Dreaming Hamlet

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

Young William Shakespeare, on tour with a company of fellow actors in 1587, listens well to a ghost story involving Danish royalty. Image of Sanders Portrait of Shakespeare via Wikimedia.

Near the tavern’s glowing hearth, a handful of Queen Elizabeth’s Men, a troupe of players on tour in the godforsaken North, sat nursing cups of mulled wine in gathering shadows. John Laneham, meanwhile, held them rapt with a ghost story: “…thus, ever after, the old king’s shade was wont to walk the battlements of Elsinore Castle ere cockcrow.” Fists pounded rough boards in appreciation. “Bestir yourself, Master Shakespeare!” cried John. “The latest of our Queen’s Men looks plague-stricken.” “Frightened witless,” said Shakespeare, laughing, clapping. “Well told, John.” “Your turn, Will.” “Me? I’d hear more of Denmark’s ill-fated son.”

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Ghost Horse

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A rancher corners a white stallion that turns out to be a living Indian legend. Inspired by Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. Photo by Rennett Stowe, via flickr.

We corralled the Ghost Stallion with my mares in a draw somewhere east of Coyote Creek. If this was indeed the great white horse of Indian legend, we were up against a comet-tailed Moby Dick, and I had no desire to play Ahab. I sat a stump, smoking, thinking. If he’d just let my mares go, I’d be happy to back the hell off. But Bill and the others wanted him, of course, when not even the bravest warriors could master him, ever. Then, Bill didn’t believe it was him. Just some goldarn white stallion. But I knew better.

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Immemorial

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

One man’s oath-sworn love stands the test of time. Inspired by sad news concerning the 600-year-old White Oak of Basking Ridge, NJ. Photo by Ekem, via Wikimedia.

In 1720, beneath the churchyard’s overleafing oak, Jonas Westbridge swore an oath to Sarah Ashworth. “Sarah, my darling, our love will endure longer than this here tree, so help me ’twill. Will you be my wife?” Sarah consented. After forty-four years and six children, the Westbridges, by all accounts, were still quite spry, and remarkably well-preserved. Tragically, traveling the road to Philadelphia in 1764, the couple’s buggy vanished without a trace. On September 21, 2016, the day word spread of the oak’s demise, a good-looking elderly couple from California came to stand beneath it, arm in arm.

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Veterans Day

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A mushroomed lump of lead brings the Civil War to vivid life for one boy. Inspired by a spent Minié ball found on the Gettysburg battlefield in 1889. Photo by Steve Finegan.

They breezed past the display case. Children, their darting eyes skipping over faded Civil War relics: rifles, bayonets, pistols, sabers. “Pssst, kid!” Bobby turned. An old man in olive drab was rummaging in a hip pocket. Bobby reached out to point, but the man dropped a hefty gray object into his hand. “What the heck…?” “Minié ball. Wicked thing. Grandpa dug it up ages ago near where General Armistead fell at Gettysburg.” Bobby stared at the timeworn, mushroomed gray lead. “Imagine! Deafening fire. Desperate, roaring men. That bullet probably passed right through flesh’n bone.” “Wow!” said Bobby. “Wow indeed, kiddo.”

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The Seeker

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A man rides deep into the Sahara in search of eternity. Image of the 1906 watercolor “Bedouin Camp” by John Singer Sargent, via Wikimedia.

They told him time travel into the past was a paradoxical impossibility. Fine, he wanted to venture into eternity. No complex tech. A camel. He rode south into the Sahara, into that realm of shimmering heat and date-palm oases. Eventually, he arrived among the Bedouin. Low-slung tents. Groaning camels. Men in billowing white, squatting, smoking, sipping tea from tiny cracked cups. Children playing. No women in sight. He was greeted as honored guest. Served tea. Ambrosia. “What is it you seek?” they asked, languidly. “Eternity.” A toothless old man flapped a hand toward limitless dunes. “Then be content.”

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Courage

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A Samburu warrior stands his ground in a life-and-death test of wills with his people’s ancient adversary. Photo by Retlaw Snellac Photography, via flickr.

Kujaa was granted his spear and manhood in the same instant. Today he towered beside the waterhole, nostrils flared, spear poised, his glistening ebony sinews flexed for battle. The lion stood a heartbeat away, full-maned, tail flicking, fixed black pupils spellbinding. Likewise Kujaa’s good eye beneath sweat-beaded brows, assaying that amber stare. Air, birds, cicadas: the world went deadly still. The lion tensed to spring. Suddenly, decisively, Kujaa laughed. The lion’s gaze faltered. Kujaa sang out, “Return to your shade tree, olng’atuni. No battle today.” The tawny tail ceased swinging. Kujaa turned, sauntered away through knee-high grass.

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The Awakening

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

Traveling a lonely road to nowhere, an exhausted hitchhiker stretches out under the Milky Way… then everything changes in an instant. Photo of Rose Chafer by Chrumps, via Wikimedia.

Taillights. Then hopper buzz. Tomas lowered his thumb, shuffled off the roadside, stretched out on lumpy soil. Hungry, lost, alone, he gazed up into a broad white river of stars. Something flared, streaked across the sky. Tomas’s breath caught. Wind gusted, soughed through sagebrush and pungent juniper, spattered his face with glittering earth. He blinked. A thrumming scarab beetle, glowing iridescent green, alighted on his nose, then thrummed away. Suddenly, intensely aware, Tomas sat up, quivering on the verge of some great revelation he already owned, short of words. Hairs bristling, he sprang up. Headlights! He ran toward them, waving.

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Disabled and Gifted

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

A boy suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy sees the ability in his disability thanks to the creative genius of Vincent Van Gogh. Image of Van Gogh self portrait via Wikimedia.

“Amazing work! What is it?” Mac the Janitor leaned on his push broom, gazing down. “Corvus,” said Bobby, “crow-man hero of my graphic novel. Just wait till I ink him. Raven black.” Mac’s eyes darted: litter patrol. “You’re in Mrs. Field’s class.” Nice way of saying Special Ed. “Yeah, I’m just waitin’ for the tard cart.” Mac brayed. “Well, from one short bus rider to another, you just missed it.” Bobby stared. “ADHD,” said Mac. Bobby tapped his temple. “Epilepsy.” Mac sighed. “Disabilities.” “Gift!” “Oh?” “Van Gogh had epilepsy.” Mac sized Bobby up. Grinned. “I doodle a little myself.”

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Afghan Artemis

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From a collection of 100-word stories & wonders

An American soldier in Afghanistan glimpses a moonlit vision of bewitching beauty and peril. Photo of Diana sculpture by Paul Manship, 1924, by JR P, via Flickr.

MacMasters couldn’t take his eyes off the girl. Maybe 16; maybe beautiful. Hard to tell in moonlight. Bow slung across her naked back, she knelt beside the quicksilver stream, playfully nuzzling an Afghan wolfhound. MacMasters crouched, inched closer. The girl whirled, eyes flashing; the hound bayed. MacMasters shuddered, blinked. Both gone. At dawn, he told the Afghan interpreter, who said, “Others have seen this vision.” “Who is she?” The Afghani shrugged. “Some say she followed Alexander here and came to love these rugged mountains. Maybe it was a trick of moonlight.” “No, I saw her!” “Then be very careful, soldier.”

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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

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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

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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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