Siren Song

Chloe stood on the store of a distant, unknown island, the waves lapping at the dark shore. High above her cliffs reached boldly towards the sky blocking the sun from view. She wore a ripped, green gown that hung precariously from her shoulders and pooled on the sand at her bare feet.

One the ground, at her feet was a damp, black bird. It looked like it had been washed ashore and was just coming to. It gave a weak squawk then flapped its wings spraying droplets of water as it hopped on its taloned feet.

Chloe reached down and picked up the damp bird. She smiled, “You have only yourself to blame for this.” She gently raised the bird to her shoulder and walked up the shore following a path towards a cave higher up in the cliffs, the train of her gown dragging sand along with it.

* * *

Earlier that day

Chloe sat in her parents’ kitchen running her finger along the shell in her hand.

“Are you sure you don’t need any help?” she asked Sandy, her mom, who was busy bustling about the kitchen preparing lunch.

“No offense dear, but if I need help in the kitchen I’ll ask your sister.” She paused. “Or your father.”

“I’m not that bad of cook,” Chloe muttered.

Sandy raised an eyebrow, but didn’t respond.

The shell in Chloe’s hand grew warm under her touch. Although the middle looked much like a normal clam shell, white with ridges running the length of it, the edges faded to what looked like green glass that was sharp and jagged. Since finding it earlier that morning on the beach, she had sliced her hand drawing blood twice.

“Look who I found in the driveway!” John, her father, said, beaming widely as he nearly dragged her sister Sara inside. She in turn had her arms wrapped around Clayton. Chloe stood when she saw him. Why did Sara have her arms around Clayton? Why was he here?

She instinctively stood, ready to bolt, but her feet stay rooted to floor, too confused to move.

“And she has big news!” John grinned at her Sandy.

Sandy set down the knife she was using to chop vegetables and wiped her hands on the towel hanging over her shoulder as she moved around the island to embrace her daughter.

“And you’re here too!” she said to Clayton, Chloe’s Clayton. Sandy grasped his forearms in her hands before going in for a hug. “We’ve missed you.”

Chloe’s mouth went dry. She hadn’t seen Clayton in two months, not since her high school sweetheart of five years had out of the blue told her he didn’t want to be with her anymore. She felt her brain going cloudy as he released her mom from a too-long hug, then pulled her sister back into his arms.

Sara shot her hand out in front of her, a giant ring and band on her finger. “We got married.”

A long piercing note rang through in Chloe’s brain and the air turned hot and humid, too thick to breathe. As her family celebrated, she stumbled out onto the patio for some fresh air, but once she was outside she realized the warmth had followed her. The shell still in her hand was red hot and seemed to be pulsing.

She stared it for a moment and cold clarity returned. Then she looked back at her family through the windows, unaware of her absence. She had the power to change this. The wind whipped her hair up and around her face, her long green sundress fluttering like a captive bird. Dark rain storm clouds crept in from the horizon as the ringing in her ears became a song that filled her chest and soon she was the one singing. Too late, her sister looked up and saw her. Too late she realized what Chloe was doing and dawning horror filled her eyes.

* * *

Earlier that morning

Legend has it that the Sirens lived on the islands of Sirenum scopuli where they lured sailors to their deaths. However, if they were able to bypass the Sirens without coming to harm, the Sirens would thrown themselves to their deaths. Their song however, lived on and would become locked in a shell until someone came along to release it.

One of these shells found their way to Chloe as she walked along the beach. After scrapping her foot on the top of the shell she stooped down and began to brush the sand away. As she held the shell up to the light, the sun flickered through the translucent green edges. Rather than looking like a shell, the edges looked more like the outline of an island on a map.

Her mom had told her about Siren Songs when her and Sara were kids. They used to spend hours scouring the beach looking for one. This was the first one she’d ever found one. The legend held that the holder could enact revenge against anyone they choose by locking them in a prison in the form of the body of a bird. But, it was not a free exchange. The one with the shell would be forced to release the Siren’s Song and would then become a Siren herself, condemned to the islands of Sirenum scopuli.

As kids, both Chloe and Sara had agreed you’d have to be crazy to do that. But kids rarely understand the depths adults will go to for revenge.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

­­­­­­­­This story was inspired by  a writing prompt I found in Complete the Story:

“It looked like a shell, half buried, but as she dug through the sand around its edges, she found it was something completely different, something she’d never seen before and thought only existed in stories. She had to be imagining—it simply couldn’t be a ____________.”

Crumbling Sandcastles

Sand sprayed over my legs and onto my towel as they walked by in their flip-flops kicking up sand as they marked. Towels were slung over their shoulders and they were loaded down with shovels, pails, bags of snacks, and a cooler.

The boy appeared to be about 7 with wild hair sticking out in all directions, while the girl looked like she was a couple of years younger and had already lost a shoe. Their mother flung her towel out in front of her and lay down a few metres from me fading into the background. Her kids were not so easy to ignore.

They dropped into the sand even closer to me than their mom and began digging up the sand with vigor scooping it into their brightly coloured pails.

As they scooped, my phone buzzed beside me alerting me to a text from Alicia, my roommate: “Where are you? Do you want to hang out?”

I could feel the muscles in my shoulders tighten. Alicia had become more and more clingy over the last six months of living together. Ignoring it, I through my phone back into my bag.

The girl was the first to fill her pail and slammed it upside down, then lifted it with gusto. Her eager face fell as the mound of sand crumbled into a small hill.

The boy was working more slowly. He carefully pressed the sand down with his fists compacting it, then added more to his pail. Finally, with his tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth, he flipped his pail over. His sister watched looking worried. I couldn’t tell if she looked worried because she wanted his to work or because she was worried it would work while hers didn’t.

He slowly lifted the pail and although his mound of sand had more shape and height than his sister’s, his also was decided to be a failure. The girl’s face relaxed into relief.

“We need to add water to make it sticky,” he said.

The girl’s eyes brightened. “Good idea. You get the water and I’ll build the sand castle.”

The boy frowned. “No, that’s not fair. How about we both get the water and we both build the sand castle.”

“No.” She crossed her arms and scrunched her shoulders, “Mom!” she shouted, while still glaring at her brother.

“Derek, are you being nice to your sister?” the woman asked in a tired voice, not bothering to open her eyes. “We’ll leave if you two can’t play nice.”

Derek glared at his sister as he swiped his pail. He stormed down to the shore to scoop water into his pail.

Beside me my phone buzzed again: “You left a glass in the sink,” Alicia texted. Followed by: “Where’s the remote for the TV? I can’t find it.”

I sighed and picked up my book and became engrossed in the story, everything else fading away.

About 15 minutes later, Derek’s sister began to kick up a fuss.

“No! Not there,” she yelled.

“Why not?” Derek asked. Evidently, he seemed to think he had hauled enough water for the project and had sat down again to continue building. Unfortunately, according to his sister, he had not chosen a good spot to do this.

“That’s where the stables are going. You need to build a fence for the horses.”

“What?” He looked at her incredulously. “I don’t want to build a fence for stupid horses. I want to build the castle.”

“No, that’s my job,” the girl said, her sandy hands planted firming on her hips.

“Derek!” their mom said in a warning voice.

He sighed and started to build the sand into a wall around the perimeter of the “field” his sister had indicated.

My phone started ringing. I pulled it out and saw it was Alicia. Rather than answer it, I saw I’d also missed more text from her:

“Why are you ignoring me?”

“Did you put the milk in the door of the fridge? It doesn’t go there. How many times do I have to tell you?”

“I went into your room because I thought you might be in there hiding and I accidentally spilled tea on your bedspread.”

“Arrrg!” Derek yelled in frustration. He grabbed his pail and shovel in a fury and stormed off down the beach, sand spraying up from his stomping feet as his sister threw her arms over her head and ducked for cover. Down the beach, he settled down to build his own castle, his back to his sister who was now staring open-mouthed at him.”

“Mom” she whined.

“Derek play nice,” her mother warned, her eyes still closed. But Derek was too far away to hear. His sister stuck her lip out.

Another text came through from Alicia: “Your room is messy.”

Suddenly, I realized Derek had the right idea. I through my book, towel, and phone into my bag to do my own marching. It was time to move and build my sandcastle elsewhere.

New Year’s Reset

I stand outside staring at the water lapping against the beach. The lake is quiet tonight. I no longer celebrate New Year’s with other people. I no longer celebrate New Year’s.

Lights are on in roughly every other house circling around the lake. Large groups of people can be seen through massive windows and various beats and bellows of laughter echo across the serene water.

A couple walks along the beach hand in hand, their silhouettes gliding by several meters in front of me. I instinctively shrink further back into the shadows, but they don’t see me.

I’m wearing the same clothes I’ve worn for the past month. They smell and are in tatters. I know the reset is coming.  What’s point?

The year is 2020 and it’s been 2020 for the past 54 years. I should be turning 82 this year, but instead I’ll turn 28. Again.

More people are filtering down to the beach. Dark silhouettes begin to dot the beach like multiplying freckles. The fireworks will be starting soon. It’s almost time.

The sand beneath my fingers begin to quiver and twitch with the vibrations. The air becomes thick and harder to breath. Am I the only one who feels it?

The people on the beach turn towards the sky. They must, but they think it’s the fireworks starting. Maybe it is. Except I know it’s not. It happens even when I’m lost in the woods alone and cold.

My chest vibrates to the bass of unheard music. Light begin to blur and streak, while each individual sound slowly lowers and raises until it’s all one long clear note gaining volume. My breath catches in my chest, the air too thick, too humid, too hot to breathe. Then, pop. I wait in unstimulated darkness hearing only the ringing in my ears that gives voice only in silence. One. Two. Three.

Every year, at precisely 12 pm Pacific Standard Time on December 31, 2020 as though I am racing down a darkened tunnel the world flies back and I’m in my friend’s kitchen with 20 other people. They shout and cheer on the “new” year. It’s January 1, 2020. Over and over and over again.

In past loops I’ve caught glimpses of 2021. I spent one transition in New Zealand and enjoyed almost an entire day of the future before I rebounded. It was glorious.

Over the years I’ve learned German, Spanish, and Cantonese. I’ve gotten in the best shape of my life and I’ve let myself get fat. So fat. I’ve died 5 times and killed once. Is it actually murder if you know they’ll come back to life in 3 months?

The year always starts out the same, but inevitably there are changes from year to year. You can’t predict it. People don’t make the same choices they did the year before. It’s like there’s residual subconscious memories or déjà vu. Regardless, I seem to be the only one aware that we keep repeating the year.

I quickly slip past the people in the kitchen and down the hall to the front door. I know from past years I don’t have much time before someone stops me. It’s not always the same person, but inevitably, if I don’t escape right away I get stuck talking for another hour or two. The problem is that this party, in my life, happened more than fifty years ago. I don’t remember what’s been happening in people’s lives, at least not to the point that I can carry on a decent conversation. And I just don’t care. I’ve grown past this. I’m not who I was fifty years ago.

I step softly down the stairs and into the darkened foyer. Somewhere is this mess of piled up shoes are my pair. Past the pink stilettos and under the men’s sneakers, I pull up the silver strappy sandals I wore to the party.

I slide out the door before putting them on, on the front step. I have just breathed a sigh of relief that I have escaped without conversation when the door opens, and there’s Brad.

Shit. I forgot about him. He stands in the doorway staring at me.

“Claire, wait. I need to talk to you.” He says softly. His eyes dart back up the stairs before stepping outside and closing the door behind him.

My stomach drops. The first year it was 2020 we flirted back and forth at this party and started dating shortly afterward. Only for it to end in a fireball wreckage a few months later. I’d been so careful for years to avoid him when I left this party, but he was never around. It was like he was avoiding me too. I eventually forgot about him. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

“Uh, I’m sorry, Brad. Family emergency. I need to head home.” I stumble over my own feet and almost fall down the stairs.

“Careful,” he says, rushing forward grabbing my arm until I get my balance.

“Thanks,” I say, awkwardly.

“Look, this isn’t what you think. I know we didn’t work out. I just, I,” he hesitates.

Something clicks in my brain. “What do you mean you know we didn’t work out?” I ask, my eyes narrowing. That happened after the party which means that memory should have been erased after the first reset.

He gives me a strange look before leaning forward and whispering, “Claire, I remember.”

Missing Orange

Sabastian Crane was 38 years old, had greasy black hair, a droopy, thin mustache, but importantly, he was not crazy.

He was sitting at his sister’s kitchen table colouring pictures with his 5-year-old niece, Kelsey. They each had a colouring book and in the middle of the table was a pile of mis-matched markers of various shapes and sizes.

Kelsey, had been colouring a picture of a unicorn under a rainbow. She had already finished with the red on the rainbow, when she picked up a yellow marker.

“Hang on, you missed a colour,” Sebastian said. He couldn’t help it. He’d always been a stickler for order and rules and a rainbow, even one coloured by a 5-year-old, should be red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and purple. He might be willing to forgo the indigo, but orange was a must.

Kelsey frown at him. “Nu-uh! Mrs. Thompson taught us the colours of the rainbow and there’s no such thing as the colour orange.” Then, she tilted her head to the side. “I KNOW you’re joking, ‘cause orange is a fruit not a colour!” She grinned at him, obviously pleased with herself for having figured out the joke and not fallen for it.

Rather than arguing with her, he started searching for an orange marker. He counted 16 markers of various shades of blue, but not one orange. Not even an orangey yellow or a reddish-orange. Then, he started looking around kitchen for an example to show her.

Granted, he hadn’t played Eye-Spy since he was kid, but how could he not find one single example of the colour orange?

Mystified, he saw Kelsey had gone back to colouring, her rainbow slowing coming to life minus the orange.

* * *

The next day, Sebastian stood in the lunchroom at work waiting for his burrito to cook. It slowly rotated on the plate, the soft humming of the microwave buzzing through the otherwise quiet room. He was lost in thought, still perplexed about the mystery of the missing orange colour when Stacey walked in.

She hesitated at the door when she saw him, and then grudgingly came in. She sat at one of the 3 tables with her back to him and began to slowly peel her fruit.

He couldn’t see it, but it sounded the like the skin being ripped from the flesh of an orange. An orange!

“Are you eating an orange?” he asked, perhaps a bit too excitedly.

She sighed before answering. “Yes.”

“Can I see it?” he asked.

“Excuse me?” she asked, turning her head.

He didn’t wait for her answer. He was already standing beside her.

“Oh,” he said, sounding disappointed. “You’re eating a blood orange.” It was a pale red colour almost pink.

“What are you talking about?” she asked. “It’s just a regular orange.”

“But it’s red,” he said.

She stared at him, glaring. Finally, she said, “All oranges are red.”

“Then what colour is a blood orange, if they’re all red?” he asked, feeling triumphant.

“You are so weird,” she breathed, getting up from her chair. Then, she said, as though talking to a child: “Blood oranges are a deep red. Some might say, the colour of blood. Regular oranges are pale red.”

She grabbed her half-peeled, uneaten orange from the table and stomped out of the lunchroom.

“I’m not crazy,” he muttered, scratching his head. The microwave timer dinged.

* * *

Two weeks later, he still hadn’t seen a single orange item anywhere and he was starting to think maybe he was a little crazy. It was a rainy November day as he sat at the bus stop. Everyone else was hiding under the bus shelter trying to stay dry, but he’d been drenched before he’d even arrived. He’d sat down in a puddle on the bench and didn’t care.

His bus wasn’t due for another 15 minutes so he watched as other people boarded and disembarked from the buses going by. It one of the busier stops in town.

Then, one of the buses caught his eye, or rather an advertisement on the side of it did. On it, there was a photo of a smiling man walking down a path through an orchard. In bright, bold, orange letters were the words “Find What You’re Missing at Ed’s Bed and Breakfast.”

No one else around him seemed to notice the strange occurrence. After two weeks of everyone insisting that there had never been a colour orange, not a single head turned at the sight of this “new” colour.

The doors were closing when he jumped up and ran towards it. The bus driver must have seen him, because the doors flew open again.

“Good afternoon,” the bus driver smiled as Sebastian jumped aboard. The bus driver’s uniform was entirely orange. Before Sebastian had a chance to respond, the doors snapped shut behind him and the bus pulled away from the curb. It was empty save for him and the driver. That’s when he noticed the seats were orange, the poles were orange, and floor was orange.

He gave the bus driver a wary smile and sat down. The driver hummed under his breath as he steered them around the corner.

Family Feud

“As the pilot makes his announcement to prepare for landing, the old woman next to you suddenly takes your hand. “Don’t let go if you want to live,” she tells you as screams erupt from the back of the plane.”

12-year-old Tommy shoved his game into his backpack and kicked it under the seat in front of him as the pilot made the announcement to prepare for landing. His bag didn’t quite fit so kicked a couple more times causing the man in front of him to turn around and glare at him through the crack between the chairs.

“Do you mind?” he growled.

Tommy shrank back into his chair. “Sorry,” he muttered. When the man turned back around, Tommy shifted in his chair to look out the window. They were approaching the city and more and more cars were appearing on the roads below. They looked the Hot Wheels he used to play with when he was a little kid.

The old woman beside him shifted in her seat and stared down the aisle. “Almost, almost,” she whispered. She was a tiny woman in bright red pant suit. Her nails and her lipstick were also painted red. She let out raspy cackle. “Almost.” She was nearly bouncing in her seat.

“What was that?” Tommy asked.

She looked at him with surprise. “Oh, just talking to myself,” she said.

She leaned around the seat once more, “Haha!” she shouted.

She grabbed Tommy’s hand from the armrest. “Don’t let you go if you want to live,” she said, squeezing her eyes tight.

Tommy recoiled. Crazy old woman. He leaned towards the window in an effort to put some space between them, but his hand was still in her iron grip. How was she so strong?

Suddenly, loud screams came from the back of a plane, followed by an inhuman yowl that froze his heart. He stared wide-eyed at the woman beside him. She was grinning from ear to ear giggling like a little girl. Her eyes still pressed shut

He tried to pry his finger free from her hand. “No,” she pulled their combined hands out of his other hand’s reach, her eyes flying open. “They’ll be here any moment and he must see that we’re friends or he’ll attack you next.” She closed her eyes again. “No quiet, I want to hear what’s happening.”

“W-what?” his voice cracked.

There was another yowl from the back of the plane. People were shouting and screaming over each other. He climbed up on chair so that he was kneeling and peered over the headrest, not an easy task with the woman still clutching his hand.

The scene behind him was chaos. People were out of their chairs and in the aisles bumping into each other. One man was elbowed in the cheek as another man bumped into him with his hands flying about his head. Two flight attendants were desperately trying to calm people down, but no one was paying any attention to them.

Finally, one voice could be heard above the fray. “That. Is Enough.” A screeching yowl, followed by total silence.

The woman beside him frowned, looking disappointed. “I guess all good things must come to an end at some point,” she lamented.

People finally began to sit down again, and the aisle began to clear. Tommy slumped down in his chair feeling a bit disappointed as well.

Suddenly, a shadow fell over them as someone approached their chairs.

Another elderly woman with blue tinted hair and long red scratched down her arms and face appeared beside them with a white Persian cat resting the crock of her arm. As she stood over them, the cat hissed at the woman holding him, baring his teeth, but the woman paid him little mind. She clearly had him in an iron grip and he did not appreciate it.

One of the scratches on her arms was bleeding and a slow trickle of blood dripped down from her elbow. Her hair was disheveled and her glasses were askew.

“I believe this is yours?” she said, in a drab, unimpressed voice. She dropped the cat onto the woman’s lap next to Tommy. The cat hissed loudly again, the hair on his back standing on end. He caught sight of Tommy moved forward.

“Now, Now, Archibald. Don’t be rude. He’s a friend.” She scratched the cat behind the ears, then began to pet him. Her long, red fingernails disappeared into the fur as she rubbed it’s back.

The cat stared menacingly at Tommy. He didn’t dare move.

As a frazzled flight attendant approached the demeanour of the woman next to Tommy transformed. “Thank you so much for finding him,” she said to the woman with the long scratches. She flashed a look of relief and gratitude across her face. “I was quite beside myself. I simply don’t know how he got out.”

The eyes of the woman with the scratches narrowed, but she said nothing.

“Ma’am,” the flight attendant said, her voice breathless. “Is this your cat?”

“I’m so sorry!” she opened her eyes wide “He didn’t cause any problems did he?”

“You might say that,” the woman said, looking down at her scratched arms.

“You must put him in the carrier immediately. We’re landing,” the flight attendant said, sounding frantic. “Back to your seat.” She ushered the woman with the scratches back to the back of the plane.

“This isn’t over,” she said, as she was herded away.

The woman winked at Tommy. “Sibling feuds can be ever so much fun, don’t you think?” she asked, gently guiding the soothed cat back into his carrier.

The Magic Ring – Part 2 of 2

12 years later

Seventeen-year-old Madison sat at her desk, sitting on one foot with her other leg swinging beneath her. She flipped through college brochures trying to decide where she was going to apply. Her dream had always been to study abroad in the UK, but her boyfriend Jack, who was a year older than her, was attending a local college this year. She knew he assumed she was going to do the same thing.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in Europe,” she said to her reflection in the tiny mirror she kept on her desk. She didn’t know why she did it. She’d always taken a weird comfort in talking to herself in the mirror. After Madelyn disappeared she’d felt so alone. As a kid, she would sit next to the big mirror on her closet door. Her reflection made it feel like there was another person in the room.

As she got older, she just kind of got in the habit and didn’t even realize she did it anymore. It just felt so natural. Her mom thought it was because Madison liked to pretend her reflection was Madelyn, but that wasn’t it. Everyone else had trouble telling them apart, but Madison and Madelyn didn’t think they looked that much alike all. Even looking at old photos, she didn’t need to use the faded scar above Madelyn’s eyebrow to tell them apart.

But Madelyn was why she dreamed of going abroad. She could go somewhere where she wasn’t the twin who’d lost her sister. Everywhere she went, people asked her about Madelyn’s disappearance. She just wanted to be normal for a bit.

She looked out the window and saw Mrs. Stone jogging down the street, her long brown hair pulled into a pony tail and swinging behind her. It look looked like her limp had healed.

Madison gave a shudder. There was something about Mrs. Stone that gave her chills.

* * *

A couple of weeks later, she told Jack that she had applied to a school in England. She tried to tell him that there was a slim chance she’d even get in. But he’d been upset anyway. Then he’d found out about all of the other schools she’d applied to. He said they should take a break. When she got home, she sat in her old spot in front of her closet door, crying in front of her mirror.

Suddenly, she saw it. The scar above the right eyebrow. She leaned closer to the mirror, staring at her reflection, running a finger over her brow. But as she looked closer, it cleared. That was weird. She sat back and tried to get in the same position as before, but the scar was gone. Probably just a figment of her imagination or a weird refraction of light from one of the tears in her eyes.

At dinner, she was distracted and couldn’t get the image of that faint, white scar above her eyebrow out of her head. And the thing was, it wasn’t just the scar. For a split second, the image staring back at her, hadn’t been hers.

Later that evening, she grabbed a bottle of eye drops from the bedroom and sat in front of the closet mirror and dripped 3 drops into each eye, careful not to blink too much. With water-filled lids she looked again. At first, she didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, but just as she was about to turn away, a glint of gold caught her eye. There, on her reflection’s ring finger was the black ring.

The eyedrops leaked down her cheeks. What did it mean? Soon her eyes were dry and the ring was gone. She quickly grabbed the bottle again and dripped more drops into her eyes. A few moments later, a faint image flickered on her ring finger again.

This time, she moved her fingers to take off the imaginary ring. As she slide it from her finger, the ring in the reflection moved slowly down her finger. And then it was off. Her reflection flickered for a moment.

She’d been expecting something bigger to happen, but what, she wasn’t sure.

“It’s about time you figured it out,” a voice said from behind her.

She whirled around and there was Madelyn. At least, she thought it was Madelyn.

“Is that really you?” she asked, tentatively.

Madelyn nodded, her eyes filling with tears. They flew into each other’s arms crying and laughing. She was seventeen now and looked much older than the last time she’d seen her.

“What happened?” Madison asked. “Where have you been?”

“It was that stupid ring!” she said, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “It was a trap! Mrs. Stone knew that I’d be jealous and would try to steal the ring. As soon as I put it on, it locked me on the other side of the mirror. I’ve been trying to get your attention all this time, but the spell forced me do copy you’re every move. I thought I was going to be stuck forever!”

* * *

Everyone celebrated Madelyn’s return. Well, almost everyone.

“Who’s that?” Madison, asked a couple of weeks later, starting out the window.

Creeping along down the sidewalk in front of their house was an old woman hunched over a walker. She had long gray hair that swept past her waist. She glanced up at their window and glared. Large, circular glasses sat halfway down her nose. She snarled at them as she pushed her walker forward and limped down the street.

The Magic Ring – Part 1 of 2

Five-year-olds Madison and Madelyn Stewart trailed after their mother up the front walk of Mrs. Stone’s house. Usually their babysitter Natalie took care of them on Saturdays while their mom was at work, but today, Natalie had called to say she was sick.

“Thank you so much for a taking care of my girls,” Julie said, quickly kissing each girl on top of their head before rushing off. The girls watched from the open doorway as she rushed back to her car, her high heels clicking along the cement walk.

Mrs. Stone was over six feet tall with long, straight, gray hair that hung down to her waist. She had giant, round, black-rimed glasses that sat halfway down her nose and, along with her pursed lips, gave the illusion that she was part fish.

She ushered the girls inside and the door gave a resounding thud as it closed behind them. Sunlight shone through the windows, it’s beams catching the multitude of dust particles hanging in the air like glitter.

They dragged their feet as the followed her into the kitchen. On the table, laid out on a pale pink towel, was what looked like the entire contents of her jewelry box. They scrambled onto chairs and stood on tiptoe to have a closer look.

Most of it was cheap costume jewelry, but the girls didn’t know any better. They quickly snatched up strings of fake pearls, beads, and bangle bracelets. Soon each girl had multiple lengths of necklaces hung from their necks, bracelets up to their elbows, and a broach pinned beneath each of their shoulders. They were both grinning from ear to ear.

Then, Mrs. Stone brought out the gloves and helped each girl pull on the silky material. Madison in blue, and Madelyn in yellow.

“Can we keep these?” Madelyn asked, her eyes wide looking eager and hopeful.

Mrs. Stone laughed. “No sweetheart, not these. But, I do have something you can have.” She gave them a quick wink before turning to the jewelry box the girls thought was empty.

They exchanged a grin as Mrs. Stone opened a tiny, hidden drawer in the box and pulled out a ring. It was gold with a giant black stone set in the middle. She held it up between her thumb and forefinger. It was tiny. The perfect size for a child.

Mrs. Stone leaned forward and gave them a sly grin. “Whoever is the best behaved today can have the ring when you go home today.”

The girls’ smiles flickered. “Only one of us gets the ring?” Madison asked. Madelyn frowned.

Mrs. Stone just nodded and smiled. Then, she tucked the ring back into the box. “How about a tea party?”

* * *

That evening, when the Julie came to pick up the girls, they jumped up and down excitedly asking to see who would get the ring.

“What’s this?” Julie asked, a nervous smile on her face as Mrs. Stone left to get the ring.

“Mrs. Stone promised to give the best-behaved girl a ring.” Madison said.

“It’s so pretty,” Madelyn said, clasping her hands together.

Julie’s smile turned to a grimace.

Mrs. Stone came back into the room holding the ring triumphantly in her hand. “The winner is” she gave a long pause. The girls practically vibrated with excitement.

“Madison.” She finished making a sweeping gesture as she presented the ring to Madison. Maddison slowly reached up and tentatively took the ring grinning from ear to ear. “Look Mom!”

As she slid the ring on her finger, Madelyn dissolved into tears and sobbed as they walked back to the car. Once the front door shut behind them, Julie started muttering under her breath about the stupidity of giving a gift to only one of the girls.

* * *

That night, Madison carefully placed the ring on her nightstand while Madelyn glared at her. They both climbed into bed, but while Madison was able to fall asleep right away, Madelyn tossed and turned thinking about how unfair it was that she didn’t get that ring.

Finally, unable to take it any longer, she quietly crept out of bed and tiptoed to her sister’s nightstand guided by the pale blue light of the nightlight. She picked up the ring, feeling the weight of it in her palm.

Just as she was about to slip it on her finger, Madison woke up. “What are you doing?” she demanded.

Without saying a word, she slipped the pilfered ring on her finger and vanished.