How to Write Short Stories – and Write Them Well

So, a short story was probably what you specialized in when you started writing. What you called a “book,” if you started as young as I did, was probably a ten-page (tops) short story written in huge font. Sound familiar? You might have started with a little more professionalism than I did, so hats off to you.

But I started between the age of four and eight, depending on what you actually consider “writing.” Hmm, I should do a post on the controversial “definition” of writing. 🙂 But now I’m going off on a tangent and we’ve barely started. You can tell what mood I’m in, right??? *stares distractedly out the window with a smile*

Okay, let’s get back to business. *puts hat back on*

What constitutes a short story?

It varies. I mean, I don’t think a definition is actually necessary, but you should know that anything below 1,000 words is considered flash fiction, or a super short story. However, personally, I feel that flash fiction should be defined as something closer to a few hundred words or less. So, the minimum word count for short story falls somewhere in the <1,000 category, and can be up to 10,000 words.

Why are short stories so important in fiction?

Not only are short stories an excellent building block for writing (see my Faithwriters’ short stories), but they are a fabulous tool to provide entertainment, inspiration, amusement, and even, if you’re really skilled, a powerful piece of writing that makes an impact that lasts! It’s a taller order than it sounds. Some people may not have time to read a novel. But anyone can make time to read a short story. See the potential there?

I wish I could share with you all the incredible short stories I’ve read. I can’t, but let me say, they have changed my view of “short” stories.


And, I might add, so can the smallest stories. 🙂

Don’t you all just love LOTR quotes?

How to Write Them Well

No, not LOTR quotes, short stories. 😉

Okay, so, the only reason I can give you some advice on this, is because I’ve written so many of them. But if you’re really interested in writing short stories, do your research. I can only share the bit that I’ve learned along the way.

Depending on the length of your story, keep extra POVs to a minimum. In all likelihood, your short story is probably only focusing on one person. However, be very careful when including more than one POV. Try to have just one, if at all possible. It should help the story to flow more smoothly.

Stories are powerful. Words can change lives. So work on the flow of every sentence and paragraph, as you write and as you edit. Tightening sentences where you can will often help the story flow. Cut out unnecessary descriptions, but let the reader see the scene that is unfolding.

It is difficult to explain everything that can improve a short work of fiction. Your best bet is to read. Mine aren’t the best examples in the world, but you can check out the stories I’ve written for Faithwriters. If nothing else, you’ll be able to get an idea of a tight story with a message. My short stories page features many of the winning stories. But if you do some exploring on Faithwriters, you’ll find some really incredible winning stories.

First sentences and last sentences also count in short stories, mainly because they are the first and last impressions. But remember, quite often, the real fashioning of a story happens after the writing, during the editing.

So, read. Read a lot. If you want to perfect short stories, you can’t read enough of them. And you can’t write enough of them. My first many stories written for Faithwriters were, um . . . *coughs* embarrassing. But each one improved. And short stories are unique opportunities to inspire! Don’t discredit them because they’re short. Remember Lord of the Rings quotes!

Oh, and, before we go . . . a puppy update. Phoenix is doing awesome. Personality-wise, she’s bull-headed, but very sensitive. The other night, right at midnight, she heard two cats screaming outside, and started barking. Like. Crazy. I jolted awake, fumbled to turn the light on. She might have been noisy, but she was actually really freaked out and scared. So I petted her for a while, then turned off the light, and she went back to sleep. All thoughts of screeching cats forgotten. 🙂 Goodnight, Phoenix!

Your turn. What sort of short stories do you like to write? What is your advice for a newbie looking to start out with short stories? Have you ever had your dog wake you up in the middle of the night? Let’s chat!


You Know You’re a Writer When . . .

We’ve all seen those little notes that begin with “You know you’re a writer when . . .” and the blank is filled, usually with something humorous that you can totally relate to. But what if we just simplified it and said,

You know you’re a writer . . . when something inspires you to write.

What inspires you? A sight or a smell? A sound, like laughter? An image or a quote?

The fact is, if you’re a writer, you were probably inspired to write long before you put pen to paper. Writing doesn’t begin with the pen and paper. It begins with a feeling. A sensation you can’t identify that sparks imagination, creativity, excitement. Even ambivalence.

Think about it.

Were you the ten-year-old riding your bike or sitting on the lawn while telling yourself stories? Were you hiding in your room with a good book while your friends were playing? Did you hoard all the notebooks you could find and say that even all those couldn’t fit the stories in your head . . . even if they remained blank? Did you write a story simply because you had to? There was no choice in the matter – there was just this burning imagination that had to be expressed?

That’s where inspiration started for me. An idea – five kids stranded on an island at high tide. An imagination – two siblings transported back through time to help defeat a giant (the humble beginnings of One Light Shining six years ago). Eventually, creativity and originality – the crash of the nation’s power grid drives a family from their home (Ashes Remain, currently a first draft).

You know you’re a writer when there’s a bit of inspiration that must be set loose to conquer that giant, slay that dragon, wield that sword . . . or, simply, tame that imagination, harness its power, until the hunger in you is satisfied.

You know you’re a writer when it’s not about the money, not about the fame, not about the praise – it’s just about feeling alive, and it’s between you and God.

I would ride my bike for hours, rain or shine, greedily whispering stories I would never write, as I peddled faster and faster under the excitement of what was unfolding. One day, even this wasn’t enough. So, I just started . . . writing. Yeah, it was pretty lousy. I would never show my first work to a single soul, and I cringe to think I had my mom and dad read it. 😉  But that’s okay. If I hadn’t started that way, I never would have started at all.

Is writing easy?

No. It’s difficult, often. Torturous, frequently.

Why do we do it?

Because we must. To quit would leave us empty. There’s something in every writer that is only satisfied by the expression of words, a thirst only quenched by the victory that is achieved by the wielding of their power. We can’t substitute it. I’ve tried.

You know you’re a writer when the imagination and inspiration is too strong to ignore.

You know you’re a writer when you can see the story in your head, not the words on the page.

You know you’re a writer . . .

Now, before I forget, let me advise you in advance that on Monday, I have a very exciting, slightly off-subject announcement to bring forward. It’s a post that will be a lot of fun. 🙂 You ready? Monday. Don’t forget.

What do you think? When did you first start crafting stories? How far have you come? And what inspires you? Let’s chat in the comments!


Home: Where the Goats Roam – a short story

Hello friends! So, I’m taking a short break from the regular blog posts today so I can bring you a recent short story I wrote for Write the World, an online community of young writers, which I would encourage you to check out.

This was a piece I wrote at random, but I was pleasantly surprised at the feedback it received. It was also shared at Lexigraph Blogs – you can find some good tidbits on writing from them!

But without further chit-chat, here goes:

A jagged hillside juts up from the earth, steep and long and full of thorns – go around, instead, along the path, around our land to the trees.

You approach slowly, quietly, your feet making minimal noise in the soft spring grass. Crows take flight from the field, startled by your approach. Halfway across this field, you stop. You can hear them now – their soft baas from the hillside. They must be hidden down there, where the contours of the land descend out of sight. Their baas range from the high-pitched cry of a young kid who searches for his mother, to the low reply of the doe as she stops grazing to answer him.

You continue on. You reach the zenith of the hill and a gust of wind pulls the scent of the herd and the scent of the grasses they graze upon up to your nose. Keep going. Go to the shade of the locust trees and watch.

Watch the baby goats leap like rabbits, here and there and back again. Watch that red doe – see how deftly she ascends the hill? Turns your head now and see the young white doe – see how she consumes the wild raspberries, thorns and all? Only a goat could accomplish such feats as these. Climb down a little farther now. Look down, past the brambles and thorns. The other red doe is there, with the brown-and-gray kid. Watch them as they eat away at the foliage and branches, whatever they can reach with their long, sleek necks. Small black bugs irritate them on this hill, so they are working their way into the woods for a reprieve.

Sit here now and watch. Watch the goats exist – thrive – here, here in their natural home, this wild hillside and deep and tangled wood. This is their home. This is my home, too.

My home is where the goats roam.


What do you think? This is only the third or fourth short story of my own that I’ve shared with all of you on this blog, but there will be more to come!

Writing From an Unexpected Perspective

It may truly help a story.

So, think back to something you might have written from a non-human POV. Was it a tree? A butterfly? A goat? Short stories especially can benefit from placing the POV in the hands – or paws, or talons – of another creature. The whole “if these walls could talk” sort of thing. Even some novels have excelled in their genre using this unique vantage point.


It all depends on your story. Take The Humbling of Rutherford for example. I wrote this little piece for Faithwriter’s a year or so ago, detailing a day in the life of a rooster we used to have. It was penned in third person omniscient, so as to capture the POV of Rutherford, as well as the farm dogs and the other chickens.

Then there was a story my mom wrote several years ago from the perspective of a tree, an abandoned house, and the land on which these two sat. It was the deep, moving writing that made it special, as well as the POVs – you don’t often hear an abandoned house telling its story, or listen to the voice of its only enduring friend, the pine tree.


Take this picture for example:


If I were to write a story based on this photo, would I tell it from Giddy’s (the goat’s) POV or from the butterfly’s? Or both? Personally, I believe I would write it using both their POVs, in order to capture the emerging of this butterfly and the brief wonder and irritation of Giddy. 🙂 However, I could also tell it from a by-standing goat’s perspective, or another creature. I could also tell it from just the butterfly’s perspective. Any of these would likely work to create an effective story.

At any rate, using a non-human POV can really add an endearing quality to a story. Have you had any experience with this? Any moments like the butterfly and the goat you could write a story from? How about a chicken or a songbird? Or an insect or a cat? Let’s chat about our furry friends! They can certainly make their way onto the page without much effort.

Bookish Things – a Review of the Well Spring Series and an Update

Hello, friends!

Today we’re delving into the three-book series I recently completed reading, James Rubart’s Well Spring Novels. My review in short? I was left both amazed and refreshed.

James’ writing is more brilliant than anything I’ve read in a long time. While in structure I’ll say the dialog was a tad rough in spots, the stories were seamlessly crafted, and the characters beautifully created. Every character had something to overcome, something to face in their lives, and the author took them through that brilliantly.

But I’m skipping ahead. If you’ve never heard of these books, you’re likely wondering what I’m babbling about. 🙂

Okay, okay. So, book one, Soul’s Gate, begins the journey with Reece Roth, a man who has been trained to enter the souls of others and fight for their freedom. He will go on to train the “four” prophesied to battle against the enemy in ways never before seen.

These books are remarkable, and as I mentioned, brilliantly written. I was kept reading from the first page of book one to the last letter of book three, Spirit Bridge. It is not an easy feat for me to be sucked into a story. I was vacuumed into this one.


And if the review wasn’t enough, how about that cover? Isn’t that cover just, like, crazy cool? I mean, if a cover alone could drag you inside the pages it conceals, that one does the job.

And now . . . for the update! Just a small note of no importance. 🙂  I’m currently reading Athol Dickson’s The Cure, and there was a gargantuan spider inside the house this morning. Uh, yeah, like baby tarantula size. We, like, freaked. It was swept out of the house and deftly squished in the driveway.

Ooohh, and in other news, my recent story done for Faithwriters took sixth, which you can read here. And you must read the winning story for that topic. It was fantastic.

And I suppose that’s about it for today. The next post will feature the second installment in our little blog series, the non-fiction musings of a goat herdess, and it bears just that name. Stick around!

And you must tell me, friends . . . what is your present reading venture??? Any gargantuan spiders crawling ’round your house??? Don’t be shy! Pour yourself a cup of tea – or coffee or, even better, apple cider – and let us chat.

A Free Short Story – Enjoy!

Happy Memorial Day to all of you! Today’s post is going to be simple, but since I was running out of ideas – and time – I decided to share something special. And free. And who can resist something free? This special free thing is a recent short story I penned for Faithwriters, under the challenge topic “Entertain.” The said story took third. 🙂

Enjoy your free short story, my friends, and come back for more! June is just ’round the corner – will someone please tell me how that happened? – so you will be seeing the next Highlights and Goals post for this new month. It’s bound to be exciting!

Meantime, I’ll stop chattering and you can get on with your free gift.



The crowd’s roars and jeers, deafening in their ceaseless echos, pierce my ears and shatter my resolve. I glare right back. Do they think I want to be here? Fighting to appease them? Dying to amuse them? Or do they think I’ll kill the man sent out in this arena to fight back?

Heart stuttering, I turn my head from the innumerable screaming humans and close my eyes. My palms are sweaty. They are laced with sand and grit. Will my blood soak into this sand today, or will it be the blood of the opponent?

Panic lances my chest, and my eyes are thrown open. Of course I will not murder. I will not be forced to kill. A slave I may be, but my conscience and eternal judgement belongs not to the man who owns me. Besides, many of these wretched games end not in blood. Sometimes the crowd will call for mercy, or so I’ve been told by lucky survivors. Or . . . perhaps unlucky.

For they are the ones who must do it again, again, again, while the blood of others gathers on their hands, an indelible stain.

The Romans’ cries explode in furious cheers. I look towards the entrance. This is the man they expect me to kill? We are similar in height and in build, but he must be far older than I, and he brandishes his sword like it is an object to which he can command to do his bidding and it will obey. Aside from that, I can see how the crowd treats him. Not with the jeers with which I was beckoned in, but with the exhilaration and flamboyance through which one might welcome their hero.

A rock settles deep in my stomach. I was not sent here to kill. I was sent here to be killed.

They don’t know who am I. What I’ve done. What I’ve run from. In defense of what I love, I’ve killed more men than I wish to count. But in cold blood? For sport? For the amusement of an audience? Never. And never shall I.

For several jarring minutes I find my stride, deafened by the crowd, shaken by the force of our weapons. I judge the man’s skill. He’s good. He’s a killer. But he’s not a fighter.

As the battle escalates, I feel the heat of it burn in my blood. My hands are quick to remember reflexes, instinct, precision. I can feel the attention of the crowd sway with their loyalty as their hero begins to tire. He has fought for too long. Against myself, a fighter young in years, he weakens. This is no casual slave he fights.

And here my conscience returns. I am soaking in the perfidious attention of the crowd. This is what I’ve run from. This is what I threw away with my past when I abandoned the emperor’s service. It is far too simple for me to regain it now.

Perhaps this is what I was brought here to learn. I could never truly change.

Gods of Rome and of Heaven . . . I enact a vicious counterstroke and try again. God of Heaven, if this is how I am to end, a murderer and tyrant, strike me dead here and now.

The man before me, his forehead bathed in sweat and furrowed in exhaustion, stumbles upon the sand. I look to the crowd, awaiting their decision.

Almost as one, they call for me to slay him. I think I hear a few cries for mercy, but they are swallowed away by this bloodthirsty chant. I feel stone around my heart and soul. It would be easy to end this now. To become the hero of these people, to expunge their former distaste and repulsion, to give them the show they want to see.

But do I truly desire to be the revered one of a bloodthirsty, shameless people?

Their chants become louder. My heart throbs. My fingers tremble around the hilt of my sword. I have not been struck dead yet. Perhaps this is not meant to be the end, nor how I will ultimately finish this race. There is sand still slick on my hand, but will there be blood?

The crowd screams as one. Shudders travel down my spine, into my fingers.

My decision is made.


How did you like – or maybe you didn’t like it at all, and that’s okay too – your gift? To read more of my work in short stories, you can follow THIS link . . . or THIS one! God bless you all on this Memorial Day.

Once Upon a Kitten Part 2

Every watchful.

It was a beautiful Easter day here in Maine – temperatures flirting with eighty in some places and just the right amount of cloud cover over our homestead to keep the heat from becoming too much. Best of all, we were able to get together to enjoy the day with friends and family, to cement in our hearts the power and meaning of Easter.

Anyway, we’re back with Once Upon a Kitten! Part 2 will pick up where 1 left you all hanging in utter suspense. What shall it be? What awaits those three MIA stay cats who have vanished in the coldest days of winter? Well, here you go. I won’t keep you hanging.

December 19th . . .

I seem to recall a sort of fog that morning. A dusty curtain of clouds to shroud the dawn. It was when we looked out onto the driveway that we saw her, a thin, bedraggled kitten coming towards the greenhouses. Her focus was set in determination, as though her purpose in returning to us a week and a half after the disappearance could not be thwarted.

We were in shock. Days of temps pummeled well below zero, tempest winds reaching the level of ferocity, not a bit of our cat-food offerings touched . . .  We had given up hope, assumed their lives had been snuffed out. But here Lentil was.

(Side note: If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, please go back and do so, or you will not have any idea what I’m talking about or who this Lentil is. Thank you.)

She hid in the greenhouse/winter-firewood-storage-house for the first hour or so while we set up a have-a-heart trap with cooked chicken inside and some regular cat food outside the trap simply in an effort to nourish her. She looked so scared, her eyes wide, her pitiful meows of hunger coming from behind the firewood where she hid from us.

We watched from inside the house as she spent the morning in refusal to eat, seeking only the snow, which she licked relentlessly while wandering the space between the two greenhouses where she, Yarrow and Ali had lived, had played, had slept. At times she would simply lie down upon the snow above the same place she had once huddled with her family. We were heartbroken.

And then she returned to the greenhouse . . . and entered our trap. And just like that, Lentil entered our lives in a whole new way. After my father had spent the last several years taking a stand that we would never own a cat . . . well, those three strays had earned a special place in his heart. He had no misgivings about saving Lentil. 🙂

The frightened little creature fled into one of our upstairs rooms and hid behind two boxes. There, she remained. We quickly realized she was coming out at night, as her food was clearly nibbled at. Over the next weeks, I worked to gain her trust. Holding out bits of cooked meat, talking with her, reading to her.

This effort paid off. I’ll never forget the milestone moments. There was the day she first took food from my fingers as I reached into her hiding place. The day she first came out to eat from her dish despite my presence. The first time I succeeded to pet her. The first time she climbed upon my lap and licked my fingers. The day she followed me downstairs and later to sleep on my bed – that lasted all of one night, thanks to her waking me up by tirelessly licking my arm and nibbling my hand.

Long before that point, Yarrow, too, returned. To this day, we feed her in front of the house. She has become a good deal more trusting, even so far as to hide in the bushes while we set out her food, and then come out as soon as we’ve left. Sadly, it was Ali, dear, sweet, gentle Ali, that we lost in that mysterious vanishing of the three so many months ago.

Still, Lentil and Yarrow’s survival is a miracle. Our best assumption of that week and a half in December, is that the three of them were trapped in our neighbor’s barn, among the bales of hay. No food. No water. Maybe it is true what they say of cats’ nine lives. Or maybe it was just God’s way of giving us a little gift, of taking care of the sparrows . . . or cats, as the case may be.

Lentil sleeps on the carpet as I write this post, curled up in a slice of sunlight that peeks through the window. We have begun to allow her passage to the outdoors now, due to her noisy insistence. While this poses a good deal of risks, I believe it has made us all the more grateful for and inspired by her incredible – and true – story of survival.

God has told us through His Word that His eye is on the sparrows. Whether it is on a bird or a helpless cat, it is comforting to me to see firsthand the truth of that scripture. I hope her story inspires you, too! We all have seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our journeys. But God is really good at those.

He took care of and continues to watch out for our dear little Lentil and by His mercy does the same for us. I know He is watching out for you too.

Blessings and happy trails! More to come on stray cats . . . some day. I have a particular fondness for them now. 🙂 Meantime, I’ll be back to blogging about writing, reading, writing and . . . well, writing, of course.

Once Upon a Kitten Part 1 – a Stray’s Story of Survival

Today, I’m taking a little break from the regular writing posts to share with you a true story which, in many ways, is still unfolding. If you’ve come across my Pinterest boards at all, you may have noticed one entitled Kats & Kids. This one divulges some of my love for goats and for our dear little friends, the stray cats. Up until about nine months ago, I had little concern for those particular creatures . . . and that was when three of them showed up on our doorstep.

It was a sultry day in either late June or early July when we saw her. A fluffy stray cat we had seen numerous times around the farm, but never so close. Now she lay just outside our back door, panting heavily, her large stomach heaving with each breath. We were worried. This was the first time we saw how clearly she was pregnant.

We named this frightened, aloof little animal Yarrow.

For days and even weeks at a time, we saw nothing of the stray. She came and she went, sometimes appearing with a mouse ensnared, other times crossing our neighbor’s field in the dusty fog of dawn.

It was August now. Yarrow’s stomach had noticeably decreased in its swollen size, but we knew not where she had placed her kittens or if any were alive. We again saw her coming across our back pasture with another mouse. While we quietly marveled at how many of those she seemed to find, we watched her. Yarrow, oblivious to the audience she had, took purposeful strides across the yard, across the driveway, to our newest greenhouse, which, at that time, was not in use.

We continued to watch like hawks from our living room window. As she went round the back corner of the greenhouse, we saw them. Two tiny kittens rushed out to greet her.

Needless to say, we were thrilled. And though it was expected she had at one time cared for more than just two, we were grateful these had survived. One was a petite, baby-faced calico we lovingly named Ali. The other, a rugged, shy little gray we floundered for a proper name for until my mother found the perfect one. Lentil.

As the weeks passed, days grew shorter, harvest came in from the gardens, our spirits were reliably lifted by the presence of the three homeless felines. We had begun feeding them back in August, which, we surmised, was why Yarrow, so alert and timid, kept her kittens so near to our home. In spite of her wild ways, she trusted us just enough.

That trust, however, was short lived. She began taking Lentil and Ali to our neighbor’s barn. More than once, we would lose track of them for days and be unable to feed them. These disappearances left us worried indeed.

But every time, they came back. And Ali became more and more accustomed to us, more and more trusting. There was one day Yarrow took Lentil, the far more reserved and wild of the two kittens, back to the neighbor’s barn, while Ali remained at the greenhouse the entire day, patiently waiting for her family’s return.

And then the cold weather hit. We were terrified. We knew we could trap the kittens and tame them, but Yarrow? Yarrow was wild. She could never adapt to a home.

And then they disappeared. And did not return.

For a week and a half, through the fiercest drop in temperatures we would endure for the rest of the winter, they were lost to us. We set out food both in the barn and greenhouse. We called them by name. We searched. We searched again. There were no voices to respond. No tracks. No one to nibble the food.

There was snow on the ground. The frigidity did not relent. We were devastated to think those dear little animals had been lost so cruelly.

December 19th . . .



The rest of their story will be told in Part 2, and also in the Little Red Barn Series, a children’s series my mother and I plan to co-write together in the next year or so, but that’s a post for another day!

And I’ll be back blogging on the Monday after Easter. Part 2 of this story will continue next week. In spite of the way it may look now, there is a happy ending. One that continues to inspire us to this day, and I hope you’re inspired as well! Don’t miss Part 2.

Yarrow’s tracks in the snow.

An Easter Surprise for Y’all!

April 10th! Spring has gloriously sprung here in Maine, and Easter is around the corner. As promised, in honor of that blessed holiday, I have a little surprise for you all!

I am sharing with you an incredible story penned for a Faithwriters’ challenge a few years back. Few stories have had such a profound impact on me as this one, and it so vividly captures and reflects the truth of Easter. I am honored to share with you all today “Drawn to a Drip,” a winner in the contest topic “Drip.”

Drawn to a Drip by Allen Povenmire

I hope this story encourages and inspires you as it has inspired me.

May you all have a blessed Easter this weekend,  but I challenge you to remember what – and Who – it is really about, not just on Sunday, when the busyness of the day can lure us away from the day’s meaning, but all through the year.

And, as goes my current blogging schedule, I’ll be back in three days! So take a look at Allen’s story and let it penetrate to your heart. God bless.

Indie e-Con Writing Contest Winner

So, as I explained in my last post, I wrote a little story for Kendra Ardnek’s writing contest when she ran this year’s Indie e-Con on her blog. I entered under the category The Magic Jacket, and the story I wrote won in this category. Quite exciting! You can read this story below.

And . . . a little birdie told me you all should keep an eye on this blog from now to April 10th-ish for a few . . . well, bookish things. The birdie guaranteed you’ll enjoy it. Very much. Shall you listen to the birdie???

TheMagicJacket2 (1)

Where is he?” I remember bouncing on my toes to see out the front window as I asked the question, not for the first time that morning.

My mother chuckled while attempting to complete her sweeping of the dining room despite my peppering of questions. “He’ll be here soon.”

How soon is soon?”

Mother didn’t answer, but finished her task and set aside the broom. “There. Why don’t you go outside and play before Danny gets home?”

I gave her a pouting look. “But if I’m in the backyard, I won’t see him come.”

A vehicle squeaked in the driveway. Almost as if there were some sixth sense in me, I shrieked out my brother’s name even before that sound reached my ears. “Danny!”

With Mother’s hand around mine, together we raced out of the house, across the porch . . . and stopped. I pulled at her hand, nearly squeaking in my own excitement. Then I saw she did not smile. She did not laugh. There was a shadow over her eyes. A shadow that would stay there many months to come.

It was not Danny who came to meet us at the porch. As I watched the two strangely suited men with long, sullen faces and lowly spoken words, I could not understand them. As Mother collapsed to her knees, her hands clutched before her face, I felt a foreboding dread about these men. I began yelling for explanations, for Daddy, for Danny.

It was Mother’s voice, tattered and broken like an autumn leaf wrested from its branch of safety that finally brought clarity to my young mind. “My Danny,” she wept, “my Danny . . . he’s gone . . .”

And I sensed then that my world was changed forever.

~ ~ ~


My ninth birthday was celebrated by what Dad called a “house-cleaning” party that we would do for Mother. But after the year of hell we’d just lived through, I knew better. He and Mother had yelled all night about it, it seemed. This morning she wouldn’t come out of her room.

Cleaning” Danny’s old room and stuffing all his belongings into the attic meant, in her mind, that we were forgetting. I could understand that. I’d been forced to grow up a lot in the last year, and I didn’t want my brother’s room emptied any more than she did.

He was my brother.

And every day, my heart broke all over again.

After that cleaning day, Mother was more shut away than ever. Dad had to hire a babysitter when he was gone for work all because she couldn’t pull herself together to take care of me. I hated the babysitter like I hated everything else. She was a spindly old bookworm with the ugliest glasses known to mankind. And when Thanksgiving vacation pardoned me from the endless, miserable drawl of school, I, too, retreated the way Mother did. But instead of seeking out my bedroom, I fled to the outdoors, the unexplored wilderness around our New York home that Danny had so loved.

My little Rose,” he used to say, “someday, we’ll be great adventurers in these forests! We’ll tame the untamed wilds and beasts.”

The wilds and beasts were ideas frightening to most kids I knew. But not to me. I knew Danny would protect me.

But he was gone now. Dead. Buried in the dark recesses of the earth. Was he afraid of the dark? He’d always said he wasn’t, but he had slept with a nightlight for as long as I’d known him. Did the darkness of his grave scare him? There was no nightlight down there.

The unknown brought my frail composure to tears that afternoon on Danny’s favorite trail in the woods where I’d come with my bike. I huddled beside his rock, my arms hugged around my head, my tears soaking through the knees of my jeans.

Danny . . . Danny, please come home.”

Who are you looking for?”

I looked up with a gasp and scanned the trail. Standing not two yards from me was a boy about Danny’s age, maybe a little older. His ruddy hair was askew, his slate blue eyes were distant. And despite the pronounced autumnal chill, he wore a light summer jacket.

I sniffed and rubbed my eyes. “What do you want?”

His eyes still did not find mine, but stayed off to my right, as though he spoke to somebody else. “What is it you want, Rose?”

How do you know my name?” I asked, sincerely irritated.

I just do.”

Oh, what a stupid answer! “Go away,” I growled.

What is it you want, Rose?”

I huffed a breath. “A flute. That’s what I wanted for my birthday, only we never celebrated it. Now shut up and go away.” I had thought my learning the instrument would make Mother happy, remind her of Danny, but the moment I brought it up, she walked out of the room.

A breeze sifted through the dull, brittle leaves and carried a tinkling sound to my ears. My brow furrowed a little and I glanced over at the strange boy. He had a hand in the pocket of his jacket and he withdrew it as a clenched fist. I watched in frightened awe as he opened his hand and let a slim new penny whistle fall to the earth. Only instead of falling at the speed it should have, the flute descended slowly, defying gravity.

I gawked at the little instrument for a long moment, then glanced up at the boy again. He was gone. Looking back on that moment, I can understand the reasoning, but in my still youthful mind, he must have run away while I was staring at his gift.

I didn’t take the flute home. It reminded me too much of Danny. He’d learned to play it a few years ago. I used to walk beside him, grinning from ear to ear in pride as he blew tune after tune into his little silver instrument.

At home, I eluded the scolding I no doubt would receive from Babysitter Gloria and went upstairs to Mother’s room. I knocked. She didn’t answer. I didn’t expect her to. I went to my own bedroom and stayed there all evening, even when Dad got home and begged me to come down to supper.

The following morning, I was swiftly drawn back to Danny’s rock. The flute, now covered by some leaves and a bit of dew, still remained on the ground. I picked it up. I don’t know what I expected exactly – fairy dust? Mist? Air? But the instrument was whole, solid. There was nothing unreal in its substance.

I rubbed it on my shirt and put the mouthpiece to my lips. Inhaling shakily, I blew into the flute. A light string of cacophonous sounds proceeded, so unlike Danny’s skills. He had mastered it overnight, it had seemed. But then, Danny could master anything he wanted to. I was the unskilled and blundering one of the family.

Footsteps crunched almost soundlessly on the leaves. “What is it you want, Rose?”

I turned to the strange boy. He still wore his summer jacket. He still did not look at my eyes. “Okay,” I began. “You did this, and I want to know how.”

We don’t get to know the how of everything in life, or the why. Some things are simply for us to accept.”

What, are you a student of philosophy or something?”

Aren’t we all?”

You’re weird.”

He paused for a moment, his posture relaxed and comfortable like Danny’s was. “What is it you want, Rose?”

I clasped my hand around the penny whistle. “You can give me anything I ask for?”

Do you believe that because you have seen it?”

I cocked my head. “Huh?”

He laughed a little. “What is it you want, Rose?”

Something to make my mom happy, I guess.” If any such object existed.

The boy smiled faintly and turned his gaze even farther from me as he reached into the pocket of his jacket. I waited with a little dubiousness. He withdrew his fist, held it out from his body and opened his hand. Again, the wind carried that tinkling voice of anticipation. The small object met the ground, and I stepped towards it. This time, the boy stayed where he was.

I held it up. My breath caught in my throat. A simple heart-shaped photo of Danny in our backyard captioned with the pen-scrawled words, Happy Thanksgiving. I had no recollection of the picture, when it was taken or where. But I was in it, too, standing beside him, my auburn hair a mass of unruly snarls, much like Danny’s.

Where did this come from?”

The boy didn’t answer. I glanced up. He had already taken off. I frowned in petulance. Did he have to be so weird all the time? And yet, despite the oddity, I felt no inhibitions about coming back tomorrow. His presence seemed to put me at ease, if only for a little while.

I returned home with the photograph. Mother called me into her room after I knocked, and I found her sitting in her chair at the window, gazing into the backyard below, but I knew perfectly well, not seeing it at all. My heart squeezed painfully as I held out the picture.

Look what I found.”

She looked. For the longest, most agonizing moment, she did nothing. I feared I had been correct – nothing would make her happy again. But then she looked up at me, her eyes more open than I’d seen them in months.

Rose . . . where did you find that?”

I froze just a little. “Uh . . .”

I lost that one,” she told me, her words rushed and amazed. “I looked for it. I thought your dad had destroyed it, maybe, or it had been thrown out . . . You found it.” She was smiling now, through her tears. “Oh, Rose. This photo . . . it was the happiest moment of my life when it was taken. We were all together, laughing together . . .”

Next thing I knew, I was in her arms where we cried together. But these tears were different. They didn’t enhance the burning hole in my heart. They brought a bit of peace to my pain by bringing to Mother a bit of relief.

That night, she ate dinner with Dad and I downstairs.

~ ~ ~

I was bound by pouring rain and Gloria’s reprimanding to the house for two straight days. I was terrified the boy would not be there when I returned to Danny’s rock on the third day. I already knew what I would ask him for – the engagement ring my mother had lost only a couple months after she and Dad were married.

But on the third day, and every day after that, he was there. He never made eye contact, and he never changed that odd jacket, but I didn’t care. During the weeks that I made the almost daily trips to the rock, I saw my mom come back to me. Dad fired Gloria – fired her! – much to my delight, and Mother . . . She was always there. Present. At peace. Maybe not completely happy, but at peace was good enough for me, her attention-starved daughter.

Looking back, I can so clearly see the relief I felt during those days. I once even asked for a dog like the one Dad wanted. He didn’t pull that from his pocket, of course, but all he had to do was smile, turn towards the woods, and we had a dog. It was like magic. Maybe it was magic. I never told a soul about it. It was my special secret, one I only shared with Danny as I lay on my bed at night and whispered to the shiny little flute. I remember thinking how excited Danny would have been at these mysteries.

It was on one such night after I finished telling Danny about my adventures that day and thinking how he must be proud of me for being the adventurer he wanted to be, when I fell into a sleep deeper than any I’d felt before. When the nightmare came, I couldn’t shake it. I saw those men, the two police officers, on the porch. They kept telling us the news over and over. Mother was screaming and crying. Dad was walking away. I was screaming. I saw the strange boy, too, standing at the edge of the yard.

What is it you want, Rose?” was what he kept repeating as I kept screaming. “What is it you want, Rose?”

Danny!” The word escaped in my sickened terror. “Give Danny back!”

In the culmination of the screams and the panic, I awoke.

It was still early and not yet dawn when I shoved my feet into my boots and left the house, giving our dog a treat from the refrigerator to keep him quiet as I fled to the woods. We had very little snow thus far, so the forest was a smokey gray, drab in the earliest light and fog. I ditched my bike halfway to the rock and sprinted the rest of the way if only to expel the panicked energy still tight within me from the dream. From the nightmare.

Are you here?” I called upon reaching Danny’s rock. “It’s Rose. Please, I need to talk to you.”

It took only a moment for the familiar footsteps to approach. I nearly cried when I saw him, but he spoke first, his voice quiet and gentle, as if he were soothing a frightened kitten. “You’ve lost something, Rose.”

I have.”

What is it you want?”

Just for once, I wished he would look me in the eyes. “I want . . . I want . . .” Tears jammed in my throat, muddling my words. “I want my brother back.”

The crippling grief I had learned to deal with crashed upon me and drove me to the earth. I held my arms around myself as sobs racked my body. “I want Danny,” I gasped. “You can do that. I want my brother.”

The boy came up beside me, but I did not hear the tinkling of the wind that had become such a comforting voice. Instead, I heard him speak one word. “Rose.”

My heart stuttered to a stop. I lifted my blurred eyes to his face and met his eyes. They were now vibrant, alive, fixed upon mine, clear and alert. His smile was so genuine and so tender.

D-Danny?” I dared to whisper.

He held out his hands to me as the sunshine exploded through the forest branches, warmed the air, made his eyes glow. I gasped out his name once more and leapt into his arms. My pain turned to such lightened joy I was sure my heart could not contain it.

Danny . . . Danny . . .”

I’m here,” he spoke near my ear.


It was a long moment before he stepped back and stood where the sun would blaze upon him, illuminating his smile, setting his hair aflame. He placed a hand on my cheek, sealing forever the reality that this was so very real. “My little Rose . . . I’m so proud of you.”

I glanced for a moment at his summer jacket and relished the clarity that stormed through my mind like a ray of this brilliant sunshine. This was the jacket he had worn the last day I saw him. It had been summer then.

Proud?” I repeated, dazed. Wonderfully dazed. “For what?”

All these weeks, you only asked me for the things that would help our mom and dad. You could have asked for me that first day I was here. You didn’t.” His smile widened. “You were very brave, Rose.”

A little giddy laugh bubbled over inside me. “Oh, Danny. Let’s go home and see Mom and Dad!”

His smile faded, but not the joy in those perfect eyes, their light blue buoyancy, their elated hope. “No, Rose.” His words were quiet. “I was sent only as a messenger. I have a home. Another home.”

I didn’t understand him. “What do you mean? Don’t you want to see Mom and Dad?”

You were the one I was sent to.”

By who?”

By God. To bring you, our whole family, some comfort. Unity. Peace.”

But . . .” I shook my head. “Danny, don’t say that. Don’t leave me.” A shudder raced through me.

I’m not leaving you. I’ll always be inside your heart. But you have to let me go back.”

Back?” I felt the rise of panic.

It’s not forever, Rose. You’ll join me there someday.”

Danny!” It was just like my dream. I could feel him slipping from my presence. “Danny, no!”

Let me go, Rose.”

My pulse quickening, I forced myself to meet his gaze. That sounded like a plea.

Let me go. There are glories waiting for you in heaven that I’ve already seen. ” A giddiness rose in his voice despite the now obvious pleading in his eyes. “You’ve never seen anything like it. The streets glow with gold, and the music! Oh, I’ve never heard such music. It’s never dark, it’s always light. Rose, it’s all so beautiful! It’s just . . . beautiful. You can’t imagine it.”

He was right. I couldn’t imagine it. All I saw was the horror of losing my brother all over again.

My task here is done now, and I’m ready to go back to the Father who sent me. Please, Rose. Let me go.”

I never thought much about God. I didn’t think Danny did, either. I was wrong.

But you’ll . . . you won’t be here,” I whispered. “With me.”

Yes, I will.” He smiled softly and removed his jacket. My heart nearly tore into two as I held it. It smelled like springtime. Like orange trees and apple blossoms. “Keep that for me. I won’t need it.”

He began to move away from me, walking backwards, an increased joy on his face. “Rose?”

I swallowed hard. “Go. Tell God . . . I’ll be there someday.”

He knows.”

I gasped out a small sob. “I love you, Danny.”

Now several yards from me, Danny bowed. “This is where we can say a proper goodbye. We couldn’t before, you know? Everything happened too fast.”

You never liked things to move slow,” I remarked as my heart wept within me. “Danny-”

Thank you, Rose. I’ll be waiting for you!” His voice grew distant as he reached the spot where I’d first seen him standing. “There’s lots more to explore up there! I can’t wait to show you!”

His childlike exclamations died as a light brighter than the morning sun enveloped his body and raised him skyward. His name escaped my lips one last time, and I heard whispered beside my ear his very last message.

I love you too, Rose.”

And there I was left in the morning light which now seemed dim compared to the light I had just witnessed. I held Danny’s jacket close to my body and waited for the onslaught of grief to return. It didn’t. Through this encounter, I could move on. Mother could move on. Dad could move on.

And one more thing I knew, a reality that would live forever deep in my soul, even still to this day as I reflect on that one lonely fall morning where it all began.

Perhaps it was the fullness of the message he brought back to me. It was the truth that sustained me after that day, a certainty rooted deep in my soul.

Danny lives on. I have his jacket, and I have this hope.