THE CALL -- Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery

THE CALL (FREE SHORT FICTION STORY)

THE CALL delivers a compelling message for parents and their teenage or young adult children. In it, we find that love—even with the challenges the relationship presents—is what’s important… it can heal and if you’re ‘lost‘… it can bring you home.

The Story

Jolted awake by the buzzing and vibrating on the nightstand next to me, I focused on the numbers from my clock projected on the ceiling above: 02:18. I had to be up in less than three hours and at work in four. I blinked, shook my early-Monday sleep-muddled head and then reached for my phone. “Hello?”

“Daddy?” I could barely hear the whisper over the static. That line hiss something I’d not heard in years. When the frantic sound of a young voice crying became clearer, my heart pounded. I gripped the phone and glanced over at my wife who was turning on her side to face me.

“Daddy, I know it’s late, but don’t… please, don’t say anything, until I finish. And before you ask. Yes, I’ve been drinking. I ran off the road a couple of miles back, and…”

I drew in a sharp, shallow breath, pressed my hand against my forehead, then rubbed my eyes. Sleep still fogged my mind, something was wrong.

“I got so scared, and all I could think about was how it would hurt you and mom if the police came to your door and told you I’d been killed. I want…” I heard her take a deep breath. “I want to come home. I know running away was wrong. I know you’ve been worried sick. I should have called you before now, but I was afraid… so afraid…”

Her sharp cries pierced me. Immediately, I pictured my daughter’s face, and then my senses cleared. “I think you–”

“No! Please let me finish! Please,” she pleaded. I paused to think what to say. Before I could go on, she continued, “I know I shouldn’t be drinking… especially now, I’m sorry Daddy, but I’m pregnant and… and… I’m scared, Daddy. Really scared!”

The voice broke again, and I bit my lip, hard. I looked at my wife now sitting up, as she silently mouthed, “Who is it?” I shook my head, and she shifted closer to me, putting her head next to the phone held to my ear.

“Are you still there?” Worried at my silence, the faint voice continued, “Please don’t hang up! I need you. I’m so alone.”

I squeezed the phone tight in my hand. “I’m here, I won’t hang up,” I said.

“I know I should have told you. But when we talk, you just keep telling me what to do. You read all that stuff on how to talk about sex and all, but all you do is talk. You don’t listen and won’t let me say how I feel. It’s as if it’s not—my feelings aren’t—important. Because you’re my father, you think you have all the answers. Sometimes I don’t need them; I need to figure things out first and not jump into an argument where we both get mad. I love you Daddy, but I just want you to understand.”

I choked down the rising lump in my throat and thought about all the how-to-talk-to-your-kids information I’d read. “I’m listening,” I whispered.

THE CALL -- Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery“You know, back there sitting in my car on the side of the road, I started thinking about the baby—I made the mistake, it’s my fault—and how I had to take care of my child. I couldn’t get a cell phone signal, it’s a cheap one, so I started walking. Then I saw this phone booth, and in my head, I could hear you going on about how people shouldn’t drink and drive. So, I called a taxi.” The shuddering of a racking cry came through the phone. “And then I had to call you.” I heard her voice thicken with sobs, stronger now, “I want to come home.”

“That’s good, Honey,” I said and let out a breath I didn’t know was held. “Come home.” My wife laced her fingers through mine.

“I think I can drive now. I’m going to–”

“No!” I snapped and squeezed my wife’s hand. “Please, wait for the taxi. Don’t hang up on me until it gets there.”

The line crackled and hissed. “I just want to come home, Daddy. I love you and mom.”

“I know. Come home, but do this for your Daddy. Wait for the taxi, please.”

I listened, in fear, to the white noise on the line. When I didn’t hear her answer, I closed my eyes and prayed she wouldn’t go—hadn’t gone—back to her car. “Honey!” Then the static stopped, and I could hear her clearly.

“I think this is my ride.” I heard a car engine coming closer in the background. It slowed to an idle. A tick-tick-ticking sound. Someone—a man’s voice—called out, “Hey, you call for a cab?”

I felt the taut muscles across my chest and shoulders release. I took a deep breath and let it out.

“Hang on just a second,” I heard her reply to the driver and then to me, her voice still shaky but not as unsettled, “I’m coming home, Daddy.”

With a click my phone went silent, its display dimming and then going dark in the moments, I sat there staring at it. Releasing my wife’s hand, I put my phone back on the night-table and moved from the bed with tears spilling from my eyes. I walked out into the hall and down it to stand in my sixteen-year-old daughter’s room. The darkness was still but for the soft sound of the turning blades of her ceiling fan. I could hear my breathing and felt my heart thumping in my chest. My wife came from behind, wrapped her arms around me and tilting it up, rested her chin on the top of my shoulder.

I wiped tears from my cheeks with the palm of my hand. “We… I… have to learn to listen.”

She turned me around to face her. “We will. You’re a good father.” She hugged me tightly, and I buried my head at the nape of her neck in her long hair, and we held each other for an armful of heartbeats. Then I pulled away, turned and watched my daughter asleep in her bed.

My wife’s hand stroked the side of my face and rested there for a second. It felt warm in the cool air. “Do you think she—the girl on the phone—will ever know she dialed the wrong number?”

I looked at our sleeping daughter, then back at her. “When she gets home, she will… and maybe it wasn’t really a wrong number.” I leaned down and kissed my wife on the forehead and then straightened, “At least not for me, and I hope not for her.”

“Mom, Dad, what are you doing?” The voice came from under the covers. I walked over to my daughter, who had sat up and was staring at me, the phone in her hand—as a nightlight—shining on her face. “We’re practicing,” I replied as I sat on the edge of her bed.

“Practicing what?”

“Listening,” I whispered and brushed the hair away from her face. “Listening, Honey.”

NOTE FROM DENNIS

A few years ago, I read different—shorter, rough—versions of this premise in the public domain without attribution: one of those things online with a string of dated (old) ‘shares.’ Being the father of four daughters, I thought its message moving and compelling, but its premise as a story deserved improvement. So, I rewrote the story and think this version is worth sharing.

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HONEY - Where's That Book_ Flashfiction by Dennis Lowery

HONEY – Where’s That Book (FREE SHORT FICTION STORY)

Bob and Jane sat at the table with Sandy and Timmy that Friday morning. When the work and school day ended, it was the beginning of a holiday weekend, and they had special plans.

Just the day before, Bob had picked up his new 1958-model Edsel from ‘Big Jim’ Axelrod’s Ford dealership over in Union City. It now shone prettily just outside the kitchen windows, and he looked forward to a long drive over the weekend. Bob wasn’t the kind—because of the ‘gaddam idiots not paying attention’ driving through the neighborhood—to park his car on the street. He’d insisted on moving the Oldsmobile so he could get the new Ford under the carport. That he’d have to then back the Olds out of the one-car driveway each time to get to it hadn’t sunk in yet. But then Bob wasn’t much for long-range planning.

Jane—worried that bills were getting out of hand and now this car—followed his look at the new debt through the window. She wore a not-quite-latest-fashion-but-still-nice, gray, dress with a wide white collar that framed her strong, lean, neck and high cheek-boned face perfectly. She smelled of lilacs this morning. A new scent she’d found that Arturo, the pool-boy at the club, seemed to like a great deal. He called it “Lilicks…” and would laugh as he burrowed his head between her—.

“Jane?”

She blinked away the memory of what she loved so much, but Bob wouldn’t do and looked at him. He had shifted his face around the edge of the newspaper to look at her. “Yes, dear?”

“Are you okay?” He looked concerned.

She canted her head; felt her hand rise to her ear and then stopped. She’d almost started to tug her right earlobe. Bob knew she only did that when she was nervous about something. He’d be on to her. Instead, she brushed a lock of hair, that hadn’t fallen out of place, back from her brow with the palm of her hand.

“I’m fine, dear.”

He grunted. His usual response when he didn’t quite believe something he’d heard someone say… or more often, didn’t really care. But then added before ducking back behind The Daily Courier, “You’re kinda flushed, you running a fever?”

“Really, dear… I’m all right.” She felt a catch in her voice and hoped he hadn’t heard it over Timmy and Sandy fighting about the last slice of buttered toast. She was meeting Arturo that afternoon—between the Church Planning Committee luncheon and picking up the kids from school—at the Golden Pavilion motel where 6th Street ended at Highway 9 and felt the warmth rise again. But not on her face this time; she clenched her thighs. “Any good news in the paper?” Getting him talking about that always worked.

“If someone—and I mean the gaddam president—doesn’t do something about them Russkies… they’re going to take over Europe.” Bob had fought in World War Two, serving in Patton’s 3rd Army, and was still pissed that the US had let the Russians enter Berlin first. “And then they’ll be landing in New York.”

“Yes, dear.” It was automatic and came out of Jane’s mouth without thought. She was still thinking of Arturo singing, Return to Me, to her last weekend. He so looked like Dean Martin. Then he had put his mouth on her and his tongue would— “What’s that, dear?”

He had the paper down and was looking at her again. “What’s that you’re humming?”

A bright light, like God had taken their picture, whitened their faces.

Bob, Jane, Sandy, and Timmy looked out the window.

“Honey, where’s that book, you know… the one about—”

The lights went out, and they felt the house shiver then groan. Just before the window blew in, Bob thought of the Edsel… and them ‘gaddam’ Commies.

# # #

NOTE FROM DENNIS

I wrote this little story after I saw this:

GIF

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WHITE BIRD - Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery

WHITE BIRD (Love is the Very Best Gift to Give & Receive)

A perfect–feel good–story for the Christmas season! And that twist at the ending, how you add some Christmas lore. Love it!”

Available 

WHITE BIRD - Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery

This is just the type of story to read during the holidays. Dennis has a lovely way with words and crafting the story to keep the twist hidden just around the corner, but when it happens, it’s a warm and satisfying revelation. Grab a mug of coffee or cocoa, sit in a favorite chair, and enjoy this heart warming story.” –Amazon Review

A 7,469 word holiday story about two people who find love and a future not bound by their past.

Olivia works for a misogynistic businessman who made his fortune in New York City real estate. Her life has not turned out as she expected or wanted.

Henry had lost his wife and children in a tragic accident. It’s been years and he doesn’t know if he can keep going… nowhere. And is it wrong to want the pain to go away?

Both are haunted by the past.

Both are alone, caught within circumstances.

Caged.

But then… this holiday season something happens…

THE BALLERINA IN THE GARDEN Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery

The Ballerina in the Garden (FREE SHORT FICTION STORY)

About the Story (revised and expanded a bit from the original)

THE BALLERINA IN THE GARDEN Short Fiction by Dennis LoweryTwo years ago, Claire lost her husband and Audrey, her father. A job promotion requires a move to a new state and town, and Claire hopes it’s also a fresh start for them both. Audrey, just starting high school, since her dad’s death, had become withdrawn and the move hadn’t helped. Now on a single-earner income, Claire can’t afford a pricey house. So, she picks the cheapest one in an older, affordable neighborhood. The once-lovely house she buys is old and needs work. In its overgrown, neglected, backyard Audrey finds something hidden among the overgrowth of weeds and scrub that changes both their lives. For the better.

Note from Dennis

The real ballerina in the garden

The real ballerina in the garden

A friend sent me a picture of an orchid shaped like a dancer and asked, “Dennis, what can you write about this?” A part-challenge, partly hopeful request that I met. This short fiction piece is about finding beauty—in an unlikely place—and how that helped a young girl deal with loneliness, to accept and appreciate new surroundings and make new friends. And that what you find often leads to some self-discovery that can have a great effect on your life. So, always look for the beauty—the things we should appreciate—around us. Because they’re there. It may take some work to uncover them, but they are always there.

A few of the reader comments:

“Oh my gosh!!! I am in tears. That was amazing how you just pulled a beautiful and complete story out of a simple picture!” -Janet Mix

“Beautiful…” -Vicki Tyley

“It touched my heart Dennis!” -Rea de Miranda

“What a great read, over morning tea! Thanks!” -Susan Gabriel

“A lovely morning read to start the day feeling good!” -Nina A.

The Story

Friday Afternoon

The new girl tightly clutched her phone and didn’t look up at him.

“Audrey…” Mr. Gardner, the teacher, repeated, “It’s your turn.” He motioned to the large display he had wheeled beside his desk and thought about what she had told him last week after class when he had assigned the project.

“I don’t draw, and I can’t make anything… Not like what you said.”

“You don’t have to do those things, Audrey. When I said a visual presentation, I also meant you can take pictures of people or places and then tell us why you find them interesting. Present why they mean something to you.”

“Why do you care; why ask us to do that?”

After teaching kids for fifteen years, he knew she had really asked him, why make ME do this. He pushed his glasses higher on his nose and studied her as she remained in her desk. In part, he had decided on this kind of project to reach the quiet ones in the class. To try and nudge them toward expressing themselves in a way that wasn’t quite voluntary. It being a graded project might help push them to become more comfortable in front of their classmates. Before he could answer, she had stood. He had thought she was going to walk out.

“I don’t know anyone here,” her right arm had swept the room, “and I don’t know this place.” He knew she meant not just the school but also the town. She had only been there a month. He had seen her sitting at lunch, seemingly alone even when surrounded by other kids.

He had nodded and told her, “I know… I can’t draw either, and I understand that you’re new to us, and us to you.” The light tone and smile he gave her hadn’t changed her expression. “Even so… there are things you see or are around that you enjoy or they mean something to you. Just take some pictures of them or maybe a short video and add your description—just a few words—of how you feel about them. That’s all I’m asking.” She hadn’t seemed to buy into that but said nothing more and had not mentioned it over the past week.

The rest of the class had given their presentations and were now shifting restlessly in their seats, a few looking up at the clock on the wall. Gardner rose from behind his desk and came around to sit on its corner nearest the display, moving it another half a foot from him. “It’s your turn.” He knew she heard him.

Audrey’s long wavy hair fell forward as she got up. She didn’t brush it away as she walked to his desk, tapped her phone and then and handed it to him. “It’s ready.” He saw the video window on her phone, connected the micro-HDMI cable to it and the display and then looked at her. She nodded, and he pressed play.

The picture on the screen showed what looked like an overgrown, neglected yard full of weeds and brush. “Last month when we moved here, I found this behind our house.” Her voice pitched lower. “It—the backyard—seemed sad.” The next picture showed improvement, some of the area had been cleared, and remnants of what had once been flowerbeds now showed among the scrub brush. “I worked on it a little each day and on the weekends.” Her voice rose slightly, “Then I found her.” The next picture showed a flower, petals of a burnt-orange red, yellow and white, formed like a dancer in a pirouette. “She was on the other side of a scraggly bush. All alone.”

The teacher watched Audrey who had swept the hair from her face. The shake in her voice belied nervousness, but her look at the class was steady. Pushing his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose, his eyes went back to the video. The next picture was a close up of the flower, arms raised, its chin up. “She was so pretty among what had grown so ugly around her. I read a story once that used the word ‘forlorn.’ I looked up the definition but didn’t really know what it meant until I saw her there. She’d been forgotten.” Audrey paused and studied her classmates. “But she didn’t want to be alone. She wanted to have friends but didn’t know how. She wanted to dance but couldn’t because where she was… wasn’t where she wanted to be. So, she cried there among the weeds that crowded her and the horrible, tangle-thorned bush that blocked the morning sun.”

Gardner half-turned his head from her to glance at the class. Most were now leaning forward and watching Audrey. Jimmy Reynolds was in the back looking out the window, as he always seemed to, but still got straight As. He turned back to the display. The image on it began to move. The camera pulled back to show a now cleared area. There was a sound of the wind that swirled small bits of grass past the lens as it focused on the flower now fully revealed. A gust lifted its petals.

“I call her, The Ballerina.” Audrey sounded almost happy as the camera panned around the orchid swaying in the breeze. The sky grew darker, and a drizzle of rain flitted past the lens, falling to the ground with an occasional plop of a larger drop. The camera zoomed in on the flower. Beads of water now clustered on the petals, bowing the orchid with their weight. A bit of wind tipped the flower, spilling the rain off as a voice, Audrey’s, now accompanied in the video while she stood silently in front of the class.

“I like to read, and I remember something from an author that now makes sense to me. He wrote ‘misty rain falls; not as tears, but a kiss for a garden. It’s there, in its beauty, I find peace.’” The camera panned up to a blue spot in the lightening sky. It captured the instance of the rain’s end. A bit of rainbow color arcing overhead and as the camera walked back, it seemed to end at the orchid. There the motion stopped, freezing on the flower caught in a sliver of sunlight slanting down. “I know how The Ballerina felt in that garden where no one could see her. But now I can, and she’s beautiful.” The screen faded to black as the voiceover ended with, “Now she’s not alone.”

“That was wonderful, Audrey.” Mr. Gardner detached the cord and handed the phone to her. She returned to her seat not noticing his thoughtful expression or the look on some of her classmate’s faces.

* * *

Sunday Morning

The doorbell startled her. It had not rung since they moved in, nearly a month ago. Claire Stanton rose from the kitchen table and heard—an old, creaky board sound signaling—shifting steps on the porch outside the front door. She peeped to see a tall, lean, man with dark-rimmed glasses. She opened the door. “May I help you?”

“Yes, I’m…”

“Mr. Gardner, what are you doing here?”

Audrey had come downstairs and was just behind her mother in the doorway.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he smiled at her and then her mother. “But I wanted to ask if I could see your flower—the ballerina—in your garden?”

“It’s funny,” Claire said with an over the shoulder look at Audrey. “My daughter’s had two classmates, who ride the same bus, come by this morning asking the same thing.”

He saw a small flicker on Audrey’s face that settled into a grin. The first he’d seen from her. “Mom, can Mr. Gardner come in and can I show him…?”

“Okay,” Claire looked up at the man as he pushed his glasses up higher on his nose. “Sure.” She stepped back as he stepped in. He moved gracefully but seemed just a bit embarrassed. “Would you like some coffee, Mr. Gardner? We can take it out back with us.”

“Yes, please… that’d be great.” He followed them to the kitchen and moments later—mugs in hand—they were through the back door and into the yard behind the house. About thirty feet from the door stoop’s two-step concrete pad he could see the area from Audrey’s video. Among the green and fresh pastels of new flowers, the ballerina stood out proud in the morning sunlight, two white wide-wooden-slat lawn chairs next to her. He sipped the steaming coffee. “Your daughter’s project—what she showed and said—was impressive. I had to come see for myself.”

Claire looked at Audrey, who was sitting near the orchid, a smile on her face as she watched them drink their coffee. The breeze had lifted her hair back to show how much she and her mother looked alike. Claire set her cup on the arm of the garden chair. “It’s been hard on her, losing her father two years ago, and me moving us to a new town and state.”

Joe Gardner cupped the mug in both hands and sat elbows resting on his knees. “I didn’t know the circumstances. I’m sorry for your loss.”

She expected him to look at her as he spoke but he seemed lost in thought. She didn’t reply and watched him for a moment.

“They say time heals us…” He straightened in the chair and looked over at her, but his eyes were shadowed by someone or something not there. “A little bit each day…” his tone lifted, he looked at the orchid and smiled at Audrey.

A burst of birdsong made them look up at the nearby copse of woods. Claire sighed, “It’s beautiful here. Very different from the city where we’re from.”

He looked around and something—maybe the melody in her voice—made him realize how lovely the morning was and how good the coffee smelled and tasted.

“Mom, can Mr. Gardner come back again to visit her?” Audrey gently touched the ballerina’s petals.

“If he wants to.” Claire brushed a lock of hair back and smiled. He seemed a nice man and anything that got Audrey more engaged in school and with other kids was a good thing.

“Morning coffee?” He asked with a grin. “Next Sunday?”’

She returned his smile. “You bet.”

* * *

Sunday Morning – Twelve Years Later

The tall man, dark hair now thickly-frosted gray at the temples, pushed his glasses up on his nose as he looked down at the young lady next to him. The pool of her wedding gown train was cloth of antique ivory draped over the natural jade of the close-cropped grass. The dew dampened it, but that didn’t matter. In seconds, the music would start, and they would walk to her new beginning. He shook his head. So many years… so fast they go by, he thought as he looked around. It was the start of a beautiful day. The white chairs sat brightly on the emerald green grass. Each had a cluster of orchids at the end of its row full of guests.

“We’re here—all of us—because of a flower,” he murmured to himself and looked at the group of people, his eyes immediately going to the woman sitting proudly in the front row, half-turned in her seat and watching them. She lifted a hand and waved. A mother at the moment in a daughter’s life that holds so much meaning. A woman he would not have met if not for this young lady… and an orchid. He felt tears pool in the corner of his eyes. The music began, and they took their first step. He hugged her arm tightly to him—she was so lovely in the morning sunlight—and he felt her squeeze back. He bent, but only a little since she had grown so tall, and whispered, “I love you, Audrey.”

“I love you, Dad.” She smiled up at him and thanked the ballerina she’d found in this garden that day long ago.

# # #

WHAT THE WIND BLEW AWAY Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery

What the Wind Blew Away (A Short Story of Loss & Healing)

The eBook is Available Now

A touching—teaching—story about surviving the loss of a loved one from cancer.

Samantha lost her mother and has not been able to cope with that loss. And two things she sees every day are an unbearable reminder. She hates them both. Then something happens—a moment and a conversation with her grandfather—that changes her perspective. While she’ll never fill that void in her life created by her mother’s death, she learns that she can move on while still cherishing and loving the memories of her.

There are many things I can’t do. I have no superpowers. I don’t know everything and never will. But. I know that stories are the best way to convey messages you want to resonate deeply with people. And I think they—stories—are also a compelling way to teach compassion and maybe even come to grips with our own feelings.

WHAT THE WIND BLEW AWAY Short Fiction by Dennis LoweryCreation—in art, music, literature—is often attributed to a muse. A familiar spirit that guides and maybe even sits on a shoulder. One day I looked at my oldest daughter’s wedding pictures again while burning a DVD of them. One of her best friends, battling cancer and gutting it out though she was terribly sick, was one of her bridesmaids. In the weeks following the wedding, she had setbacks. The cancer had spread. And we lost Ashley. She was a brave and bright soul. As I looked at pictures of her at the wedding, I recalled how hard she hugged me after my toast to the new bride and groom… and I thought about our loss. And how we heal. Ashley was on my shoulder as I wrote this short story to explain how those we love—when they pass on—they’re never truly gone. The important part of them stays with us. Always.

–Dennis Lowery

What some of my early readers had to say about the story:

As a writer you believe what you’re creating will touch someone in some way. But you send your creation out into an often silent world. Maybe it’s just not found so it can be read. After all, we live in a world where we’re inundated with information, social media shares, and posts. Pictures of cute dogs… cute cats… cute girls… and bacon. In all of that, sometimes your writing gets missed. BUT then there are times where you get a message from a reader like this. And it confirms that what you’re doing does reach some people and that it’s touched their heart. I received this message–screen-grab below–from a reader of the excerpt from this story that I posted on social media.

Here’s more comments from other readers:

“Superbly written.” –Gwendolyn M.

“Wow, what a bittersweet yet beautiful story of love and loss and healing… Thank you for such a poignant and touching story Dennis!” -Lisa Wolfington

“Loved your story. It made me think of loved ones that are no longer here. They will always be with me. Thank-you.” -Marsha Mooneyhan

“Beautifully written, Dennis.” -Michael Koontz

“A beautiful story of loss and healing; so touching and lovely.” -Nina Anthonijsz

“Talk about tugging at the heart strings.” -Vicki Tyley

“I love your story; it’s a touching and poignant piece.” -RC de Winter

“Thank you, so much. It’s a beautiful story; a sweet and touching read. I need to explore that connection [in the story] I am glad you wrote this as it’s nudging me to explore what it is.” -Amy Dionne

“Left me speechless and filled with precious memories from when Mom was around. Thank you for this beautiful story.” -L. Moncivaiz

THE SONG ON THE WIND Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery

The Song On the Wind (FREE SHORT FICTION STORY)

A few of the reader comments about this story:

“So sweet and warm, regardless of all the snow.” -Nina Anthonijsz

“Dennis, it doesn’t matter what you are writing about, your descriptions of the scene or the feelings inside of a character, the reader feels like they are there watching it all unfold before them. Everything is so vivid. Thank you for this sweet story.” -Janet Mix

“What a beautiful story and music to share with us. Great way to start the day with a smile.” -Kathy Rosson

“I enjoyed the story very much, have always loved the song. Great job.” -Karen Gross

“Made my day. Thank you. 💛 -Dawn Jackson

“Cute story. You do have a way with words. Merry Christmas!!” -Dave Hendrickson

The Story

“Most of all, I remember looking out the window as I shifted around on the seat clutching my purse and glancing up to make sure my bag was still on the rack above me. The station and buildings nearby were decorated and dressed in lights of silver, blue, gold, red and green. As the train pulled out, they reflected off and in the glass flickering past in a kaleidoscope of holiday colors. When I felt the wheels begin to turn, I took a couple of deep breaths. Then a feeling of certainty that I was making the right decision came over me.

“Soon the train was outside the city and had picked up speed. The view dimmed to gray with a lighter blur as we passed snow piled high in some places along the track. Occasionally, color flashed from trees with their brown limbs thick with green pine needles powdered and sprinkled white. I saw country houses, too, that sped by. My view of them grew slowly when the tracks curved toward them in the distance. As I got closer, they would suddenly fly past; a smear of more color on the frosty pane clouded by my breath on the cold glass. I liked it most when the train slowed at a crossing, and the flakes drifted—a slower dance—down and then that sensation of getting closer to where I was going when the train started going faster again.

“It was my first Christmas away from home, and I hadn’t traveled much. Actually, not at all until I surprised everyone by taking a job in the city. My parents never went anywhere, not even on vacations, and had never been big on celebrating the season, but Tom’s were. He and I had met the year before. Both of us had been stuck working through the holidays. I was young, new to the city and happened to take my lunch break the same time he did. Idle comments—nervous ones on my part—about the holidays led to conversations. I learned he was only a couple years older than me and could tell how much he missed being with his family by the wistfulness in how he spoke of them.

“As winter passed into spring, summer and then fall… we fell more in love. As the next holiday season approached, we decided I would meet him at his parent’s and spend the day before Christmas Eve through New Years with them.

“I had grown up shy but being with Tom made me discover a confidence I didn’t realize was there. Still, I wasn’t always comfortable around people I didn’t know, so that Christmas would be very different for me. Full of anxious anticipation, I looked forward to being with Tom even if it meant among a bunch of people I didn’t know.

“Since then—and maybe it started with that trip—I’ve learned how much you can change the way things are—the way things once were, into what they become—if you have a catalyst that triggers it. Even if it’s only a small something that makes you realize your happiness is determined by what’s in you and not from others. But back then, I was still learning about myself and life.

“I remember changing trains at Holy Oak. That small town’s station sat at a crossroads for the east-west and north-southbound railroads. I had come south and now would be headed west into the mountains on the 7:50 PM train. Two hours later, making better time than expected, I got off that westbound train in Tom’s hometown and stepped onto the open platform full of thoughts of him.

“I heard bells ringing, sharp and crisp in the cold night air. They were lovely, so pure and clear, not smothered by the sounds of a city that never slept. A girl of the suburbs and city life who had never known the quiet of small towns and the country, as the train I’d been on pulled away and its sound receded, I paused to listen to them in the stillness.

“Night had fallen, but there was enough light from the streetlight on the corner to see the flakes of snow, making their slow way to the ground adding to the drift in the lee of the concrete base of the bench I sat upon. The wind couldn’t catch it there and cast it away. The small pile was a landscape of its own; I saw a mountain slope topped with bare, gray, stone. Then a bed of white snowflake-crafted linen that flowed from shadow into the light with only a glint showing it was not fabric. It ended at the heels of my scuffed boots.

“It was a moment of self-reflection I’d never experienced. I felt it… the cold that came around edges of the framework of who I really was inside. Though 20 years old, I still felt a scared child’s fear of the unknown. I loved Tom but had never traveled so far alone and soon would be surrounded by people I had never met. I shivered as the wind picked up and wished I’d worn a scarf as the icy gust feathered my hair and peeked down the collar of my jacket. I tried to smooth my long hair as I rose to go inside to wait for Tom to pick me up. I checked my watch; he should be along shortly.

“Then the wind carried more than the sound of bells. Voices. I turned toward the singing and followed it around the corner of the station that faced a park and off to the right, the beginning of the town’s main street. As my train had pulled in, I hadn’t noticed the glow of the small group of people holding candles near what appeared to be caves that peppered the snow-covered hills surrounding this small town, and that hugged the station and park on two sides. The plumes of their breath accompanied each verse. The music touched me, pushing aside the coldness of the current of air that brought their music to me.

“I listened and felt warmed by their voices and the song’s message. It made me feel that the things ahead in my life—ones I could never know would come to pass—though maybe challenging, could become blessings. It made me think of how the story of a baby boy, born to follow the path meant for him, had changed billions of lives over two thousand years. I’d not been raised particularly religious, but in the words and beauty of the song, I found peace and hope for a purposeful life, too.

“I had bent to pick up my bag and turned to go inside, and there was Tom. A dusting of snowflakes sprinkled his dark, wavy hair and his smile caught the light from the Christmas-ribboned lamppost above us. He lifted me, twirled and gave me a quick kiss as he set me on my feet again–”

“I was stronger back then…” The man behind the steering wheel laughed.

I turned from facing the back seat to glance at Tom sitting next to me. Much stouter and gray-haired—just like me—the lights of cars passing in the opposite direction shining through the windshield showed the lines on his face. I smiled at him and then felt a touch on my shoulder. I looked back at Cassidy, my youngest granddaughter, who had leaned forward. Twelve years old and still full of questions, she had asked me to tell her about when her grandfather and I were young.

“I love how you tell stories, Grandma! So, that was your first Christmas with Grandpa?” She had just made her first trip to visit us in the country for Christmas since we had retired and looked so much like her mother, sitting next to her, had at her age.

“It was my second,” I brushed a wavy lock of dark hair from her face, “but the first real one. It was the one that taught me that the holidays mean so much more than big city decorations, parades, and shopping.” I reached for her hand. “And that we don’t always know how life will turn out, so it’s important to have faith and a purpose.” I squeezed it and let go so she could sit back.

At the stoplight, Tom turned to look at Cassidy. “But, there’s a part of it that’s about gifts, too.” He reached over, took my hand then brought it up to kiss and hold to his cheek. “Your grandmother’s the best Christmas present I ever got!”

“Do you remember that song, Grandma?” Cassidy asked as the light turned green and we began to move.

Only five miles to home. I looked at Tom and still saw the young man who had lifted and swung me on that train station platform decades ago. “What’s that, honey?” I shifted on the seat to face her.

“The song… the one the people holding the candles were singing. Do you remember it?”

My mind went back to that moment when my young girl’s mind was full of love, all awhirl about the future and how hearing that song settled my heart and soul. “Yes, sweetie… it went like this…”

Note from Dennis:

It was my daughter Cassidy who came to me one December weekend morning—I think with Alpha and Beta in tow—and asked, “Dad, have you heard this song?” I put down my writing pad and took her phone, turning it sideways to play the video.  When the song video ended, I handed it back to her, “That’s beautiful!”

THE SONG ON THE WIND Short Fiction by Dennis LoweryNow, my girl Cassidy has possibly the hugest, most loving, heart of anyone I know (which she gets from her mother). I think her greatest reward is when she does something for others that touches them—makes them smile, or happy—in some way. The song she had just introduced me to, did. I went to Amazon Music and bought it, adding it to our library. Then with the song playing softly on the little Jambox Bluetooth speaker beside me, I set aside what I had been working on and wrote the story you just read, for Cassidy… and you, too. Following is the music video ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ by Pentatonix—that prompted me to write it. If you’ve not heard it, you might like—or even love—it too.

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If you liked this story, check out WHITE BIRD another–much longer–holiday season story.

WHITE BIRD - Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery

The Candle... a Short Story by Dennis Lowery

The Candle (A Short Story of a Love Stronger Than Death)

A Short Story of a Love Stronger Than Death

What if you could give someone you love one more hour of life? The passion of love bursting into flame is more powerful than death, stronger than the grave.

Some of my early reader comments:

“You wrote a great story and I felt every word. Your significant ending was SPOILER REMOVED. Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful heart!” –Evy Hannes

“Wow, I enjoyed reading very much.” –Irene Kimmel

“Wonderful, Dennis. Very well written!!” –Sylvia Sotuyo

“Wow…what a great story. I loved it Mr. Lowery. Loved it!” –Jo Ann Boomer

“Captivating.” –Mohammad Azam Khan

“It was wonderful. Chilling and hauntingly beautiful… very Stephen King-esque. Right up my alley, being a huge Stephen King fan. I have goosebumps. Absolutely loved it.” –Bobbie Today

“Wow, Dennis Lowery, I adore your writing! You pulled me in very quickly, and had me wanting more and more! Excellent story, I thank you for that amazing read. You are a very talented writer.” –Cristie Brewer

“Love it!” –Fay Handstock

“Brilliant, Dennis Lowery. Your writing always leaves me wanting more! I too saved it to re-read later. Thank you.” –Rebecca Harden-Heick

“Oh, wow… Very powerful… I felt so much compassion for the couple. And the intrigue of the supernatural, really gets you thinking. It really is an excellent story.” –Margie Casados

“Stephen King would be happy to put his name on this story! (I mean this as a compliment).” –Jyoti Dahiya

“Great story!” –Susan Gabriel

“I love this!” –Dawn Hart Jackson

“Poetic justice. Love it.” –Vicki Tyley

“Like your writing, it is so original and imaginative. It comes from somewhere deep inside. And you deliver your words of art so well.” Renee M.

WINGS (Short Fiction) by Dennis Lowery

Wings… (A story of Faith and Self-Determination)

The eBook is Available Now

A Short Story About Faith and Self-Determination

The Origin: One of my readers (on social media) sent me a picture of a mist-shrouded forest; serene but also had a touch of the ethereal to it. I knew a little bit about the reader: she was a single mom, raising a child (with some challenging circumstances affecting their behavior), and seemed to be struggling at times with what she faced. She also loved fairies, had a wonderful sense of humor and appreciation of the beauty in our world (despite all she dealt with in life). When she sent me the picture, she asked, “Can you write me a story?” I did and WINGS was the result. The revised, expanded, published version is available now.

A middle-aged man in search of his own life fulfillment and to heal wounds from the past finds a magical being–a fairy girl–who is looking for the same. How can she go on as a wingless fairy and can she trust a Man trying to help her?

WINGS (Short Fiction) by Dennis LowerySome of the comments from my early readers:

“I think this story sends a positive message to young people who are not happy with their bodies, or life situations. I enjoyed reading this short story, Dennis Lowery. Thank you.” –Hazel Payne

“That is a really good read. I quite enjoyed it.” –Jocelyne Corbiere

“That was a beautiful story, and full of meaning. Sometimes, we need to stop and fill our minds and hearts with love and tenderness for life can be very hard.” –Kathryn Nokony

“Dennis, I just loved it, actually read it twice… Forgive me but I see romance in so much, and when she asked ‘What will you do with me?’ It’s not what you wrote, but the way you wrote it, that made it come alive. Also, when she said ‘You’re a man,’ all of “his” response was so well-written. I promise not to reveal too much of the story because I encourage everyone to read it — but when each character shared their story of pain and courage; different but yet familiar, and she said: ‘To fly…’ and stated her outcome so far. I had to take a break from the story; I felt tears running down my face because it became so real to me… The ending was surprising but great. What a great message in this story… Thank you for sharing your great gift with me. A great, compelling, short story… ‘Wings’ touched me deeply, your writing moves me!” –Bernice Joe

“Just beautiful! I cried a few tears as I read this… Every time I think Dennis Lowery can’t write any better, he does. This story gave my wings a much-needed pick me up… I love that each story he writes, I find myself in it. This story is the perfect focus on the woman with kindness from the man, tragedy, pride, vulnerability, joy, and peace.” –Sarah Odendahl

“That’s a fantastic short story. My girls love fairy stories.” –Liz Moshier Echols

“Every time I read one of your stories I’m in awe! Keep ’em coming please.” –Regina Dollar Castleberry

“I love to read your stories, you take me right there.” –Jo Myers

“That was beautiful!” –Janet Mix

“This was gorgeous! A very cool story!” –Macady Watson

“Love the story.” –B. Ambrose

“I love your stories, especially Wings. You’re a great writer!” –Lisa Fuller

“Great story! They will meet again!” –Susan Gabriel [And you never know… she may be right]

“Well-written and I would love to read more of your work in the future!” –Yannick Bretschneider

“Oh my gosh…I wish it would’ve been longer. It is a shame she went through all that. It also would have been so nice to get more backstory on both the man and her. But this story was absolutely flawless in my opinion.” –Luke Cooper

“This is such a unique story, and the words are so descriptive!” –ARS

“So beautiful. It had me in tears. But then, Dennis Lowery always seems to touch my heart with his words. I think this might be my favorite.” –Nina A.

“This story was beautiful!” –Alison Fu

“Incredible, and so moving!! Thank you for the beautiful story, Dennis.” –Linda Anani

“So beautiful. Almost brings a tear to my eye.” –Lisa Korn

“You soar, Dennis Lowery. One of my very favorites.” –Lena Kindo-Kamara

“Very nicely written. My favorite genre.” –Paul Wade

“I enjoyed reading Wings, definitely magical, Thank you for sharing. Now I want more. You’re an excellent writer” –Yolanda Ocasio

“So beautiful.” –Sherry Thompson

“You know women so well… you have fulfilled your purpose.” –Renee McDaniel

“Magic. And even better you were able to write it so quickly.? You know the writing is so good that you can feel that you are in the story. That is one heck of a trick.” –Mike Trani

“Fabulous Dennis Lowery – truly enjoyed my morning read. Loved it.” –Diane Carolyn

[She quotes from the story] “’Why do you go on then?’ ‘Because,’ and he smiled at her from the knowledge that only comes from experience, ‘Because, I deserve to find what I’m looking for.’ As we all do. Wonderful story, Dennis Lowery.” –Samantha O’Brien

“Loved it.” –Robert Partridge

“It is beautiful!” –Claire Toffolo

“I love this part… ‘We fly highest and farthest then. That freedom… the feeling of our wings drinking in the wind, is what fairies long for.’ Truly beautiful, and so much feeling, Dennis Lowery.” –Margie Casados

Thou Shalt Not Thou Shall Flashfiction by Dennis Lowery

Thou Shalt Not | Thou Shalt Not | Thou Shall (FREE SHORT FICTION STORY)

Hell–and Hurricanes–Hath No Fury Like a Woman…

Overhead, the wild huntsman of the storm passed continuously in one blare of mingled noises; screaming wind, straining timber, lashing rope’s end, pounding block and bursting sea contributed; and I could have thought there was at times another, a more piercing, a more human note, that dominated all, like the wailing of an angel; I could have thought I knew the angel’s name, and that her wings were black.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson, The Wrecker

Daniel looked out the window. “Doesn’t the storm scare you?”

Irma shook her head knowing he didn’t really care how or what she felt and she was long past being scared, “What’s that line from ‘Islands in the Stream’? What Hemingway wrote about hurricanes.”

“That’s not one of my favorites,” he replied. “What line?”

She quoted, “He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people of the island and the bond that the hurricane made between all people who had been through it.”

“Meaning?”

“You wanted to move here. To be near Hemingway’s home and drink Scotch at his favorite bar.”

Daniel aspired to be a writer of Hemingway’s stature and sustained career and had insisted on moving to Key West. Hoping the vibe would revitalize his stalled career, he frequented Sloppy Joe’s and lost count of the number of Scotch and sodas he drank and what he did afterward. When he sobered up, he defended his actions by quoting from an article by John O’Connor that he knew by heart. That Hemingway’s acquaintance with booze was quixotic and nearly spiritual. That even though drinking insane, heroic quantities that left a trail of smashed glasses and friendships in his wake, alcohol was a crucial existential salve for Hemingway, a much-needed release that fueled his writing. Daniel had believed that and chosen the same path. Seven years from his bestseller, he still had not been able to repeat its success, and his creativity had been replaced with cruelty.

She stepped closer to him as he looked out at the wind-whipped palm trees through rainwater coursing down the glass. “Maybe going through this—the storm—will make things better for us,” Irma lied as the hurricane’s shriek grew and the walls of their small house trembled. Daniel didn’t move from the window as she turned and shifted to stand behind him.

* * *

First responders worked their way through streets full of debris. A tumble of broken jackstraw storefronts and buildings, the flotsam, and jetsam of a community that would take a long time to recover from the hurricane’s aftermath. There were bodies of those that had not acted prudently and evacuated. Many more had been dragged out to sea and washed ashore miles away. In the devastation, a sole survivor was found.

“He just wouldn’t go… he thought that the visceral experience of riding out a hurricane would spark his writing in some way,” Irma looked at the police officer mournfully as two paramedics zipped the body bag around Daniel. “And I couldn’t leave him.”

Two Years Later

When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.” ― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

The reporter from the Santa Fe New Mexican closed the notebook and reached for her phone which was still recording the interview. “Shortly after the storm and your husband’s death, Ridley Scott optioned your husband’s novel for a major motion picture with Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson. That movie became a huge hit, grossing $478 million here in the United States and internationally. And the points on the back end—the profit piece you secured—really paid off. Does it make you sad that your husband isn’t alive to share the joy and financial success of that with you?”

“It’s terrible that he’s not here. He had always hoped he could see some of his work in film and he was a great Samuel L. Jackson fan.”

“Are you?”

Irma had slipped into a memory and did not follow what the reporter meant. “Am I what?”

“Are you a Samuel L. Jackson fan?”

Irma smiled, “No. I’m more a Liam Neeson type. Those ‘Taken’ movies.” Her thoughts returned to what had happened—what had to happen—that night at the height of the storm. Daniel, who had been drinking heavily, barely roused by the wall and window’s buffeting from the Category 4 force winds, did not even turn when she called his name hoping to look him in the eye. She had done what she needed to do and then had slipped out, hanging onto a line secured to one of the stout pillars either side of the front door. Breaking the window’s glass from the outside, she had gone back inside and looked at him. Shards of glass now covered Daniel. His skull caved in, blond hair darkened with bits of bone and a lot of blood, he was moving. Trying to stand. She had pushed him down and knelt to whisper in his ear. “Here’s the line I like best from that story, ‘He also knew that hurricanes could be so bad that nothing could live through them.’” Stormwater from her hair dripped on his face as she lifted the section of 4×4 post brought in from where he had been building a deck extension. She had driven it down full-force with all her weight, leaning into it until the twitching stopped.

Coming back to the present, Irma blinked and took a deep breath.

The reporter turned off the recording. “That’s a good wrap up,” she smiled at Irma. She had met with her three times now for the interview and to welcome a new—affluent—resident to Santa Fe and each time Irma had worn similarly styled clothing, a bit odd for summer wear. “Sensitive skin?” she gestured at the long sleeve, high-neck shirt.

“A history of skin cancer in my family,” Irma tugged her sleeves down. They and the high collars she wore hid the scars she had accumulated through ten years of abuse. That Daniel’s one successful work was going to pay for plastic surgery—she had found a discrete surgeon in Los Angeles—did not please her as much as how it had felt with that piece of wood in her hands that night she made him pay for what he had done to her.

# # #

Note from Dennis

THE ORIGIN STORY

I’ve had a note in my story-idea book for some time. About a revenge killing at the height of a hurricane. It seemed a perfect way to cover up a murder. One morning, while enjoying my coffee and watching Hurricane Irma news (I live in Florida, by the way), as the caffeine kicked in I toyed with the thread of some lines for that story. As I idly scanned through my images folder, I came across one that gave me not only the title but also the core of the story’s protagonist. It fleshed out my premise that you can push a person too far and then the 6th commandment (or other laws) may not keep them from doing what they must do to survive. And what better time to do something so drastic—killing someone—than when you stand a good chance of getting away with murder. What you just read was the story that resulted.

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ASK FOR THE DANCE - A Short Story from Dennis Lowery

Ask for the Dance (Escrire)

The eBook is Available

I’ve been an entrepreneur and business investor/owner since 1993. I’m also a father of four and uncle to a dozen young people ranging from pre-teen to young adult (late 20s). I know how important just a handful of guidelines have been (still are) in my life, career and business. All are relatively simple but often not easy to follow or execute when you’re young. So, I wrote a story for my children, nieces and nephews that they might relate to that would teach them a couple of oh, so important principles for success. I think the story has a message everyone can take away as an important lesson.

A Coming of Age Story (with excellent advice for adults, too).

Josh has a crush on a pretty, popular–and taller–upper class girl at his high school. He wants to ask her out but is afraid and his father and mother give him the best advice any kid could receive. The type of advice that has a lifelong impact.

Here’s what some of my early readers had to say about this 3,024-word short story:

ASK FOR THE DANCE - A Short Story from Dennis Lowery“A story about good parents who give the right advice, and how a smart kid can learn the right lessons from that advice. This is a Must Read.” -Jyoti Q Dahiya

“This has touched my heart.” -Vickie Farnsley

“Great story!” -Dirk Hooper

“That was such a beautiful story, brings back sweet memories.” -Paul Wing,

“Love it!” -BF

“Wow, that was amazing!!” -Queen Rae

“You have such mad talent! ♥ this!” -Cindy Corhn

“Great writing, Dennis. You are enormously talented. From a man who hates to admit any romantic inclinations, I want a do-over for high school.” -Gerald Shackelford

“Truly enjoyed it, Dennis.” -Denis Labelle

“Great read Dennis! ‘And chances are you will fail—at many things—if you’re trying to live a life of purpose and meaning to yourself.’ That’s some very sage advice.” -GP

“I love this story!” -Jenn R

“A beautiful story.” -Rebecca Fowler

“This left me grinning from ear to ear.” -Dawn Hart Jackson

“Young love… a great story! Loved it!” –Susan Gabriel

From Dennis:

I have four daughters and one of my wishes for them is that they find a partner in life that is as thoughtful, considerate and brave as Josh in this story. And as I wrote it, I wanted to make a point (for them since they’re usually some of the earliest readers of all I write), that you do not get anywhere in life if you don’t take an active role in making it—life—become what you want. Now, I’m 57—soon to be 58—as of this writing. I know all about questions and regrets as you age and reflect on life. When there’s something you want(ed), or an opportunity before you… and you don’t (didn’t) do what you need(ed) to do to get it or don’t (didn’t) give it a shot. I want my daughters (and other readers) to be aware of something that is easy to lose sight of… that lives are formed, more times than not, by choices. By what’s done … or not done.

Josh’s last bit of advice to his friend Ben holds true. And sometimes that dance partner is yourself. Swing out even if no one else is on the floor… and here I’ll quote a song from Lee Ann Womack. Sing it with me:

“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance. Never settle for the path of least resistance. Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’… I hope you dance…”