THE WRITING of ‘Through a Lens of Dark & Light’

The Story Behind the Story

This 23,000+ word story evolved from a writing challenge. What was planned as a short story to be called The Campfire based on a picture that was the runner-up to Union Station in one of my PICK- A-PICTURE-GET-A-STORY-WRITTEN contests. This photograph shows two teenage boys and a girl sitting in front of a campfire. I wondered who the girl was… and was she […]

(Couldn’t help it, refined the premise) ‘An Embarrassment of Sins’ [M]

Started As a Joke -- Might Become a Serious Story

[Couldn’t help it. I was compelled to refine and expand the premise—one made up based on the image below used in the faux cover—that started as a joke. It is a story idea I might have to treat seriously and write one day, albeit with a much better cover image.] Every picture tells a story… […]


“I don’t know…” Sam watched the sunset and didn’t look at Roy next to him. “Sometimes around this time of day… I sit here and think.” Roy shifted to free his tail. Somehow it always ended up under his butt. “What about?” “Like… what is life?” Sam lifted his paw toward the setting sun. “I […]

LEAVING TAOS Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery


“They think,” Henry nodded in the direction of the cop at the sidewalk, “the killer’s headed to Santa Fe.”

“Nah, I bet he went north.” Joe drew hard on his cigarette, taking the smoke deep then letting it out in plumes. “Folks on the radio are warning people to watch out… whoever he is, he’s a dangerous man.”

Henry shook his head slightly. Joe was one of those men who sounded, with dead-solid certainty, like he was right. But was always mostly wrong, and sensationalized everything when he passed it on to others. “What makes you think it’s a man, Joe?” He wanted to wind him up a bit and see where he spun.

“Bud Carson’s my wife’s nephew… he works with Tom Flint’s cousin. Tom’s the deputy who found the man on Old Mill Road night before last, just as he rattled out his last breath. Tom told his cousin the killer caved the man’s ribs in—someone beat the shit out of him. And get this,” he took a last drag from the cigarette butt in in his hand and flipped it to the ground, “the head had been twisted, so it was turned around backward.” He shook his head. “The poor bastard was belly down but looking up at Tom when he died. Musta happened not long before Tom rolled up.” He pinched a piece of tobacco off his tongue and spat. “Ain’t no woman strong enough to do that.”

“You haven’t been here but a year, Joe. And haven’t seen Bill Stoudemire’s wife, Maggie, then.” Henry shook his head and winced remembering his single date with her when they were young. “She’d go 200 pounds… and none of it fat.” He shuddered again at the thought of when he told her he wouldn’t go out with her again. “And she’s a mean bitch. That’s probably why Bill ran off a couple of years ago.” He looked thoughtful. “Maggie, she doesn’t come to town much… stays on her place east of town.”

“Well, I don’t think no woman could do it.” Joe turned away. “See you later.”

Henry watched him walk toward Mabel’s Diner and thought, Old Mill Road runs east-west…. right by Maggie’s land. He let the idle thought slip away. It was time to pick up that load of lumber from Granger’s and get to work.

The hatless man near the bus depot window stood shoulders hunched and faced away from the others waiting for the bus. They never should have come to Taos, he thought. But they’d heard there might be work. There was. But he and Johnny never should have taken that laborer job. Poor Johnny. He had to flirt with that woman that hired them… and then actually tap it. He’d grinned and said, “In the dark, there’s more of her to grab. And man, she can squeeze that thing tight.” But something about her had bothered him. The way she looked at them. He had slept in the barn, but after the first night, Johnny was in the farmhouse with her. The fourth day, yesterday, he had come to breakfast to find that Johnny was gone. She had smiled at him—a big-toothed invitation—and came close enough to brush his shoulder with the largest set of tits he’d ever seen. “Your friend took off… you can sleep in the house tonight.” She had put her hand on his shoulder and given it a crushing pinch. “Come supper time, I’ll pay you your wages,” she waved a five-spot in her other hand.

He had nodded and gone out to the stretch of fence he and Johnny had been mending the day before. They both needed money and Johnny wouldn’t have run for no reason, but he hadn’t wanted the kind of trouble this woman seemed capable of dishing. He had decided to finish the job and get the Hell away from her, but with that fiver.

At sundown, she had called him to dinner, “Come and get it…” He couldn’t help but hear the emphasis she had put on her call to eat… and to something else.

At the table, he had wiped his plate clean. She had looked from it to him, an up and down run of her eyes. “You eat like a starved man…” she had gotten up from the chair at the end and moved to sit next to him, putting a hand on his forearm. “I do love me a man who has a hunger,” she squeezed and let go to hand him the five-dollar bill. “I’m the hungry kind, too….” She had then—as she got up—leaned forward to drag the tips of her chest across his arm and stood looking toward the room where she’d taken Johnny last time he’d seen him.

He had stuffed the money in his pants pocket, “I left your tools out, gotta go put them away…” the look on her face had hardened into something he’d never seen before on a woman. He had met her glare, managed to work up a smile and squinted at the darkened entry to her bedroom and back, “I’ll be quick… for some of that dessert.” The smile had come back, and she showed the edges of her teeth behind the curl of lips. “I’ll get it ready,” she had walked to the bedroom as he headed outside.

When he was nearly to the fence line, he had shifted from a walk to a sprint. On the dirt road, he had slowed for the long run to town. He had spent the night hiding in a patch of woods just outside it, walked in at daylight and waited. The morning bus for Santa Fe was late. He had heard from the newsboy working the corner with a stack of papers at his feet, ink so fresh the kid’s hands were smeared with it, that a body had been found the day before just off the road near to town. And now a cop was checking people at the depot. Maybe I should tell the police what happened, he thought, maybe Johnny did run from her but was hurt bad and didn’t make it. But that arrest warrant for him in Los Angeles was waiting to land like a ton of brick. They’d send him away for a long time on that one. Where was that bus?

* * *

Twenty Years Later

The article from The Taos Recorder 10-10-1954

# # #

LEAVING TAOS Short Fiction by Dennis LoweryNOTE FROM DENNIS

This story resulted from my looking through a collection of Depression Era public domain photos and spotting one that sparked some thoughts: What were the two men on the left talking about and what about the man by the depot window with hunched shoulders, what’s up with him? That picture became the story’s cover.

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The 12 DOVES of Christmas

Check Back Each Day -- the 14th through the 25th

I like dark chocolate and sometimes have a piece in the morning with my coffee. There’s a brand of individually wrapped pieces called Dove™ that includes brief thoughts and statements inside the wrapper. With our preparation for the holiday season each year, my wife buys bags of them and I thought beginning on December 14th, I […]

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.

# # #

‘Batman’s Great-Grandmother’


Martha Vanderwayne had the gift. The 7th daughter of a 7th daughter  once she turned 16 years old, she could foretell the future. At 32, the nightmares awoke her. They showed that her grandson would die, along with his lovely wife… in a foul alley in a city grown so dark and twisted she could […]

Every Picture Tells a Story – About ‘Waiting for My Witch’

A few years ago, I came across this picture and at breakfast one morning showed it to ‘Alpha’ and ‘Beta’ and asked, “What do you think that cat’s doing?” “Sitting in a tree,” said Beta. I shook my head. Alpha raised her hand, and I nodded to her. “Looking at the moon.” I shook my […]