Lara was my first editor when I began publishing with The Wild Rose Press. An extremely gifted editor, she made my work sparkle. I asked her to become my personal editor, which she did, and we became friends as a bonus. Lara has written flash-fiction to full-length novels of various genres.
She wrote two essays that I must say blew me away. They're writing exercises, based on her experiences, and she graciously agreed to let me post them here. She also recently published a book of short stories, HALCYON MOON, which is on sale at Amazon.
Enjoy Lara's stories here:
Write a story that ends with a character asking a question.
Promise from Beyond
My mother was a counselor and teacher but also a hunter of ghosts and demons. I don’t mean the kind you read about in urban fantasy books, and this isn’t a fictional spiritual thriller story like you might see in the movies. Nor is this a paranormal tale. I like to call the situation: as-of-yet undiscovered science, for it is only a matter of time before scientists come up with sensitive enough machines to measure the existence of the soul, ghosts, angels, demons and the like. So, when I tell you I’m waiting here on this lonely yet serene park bench for my mother, you’ll understand that I mean this to be literal. She passed away three years ago, but she promised me before she left this plane of existence that she’d come to me after she pierced the veil. A prophetic dream announced this would be the day.
I’m leaning back against the chipped wood of the bench picking at the peeling green paint on the seat. The sloshing of the pond’s water soothes my nerves, but the pulsing of the water matches the incessant grief washing through me, slapping against my heart, receding, then pushing again, shoving loss into me.
I sigh and stop peeling the paint. I cross my ankles then re-cross them. When will she be here? Ducks softly quack and paddle across the water. If I stood and took three steps, crossing springy cool grass and a ring of sand, I could bend and touch the shiny green- or gray-feathered heads. But I just sat there. Pondering. At the pond. Ha! Despite myself, I cracked a smile.
Those ducks… I zeroed in on a pretty one with royal blue streaks under his green head. What an elegant combination. Not even for a duck. Did he know he was the prettiest one of the group of five he was amongst? The others were what I would call gray men or rather gray ducks. They blended in with their surroundings, gray twigs with green buds on the periphery of the water and floating on it at irregular intervals.
It was the green duck’s eyes that magnetized my attention. His big black eyes. So simple. Wasn’t his brain the size of a cherry or something? And yet, he had no worries. Perhaps that was the reason why his duck heart was, I assume, free. I could feel his simple energy from here.
I leaned forward and rested my forearms on my knees, watching mister No-care-in-the world Pretty Duck. What was it like not to hurt inside day and night? At least my anxiety calmed in this peaceful place.
Splash splash. I breathed in deeply. Peace, now, go to my heart. A gray duck flapped to the left edge of the pond, and a red toy boat came to my notice. A hamster could fit in that boat and go for a ride. Another smile on my part. My dad once had a model train from the 1940s that he had gotten from his father. Dad would set up the train’s tracks all across the living room, and I’d put my hamsters on top of the cars. They’d go for a ride. I’d laugh, and Dad would pull out his professional camera and take pictures of me clapping my child’s hands. He’d develop the pictures in his own dark room with me peering around him. In the dim light, I’d watch as he hung the wet papers up to dry then voila! Pictures!
Mom was the star of Dad’s most special picture. With her head bowed in humble grace, her black hair touched her waist. Mom, the gentle but fiercely powerful soul—maybe she was so strong because of her true humility—when other kids told me their moms told them things like, “Make sure to eat your vegetables and do your homework,” I’d remain silent thinking of my mom’s last advice. In a pinch, if you don’t have holy water, you can bless the nearest liquid, even soda if you have to! We had a good laugh over that one.
I looked up at Pretty Green Boy again. Just let go. Is that what my duck friend had to say to me? If he could let go and live a tranquil life, so could I. I sighed. Where was Mom? I twisted my hands in my lap. Tears slipped down my cheeks. I tried so hard, and yet, I have nearly exhausted my hope. Having fought the good fight for decades, I had no more strength.
I was eight years old again, braiding my mother’s long hair.
“Your great grandmother was Cherokee, but she hid that fact because of the way society treated her people at the time.”
I drew the brush slowly down Mom’s locks.
“There are so many things in this world that people don’t yet understand.”
“Tell me more,” I asked.
I put the pink brush down and cuddled against her side, hugging my ragged stuffed toy lion in my other arm.
I was sixteen. Mom came home, not looking so well, pale, shaken up.
“Mom? Are you okay?”
“I…will be. I need to rest.”
“What did you do? What happened?”
“You know I went to see one of my friends, a priest.”
“He and I went into a home that had…problems, an unwanted, scary, paranormal problem, and we got rid of the problem.”
Mom went to lay down.
At dinner time, I caught Dad pacing by the red couch.
He stopped and looked at me with worried blue eyes.
I plopped down into the matching red armchair and swiped up my long-haired hamster from the cage next to me on the table. With long strokes, I pet the little furball. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m worried about your mother. I don’t like her doing those things so often.”
“She’s helping people, though.”
His shoulders dropped. “I know, but it’s taking its toll on her health.”
I kissed the hamster’s head and set him back in his cage.
I was seventeen, and the phone rang, as was common, at a late hour.
“It’s one in the morning!” came my father’s sleepy voice.
My mother answered the phone, as I stood in the doorway to my parents’ bedroom, yawning. My dad grasped the blanket and rolled over, annoyed.
“I’ll be there tomorrow,” Mom said on the phone.
The next afternoon, Mom recruited me to pray with her before she left, armed with holy water, rosaries, and the powerful words in her memory.
Alone now, I dropped to my knees, clasping my hands tightly. “Please, let her be okay. Let her be successful.”
Later, she dragged herself through the front door and went straight to her room, closing the door.
I looked at Green Duck and his gray friends. They probably thought he was the ugly one. But he didn’t think he was ugly. No, he was content, at peace with himself and his world, unconcerned with superficial things such as looks or profound things like demons or ghost hauntings.
Mom, where are you? You promised me you’d give me a visitation. My heart is breaking, and I need to know if it’s really worth it to keep fighting with no strength left.
If there is life, there is hope, she had said years ago. I’m eighteen again, and Mom is clasping my cold hands, sitting on my bed.
I know you don’t think so, but you have a good future.
I don’t think so, Mom.
Your broken heart won’t last forever.
I shake out of the memory looking at those oblivious ducks. What do they know? They know enough to be happy no matter what. Easy for the ducks.
I scrubbed my face with my hands. I really needed my mom’s encouragement. Some would think I was nuts for waiting for my passed-over mom, but I’m telling you, that supernatural stuff is just future science waiting to be discovered. The things my mother had seen, the things I’ve seen…
I leaned back again and rested my arms up on top of the bench, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath.
I didn’t open my eyes. Suddenly, the hair stood up on my nape, and tingles rushed over me, searing my skin. Mom’s energy approached, entering my auric field.
“Mom. You’re here.”
I promise I have one very important piece of advice for you, then I have to go.
I sat up, my eyes open and stinging with tears. “What is it?”
Write a story about the relationship between a parent and a child that
spans several years.
Promise from Beyond, part 2
On that green park bench by the duck pond, my mother’s loving energy receded from my auric field. I wiped tears from my eyes. Three years without her presence had tried me. Three years since illness took her to another plane of existence. She wasn’t a ghost. Ghosts hung around the physical dimension. No, her spirit had arrived from her beautiful new home and imparted advice given from a wider perspective above my limited earthly viewpoint.
What to do with her advice...
I sighed and slid my splayed fingers over the thighs of my jeans. My silver treble clef thumb ring snagged on a tiny tear in the material. Green Boy, the pretty duck, swished around the pond and captured my gaze in his disinterested black eyes.
I don’t believe in coincidence. This has meaning.
The splashy pond, the scattered gray twigs with their green buds, the grass, all of it withdrew into the future as my mind travelled back to the past.
I was six years old again, living in that large red brick Victorian house situated behind the mortuary. After chasing my siblings behind dark secret passageways and through dim hidey spaces, I plunked my little weary self on the piano bench in our home’s chapel. Mom had an altar set up in there, covered with a purple cloth and a gold sun-shaped container on top of it. One of her priest friends would visit once in a while and perform a private mass for our family. But this wasn’t the beginning of my mom’s connections with the spiritual and the paranormal. She had friends and allies in many churches, prayer beads and books from a dozen different religions. In fact, when I was a little girl, she took me around to visit different monasteries. I snickered at the men in one. They dressed weird, had weird hairstyles, and ate weird food. Mom bent down and took me by my hands. “Honey, different doesn’t mean bad or weird. It’s what’s in one’s heart that matters. Always remember that.” I nodded solemnly. She took me to other monasteries, and I filled her day with a child’s curious questions. She gave me a smile of respect. I had gotten the point.
But to go back further, Mom had had a mystical experience as a child and was never the same. Because of that, I was never the same-well, you know what I mean. I was introduced into the world of the beyond at a young age. I saw auras as a kid and could tell if someone was lying to me or if a boy had a crush on me, or if a friend’s aura screamed it, I knew she was about to betray me. Mom and I saw a black aura around an elderly man while walking. We stopped on the sidewalk in front of a 7-11 and frowned at each other. “He’s going to pass soon,” I muttered. “Yes,” she responded.
Prophetic dreams alerted me to breakups, where I’d wake up trembling. Huh, my Cherokee grandmother had those too. When as a fourteen-year-old, I walked into my father’s home office quivering and told him not to get on that plane and take his business trip, he cancelled his flight.
All the neighborhood kids told us our house was haunted. Often there were funerals at that mortuary that shared a parking lot with us. Certain places in our home chilled me. For instance, I hated entering that dark downstairs bathroom, passing into a narrow inner room and out into the living room. Putting my hand on that doorknob made all the little hairs on my skin raise and had my heart thumping, seeming to rise in my throat, swelling there, and coating my mouth with fear.
“Oh, by the way, honey,” Mom told me one day at dinner, “the man who built this house lost all his money in the silver crash and killed himself in the bathroom.”
Gasp! Mom didn’t waste time by sugar-coating reality. Now that pulpy terror I experienced in those two dimly-lit small downstairs rooms made sense. But Mom didn’t try to dispel him from our home. Perhaps because my sister had seen him, and he in his “old-fashioned clothes” only smiled at her and left her alone.
I played my heart out on that piano in the chapel, but I wasn’t any good.
Years later, in high school, I noticed that some of my friends and acquaintances disrespected their parents, bad-mouthing them and lying to them at times. My mom had a heart condition. Fear edged my days, tears hidden in my subconscious—please, God, don’t take her from me too soon. No smack talk towards my parents escaped my mouth. Why should it? My mother the quiet, gentle warrior, and my dad, the quiet, gentle…dad.
Music was my life, but I still wasn’t any good.
Mom approached me and sat on my thin blanket on my bed, taking my hands in her small ones. “Honey, God is love, the glue that holds everything together, and miracles aren’t just miraculous. If you have rock-solid faith, you’ll put the science God made into action. You’ll trigger the physics.”
Is that what she had done when I fell deathly-ill as a toddler and she and my father had prayed over me? I had had a spinal tap and a bad prognosis, but the day after my parents’ prayer, I was completely healed. Doctors confirmed it with their tests.
Mom had a heart attack. I wet my pillow every night with my tears while she was in the hospital, but she survived and told me about the beautiful city she had seen on the other side. The phone calls picked up after that. Friends and acquaintances and friends of friends called when they had an unwanted spiritual presence hanging around. Mom would gear up with her holy water, rosaries, prayer books, and her knowingness, and go kick ass, changing lives. Sometimes priests would help her—like with the heavy stuff—and sometimes she went in with spiritual friends.
One day, she went to lay down in her room and asked not to be disturbed. When she pushed open her door later, and I laid eyes on her, I sucked in a sharp breath. She had bruises on her arms! She had sensed her friend was in danger and needed to get there immediately, but the woman lived hundreds of miles away. Mom left her body and visited her friend in astral form, slipping between her friend and her husband as he was preparing to arc a large knife into his wife’s chest. He dropped the knife, trembling, and wept. Mom stayed on the astral plane helping another friend when a bad presence attacked her. She came back pale and shaken up. I hugged her.
My senior year in high school, I held my homemade guitar on my lap and strummed. God, I sucked. Why couldn’t I be good at something so important to me? To want something so much but to not have natural talent in it was excruciating. Mom told me to never give up.
Years later, my heart aching for missing her, on that park bench, flashes of the faces of her friends and people she helped invaded my mind. When Mom had passed over, they had hoped I would take over the reins. But damn, that was some scary shit she had dealt with. She changed lives. I was called to change lives too, but in a different way. I wanted to do it through music. Having always battled depression and anxiety, I seriously doubted myself. I had no talent. So, I asked Mom’s advice.
That duck was staring at me, as if to say, “Hey, don’t be a dumb ass. You know what to do. Listen to your mom.” He shuffled his green-feathered tail and paddled away toward his gray friends.
I bent over and slapped my face into my hands. Can I really believe in miracles? Stupid question.
Mom, I’m a below-average musician.
But you’re bursting with heart. She swished side-to-side like a happy teenager, and indeed, she, in spirit form, looked decades younger than when I had last seen her, younger than me. Her long black hair curled to her waist.
It’s not enough in that cold, hard world just to have heart.
Her spirit smiled. The world has plenty of technical geniuses, and not all of them have heart. You have more heart than anyone I have ever known.
Thanks, Mom, but what good is that?
You have something unique to offer the world.
You want to be successful with music, but you don’t give a care for the glory or the fame.
You want to bring sunlight where there is darkness.
There are certain souls, certain persons, that only you can touch, in your unique way. If you never go out there, despite your depression, anxiety, and self-doubt, you’ll never drop that sunlight into those suffering lives.
My technical abilities aren’t up to par.
But you understand music.
Keep it simple, but keep it pure, and your heart will carry you where you need to go. You’ll be surrounded by the right people. You’ll write the right songs, and you’ll make a difference in the way your heart demands.
How do I know that is the correct path? I’ve had nothing but one failure after another. Shouldn’t I give up?
If thinking about music makes you light up with joy, it’s your calling, and it’s the right thing to do. God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, has a point to make with you. That’s why God gave you the strong desire for this but not the natural talent. Go have fun and discover what that point is.
I sat up on that bench and watched as a breeze carried leaves skittering across the pond. Could I keep torturing myself with pursuing my dream after nothing but failure? Mom said I should. But wasn’t I getting too old? I drew in a long, slow breath and stood, rolling my shoulders back. Stupidity is mere feet from faith. Some stop too soon, and some turn the corner, believing against all logic, and finally meet their success. I’m not supposed to be another Mozart. What am I supposed to be? I can’t wait to find out.