Friday, November 27, 2015

Hanna’s Gift by guest author Misha Gerrick

Based on a story that was told to me as true. An English officer in the Anglo-Boer War is on a mission of mercy in time for Christmas.


In all my life, I had never felt this inadequate. I followed the hard-packed pathway between fluttering canvas tents by rote. Even now, when the full moon only served to deepen the shadows cast by thousands of tents.

This camp was a stain on the dry winter surroundings. A shadowy blot of sin and death no amount of moonlight could soften.

A woman wept nearby. Another mother who’d lost a child. Definitely not the only one I’d be hearing on the way to my destination. I clenched my jaw and kept walking, hoping to look resolute enough for any officers spotting me to assume I was supposed to be here.

Today would be the day my family back in London would be hunting for a tree, now all the rage thanks to Prince Albert. My little sister would be making decorations and thinking of me, her dear brother missing her and wishing he was anywhere but this god-forsaken piece of earth on the tip of Africa.

I had been seduced into coming by a sense of adventure and the dream of patriotism. Of claiming land that we were destined to belong to us. It should have been easy. Our glorious empire never saw a sunset because we knew how to get what we wanted, and were willing to fight for what we had deemed to be ours.

We should have been satisfied with what we’d had. But then, the Dutch farmers who had decided to risk their lives move into the interior to escape our rule… They found gold.

Gold that we needed.

Gold that we were going to have even if it came to war.

Easy enough. And yet, the war had gone wrong. So wrong that it was deemed necessary to burn farms and pack non-combatting citizens into this camp and others like it. To turn it into a war of attrition we were sure to win.

But the damage… The damage…

I glanced around me, trying to make my gaze penetrate the tomblike shadows. Another woman wailed and I shivered. So much misery. And there was nothing I could do about it.

All I had was a canteen filled with curds. It wasn’t even sweetened.

I hunched my shoulders forward as I turned to the left, following the footpath to the tent that was my destination. Inside was a little girl. Hanna was her name. The first time I saw her, I was writing names into the record book.

Like a butcher records lambs to the slaughter. I nearly cried out when I looked up and found her before me. She looked so much like my sister. The same flaxen hair. The same expressive blue eyes.
Seeing there shook me. It woke me to what we were doing. We’d burned her house down to force her to come here and live in tents. At the start, that was the worst I thought we’d subject them to. But then the diseases came and the rations dwindled.

And now Hanna was going to die. Maybe it would be the measles ravaging her, or maybe the steady onset of starvation. And all I had to help… A stupid canteen filled with stupid, unsweetened curds.
I stopped in front of her tent. A timidness gripped me. What was I doing? I had no right to intrude on this family’s despair. I was part of the cause.

Yet my feet remained rooted where I stood. I couldn’t leave. Not without giving this ridiculously small thing. It was all I had to give, and I wanted to give it to Hanna.

The lump in my throat grew with every step forward I took. Maybe I wouldn’t give the canteen to them personally. Maybe I should simply leave it before the tent’s entrance and not look back. Yes, yes I could do that.

But someone lit a lamp inside, barely diluting the shadows. Then she stood right where I’d planned to place the canteen, peering at me. She probably couldn’t make out who I was. Only that she hated me.
When I’d written her name in the records, she was a strong, sturdy woman with pride in her posture. Now, only the stiff back remained. Her hair had been shorn to protect against lice, but she stood with a queen’s dignity. She’d break before she bent to our will, but I could see the cracks, the grooves around her mouth.

“What?” she demanded.

Now or never. I took a few steps forward and held up the canteen. “I…” My throat ached from the effort, but I cleared it and tried again. “I heard you have a sick little girl.”

She took the canteen and opened the contents, sniffing it.

“I know it’s not much.” I held my tongue, bracing to the impact, in case she decided to throw the canteen at me.

Instead, she carefully twisted the cap on once more.

And burst into tears.

She flew into my arms, hugging me tight, the canteen’s hard edges biting into my shoulder as she embraced me. “Dankie,” she said. “Dankie.

Thank you.

It was nothing. Curds without a thing to sweeten it, but one would think I had brought her God’s own treasures for Christmas. Tears stinging my ears, I backed away from her so she could return to her daughter.
Into the shadows I went, furtively making it to my own tent, hoping she wouldn’t recognize me in the morning.

It was a stupid, stupid gift, after all.


Author Bio:

Misha Gerrick has been creating stories long before she could write and is currently going after her dream of making a living as a writer.

If you’d like to see how that’s going, you can visit her on her blog, where she also discusses all things related to writing and publishing.

Or, if you’d just like to know what she’s reading and get updates on what she’ll be publishing next (Sorry, no newsletter just yet.):

You can follow her Tumblr
You can follow her on Twitter: @MGerrick1
And you can circle her on Google Plus: +MGerrick

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mafioso Holiday! by Stuart R. West

“Shut up, shut up, already.” Carmelo stood, hefted up his jogging sweats. “I know it was hard for some of you to come out today, so thanks to all you guys.”

“Anything for you, Don.” The men around the table nodded. Even though the suck-up ritual bored Don Carmelo, so predictable, he’d have it no other way.

“Alright, it’s Thanksgiving. We got lots to give thanks for.” Carmelo tilted his wine glass toward his nephew, Sammy, then considered dumping the contents on him. Always with the same satisfied after-sex-looking, nobody home smile. Clearly the boy’d inherited his mother’s genes, not Carmelo’s smarts. “Alright. Who wants to start dinner with a prayer?”

Grmmmbbb, gurm, spack, tack, tack tack

“Damn it, Sal!” Carmelo slammed down his wine glass onto the table. The stem broke, spilling red wine onto the tablecloth. “Sal! I thought you were closing down the bowling lanes today!”

Sal’s sun-burned head popped in, a towel over his shoulder. “Sorry, Carm. I’ll kick ‘em out now. Thought the word got out we were shut down today. I­—”

Carmelo didn’t wait for his cousin to finish, kicked the door closed.

“Alright, alright, don’t worry ‘bout it.” He patted the air with one hand, tugged his sweats tight with the other. All these years, his wife still didn’t know how to fit him. He reclaimed his spot at the head of the table. “Prayer. We need a prayer. Sliver Jimmy?”

Jimmy groused back and forth, a groundhog checking for his shadow. “Ah…okay, I’ll give it a shot.” He crossed himself, the others followed. “Dear Mary, mother of God, please, ah…give us thanks for…our money. Help us not to get busted for the protection we offer, ‘cause it’s a good thing…the gambling—”

“Whoa, whoa, stop!”  Like a referee, Carm kicked at the table. “You can’t use the blessed Mary’s name in vain like that, idiot! Have some respect! Don’t be talkin’ ‘bout our work in the same breath as Mother Mary.”

Jimmy offered up begging palms. “What’d I do? What?”

“Shut up, that’s what. Howie? How ‘bout you do better? Can’t get any worse.”

Howie trumpeted his nostrils, worse than a sick elephant, then crossed himself. “Thank you, God, for all the sick, the needy—”

“Why’re you thankin’ God for the sick, dumb-ass?” offered Gordon. “Should be askin’ God to cure ‘em.”

“Shut up, Gordo. Let Howie finish.” Sweat streamed down Carm’s forehead. His kids were easier to manage then his work zoo.

“Thanks, Carm….and, um, God. Anyways…” Howie zipped through a quick body cross. “…fix the needy, the sick, the stupid…” Snickering from around the table tossed Howie off his religious game. He licked his lips, clamped his eyes down hard as if summoning his inner angel. Howie was no genius, the proof was in the prayer. Carm could practically count Howie’s brain-cells struggling to form a real thought, visible stress lines folding his forehead. “And, dear God, thanks for not letting us get whacked like Mikey did last year. It really sucked and—”

“Whoa!” Carm brought down a gavel-like fist. “Just shut that right now! You hear me?”

“Why, boss?” Howie’s eyes roved left, right, up. “Feds listenin’ in?”

“No, numb-nuts! But God is! Does anyone here…anyone…even know what Thanksgivin’s all about?”

No one spoke. Eyes wandered. Voices hushed. The way Carm liked it. Respect.

But there’s always a fly in the ointment.

Milo frowned, one of his two expressions. “Carm…not that I’m complainin’ or nothin’ but…ain’t Thanksgivin’ ‘sposed to be about good food and crap like that?” He tapped his cheeseburger down on his plate like a pack of cigarettes. Dink dink dink. “I mean, listen to that…friggin’ microwave burgers got bread like cement. Not that I’m complainin’.”

“You like cement, Milo?”

Milo displayed his second expression: deer in the headlights. He shook his head, wisely said nothing.

“Doubt you’d like to wear it either. So shut your hole. This is about celebrating. Sal was nice enough to provide us with a turkey day dinner—”

“But, boss, it ain’t turkey.”

Carm couldn’t believe the lack of respect. Without him, his men—his brothers­—would be nothing, have nothing. Now they had the gall to gripe about a meal he gathered them together for to celebrate the holiday. As Carm’s wife always reminded him to do, something she brought back from her expensive therapy sessions, he took a deep breath. A couple more. Tried to think mindfully (whatever the hell that meant, like there wasn’t any other way) and send bad thoughts away on a cloud. Once he’d passed Defcon-2, he dropped his finger from the gun he had squirreled away in his jacket.

“No, Milo, it ain’t turkey. You jackasses rather eat tofurkey?”

“What the hell’s tofurkey?”

“Dunno. But it tastes like ass. It’s what my wife’s creatin’ right now. You guys rather go to my house for Thanksgivin’?”

More jowls shook than a dog-pound packed with basset hounds.

“Then shut up already. Eat your burgers, be damn grateful.” Carm ignored his nephew’s less than manly attempt at a hand-clap, fingers-splayed and barely making noise.. Goofy kid stood out more than a festering pimple. “Anybody else wanna’ give a prayer a stab? Try and nail Thanksgiving? Do it up right?”

No one volunteered.

“Fine, whatever.” Carm sighed, making a huge production of it. Bright Broadway lights and “a-oogah” horns were the only way to get into these numbskull’s noggins. “I’ll take it. I always do.” He crossed himself, looked upward with a head-shake. Felt a kinship with Jesus for his suffering. Not that he’d place himself in the same league, of course. “Okay…” He cleared his throat.

“Dear Mary, mother of God, Jesus and, you know, God Himself…we’re all gathered here today to give thanks. Thanks for everything you’ve granted us. Given us. Will give us in the future. Knock on wood.”

Table taps danced all around. A few “amens.” One idiot offered a “salud,” any opportunity for a drink.

“We’re blessed with good health…” Jimmy hacked out an unhealthy sounding cough, a reminder of his three packs a day habit. “…mostly. And we’re blessed with beautiful families…” Carm peeped open an eye, checking to see that his nephew was still there, not just a bad dream. “…for the most part. “But, you know—”

Brrrm brrrm brrrm spack tak tak!

Carm heard the noise—felt the noise—deep into his bowels. He wanted to scream into the bowling alley, blast a cap in the errant bowlers’ direction. But, no…deep breaths. Don’t lose cool. Lead by example. Hell with it. “Sal! Sal, dammit! Get yer ass in here before I rip you a new one!”

Sal, redder then his usual blustery burgundy, stuck his head back in the door. “Yo, sorry, Carm. It’s their last game. You know…I thought I’d let ‘em play it out. Spirit of Thanksgivin’ and all.”

Carm considered himself a softie at heart. He’d give Sal a beat down tomorrow. Wouldn’t be appropriate on Thanksgiving. “Fine. Just get ‘em outta’ here already.” Sal slowly left, looking like a kicked dog.

“Alright. Jesus….I mean, sorry.” For extra protection, Carm crossed himself again. He knew enough about the protection game to not hedge his bets. “Sure, God, we make a lotta’ bank by providin’ protection. Sometimes it hurts some people. But, you know, they’re bad people. And we’re doin’ good work. Protectin’ the good people of our land. Just like the Pilgrims.”

“Well, howdy, pahd-nuh, I reckon—”

Carm castrated Howie’s pathetic John Wayne imitation with a slashing glare.

“Forgive them, God, they don’t know how stupid they are. Anyway…the Pilgrims I was talkin’ about. Our great ancestor, Christopher Columbus…” Whispers derailed Carm’s train of thought. “You idiots got somethin’ you wanna’ say?”

“Is Christopher Columbus Uncle Benny’s cousin?” asked Milo.

“No, dumb-ass,” said Howie, “it’s that TV detective with the glass eye. You know…” He pulled his collar up and hunched over. “Just one more thing—”

“Shut up, already! Columbus was our Italian ancestor who discovered America!” Carm pounded the table until his fist felt numb. “Buncha’ idiots! You gonna’ let me continue or what?”

Silence supplied the answer. “As I was sayin’, God…the great Columbus showed us the way. Swoopin’ in, takin’ what’s rightfully ours. The strong shall inherit the earth as the Good Book says. Wipin’ out the weak and makin’ bank. So, in the name of the father, the holy spirit, the three wise guys, Mary, of course, and all that other stuff…Amen.”

Blank stares met Carm. “I said, ‘Amen!’” This time a wave of affirmation met him, the proper response. “Now…let’s eat.”

“Um…Uncle Carm?”

Carm had a forkful of spaghetti raised, ready to devour. Leave it to his idiot nephew to ruin an appetite. “What now, Sammy?”

“I, um, don’t really think that’s what Thanksgiving’s about.” Sammy ducked his head into his polo shirt, a yuppie turtle. First time the boy’d ever spoken out.

“Oh, yeah, school boy? You think you know better?”

Sammy’s cheeks blushed. But he nodded. More cajones than Carm thought he had on him. Still disrespectful, though.

“Well…please. Enlighten us all.” Carm waved his hand out. Everyone laughed. Unlike his nephew, his family—his real family—knew how to show respect.

“Okay. Everyone…let’s join hands.”

The men looked at one another, more embarrassed than a priest at a nudist colony.

Humoring his nephew, Carm said, “Fine, just do it.”

Tiny Dancer coughed, dabbed his mouth with his tucked in napkin, and said, “Come on, Carm. This is—”

“Shut up, Tiny, just do it!”

Hands were grasped, awkward glances shared. Things they’d never speak about again.

Sammy closed his eyes. “Dear God, thank you for gracing us with people we love. People we break bread with. Like the Pilgrims and the Native-Americans did on the original Thanksgiving…learning, sharing and giving. Uniting us into a nation-wide family, one that goes beyond the bonds of blood. We’re thankful for those bonds of love. Nothing’s more important than love. Amen.”

An uncustomary hush dropped over the room. Even Tiny Dancer’s oxygen machine-like mouth-breathing lowered a level. Sammy smiled, nearly beatific, practically farting haloes.

A strange surge of emotion overwhelmed Carm. Unbelievably, his nephew’s prayer moved him. But he wouldn’t show it, not professional.

Leaning over, Carm slapped the back of Sammy’s head. “Show some damn respect next time, Sammy. You’re only here ‘cause of your sister. Now let’s eat.”

While the others dug into bowling alley cuisine, fully invested, Carm nudged his nephew with his shoulder. Gave him a loving, family-style wink.


Hey! My first book, Tex, the Witch Boy is FREE now through the end of November! If you're late to the party, pull up a chair and feast on a YA paranormal, mystery, thriller, comedy, romance tale. Tex, the Witch Boy. Did I tell you it's free, just a click away? Nothing to lose, thrills guaranteed. (Plus, if anyone guesses the identity of the murderer before book's end, they'll get a special "attaboy" call-out from me).

For more of Stuart R. West's adult and young adult suspense tales filled with light heart and dark humor, check out his Amazon page.
And please do check out Stuart's blog featuring weekly rants, failed stand-up comedy routines and incisive author interviews: Twisted Tales From Tornado Alley
 Brand spankin' new and creeptacular trailer for Ghosts of Gannaway

While I've got you here, and if you're feeling particularly adventurous, check out my book, Zombie Rapture

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thankful? You bet.

This month’s topic is being thankful and again I am inspired to write about my own experiences, rather than create a fictional character.

Nov 2014

Yesterday my new found birth father passed away.

The feeling of grief his death causes is deep. Strange since we only met, online, at Christmas time, less than twelve months ago.

 After swapping emails and texts and travelling to Melbourne to meet, I believe we both found a bond. Knowing he suffered from bone cancer, we knew there was limited time to share. Still, I found a warm welcome and acceptance.

My new found family have been extremely kind and supportive, welcoming and sharing. Now in this time of sadness I understand the strength of their family ties.
Nov 2015

So, how does grieving fit with the theme of thankfulness?

This time last year I was on a writers’ retreat. I am here again. So, there is one thing already to be thankful for.

 A week of writing, in a luxury apartment nestled in the state forest, so close to the ocean we hear the waves and get glimpses through the windows and from the verandah.

The weather is perfect, the ocean this morning was brilliant. Clear blue, calm, just the right temperature and absolutely invigorating for a two kilometre swim.

Right, so last year on our writers’ retreat we had a moment to relax and the challenge for the afternoon was to find my birth father. I had given up hope after going through the appropriate channels and getting a disappointing response.

Thankfully one of my writer friend’s father is into genealogy and within minutes had located a likely suspect. My friend's father had access to the electoral roll. So from there a Christmas card with a message seemed like a good way to continue the search.

The plan worked and its success meant that in May I was able to travel to Melbourne and meet my birth father. We swapped stories, family history, photos, mementoes, anecdotes and something deeper. The feeling of finding a bond with my father was incredible. We seemed to click, to share so many interests and ideas, we connected on many levels. From a love of cheesecake, to a passion for reading, writing and gathering experiences. Knowing he was ill made the timing all the more special.

After the visit we kept in touch, swapping emails, images and text on a regular basis. When he was hospitalised I tried to keep in touch, even though return messages were few. I probably bored him with the trivialities of everyday life, of grandchildren and great grandchildren, but he was now part of my life, in my thoughts and prayers.

I am so thankful my friends took the time to care, to search and to succeed. I am thankful for the few months I was able to get to know my birth father. I am thankful for the warmth and welcome his family have shown. I am thankful for the life I have had, being adopted.

There you go… just a short explanation of one small aspect of my life I am thankful for. There are so many more. Each day, each smile from family, each hug from grandchildren, each meal, night in a warm safe bed, each morning we wake without fear…
Happy Thanksgiving.  

At the time this post is published, Nov 23rd, my father's funeral will be held. I am not attending, it is in another state, but I will light a candle at 10 am and I am planting a tree in his memory. 

Rosalie Skinner resides on the east coast of Australia when not totally immersed in the fantasy world of her writing.
Rosalie’s love of the ocean, nature, history and horses has enabled her to give her books an authentic air. Her latest achievement has been to ride through the Australian Snowy mountains and see the wild brumbies run. When not watching the migrating whales pass her doorstep she has more humble pastimes.
Other than being a published author, her greatest thrill is being a grandmother. Born over fourteen weeks early her granddaughter’s perfect development and growth are a miracle and joy.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Pet Plant by Crystal Collier

Lillian closed the door as her son, all dressed in black, walked away. She set her keys on the hutch, too numb to hang them properly on the pegboard and stepped out of her heels. The kitchen counter was littered with flowers, unopened envelopes, and prepared meals she’d been gifted, things she needed to put away, but she walked blindly past them.

John’s oxygen machine still sat next to the bed, along with his slippers, poised as if waiting for his feet. Feet that would never wear them again. What was she going to do with them?

Lillian curled onto her side of the bed. The paper program still clutched in one hand was her lifeline, her window to the past, the last evidence of the reality she faced. Her fine black dress crinkled around her tucked knees, but she did nothing to fix it.

The program read: John Marlow Kasperson, beloved father and husband, born November 6, 1943, deceased March 17th, 2015.

This last week bruised by in a flurry of phone calls, decisions and paperwork: filing with insurance, purchasing a casket, reading a will, picking colors and types of flowers, arranging speakers and musical numbers, selecting pictures for a collage…

John Jr. had done his best to ease her burden, but in the end, he was six-hundred miles from home and running on empty. His wife and children desperately needed him and he was torn between home, work and his mother’s need. It was best he’d gone.

Now Lillian was on her own.


She clutched the paper tighter and closed her eyes.


The ringing doorbell woke her. Sunlight streamed into the room, so it must be mid-morning, but Lillian didn’t remember making the decision to fall asleep.

His side of the bed was empty.

Again. Like every morning.

Lillian wriggled out of bed and aimed for the mirror. Dark circles ringed her eyes and her hair lay flat on one side, sticking straight up on the other. She hadn’t been to the beautician in the three weeks since his death. She hadn’t been anywhere really since the funeral. The kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom and back.

The doorbell rang again.

Maybe they’d go away.


Lillian felt less grimy after a shower, but she couldn’t stomach the toast she’d made. Instead, she sipped her coffee and stepped out to the front stoop. She almost tripped over the potted plant sitting in the middle of her porch. A bonsai tree. Its limbs drooped under skeletal branches, nettles or leaves almost bare and browning. A card had been slipped under one corner of the plant’s tray.

She hefted the thing off her porch and carried it to the kitchen table. It was the most pitiful plant she’d ever seen. The card that came with it said simply, Koshi has been a little neglected, but he’s a sweet tree. Here’s hoping he’ll bloom for you like he wouldn’t for me.

“Koshi?” Lillian repeated. Who named a plant? That was just silly, but the poor thing must be starved. She hurried away and got a cup of water. “At least you can have a good drink, but I’m no good to care for you,” Lillian confessed. “I’m all tired out and have nothing left to give. I’m ready to die and join my John. You’d be better off with someone else.”

Did she imagine it, or did the little plant’s limbs tremble as she poured the water? Her lips twitched like they might pull up in a smile. “There you go, little one.”

She glanced around the counter, at the mess surrounding Koshi. Surely no plant would like living in such a disaster zone. She should clean it up so Koshi had a clean place to dwell, at least until she could find a better home for it.


The kitchen looked better, and every time she passed through it, she spoke to little Koshi. It was beginning to perk up a little, but the room was so drab, she didn’t know how it could possibly thrive. She pulled back the curtains and let the sunlight in. She’d always loved those curtains. They added just the right shade of yellow to remind her of a summer’s day—like the day John proposed to her at Heartford Park. That had been an amazing day. Her heart warmed with the memory and she recalled how much she loved that place.   

“You know what, Koshi? I think I’m going to go for a walk.”


A week went by, but little Koshi still was struggling. One day Lillian believed he was recovering and his little limbs would sprout green chutes. The next he looked to be on the brink of death again.

She put on a decent blouse and pants, washed her face, did her hair, and went to the store. She stopped into a nursery and asked what kind of plant food she needed for a bonsai tree. The shop keeper directed her to a book about grooming and feeding bonsai trees and helped her discover Koshi’s breed: Chinese Elm. She thanked him, although she admitted she was only caring for the tree until she could find a new home for it.

Koshi liked his plant food. He responded well. She even discovered new buds springing the next week, but he wasn’t growing as well as she hoped. She took him out back to the fresh air, and the porch desperately needed cleaning after the winter. The grass needed mowing, the leaves needed to be raked, and weeds needed to be pulled from the flowerbed. Koshi must be overwhelmed by the disaster of a yard.

Lillian took him back inside, determined to do something about the disrepair.


Koshi’s regular visits outdoor had done wonders. His little limbs brimmed with greenery. The porch had been cleaned up, the yard maintained, and Lillian had enjoyed many days of fresh air and invigorating work through the project. She felt stronger than she had in years.

It made her think of Margaret, her elderly next door neighbor who had to move into a home a year ago. She’d loved Margaret’s cookies and friendship through the years. What had become of her friend? She decided an excursion was in order.

Margaret sat alone in a bed by a window. Despite the chipper yellow paint and white-lace curtains, her friend’s hair, always done up, now sagged, and her lips, always brimming with smiles, dipped toward depression. No hint of cookies or baking filled the room, no cards or signs of friendship. A collection of framed photos sat beside the aging woman, people she had loved and lost, people she loved and never saw, people who had become little more than a memory.

Lillian knew how her friend felt. More importantly, she knew what her friend needed. What she had needed.

Margaret’s head turned toward the door. Her eyes lit. “Is that my dear, old neighbor?”

Lillian forced a smile. Koshi had healed her heart so much and he could do the same for a lonely old woman in a care facility.

“Don’t hate me, Koshi.”


Lillian brought the little plant the very next day. Every week she visited Margaret—to check in on Koshi and help her friend prune the little guy. She met other residents of the home. Their loneliness weighed on her, but she knew how to ease it. Each month she selected a new “target,” and gifted them with a bonsai tree. By the end of the year, she held classes on taking care of their plant companion for all the residents who were able. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

She told Koshi what wonderful things were happening because of him, and for the millionth time, wondered where he had come from.

The day Margaret died, she delivered him to the newest resident, just as her friend had requested. He was the gift that kept giving.

That evening, she sat at home pondering over it all: loss after loss, the sting of death, the joy of giving, the renewal of a purpose. She remembered the first time Koshi’s limbs began to bend from the weight of his leaves. She begged him not to look as she pulled out the pruning sheers, promising, “This is going to hurt so much, but it will help you grow. Be strong, little one.”

She lifted the clippers and snip. His little limbs trembled like he was screaming and she’d hated every second of the task, but he grew stronger, he grew greener, and he’d brought so much joy because of that painful choice.

Lillian almost thought she heard a voice echoing the memory, saying, “Lillian, I know taking John away hurt so much, but you are learning and growing in ways you’d never have imagined. Be strong, little one. You have so much to give.”

Crystal Collier is an author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids, with the occasional touch of humor or inspiration. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, four littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her HERE.