This project is called The Letter End because I have asked strangers on writing sites to donate pictures and prompts via snail mail and e-mail to inspire each short story in this book. To look up the prompts, go to the blog dedicated to the progress of the novel (remove the spaces and replace "(dot)" with a period): http: / / theletterend (dot) blogspot (dot) com/
It is said that if you go down Porter's Hollow to Memory Creek at the exact moment the sun sets, you can see the silhouette of a girl. It is said that she dances in time to a beat you can hear if you stand at the line of rocks marking the creek's edge and listen carefully. It is said that if you bring her a gift on the night of the new moon, she will bestow upon you a single wish to be granted—a wish for anything.
A wish was what Kaura really needed at the moment. Not that she knew it.
It was almost evening in the small village of Ashland. The sun had made its way across the sky and hovered above the horizon. Pinkish light fell across the dirt pathway Kaura had walked a dozen times that afternoon.
Kaura paused in the shade of the old Porter Bridge that stood at the end of Porter's Hollow and the beginning of Memory Creek. She tugged at the collar of her plaid button-up shirt, hoping to cause some circulation of air between her hot, sticky skin and the red shirt she wore. So far, no such luck for her.
She sighed a long, drawn out exhale that betrayed the emotions she felt but had hidden so exhaustively from showing on her face. Carefully resting her arms on the railing of the old wooden bridge, Kaura closed her eyes and breathed in the sweet scent of the woods and the clean water.
After many moments, Kaura eventually opened her eyes and removed herself from the railing. She made her way slowly across the bridge, weary of creaking boards that gave a little when she stepped on them.
She made it to the end of the bridge. Ducking down, she grasped the railing and descended the bank of Memory Creek. Her feet landed on the rocks below with practiced ease, though her nerves never gave her a break and she had to spend several minutes rubbing her arms to soothe the trembling limbs.
Once her arms were reliable, Kaura bent down to untie her laces. She slid off her sneakers and bundled her socks before stuffing them into her left shoe. She set her shoes down on the dry rocks and then took a step forward into the cool water. She smiled.
"Now that's what I'm talkin' about," she said to no one in particular.
She reached down and cupped her hands to collect some of the shallow flowing water. Kaura splashed her face and quickly rubbed the moisture on her partly exposed arms and the length of each leg.
Kaura finished cooling down by wiping a wet hand across her chest, briefly touching the Celtic ring dangling from a chain that fit into the dip of her collarbone. She didn't know why she kept the damn thing. It was only a reminder of pain.
No matter how many times she tried to throw it away, she always managed to change her mind at the last minute. She couldn't comprehend why, even though a small part of her knew the real reason.
It was all that remained of her previous relationship.
Not that we have any chance of getting back together, she thought with a scoff.
Even so, it was all she had left to remind her of what true love felt like. The good times, like the way he made her feel beautiful and sometimes needed, and the bad, like the way he made her feel worthless and sometimes desperate.
Kaura swallowed the lump forming in her throat, a signal that she was going to cry, and blinked rapidly to push back the sting of tears.
No way are you gonna start this crap again, Kaura thought angrily. This is not something you need right now. He left you, end of story. Get over it, Kaura. There's nothing you can do about it. If anything, you're better of without him. He'll come crawling back to you someday when he's dumped by that skank, and you'll reject him.
With a sigh, Kaura opened her eyes. No tears for her. Those thoughts had made her angry, and relieved, enough to fight the urge to cry. Sometimes she just had to suck it up and deal with it, lay out the story and face the awful truth that she had indeed been hurt and that it was nothing someone else hadn't been through and survived.
She was a strong girl. She'd been in love before and had gotten over it. As much as she wanted to say that this time was different, it was best for her mental health to pretend it was just like the previous time.
So caught up in her thoughts, it wasn't long before the sky began to get dark and Kaura knew she should probably head home. She gathered her sneakers and began to trek along the creek. But instead of heading home, she headed away from Porter's Hollow, keeping her feet in the cool water.
Years of dancing had made the soles of her feet calloused. She hardly noticed the little sharp rocks below her. She hardly noticed the lack of a moon in the night sky. She hardly noticed the silhouette of a girl dancing in the distance.
It wasn't until Kaura reached the bend of Memory Creek that she realized there was, indeed, a dancing girl ahead of her. Kaura stopped dead in her tracks and stared as the dark figure twisted and turned, waving her arms and swinging her hips to a beat Kaura suddenly could hear all around her.
She looked around, squinting in the darkness to try and find the source of the music. Nothing appeared. Kaura moved forward as silently as she could, never taking her gaze off the dancing girl. She crouched down as she climbed up the grassy edge of the creek, trying to stay hidden.
The tall grasses protected her from view but rustled as she moved between them. She had to stop several times for fear of being heard, even though the music in her ears got louder as she neared. Kaura took note of the long hair on the figure, the slim build and the ease with which her body moved.
Finally, after what felt like half an hour, Kaura reached the clearing where the girl had been dancing, only to find it suddenly empty.
Kaura rose to her full height, popping out of the field, and strained to hear the beat that had somehow disappeared as well without her noticing.
"What the…?" Kaura muttered, searching around her for the girl.
The breeze picked up and blew forth through Kaura's dark chin-length hair. She felt a chill race down her spine. Her instinct told her to turn around. She did.
"My, what a lovely necklace you have."
Kaura's eyes widened at the sight of the woman standing before her. She had the same build and waist-length hair as the girl Kaura had seen dancing earlier, but she was, without a doubt, a woman and not some little girl.
Wrapped around her petite frame were large leaves fastened tightly to her skin by braids of thin, woven vines. A flower was tucked between her long red hair and pale ear. Kaura couldn't tell if it was a daisy or a daffodil—she didn't know her flowers, not by a long shot.
"Um, thank you," Kaura finally managed to say, though her voice sounded raspy.
She brought a hand up to hold the ring on its chain. The motion was protective and habitual to her.
"You saw me dancing," the woman said.
There wasn't any particular emotion attached to the words. This unnerved Kaura who was a user of sarcasm when other emotions failed to guide her words.
"Yeah, I mean—no—I mean, well, I wasn't sure what I was seeing," Kaura eventually said.
"Is it not a bit dark for such a young mortal to be traveling alone?"
The woman began to circle Kaura. To the young woman's surprise, the grasses moved aside to make way for the older woman, parting as if they could sense her presence.
If Kaura had any sense of humor, she would waver a guess that women like this one were responsible for crop circles.
Har har, Kaura thought, immediately regretting it when the woman hopped on silent feet to stand in the clearing behind Kaura.
The brunette spun around on her bare heel, nearly dropping her sneakers in the process.
"I, erm, I was going to head home at some poin—"
"That necklace really is just so lovely," the redheaded woman said, resting her chin on a fist, the elbow tucked neatly against her chest.
Her eyes were golden, Kaura noticed, and they stared at the ring at her throat with a burning intensity she had only read about in cheesy occult romance novels.
"It's just a ring on a chain," Kaura said with a soft, albeit nervous, smile.
The woman reached out the hand she once rested her chin on and Kaura flinched, grasping the ring tightly in her hand. The woman looked amused.
"Do you fear me, child?" She asked, placing a fist in the indent of her waist and gesturing to herself with her free hand.
Kaura opened her mouth to speak but found her words wouldn't come out. She sputtered and finally shook her head, rubbing the ring with her pointer finger and thumb.
"Do you know who I am?"
Kaura shook her head side to side once again. The woman grinned mischievously and curtsied.
"I am the one and only princess of this region of Ashlandia," she said.
"Ashlandia? That sounds like a fairytale name. Are you, like, a faerie or something?" Kaura spat out, then quickly slapped a hand over her mouth.
The woman tossed her head back and bellowed out a tinkling laughter than filled Kaura with relief. When the woman calmed herself down, wiping a tear from her eye in the process, she spoke.
"I am Nuala of the Catora clan of wood nymph."
Kaura looked taken aback. Wood nymph? Where am I, Fern Gully? Kaura scoffed and shook her head, then released her ring and extended the hand for Nuala to shake. Might as well play along, she thought.
"I am Kaura of the, erm, Mason…clan…of, erm, Caucasian…human."
Nuala stared at Kaura's hand oddly.
"Why do you hold your hand out as such?" She asked, waving a hand around Kaura's, a look of distaste on her face.
"Oh, my bad, it's the, uh, human way of greeting new people," Kaura explained, withdrawing her hand to nervously rub the back of her neck.
"I see. You will have to forgive me," Nuala ordered calmly. "You would think centuries of mortals stumbling across me would make me familiar with their mannerisms."
Kaura seemed to be somewhat disappointed as she said, "It sounds like you deal with us quite a bit."
Nuala dropped her gaze to Kaura's necklace once again and said, "Very few are like you."
"What do you mean?"
"Are you aware of what night it is?" Nuala asked, cocking her head to the side and slowly reaching her hand out to touch Kaura's necklace.
Kaura gasped when Nuala's surprisingly hot fingers brushed her collarbone on their way to holding the ring.
"The fifth, I think," she mumbled. "Why?"
Nuala grinned and turned the ring to see the missing slots in the Celtic design.
"Tonight there is no moon," she explained, raising her gaze to meet Kaura's brown eyes. "Are you aware of what that means?"
Kaura shook her head. Nuala sighed and rolled her eyes.
"I swear, you mortals are so uneducated in the ways of wood nymph."
"In our defense, you aren't exactly out in the open trying to teach us your ways," Kaura countered softly.
Nuala dropped the ring in a flash and Kaura thought she had offended her. She opened her mouth to apologize but Nuala spoke first.
"If only you knew, silly mortal."
She brought a finger up to run the length of Kaura's cheek. Kaura wasn't sure how to react, her throat going dry. She swallowed, hoping to ease the dryness in her throat.
"Now, I have a proposition for you," Nuala said, cocking her head to the side. "That necklace is one I have seen only once before and the man who wore it was too selfish to give it up."
Kaura nodded, listening intently and putting the pieces together before Nuala explained them.
"You want my necklace," Kaura said, reaching up to hold the ring once more.
"You are not as dense as others of your kind are," Nuala said with approval. "But yes, I would like your necklace."
Kaura hesitated before saying, "It's…important to me. I don't think I can part with it."
Liar, Kaura thought. Now is the perfect chance to get rid of that garbage, and to give it to someone who would appreciate it far more than you ever would.
"I will offer you a single wish in exchange," Nuala pushed.
"A wish?" Kaura asked, confused.
"Indeed. Any wish your charming little heart desires, I can grant in exchange for that necklace."
"What are you now, a genie?" Kaura said, the words spilling out of her mouth before she could stop them.
"I am a collector of fine things," Nuala explained, though her voice suddenly caused chills to race down Kaura's spine. "You possess a fine object that seems to be causing you nothing but pain when you touch it. It speaks to me, tells me you hold on to it for some boy who will never come back to you."
Kaura's heart stopped. What is she, a mind-reader, now?
"How did you kn—"
"It shows on your face, child," Nuala said. "You have eyes that bear pains one so young as you should not have endured."
Kaura looked wide-eyed at Nuala, searching her golden eyes for some give. She found none.
How could she know? Kaura wondered. It's not possible.
"Now, I have very little time left before I must return to my village," Nuala pressed. "Will you part with your necklace or not?"
Kaura hesitated again. She wanted to keep the necklace more than anything. He would come back to her, definitely. That woman he'd been seeing behind her back would hurt him and make him realize how good he had it when he'd been with Kaura. She just needed to have a little faith.
But as she looked at Nuala, this woman who promised her a wish in exchange for a crappy piece of fake silver, Kaura felt something she'd never felt before. She felt confident. She felt sure of herself. She felt worthy.
How many times had fate damaged girls like Kaura and then given them this opportunity? How many of those girls turned the chance down?
Who am I kidding? I'm talking to someone who thinks she's a wood nymph! Kaura thought.
For some reason, however, the words wouldn't stick. Kaura reached for the clasp of her necklace and undid it. The necklace pooled in her hand and without any hesitation, she took Nuala's hand and deposited the warm metal in her even warmer hand.
"I don't need a wish," Kaura whispered. "Just accept this as a gift, as a new chapter in each of our lives."
Nuala looked shocked.
"No wish? Is it because you believe I am not capable of granting one?" She asked.
Kaura shook her head.
"Not at all," she said quickly. "I just…I have to let go. I shouldn't be rewarded for doing something I should have done a long time ago."
She smiled softly as her eyes brimmed with tears. She swallowed the lump in her throat and twisted the hem of her shirt between her forefingers and thumbs, staring at her bare feet.
Nuala placed her empty hand on Kaura's chin, grasping it between her fingers and tilting her face up.
"You will find true love again, child," Nuala said softly, voice confident and sure. "Perhaps sooner than you wish to believe."
Nuala winked at Kaura before she curtsied one last time. Kaura smiled gently and wiped her tears from her eyes before they fell.
"Leave your heart open, child, and you shall receive life's greatest gift."
And with those words, the princess of Ashlandia faded into the grasses, leaving behind a bare-foot girl of nineteen with a heart that felt a thousand times less burdened.
Kaura turned to head back home and collided with a solid chest. She dropped her shoes and would have fallen backwards if a pair of strong hands hadn't grabbed her arms to steady her. Kaura shrieked in surprise.
Then the smell of the forest filled her nose along with a hint of something sweet. She calmed immediately and looked up into a pair of pale grey-green eyes set above a broad, half-crooked smile.
"You should really watch where you're going," the man said, though he barely looked as old as Kaura.
"I—erm—of course," Kaura stuttered. "Even though it's always more fun to bump into strange men in the middle of nowhere. What did you say your name was?"
"I didn't," the man said. "But I will. Erik."
Kaura felt her heart flutter.
"I'm Kaura. Mind telling me what you're doing out here so late?"
Erik shrugged, Kaura still in his grasp.
"I guess you could say I came here looking for a wish," Erik began, staring at Kaura with piercing eyes, "but I think it was just granted."
Oh, he's smooth.