Temple of Sorrows

Temple of Transition

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A refugee turns down an opportunity to leave her sorrow behind before embarking on a journey to a brave new world. Inspired by this image of the Temple of Transition from the 2011 Burning Man by zaigee, via Flickr.

After the Catastrophe, Shay joined other refugees in the desert. There, thousands crowded the Great Temple of Transition to pour out and leave behind their griefs, sorrows before setting out for the sea. Worn Sharpie in hand, Shay stood before the Palimpsest Wall: layers of faded, overlapping texts buried beneath fresh-penned regrets. A temple Guardian appeared. “You hesitate,” he said. “I’m bewildered.” “By what?” “That I feel no grief or sorrow that I would leave behind.” Surprised, he said, “You prefer to carry your burden to the sea?” “It makes me who I am.” The Guardian nodded, moved on.

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The Secret

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A Dominican friar employs a lost art from the pagan past to create stunning illuminations. Image from the Sherborne Missal, via Wikimedia.

“Friar John, your robins, wrens, and herons are so lifelike, they might fly off the page. How do you do it?” asked Abbot Bruyning. John merely smiled. Some things were never meant to be told; after all, the old hermit on Mona had made him promise to keep secret the language of the birds. The abbot wandered off to inspect other partially finished manuscripts, illuminations. John half chanted, half sang under his breath in a tongue spoken by Druid priests in lost Caer Sidi, a realm unremembered in Christendom. A chaffinch hen landed on the sill, dropped onto his parchment.

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Just Breathe

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A frazzled mom learns the key to meditation is watching the single most important thing in the world. Image by Vasse Nicolas, Antoine, via flickr.

“Drop down into your breath,” said the yoga teacher. “When your mind wanders, gently return to your breathing.” Janice’s mind was in her Prius, riding bumpers on the 405. Watch her breath? How? With Megan’s desperate texts about her breakup with Kyle Whatshisname chasing her home. “Anyone having trouble watching their breathing?” asked the teacher. “Janice silently shrieked, Over here! ME! “If you are,” continued the teacher, “hold your breath.” What…? “That’s right. Close your mouth, pinch your nose. I guarantee, in less than sixty seconds taking your next breath will become the single most important thing in the world.”

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Creatively Bored

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A young songwriter plunges herself into boredom to kickstart her creativity. Photo by Julie Edgley, via flickr.

“What’s her problem?” I asked. A rumpled blond twenty-something was draped across her table, lids heavy, eyes glazed. “Name’s Kira. Songwriter. Says coming here to be bored stiff by us Borg on our smart phones is like a slow plunge into the Arctic Ocean, inspiration-wise. Minute she leaves—Eureka!” Sure enough, nearly everyone in the joint appeared to be fully assimilated by an iPhone. “Says she used to come here to talk, laugh, sip steaming espresso. But since the conversation’s dried up, this place beats the creative kick she used to get from reading the Seattle white pages.”

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Mother’s Love

Bare Feet

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

Inspired by wet footprints by the backdoor: a story about one mother’s huge-hearted love for her one and only. Photo by Steve Finegan.

He stood in slanting sunlight, smiling through the screen door, dripping wet in clinging yellow shorts. “There you are!” she said in a sudden excited rush. He made her do that. He was so full of life, so, so… “Where you been?” “Zack’s.” One-word answers. Monosyllables. The usual. “Doing what?” “Marco Polo.” “You’re shivering.” “Mom.” Before he was even through the door, she was flipping on the burner and going for the refrigerator door at the same time. “You must be starving,” she said in a breathy voice. Cooking for him ranked right up there with her wedding day.

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Camino Miracle

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

If you walk the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, don’t be surprised if you encounter a miracle along the way. Photo of Hieronymus Bosch painting of St. James the Greater, via Wikimedia.

“Buen Camino!” said Michael, stopping on the narrow shoulder beside a sun-blackened man. “An American!” boomed the man, pumping Michael’s hand. “Mike. Seattle.” “Jim. Jerusalem, but ages ago.” “You on pilgrimage to Santiago?” asked Michael, flexing mashed fingers. “Could walk it backwards blindfolded, but I’ve a rendezvous today.” Michael grimaced. “Got anything for blister—” “Watch out!” Michael rocketed off his feet to engine roar; landed facing a retreating tailgate. Dust bloomed where he’d been standing. He wanted to hug the man, to run in whooping circles on bloody feet. “Jesus! Thank you!” he cried, searching the settling haze. “Jim?”

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Silent Messenger

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

An old woman holds off the silent messenger so she can savor a final dream of young love’s promise of always and forever. Photo by Steve Finegan.

Trailing bubbles, a flat amphibian head broke the pond’s surface close enough to startle dozing old Morgan Brynmor. Next instant, a crow shrieked in the woods. An unambiguous omen. Then deathly quiet while the emerald-eyed frog bobbed there, gazing at her. “Not so quick, water plopper,” chided Morgan. “I ain’t ready, not just yet.” She closed her eyes; the dream was waiting: young Morgan, full of sap and loving Aiden in a summer bower, delighting in the pine-scented night, in youth’s sticky-sweet promise of always and forever. The frog only gazed at the old woman and waited.

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Look Up

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. A workaholic’s sudden heart attack opens his eyes to wonder. Photo by april, via flickr.

“Five hundred a day,” griped Brooks, plopping down beside Jen, “and damn sand gets in everything. Hand me my phone, will ya.” “Seriously?” said Jen. “Here, on Ka’anapali Beach, you’re gonna work? Nothing doing.” He fidgeted. “Sun’n surf, bub.” Halfway to the swelling Pacific, Brooks felt sick, dizzy. A moment later he couldn’t breathe. He came around flat on his back, staring up at a palm daubing clouds across the bluest canvas he’d ever seen. All sounds receded: urgent shouting voices, pulsing surf, wind-rattled fronds. Nestled in a billion warm grains, he went slack, happy just to look up.

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The Searcher

Tripode copy

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A reclusive Scythian encounters a young, battle-scarred wanderer searching for wonders. A story of Alexander the Great. Photo of bronze griffin head via Wikimedia.

The reclusive Scythian was scratching for desert gold when the young man appeared atop a rise, eyes searching, seeking, unsatisfied. Massaging a livid battle scar, he named himself Alexandros; claimed to be on a journey to the ends of the earth and would see its wonders. In a low saddle between hills the Scythian stopped, pointed down. With a happy gasp, Alexandros fell to his knees and, like a boy with a horse, gently stroked the bleached skull of a ferocious gold-hoarding griffin. “Can such creatures be ridden?” he asked. “Only by the gods,” said the Scythian. Alexandros smiled.

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Mountain Majesty

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A fisherman warns his friend to show some respect for Mt. Hood’s capricious god or he just might take a tumble, or worse. Photo by AlexAH, via Wikimedia.

Just after sunup, two fishermen, their waders cinched at the waist, stood thigh deep in Trillium Lake. “Mountain’s nice today,” said one. “Nice?” groaned the other. “You awake? Alive? Blood pumpin’? ’Cause you don’t appreciate majesty when you see it. It’s magnificent!” “I reckon it is.” “You know the Indians called it ‘Wy’east’ – a god.” “I like ‘Hood.’ … Might be fun to climb tomorrow.” “Climb! Tomorrow! Just like that?” “Yep.” “Old Wy’east may not take kindly to such frivolous climbing. Rocks might crush you, or crevasses swallow you, or blinding clouds engulf you.” “I’ll take my chances.” “Famous last words.”

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Shiva’s Footprints

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A particle physicist sees the footprints of Dancing Shiva in images of annihilation and creation at nature’s heart. Photo by Kenneth Lu, via flickr.

“The more high-energy particle collisions, the more surprises like the Higgs.” Alan was giving his sister Kayla the twitter version of his work at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. “I heard this is really some kinda super-secret stargate project, she said. “So, level with me…” He shoulder-punched her, friendly like. Kayla shrugged, stopped at the base of Shiva’s statue, smirked as if encountering this lord of the cosmic dance gracing CERN’s campus was a dead giveaway. “Shiva?” scoffed Alan. “A metaphor. Creation. Destruction. Get it?” “You gonna show me that stargate or not?” “Nope. Just Dancing Shiva’s footprints.”

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Blissful Ignorance

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

Isolated monks produce wondrous works in blissful ignorance of the coming Viking darkness. Image from the Lindisfarne Gospelsvia Wikimedia Commons.

Visitors to the windswept isle told of the wondrous works of angels they’d seen in the monastery’s scriptorium. “Angels?” Brother Cuthbert sniffed. He’d broken three goose quills, his ink was thin, his new parchment hairy and in need of a good pumicing. “Thank God for clement weather,” he muttered, stretching his aching back. He hobbled outside. All winter, storms had besieged the land, but today the sea was mild, glassy. He squinted, gazed seaward: the distant ship, oars dipping, was long, lithe, prow-topped with a dragon’s head. He’d never seen its like before. Hmm. Pagan guests, ripe for conversion.

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Paradise Lost

Stairs2

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

An old man climbs a stairway to paradise, but soon finds himself out in the cold. Photo by Steve Finegan

Jack sighed, smiled. Shivered awake. “What’s this?” His tongue scoured toothless gums. But it had all been so… real! No, this wasn’t right. Joints popping, he rolled out of bed, onto spider-veined feet and bald, quivering legs. His skin hung in toga folds. He hobbled downstairs, out into the backyard, making for the sun-drenched stairs. Gone! But they’d been right here, just beyond his poker-faced garden gnomes. He’d taken them two at a time… He sniffed, caught the fading scent of lawn-sprinkled August evenings. Wept as the dreamlike shouts of reawakened boyhood friends flew whispering away.

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The Creator

WorldSand2

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

An artist dreams of creating a tiny universe. Inspired by the micro-sculptures of artist Willard Wigan. Photo by Steve Finegan.

“Reminds me of Blake’s world in a grain of sand,” said the patron, “only… incredible!” The artist’s fevered eyes shone. He had, wielding impossibly small tools between heartbeats, brought into being an earth suspended in a needle’s eye. “A speck of glitter would be like the sun to this earth,” he said. “But my tiny globe’s still much too big.” “Preposterous!” cried the patron. “It’s only one planet,” argued the artist. “There are, what, 200 billion galaxies? Think of all those planets!” “Surely you can’t mean…” The artist glanced longingly at the viewing microscope. “They said earth couldn’t be done.”

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Bad Taste

BadTaste3 copy

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

Taste trumps love, souring Ross’ relationship with Stephanie. This story about a synesthete appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Winter 2016. Photo by Steve Finegan.

“You bastard! You’re breaking up with me, aren’t you?” shouted Stephanie, turning heads. Ross ignored the gawking couple next table over. “Look, it’s not you, it’s me. This… this thing…” “You mean your messed up brain?” “My synesthesia. I can’t help it. Frankly, your name just tastes, well, awful.” Stephanie carefully folded her napkin, air-dropped it on her plate, said acidly, “At least you’re original.” “Seriously, I tried saying it sweetly. When that failed, it was Altoids and Double Mint gum, but it still tastes like…” “Like what?” Ross paused. “I’ve really tried.” “Like what?” He sighed. “Like bile.”

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Road Apple Zen

RoadApples 2

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A spiritual seeker learns something about the way of Zen from an old hand. Inspired by the writings of Alan Watts. Photo by Jeanne Finegan.

My Zen teacher was Japanese, but he insisted his students call him Bob. Bob owned retired quarter horses. My first day with his group, he led us around to the barn, handed out pitchforks, sent us off to muck stalls. Backbreaking work done ankle-deep in squishy cedar chips, nostrils tingling from the ammonia tang of shit and piss. Bob sat nearby in the sun, back straight, glittering eyes half-closed. On my fifth wheelbarrow load, I paused beside him, shook off sweat, said, “I came here to learn Zen.” Without opening his eyes Bob said, “Then why you stop.”

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Strong Enough

Homeless

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

An aging vet’s past brushes with death endow him with a hard-won inner strength. Photo of portrait by Vicki Brocksen De Ville. 

Many times the darkness swallowed him up, but always the light returned, blurred by tears. There was the time his boat sank just inside the bar and he clung to that bloated sturgeon till the cold took him. Woke to find Chris hadn’t made it. Then there was Nam. Khe Sanh. ’68. Round glanced off a rib, came out his hip. Adams ate a bullet dragging him out, went home in a bag. After that came rotgut and mainlining and prison and knives in the dark. They say if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. He’s strong enough.

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Joy

CastleTree6

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

The timeless joy inspired by a boy’s random encounter with a gnarly old tree eludes a mother and father. Photo by Steve Finegan.

“I worry about Jimmy,” said Molly. “He doesn’t walk in a straight line; he wanders.” Jack refilled her glass. “All kids wander, Moll, it’s what they do.” Molly sipped her wine. “He’s got to learn to get from point A to point B. He’s got to learn to focus.” Jack sat beside her. “Oh, he’s focused. Remember that picnic? We had to search, found him playing king of the castle in that gnarly tree. He’d been there hours! Time? Right out the window. That’s focus.” “On what?” scoffed Molly. “On joy, hon. It’s just we’ve forgotten how.” “Oh,” said Molly.

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Cave of the Prodigal

CaveHand2

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A cave painting bears the essence of a human life across thirty millennia. Public domain photo from Pech Merle cave in France suggested by Dean R. Snow, via Wikimedia.

Their shadows danced and darted across cold undulating stone in the advancing halogen glow. Remi fell behind the others. Colleagues speculating while she trembled in secret. Those cave-painted hands, outstretched like Dante’s damned, were anything but groping blindly. Her eyes searched, found the print that mattered. Her hand fit still. Unchanged by eons. Deep memories welled: Sputtering light. Biting smoke. Reek of clanship. And men, their deep-throated chants and hunter hearts throbbing as one. Of them all, the cave had taken to itself her soul’s marrow, kept it safe. It did still. She’d quit asking why long ago.

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The Old One

Bristlecone love copy

From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

An ancient bristlecone pine under a starry sky awakens a dying man’s longing for immortality. Photo by Gregg Boydston, via U.S. Forest Service.

Dusk on the mountain. Frightened and dying, Schulman sat hunched beside the gnarled tree, gazing out. Las Vegas shimmered in the distance. He wished the bristlecone pine could speak. He’d ask what it was like to be immortal… Chest pain, sudden, stabbing. Slowly easing. Heart, lungs starved on this diet of cold, thin air. Uncaring, Vegas twinkled with merry mayfly intensity. Vanity! Surely the old one would lament its longevity, the endless procession of barren seasons; even stars must lose their luster after five millennia. Schulman’s harsh laugh caught midway. Another wave of pain. He desperately clutched the indifferent trunk.

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