Mirror

photos-ted-strutz
Photo prompt © Ted Strutz

Jessie wasn’t beautiful, but that old portrait, circa 1916, was hauntingly lovely. Several years before she married Grandpa, she’d posed serenely for the photographer, radiating youth and hope.

Next page. A later photo, escaping its black cardboard corners, of the gang at the family cottage, laughing into the camera. Pale voile dresses, floppy hats and heels, the men in rolled shirtsleeves. Carefree, after the war.

I squinted, looking closer. The woman in the back row, same cheekbones, same smile, using my own eyes to gaze across a century. The resemblance was breathtaking.

They’d always said I was an old soul.

cottage-days-1918
Another one from the family archives: Grandma Jessie on the right, circa 1918

“Mirror”, a 100-word story © 2019 Valerie J. Barrett. All rights reserved.

Thank you to Rochelle for hosting Friday Fictioneers, a challenge to write a complete story in 100 words or less, based on a photo prompt, generously supplied this week by Ted Strutz. To join in, click on Rochelle’s name above and follow the directions.

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Stealth Velvet – Friday Fictioneers

overhead-window
Photo prompt © J Hardy Carroll

Born on the streets to generations of cheats and thieves, I was custom-made for crime.

Small and lean, I’d mastered the furtive art of getting what I wanted, my hapless victims none the wiser. I knew all the tricks: work at night, dress in black, muffled feet. And know your target.

For days, I’d been hungrily watching this apartment from the tenement above. The owner’d left the skylight open in the stifling city heat. Coast clear, I slipped in, landing silently on the kitchen island.

Lucky the resident calico was asleep and wouldn’t notice me scarfing down his fancy feast.

“Stealth Velvet”, a 100-word story © 2019 Valerie J. Barrett. All rights reserved.

Thank you to Rochelle for hosting Friday Fictioneers, a challenge to write a complete story in 100 words or less, based on a photo prompt (generously supplied this week by J Hardy Carroll). To join in, click on Rochelle’s name above and follow the directions.

Visionary – Friday Fictioneers

book-ceayr
Photo prompt © C.E. Ayr

Another headache. She looks up from her knitting; the grey blur makes it hard to read the news ticker on TV.

Hours waiting for the specialist. Umpteen dye tests and scans. Painful, expensive injections to prevent further hemorrhage, and dozens of laser treatments. No pair of eyeglasses – bifocal, trifocal – works a damn anymore.

When she steps over a threshold or takes the stairs, she hangs on for dear life. She hides the invisible handicap well, though. Even her family forgets she’s blind in one eye.

But every morning she wakes to see the clock face, it’s a very good day.

“Visionary”, a 100-word story © 2019 Valerie J. Barrett. All rights reserved.

Thank you to Rochelle for hosting Friday Fictioneers, a challenge to write a complete story in 100 words or less, based on a photo prompt (generously supplied this week by C.E. Ayr). To join in, click on Rochelle’s name above and follow the directions.

Apples and Oil Lamps

Find the secret messages lurking in this ghost-story-without-a-ghost!

ouija-board-byeThe sixty-something woman struggled along the broken sidewalk, kerchief threatening escape as she head-butted the raking autumn wind. A gust bit right through the oatmeal sweater she’d belted around her middle; a plastering of wet leaves slapped her left cheek. Discarded candy wrappers and an old bus ticket swirled ’round her knee-his, nearly flying up her dress. Althea gasped, slowing to regain herself in this evil weather. She stopped dead when she spotted the house.

The neighbourhood huddled sympathetically against the brewing storm, yet the little bungalow, set further back than the rest, stood unperturbed under dirty clouds.

White clapboards shone brightly as if lit by the sun. A black iron fence, neat rows of rods and curlicues, with a decorative spider web worked ingeniously into one corner, guarded the postage stamp garden against marauders. Red geraniums, hanging in tidy pots from the haint blue porch roof, weren’t even swinging in the breeze. And the door. The purple door sat ajar, expectant. Althea pressed a palm against her left breast, willing the taxed muscle beneath to stop torturing her ribs.

The gate, for all its glossy new paint – not one spot of rust would dare – shrieked mightily when she lifted the latch. Althea barely had time to register the noise when a movement on the threshold – a graceful swish of eyelet and checked cotton – drew her gaze. Yes. She was expected.

The gate swung noiselessly shut behind her; she was too busy clutching kerchief and handbag, and screwing up enough nerve to climb the old wooden steps, to notice.

The woman at the door made it easy. Youngish – early thirties, perhaps – not some self-entitled millennial, Althea was relieved to see. Heart-shaped face, olive-tan skin (maybe she was a real Gypsy! – or one of them Indians, by her name). Not a lick of that whorish face paint, not a single wart, and a sweet smile. And eyes. Oh, such grey eyes, like rain-soaked slate, brimming with amusement, yet too polite to let it out loud.

“Miss Althea?” the woman asked gently. A kind voice. Not a cackle to be heard. “You’re right on time! Won’t you come in?” With a flick of pale blue voile more suited to high summer, the young woman stepped back to let her visitor through.

If Althea had ever been to the ocean, which she hadn’t – she was born right here in Placente and would stay put until she passed – she’d have sworn this was one of those quaint yet upscale seaside cottages she saw in Shore Living magazine. The airy bead board paneling was just as cheery in here as the outside walls. White candles in bubble-flecked glass adorned an oak console, and starfish and sand dollars and pearly shells perched just so on a couple of barnwood shelves. Althea’s nose twitched. What was that scent? Sweet, like apples or hay – and the faint tang of salt. Beneath her pragmatic oxfords, a pale sisal runner yielded with a pleasing crunch as the women stepped into the parlour. Althea noticed her hostess was barefoot.

It was four thirty on a rainy October afternoon, when neighbours had already switched on every light in their houses, yet this unlit room was bathed in rich apricot, like the ripest sunrise. From a secrétaire in the corner, a lone oil lamp flickered on, just as Althea lowered warily onto the rattan settee.

“I’ve made tea,” her hostess informed in East Coat vowels. “Not the sweet kind – if that’s what you were hoping for. Too late in the year for that,” she laughed. “No, it’s a blend of peach and harvest apple, with a dash of cinnamon and cloves, in keeping with the season.” Her smile was white and even as she held out a steaming saucer.

“Oh, Lordy!” burst Althea, unlacing nervous fingers from her lap. “I mean, Saints alive, I never –” she flushed, mortified. It was always sweet tea, beer or bourbon ’round here – and now she’d gone and taken the Lord’s name. “I s’pose you don’t like me saying that, Miz Chawit,” she said, subdued. “Religious talk, and all. I’m sorry if I offended.” The teacup rattled in her palsied hands.

Her hostess laughed again; Althea swore she heard tinkling wind chimes. “That’s quite alright, Miss Althea, and please call me Mia. I won’t take it as an insult. Now then,” she continued, seating herself without ceremony beside the older woman and laying a steadying hand on her arm, “what is it that you’ve come for? A husband who’s died? You want to talk to him?”

Althea took breath rather too sharply, and reddened again. Marooned, actually. “Law, girl, Jasper’s been gone these forty years. We didn’t talk much when he was alive, what would I say to him now?” She chuckled at that, her double chin tripling. “No, I come to find out when I’m gonna die.”

The grey eyes flew wide. “Oh,” Mia breathed, removing her hand abruptly. She shifted toward the end of the settee, opening a blank space between them. Althea listened for a clock ticking, or crickets or something, but there was only a long, empty nothing.

Mia folded her own hands on her crisp lap and waited. “Drink up your tea, Miss Althea,” she said softly. “The session’s over. It’s time for you to go.”

Althea was confused. Out of politeness – although she wasn’t sure why she was worrying about that – she fumbled for the handle and lifted the cup to her lips. The light-filled room seemed warmer now, but the tea was cool – like the drink she’d been longing for. Yet it burned all the way down. She started to sweat.

“Now, Althea,” her hostess said as the older woman gaped for a moment, sagged, and faceplanted onto the rattan. A flowery rayon kerchief floated to the floor to rest beside her handbag and the shattered teacup.

The young woman sighed and sat for a few moments, eyeing the mouse-brown head beside her, desperately wanting to reach out and stroke the pitifully thin hair in consolation.

The room was in pewter shadow when she stirred enough to retrieve Miss Althea’s wayward things. Shutting the purse clasp firmly, she got up and padded to the secrétaire. A particularly nice Louis XVI walnut, late 18th century Milano, its front, sides and all those wonderful little drawers inlaid with Bacchus and muses and little winged putti.

Mia Chawit snicked closed the most secret drawer of all, and, for once, extinguished the lamp by turning down the wick.

“Apples and Oil Lamps” Copyright © 2019 by Valerie J. Barrett. All rights reserved by the author.

The Grimoire of Geillis Goodmoon – Ch. 12

Chapter 12: The Grimoire of Geillis Goodmoon

grimoire-of-geillis-goodmoonGeillis was helping her mother tidy up the spare bedroom in her little condo. As with most folks, it was more of a storage locker than a bedroom, collecting more junk with each passing day.

“Would you like this, dear?” her mother asked, handing her a journal, its dusty cover illustrated with pretty, hand-painted wildflowers. “Someone gave it to me long ago, but I never used it.”

Geillis accepted the notebook gladly, but with reservation, too. She already had half a dozen such journals taking up valuable real estate on a shelf at home – all blank, all far too pretty to write in.

Except for one. A few years back, a friend had given her a wonderful, medieval-looking book with an embossed leather binding studded with tiny, jewel-toned cabochons. Geillis knew at once that it would make a perfect grimoire.

Her grimoire. A witch’s Book of Shadows – a “textbook” containing instructions and observations on all things witchy: spells and rituals, folklore, moon phases and recipes for potions, lotions and the like. A bullet journal of magick, if you will.

In it, Geillis wrote oh-so-carefully in shimmery grey ink from a fountain pen. The only thing wrong with the grimoire was that it didn’t have a lock.

But Geillis Goodmoon knew how to keep unwelcome eyes from discovering her secrets.

book-of-spells-vintage-edition
The Book of Spells: Vintage Edition by Nicola de Pulford (2010, Barron’s)

• • • • • • • )O( • • • • • • •

“The Grimoire of Geillis Goodmoon” series & Geillis Goodmoon character © 2019 Valerie J. Barrett. All rights reserved.

⇐ Missed the beginning of this series? Start here.
⇐ Read the previous installment, Chapter 11, here.
⇒ Geillis is on her broom taking flying lessons for the next few weeks and will return soon.

The Grimoire of Geillis Goodmoon – Ch. 11

Chapter 11: None of Your Beeswax

grimoire-of-geillis-goodmoonGeillis Goodmoon stood in the candle aisle of the natural foods store, breathing in the sweet, honeyed scent of beeswax.

Every time she came across a display of candles – tapers, chunky pillars, those cute little tealights – she had to stop and sniff.

She did that with incense, too. There was just something so evocative about the heady fragrance of honey – and amber, sandalwood and myrrh. The lazy curl of smoke from a candle or joss sticks was so meditative. A witch could even tell things from how a flame flared or the smoke wafted.

Geillis closed her eyes. She pictured great halls and lofty cathedrals, their flagstone floors well-worn and aglow with the light of a thousand votives. Frankincense perfuming dark niches. Iron sconces making thick stone walls flicker.

Dragon’s blood and trade winds and the Silk Road.

Perfume of the ancients.wax-candle-flame

• • • • • • • )O( • • • • • • •

“The Grimoire of Geillis Goodmoon” series & Geillis Goodmoon character © 2019 Valerie J. Barrett. All rights reserved.

⇐ Missed the beginning of this series? Start here.
⇐ Read the previous installment, Chapter 10, here.
⇒ Want more Geillis? Turn the page to Chapter 12.

The Grimoire of Geillis Goodmoon – Ch. 10

Chapter 10: Stay Wild, Moon Child!

grimoire-of-geillis-goodmoonGeillis Goodmoon loved the rain.

The sun, not so much. She was too fair-skinned to be spending much time in the sun; more than fifteen or twenty minutes and she turned red as beets. No, just like her name, she truly was a moon child.

A moon child who loved when it rained.

A gentle patter on the rooftop, a soft mist, thick fog, a thunderstorm. Wild weather was thrilling – so primal. It made her feel connected to earth and water, to the elements, to that from which she had come. She had fond memories of searching for wildflowers in a summer meadow and being caught in a sudden downpour, drenched to the skin. Clouds, befuddling mists and tempests were in her blood.

As long as the power didn’t go out. Geillis loved her modern appliances, too. But when it did happen, she’d light candles and the old oil lamp. Their golden glow more than made up for the harsh rays of the sun.

There was more than one way to live with Mother Nature!old-typewriter-rainy-window

• • • • • • • )O( • • • • • • •

“The Grimoire of Geillis Goodmoon” series & Geillis Goodmoon character © 2019 Valerie J. Barrett. All rights reserved.

⇐ Missed the beginning of this series? Start here.
⇐ Read the previous installment, Chapter 9, here.
⇒ Want more Geillis? Turn the page to Chapter 11.

The Grimoire of Geillis Goodmoon – Ch. 9

Chapter 9: Caught Red-headed

grimoire-of-geillis-goodmoonIf anyone saw me doing this, Geillis thought, they’d think I’m a lunatic!

The hammer glanced off the corner of the brick she was hitting, straight onto her thumb. The witch scowled and swore under her breath.

When she thought she had enough, she gathered up the tiny chunks and dumped them into the mortar bowl for grinding. The DIY instructions for making red brick dust hadn’t said what the hard material would do to her precious tools, but fortunately she had more than one set of mortar and pestle. In fact, she had about … seven? (She’d lost count.) Surely the stout granite one would be just the thing for reducing the brick to a fine powder.

A lot of elbow grease and some sweat later, Geillis wiped her forehead and sat back in satisfaction. There was enough of the ochre-coloured dust to fill a sweet little apothecary bottle she’d found at the antique store. All it needed was a handwritten label – on parchment, in spidery script – and she’d have her latest bit of witchy kit.

But before she corked the bottle up, she carefully sprinkled a line of brick dust across the threshold.

“That should keep the door-to-door salesfolk away,” murmured Geillis Goodmoon. To be on the safe side, she sprinkled a circle around the landline, too. Air duct cleaning, indeed!

Hours later, she looked in the mirror and laughed at the red streak smearing her forehead, and the ochre dust still powdering her eyebrows and hair.

“Well, I did always want to be a redhead!”

red-brick-dust-magick• • • • • • • )O( • • • • • • •

“The Grimoire of Geillis Goodmoon” series & Geillis Goodmoon character © 2019 Valerie J. Barrett. All rights reserved.

⇐ Missed the beginning of this series? Start here.
⇐ Read the previous installment, Chapter 8, here.
⇒ Want more Geillis? Turn the page to Chapter 10.

The Grimoire of Geillis Goodmoon – Ch. 8

Chapter 8: In Which Ms. Goodmoon is Admired

grimoire-of-geillis-goodmoonSaturday night, and nothing good on TV. Geillis was visiting her mom, and as usual, they couldn’t find anything to watch.

And then, the thing that happened every few months, happened. At the exact same moment, mother and daughter gave each other The Look.

“Is it time?” her mother asked.

“Oh, I think so,” Geillis grinned, and went for the DVD shelf.

She slotted Pride and Prejudice – the 1995 Colin Firth version, the mini-series they watched several times a year; the only one worth watching – into the machine. A timeless classic, so perfectly cast, and so well-acted. As the theme music started and the credits rolled, the two women, who knew each episode scene-for-scene and word-for-word, settled happily into the sofa for a good binge watch.

When they got to the scene with Lizzie at the piano, and Mr. Darcy gazing in brown-eyed adoration from across the room, Geillis and her mother heaved enormous sighs.

“Just look at that look he’s giving her!” Mom cried.

“Holy Hecate! I wish someone would look at me like that,” Geillis lamented.

The witch, who was supposed to be so good at reading other people’s feelings, had never noticed that every weekday, with unfailing devotion, she was greatly esteemed by a quiet, brown-eyed computer nerd at work.wise-old-owl

• • • • • • • )O( • • • • • • •

“The Grimoire of Geillis Goodmoon” series & Geillis Goodmoon character © 2019 Valerie J. Barrett. All rights reserved.

⇐ Missed the beginning of this series? Start here.
⇐ Read the previous installment, Chapter 7, here.
⇒ Want more Geillis? Turn the page to Chapter 9.