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