This year my writing group (more just a group of friends who all happen to write) has decided to do a short story project. Each month we will be writing a short story based off of a prompt to help us improve our writing. We are posting the stories unedited/unaltered/unrevised--no delete key allowed. In the interest of honesty, I will say that my stories have been spell-checked :) Since I wasn't sure what to do with my stories once I wrote them, besides share them with my writing group, I decided to share them with you guys! Eventually, I MAY expand some of these into full novels. If you really like one of the stories, please let me know! Those stories that you guys are most interested in will be the ones I consider turning into novels and/or a series--starting in 2017. I say "consider" because these stories are written on the fly, with no planning and/or outlining or discussion, so I don't actually know where they are going :)
Here is the first one, based off of the following prompt: The dusty, old book lay on the table just begging to be read.
Daughters of Death
The dusty old book was sitting there, just begging to be read. Cora guessed that the cover had once been red, but the aged leather now appeared brown and cracked. Gold lettering spelled out one word: Liberte. She’d found the relic in her grandmother’s attic two weeks prior, while cleaning out the house after the family matriarch had lost her long battle with cancer. Neither Cora’s cousins or her brother, Nathan, had expressed any interest in the book.
“It’s probably not even in English,” Nathan had declared.
“It’s probably not even readable,” her cousin, Mabel, had added.
Cora agreed with both sentiments, but something about the book called to her all the same. Maybe it was because Nana Rose had been more like a mother to her than a grandmother. She’d raised Cora and Nathan after their parents died in a car accident when Cora was just eight.
“Besides,” Mabel had added, when Cora didn’t immediately throw the book into the junk pile, “how are you going to open it? That is a combination lock, and we all know how loopy Nana Rose could be.”
This too was true. But again, Cora couldn’t find it in herself to throw away any of her grandmother’s possessions, particularly one that had been packed away with Nana Rose’s wedding dress.
“Six digits,” Cora muttered to herself, tapping her forefinger against her chin, just as she always did when in deep thought.
Though the book was old, the lock was new—well, newish, anyway. The gold was smooth and unblemished and gleamed in the late afternoon sun streaming through the window of Cora’s Manhattan studio apartment.
“Okay, so the combination must be something she’d come up with not long before her death,” Cora reasoned, thinking aloud to help workout the problem. She rose from the sofa and began pacing the area in front of her coffee table, where the book lay motionless.
“Birthdays are obvious,” Cora said to the air.
A sharp cackle made Cora stop in her tracks. She whirled around, seeking the source of the noise. Her TV was off. The laptop sitting open on her desk was running a slideshow of pictures of Cora and Nana Rose, which meant the screensaver was on. Cora strained to listen, hoping the sound would come again. It didn’t. But the faint echo of feet scuffling across a hardwood floor was just barely audible.
“Must be old Mr. Cranson in 2B,” Cora remarked aloud.
Mr. Cranson was her next-door neighbor and made an alarming amount of noise for a man pushing ninety. He was also hard of hearing, so his television was always set to max volume.
Cora returned her attention to the book. She picked it up off of the coffee table and turned it over in her hands. Her fingers began to vibrate and her blood began to hum, as though the words inside the leather-bound exterior were calling to her. Slowly, Cora turned the dials on the combination lock one by one, entering Nana Rose’s birthday: 1-1-1-1-1-1, for November 11, 1911. She waited, fully expecting the two portions of the lock to spring apart and reveal the secrets inside. But nothing happened.
“Anticlimactic,” Cora grumbled.
Next she tried her grandfather’s birthday. He’d died before Cora was born, but the love story between Joe and Rose Catrel was epic. Nana Rose had never remarried, let alone looked at another man, after her husband’s death.
Those numbers didn’t work either.
Growing frustrated, Cora tried her own birthday to no avail. Nathan’s birthday also proved a failure.
“Think,” Cora demanded of herself. “This isn’t rocket science.”
Her computer beeped. Cora swiveled her head around to find the password box up on the screen. Dots began to appear in the box, as though someone was trying to enter Cora’s password to unlock the computer. Her heart began to pound. That wasn’t possible, she was alone in the apartment.
Cora stared at the screen, transfixed. The eyeball icon beside the box lit up, and letters replaced the dots. Opposite, it read.
All her life, odd things had happened around Cora. Nothing that couldn’t be explained away by Nathan, a staunch pessimist when it came to all things supernatural, but Cora had always wondered if there wasn’t more too the bizarre occurrences.Or maybe she’d just hoped there was more too them. Like maybe her parents were watching over her from beyond the grave.
Even still, this—invisible fingers typing on her computer—was a whole new level of odd.
“Too many letters,” Cora told the computer, her voice calm despite the flurry of fear inside of her.
In response, the computer deleted the word, typed in a new word: Birthday.
Exasperated, Cora threw her hands up into the air and proclaimed, “Whose birthday? I’ve already tried several.”
This time, it was Cora’s phone that answered her plea for help. Her text ringtone sang out the opening bars of Stairway To Heaven. Which Cora found confusing, since that wasn’t the ringtone she’d programmed in. She grabbed the phone from the charging station and swiped across the screen to read the text.
Sender Unknown: Nana Rose.
That was it; that was the entire message. But it didn’t make any sense. Cora had already tried using Nana Rose’s birthday.
The laptop dinged again, invisible fingers repeating the keystrokes for the first entry: Opposite.
Cora took a deep breath and blew it out through her nose.
Okay, what’s the opposite of a birthday, she thought. Death day. The epiphany came to her with the suddenness of a light bulb switching on. Only, it made less sense than the fact that she was taking advice from an unseen being. How could Nana Rose have possibly used her death day as a password when she hadn’t known when she was going to die?
Or had she?
Cora had always believed that Nana Rose was clairvoyant—how else had the old woman known that her daughter, Cora’s mother, was dead before emergency crews arrived at the scene of the accident? Then there was the time her grandmother had predicted Nathan was going to meet the woman who would become his wife, advising him to “dress smartly” for the blind date and be sure to mention that Nathan was a train enthusiast. Their mutual love of trains was what had sealed the deal, and nine months later Nathan dropped to one knee and asked Meg to be his wife.
Desperation to read the contents of the book made Cora take the hint and run with it. What was the worst that could happen, right?
Her fingers trembled as she entered the six digits: 1-2-1-2-1-2.
The lock sprang open, as did the book itself. Cora stared wonderingly down at the yellowed sheets of velum. At first, the words were indecipherable, written in a language Cora did not read. Then, the inky black scrawl began to glow, turning an electric shade of blue. Startled, Cora fumbled the book like a poorly thrown football. She sank to the floor. Cross-legged, she propped the book between her knees and read the heading at the top of the page.
Dedication: For my granddaughter, Cora Carmichel. She is worthy where others are not.
Had Nana Rose written this book? And if so, when? And what did it mean, “She is worthy where others are not”? Was her grandmother referring to Nathan, the nonbeliever? Or Cora’s cousins? All of who thought Nana Rose nutty as a candy bar?
Just as Cora was about to flip to the next page, the book performed the task for her. The pages flapped as though an invisible wind that Cora did not feel were present in the apartment. Finally, they stopped moving, settling on a page titled, The Daughters of Death. It was enough to make Cora regret her decision to open the lock.
The Daughters of Death? What did it mean? Cora wondered.
The letters began to glow again, enticing Cora to continue reading despite her reservations.
Lyla, the seventh daughter, was gifted the ability of death sight. She alone could say when a soul was due to pass through the veil. She alone could alter lifelines. She alone was worthy of bequeathing her gift upon her descendants. Her power, though most morbid of the seven, was the greatest by far.
Before Cora could read any farther, the pages began to move once again. This time, they stopped on a page headed, The Sons of Joy.
Isaac, the lone son, was gifted the ability of joy sight. With a single touch, he alone could see the events that would prove most joyful in a person’s life. His was a power that could be used for great goodness or great evil, for he alone could decide whether to intervene to redirect the course of a life. He alone was worthy of bequeathing his gift upon his descendants.
Once again, before Cora could read any farther, the book chose not to let her. It stopped for a third time on the very last page.
A millennium will pass before the gifts are united on this plane. The descendants will converge as one into a single sole, and she alone will hold the Power. She alone will decide the fate of mankind in this realm. She will be known throughout the galaxy as Fulcrum. She will be called Esteria.
“I have always told you that you were special, my dear child. You will soon learn how special you truly are.”
The voice was soft and syrupy and reminded Cora of lazy Sundays reading by the fire and big breakfasts of homemade pancakes and smoked sausages. It brought tears to her eyes. She blinked and looked up. Nana Rose, dressed in her favorite pink cardigan and white pants, stood before her. The old woman’s gray curls were expertly styled, as though she’d just returned from her weekly trip to the salon. She was just as Cora remembered her, save the sword strapped to her back.
Nana Rose held out her hand to Cora. Despite the translucent nature of her grandmother, Cora somehow knew that if she took the hand it would feel solid. And it did. Nana Rose pulled Cora to her feet and wrapped her thin arms around her granddaughter.
“This is a burden I would not wish for you, child. But you, Esteria Cora Carmichel, are worthy.”