Photo Prompt – SHIFTER

Fox

The driveway was cold and wet, but this time I wasn’t leaving until Grant came outside. He knew I was there – I could see him peeking through the wispy curtains at the kitchen window. I’d made my grand gesture days ago, revealing my true self, and he’d run away. I couldn’t blame him for being afraid. I mean, when was the last time someone turned into a fox before your eyes? Not just any someone, but the person you’d been dating, the one you wanted, the one who loved you back.

If he could overcome his fear and doubt we had a chance. If not, I’d have to let him go. Give him the freedom to start over with another. Allow my heart to break.

I could hear him moving inside before the door opened. Tentative, he stepped out, dressed warmly and carrying a red apple. The fruit distracted me for a moment until I realized he was cautiously approaching. I remained still, watching his face intently for signs of fear. His heart thudded faster than usual, but I’d seen that determined look on his face before. I followed his movements until he reached me, crouched down, and set the apple near my front paws.

I wasn’t certain if this was a peace offering or a test of some kind. I ate the fruit – watching him watch me. Licking my muzzle clean, I waited for his next move. Though trembling, he extended his hand for me to sniff, as one would do for a dog. I complied, enjoying his unique scent, and then licked the underside of his wrist – something I’d often done in human form. Startled, he snatched his hand back and stared at me; wonder mixed with confusion. Finally, he spoke.

“Babe… is it really you?”

Photo Prompt – SILENT SCREAM

Shrieking Tree

Caught.

Forever changed.

Rooted in soil,

an arbor life.

 

Leaves gone.

Naked limbs

Tremble with effort.

Bark shifts.

 

Darkness coming.

Evil stirs.

Innocents in danger,

Seeking treats.

 

Turn back,

Run away!

A silent scream,

my only warning.

**********

I’m not a fan of Halloween, but this image was perfect and I couldn’t resist sharing it with my readers! I took this photo over a decade ago, wandering through an average middle-class neighborhood with my camera. The haunting look of anguish or fear is undeniable, and this became the first of several “tree people” images in my collection. (Next time you’re walking in the woods, see how many faces you can find.) When a friend of mine saw it, he said it reminded him of a painting by Edvard Munch. Huh? I’d never heard of him or his work and had to look it up.

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“Born in 1863 in Löten, Norway, famed painter Edvard Munch established a free-flowing, psychological-themed style all his own. His painting “The Scream” (“The Cry”; 1893), is one of the most recognizable works in the history of art. His later works proved to be less intense, but his earlier, darker paintings ensured his legacy. A testament to his importance, “The Scream” sold for more than $119 million in 2012—setting a new record.” https://www.biography.com/artist/edvard-munch

“The Scream is the best known work from a powerful series of images which Munch called The Frieze of Life, first exhibited in 1893.  The actual scream, Munch claims, came from the surroundings around the person. The artist printed ‘I felt a large scream pass through nature’ in German at the bottom of his 1895 piece. Munch’s original name for the work was intended to be The Scream of Nature. The figure is trying to block out the ‘shriek’ that they hear around them (the work’s Norwegian title is actually ‘Skrik’). The figure appears featureless and un-gendered, so it is de-individualised – and is perhaps one of the reasons why it has become a universal symbol of anxiety.”  https://blog.britishmuseum.org/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-scream/

Photo Prompt – GREETINGS EARTHLING

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Twenty years of scavenging the galaxy, and I’d finally found the mother lode. Not just a piece of space junk this time, but an intact vessel. Seemingly powerless and drifting, but whole, beautiful, and utterly alien. I nudged the Galileo, my scout ship, alongside the perfect silver-gray sphere, looking for an entry point. Closer inspection revealed only one possibility – a circular seam at the apex of the sphere, perhaps ten feet in diameter. Without an airlock or other obvious opening it would be impossible to get inside, but I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

“Thor, initiate contact.”

My trusty AI and companion responded immediately.

“Acknowledged. Beginning sequence.”

Thor began cycling through a standard range of protocols, but there was no response.

“Extend the grappler, Thor. I’m going to take a closer look.”

While I suited up, Thor positioned Galileo above the circular seam and extended the grappler. When it made contact, a warning claxon sounded.

“Response from the alien vessel. Ship now under power. Change in configuration. Caution is advised.”

Sensors showed the area within the circular seam rising like a pillar from within the vessel. The shaft contained an oval aperture, large enough for a human to pass through, and lit with a blueish glow. With the welcome mat out, I wasn’t about to refuse the invitation.

After further warnings from Thor, I slipped out the airlock and towed myself over. Magnetic boots kept me from drifting off into space as I made my way to the portal and stepped inside. The light intensified as the shaft descended into the vessel and came to a stop. Before me was a brightly lit V-shaped cavern, unlike anything I’d seen before. It thrummed with power, extending over my head and deep into the vessel below. I took a cautious step forward and startled when the ship spoke.

“Acquisition complete. Dilation in three, two, one…”

With alarms blaring aboard the Galileo, Thor disengaged the grappler as the alien sphere began to undulate, shrink to a tiny dot, and disappear.

Photo Prompt – FOLLOW ME

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The letter arrived shortly before the one year anniversary of my grandfather’s disappearance. We’d always been very close and his sudden absence from my life left me bewildered and lonely. He vanished like a fart in the wind, as he used to say, and no one could explain what happened. No body, no note, nothing.

I discovered the plain white envelope mixed in with my usual mail, no stamp or return address, and handwritten with a familiar script. If this was a joke, it wasn’t funny, and my hands trembled as I carefully sliced it open. For a fleeting moment I imagined him getting word to me he’d run off with a rich widow to some foreign country and was having the time of his life. What was in the enclosed letter was more fanciful by far and I had to sit down to keep from falling over. 

My dear James,

 Forgive me for leaving you so abruptly, but it could not be helped. In a few days time you will have a chance to see me again, but it will require you to leave everything behind and start anew. Despite what you are about to read, this is not the babblings of a crazy old man!

Remember the grand sundial I was so fond of in Centennial park? Quite by accident, I discovered it is actually a portal to another place and time. When the dial reads between noon and one o’clock, you have only to slip into the shadow behind it and you will be transported. There are wonders you cannot imagine, and I long to share them with you.

I cannot be certain there will be another opportunity like this, so if you decide to come, be there Saturday without fail. I beg you, set your affairs in order and come to me, James! Destroy this letter and tell no one what you intend to do.

 If you choose to remain, know that I love you with all my heart. Be happy, my boy, and remember me.

 Pops

 I read the letter through several times before putting it down. Even as I acknowledged the far-fetched madness of it all, my mind was busy. If anyone could have found a way to leave this crazy world in such an unconventional fashion, it was my grandfather! He certainly sounded happier than I’d ever know him, yet he wanted me with him. How could I disappoint the old man?

Saturday turned out to be a lovely day for an adventure…

Photo Prompt – CRYSTALS

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I drew back the curtain and gasped; they were here. Deceptively beautiful, they befouled the glass with gangrenous feathered patterns of death. I had to leave – now. 

It didn’t take long to gather my things, always ready to flee the ever-advancing crystals. I escaped the abandoned house I’d called home for several days, careful to remain in direct sunlight, and headed south. The last news reports indicated people were fleeing to the equator, but had anyone reached it? Would the crystals travel that far and kill us all anyway?

Originating at the poles, the spreading chill and death was initially blamed on climate change and portended a new ice age. Soon, it became clear the mysterious effect was much more; a new life form with malevolent intent. As the aggressive “crystals” began infiltrating populated areas, the great migration began. If there truly was a safe haven, I had a long journey ahead to find it.

Photo Prompt – CAT’S EYE

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I watched my adopted human leave in a primitive conveyance, abandoned once more in her box-like dwelling. In just a few more days my observations would be complete and I could escape this torture, returning to the comfort of the ship. I was certain no one would believe my report, for how could things have changed so drastically in only a few thousand years? Had it not been for the crisis on Whiska, requiring a hasty retreat, we would never have left in the first place.

In Egypt, the humans worshipped and pampered us as we ruled alongside the great Pharaohs. They built statues and created great works of art in our honor, fed us sumptuous meals, and included us in their religious ceremonies. Now, there was no trace of our ancestors and the humans regarded “cats” as mere pets! Our distant cousins are locked up inside, fed canned food, amused with cheap toys, and know nothing of the universe except for this tiny backward planet.

Earth will have to be abandoned permanently, as it is too late to repair the damage and return to our former glory. Perhaps on another world, with other beings, we will find partners worthy of our greatness.

PHOTO PROMPT – Assumptions

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11:52 – I’m always early, so it doesn’t surprise me he isn’t here yet. We both enjoy walking outdoors, so I’d suggested a park near my house with some lovely trails. Except for the clouds, it was a perfect fall day and I was looking forward to our first official date.

11:55 – Damn! Rain began to fall steadily, soaking me and the bench I’d been sitting on. My jacket helped, but the umbrella was in the car and I didn’t want to risk missing him by going back for it. I probably looked like a drowned rat by now, and wasn’t that going to make a good impression?

11:58 – Where was he? I was careful to give him good directions so what’s the problem? Maybe he got into an accident on the way or had a flat tire. Did he forget? Was he sick and couldn’t make it? Was he standing me up?

12:04 – This was a stupid idea! Why did I ever agree to meet him anyway? My fool head tricked me into thinking I was still desirable and look where it got me. Waiting in the park, alone, for someone who apparently wasn’t coming. I’m such an idiot!

12:10 – The ten minute rule has always served me well. With no one in sight I turned and started walking back towards the car: humiliated, angry, disappointed. Serves me right, I suppose, for thinking somebody would want me. It was fun while it lasted, but never again. My heart just can’t take it.

12:11 – The sound of shoes on wet pavement barely registered as I hurried to reach the car and get home. Up ahead, someone with a large polka dot umbrella ran towards me from the parking lot, calling my name. It was him!

“Sorry I’m late! My umbrella was broken and I had to stop on the way to get another. It’s kind of ugly, but big enough for two. I was hoping…do you still want to walk with me?”

My heart pounded as his free arm slipped around my shoulders, pulling me in for a soft, gentle kiss. Shivering with cold, I walked, warm on the inside.

PHOTO PROMPT – Bleeding Heart

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I was going to be late for the service if I didn’t hurry. My last-minute project, beautiful yet sad, was gently carried to the car. The freshly filled antique pot took up most of the passenger seat, and I was careful going around corners on the way to the funeral home. The staff didn’t bat an eyelash as I lugged the awkward burden through the halls to the salon reserved for my mother’s farewell. Sherrie, my older sister, spotted me first and approached with a smile on her face.

“Patrick! I was afraid we’d have to start without you! We already have a room full of flowers – why in the world did you bring more?”

It took a moment, but when she realized what I was carrying her eyes misted over.

“Oh…mom would have approved. I can’t believe we didn’t think of this earlier.”

I simply nodded and together we moved several of the colorful arrangements at the front to make room. There was no coffin, only an oval table with a squat bronze-colored container of my mother’s ashes and a flattering photograph taken before the ravages of Alzheimer’s claimed her. We set the heavy blue and white ceramic pot in the center of the table, ashes on one side, photo on the other. While not traditional, the blossom-laden stems meant something to us as a family. Sherrie nodded in approval, hugged me fiercely, and invited me to sit with her for the service.

Instead of listening to the officiant, my mind was lost in memories. The ceramic container belonged to my mother. Every year of my childhood and beyond, it stood watch on the front porch, filled with red geraniums. She loved flowers, especially roses, and somehow found the time to keep something blooming all year round. My older brother, Chris, dead for many years already, used to bring her samples of flora he found in the woods behind our house. She would find a place to plant them under trees or in flower beds, unconcerned whether they were in vogue.

One spring, Chris brought her a wild bleeding heart bush. Mom placed it proudly by the sidewalk leading to our front door. Every occupant and visitor passed it, enjoying the strange but beautiful blossoms year after year. Before the house was sold to strangers, I transplanted part of the bush to my own yard in memory of both of them. Today, it was my heart which was bleeding, but the beautiful blooms eased the pain with pleasant memories and helped me say goodbye.

(Author’s note – parts of this story are based on actual events.)

PHOTO PROMPT – Just One Kiss

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With a quick shove, Prince Hadrian landed on the road in crumpled heap, still woozy from a long night of drinking and debauchery. His companions threw a fearful glance at the nearby cottage and rode away quickly, leaving him alone in the dust to nurse an aching head. A quick glance told him he had not been taken back to the palace by soldiers as he’d first thought. Instead, he found himself outside a simple peasant cottage at the edge of an oozy pond.

Hadrian stood on shaky legs just as the door opened, revealing a dark-haired woman he did not know but looked familiar. Simply dressed and unremarkable, she approached him slowly muttering under her breath. Though his brain warned him to move away, he found he could not. With a gasp, he looked down to find his feet and lower legs encased in swirling tendrils of yellow-green fog, holding him fast.

The woman came closer, circled once, and stopped to face him. Her black eyes were hard as flint: challenging, angry, determined. Normally confident and brash, Hadrian heard the unfamiliar temerity in his own shaky voice.

“Who are you? Why have I been brought here?”

The woman’s glassy orbs widened; a small triumphant smile gracing her ruby lips.

“Your indiscretions have become well-known, O Prince, and while your father looks the other way, I will not. How many maidens have been soiled in your bed? Who will love them now? The girl you ravaged last night was my only daughter. What you have taken can never be replaced, and now you must pay!”

Hadrian almost laughed. Yet another peasant family looking for a bit of gold to keep them quiet. This was easily fixed.

“Release me, woman, and name your price.”

She responded instead with unintelligible whispers, long fingers gesturing strangely in the air. The serpentine fog at his feet began to wind its way higher, powerful tendrils stealing his breath and replacing it with fear. Now encircled completely, the terrified prince could barely see through the greenish haze. Finally, she spoke and sealed his fate.

“A loathsome creature you shall be. A kiss of love shall set you free.”

She watched with satisfaction as his body shrank, changed color, and lost all semblance of humanity. The arrogant prince was scooped up and taken to the slimy pond behind her cottage. There she released him to preside over a watery kingdom, and there he remained – ever watchful, waiting for just one kiss.

Photo Prompt – Footprints

I wanted to try something different today, using one of my own nature photos as a prompt. Here goes!

Footprints in Fresh Snow

Darrian double-checked his envirosuit before approaching the sealed hatch. With only a slight hesitation, he inserted the coded chip and was rewarded almost instantly by a flashing green telltale. With the alarms muted and surveillance recorders in a repeating loop, it would be hours before the others discovered he was gone. By then, he would either have returned with helpful news or frozen to death.

It was questionable if his shipmates would even miss him, though he would be one less mouth to feed. Paralyzed by fear and infighting, the stranded colony had become a more toxic environment than the unnamed planet on which they’d crashed. It no longer mattered – he’d come to a decision and it was time to act.

Darrian slipped through the hatch, boots crunching on layers of snow and ice. Once the door was secure, he set off for the distant hills in search of a future, leaving only footprints behind.

#####

UPDATE – My fantasy series, Rise of the Draman, is still keeping me busy. The serialized version of book four, Dragon Quest, will begin in August, and the final story is currently underway. Many thanks to my faithful readers – I hope you have enjoyed the series so far!