As part of my continuing education as a writer, and to challenge myself to think in different genres, voices, and styles, I like to pick a random writing prompt and take fifteen minutes to jot down the first story that comes to mind. Here's one from this month.
PROMPT: Use this cliché somewhere in your story: Keep your fingers crossed
“Your pa ain’t back from the Treemont place,” Ma said, soon as I came in with the eggs for supper. I set the eggs on the counter, dusted off my apron, pushed my hair out of my face like she did. If I pinched my eyes together, I’d look just like her now, all lean hunger and worry.
“Been hours and a day since he left,” she said, and let a long, slow breath slip out of her like mud sliding down a creekbed. Her green eyes, extra wide in the low light, hovered on me. “You’d best go fetch him home.”
I dug my boot heels into the packed dirt floor. Outside sunlight was all but gone; I’d barely had enough to see the last of the eggs hiding in the dark twilight shadows. From the rear kitchen window, I could barely see the line of the mountains, dark and gray and distant.
“But,” I said. “The dark.”
That was all that needed saying. No one went out after dark, ‘specially on a moonless night, ‘specially in peak-summer when the heat made the world extra thick. The Darklies came out at night.
Ma knelt down, sudden-like, took my small hands in her big ones. Her fingers were tough as Pa’s, scarred in places, but pretty.
“The Darklies won’t get you,” she said, taking my first and second fingers, folding one over the other. “You just gotta keep your fingers crossed like this. You got that, Maylie? Crossed tight, and don’t uncross ‘em for a minute, else the Darklies will get you.” She squeezed my hand extra tight, sealing my fingers together.
My boots dug in deeper to the floor. Wished I could have nailed them to it, or maybe glued them there. Except you can’t nail nothing to dirt. Same with glue. Just comes right off, and I didn’t have nothing to hold me down either.
I drew in a breath, slow and long like the one she let slip out earlier, and crossed my fingers extra hard. Ma opened the door for me, letting in the sound of crickets and the rustle of the Darklies’ footsteps brushing through the long dry grass. Sssh-tap. Sssh-tap. They never showed themselves more than slips in the dark, squat and fast and gleaming sharp teeth. Ma didn’t say nothing when I just stood there. Giving me time to find my courage, and I guess I did. Pa had to come home, I told myself.
My boots felt filled with stones, but I went to the door, where Ma brushed my hair back off of forehead, mumbled a few words in the old language, and then I was out on the porch. Without Pa there to cut it back, not for hours and a day, the forest was tiptoe-ing in closer, and the sound of the Darklies rustling the leaves was as loud as my blood rushing in my ears.
The door creaked behind me, as Ma closed it all but an inch. One green eye found mine through the crack. Carved in the door, by my Ma’s ma’s ma, were the old words that would keep her safe in the house, barely more than scratches and dents after all these years.
“Keep your fingers crossed, Maylie,” she whispered.
The door shut behind me, and I held my fingers tight, and walked into the forest of the Darklies.