What’s in Your Heart {Fantasy Flash Fiction June}

emma-frances-logan-200050-unsplash-smallWhat’s in Your Heart by Natasha Brown

The sounds from the street filled the air: tires on pavement, engines whirring and music pouring from open windows. Everything was as it always was, except today was different. Kara was on her way to the hospital. She’d known it was coming. Her surgery. The doctors had warned her a month ago that she needed it. Her heart couldn’t wait any longer.

Kara’s father pulled up beside the sidewalk outside their city apartment and hollered at her through the open window, “C’mon sweetie. It’s time to go. We can’t be late.”

Kara got in and shut the door, sealing herself inside the sedan. She buckled up and stared out the window at the gray buildings they drove past. The starless sky was dark. It was so early the sun hadn’t yet crowned the concrete horizon. She was too nervous to speak, but that didn’t matter. Her father filled the quiet with his voice.

Kara wasn’t really listening. She was fixated on the answerless questions floating through her head. When she woke up from her surgery, would she be in pain? Would her scar be visible when she wore her favorite V-neck? And would she limited to a life of boredom when she grew up?

Numbness overtook her senses as her father checked her into the hospital, and she was prepped in preop. From there, the sedation took over, and her thoughts quieted until the sound of medical machines beeping filled her silent vacuum.

Kara cracked her eyes and blinked at her surroundings.

“She’s awake.” A voice broke the silence.

She rolled her head on her pillow to find who’d spoken. A young man was standing just inside the doorway. He gave her a smile as he went to pull up the window blinds, letting in the afternoon light. “Did you have to pay for this view?”

Kara squinted at the gray building he was gesturing at. The only touch of color she could see was the patch of blue sky visible above the angular architecture. She returned her gaze to the stranger. He didn’t seem to be joking. She cleared her throat, which was sore from the breathing tube and rasped, “What are you talking about?”

He pointed at the side of the building visible from her window. “I see the ocean. There’s white sandy beaches and palm trees. I can almost smell the sea and feel the breeze on my face.”

Kara frowned. This guy, albeit pleasant, was totally nuts. Did they let just anyone work in the recovery ward? She adjusted her blanket over her abdomen, sensing the painful ache in her chest.

“What do you see?” He came to stand beside her at the bed and narrowed his eyes at the window. “What’s in your heart?”

“Nothing,” she whispered.

The young man’s green eyes turned to her, and he shook his head. “Now, that’s not true. C’mon, what do you see?”

Kara remembered the cottage her father took her to when she was only ten and they had visited family so far away, it had taken a plane and a long car ride to get there. The hum of bees filled the air as they busied themselves with too many bright flowers to visit in one season. She’d pictured herself from another time and place. She’d imagined amazing things in her future. But it was a long time ago.

She shook her head, not wanting to share.

He rested his hand on her shoulder so softly, she wasn’t sure he’d actually touched her. She closed her eyes, feeling exhaustion come over her. When she lifted her lids again, he’d gone.

Kara woke from the sound of her father’s voice. She yawned and moved her arms. A dull ache radiated from her sternum, and she closed her eyes momentarily to grit her teeth.

“There’s my sunflower.” Her father left the doctor’s side to sit on the edge of her bed. “How are you feeling, kiddo?”

She didn’t answer. She only stared back at him with a blank expression.

“It’ll get better. I can get you some more pain meds,” the doctor said and waved down a nurse.

Kara sighed and looked out the window. Bright bursts of color camouflaged the exterior of the gray building outside. Flowers of every shape and hue covered the architecture. Through the wildflower garden, she could even see a cottage depicted in the distance. Her breath caught in her throat. It was exactly as she remembered it.

The doctor followed her gaze and frowned, saying to the nurse, “When did they paint that? It’s a sight better than before. Makes for a good view.”

Kara turned to them. “The guy who was here earlier…”

The nurse patted her arm and said sympathetically, “Oh, sweetie. No one’s been in to see you until now. I’ve been just across from you at the nurse’s station this whole time.”

“Oh.” Kara frowned and returned her focus to the mural out her window.

The sounds of honeybees hummed in her ears, and the fragrance of sun kissed irises, daisies and roses filled her nostrils, bringing a gentle smile to her lips.

Second Chance {Fantasy Flash Fiction May}



Photo by Savs on Unsplash

Photo by Savs on Unsplash

Second Chance by Natasha Brown

Penetrating smells filled her nostrils, but they weren’t the promising kind. Not the kind that held the potential of food. She’d already nosed around the metal trashcan and turned over a canister filled with something dark that had spilled onto her paws, soaking into her fur and pores. It tingled on contact and was so pungent, she barely smelled anything else.

A noise echoed down the alley, and she stopped to stare in the direction it had come. Her dry nose lifted so she could blink out at the street. It had been too many days since she’d been separated from her brothers and sister. They’d been gathered up by a human. But she had remained tucked under a parked car. It was what she was good at—hiding.

She arched her neck to gawk at the people passing by before scurrying farther down the alley. A ribbon of acrid smoke curled above her head, and she was startled to discover a human sitting on a concrete step. Her body coiled to bolt, to take her far away from this scary, unknown situation, but she stopped.

She stared at the young man with his head hanging low and a strange feeling took hold of her. Her heart pattered even faster in her immature body as he glanced up at her. His green eyes were filled with sadness. She knew what that looked like, for it had consumed much of her life.

The young man pressed his smoking stick into the ground, put on his hat and held out his hand to her. This normally would have signaled trouble. Today, this moment was different. She took a cautious step toward him until his fingers were close enough to touch her dirty chin. His smell was familiar to her.

“Hey, there. You alone, too?” the young man muttered and ran his fingers from the top of her head to the base of her spine. It was such a pleasing sensation, she moved even closer so he could repeat it. The corners of his mouth upturned. “Looks like you could use a bath.”

He reached into his pocket, unwrapped something and held it out to her. She didn’t have to smell it to know it was food and swallowed it without even chewing. Her stomach groaned, and in that instant, she gave into the feeling that came over her. Trust.

The young man lifted her into his lap, and she let him. He held her close, smearing the grease that covered her paws onto his clothing. He didn’t seem to mind. Instead, he opened his backpack and lowered her inside. Strangely, it made her feel safe being held, not having to worry about her legs carrying her someplace new. Her head bobbed around as she watched the city move by. Exhaustion consumed her, and she let her eyes droop until she fell asleep.

Movement woke her. She was being pulled out of the bag and lowered onto a tiled floor. She perked up her ears and raised her head to stare into the young man’s melancholy face. His half-smile assured her everything was okay, but she backed into his legs as a loud sound filled the room.

“You’re safe.” His voice echoed softly. “You need to get clean.”

She’d heard that before. She was almost positive.

He lifted her into a large white basin filled with warm water. Never had she been bathed like this before, yet it seemed such a familiar action. Dark plumes of dirt and oil filtered away from her smelly body, threatening to contaminate the remaining water. Flowery smelling soap was massaged through her fur until bubbles spilled down her legs. Her muscles shook with pleasure.

She was taken from the basin and set on the floor. Instinctively, she shook herself off, splattering droplets across the room. The young man raised his hands and laughed. “I’ll get you a towel.”

He opened the door, and she saw into the place he’d taken her. A hallway filled with more doors. Bedrooms.

He walked out of the tiled bathroom, and she took a step closer to the threshold. She cocked her head and realized she knew this place.

Without hesitation, she went down the hallway to a door that wasn’t latched, pushed it open and slipped inside. Posters of bands covered the walls, dried flowers hung from the dark curtained window and a box sat beside the closet. She padded over to touch her nose to the cards that filled the cardboard container. This place felt empty like it was missing something.

She took another step toward the closet. Clothing hung like Spanish moss nearly to the shoe-covered floor, yet she stepped into the darkness out of habit. Hiding was what she did best. She stumbled over the boots and flats that would never be worn again until she reached the corner and curled up, resting her chin on an old teddy bear.

This was where she remained while the young man called for her from the hallway. “Where are you, puppy?”

His voice traveled near and far as his echoing footsteps rattled the floorboards. His cries got more frantic, and again, she sensed she had heard this before. Except, he was saying her name all wrong. It wasn’t puppy, it was Penny. This she was sure.

Then his footsteps slowed and quieted. A shadow blocked the column of light from pouring into her hiding place. The closet door swung open, and there he was. She had never known him to be so sad. He crawled into the dark corner with her and started crying. His whispers were all she heard. “This was where Penny went when she was feeling sad. This is where I found her.”

She lifted her chin from its resting place on the teddy bear to drag herself closer to him. Her wet paws touched his quivering chest, and she stretched her nose closer to his face. Tears traced their way down his cheeks and lips. He was always the more emotional one.

When she struggled to feel anything more than emptiness and sadness, he was the one playing guitar in the sun or laughing with his friends in his room. She barely recognized him so grief-stricken.

“She left me,” he choked through his tears. “I’m all alone.”

And she knew why she was there.

She started licking his face, clearing away his salty lament and laid her wet body across his chest. His hands fumbled to pet her clean, soggy fur, and he stopped crying. They remained curled together until she dried completely and the light coming in through the window dimmed.

For the first time she could remember, she had purpose. She would be there for him the way he needed her most. Loyal companionship. Love. This was her second chance.

He took a deep breath and carried her out of the room that held so many sad memories, shutting the door behind them. And in the twilight, she chased him around the yard until his laughter danced through the neighborhood, chasing away the day.

Desert Wind {Fantasy Flash Fiction April}


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Heat expanded in Liza’s lungs, making it hard to breathe. She tilted her head toward the open passenger window. The warm breeze swept her black hair around her face, and she blinked at her reflection in the sideview mirror as the desert landscape sped by. Her lipstick and eyeliner were perfect. As it should be on her wedding day.
“Hey, babe?”
She turned to blink at Pete. He was in his favorite pair of jeans and the button-up shirt he wore for interviews. His hair was disheveled as it normally was, and a pair of aviators were perched on the bridge of his nose. He wasn’t exactly the man she’d imagined settling down with when she’d daydreamed about her future, but he’d asked and she was alone.
“Yeah?” she asked.
Pete pulled out a cigarette and pinched it between his lips. “Did you bring any cash? I want to go out tonight and try my hand at roulette. Tony told me the secret to making easy money.”
After twelve years of working every job she was qualified for and a few she wasn’t, Liza knew there was no such thing. Every dollar she’d made was from hard, sometimes dirty work. She sighed. “I have enough for the basic wedding package—a thousand. You said you had enough for the hotel, right?”
Pete pulled the unlit cigarette from between his lips and scowled at her. “How much to get married? I was thinking it would be like a hundred. What a rip off. They’re just preying on daydreamers who want to be sold a fairytale. We should take that money and put it to good use—double or triple it.”
Liza looked down at the layers of white mesh that covered her legs. She’d found a wedding dress at the Spend Thrift before they left town for Vegas. It had a stain on side of the bodice, so she’d thrown on her black leather jacket to cover it. She was sweating like crazy because the car’s air conditioning was broken. But whoever said looking good was easy.
She stared at Pete’s profile and couldn’t keep her annoyance from her voice. “I thought we were going to Vegas to get married, not to make money.”
He grabbed his lighter and lit the end of his awaiting cigarette. The acrid smoke filled the air before getting swept out the windows. Liza scrunched her nose and sighed.
“Only money will get me into the ground floor of Tony’s new business.” He held his cigarette near the open window, and bright ashes were carried into the backseat.
Liza frowned. “But, I thought…”
“Oh my God! You just don’t get it. This isn’t going to work.” Pete glanced to the side, put on his blinker and slowed onto the dusty shoulder of the empty highway. “Grab your crap and get out. I don’t need a wife or anyone else who questions all of my life decisions. I already have a mom.”
Liza stared at him in disbelief. She’d known he was impulsive and self-centered to a fault, but this was just crazy. “Can you at least take me into town?”
He reached across her lap and opened her door. “Show a little leg and someone should stop for you.”
Liza grabbed her purse and stepped out of the car. She was about to reach into the back to get her bag when Pete started driving away. The wind carried off the string of profanities she yelled at him, and within moments, she was standing alone on the desert highway in the hot sun.
Tears welled in her eyes, but she quickly wiped them away and collected herself. Her feet started getting warm in her combat boots. At least she hadn’t worn a pair of flats.
Liza looked up and down the highway and saw nothing but scrub brush, dirt and rocks. It seemed she would need to start walking, so she continued in the direction Pete had driven. Her boots scuffed against the gravel, sending up a wisp of dust in the wind.
Liza’s thoughts were consumed with anger toward Pete until movement caught her eye. Off the side of the highway beyond a dusty slope, a pair of eyes stared at her. She squinted beyond the scrub brush, recognizing the bird’s feathered mohawk. A roadrunner.
It began to scurry parallel to the highway before stopping to look back at her. She took a few quick steps to follow, and a smile crept onto her lips. Memories flooded her thoughts of her Grandpa, the man who’d raised her. How he’d sit on the deck of his Arizona home, watching wildlife and hand feeding the wild roadrunners raw meat as they passed through.
When she’d ask him why he did it, he’d answered, “Because, my desert flower, they are protectors. They have traveled far and wide and know every trail from here to the sea, and if you are ever lost, they may remember our kindness.”
The smudge of red feathers on the bird’s head was the only burst of color in the beige landscape. She ignored the heat, finding purpose in her steady pace. Her grandpa was with her. She felt him in the wind at her back, pushing her forward.
The roadrunner scurried from grassy hillock to sandy dune and stopped to look back at her. Without having noticed, she came upon a turnout. A large tan bus was parked in the sun and light reflected off its dusty windows. Liza rubbed the sweat from her brow.
The doors opened, revealing an elderly woman with a creased grin. She put her hand on her hip and tisked. “Honey, you look like you could use a drink.”
At the thought of water, Liza’s throat closed up, and she nodded, unable to speak.
The woman waved her over to the vehicle. “Are you alone, sweetheart?”
Liza glanced to the dunes, finding the roadrunner’s eyes blinking back at her. Then the wind swept around her in an embrace.
She swallowed and climbed into the bus with a smile on her lips. “No, I don’t think I am.”

Judgment {Fantasy Flash Fiction March}

He’d had enough.

The streetlights were on, shining palely on the colorless pavement. Taxis rushed by Jeremy while he walked down the darkened street just as he always did after getting off the subway. It was well past seven and the commute rush had subsided over an hour ago.

He gripped his briefcase tight, thinking about the things he needed to accomplish tomorrow. If his partner knew what dedication was, she would’ve stayed to help him get the financial research done. But apparently, her family required her lazy smile for dinner. These were the kinds of excuses people made to cover their incompetence.

Jeremy swept his hand over the breast of his suit, freeing a wisp of lint. He hurried to catch the signal so he could cross the street and avoid waiting outside the bistro all of the millennials flocked to with their tattoos and strange colored hair. He imagined they all worked in bookstores and made money off their blogs, or vlogs, or whatever it was they did these days. They were the sort who didn’t know what a long day of hard work felt like.

Moisture hung in the air, and the smell of wet pavement filled his lungs. He glanced up at the clouds in the night sky, trying to beat the storm home. He only had to go a few more blocks until his doorman would welcome him in. Jeremy hoped the cleaning lady had actually taken care of the stains on the carpet beside his door. He’d left a note for the second time, demanding she do a proper job. He wasn’t paying her to spray something on it and hope for the best. But he supposed that was why he made a higher salary than her—skill and knowledge were worth something.

A deep rumble echoed down the street. It reverberated off the concrete and rattled up Jeremy’s spine through his feet. Droplets smacked against the sidewalk and the top of his head. Rain began to pelt full force onto the city below. He quickened his step, the sound of his leather soles slapping the cement was lost in the all-consuming roar.

A bright bolt of lightning struck a street sign and everything went silent. It felt as if the air itself pounded against his eardrums and chest. Jeremy slid to a stop, panting, his eyes wide. He stumbled away from the street and threw himself against the cold brick wall beside him. The bright glow of a neon sign turned his gray suit red. His ragged breathing tore at his throat, and he reached for the doorknob near his hand and quickly darted into the shop.

He stood dripping on the entry rug, gazing outside at the torrential storm when a woman’s voice greeted him. “That was close.”

“What?” he said, turning to find its source.

He was standing in a dimly lit shop he’d never been in before. Beaded strands hung from the ceiling and crystals sat on shelves. The smell of some sort of herb or flower filled the air, causing him to cough reflexively. A tattooed woman walked up to him and flashed a ruby-lipped smile. Her hair was the color of the Mediterranean Sea, and she was very surly half his age.

“Come sit.” She took hold of his sleeve and led him to a padded chair that smelled of his youth.

“No, I need to get home.” He tried to resist, but she was far stronger than he expected. He fell back into the seat, and she flashed him another smile. In her hands were the largest cards he’d ever seen. She was shuffling them effortlessly.

She fanned them out before him and said, “Pick one.”

Jeremy pressed his hands against the chair to get up, but she lowered the cards close to his face, winked at him, and said, “Just something to pass the time until it’s safe outside. No charge—just pick one.”

In order to leave, he decided to appease her and lifted his hand. “Fine.”

His fingers danced along the smooth cards until he stopped and pinched one in his grasp. As he gave it a tug, an image filled his head. He saw his cleaning woman reading the note he’d left on the counter and the pained expression on her face. He watched her hunch on her hands and knees, scrubbing away at his carpet. Realizing the stain was still there, she grabbed her purse and coat and left the building to hurry to the closest market. She stooped to gather various supplies and took them to the register. She held out a single twenty-dollar bill to the clerk. Her change was dropped into her waiting palm, which she counted quietly. With a sad smile, she deposited it in her pocket and returned to the apartment.

Though she kept checking the clock on the wall, she continued to scrub and work on the discolored stain on the carpet. Finally, she straightened with her hand at the low of her back and cleaned the remainder of his place. She collected her buckets of supplies and walked street after street to get to the bus stop and was taken across town. With a smile affixed to her face, she nodded at the people she passed until she walked up the front steps of her own tiny apartment.

When she walked through the door, voices greeted her, “Momma! Did you bring home dinner?”

Another sad, creased smile touched her lips, and she answered, “Not tonight. Not until payday.”

“Why not?”

The cleaning woman answered, “Because a job isn’t done unless it’s done right.”

The vision faded from Jeremy’s mind, and he was left holding a card in his hands. A single word filled him with shame. Judgment.

The rain had stopped, and he was standing out on the sidewalk. He tilted his head back to stare at the cloudless sky. Jeremy glanced back at the shop and was surprised to discover the windows covered with newspaper and that the door was locked.

He looked at the card in his hand, frowned and put it in his pocket.