a hypochondriac
  • Comedy                         A raffle                                  a princess
  • Political Satire               Lying                                    a fruiterer
  • Action/Adventure         A standoff                            an engineer
  • Sci-Fi                                an exotic pet                       an interior designer
  • Fairy tale                        repetition                             a gunslinger
  • Suspense                        a secret club                          an intern
  • Drama                             photo shoot                          a composer
  • Crime Caper                    a backup plan                      a fixer
  • Fairy tale                           superhuman                        a cheesemaker
  • Spy                                     mountain climbing            a reporter
  • Romantic Comedy          comfort food                       an x-ray technician
  • Romance                           procrastination                    a social climber
  • Comedy                              a labyrinth                           a meter maid

 

You get the picture. That’s just a few of the heats in the first round. If it was easy, it wouldn’t push us to become better writers, now would it? I purposely did NOT mention my heat in the sampling above. I have a few days left to come up with my story. I’m panicked but it’s a relatively calm panic for now. I’m exploring options, stopping and starting…attempting to find a groove that takes me to a finish line. False starts and retracing of steps are to be expected. I’m leaving myself breadcrumbs so I don’t get completely lost. I’m not worried about having something submission ready by the deadline. I just don’t know if it will be something on solid ground or not.

Good luck to all my fellow contestants! There are A LOT OF YOU! Don’t forget the part of the contest opener email that shared a hashtag for writers to use and connect. It’s a huge community. I’m sure we can commiserate and egg each other on along the way…see you in hashtag land…

#ShortStoryChallenge2019
If you plan on updating your progress in the competition on social media, make sure to use the hashtag #ShortStoryChallenge2019 so you can follow other writers and they can follow you!

 

Categories
NYC Midnight Short Fiction Short Story Short Story Challenge

NYC Midnight & Me

Here we go. I am entered into the 2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. It begins at Midnight tonight and it is my first foray into all this NYC Midnight business. This is the 13th annual challenge and I’m pumped for it but certain I’ll fair poorly. I’ll come back and let you know, once I get the boot…but for now, here’s how it works:

KNOCKOUT ROUND ONE:

(January 18-26, 2019), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment.  Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words

The contest judges will choose the TOP 5 STORIES in each heat and those writers will move on to Round #2. All other writers are given the boot.

KNOCKOUT ROUND TWO:

(April 4-7, 2019)where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000word (maximum) short story.

Whoa. The time between rounds?! I wonder if this is set up this way to mess with the writers’ psyches. I’d much rather prefer to jump right back into the ring, myself. Listen to me…as if I’d make it to round two! Judges pick finalist from this round, as well. And they get to move on to the third and final round. LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

THIRD & FINAL ROUND:

Remaining writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word (maximum) story in just 24 hours (May 17-18, 2019) in the third and final round of the competition.

Begins in January and ends in May. Yikes! The prizes for the winners are QUITE SUBSTANTIAL. First Prize is $5,000.00USD + almost $1,500.00USD value in other writer-related prizes. You can see the whole list of prizes HERE.

The biggest benefit for all writers who enter is FEEDBACK. From the site, here’s the statement in regards to feedback. It can come not only from the judges, but also fellow contestants on the group forum:

Not only does every writer receive feedback from the judges for every story submitted, but a special review forum is available for the participants to submit their stories for review from fellow writers throughout the competition.  During the Short Story Challenge 2018, there were over 9,500 comments made on the 700+ stories submitted on the forum.  Click here to visit the forums.

Oh, just so you know…as of this blog post there are still a few hours before the registration deadline. Sound like a great idea? Then CLICK THIS LINK TO GET YOURSELF IN ON THE GAME (Scroll down to the CLICK HERE TO REGISTER button—but registration closes at 9:00pm EST today — Friday January 18th).

The first challenge will be emailed to contestants tonight at Midnight. I guess that’s where the name comes from!

GOOD LUCK, SHORT STORY WRITERS! May the words be with you!

(I’ll be back with my results at a later date—good or bad/head high or tail between my legs. You can’t win if you don’t try.)

Click image below for NYC MIDNIGHT on Instagram:

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Categories
Camino Camino de Santiago Short Fiction Short Story

My WCSC 2nd Place Short Story Contest Entry – Helen Finds Her Way to After

What follows here is my short story Helen Finds Her Way to After, which won 2nd Place in the 2017 Writers’ Community of Simcoe County’s Short Story Contest. Unfortunately, the WCSC has since become defunct. My short story had been published on their website, which no longer exists. So, I’m sharing it here.

HELEN FINDS HER WAY TO AFTER

 Both of Helen’s feet bled steadily as she walked. She fought to ignore the blisters making a nasty soup of blood and puss in the heel of each of her merino wool socks. It was nine a.m. With each passing hour she lost a little more of her will to carry on. She held on to the memory of her ex-husband’s laughter at the folly she displayed in thinking she could make this journey. She carried her daughter Meagan’s doubt, freely given when she had told her of her goal. Their lack of support was perhaps the only thing left to propel Helen forward to Santiago de Compostela. And to the apostle James, whose bones lay waiting for her there, whether she made it to the cathedral or not.

Must keep walking. It had become a mantra Helen hated just as much as she needed. Must keep walking.  

Helen’s left baby toenail had fallen off two days earlier, somewhere between Sarria and Portomarin. She had mourned for a moment before bandaging up what was left and carrying on. Must keep walking. Rationality had left her long ago.  

“Buen Camino,” a couple mumbled in tandem as they passed her by on a narrow dirt pathway leading to a cobbled bridge. Their walking sticks click-click-clicked as they walked by without looking up from the uneven ground.  

“Buen Camino,” she said before reentering her gloomy thoughts.