Tag Archives: fiction

Challenge: Legal Theft: What She Needs (263 words)


Where are my long-time readers?  I haven’t done a legal theft post on this blog since… May 15, 2016.  Monday night, August 10, 2020 with no blog post for you all, I went on a cleaning spree through my folder of in-progress blog posts.  And lo!  I found an ANCIENT bit of writing that more or less holds up under the weight of more than five years.  This line was Bek’s from March 21, 2015—an eon ago.

This nugget wrings from me a nostalgic smile.

Why wasn’t it posted on here?  Lord knows.  Maybe because this scene I thought that I might actually use in my WIP.  Well, the plot doesn’t play out any longer in the most recent draft to allow that.  The names of every character named here has changed even, though the genders are all right in this snippet.

Visit the three other stories too that Bek’s line spawned from Gwen, Kate, and Machete Diplomacy as well as Bek’s original.

If you like our legal thefts, check out the whole collection at Legal Theft Project.

For more with these characters and in this world, visit this page.

He knew, all things considered, she didn’t need him. Really, there was no need for him to go, to risk his life on her fancy, on her fever-induced dream. She would be at least as safe without him as she would be with him. Hadn’t it been she who had protected him all these years? Wasn’t she the one who was always coming to his rescue?

So she didn’t need him.

She could go off on her own. She could leave behind the safety of the sunshine for the shadow and uncertainty of the forest. She could risk the horrors of the forest, the monsters that lived there, ready to curse a wayward soul, ready to tear, ready to kill.

But he couldn’t shake the feeling that she wouldn’t be safe. Without him or with him.

And wouldn’t he be able to do some good if he went with her? Maybe?

At least, he could continue to argue with her, continue to try and talk her out of this stupid idea, to get her to come back home.

He wanted her to know that she was home here.

And he didn’t believe they were out there, waiting. He didn’t believe her dream to be anything other than that. She was risking herself for nothing, for a figment, and he couldn’t let her. She didn’t need him to leave with her, but she did need him to convince her not to.

Darryn grabbed his cloak from the peg and slipped into the hallway, past Priscilla’s room. No need to wake her. He would be back.

Challenge: Happy Stories in 3 Words


A friend of mine challenged me to write a happy story in three words. This challenge snowballed.

  1. She said yes.
  2. It’s a girl!
  3. I graduated college!
  4. It is done.
  5. This is fun!
  6. Let’s go home.
  7. Come here, boy!
  8. Let’s do lunch.
  9. It is finished.

What happy stories can you write in three words? What’s the least cliché, happy story that you can write in three words? I’m curious: What stories do these three-word stories of mine evoke for you?

Highlight below to find out what I was imagining when I wrote these.

  1. A proposal is accepted, probably a marriage proposal or a request for a date.
  2. A baby is born.
  3. A relieved college student has graduated, just received the notification that she has passed all of her classes and will be allowed to graduate perhaps, or perhaps has walked and now has the ceremony and diploma to prove it.
  4. Someone has completed a long project.
  5. Something someone is doing is fun.
  6. Someone is finally going home.
  7. A pet is found.
  8. Someone’s either going to meet someone for lunch (a happy conclusion on its own) or is perhaps about to have an exciting business meeting.
  9. That’s the Christ story.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Binary (381 words)


Dread is bubblegum and hot pink. It spews from big lips and big eyes and big breasts. It cinches like an impossibly narrow waist. It smells like fake tans and cosmetic. It’s heavy on shoulders I can’t bare because it will be a distraction to the boys in school, because men will use my bare shoulders as an excuse to touch and to catcall and to chase and to capture and to smother and to crush and to tear. These are facts I’ve understood if I haven’t been able to vocalize them since I was old enough to have these blonde haired models splay their legs to sit horseback bare-butted because tight dresses wouldn’t let them ride. Their legs don’t spread wide enough and they never came with pants; they were meant to stand tall and straight and pretty on feet bent unnaturally by high heels that I’ve lost in corners and under the bed. These dolls were never meant to act. They were never meant to do.

There’s the lesson. Stand straight, wear heels, wear lipstick and eye shadow and eyeliner and mascara. We’ll tell you that you can be anything, but you can do nothing, and you need to remember it.

To do anything is unnatural.

Know your limits.

Know your place.

Know your worth.

$9.99 the package says.

That price tag is like a ball and chain around legs that must sting from the bite of a razor because a manufacturer needs more money and they say that my natural hair is ugly, is unkempt, is unsanitary. It hobbles legs that shouldn’t touch one another at the thighs but do, that chafe beneath skirts that are mandatory for formal occasions.

There are no choices in this aisle. There are only limits and boundaries.

This, it says, is girl. This is feminine. The next aisle over—the aisle of blue and trucks and heroes and weapons and tool kits—is not for you. Those are what you cannot be. And here is what you are and what you cannot do.

Stand straight, wear heels, cover up your face, eat less, bend and break your bones, pinch your body till it fits in the plastic mold and you can stand with pride beside these dolls on the shelves, an example.

This week I challenged my friends to join me in the muddy, bloodied waters of gender conformity and nonconformity because it is a topic that’s been thrust into the limelight of late and it’s been on my mind. This was not really the piece I intended to write. I intended to explain how I think gender is a man-made problem and any adherence to a binary is foolish. Instead what you got was an imagined walk down a fictional but too realistic aisle in a toy store—you all know the one—and everything it makes me feel and says to me now. I didn’t want to write this piece because it’s been said before—again and again and again—but I’m still hearing that there are only two choices, defined by blue and pink, by male protagonist and female protagonist. I know things have improved and the aisle that I describe is largely that of my childhood in the 90s, but if people are still toting this binary defined by marketing, apparently, I still need to write and publish this piece.

Good night.

Trebez from Machete Diplomacy joined me in this challenge. Her piece, “Rib to Rib,” is way more subtle. Thanks, Trebez!

Challenge: Legal Theft: The Creation of the Vatrin (292 words)


Vofa looked down on the world that he had created, a world of green trees; gray rock; rich, dark earth; and red clay, where the gentle doe moved silently between branches, soft sheep grazed in fields, the wolf paused to sniff the air, and the dove flew bright as a sunray over all.

My world, Vofa thought, is wide. It will be good if I have some on this world who can carry my flame and aid those whose flame flickers and weakens in sickness.

Once more Vofa bent to the earth. From a mountain’s peak—this mountain’s peak—he scooped up a handful of stone. This stone he molded. He gave the creature nibble hands that he did not need to use to walk, leaving them always free to direct the fire as Vofa’s hands did. He gave him a sharp mind and a conscience bent towards compassion.

Into the other creatures, Vofa had sent a spark that burnt within the creatures as if on a wick, tethered to the creature and finite. In this, he thought, I will need more. He will need fire that he can siphon off to use to help others. His fire must be more than what is needed to sustain him alone.

He hollowed out the stone as he had with the others. This time he did not touch his finger to the wick and set alight the creature, but poured forth his fire into him, letting it fill up the empty spaces between the organs as water seeps between rocks in a jar. He left it to flow freely inside the creature like the creature’s blood. That firelight flickered in his newly opening eyes and exhaled on his breath.

The creature smiled at Vofa.

This has been a legal theft challenge issued by myself.  Legal theft has gone through a mutation.  The nature of challenge is no longer confined to a first line.  Last week’s (which one day I hope to catch up on and do) was to use two dogs.  This week I challenged my friends to write me a creation story (because I’d earlier threatened to do so, and I knew I had several in my back pocket that just had not been written).

My friends were good enough to accept that challenge.

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Honey Wine and Sweet Iron” (442 words).

Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Khaalida, The Necromancer.”

C.C. at Creatures, Critters, and Crawlers wrote “Reaper.”

Trebez at Machete Diplomacy wrote “It Started With A Wish.”

Bek at Yeah. But So What? Everybody’s Weird wrote “Legends” (206 words).

Challenge: Legal Theft: For the Worst Days (519 words)


Every woman in Evanston over the age of twelve owned a red dress. It was loose. It had sleeves that could be taken off. It was one of the most practical pieces of clothing that any woman owned.

And everyone older than twelve knew what it meant.

Priscilla had given Talya hers. She had shooed Darryn out of the house and had told Talya to sit. Talya had thought that she might be in trouble—or that Darryn might be—for the older woman, usually gentle, affectionate smiles, had looked unusually solemn.

Priscilla had handed the folded dress to Talya and explained what she could expect to happen to her—maybe not this year and maybe not the next, but she would feel it eventually.

When a girl wore the dress, the villagers treated her a little more gently. They realized that she was already working, sitting down or even lying down, even when she seemed to be lazing. She was working on something more painful, more precious than ordinary, everyday work.

Everyone, Priscilla had explained with a smile, sometimes put on the dress even when they were not bleeding. Everyone had days when they needed to be handled more gently, when life just seemed too hard, when they were hurting. The trick of it was not to put the dress on too often.

Talya had put on her dress the next day. It had fit her perfectly—perfectly for a red dress, hugging only her breasts and loose and breezy everywhere else. It had tickled the tops of her feet. Of course, Priscilla had made it, and Priscilla knew her size.

Mr. Crowe had started when he had seen her come down the ladder in the dress. He hadn’t barked at her to do any of her chores. She had worn it out into the village. The world had been a little kinder to her.  Amira had given her a roll so fresh from her ovens that the butter melted to yellow grease that dribbled down Talya’s chin. Gitta had swept her into a hug of hello. Garock had frowned at her but had said nothing.  Talya had grinned all day in the dress.

She had worn it again the next day.

And the next.

Priscilla had pulled her inside that day, shooing Darryn out again. She had reminded Talya that she couldn’t wear the dress all of the time. The dress was for her worst days, the days that were hardest, and that couldn’t be every day or the dress would stop feeling special, people would stop noticing when Talya wore it, or they would turn mean instead of kind because she wore it. Priscilla wished that every day the villagers were their gentlest. Some things would be easier then. But they were human. They were all human. And if Talya made every day her worst day, it would be hard for others to have their worst days too.

Talya had pouted. She loved the dress.

But she hadn’t worn it the next day. She hadn’t worn it again until the day that the blood showed.

The line this week is mine.  I’m not entirely pleased with the execution of this piece, but I am thoroughly tickled by its subject.

Bek at Yeah. But So What? Everybody’s Weird wrote “Firelight Woes” (619 words).

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Crimson” (328 words).

Trebez at Machete Diplomacy wrote “But Mostly, They Danced.”

CC at Creatures, Critters, and Crawlers wrote “Stains.”

Challenge: Legal Theft: Apocalypse (239 words)


Outside the open apartment gate a small pack of children threw rocks at passing cars. The broken system had failed them again. No one needed a car to get around in the city. Public transportation had always been enough. But now it was time to get out of the city, and the only way to flee far enough and fast enough and in enough of an armed shell was by car. While rich businessmen and –women, CEOs, and government officials sped past in cars—a wonder they didn’t collide as they hopped the curb to get around one another or around another desperate soul who flung himself into the street in an attempt to hitchhike his way out—these children were left behind. Their parents were left behind. Boarded inside the house, Rosie’s father sobbed into his hands and rocked backward and forward on the edge of one of the rickety kitchen chairs. Joy’s mother shouted into the phone with a woman at the cab company, demanding one of the taxis that had already been hired out or fled without a passenger in the seat.

Joy, Rosie, and Eli just wanted to be seen. They just wanted to be noticed. They wanted the businesspeople, the rich people to see whom they left behind while they evacuated.

They knew that had no hope of hitchhiking, no chance of hijacking, so all that was left was to become a haunting memory.

The line this week comes from Trebez at Machete Diplomacy, who wrote “Something to Do.”

With it, Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Noisy” (595 words).

Bek at Yeah. But So What? Everybody’s Weird wrote “June Day” (236 words).

Creatures, Critters, and Crawlers wrote “Fuchsia?”.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Her Price (1429 words)


She couldn’t leave the river, and she was malevolent. Every legend agreed in those two things. She kept us from crossing the river. Ours was the last village before her river impeded northern travel.

No one quite knew what to call her: a naiad, a goddess, an ondine, a rusalka, a demoness…. Most in our area called her simply She.

She took the form of a woman with long hair the color of the sand on the riverbed. Most of us had seen her. She often wore a dress of river water, the fabric—if fabric it was—catching the light in just the way that the river did. Sometimes she wore nothing. It was said that she was at her most dangerous then.

She was not confined to one point in the river. She could follow an adventurer along the waterway to its source, it was said, though no one who had tried to circumnavigate the river had ever returned.

She subsisted on fish mostly, but she was not above insects and waterfowl or an animal that crept to her river to drink. There were tales of children, men, and women whom she had lured to the river, drowned, and eaten, leaving maybe a bone or two on the riverbed as the only evidence to their disappearance.

We drew our water from wells—for ourselves and for our animals. We built fences to keep the animals from wandering too near the river. We taught our children to keep away.

And then came the heat of a long summer, when little rain fell, and our buckets scraped mud and muck instead of fresh water.

The river was low, sluggish, but still ran after the wells were dry.

Some hoped that she would be weakened by the drought. Silas let go a sow of his, and we watched as the squealing pig was dragged off of the bank.

We didn’t see the pig again.

But we still needed water.

“Maybe she can be reasoned with,” Gabe volunteered.

“Maybe she can be caught,” Ron said.

“Catch the river?” Frances scoffed.

“Well, if we build a dam—”

“She can be anywhere in the river.”

“But can she jump a dam?”

And round and round our conversations went, while our throats went drier and our voices grew hoarse and no one could wet his lips.

Marcus slipped outside.

I followed him when I noticed that he was gone.

It had grown near dark while we’d argued. Marcus looked up at the star-seeded sky. Cloudless.

“No rain coming,” he said. He didn’t look at me. I didn’t know how he knew that I was there.

“When did you leave?”

“When they started talking about moving south. We can’t do it, Pryor. We can’t leave the village.”

“We need water.”

“We need water,” Marcus agreed. He started walking. And I hurried after him.

It didn’t take me long to realize where he was going, and when I did, I grabbed his arm. “Marcus, no!”

“We need water,” he repeated.

“The sow—”

“We need water.” He twisted his arm out of my grasp, and stalked on. “And I’m not leaving. Not without a fight.”

“You’re going to fight her? Marcus, she’s made of water.”

“And if I kill her there’ll be plenty of it.”

“You can’t kill water.” I emphasized every word as if my sharper tone could penetrate his thick skull.

But he shook off my words like midges around his ears.

He kept walking.

I drew my knife—because if we were going to face her, it was better to be armed, however little it could do—and I followed.

Marcus stopped mere feet from the water’s edge, and we watched her materialize, rising from the water like a burbling spring, slowly taking on form, till she stood, naked in the moonlight. Her long hair rippled, a dark waterfall down her bare back.

She looked up slowly at Marcus.

“I’m so tired,” she mumbled.

“Witch,” Marcus spat, “it’s time to give up.”

“Give up?” she repeated.

“Yes. We need water.”

“And I need water. I am water. You want me to give you myself? Freely?”

“Yes, witch.”

“I cannot do that. There’s a price for everything. As you would not give freely of yourself, so I won’t give up myself.”

“So what’s your price?”

She smiled. “You know my price. It’s why you teach your children not to come near me. It’s why you pen your animals to keep them from coming to me.”

“So how many animals?”

“You cannot pay me off.” Her voice sliced through the air like a knife against skin, soaked with enough threat to make me shiver. “The river is always hungry.”

“So what?” Marcus growled. “We die? We flee? What is it you want?”

“No matter what you do, I will continue.”

“Marcus,” I said, putting a hand on his arm. “Let’s go. Nothing will come of this.”

“I’m not leaving the village,” Marcus roared.

“And nor am I,” she said, quiet as rain on the thatched roofs.

“We’re not giving up. We’re not leaving,” Marcus told her.

“No one outlives the river. Nor can you cage water. No net, no trap can hold me. Even a rock prison I would break in time.”

“It only has to hold you till the wells come back.”

Her scimitar smile showed pointed teeth.

We were too near. I grabbed Marcus’ arm again. I tried to pull him back. We shouldn’t be able to see her teeth.

He tore his arm from my hands and took a fatal step away from me.

He was in the water in moments. I still don’t know how. She had him in her arms, wrestling him, his head twisted back, her teeth bared over his neck.

And then I was in the water.

I jumped in before I’d thought it through.

Marcus was thrashing still, churning the water with wheeling arms, and kicking with his feet as if he might be able to launch himself back out onto the dry land, out of her arms.

I heard the shouts, and I heard the hiss ,and I heard the splashing.

I kept pushing forward.

I felt the sting. I felt the fire rake across my arm as she lashed out at me.

I heard the gasp. I saw Marcus pushing away from her. It had been enough. I saw him staring.

She was on me now, and it felt every bit like drowning, like those first disorienting moments when you dive into the pool, and you’re too deep, deeper than you’d thought, and you open your eyes, but you’re not yet above the water, and you can’t figure out at first why you can’t breathe, and you don’t know if you’ll make it back to the surface because you don’t know how far away it really is, and you push, and you pray.

I didn’t push. I didn’t pray. I knew I couldn’t win. You can’t kill water.

She was on me. She had her hand twisted in my hair. She had her arm wrapped around me, pinning my arms to my side as she held a wrist behind my back. And she was pulling me under. Fluidly. As smoothly as if I weighed nothing. And then it was dark, and it was quiet, and I couldn’t hear Marcus screaming anymore. I couldn’t hear the splashing, only the pulse of riverwater.

And it was getting darker. Quieter. And my neck—my neck hurt. My neck seemed to be on fire. Below the water. How was that possible?

I blinked. And blinking hurt.

Breathing hurt. Breathing burnt. And when I did breathe out, a stream of silent bubbles, barely visible in the dark night and the moonlight, left me, like the leaves blowing off of the trees in autumn.

I was drowning.
I was dying.

But Marcus was safe.

She growled. Somehow she could still growl below the water.

“Why don’t you fight?” she asked. She shook me.

“Because you’ll win.” I didn’t know how I’d heard the words. They should have been more silent bubbles. Maybe I was hallucinating now. Maybe I was dead.

She hissed as if my answer somehow displeased her.

Her hands seemed to loosen as we sank deeper into the dark. They were dissolving into murky cloud and grit. She shrieked. Shouldn’t I have been the one shrieking? She feared instead of me.

And my eyes were still open under the water.

And I watched her dissolve, and stayed below long after I’d ceased to feel her holding me down.

The line this week is mine, and I’m rather pleased with this piece, though I’m still not entirely sold on the ending.  All in all, though, a good way to start the new legal theft year.

We had a big old gang for this one:

 Trebez at Machete Diplomacy wrote “It Lurks.”

Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Caging Waves.”

Creatures, Critters, and Crawlers wrote “Bored Spirit.”

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Guardian” (648 words).

Bek at Yeah. But So What? Everybody’s Weird wrote “Freedom” (170 words).

Challenge: Legal Theft: We Fought (455 words)


The ground was still frozen when the war started. Though our men were almost all farmers, our village wasn’t spared the conscription. The army took any man with a strong back or strong arms and any man that they thought that they could make strong with training. Boys who hadn’t seen a fourteenth winter were wrested from the arms of weeping mothers, whisked into a wagon or marched off between soldiers. The army conscripted the strongest animals too, oxen to pull carts and wagons and heavy canons, horses for the officers and those who would be cavalry. They took chickens and hogs and some of what was left of the winter’s wheat.

They left the women. They left behind girls and young boys and gray haired men older than fifty.

They left us behind like chicken bones at the end of a meal.

But chicken bones make broth. We could give up or get working, so when the ground began to thaw, we picked ourselves up and got to the farming, same as every year, except now we had fewer hands to labor, it meant longer hours for us all, and we had to do some of what we hadn’t before.

We grew callused as the ground softened. Hands more used to sewing and mending hardened against ash handles of carts and plows, hoes and spades.

As we trundled water from the stream, we tried not to imagine how distant soil, thawing now like ours and ripe for the sowing, was being watered by blood—an enemy’s, a stranger’s, maybe blood from one of our own. What crop would that nurture?

At night we did by firelight the work that might have been done in daylight when the men were here and our hands were not needed sunup to sundown in the fields.  Around the hearths we quietly added patches to knees worn thin from kneeling in on the ground and darned socks that had been worn to holes by long hours behind the plow or walking lines to scare off crows and rats. With no time to tailor new clothes no one minded except Rose that we could all see half her calves below the skirt’s hem.

We fought our own quiet war against our fear and the coming winter and change.

We fought to keep our gardens ripe and our babies plump.

We fought with hoe and plow and spade and dogged determination.

We spilled sweat and only a little blood.

They say war changes a man.

I hoped our men would recognize their women when they returned to us.

I hoped that they’d respect the war we’d been through while they were away, the wounds and scars and pride that we’d won.

The line this week is mine.

Bek at Yeah. But So What? Everyone’s Weird wrote “Wars” (330 words).

Trebez at Machete Diplomacy wrote “Waiting for Spring.”

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Long Weeks” (564 words).

Creatures, Critters, and Crawlers wrote “Frozen Toes.”

Challenge: Legal Theft: An Education (507 words)


She had only heard gunshots at a distance. Sometimes an explosion echoing through a tranquil wood, a wild fire in a distant part of the forest, the question of life or death for sport. Sometimes a sound that might have been a shot or might have been a car backfiring or might have been a transformer blowing and shutting down power to a block that wasn’t hers, something that she had chosen to believe was anything but while the question lingered. Mostly she knew the sound of gunfire from films, depictions of violence after which actors stood up, unhurt, and walked away, blank rounds and a bit of gunpowder to make a light like a firework maybe if the era or the drama called for it.

What news footage she had been forced to witness by well-meaning teachers, she had suppressed or lost to the doldrums of busywork and summers where she didn’t have to learn.

What she knew of gun violence was not firsthand. She knew people who knew people but had never known anyone. She had seen what it had done to those who knew people. She knew enough about human experience from fiction and experience to know what it did to people who knew people, even before she knew people.

She remembered a day in middle school when too many lives had stopped and the world had tilted and flung weeping students into teachers’ arms and shook out flags, when breaths were short and quick, and tumult had come crashing down like airplanes out of the sky, like a set of buildings.

That day seared.

That day years later anytime could still be conjured in stark-shadowed Baroque and flashbulb image. Images and camera footage kept resurfacing on anniversaries and in unexpected places.

That day could still cause horror and anger—anger for the hurt caused, for the hurt that could be caused again by a simple illustration, a brief reminder, for the unthinking reminder.

Then another day. More questions. A lone gunman this time. A gunman in a school. A day that had to be gotten through when others’ days had been ended too soon. Every child a reminder, every parent and child another whiplash, a ghost of a similar embrace lost that day. A tiny town struck silent while a nation, while a world turned eyes that couldn’t yesterday have found it on a map, and a president who could pronounce names like Tehran and Kabul fumbled the name in a speech in a town he would never otherwise have visited.

Now a day. Two dead. One hurt. One running. Questions. Where? Here? A clip unloaded, a clip uploaded, a clip gone viral. Everywhere. CNN? BBC? Everyone talking. What will happen? What did happen? What have you heard? What do you know?

The schools locked down all over. Grief counselors coming into schools because of two people the students never met.

Students too young to understand, and all the parents’ talking. All the news channels showing.

Are they thinking?

What do they remember?

There is an oft quoted and misquoted and misattributed quote: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”  (Quote Investigator attributes this quote to sportscaster Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith.)  This is one of those pieces.  It poured out of me after cutting a vein, and I’ve not edited it much sense spilling it onto the page.

And then I made it the legal theft line of the week, a tricky challenge.

Trebez at Machete Diplomacy used the line to write “Shots and Seconds” and made some interesting observations about gunshots.

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master wrote “Succeed” (877 words).

C.C. at Creatures, Critters and Crawlers wrote “Reunion.”

Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Making a Name.”

And Bek at Yeah. But So What? Everybody’s Weird wrote “Robbery” (256 words).