Friday, December 27, 2013

My Favorite Krystalyn Story of 2013

There were so many wonderful stories to pick from this year by these three amazing writers!! I am so incredibly lucky to get to work with these women. Sigh. Okay, enough of the mushy mushiness.

I chose one of Krystalyn's stories as my favorite.

Krystalyn has always had a knack for writing a story that packs a punch. She, like me, favors the mystical side of her story telling bone. (I mean her writing bone. It's the invisible part of her cranium that makes us writers a little... different from non-writers. It's not a magical bone that you can wave around in the air at your laptop and produce awesome fiction. Or maybe it is. We're not telling. I digress.)

I have always had a weakness for fairytale retellings. I loooove them. And there have not been nearly enough Rapunzel retellings in my opinion, so imagine my delight when Krystalyn decided to do just that. DEE-LIGHT, I tell you!

I envy Krystalyn's ability to make her characters jump off the page in just 1,000 words. Writing stories this short is HARD, and she never fails to make me fall in love with her character (or hate them if that's her goal) by the end.

So without further ado, here is my (Stefanie!) pick of the year for best story:

Rapunzel's Curse

Story by: Krystalyn

The witch dangled out the window, holding tightly to my hair. My prince drew his sword. She spit curses between jagged teeth as he chopped off over seventy feet of my golden tresses and sent her hurtling to the ground.

It took the prince and me about a half an hour to find her secret hatch, a moldy smelling grain chute, and we slid out of the tower. He took my hand, and with a smile as big as the countryside, we jumped on his horse and clip clopped across the barren fields. I leaned back against his strong chest as we rejoiced in our victory.

It wasn't until we were a half a league away that I noticed my itching scalp. A tingle started somewhere around my crown and crept its way to my hairline. I scratched, hoping it wasn't lice. The tower had been infested with them, and there were many days when the witch spent hours picking them out of my hair. I shouldn't have worried about the bugs.

I scratched, and the itching grew worse. Then it grew unbearable, rolling and swelling beneath my fingertips. I sucked in several deep breaths, trying to calm them away, but the oxygen only fed the itching. It was like I had a pox, a plague, and a million mosquito bites all rolled into one.

“Stop,” I said with a twinge of panic in my voice. “I need to stop.”

My prince yanked on the reins. His horse skidded to a halt.

I jumped off and ran into the middle of the field. “Ow. Ow. Ow! Ow! OW!” I bent over double and clawed at my scalp. My hair thickened into rope-like tendrils, then wrapped around my knuckles, trapping my hands and squeezing until I thought my bones would shatter. Through the pain, I whimpered, “No, please.”

The prince ran up to me. His scarred cheeks told of how many battles he'd fought. I was willing to bet, he'd never fought a battle like this. “What can I do?”

The sky rumbled in response. Lighting split the sky and thunder shook the earth. I understood everything that was happening.

Once, when I was twelve, I worked up the nerve to climb out of my window. I couldn't stand living in that tower with the damp, stone walls that seemed to close in tighter every day. And if I couldn't live there, my only choice was to die.

I clung to the window sill, wanting to drop, but not having the courage. As the minutes wore on, my bones began to ache. If felt like rats were gnawing on my insides – my skull, my ribs, my legs. Two fingers slipped, then three. I was afraid to let go, but I was in so much pain, I looked forward to the fall. There was thunder then too, the kind that rattled my eardrums and caused more fingers to slip.

The rumbles were a siren to the witch. Just as my last finger lost its grip, she used her magic to draw me back in through the window. I collapsed to the floor. She held me tight and stroked my back. Her body shook with sobs.

“Promise me you'll never do that again,” she said. “Promise me you'll never leave.”

“Why? Why do you keep me trapped here?” The pain had stopped, but my heart ached with longing for the outside world. I had failed in my escape.

“I've told you again and again, you're cursed. Bad things will happen if you try to leave. You'll hurt yourself and others if they get too close.” She cupped my cheeks in her hands. “But you're my daughter. I love you. I will always be here for you.” And she pressed a gentle kiss to my forehead.

She sounded so sincere that I believed her, and I settled in for a few more years. But I stopped believing the day the prince appeared below my window.

He said there was no curse. The witch had lied to me because she had been banished from the kingdom. She was nothing but a lonely old hag who wanted to keep me locked up forever. He said nobody deserved that fate. He promised me dances and flowers and splashing in the rain. He climbed the tower just to kiss my hand. He told me that he loved me. He vowed to protect me from all the bad things in the world.

Neither one of us knew that I was one of those bad things.

“My love!” My prince grabbed hold of my elbows and pulled me to my feet.

“No! Stay away,” I cried as my hair tangled around his waist. The tendrils weren't golden anymore. They were the cracked brown color of tree limbs. They snaked down around our ankles and rooted around us. I screamed as one of them burrowed into my foot, planting me into the ground right along with it.

My prince curled his arms around my body, even as the limbs threaded and wove their way around us, cocooning us inside the tree that was once my hair. This was my fault.

“The curse.” The witch had never lied to me. I had lied to myself. “Everything she said was true.” The roots bore through my calves and up my legs. The pain was nearly too much to bear. “You should never have come.”

Still, he didn't try to escape. I doubted he'd ever walked away from a battle. “There is another truth that she didn't tell you,” he said as he looked into my eyes. “A kiss of true love can break any curse.”

My vision grew hazy. He was wrong before about the curse. Could he be right about this? I needed him to be right. “Kiss me.”

“I love you. I'm here for you.” He bent down and gently pressed a kiss to my lips. It was warm and tender, and filled with every promise he had ever given me.

The roots continued their assault of my body, but I held on to a tiny sliver of hope that they were slowing. I envisioned them reversing and releasing us. I fell deeper into his touch and imagined my life of dancing and flowers and splashing in the rain. The prince had to be right.

When the kiss ended, we wrapped our arms around each other and held tight. He murmured softly into my ear. I closed my eyes. I believed every word. And I waited for the curse to break.


Author's note: I always seem to be the one twisting fairy tales with Red Riding HoodThe Little Mermaid, and now, Rapunzel.


PHOTO BY: Gillian Woods

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Favorite Stefanie Story for 2013

It's my turn to weigh in on one of my favorite FFF stories written this year by my truly talented crit buddy, Stefanie. It was hard to decide since one of them was right down my usual alley--creepy and smacking of zombie goodness, but in the end I went with her coming of age story, Bud. I loved the heartsick tone and the voice her main character has. This story embodies longing and lost opportunity and unrequited love for me and I enjoyed reading it so much. I really admire her ability to use romance so adeptly in her writing as I have a real struggle doing that most times. So without further ado, I give you Bud for your reading enjoyment. I hope you like it as much as I do and if you do, please let Stefanie know in the comments!


I’ve always wondered what would happen if I stood in one spot at the beach for an entire day. With every wave that swallows my ankles, my feet slip a little deeper into the muddy sand, like the earth is trying to slowly devour me. I’m buried halfway up my calves now and I’ve only been standing here for an hour.

I stick my fingers into the pocket of my jeans to make sure the photo is still dry, even though I know I just checked it eleven and a half seconds ago. The feeling of the glossy paper against my fingertips makes my heartbeat falter.

I know the words that are written at the bottom by heart, but it makes me feel better to read them—to see his handwriting.

I pull the picture out of my pocket and unfold it. He gave it to me the day he left for college. It’s worn and tattered from being repeatedly unfolded and folded back again. Scrawled in tiny handwriting made messier by the fat-tipped black marker he’d used to write it, are the words, “I can always count on you, bud.”

I hate when he calls me that.

But I love it too. It’s a punch-in-the-gut reminder that he still thinks of me as a “little sister” type of friend, but it also makes me swell with pride to know I am the only person in the world that he has given a nickname.

The knot in my stomach rises and sticks in the base of my throat like a lump of biscuit dough. I want to keep my promise, but I’m not sure if I can.

I match the ends of the picture together and press my thumbs into the creases. I fold it into a tiny, neat square, and slip it back into my pocket before the ocean spray can stain his face.

I stare out at the ocean, my eyes not really focusing on anything in particular. Every now and then, the sun’s rays shine on the water just right, making it look like churning, liquid gold.

“Hey, bud!” calls the only voice in the world that can make my blood congeal in my veins. Another wave crashes into my legs, making me sink a tiny bit more. I try not to flinch when I hear two sets of feet tramping through the sand behind me.

He brought her.

I close my eyes for a second and focus on the feeling of the water pulling away from my skin. A line of tears catches in the clumps in my mascara, but I don’t want him to know that I’m upset. I trick my lips into curling into a smile and glance over my shoulder at him. I don’t bother looking at her. I know she’ll be gorgeous, as always, while I stand here, all freckled skin, and tattered jeans, and tangled hair, looking exactly like the reliable friend that I’ll always be.

I count how many steps it takes him to reach me as I stare out at the white caps on the waves. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…

Any distraction to keep myself crying.

It only takes him ten galloping steps to make it to me. He wraps an arm around my waist and pulls me in close for a hug. I hold my breath. I don’t want to smell the scent of his fabric softener mixed with his skin—that scent of his that always makes me forget how to put together sentences—that’ll only make this worse.

“Hey,” I say. I pull away from him and cross my arms, trying to keep my voice from breaking.
He sees the fear in my eyes, I can tell. But he doesn’t say anything. He’d never say anything in front of her.

“How have you been, bud?” he asks, stepping away from me.  I try not to notice how his body leans toward hers, or how they move in perfect sync with each other, like dancers. I also try not to remind myself that only people who are in love do that. I’ve yet to look her in the eyes, but I don’t really care what she thinks of me.

Especially not now.

“Can I talk to you for a second?” I say, finally really looking at him for the first time in six months. Big mistake. I instantly feel like five thousand little blades have sliced open every freckle on my body. Curse those stupid, stare-into-your-soul eyes of his. The picture folded inside my pocket does him absolutely no justice.

I shoot his girlfriend a glance, and it comes across more “if looks could kill” than I mean it to. Her blonde hair catches in the wind and I hate her for being so beautiful.

She smiles sweetly at me and tucks a curl behind her ear. “I’ll stay here,” she says, nodding. “You two go catch up.”

Dammit, why can’t she just be a bitch?

He links his arm through mine, pulling away my invisible armor.  We walk a little ways down the beach, neither of us saying anything until she’s out of earshot.

“What this about, Ellie?” he asks. My lungs crinkle like tissue paper at the sound of my name on his lips. He never calls me by my real name.

I lay my head on his shoulder and squeeze my eyes tight. The roar of the waves and the bantering of the seagulls and the sound of the kids laughing and his hand on my arm—that is how I’ll remember this day. Not what’s about to happen next.

“I can’t be your friend anymore.”

There. I said it. My voice sounds tiny and insignificant on the noisy beach, but I know he heard me. I thought I’d feel better once it was out, but I don’t. I don’t really feel worse, either. I just feel numb.
We both stop walking and he takes a deep breath. Neither of us says anything for a moment, and I don’t move my head from his shoulder. I’m going to miss the way my cheek fits right into the curve of his muscle. 

“But you promised,” he says softly.

I groan. How can he throw that in my face? Things were different then.

“Is it because of Annie?” he asks.

I only nod. He already knew this was coming. He knew I was in love with him a long time ago. He grabs me and crushes me to his chest.

“I can’t lose you, bud,” he whispers against my tangled hair. “I can’t lose her, and I can’t lose you. It’s two different kinds of love, Ellie. I wish I could change it, but that’s just the way it is.”

I make the mistake of drawing in a long breath. He smells like summer, and sugar, and pine straw, and too many other things that I never want to smell again, yet I know I can’t live without.

Who cares if it’s not the kind of love I want? At least it’s love, right?

I pull away from his grasp and look up at him. Those stupid eyes. Why do I look into his damn eyes?

“Okay,” I sigh. “Never mind.”

Because I can never truly be free of him.

And he can never be free of me.

It’s not what I want.

But it’s better than being alone.

Story By: Stefanie Marks

Friday, December 13, 2013

Past Favorite 2013 (Krystalyn)

My favorite story of Jenn's this year was The Swarm. It could have easily been a horror story, but I love how she chose the humorous approach instead. Check it out.

The Swarm

The Sheriff mushed his face with his hands asking us for the second time, “Why did you need so many crows?”

“It’s special effects,” Damon answered. He was the director so he should’ve gotten the heat but Mikey was in charge of effects and I was assisting everybody.

When we gathered all the birds we were hoping it’d look cool, just like in the movies. We hadn’t intended them to break out of their cages, take flight, and come together in such a swarm that the flock blocked out the sun.

“Special effects? For what!” the Sheriff asked. His hands moved from his face to scratching his head making his hair shift a bit to the side before he adjusted it.

Damon, Mikey, and I stared all over his office. I couldn’t take my eyes off the small cell behind the Sheriff’s desk that could hold all three of us easily.

“We’re making a movie,” Mikey said.
“We got ‘em cheap,” I chimed in. Realizing when the Sheriff’s gaze slid my way that I wasn’t supposed to answer and I wasn’t supposed to give that as an answer.

A crow crashed into the window, startling all of us. It left a crack in the glass and a ruby smudge where it hit.
“Good Lord!” The Sheriff got up to inspect the damage. “You realize that the town has no light anymore? You do comprehend the situation we’re in right about now? Don’t you?” He looked back out the window and squinted even though we all knew what he said was true.

The lights on the streets were on and the flapping of wings and sound of cawing was in stereo. The only filter we had was being inside. I could imagine what this meant for the laundry outside. I shifted in my seat, my butt already throbbing from the punishment I was expecting from my mom and the fresh load she placed on the clothesline with hundreds of birds in the air.

“We didn’t mean it!” Damon cried. His eyes got watery and his lip trembled. He wasn’t just the director but the lead actor always watching how best to play a scene and get the people believing him.

“We were just trying to make The Birds.” Throwing a thumb Damon’s way Mikey said he was aiming to be the next Hitchcock.

“Hitch who?” The Sheriff said not taking his eyes off the spectacle outside.

Damon broke character to roll his eyes at the Sheriff’s ignorance.

“He was only one of the best directors ever.

The Sheriff started up on the scratching again and shook his head. “But a few hundred crows? Why? Why so many?”

We all shrugged in unison. Why not so many? If we were gonna make a killer scene. It’d have to make an impression. But we sat still and kept quiet. Knowing when not to respond. Nothing we could say helped our case.

Damon was the most adamant about changing things up. Every time we saw a movie he’d lean in close and put his chin over the seat in front of him whether people were there or not. We’d rush outside and reenact scenes to perfection, unless they were romantic. We were introduced to the world on screen and when we left the darkened theatre and came outside all we saw were one story buildings. The same ice cream shop with the same flavors. The same bar & grill with the stuffed mountain lion. The same people tipping hats and giving us a smile and a wink. Nothing ever happened, so this was our chance to make something happen.

“I gotta call your parents and maybe even the forest reserve. Who the hell knows this many damn...Looks like they’re attacking Old Man Winters.”

“Wish I still had my camera,” Damon said under his breath.

“What in the world!” The Sheriff reached for his holster but we didn’t know how a small shooter would do in that many crows. When we looked out front of the station a bunch of the birds had gotten organized and were bullying a terrier. Not just any terrier but the Sheriff’s. A fuzzy white dog with a yap that rang all over the place. But these crows were decided animals and they were going after his collar, chewing at the rope that tied him to a hydrant. They almost lifted the dog up.

“Peaches!” The Sheriff screamed and pushed past us, practically throwing us into whatever was nearby as he launched outside to rescue his dog. He swatted away at whatever came his way and marched on, a hero in his own right since nothing really happened in our town of 2,000 people.

He was in a tug of war with those birds and at one point a crow swooped down and plucked the rug right off of his head leaving it to shine under the street light above him, more a spotlight than anything considering the circumstances.

Beyond the show of the Sheriff, a few ladies running clutching purses and pearls, kids jumping up and down excited at first but then crying like the babies they were when they were poked. Men staying in cars and some ushering families inside. People peeking out from under curtains and shadows and others just shaking their heads while rocking on their porches. It was all a good scene, better than what we had thought of. More real, less scary.

The crows swirled around each other, making what looked like a wind tunnel in the sky. It was a good effect, not the one we’d been planning.

Damon held his thumb and index finger out on either hand and put them together to make a box shape. He looked through his fingers out the window and smiled. “Get the camera,” he said to us. “Before we get punished we should go outside and make a documentary.”

Story by: Jenn Baker
Photo by: Jamie Zarza

Friday, December 6, 2013

Past Favorite 2013 (Jenn)

Hey all!

Now is the time of year where we reflect, no? In our sense here we're reflecting on some of our fave stories each of the Fiction Femme Fatale(rs) have written. This year I get to choose a story from my buddy Amy who's had quite the whirlwind year with her debut GATED being published. So not only have you seen her work in snippets on this site over the past two years, but you also got to see her full-fledged work and see in print and on the screen how super talented she is.

Of course choosing one story is never easy. But I settled on "Digging," which coincidentally pubbed a week or so after GATED. Coincidence? Perhaps. I think this is a great character study story into a person's deep want to feel and how far they may go to get there. It's a fantastic piece that I think could be a longer story. I think a lot of things. I fell all in for the narrator and just wanted more, more, more. So enjoy a refresher of "Digging" by Amy. 


He's late.

I can tell because the sun is cresting the waves, gilding them on its way into the sky. I kick my foot through the sand and water, sending both flying out in front of me. Just once I'd like to be the last one to show up--for him to have to wait on me. I pull at my jeans...well, not my jeans exactly, but my dad's. I always wear his old pair when I go shelling with Ryan. I like how loose they are on my legs and the swell of my hips when I kneel. Besides, they smell like motor oil and leather and this smell more than anything calms me. I need to be calm. If I seem nervous Ryan'll just laugh when I tell him what I want him to do.

I walk a little farther down the beach and towards Ryan's house. If I'm quiet maybe I can sneak around the side of it and tap on his window, make sure he's up. If he doesn't come soon I won't get to ask him anything at all. The sun'll be up and the beach crowds will slowly start to file in. I tug at the waistband of my jeans. I've got them rolled up past my knees to keep them dry, but pretty soon they'll be wet through. I can never seem to keep my clothes from drowning when I'm out here. Probably because I can't keep my feet from wandering farther and farther into the surf. The tide pulls me the same as it does the waves. I can feel it deep in my stomach, an invisible lead line pulling me out into colder waters.

I'm almost all the way to Ryan's when he trots out onto the sand. His hair is still ruffled from sleep and the skin under his eyes is puffy.

"Sorry," he mumbles in between yawns. "But tell me why it is that we always have to go shelling this early? There are still good ones out here for hours."

"So we can be alone," I say. I try to make my voice soft and sweet--laced with innocence and something quite the opposite. It's not an easy trick and so far this summer I haven't managed it, but today maybe I have because he smiles and the faintest hint of red colors the skin just above his shirt collar.

My stomach flutters a little, but I tamp it down. "So, I saw some cool ones down past the dunes," I say my voice dipping lower on the last word and almost shudder at how awkward the words seem coming out of my mouth. One look at me and anyone can see that I'm no seductress. Even if I'd worn a low necked top or tiny shorts--especially if I'd worn those.

"You want...the dunes, really?" Ryan looks skeptical, but also hopeful. It won't take much to tip him more firmly in the hopeful direction. So I do.

"Yeah, I think we should. You want to right?" I take his hand and pull him towards the dunes. There's no mistaking what I'm asking him to do. No one goes there for anything else.

We sit across from each other in the sand. I look up at him because he's looking at me, but I can't look at his eyes. In a weird way I think I might cry if I do, so I look just past his ear instead, at the thick black curl that hugs the curve of it. Sometimes people describe ears as shell-like. I think I read that in a book somewhere which always sort of made sense to me because the way they spiral inward toward the head...but wait, that doesn't matter right now. I shake my head and try to quiet the stream of random thoughts tumbling around my brain. We don't talk, we just stare each other down, both of us waiting for the other to take the lead. It should probably be me since I asked him over here, but I can't seem to make myself close the distance between us. I swallow and fidget onto my knees and then scootch forward an inch, hope that it's enough.

Ryan's hand goes up to my chin. His thumb strokes my cheek. He inches forward a little too. His hand hovers on my face and for a moment I'm sure that he's going to change his mind, stand up and start searching for the perfect Shark's Eye Moon Shell, but then he surprises me and leans closer instead. Our lips touch. This is not amazing or magical or new. We've kissed plenty of times, but never when we knew for sure it was leading to something more. The something more makes it feel more business-like to me. It's as if this moment is an obstacle we're both determined to conquer.

I like that his lips are soft. I don't like that his mouth always tastes like mint toothpaste. I hate mint. I'm a cinnamon all the way kind of girl. Still, even with the mint the kiss is pleasant enough and it isn't long before he's pulled me closer still until we're pressed together from forehead to thigh. I grip his arms with my hands and then sit back on my heels. Our teeth clack together a little as he comes with me, his hands digging into the sand by my shoulders as we lay down. I shiver, but it isn't nerves or lust. It's cold. The air is nippy and the sun isn't up enough yet to warm us. I open my eyes and stare at Ryan. His eyes are closed. This close, his face is comical, all eyebrows and pores and nose coming at me and I have to really concentrate so I don't laugh. I close my eyes again then wonder if he ever opens his and sees me the way I just saw him. I hope not.

I nestle into the sand and let Ryan's mouth move away from my lips to my neck and then farther down. I stare up at the sky and watch the clouds move across it. I watch as a particularly fat one morphs into different shapes. A rabbit. A dinosaur. I wait to feel...I don't know...the chills? Ripples of desire maybe? (this is how they describe passion in the books I pick up once a week from the rounder at the Quick Mart downtown and although the words always make me shudder, I still can't stop thinking of them as the truest description of what should be happening to me). I try to imagine them--the ripples--and hope that by doing this I will be able to create them inside of me. It doesn't work.

Ryan moans softly, his breath hot on my neck. He seems to have the ripples down pat. He settles more heavily on me and I can't breathe. This makes all my imagining even harder. Now I'm too aware of all the ways I'm uncomfortable--the sand slipping into my shirt and jeans, the gulls screaming so loud above us that my ears hurt and I can't do it.

"I can't," I say to the sky and to Ryan. He hesitates, is face over mine, hovering there, blocking out the shape shifting cloud. He waits for me to change my mind and pull him back down and I wait for him to accept that I won't. I want him to be right about what I'll do. I don't want to be this girl, the one who can't seem to feel anything past pleasant. I want to be reckless--like the ocean beside us, not over thinking every moment that we touch, but no matter how much I search or dig inside myself, I come up empty...just like the shells still littering the beach.

Story by: Amy Christine Parker
Picture by: Fadzly @ Shutterhack

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Stefanie's Favorite Books 2013

Hello, lovelies!
2013 was a tough year for me. But when people ask me why I write, I've always said that it's because I know what it's like to need to escape into other worlds when your real one gets too hard to handle. And after this past year, I believe in that more than ever.
There were so many books that I loved this year, so it was hard to pick my favorites. But since I have to.... I'll try my best to narrow them down. :-)
New Adult
I really got into the New Adult genre this year. I love that it's an upcoming popular genre, because it's awesome like YA (y'all KNOW I love my young adult), but with a little mix of that something extra that YA lacks (you know what I mean *wink wink*).
Losing It by Cora Carmack

Hopeless by Colleen Hoover

I tend to gravitate towards fantasy or sci-fi stories (what can I say? I'm a sucker for magic) but both of these books are contemporary romance, and they are both "stay up until 3 a.m. until you finish" type novels. SO GOOD. They have head strong female protagonists and men that will make you swoon. AND they each have sequels (which I haven't read yet, so don't spoil it!) and this makes me happy. Read them if you haven't!
My Favorite Authors
The next three books are by my favorite YA authors. I love EVERYTHING that these ladies write--whether it's a novel, a short story, a deleted unedited scene, a blog post, or a tweet--because they're funny, brilliant women that I look up to. Seriously. Okay, I'm done gushing. You can grab a rag to clean up the mess, I'll wait.
Infinityglass by Myra McEntire

I waited for this book for what seems like forever. I LOVE the Hourglass series (especially Kaleb. He's mine, you can't have him. *gives you the shifty eyes*). During my hiatus from twitter and such, I MISSED THE RELEASE. WHAT? I was so disappointed when I realized that it had already been out for three months when I finally bought it. BUT I read it, I love it, I want more, and I want to marry Myra McEntire (or you know, meet her). READ IT. It's about time travel, you'll love it. (Um, also, I'm in love with this cover. *drools*)
Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi
Tahereh's prose is my favorite thing ever. She is one of those writers that makes me feel completely inadequate-- like I should just give up now because she's amazing and the publishing world doesn't need me too, but at the same time, makes me wanna get out my laptop and get to work. And the woman can write a kissing scene. Like... O_O 
I actually have this series on audiobook, and the narrator does and AMAZING job in conveying Juliette's personality. So I definitely recommend this one on audiobook if you're into that sort of thing.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

This book is so amazing and well plotted. I have had a writer-crush on Maggie for a long time (and I owe it to her for helping me find the three wonderful ladies that critique my stuff and write stories on this website, so I am forever grateful to her for that.) PLUS everything she writes is brilliant and makes me feel ALL the feels. So I will always recommend her stuff, because I have no doubt that it will only get better. READ IT.
Other Good Books
Through To You by Emily Hainsworth

The premise of this book hooked me, and I am so glad I bought it. It's a magical realism story about an alternate dimension where the protag's dead girlfriend is still alive. Sounds awesome, right? IT IS. It's very well written,and will keep you hanging on until the last page.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I didn't read this one until after I watched the movie, and it's amazing, and weird, and captivating, and I love it. If you haven't seen the movie, Tom Hanks is perfect in it. So check out both if you haven't.
Reading Now
Reboot by Amy Tintera

This was another book that I've been looking forward to for a while, and it's also one that I missed the release of on my twitter hiatus. So I just started it yesterday, but I already love it so much that I am recommending it. It's a fresh new take on zombies, and I can't wait to see where she takes it!
If you haven't read any of these books yet, PLEASE DO. And if you know of any that are like the ones I recommended, please tell me what they are in the comments! I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and I hope you ALL have a happy holiday season.
 Next month, we're reposting our favorite stories from this site, so stay tuned!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Amy's Book Recommendations from 2013

So this year I read a WHOLE lot of books. Mostly, though, I read as many of the debut books for this year as I could since it was my debut year too and I wanted to see what everyone else was writing and support my fellow Lucky 13ers. What this means is that I'm going to have a really hard time picking just a few to recommend to you and that most of the ones I recommend will be debuts. I could sing the praises of SO many and just overwhelm you with all the choices, seriously. I think maybe I'll do a few category recommendations instead and list the books that I can't forget even after a bunch of time has passed since I read them. Here goes:

Favorite Zombie Books (a must category for me):

The End Games by T. Michael Martin
In The After by Demetria Lunetta
Reboot by Amy Tintera

Favorite YA Contemporaries:
Infinite Sky by Chelsey Flood
Bruised by Sarah Skilton
Red by Alison Cherry
Pretty Girl 13 by Liz Coley

Favorite Historicals/Paranormals

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross
In The Shadow Of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
Some Quiet Place by Kelsey Sutton
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Tucholke

Favorite Science Fiction:

Starglass by Phoebe North

Favorite Horror Books:

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn

Favorite Thriller:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Joyland by Stephen King (I'm putting this one here although it did have paranormal and some mild horror, it mostly read like a thriller to me)

So there you have it. My list of the reads I still think about from this past year. Can't wait until 2014! I plan on catching up with all the many adult reads  and veteran YA author reads I didn't get to this year and checking out some of the 2014 debuts as well. I've already been lucky enough to read Hexed by Michelle Krys which I thoroughly enjoyed and am prepping to read a few more arcs in the coming months. I'll keep you posted.

 Happy Turkey Day and all that jazz!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jenn's Book Recommendations (Series)

Once again we're posting favorite and recommended books. This year I'm focusing on series.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire: There's a lot going on here and Maguire takes the reader on a ride in Oz. The larger politics for the arrival and dictatorship by the Wizard. The segregation of so many groups. How Elphaba (the wrongly deemed Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda (originally Galinda) became best friends despite their differences. There's a world of love and pain in Wicked that comes full circle in the end, even though you may already know how it ends. It's heavy in terms of world-building and Maguire stuffs a good amount of description in this text, yet it is such a spectacularly recreated world I highly recommend. I enjoyed Wicked immensely and the sequel Son of a Witch. The third and fourth/final books in the series were a bit much for me, but I'd still suggest them if you're interested in every character's full arc. If Elphaba is the one you love the most than you may want to stop at Wicked. 

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy with illustrations by Ian Schoenherr: Maile Meloy is a lauded writer of short fiction and novels (primarily for an adult audience) and The Apothecary is her first foray into writing for children/teens. She wrote The Apothecary with the intention for it to be a standalone, but having received so many letters from her new young fans she decided to expand and make it a trilogy. The Apprentices released earlier this year and the final book is due out next year. I'm excited. I've met Maile a handful of times since she's toured in NYC and she is super friendly, really kind, a fantastic writer, and a fan of cupcakes. So what is there not to like? What pulled me into this series were the great balance of illustrations by Ian and the history that Maile weaves into Janie's coming-of-age tale. Janie is an American in England (post World War II) who gets thrust into a world she's not prepared to be in and realizes some of her potential. The series gets a bit darker in the second book and who knows how dark it may go in the finale but I'd highly suggest that readers check it out if they haven't along with Maile's other work because she has a way with characters and tension and especially dialogue. 

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: Everyone here at Fiction Femme Fatale is a huge Maggie Stiefvater fan (as you can see from Krystalyn's post last week & Stefanie's the year before). I became aware of her with the Shiver trilogy. I found the first book in my old company's library several years ago when I needed something to read on the ride home. Since then, hooked. Dream Thieves is the sequel to The Raven Boys series (which will be four books total). Maggie has a literary style and digs deep into her characters. I mean DEEP. It's a multiple POV series and in the sequel you get more of the hard-ass character of Ronan. My God you will adore him after reading this book. I couldn't stop thinking about Dream Thieves a couple of weeks after I read it and even went back to the first book to see the clues that Maggie left there. Woman is masterful in her writing and great to her fans. If you haven't read a Maggie book yet I'd advise you to stop reading this post (okay finish reading and then) head to your nearest bookstore/library and read one of her books. ANY of them, now. 

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor: This is also a sequel in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone series and man if I said Apprentices was a bit dark than this book is pitch black! Like Maggie, Laini has a literary and fantastical style that is all her own and quite unique in the humor she weaves in with the drama and more action-packed moments. She can write some of the most heartbreaking scenes you've ever read which means you're invested in her characters and books for the long haul. Karou and Akiva are like Romeo & Juliet as seraphim and demons. The sequel sets off a larger story that is set to end next spring and I am psyched. One of Laini's books was on my recommendations last year and I'm more than happy to recommend her again because this series is a standout. 

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey: I heard the hype and was refusing to indulge but hey Rick Yancey was at Book Expo, so was I, so why not get a copy? I have since raved about my love for this book. The main characters of Cassie and Zombie are so refreshing. Angry and prideful and flawed but determined and loyal and fighters down deep. From the first moments with Cassie on her own to Zombie's emergence as a soldier and even a couple 3rd-person POVs thrown in Rick takes you through the waves that slowly took down a world and how the rest of it is coming to an end all the while the climax for this first book is: what is the 5th and (final?) wave? I was into it from page one to the end and this is one of those times when I am anxious because I have to wait a year (or less by now) for the next book and then another year for the one after that. Dang.

Happy reading, writing (aka NaNoWriMo), and holidays!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Krystalyn's Favorite Books of 2013

This has been a crazy year, to say the least. I haven't had nearly as much time to read as I would like, but I have managed to squeeze in a few books here and there. This year, I've decided to list one YA, one MG, and one old favorite. Of course, two of those are series, so bear with me.

My favorite YA book I read this year was The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. I'm currently in the middle of The Dream Thieves, and once again, it does not disappoint. I love how Maggie seems to paint with words. If you love lyrical writing, quirky characters, and a paranormal story that seems more like part of real life than real life often does, check out this series.

My second recommendation is See You At Harry's by Jo Knowles. This is an MG book, and since my next book is MG, I've been spending a lot of time in that area of the book store. See You At Harry's is heart wrenching, but it's told beautifully from such an innocent point of view. It shows that there are not always answers in life, but there is absolution.

My last book is the Blossom Culp series from one of my favorite authors of all time, Richard Peck. This summer, I re-read some of the Blossom Culp books. I had read them as a teenager, because I loved the paranormal aspect of them. Plus, I adored the Disney Sunday night movie, Child of Glass, which was based off of the first book, The Ghost Belonged To Me. Reading the series as an adult helped me appreciate the historical aspect of them as well. The research that must have gone into these books is incredible. Plus, the ghost story totally holds up.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Get Your Gated Fix for Free!!!

Haven't checked out Amy Christine Parker's book, Gated, just yet, but are curious to see what's actually happening behind those gates? Well guess what? You can download an extended sneak peak--as in the first seven chapters of the book--to your e reader right now and get a bonus author's note where Amy talks about where her fascination with cults comes from--it involves the creepiest sociology experiment ever! How's that for awesome? All you have to do is go to Gated's page on Amazon , or Barnes and Noble, or visit the Random Buzzers site. We hope you'll enjoy the read as much as we do!!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Holiday Break Time!

Happy Holidays all! Remember this time last year when we took a break from posting monthly photo prompts and new flash? Well, we'll be doing it again this year. With November being NaNoWriMo month (are you participating?), end-of-year deadlines, and the holidays coming into full swing we need a break.

But that doesn't mean there'll be no writing and it certainly doesn't mean there'll be no posts. We'll be doing more recommendations (or reviews) on Fridays this month and will be re-posting past favorites in December. And then in the official New Year there'll be a new picture prompt.

So hope you have a great holiday season and that the end of the year is productive for you. And even if 2013 isn't going how you had expected or hoped that 2014 will more than make up for it.

Happy writing, reading, and eating!

Friday, October 18, 2013

First Stab

****Check out this awesome guest post by Maria Mainero! You can find her at: her blog or on Twitter @MariaAnnaWitt
The oars plip plop in the water, sounding distant and close at the same time. I clutch my shawl tighter, a meaningless gesture that can’t protect me. The oarsman winks, then curls up his lip and hisses, flashing his fangs.

“Don’t rock the boat, sweetie,” he chortles as I jump.

They never said that only one of us would make it. Never. The way our mothers fussed and coached us, the way they celebrated, I figured.  .  .

I gulp and try to stop my thoughts before they turn to tears. I’m supposed to be strong. That’s why I was given this chance, wasn’t it? The chance to live as a free human, the future of our species. The reason we put aside our grief for the ones who were sent back from their Trial, and rejoiced for everyone who made it though. 

Will would get another chance, when he turned eighteen, after his three years of breeding. But at twenty-five, having produced five live children, it had been Sal’s final trial. My own mother never passed the Trial; she was taken when I was three, and I was given a new mother.  At age eight, I said goodbye again. Sal has been my mother ever since.

To lose her seems unbearable, and I start to hope for something I never would have wished until now.

We all swore we’d take death instead. We had to say that. Our own would kill us first if we dared to breathe that Vampire was the better life. Better than being farmed as food. Better than being set loose like wild animals, hunted for sport.

 A hollow thump stops the boat. “Don’t forget your satchel, sweetie. Full of wooden stakes?” He snorts at his joke and I wish I had staked him. I could have done it. I could have slipped the stake from  my satchel, and plunged it into his chest, just slightly to the left of the center of his white cravat.

Unless I missed, like I had at the Trial. Out here, there were no rules—no one to drag me out of the arena to an empty cell. I sat there alone, fearing there was only one fate, until they put me on this boat, without a word, without a bite.

I scramble onto the dock, gripping the clammy iron railing. The oarsman beats hastily away, leaving me in darkness.  Then another lantern brightens the fog. “Welcome to the Wilderness,” says a cracked, high-pitched voice.  Shadows fill the deep wrinkles on his face.  “A gal? We’ll take ye. If y’ c’n break the skin, you’re in, so they say.”

I’ve never seen a man so old before or hair so white. “They really let us live?”

“Aye. Best we can figure, we’re their executioners. From time to time, they’ll dump a vampire on this island, and we. . . .dispatch it. Did ye get in a good blow?”

“Through the arm,” I admit.

“We’ll improve yer aim.”

“Am I the only one?”

“There were three yesterday. They don’t bring you in groups anymore. Lost too many boatmen that way.”

“Who? Who were they?” I ask eagerly.

“Who they were doesn’t matter. Put the past behind ye. Who we are now, is what must matter t’ ye.”

I follow the old man up the dock, but he stops at the splashing of oars. “Will!” I shout, when I see him rowing alone. I feel gloating pride that he singlehandedly staked his boatman.

 He disembarks, smiling with the quiet restraint he always displays. I rush to hug him, but he brushes past me, his hand outstretched to our welcomer. In a flash, Will jerks the old man off his feet and twists his head, bones popping and snapping.

He turns to me, catching up the lantern. “They said if I could get you, you can come with me.”

I gasp out a foggy breath and sobs fill my chest. “How can I?” 

“I can do it, but not now. It’s not safe for me here.  Please, Annika, hurry, into the boat.” He’s still holding the old man’s lifeless body.

“How could you, Will?”

“Don’t, Anna,” he pleads. “You’d do the same, if it was your only choice.”

“Is it?” I say. He’s as silent as death. “Is it my only choice, Will?”

He looks down at the limp body in his arms. “I had to, Anna. What if you’d been waiting for me?”

He’s right, I would have done the same. . . .

If it was my only choice.

I clutch my satchel to my chest and take a shaking step towards him. His eyes brighten like citrine, a new luminous clarity to their brown. He smiles, and I shrink back, even though the smile is familiar, and his fangs are puppy-dog small.

“Let me just. . . before you come. . . “ he says, unable to speak the words for what his kind does. He bends his head, holding the man like he’s his turkey drumstick at Trial banquet.

I turn away and reach into the carpetbag. Who he was doesn’t matter. I hold the stake hidden in the folds of my skirt. We trained together, surely he’ll recognize my feeble attempt at stealth.

Will drops the old man into the lake and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, like he’s just drained a mug of milk. Dark stains line his teeth, as he smiles at me, his eyes wide in anticipation, his arms outstretched, his heart unprotected.

I spring at him with all my strength. I know my aim is bad, I’ve only wounded him. There are no rules out here.  He’ll defend himself, and like him, I won’t have a choice.

 “Best of luck to you, Annika,” he says, stumbling into the boat. He pulls the stake from his neck, and it falls into the water with a splash, followed by the plip plop of oars fading away into the fog.
Story by: Maria Mainero
Photo by: Jim Crossley

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap

“So there’s this baby,” Aaron starts. He’s already laughing at his own joke. He can barely keep still on the log he’s sitting on.

Samantha shakes her head, irritated. They’ve been arguing the whole way up to the lodge. And unfortunately me and Jake had to sit near them while they went through their weekly hate-love fest. She’s upset because its senior year and the destiny she planned for them may be coming to an end. Aaron refuses to take things as seriously.

“I tell her I love her. What more does she want?” he asked us. That was Jake’s and my cue to agree with “You’re right, man.”

Truth is Aaron’s looking forward to their split. Her to state. Him to another state and a whole range of possibilities. Not girl-wise either. “I mean, I get out of the city and just see nature. You know? That’s pretty damn cool. Not waking up to drills. Worrying about SATs or my parents. Damn,” he huffed.

I’m also looking forward to college. Not taking a subway to school and back home. Not worrying about a coach yelling in one ear and a teacher yelling in another. We’ll get to walk around campus. Live away from the steady gaze of parents expecting us to be better. Jake, Aaron, and I are all going away on scholarship.

The chill from Samantha’s face and the air up here make me shake through my shorts and sweatshirt. The temperature change was sharper than I expected. I can’t help hunching my body. Jake gives me a look and I see we’re in close proximity. Me involuntarily seeking out body heat.

I mouth “cold” to him but his stare goes away all together.

“So the baby—” and before Aaron even gets to the punch line Samantha stands up and hits him in the shoulder.

“Shut up about the baby! Just shut up. Shut up. Shut up!” She’s shaking. Her arms are stretched out on either side of her and, yup, those are tears coming down her cheeks.

Aaron’s mouth practically scrapes ground. I think mine and Jake’s are too. One of us, I don’t know who, asks, “What is up, Sam?”

Her face is in her hands. She goes into full blown tremble mode. She mumbles something. I think I hear the word “ig’nant.”

Aaron rises. He pulls her hands from her face. “What?”

“Pregnant,” is what she said, says. Aaron’s jaw really drops. He takes a step back but still holds her hands.

There’s a poke in my ribs, then a constant jab before I notice Jake. His face is near mine. It’s a bit disorienting at first but I focus on what he’s saying. “Let’s go” he urges. I don’t hesitate. We leave Aaron and Samantha. She’s slapping him away again and he’s stock still.

Jake stuffs his hands into his hoodie and I follow suit. We walk a foot apart. There’s the sound of our feet shuffling against the ground, dirt rolling under us. We go up. And up until the fog gets thick and the air gets colder prickling the exposed skin on my legs.

“I should’ve worn track pants,” I say.

“You should have but you like showing off your legs.”

I laugh. “No one’s looking at my legs.”

Jake doesn’t respond. He picks up speed and starts climbing the path. He almost slips on something and I’m there, just like on the field, right at his back ready to catch him if need be.

“Watch yourself,” I whisper. He nods but jerks away from me.

I’m about to ask him what the deal is when we hit a bridge. One of those lame swinging ones with wood and rope that doesn’t seem like it’ll hold a squirrel let alone a person. The other side is nonexistent. The fog this high up covers anything more than a few inches from your face.

“The bridge to nowhere,” I quip but Jake doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t look back at me or say anything.

He’s at the foot of the bridge his hands on either side of the rope railing. I rush to stand beside him. “What’s up with you today?”

The bridge sways under him when he steps on it. Jake takes another step sending the whole thing shaking like Samantha. My throat tightens up and I’m nervous about it holding his weight.

He moves forward practically forcing me to follow. “I swear you’re being such a douche nozzle right now.”

I catch up to him. My body swerves with the bridge no matter how slow I go. My palms dig into the rope and splinters catch into my skin. They sting but not enough for me to let go.

“Jake!” I yell until he’s almost engulfed in the fog. He stops. He turns around his body moving with the bridge. He looks at me. His eyes are as gray as the air surrounding us.

“What’s up?”

His eyes hold mine when he says, “We’re tight?”

I sputter. I glance over the side and see a bit of ground, way, way down. I swallow hard, feel the spit settle deep in my stomach.

He moves closer. “No matter what?”

“Yeah, we’re tight. You, me, Aaron.”

“I don’t mean Aaron. I mean me. When we go away… Room together, I don’t want things to get weird.”

“Weird? Why?” I falter a bit taking my right hand off the bridge but I hold up my fist waiting for him to pound it back and assure me he’s okay so we can get off of this shifting death trap.

He approaches. A rumble goes through my stomach as a gust of wind shifts the bridge. I grab at the rope but miss and am about to fall when I feel Jake’s arms clutching my body to his.

He whispers something in my ear. I don’t hear it all but I catch the key words. I hear things he may have wanted to say outloud for awhile. The glances and looks away make sense, so does his fear. I don’t respond. I let him hold me, not so much to keep me steady but to steady himself. 

Story by: Jenn Baker
Photo by: Jim Crossley

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Bridge

by: Krystalyn

 Crossing the bridge takes patience. Thirty seven planks that need to be counted just right. If I miss a step, the clouds surround me. They scream and roll, twisting into stampedes of midnight colored horses or snarling wildcats. My own personal demons. And they know who's in control.

I do everything they demand of me. Skip the third plank because it squeaks. Go back if I forget to count one. Go back if I say a number wrong. Go back. Go back. Go back. And when I finally reach the end, I breathe a sigh of relief that I made it. Every day. To and from school in an endless cycle, as if I'm caught in a whirlpool and no one is stretching out their arms to save me.

But I can't do it. It's too hard. I don't want to cross the bridge anymore. So I turn around and go home. Tell my mom I'm sick and hide in my room where the light switch taunts me. I feel the rectangular knob, worn nearly to a point from overuse. Flick it. Once, twice, three times... The clouds burst into my vision black and menacing, deeper and stronger than thunder. Seven, Eight, Nine...

Stop it!

I yank my hand off the switch and breathe through the urges. "My obsessives," I used to say. Before my mom noticed. Before the doctors named the imbalance in my brain. Before the medicine. Before I lied and said I was better.

In a way, I was better. And worse.

I pull my fingers through my hair and stumble into bed.

The ceiling fan spins too fast to count the rotations, so I watch it to focus my mind. To blow away the clouds. To remind me of what's real. Of school and drama club, and the cute new boy Mom hired to tutor me because I'm failing math.

“It's just a bad day,” I whisper beneath the hum of the motor. “Tomorrow will be better. Please, please let tomorrow be better.” But I know it won't.

Eventually the fan makes me dizzy so I bury my head beneath my covers and sleep. No clouds. No darkness. Just living breathing colors. A safe zone.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Three taps pull me out of my dream. I emerge like a cranky ostrich forced to remove its head from the ground.

“Go away,” I mutter, mostly to the hearts on my sheets. All 352 of the damn things.

“Sarah. It's me, Luke.”

No. No! No! Not my math tutor. He already thinks I'm stupid. He can't know I'm a freak too. That the reason I take so long to do my work isn't because I don't know the answer. It's because I keep messing up the curves and the lines of the numbers.

Because I'm messed up.

He comes in anyway. I press my fingers into my eyes. I don't want to count the stripes in his shirt or his dimples.

“I've got your school work. Your mother said to bring it in.”

I drag my hands down my face. “Of course she did.” God forbid I miss an assignment.

He takes another step toward me. His army green backpack strains at the seams with the extra weight of my books. “I can help if you like.”

I shrug, though I would like it. Very much.

His narrow eyes squint until they nearly disappear. They're soft. Perfect. “Are you okay?”

I sniff. I hadn't been crying, but it feels like the thing to do. “Yeah. I just...” I gesture to myself, not sure what I mean by it. “Do you want to get started?”

He stuffs one hand into his pocket and scrunches up his shoulders, sucking his neck into his collar like a turtle. “Can we?” He hooks his free thumb toward my desk.

I slog out of bed, fight the urge to count my steps, but do anyway. When I reach my desk, I grab hold of the corner so I don't go back and recount them. The intensity in his eyes helps.

Eyes. Can he see? Does he know?

I blow out a breath, pushing the clouds away as I sit down and open up my math book.

He sits next to me.

I have two chairs in my room. The swivel kind so when I fidget, our knees touch. I want to draw hash marks on the side of my paper to count the number of times.


I stay home from school again, sticking the thermometer against a light bulb so my mother has proof of my illness. If I tell her the real reason, she'll make me take the medicine again. I can't do that, because then I'll be crazy and an insomniac.

I count the hours until Luke comes. I think of his perfect shoelaces, and the way he writes. Round and straight, like a kindergarten teacher. I wish I could do that.

He's exactly on time, and wears a smile all the way up to his eyes. For the first time in thirty eight months, the clouds don't seem quite so dark.

We trudge through our work, and while I erase my numbers, he takes my hand. I stop erasing and think of his hand and the calluses on his fingertips. I wonder if he plays guitar.

My work takes less time than usual.


My third day home. My mother insists it's the last.

When Luke comes, I'm already at my desk, gripping my pencil because I don't want tomorrow to come.

Math is more difficult. The numbers bend where they should be straight. Wilting and pooling on the page. The clouds claw at the edge of my vision. I grit my teeth and reach for my pink eraser. Luke stills my hand.

“No,” he says. “Once is enough.” I drop the eraser and turn to him. His eyes glisten with the same perfection that defines everything about him.


My breath catches. He knows. He understands. “Did my mother hire you because--”

He shakes his head slowly, his eyes fixed on me. “Only my family knows. And now you.” He slides his hand behind my neck, and I tremble.

“How do you--”  My words choke and burn. He loans me his shoulder, and I soak his shirt with my fears. 

How do you do it? I want to ask.

He tilts his mouth toward my ear and whispers, “I'll show you.”


An hour later, we stand in front of the bridge. The clouds roll in, shifting and swirling, obscuring everything. Growling. Gnashing.

“Sar--. Yo-- r—dy?” Luke's voice comes through tinny, like it's being broadcast over my grandpa's old CB radio. Bad reception. Syllables popping in and out.

I want to run home. Watch the fan. Hide.

His hand catches mine. Our fingers tangle, and I squeeze, finding my purchase in an intangible world.

“I'll count to three,” he says, “and we'll do it together.”

I stare at the bridge. At its thirty seven impossible planks. “Numbers, huh?”

He makes a sound, like he had wanted it to be a laugh, but it broke somewhere along the way. “Yeah.”

“Okay, then.” I puff out my cheeks and blow. “Three.”

One foot. Then the next. I dare the clouds by not counting. Instead, I focus on Luke's hand. The calluses on his fingertips. The press of his palm against mine. A board creaks. I freeze. Claws swipe at me, but I don't go back. I blow out another breath, sending the beasts back to their hidden caves, and move forward.

It takes several minutes, but we reach the end and step off onto the flat dirt path. The clouds don't follow. I look at him and sniffle; the tears give me a reason. “I did it.”

He cups my face in his hands and presses his lips to my forehead. “You did.”

But there are still so many bridges. “Will you walk me to school tomorrow?” It's not so much a question, but a plea.

“Every day.” An absolute.

I curl up against his chest and feel his arms tighten around me. I press my ear against his heartbeat and listen forever, until I lose track of the numbers.


Picture by: Jim Crossley