Short Story. Inheritance.

A short story based on a prompt from Reedsy: A tree that connects the story of multiple characters. I hope you enjoy!

Carl limped through his yard, his arm shaking as he shaded his eyes against the sun.
“Dad?”
Carl leaned against his cane, twisting back just far enough to catch his daughter standing in the doorway.
“I told you to let someone else do that!”
Carl didn’t bother responding, letting out a grunt as he continued to limp down the slope of the yard.
“Dad!” She yelled after him, her eyes flickering back and forth between her father and the infant in her arms.
Carl didn’t listen, humming softly as he weighed the seeds in his hand. They were heavier than he’d expected. Though, he supposed they meant more than any old random seed. Why shouldn’t they carry more weight?
His daughter disappeared inside the house, reappearing a short time later with a bonnet strapped to her child’s head.
Carl was still humming as he began to dig a small hole, repeatedly thrusting his cane into the ground until it gave way.
“You can wait for someone else to do this,” she said, her eyebrows furrowed against the sun.
Carl shook his head, continuing to jam his cane downward. “It’s the kind of thing a father likes to do himself.”
“It’s gonna take forever to grow.”
Carl hesitated, leaning against his cane as his arms shook more violently than usual. He took a deep breath, pointedly ignoring his spasms as he surveyed the yard. “Do you see my yard?” he asked, his voice shaking. “Take a look, Gloria. How would you describe it?”
Gloria frowned. “It’s nice.”
“It’s barren,” he snapped. “There’s no trees. No shade. Nothing pretty… nothing like the yard you grew up in.”
“It doesn’t have to be the same.”
Carl worked his jaw, doing his best to hold back what emotions he could. “Your mom had the green thumb. She did all the growing and… she’s the one that made things nice for you.”
Gloria smiled, brushing a hand against his shoulder. “I’m sure she taught you a thing or two over the years.”
“I never thought…,” Carl steadied his hand against his cane. “You’re right… it’s going to take years for this tree to grow, but it’s better late than never. I can do what I can to make things nice for you. For little Maddie.”
Gloria’s lips quivered as she looked down at her daughter, offering no more protests as he finished making his hole. After some time, she made a decision. “Why don’t we plant it together, dad? We can do it in honor of mom.”
Carl smiled at that, offering her some of the seeds. And, together, they filled the hole.

Maddie waddled through her grandfather’s yard, giggling at the funny shape of the clouds overhead. Her mom was right behind her, ready to catch her if she fell, but she would not fall. She was strong. Like her mom. Like her grandfather.
“The tree is coming along!” Gloria shouted, careful to speak loud enough for her father to hear.
Carl nodded, almost certain of what she had said. “Just a sapling as of yet, but it’s growing.”
“Tree!” Maddie repeated.
Gloria smiled at her daughter. “Soon, it will be as strong as you, pop!”
Carl smiled. “I believe we are on opposite trajectories.”

Maddie jumped, latching onto the lowest branch of her grandfather’s tree, giggling as it held her weight.
“Maddie!” Her mother yelled, only just realizing where her daughter had gone. “Get off of that! It’s not strong enough!”
Maddie’s giggles cut off as she dropped to the grass, but her good humor was unabashed, proceeding to do cartwheels across the lawn.
“It held,” Carl said, his voice weak as he lounged in his chair.
“Barely,” Gloria sniffed, frowning after her daughter.
Carl nodded. “But it held. Just as the two of you will.”
“Don’t talk like that, dad.”
Carl nodded again, though about what she wasn’t sure. “You know what it is to lose someone, my love. It is the way of things. Your mom. Maddie’s father… you must not hide from my going.”
“I’m not hiding! It’s just not time yet, pop. You have years left in you.”
Carl frowned, his eyes heavy as they laid on his daughter. “Maybe. But how many did you think your mother had? Your husband?”
Gloria began to bite her lips, anxiety stiffening her face. “None of this is fair.”
Carl’s lips twitched upward. “No, not fair at all. Especially not for you, my love. And yet you stand, strong in the knowledge that you are loved.”
Gloria leaned into her father, tears welling up at the edges of her eyes. “I love you.”
Carl kissed the top of her head. “Forever and always.”
“Forever and always.”

Maddie ran her fingers across the bark of granddad’s tree, her eyes lingering on its cracks. Tears mingled with the dirt at her feet, but her lip was stiff, her eyes hard as she came to terms with the moment.
Her mother had explained death to her. Long before the death of her grandfather, she had revealed what happened to her father. What’s it meant to lose someone close to you, but she’d never…. well, this was the first time she’d experienced it firsthand.
Her grandfather was gone. A memory. A ghost. And yet… the tree was here… Left behind as a gift for her. How long would this tree last?
“He made it for you.”
Maddie didn’t bother looking, content to stare at the tree as her mother joined her.
“He wanted you to have shade. To have beauty and love, and a life like I had.”
“He didn’t need a tree to do that,” Maddie sniffed, unable to look her mother in the eyes.
“No,” Gloria agreed. “But he wanted to give it to you anyway.”
“That’s stupid.”
Gloria grimaced but said nothing as she put an arm around her shoulders. “He gave what he could.”
“I only wanted him.”
“And we had him,” her mom whispered. “And we’ll continue to have him for as long as the wind blows.”
Maddie looked up at the tree, watching the wind stir its leaves. “I only wanted him.”

Short Story: An Awkward Kind of Death

Each week I will post a short story based on a prompt provided by a writing website called Reedsy. This week’s prompt was to tell a story from the end to the beginning. The following is my response:

“Divorce, man. It’s an awkward kind of death.”
Beverly nodded slowly, her eyebrows furrowed as she looked me up and down.
“I’m not trying to be dramatic or anything,” I said, shooting her the most disarming smile I could muster. “It’s just the truth of it. I mean, if I had died or something… I don’t know, maybe it’s a selfish thought, but I feel like it would be easier on both of us. A clean break, you know?”
Beverly pushed her glasses up, leaning back in her chair. “Is this really how you want to open with me?”
I shrugged, taking my cues from her as I leaned back. “I’m not a big fan of small talk. I’m all about big talk, you know? Deep talk. That’s where everyone should start, right? So we know if we’re compatible right off the bat.”
A smile played on Beverly’s lips. “Alright… but I have ground rules.”
“Go ahead.”
“Don’t ever call me ‘man’ again.”
“Fair enough,” I said, holding back a chuckle. “What about ‘Bev?’”
“That’s fine,” she shrugged. “We’re talking big, after all… might as well lean in with the nicknames.”
“Alrighty then, Bev. Any other rules?”
She sat up straighter, her eyes more alert as she considered her answer. “Just one more: the one I demand from everyone. No lies.”
I smiled at that, nodding as I sat up to meet her. “I never lie during big talk. There’s no point, otherwise.”
“Okay then,” she said, gesturing to me. “Go ahead.”
“Welp,” I said, already beginning to chew my top lip. “I suppose we should start with the fact that she’s the one that divorced me. Had me sign the papers and everything. See? In small talk, I might have said it was me who wanted to split, or that it was mutual, at least… but that’s not the truth of it.”
Bev nodded, giving nothing away as she seemed to stare into my soul.
“I mean, I’m not gonna lie, I’d thought about it before. But only in passing, right? Like, ‘oh, wouldn’t it be crazy if we got divorced? I’d have so much time to… I don’t know, rest or something,’ yada yada. But it wasn’t ever a serious thought. I could have never imagined… well, I guess that’s not completely true. I imagined plenty. I just never expected her to do it.”
“Why do you think she did?”
I couldn’t meet her eyes at that moment, looking everywhere but at Bev. “I know exactly why she left. I think that’s why I imagined it so often.”
“Why, then?”
My voice shook at forming the words. “…because I wasn’t good enough. I mean, I know, no one is perfect, and… well, regardless, she was right. I wasn’t good enough for her.” I forced myself to Bev in the eyes. “I told her as much when I gave her the papers. I fought for us, I did, and I thought… but she deserved better.”
Bev didn’t respond, watching my face as I struggled with where to go next.
“I let her go,” I said, running my hands through my hair. “I showed her how much I’d changed and the man I’d become… and she was proud of me. Man, I… even when she didn’t take me back, the fact that she was proud of me… that changed me more than she could ever know.”
“Changed you how?”
My lips twitched upward. “I was a decent guy. A good worker, faithful, and went to church and all that… but I was a crappy husband.”
I started to tap the coffee table, my fingers twitching as I hesitated.
“Why do you say that?” she prompted.
I shook my head. “She would tell you it was because I drank, but that ain’t it. Not like it sounds, at least. I mean, sure, I drank, but never too much, if you know what I mean. And I didn’t get mean or abusive or nothing like that. I just…”
“What?”
I pursed my lips. “I just didn’t pay attention.”
Bev leaned back in her chair, her eyes piercing.
“I realized it too late; what the real problem was. I wasn’t focused on her enough. I looked forward to an hour at the bar more than seeing her. I forgot what it meant to love her, the attention required to love someone so… well, the short of it is that I took her for granted and I realized too late.”
“I gave up the drink, you know. When she started threatening to leave. I mean, she didn’t threaten, really. Not directly. But she’d start throwing out the idea, casually dropping it in conversation like a terrible joke. Pointing out other people who got divorced and talking about how happy they were… the hobbies they’d picked up to fill that hole inside of them…”
“Have you picked up any hobbies?” Bev asked a little too innocently.
I smirked, letting out a sigh. “Nothing worthwhile yet.”
Bev nodded sagely. “Why do you think that didn’t work? Giving up drinking, I mean.”
“Because I didn’t know yet!” I said, throwing up my hands. “I thought it was just about drinking, and I was trying to solve the problem that wasn’t really the problem. That’s really what broke our backs too, when I kept ignoring her even without it, not realizing I was trying to replace her with my phone, and food, and streaming… and she felt it. She felt herself being replaced, but she didn’t know what to call it. She couldn’t recognize it to call it out and didn’t even have drinking to blame anymore.”
“So she blamed you?”
I nodded. “And rightly so. When I realized… it wasn’t just the last while that I’d been ignoring her. It was years of neglect. I’d been so selfish, as if marriage was just some big perk that I got on the side. Like I could live my life like always and nothing would change. I went from bachelorhood to bachelorhood with a mortgage and a roommate. Selfish. Ignorant. Unworthy of her in every way.”
“She’s not perfect,” Bev said, pushing her glasses farther up the bridge of her nose. “And you didn’t have to be perfect to be worthy of marrying her.”
I smiled, careful not to roll my eyes. “No, she wasn’t perfect. But if she was close to the sun, I was in darkness.”
“I think you’re being a little hard on yourself.”
I shrugged, pulling my eyes away from hers. Both of us were content to sit in silence for a long moment as we collected our thoughts. “I had good intentions when I married her,” I said eventually. “I wanted to do right by her, I just didn’t realize how… little I was. How unprepared. And now that our marriage is over… well that might have been the first time in my life I’d truly done the right thing for her.”
Bev checked the clock on the wall, double-checking it with her watch. “That’s close to our time,” she said, shooting me a thin smile. “Is there anything else you’d like to share as we wrap up our session?”
I sat up straighter, my eyes lingering on the nameplate resting on her desk. “I wonder… I don’t know, but I wonder if, maybe when you think I’m ready. And I’m more capable and more selfless, and ready to pursue her the way she deserves… if you think I could win her back?”
Bev pursed her lips, setting down her pen. “Maybe that’s something we can talk about next time.”
I slowly shook my head, conflicted as I pushed myself to my feet. “Divorce, Bev,” I said with a hint of a smile.
She smiled back. “It really is an awkward kind of death.”

Draco. Chapter 18. The 6 Stories of the World.

I woke up with water in my lungs, doubled over on the shore as I fought for breath. After simultaneously gasping for air and coughing up water, I finally managed to breathe.
“You alive?” Miguel asked.
I allowed myself a moment of respite before answering, opening my eyes. “Worried about me or my dragon?”
“The dragon,” he said flatly.
I coughed again before finally sitting up to find Claire curled up at my feet.
“Did you rescue me?” I asked, petting her favorite spot behind the left wing.
Claire cooed, stretching out its wings.
Both Jade and Jessica kept their distance from Claire, taking turns flying behind Miguel. Jessica seemed close to being able to fly again, testing her wings by launching herself into the sky and attempting to keep in flight. More often than not, she managed it.
I couldn’t help but smile as Claire climbed into my lap, nudging its head against my hands as she impressed on my mind an image of her being pet by me.
“I’ll give you two a minute before you have to give her over,” Miguel said graciously, his eyes following Claire hungrily.
“About that,” I said, standing. “I have a proposal.”
Miguel’s eyes went hard, his knife already in hand. “You’re not reneging on our deal.”
“I gave my blood,” I said placatingly as Claire hoped onto my shoulder, curling her tail around my neck.
“So you know you don’t have a choice,” Miguel said dangerously.
“I will give you a dragon, but it can’t be this one.”
Miguel tensed up, his eyes filled with loathing. I could tell he was seconds from attacking me, dragon or not.
“You gave your blood too,” I reminded him. “We can’t hurt each other. I’ll get you a dragon. I know where we can get another one.”
Miguel took a step toward me as if to attack, but Claire suddenly jumped off my shoulder and grew to her full size, casting a shadow over all of us.
I mentally held her back as I tried to reason with Miguel. “We needed Claire to help us subdue the other dragon. Now that we have her…”
“You’re giving me Claire,” Miguel said, his voice like steel. “Now.”
I stiffened, unsure as to how far Miguel would be willing to take things. As I tried to figure out a solution, Jessica flew toward Miguel, landing in front of him. He must have summoned her. Jade followed right behind, sticking close to Jessica.
I realized what Miguel was doing right before it happened, forced to watch helplessly as Miguel held a knife to Jade’s neck.
Jessica didn’t react, subdued by her link to Miguel. Jade instinctively started to struggle, forcing the blade to bite into her neck.
Frantic, I forced her to remain calm. “Miguel…”
“Give her over,” Miguel said, no trace of sanity left in his eyes. “Or I kill both of them.”
I froze, my mind reeling. “We can’t hurt each other,” I said, my voice pleading.
“I’ll let the blood decide,” he said, licking his lips.
I watched as his body tensed, a split-second away from killing Jade.
“Fine,” I said, raising my hands in defeat. “I’ll give her over.”
Miguel frowned, his knife poised against Jade’s neck as I signaled for Claire to shrink back down. She couldn’t hold that size for long anyway; not without food to sustain her.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered to her as she hopped back on my shoulders.
“Lay your hands on her,” I told Miguel, holding my hands out for Claire to balance on.
Miguel placed his left hand on Claire, his right still holding his knife against Jade.
Almost immediately, I felt my bond with Claire weakening. Images flashed through my mind as I lost my link. Some were from long ago. Others were from just before her last hibernation. And then one last image of Miguel as our link was broken.
As soon as it was done, Claire jumped from my hands onto Miguel’s shoulders.
Tears fell down my face as I stepped back.
“We can still go get the other dragon,” I said, my voice wavering.
“No, I’m good,” Miguel said, a grin breaking on his face. And with that, he removed the knife from Jade’s neck and sliced Jessica’s open instead.
Without so much as a single sound, Jessica fell to the ground, bleeding out over the grass. It wasn’t until her very last moments that she finally let out a groan before falling silent for the last time.
I cried out, falling to my knees beside her. “Why?” I asked, shaking.
“She served her purpose,” he said as Claire grew large once more. “And so have you.” And with that, he climbed onto Claire and launched into the sky, leaving me and Jade behind with Jessica’s body.


 

To be clear, there are more than 6 stories. There are as many different stories as there are people, and then some. When I say there are 6 types of stories, what I’m really saying is that throughout time, there have 6 different plot structures used to tell stories.

1 – Rags to Riches (Rise)

This doesn’t have to be a literal rag to riches story. What this means is that the plot starts with the MC in a bad spot and then throughout the story, the MC steadily makes their way to the top.

2 – Riches to rags (Fall)

The exact opposite. Your MC starts at the top and steadily makes their way to the bottom. (Not a very happy structure)

3 – Man in a hole (Fall, then Rise)

Your MC is walking through whatever life you gave him, then he falls into a hole. But lo and behold he gets out of the hole and ends the story a better person than when the story began. This could very easily be “Riches to rags and back to riches.”

4 – Icarus (Rise, then Fall)

Again, the exact opposite. “Rags to riches and back to rags.” (Still not a very fun ending, but more entertaining getting there) In reality, these would usually be stories about morality, as in cautionary tales about getting too close to the sun…

5 – Cinderella (Rise, then Fall, then Rise)

This is the most used and generally most effective plot to a story. There’s a reason Cinderella has stood the test of time and it isn’t our love of slippers. Cinderella starts the story in a bad spot. But then she gets to go to the ball, meet the man of her dreams, etc. but then just as she might have it all, she loses it all and goes back to where she was when the story began. But that, as we know, is short-lived until Prince whatshisname finds her again for her last and triumphant rise. This is so satisfying because she has to climb to the top multiple times and ends up victorious.

6 – Oedipus (Fall, the Rise, then Fall)

Very similar, just doesn’t end on a high note which usually isn’t very satisfying. Could get you some awards, but not usually a lot of casual fans. (Oedipus brought disaster on everyone by accidentally fulfilling a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother) So if you love tragedy, this is the way to go.

 

In reality, all stories are merely a series of rising and falling. It’s a matter of deciding what kind of story you want to tell. That will determine where you begin and end your story.