Our Once Upon A Time (Free Fiction)

Our Once Upon A Time

By A.J. Brown

Once upon a time …

That’s a funny little phrase, but I guess it could be used for everyone, couldn’t it?

Once upon a time she loved me. It was all she knew, all I knew. Our love for one another … But that was so long ago, back when we were young; back during a time where life had already become overwhelming and the only thing that mattered was love.  Real, unadulterated, honest love.  

There used to be wind chimes on the old house in the woods where we escaped to when her Papa was drunk and ornery and in want of a young body to warm himself with. It’s pipe-like bars used to clang together when the breeze blew in off the lake. It made an awful racket, but it was her favorite thing about the shack I still call home. It comforted her while she slept, far away from the worries of her Papa and his ways; far away from the cries of her Mother that could be heard in their house years after her passing.  

Once upon a time, I didn’t know her very well, my little Rose, with her auburn hair and brilliant green eyes. I had seen her in school, her face downcasts and a distant, sad look in her eyes. All I knew is I loved her, from the very first time I saw her walk into Miss Griemold’s class when were in second grade. There was an air about her that lit my heart’s flames and scared me all at once. For weeks and months, I watched her, hoping to get up enough nerve to talk to her. Instead, I kept my distance, far enough so she couldn’t see my heart break each time I saw her.

Once upon a time she cried while sitting on a bench near the playground. Behind her were swings with plastic seats and metal chains, and a metal slide that burned your legs in the summer time if you wore shorts. Her shoulders were slouched, and her hands were in her lap, one of them clutching to a piece of tissue that looked soaked through. 

I approached her, tentatively. I leaned down a little and spoke, “Are you okay, Rose?”

She looked up at me, her eyelids puffy and pink, a bead of snot beneath her nose. She wiped at it with the wet tissue and gave me the best smile she could right then. She nodded but didn’t speak. Deep down inside, I didn’t believe her. I also couldn’t believe myself. I finally managed to talk to her and I couldn’t think of anything better to say other than ‘are you okay’ and it was killing me.  

I turned to leave. That’s when she took my hand and told me to sit with her. My heart skipped several beats and I sat, suddenly feeling like I was in a dream.  

The dream became a nightmare as she told me of her Papa and the things he had done to her. My Rose, my little flower, the center of my universe, had been crushed by one of her own parents. 

I found myself in tears, heart aching and breathless. 

“Don’t go home,” I said, practically begged.

“I have to.”

“No. No, you don’t. If you go home, he’s just going to … to … do those things again.”

“He’ll come looking for me.”

I stared at her. Both of us had tears in her eyes. I think she knew right then that I loved her. 

“Then run away. I’ll go with you.”

“No. No. He’ll kill you.”

“I know a place. It’s a cabin near the lake. We can go there and you’ll never have to see him again.”

people-2562102_1920Once upon a time I hung a wind chime on the eave of the house and Rose smiled—a genuinely happy expression—for the first time since I had seen her walk into class when we were little. It had been less than a month after I spoke to her the first time.  My heart fluttered with excitement and joy.  We both quit school and went to the old shack that my father used to live in before he died.  My mother owned it and said when I was older I could have it.  I was older then, or so I thought, and that shack became our home; Rose’s home.  

Once upon a time a man came to the house. He was big and burly and hair covered his arms and face. His eyes were muddy brown, and he had a thick nose. He was searching for his daughter and had managed to track her to our shack. With shotgun in hand he broke down the door. I tried to stop him by pressing my back to the door, but he got it open, knocking me to the ground as he did. I barely got to my feet before he struck me in the face with the barrel of the shotgun. There was alcohol on his breath and murder in his eyes. He dropped the gun and beat me like the young man I was. At some point during the beating, I passed out. I remember reaching up, trying to grab his leg before darkness took hold and everything was gone.

When I woke, Rose sat on the bed we still had not shared, a damp cloth in her hand, rubbing my battered face. Tears were in her green eyes. I tried to talk but she placed one of her perfect fingers on my lips and she shook her head.

“Rest, my knight,” she said. “He’s gone, and he won’t be back.”

She was right. He was gone, but his shotgun remained and there was only one shell in it. There was a dark stain on the wooden floor of the cabin not too far from where I had fallen and taken the beating her father put on me.

Once upon a time we fell in love, a beautiful flower and her knight. 

Once upon a time seems so long ago.  

Once upon a time I stood next to an old Weeping Willow, thinking about our fairy tale came true. I knelt and kissed the wooden cross I made for her grave. Death came and claimed my Rose after all these years together, plucking her from the garden of life. In my hand I held her favorite wind chime, the one that always comforted her and helped her sleep; the one I hung on the eave of our old house when we moved in. I hung it on a nail I had hammered into one of the limbs of the Weeping Willow.

As I walked away the wind picked up and I heard the hollow racket of the wind chime. A smile crossed my face as I thought, again, of our once upon a time and our happily ever after.

__________

Some stories are sad. Some stories have those moments that make you weep inside. I feel this one has a couple of those moments. But this story wasn’t meant to be sad. It was meant to be happy. The main character in this piece—his name is Robert, though he never mentions it—fell in love when he was in the second grade, at eight or maybe nine years of age. He loved one woman his entire life, and he spent that life with her. That’s a happy thing. That’s a joyous thing. 

The wind chimes at the end, though sad in one respect, is a happy thing for Robert. He hung it in the tree above Rose’s grave, and as he walked away after hanging it, he heard the wind rattle the pipes together. It made him smile. It made him think about how they triumphed, how she had saved his life after he tried to save hers.

This story is another of those prompt based pieces. The prompt was simply: Once upon a time … and go. So, I went and I wrote, and this story is the result.

I hope you enjoyed Our Once Upon A Time. I also hope you will take a minute to like this post, share it to your social media sites and comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

A.J.

 

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Human Touch: A Sneak Peek

It’s truth time. At the beginning of the year, I considered no longer writing. I don’t want to say I considered quitting, but I did. This consideration has happened more and more over the last couple of years, which is alarming. I love writing. I love creating characters and putting them in tough situations. I love hearing from the readers. I love the experience of writing and events and panels and podcasts and speaking engagements. So, to have these thoughts as often as I have had them completely bothered me. 

I contacted my editor, Larissa, and for a couple of hours we chatted through PMs until we got to the root cause of everything. I won’t go into all the details here, but it has a lot to do with why I write. I write because I love the process, and I had fallen out of love with it. That is the bottom line. Yes, there is a LOT more to it, but that is what it boils down to. My marriage with words was on the rocks and I had to figure out a way to fix it, and if I couldn’t, then it would be over. 

So, Larissa and I came up with this idea. I told her about a story concept I had that was completely out of my comfort zone. She said, “You should write it.”

I didn’t want to. I made a few excuses as to why I shouldn’t write it. When I say it is out of my comfort zone, I mean it is waaaaaaay out of my comfort zone. However, it was the reasoning behind writing the story that made me finally break down and say, “okay, I’ll give it a shot.” What was that reasoning: Write a story I have no intentions of getting published. Write it because I want to. Write it in hopes of rekindling that flame. 

I started writing it on January 29th of this year. It was slow going at first, but then it started to build up steam and I began looking forward to getting back to the story of Charlie Massingale and Dani Overton. It currently sits at a little over thirty-two thousand words with plenty of story left to go.

So, today, I thought I would give you, my faithful readers, a little peek at the first couple of pages of the story that kept me from no longer writing. It is called Human Touch, and boy, is it outside of my comfort zone. I hope you enjoy. If you do, please consider liking and commenting on this post, and sharing it. Oh, and this is completely unedited, so I am aware there are probably some mistakes in here. 

Here we go:

The coffee shop was quiet. The few people talking did so in whispers as if they were in a library and the librarian was an ancient old bitty with blue hair, triangle lensed glasses and a mallet behind her back. Talk too loudly and get a smack to the head that you might not wake up from. Charlie liked it that way. 

It wasn’t like the Starbucks down the street that garnered most of the coffee drinking public who were willing to spend their money on their favorite caffeinated drink. No, this was a little mom and pop place, not owned by a mom or a pop, but a woman in her mid-thirties who married, divorced, and had no children that he was aware of. She spent her mornings and most afternoons behind the counter of the Coffee Dee-Light serving the regulars, like Charlie, with a smile and a bottom line price that should have competed with Starbucks, but somehow didn’t. 

“Hey, William,” she said as she wiped her hands on a green apron tied around her waist. On her blue shirt were words in a dull yellow cursive script that read, But First Coffee. Her blonde hair was pulled away from her face and held in place by a rubber band. It’s not that she had a lot of hair—she always kept it shoulder length or shorter—it’s just she wanted the hair out of her face and didn’t want any loose strands ending up in the coffees she made. “What’ll you have today?”

“Oh, I guess I’ll have the usual, Dee.”

“A large black coffee with two creams on the side coming right up.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” he said, set a five on the counter and scoped the shop for a place to sit. He was in luck. His usual spot in the corner under a fake sconce that lit that area in an off white glow sat empty. The table beside the flower cushioned chair was just large enough for his coffee and a book. He walked over and set the pack on his shoulder in the seat, the universal sign the seat was now occupied, then returned to the counter where his coffee and two cream packets awaited him, along with just under three dollars in change.  Charlie picked up the coffee and creams, but left the change.

He glanced back once as he walked back to his seat. Dee shook her head, then scooped up the change and placed it in the cash register. Charlie nodded, but a smile fell just short of appearing beneath his thick beard. He removed his bag, set it by the chair, then sat. The coffee went onto the little table, along with the two creams. One by one, he poured the cream into the coffee, let the black turn a dark brown, but didn’t bother with stirring it in. He took a sip, smacked his lips and nodded.

“I get your seal of approval today?” Dee yelled from the counter. 

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Charlie pulled a book from his pack, an obscure thing most people probably hadn’t heard of. He put a finger where the bookmark was and then opened it to the page he stopped on the night before. He began reading about the capers of a boy whose father had left him and his mom in the middle of the night, like a thief, taking all they had, and the struggles they went through. So far, he liked the book. He liked it quite a lot. He wondered, not for the first time, why the author of that particular story couldn’t manage to get noticed by one of the bigger presses. 

Cates Coffee CupHe was ten pages further along and half a cup of coffee gone when the person walked up and stopped directly in front of him. He didn’t have to look up to see it was a young woman. The green dress and bit of legs he could see while not looking away from the book told him as much. 

“Excuse me, sir,” the woman said. She sounded tentative, unsure of herself, as if she might be trying to talk herself out of doing something stupid, but possibly exhilarating. 

Charlie looked up. The woman who stood before him wasn’t tall, but she wasn’t short either, maybe six inches shy of six feet. Long brown hair fell down her shoulders and her green eyes sparkled as if she were in awe of something magnificent. Though her smile was tentative, Charlie had a feeling that when she felt confident, it was probably radiant.

“Can I help you?” Charlie asked, lowered the book, but held it open. It was his way of saying I’ll humor you for a couple of seconds, but after that it’s back to reading.

“Are you …” she hesitated. Yeah, she thought herself silly for being there. Charlie could see this easy enough in the way her lips pinched together and the way she shuffled from foot to foot as if she needed to pee. “Are you Charlie Massingale?”

“Who?” 

“Charlie Massingale?”

He shook his head. “I’m not familiar with the name.”

“Really? You’ve never heard of Charlie Massingale?”

Oh, he had heard of him, all right. As a matter of fact, he knew him quite well. “Is that a bad thing?”

“Well, if you like good stories and great writing, yes.”

“So, he’s an author?”

“Yes, Sir,” the young woman said. 

“I’m no author,” Charlie said and started to lift the book. He didn’t know if she would get the hint, but he hoped she would. These days being anonymous and unknown is how he liked it. Having someone recognize him came as a surprise. Since growing the beard out, no one recognized him, not even an old friend, who he had walked by one afternoon when he went home for a weekend—completely unintentional. Though he did a double take after he passed her, she hadn’t flinched or gave any clue that she recognized him. He had smiled then. He wasn’t smiling behind his beard now.

Her shoulders slumped, “I guess not,” she said. “I just … I could have sworn you were him.”

“What would give you the impression that I’m this Charlie whatever his name is?”

“Massingale,” she said and slid a purple book bag from her shoulder. She unzipped the middle pouch, reached inside and pulled a book from it, then slipped the bag back onto her shoulder. She opened the book to the back cover dust jacket. Beneath the author’s name and bio was a picture of a man with brilliant blue eyes and short, dark hair. He was holding a book in his hands and sitting in what looked to be a comfortable cushioned high back chair, much like the one Charlie sat in right then. His right leg was crossed over his left and instead of looking at the book, he looked directly into the camera. The photographer took the picture, even though the man wasn’t smiling.

Charlie remembered the day it was taken. It was a promo picture for Diane’s Story, his seventh novel. He had been twenty-eight when that picture was taken and he had already released the seven novels (with another one on the way) and half a dozen short story collections.

“Everything about this picture screams you,” she said, closed the book and held it to her chest with both arms wrapped around it.