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A genie and her rock band

(Novel and Short Stories)

Steal Tomorrow

Steal Tomorrow
Murder, Mystery, First Love, and the End of the World

(Novel and Short Stories)

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Mountain Road

Sophie reined in beside the sign, then dismounted and approached the ledge. Below was a steep drop that was both terrifying and heartbreakingly beautiful. She sighed and tipped her head back so that all she saw was the blue of the sky and a hawk soaring on the mountain air.

But the sign still required her attention. She peeked around the bend in the trail but saw nothing to suggest she should turn back. If someone didn’t want her exploring beyond this point, they would have to do better than this.

She climbed back on her horse and continued on.

This story is based on my new serial Valley of Ashes and was written for Friday Fictioneers. Photo is by Bjorn Rudberg.


The children – one on horseback, the other on a donkey – clopped down the trail in silence. Night would be falling soon and they needed to make camp.

“You’re sure we can build a shelter with just sticks and a tarp?” Mateo asked.

Sophie shrugged. “Of course. It’ll be a little drafty, but it works. Even in stormy weather. I saw my dad do it.”

“But can you do it?”

“I told you I could, didn’t I?”

A little farther on they found a place that looked promising. They picked a spot for the shelter where the soil wouldn’t be too sandy for their purposes, then Sophie charged Mateo with finding some large branches that could interlocked to form a tepee.

It was slow going, and as darkness fell, the children realized they weren’t likely to have an adequate structure completed before dark. Part of the problem was the branches, which slipped apart whenever a new one was added. But the biggest problem, of course, was their lack of experience.

Mateo frowned. “Should we tie them? I’ve got some copper wire.”

Sophie tried to cover for her unease. This wasn’t going according to plan. “We’re probably just tired and hungry. We should take a break. We’ll be able to finish later when the moon is out.”

Mateo looked away like he wasn’t so sure, but he started building a fire anyway, while Sophie got the food and skillet out of their packs.

Cooking went more smoothly than shelter-building, and soon they had a tasty meal of fried potatoes with cheese. For dessert, there were dried apples.

It was fully night now, and both children were tired. Running away from home was more effort than they had anticipated. After a while, Sophie said, “You know, it’s really not that cold tonight. Maybe we don’t need a shelter.”

Mateo could tell by her artlessly casual manner that she didn’t want to admit she had made a mistake. But that was all right with him. He still thought the world of her and would never do anything to mar their friendship.

They huddled in their jackets, sipping tea and gazing into the crackling fire as the stars came out all around them. Unseen things rustled in the tall grass nearby, but they weren’t afraid. Travelers took this trail regularly and always arrived safely at their destination. What could they possibly have to worry about?

Far away in the darkness, a shadow moved toward them on the trail and slowly resolved into the shape of a man on horseback. As he drew near, Sophie realized with a guilty start who it was.

“Shit,” she said, startling Mateo who had never heard her curse before. “It’s my father.”

“What do you think he’s going to do?”

Sophie honestly didn’t know. The worst thing her father had ever done to her, other than make her go to school, was send her to her room once. But she had never done anything this bad before.

She felt Mateo fumble for her hand. He would be by her side no matter what. It was a very great gift to have a friend. Knowing this gave her the courage to stand so she would be ready to meet her father’s eyes.

This scene is alluded to in my serial Valley of Ashes and was written for The Sunday Whirl.

Snow Day

Sophie swung her feet, kicking the legs of the table. She was supposed to be doing her homework, but it was boring. “Let’s you and me go outside,” she said.

Mateo looked up from his school books. “Why? It’s cold out there.”

“It’s more interesting than being in here.”

The boy acknowledged this was true. “But if I go out, Mama Norma might send me on an errand. I’d rather be here in the store where it’s warm, even if it’s boring.”

Sophie considered. Her father owned this store and even though he wasn’t around this afternoon, and she was only ten years old, she had some authority around the place. “Well, I want to make a snowman. And I want you, as my employee, to help me.”

“I’m not your employee, I’m your friend.” Mateo frowned. “Or am I?”

“Of course you’re my friend.” Sophie giggled. “But in this case, you’re my employee too. That way Mama Norma can’t send you out. You’re working for me. And your job is to help me make a snowman.”

Mateo shrugged like it was all the same to him, but his infectious grin gave him away. “Sounds good, boss. Lead the way.”

This story is based on my new serial Valley of Ashes and was written for Sunday Photo Fiction. Photo is by Jade Wong.