Fiction Friday: The Lady

Posted on May 14th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Short Story

Before we hop into the flash fiction story I’m sharing with y’all today, I just want to get a few things out of the way.

First, this is not a cry for help. My mental health is pretty much as good as it gets at the moment, all things considered. (All things being a crazy work schedule, a pandemic, releasing a new book, etc, etc, etc). This is actually a re-write of a much longer piece I wrote about a decade ago that was lost on an old harddrive. It annoyed me that I lost it, so I wrote it again in a tighter format. This was some flash fiction practice. That’s all.

Second, I don’t normally do trigger warnings on content unless specifically asked to when submitting for a review/contest/etc. This time I am. Please skip this one of you find stories involving the following triggering: terminal illness, alcoholism, homicidal thoughts, and/or suicidal thoughts. I know that’s a lot for 499 words.

And finally, I hold the copyright to this fiction. You may not copy or reproduce it in part or whole without my written permission except for the purposes of review and other cases allowed by copyright law. Basically, don’t be a jerky pirate or plagarizer.


The apparition is here again. He sulks in the corner of the room, glaring at me with rheumy eyes. I’m so distracted by the way he wrings his gnarled hands and rubs his knobby knees that I don’t hear a word Dr. Hart is saying. I only notice he was speaking when he stops to glance over his shoulder. He can’t see Creaky. 

Dr. Hart writes out a prescription. He has to stop periodically to shake out a cramp in his hand. I take the paper, but I have no intentions of getting it filled. The last three drugs he prescribed did nothing. Creaky waves to me as I leave.

At work, more monsters lurk behind unsuspecting souls. The one that followed my old boss scared me the most; a small, gaunt creature with sunken eyes and grayish-purple skin. Only a few wisps of hair clung to its scalp. I never dared to give it a name. 

My own ghost is a lady in black who comes and goes. She never speaks, only stares at me with deep, knowing eyes. She is mysterious and alluring, yet something in my gut warns me never to let her whisper the secrets her smile keeps. At first, I only caught short glimpses of her from the corner of my eye. Now it seems she stays for hours or even days at a time.

Not every vision’s meaning is as opaque as my lady. The shades of my wife’s alcoholism are as obvious as they are obnoxious. They are the only ones that actually speak to me. One of them greets me at the door. I call him Bubba, and he smells like cheap beer. I ignore him and the piles of empty cans cluttering the entryway. I used to gather them up in bags, but I don’t even bother kicking them aside anymore. Jean will clean them up when one of her sober moments strike.

I find Jean in the living room, sprawled on the sofa with plastic children’s cup. I don’t need to guess what’s in it because the bottle of bourbon is lying on its side by her feet, soaking the carpet. She doesn’t look at me but turns up the TV volume, ready to drown me out with a game show or soap opera.

A new apparition dressed in black is sitting beside her. I meet his gaze and immediately recoil from the venom in his eyes. A shiver of fear runs up my spine, and I retreat.

The lady is waiting for me by the nightstand in the master bedroom. Her gaze is sympathetic, a balm after the sting of my wife’s hostility. She holds out her hands to me. I hesitate. She makes no move towards me. I know I have to come to her. 

I hear footsteps on the stairs. It’s time to choose.

My hand closes on the gun in the nightstand’s drawer. The lady’s hand covers mine. Together we lift it to my mouth.

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Salerian Short: The First

Posted on March 19th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Short Story

This is the first in a series of short stories I will be sharing to the blog collectively known as “Salerian Shorts.” These stories take place in the world of the Penelope’s Dragon series. Some will focus on the the characters from the series. Others, such as this one, will expand on the myths and legends that shape the world. This story is the first I am going to share, but it is also titled “The First.” I hope you enjoy!


The First

© Sara Cleveland 2021

Water dripped from the hem of Marta’s cloak. She’d done it this time. She’d let her anger goad her into foolishly getting herself caught in a summer storm. Now she had no choice but to huddle in this cave and wait for the season’s temper tantrum to run its course. She threw back the hood, and more water splattered the damp stone and dirt at her feet. She ran her fingers through hair that was already as soaked through. Marta hated wet hair, especially when she couldn’t comb it by the fire and dry it into neat waves. Now it would be a frizzy snarl. 

Damn her temper. And damn Gerald for stoking it.

Heaving a sigh, Marta removed the cloak entirely before the rest of her clothing went from damp to sopping. She tossed it back into the cave, away from the deluge of water coming down just inches from where she stood. Then she sat, back to the wall, staring through the sheeting rain towards the lake, which had become all but invisible.

It was incredibly dull, waiting out a summer storm by herself, and Marta soon found herself nodding off, lulled by the gentle whoosh, whoosh. She was almost asleep when she felt more than heard the sickening crunch of something striking the ground outside. 

Marta leapt to her feet, her hand going to the knife at her belt. It was just a small blade for eating, hardly even worth mentioning in a fight. Yet it was the only weapon her stupid ass had brought with her when she’d marched out of the cottage in a huff.

She squinted, trying to see what was out there that could have made that noise. Had that boulder been there before? She didn’t think it had.

“Don’t be stupid, Marta,” she muttered. “Don’t go out there and draw attention to yourself.”

But what if whatever was out there didn’t like the rain any more than she did? What if it was searching for a place to get dry? A place like this cave? She’d be trapped, with the monster between her and the only exit. And Marta knew this was the only exit. She and Gerald had explored every inch of their father’s holdings as children, and she knew the cave systems in these cliffs as well as the rooms of her own cottage.

“Damn it.”

Shaking the water and now mud from her cloak, Marta threw it about her shoulders and pulled the hood up. With her sad little knife in a death grip, she eased her way out of the cave and into the downpour.

The dark shape lay motionless not two yards from the mouth of the cave. Curiosity began to overtake Marta’s fear and common sense. She crept closer to it.

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February Story Blog Hop 2021

Posted on February 14th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Short Story

Recognition

February 14th was always their day. The time between their dates seemed to get longer and longer every year, but he could always count on February 14th. A nice dinner, a few drinks. They’d talk until late into the night. She would tell him everything about everything: her work, her friends. Nothing was a secret.

It was cold, but he waited in their spot, like always. He wondered what she’d have in the picnic basket. What flowers would she bring this year?

Hours passed while he waited. He sat on the cold granite and looked to the sky where the pale winter sun was starting to sink below the dead tree-line. 

The moon was high in the sky when he heard the crunch of snow under boots. Two figures crossed the lawn. One stopped short, but the other walked right up to where he waited.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she whispered. The plastic on the dozen roses she carried crinkled as she set it down before the headstone. She shivered and pulled her scarf tighter about her neck but reached out a bare finger to trace the letters of a name.

John Bishop. March 13, 1985 – February 14, 2016.

“John, you know I’ll always love you, but…” she glanced over her shoulder at the man waiting a respectful distance away. A sob caught in her throat, and it was a moment before she could continue. “I can’t keep on like this. I have to start living again. I’m sorry.”

John’s eyes stung. He reached for her, but she stepped away. In the moonlight, he could see the answering tears freezing to her cheeks. He was helpless to stop her as she rejoined her companion, who gathered her into an understanding embrace.

“You don’t need me anymore. I’m so glad.” A smile ghosted over John’s features. His heart was breaking, but hers was finally healing.

She turned for one last look at the headstone, offering one final wave good-bye. John waved back, even as he felt himself fade away. The last thing he saw was the recognition in her beautiful eyes.

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