100-word story: Trick or Treat

A vampire. A monster. Wonder Woman. These were the costumes of the kids I was taking trick-or-treating. As we walked to the next house, a bush near us began to move. It was in a front yard decorated as a cemetery with ghosts and skeletons hanging from the trees. We froze. A figure with green skin jumped out of the bush. “Trick or treat!” My heart skipped a beat. The kids screamed and ran. I crossed my arms and glared at my friend, who was laughing. “Did you really have to do that?” “Bwa-ha-ha. Happy Halloween!”

The Lakehouse

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“I want to go back home!”

When they finally arrived at the lakehouse for the first time, the whole family was exhausted. The kids had been arguing the entire ride, and their navigation system sent them down a dead-end road. They were seriously discussing never coming back again.

Once they finally got unpacked and went out to the lake, though, everything changed. The lakehouse was small, but the lake itself was so blue and seemed to stretch on for miles. The kids couldn’t wait to swim, Mike wanted to go fishing, and Angela wanted to sit and relax, just watching the water.

“I need you to promise me something,” Angela said to Mike. “We will never give this place up, no matter what mood we’re in or how crazy our summer is.”

“Done,” Mike said.

Thirty years later, Angela and Mike were sitting together by the lake, watching their grandkids swimming in the water.

“Remember when we were about to give this place up?” Angela said.

“Nah, I think you’re making that up,” Mike said. “This is our home away from home. We never could have given this place up.”

Angela just smiled.

 

The journal

Note: I wrote this story several years ago. I had forgotten that I had written it until recently. I want to make sure I don’t have long gaps between writing stories again.

***

Someone was knocking at the door.

“Who is it?” Audrey Shepherd called. The sun was beating down on yet another scorching August day, and Audrey pulled her wavy, chestnut-colored hair into a ponytail as she walked out of her bedroom. She was getting ready for work, and her air conditioner was on the fritz again.

No one answered. She peeked out of the peephole but didn’t see anyone there. Audrey slowly opened the door and looked around. There was still no one there, but a package was sitting on the step. “What can this be?” Audrey wondered. “I didn’t order anything.”

Audrey scooped up her cat, who was trying to get out the door, as she brought the package in and set it on the table. There was no name or address on it. The cat stared at the package and looked up at Audrey, meowing. Overcome with curiosity, Audrey grabbed a pair of scissors off the desk and began cutting the tape on the plain brown box.

After she finally got through all the tape, she flipped the box open to find a beige journal with lacy pink borders. It looked quite old, but the pages inside were blank.

“Why would somebody send me a journal?” Audrey wondered.

Just then the phone rang, and the cat hopped off the table. As Audrey hung up on the telemarketer, she remembered she had to call about her air conditioner. The journal lay on the table, forgotten.

The next morning another package came. Again there was a knock on the door, and again no one was there when Audrey answered. This time the box was small and narrow. Inside was a black felt pen. “Now I have a pen to go with the journal?” Audrey thought. “Why does someone want me to write in a journal? And what do they want me to write, exactly?”

Then there was another knock on the door. This time it was the repairman, who after a couple of hours declared Audrey’s air conditioner fixed and handed her a bill that made Audrey forget all about the journal and the pen.

The next day yet another package was sitting on the step as Audrey came home from a long day at work. This was the largest package Audrey had received. Inside it was a painting. It was a beautiful meadow with a young woman who looked very much like Audrey, except that she was dressed in a beige, lacy, dress that appeared to be from the 18th or 19th century. Audrey searched for the name of an artist, but couldn’t find one.

“I wonder who would send me a painting?” Audrey thought aloud. The woman in the painting was writing in what appeared to be a journal. Audrey stared at her own journal. Suddenly a strange thought struck her. “Am I supposed to write to her by writing in the journal?” Audrey wondered. It sounded ridiculous.

She shook her head and put the journal back on the table, setting the painting against the wall. She would worry about it later. She had bills to pay right now.

That night, Audrey dreamt that she was walking in a meadow with long green grasses and hundreds of flowers in an assortment of colors. The sun was shining down on a glimmering lake, and pair of swans was swimming through the bright blue water. Audrey could hear birds chirping and a light breeze rustling through the trees. The sweet scents of flowers wafted through the air. The place had a dreamy quality, Audrey thought. It felt very peaceful.

Audrey felt a tap on her shoulder and jumped. Behind her was the woman she had seen in the painting. “Who are you?” Audrey asked.

“My name is Sandra. I love to spend time here in this meadow. Isn’t it lovely?”

“Yes, it is,” Audrey replied. “But how did you get here?”

Sandra smiled. “How did you?”

Audrey thought for a moment. “I think I’m dreaming,” she said. “Yes, this has to be a dream.”

“Well, it doesn’t have to be a dream,” Sandra said in a soft, almost hypnotic voice. “You can spend time here any time you want. All you have to do is write in the journal that you want to visit me in the meadow.”

“Did … did you send the journal?” Audrey asked. It seemed crazy that a woman in the painting could send her packages. Surely she would wake up soon.

“Well, I didn’t send it, exactly. It’s just a way for you to visit this beautiful place. Wouldn’t you like to visit again, Audrey? All you have to do is say so in the journal. Just write. ‘I want to go to the meadow.’ It’s as simple as that.”

“Really?” Audrey said, frowning. “You mean all I have to do is write in some journal and I’ll be transported here?”

“Well, it’s a rather unusual journal. I guess you could call it ‘magical,’” Sandra said with a smile.

It was a beautiful place, Audrey thought. She felt so at peace here — it felt so nice to be away from work, from the noise of the city, her busy life. She felt like she could just lay down in the grass and stay here forever.

“Well, it is nice here.” Audrey said, smiling wistfully. “Wait a second … How did you know my name?”

Audrey suddenly woke up back in her room and found herself staring at her beige walls and tan carpet. Sun was streaming through the slits in the blinds, and the cat was meowing. She could hear the train horn in the distance.

Audrey sighed. “What do you think, Ginger? You think I could suddenly be in a beautiful meadow by writing in a journal?”

Ginger meowed again. Audrey laughed. “Yeah, I know, it’s ridiculous. I guess my life must really be getting dull, huh? It’s probably just some practical joke, and my mind is making things up to make my life more exciting.”

Audrey put took some food off the counter and poured it into the cat’s dish. “I guess I better get ready for work,” she said.

After a rough day at work, Audrey came home exhausted and flopped down on the couch. She grabbed the remote and turned on the TV, flipping through the channels. She was watching a show on koalas on Animal Planet when she heard something fall on the floor.

“Ginger, what are you up to now?” Audrey shouted, sighing. Ginger came out of the kitchen, looking up and Audrey and meowing. “What did you knock down?” Audrey asked the cat, who looked at her and walked over to the couch in response. Audrey sighed and walked over to the table, where she saw the journal on the floor.

“I wonder what would really happen if I wrote in this journal?” Audrey thought. “Probably nothing.” Her curiosity finally getting the better of her, she grabbed the journal off the floor and the pen off the table and sat on the couch beside Ginger. She wrote, “I would like to visit the meadow.”

She looked around. She was still in the living room of house. “Well, just like I thought, nothing happened,” she said to Ginger, who looked up and meowed, but the cat wasn’t looking at Audrey.

Audrey followed the cat’s gaze and saw that the painting looked strange, almost as if the woman inside of it was moving. Audrey walked over to the painting and peered closely at it, still holding the journal.

Suddenly Audrey wasn’t in her living room anymore. Nor was she wearing the black skirt and beige sweater she had worn to work. She was in the old-fashioned dress she had seen in the painting, sitting in the meadow, holding the journal. She looked down at the journal and was astonished to see other writing in there besides her own:

“Dear Audrey,

Now that you have written in the journal, you got your wish and visited the meadow. Unfortunately, this visit is going to be longer than you thought it would be. Probably about 50 years, when another woman comes along who looks a lot like you and receives a journal, a pen and a painting. This happened to me about 50 years ago, when I received the same journal. I don’t know many of the details, only the woman before me wrote me in this journal. Apparently there was a curse hundreds of years ago, and now women are chosen to spend 50 years in this painting until the next woman comes along with the same fate. I’m sorry you now must spend all of this time in the painting, but look at this way: It is a beautiful meadow, isn’t it? And thank you, for taking me away from that painting. You’ll get away one day, too, 50 years from now.

Sincerely,

Sandra”

Audrey stared at the journal, awestruck. She was going to be trapped here for 50 years? But this had to be a dream. She pinched herself. Unfortunately, it hurt. Then as she stood up and looked around, she saw something strange in the distance. It almost looked like some sort of portal. She ran over and looked out of a hole that seemed to be shrinking in size. She could see her living room, her cat, and now herself — no, Sandra, dressed as herself, sitting out on the couch beside Ginger, watching TV. “She’s taken my place?” Audrey wondered aloud.

Suddenly Audrey could feel herself moving backward until she was sitting in the same position she had found herself in earlier, with the journal on her lap. She realized then that not only was she stuck in this meadow, she was stuck sitting in this exact same position until 50 years from now, when another unfortunate woman was send the same journal, pen and painting she was.

Audrey looked at the journal hopelessly. “Well, at least it’s peaceful.”

Just Having Lunch

Jerry knew that he looked ridiculous. He was wearing sunglasses and fedora, but he didn’t want his wife or her ex-husband to see him.

He was sitting several tables away from Louise and her ex-husband, Jacob, at an outdoor café. The sun was shining, which Jerry was grateful fro, because otherwise he would have looked even more ridiculous in his fedora and sunglasses. The song “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night” came into his head. Louise would chuckle at that, if he told her, but of course he couldn’t tell her. He didn’t want her to know how paranoid he was.

It wasn’t that he didn’t trust his wife, he told himself. It was that he didn’t trust her ex-husband. Jacob was a slimy little bastard, from everything he had heard about him. And he was indeed little. Before they saw down, Jerry had stared at them partly because Jacob was at least two inches shorter than Louise. How could she have married someone shorter than her?

They had been ordering earlier, but now they appeared to be deep in conversation. Jacob was leaning across the table as he spoke to Louise, who was still sitting back in her chair, shaking her head. What were they talking about? Jerry had assumed that most of the conversation would be about their kids, who were 8 and 10. Was he trying to get more visitation time?

“Would you like something to drink?” The waitress’s voice made Jerry jump. He didn’t really want anything, but he needed to order something considering he was a customer at this restaurant.

“I’d like a coffee,” Jerry said, “with cream and sugar.” He took a quick glance at the menu to decide what to eat so that the waitress wouldn’t disturb him again. “I’ll also have the turkey and swiss sandwich, no mayo.”

The waitress nodded and scurried away. Jerry refocused his attention on Louise and Jacob. Now they were both leaning forward as they talked. Louise was gesturing quite a bit with her hands, as she always did when she was passionate about something. Jerry was leaning forward, too, but he couldn’t hear anything. Maybe he could just casually walk by and pretend to drop something…

No, that idea was ridiculous. They would both see him for sure, and then his wife would be upset that he didn’t trust her to have lunch with her ex. And he couldn’t blame her for being upset with him. After all, this was really an invasion of her privacy. But, then, she was his wife. And she was having dinner with her sleazy ex-husband. He should be there in case something goes wrong, right?

Apparently the lunch was going very well, though, because Louise had just tipped her head back and laughed. He could even hear her a bit. She had always had a loud, distinctive laugh. What on earth had he said that was so funny?

Then, his wife grabbed the purse from the back of her chair and got up. She was starting to head his direction. He quickly grabbed the wine menu from the center of the table and stared at it to try to hid his face.

It was no use, though. Louise stopped right in front of him.

“Jerry, if you’re going to spy on me, at least don’t wear that stupid fedora.”

Something out there

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Annie Shaw relaxed and enjoyed the feeling of the sun beating down on her. The waves were gently washing onto the beach.

“Aren’t you going to go in the water, Annie?”

Annie stretched and looked at her little sister. Amy was 12 years younger than her, and it was hard for her to understand why someone would just lie there and soak up the sun when they could be splashing around in the waves.

“No, Amy, I’m getting a nice tan.”

“But that’s boring. I want to go swimming.”

Annie looked around, but she didn’t see their parents. Amy wasn’t allowed to go into the ocean by herself. Annie looked out into the water and watched the waves for a few moments.

She blinked. What was she seeing out there? She put her hand up to her forehead to shield her eyes from the sun and try to figure out what was out there? Could it be a shark? They were in Florida after all.

Amy was tugging on Annie’s sarong. “Annie, can I go swimming.”

“No, Amy, there’s something out there.” Annie was still trying to figure out what it was, but all she could see was something moving around. Maybe it was just a swimmer, but whatever it was looked so much bigger than a person.

“What is that?” Annie said to no one in particular as she walked toward the water. Amy was following behind her.

A scream made Annie jump and nearly fall over onto the beach. The scream was coming from the water. Now there were many screams and a great deal of splashing as people attempted to get out of the water.

Annie took Amy’s hand. “Amy, I think we better go.”

“What is it, Annie? Why are people screaming?”

Now Annie was swiftly walking away from the water and tugging her little sister along with her. “I don’t know, Amy, but I don’t’ think we should wait around to find out.”

Annie was trying to keep moving, but curiosity made her turn around to see if whatever it was was still behind them.

What she saw made her heart jump into her throat. People were continuing to run out of the water and up the beach, but it the creature that was lumbering through the water that made Annie’s jaw drop. Amy shrieked and grabbed onto her.

“Annie, what is that? Is that a monster?”

Annie didn’t believe in monsters, but she didn’t know what else to call it. It was at least 7 feet tall and gray with scales covering it from head to foot. It was looking around, and Annie found herself frozen for the moment with Amy beside her. The creature turned and stared right at her. It had bright yellow eyes. Annie wanted to run, but her legs felt like lead. There were screams and cries and people running all around here, but somehow they all sounded very distant.

Then the creature turned away from her and roared. It was like nothing Annie had ever heard before. It didn’t sound like a lion or a bear. It sounded almost unearthly.

Then, just like that, the creature turned and stomped back into the water, slowly disappearing under the waves. The water was now calm, as if some unheard-of creature hadn’t just emerged from it and terrorized a beach full of people.

“What was that, Annie? Is it really gone?” Amy asked, looking up at Annie with wide blue eyes.

Annie gave her sister a hug. The legs that had felt like lead moments ago were now able to move again. “I think it’s gone, Amy. Still, why don’t we find Mom and Dad and go home?”

Amy nodded. “Okay. I don’t want to swim anymore now.”

Bad Haircut

Bridget stared at her reflection in horror. “This…this is not what I asked for.”

The stylist looked sheepish. “Sorry. Didn’t you say you wanted your hair short in front and long in back?”

“It’s a mullet! I definitely didn’t say I wanted a mullet!”

“Well, I just got out of beauty school two weeks ago. I guess I thought that was what you wanted.”

“No…no, it most definitely is not,” Bridget said. She couldn’t seem to turn away from her reflection, as much as her new haircut was scaring her.

“Well, maybe I can fix it…”

Bridget jumped out of the chair. “No…No, I think you’ve done enough.”

Bridget knew the stylist hadn’t meant to ruin her hair, but she certainly didn’t trust her to fix it. As she was fleeing the salon, though, her worst nightmare came true. She nearly ran right into Jake Simpson, the boy she had had a crush on since the sixth grade. And he was seeing her with this horrible haircut. Bridget had never wanted the earth to just open up and swallow her up so much.

Jake put his hand on his mouth, and Bridget felt herself turning bright red. It was clear that Jake was trying to keep himself from laughing. It took several moments, and then he finally took his hand away.

“Did…did you just get a new haircut?” he asked, and he couldn’t seem to stop himself from snickering a bit. Bridget turned even redder, if that was possible, as two of Jake’s friends walked up. They didn’t even bother trying to keep themselves from laughing.

Bridget just turned and ran, hoping this nightmare would be over soon. What on earth possessed her to think it was a good idea to try a new salon? She could only hope that Marjory, who had been her stylist for years, would be willing to forgive her. Bridget had started feeling like she wanted something new, but clearly a new stylist was not the answer. She could only hope that Marjory would be able to take her in to fix her hair on short notice.

Marjory’s salon was located in her house. Bridget ran up and pounded on the door, hoping and praying that Marjory could fix this mess that she had gotten herself into.

Bridget felt like she had been pounding on the door for several minutes when Marjory finally opened the door. Marjory’s jaw dropped at the sight of Bridget’s haircut.

“Oh, good Lord! What did you do?”

Bridget almost cried. “I’m so sorry, Marjory. I decided to try different stylist. Clearly it didn’t go very well.”

Marjory continued to stare at Bridget. “To put it mildly. Here, come in.”

“Can you fix it?” Bridget asked, desperation creeping into her voice.

“Well, I think so, but we’ll need to make it really short,” Marjory said.

Bridget sighed. She was worried that would be the case. “That’s okay. I trust you.”

So, Bridget sat down in the chair and let Marjory get to work. Finally, Marjory whirled Bridget’s chair around. She now had a cute pixie cut. Bridget knew it would take some getting used to, but she was thankful to Marjory for managing to fix her horrible haircut.

“You fixed it! Thank you! I promise that I will never go to another salon again.”

Nobody Sees

Laura liked to think she was honest with herself; it was everyone else she lied to.

Today was one of those days where she was forced to hide what she was really feeling. On the outside, she was perfectly calm, going about her day as usual. But, on the inside, it was a different story.

It was unfortunately, a familiar sensation. Her heart would race until it would skip a beat, then begin racing again. She had pain in her chest, and she felt like she couldn’t breathe. She felt chills running through her body.

It wasn’t a heart attack, though. She knew that from the time she had visited the ER because of this. She would just have to let it pass.

“Mandy, do you think you can have the report ready by the end of the day?” John just stood there and stared at her. Sometimes it was hard to believe that nobody could notice that she was completely falling apart.

She just nodded, and John walked away. After a few more minutes, her heart rate began to slow and she could breathe again. She looked around her. It was just a usual day in the office. She often couldn’t figure out what the triggers could be for the panic attacks. They just happened.

Allison walked up to her desk. Why was nobody leaving her alone today? Laura sighed and looked up.

“Are you okay?”

Laura froze. Had somebody figured out her secret? She knew that nobody would have any sympathy for her if they found out about her anxiety, and in fact, she was worried that some would think less of her. There had been a series of layoffs the past few months, and she didn’t want her job to be the next to go.

“I’m fine. Why?” She didn’t mean for her tone to sound quite so sharp.

Allison shrugged. “You look a little pale.”

“Well, I have a bit of a headache.” Laura’s head felt perfectly fine now, but she had gotten used to making up excuses when anybody noticed there might be something off.

“That’s too bad. I hope you feel better.”

Laura tried to smile. “Thanks.”

Allison was always friendly to her, but Laura was weary of making friends with anybody from the office. Of course, even her friends didn’t know about her panic attacks. She had always been too embarrassed to talk about them.

The rest of the morning went by without incident, but as Laura was getting ready for lunch, Allison walked back up to her. “I was wondering if you might want to go to lunch.”

“Oh, I’m not sure I really feel up to it.”

Allison’s face fell, and Laura started to feel bad for turning Allison down. Laura had worked at the company for about five years, and Allison had only started a few months ago. It was a tough atmosphere to start in with all the layoffs, too, and as far as Laura could tell, she was having trouble making friends.

“Oh, no problem,” Allison said, starting to walk away.

“Wait.” Allison turned back around. “I suppose we could go to lunch.”

A smile spread across Allison’s face. Laura couldn’t believe how happy just going out to lunch with a coworker was making her.

Ten minutes later, they were sitting at the corner sandwich shop. Allison had ordered a chicken salad sandwich, and Laura was starting in on a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

They both focused on eating for a few minutes. Then, Allison abruptly got up and walked over to the bathroom. Laura thought that it was strange that Allison hadn’t said anything, but she figured she would wait until she got back from the bathroom to make sure she was okay.

After Allison had been gone for a few minutes, Laura decided to check on her to make sure she wasn’t sick. Laura walked into the bathroom.

“Allison? Are you okay?”

Allison walked out of the stall looking a bit pale. “Yeah, sorry, it was just a panic attack. I get those sometimes.”

Laura’s jaw dropped. Although she technically knew that plenty of other people got panic attacks, she had never met anyone who did, or at least who admitted they had them.

“I have panic attacks sometimes, too,” Laura said surprising herself.

“Really?”

Laura nodded. “I had one earlier today, in fact. I didn’t really have a headache.”

She couldn’t believe how good it felt to finally admit to somebody that she suffered panic attacks.

“Well, maybe we can help each other get through them.”

Laura smiled. She had a feeling she would be breaking her rule about not making friends with coworkers.

Appointment

“So, why did you decide to come here, John?” Dr. Connor asked in a monotone voice.

John was stretched out on the couch. He tried to decide how much to say. This was his first time visiting a psychiatrist, and he felt rather uncomfortable. “Well, I’ve just really been struggling since my divorce.”

“How so?”

“I don’t know…I just can’t seem to move on,” John said. “I keep wondering if there was a way to save our marriage. And my ex-wife is making things so difficult with our kids.”

“Yes, I hate my ex-wife, too.”

John sat up. “I don’t hate my ex-wife.”

“Well, I do,” Dr. Connor said, his voice now rising. “My ex-wife really screwed me over.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” John said, looking at the door. He wondered if he could get his money back. “But, I’m paying for this session, so shouldn’t we be talking about my problems?”

Dr. Connor ignored him. “She’s awful. I can’t believe she left me. She kept accusing me of cheating on her. Granted, I actually was cheating on her, but that’s beside the point.” He stood up and started pacing back and forth.” Now she has some new boyfriend. I think I’m going to go over there and pull all the flowers out of her stupid garden.”

“I think I should go,” John said, starting to move toward the door.

“Or maybe I’ll knock over her mailbox. Or I could egg her house. Or I could just leave horrible messages on her answering machine. Where are you going? Your appointment isn’t over for another 20 minutes.”

John had just been turning the doorknob. He turned back around. “I don’t think I’m the one who needs a psychiatrist.”

Author note: This was a dialogue exercise for a class.

 

Romeo and Julia

Romeo Cox had always been teased by his friends for his name, but never more so than when he began spending time with Julia Leonard from across town. When he started seeing Julia, his friends teased him about family feuds and the tragic end that would come to their romance. They would never know how close they were to the truth.

The couple’s parents were polite to each other’s faces, but in reality, they harbored resentment for each other. Mr. Cox thought that Mr. Leonard overcharged on everything at his general store, and the Leonards were still angry about a rumor they swore the gossipy Mrs. Cox had started. They couldn’t understand how Romeo and Julia could care so much about each other. Both sets of parents were hoping that their children were just going through a phase.

Neither Romeo nor Julia really paid attention to what their parents thought of them. In their eyes, they were perfect for each other. Romeo was good-looking, although perhaps not as handsome as his fictional namesake was supposed to be. He had dark hair that was always perfectly in place and his mother’s ocean-colored eyes. He was about medium height, standing just a couple of inches taller than Julia.

One spring night Romeo was preparing to leave for Julia’s house. He found his favorite striped tie in the wardrobe, and he put on his brand new pair of dress shoes. This was a special occasion, after all.

Romeo headed down the stairs of their old farmhouse. That house had been in Romeo’s family for three generations now. His grandparents were pioneers, and his parents were endlessly telling stories about his grandfather chopping down the wood for the house himself and bringing his family through blizzards, droughts, floods, grasshoppers, and just about anything else that can hit a family farm.

“Romeo, did you put the milk in the icebox?” asked Romeo’s mother, Rebecca Cox, a petite woman with long brown hair that was always put up in a neat little bun.

“Yes, I did, Mother. That new icebox works wonderfully,” Romeo answered, as he walked into the kitchen. His younger brother, William, or Billy as he preferred to be called, was sitting at the table attempting to put together a gigantic jigsaw puzzle of a Model T Ford.

“Well it better work. John Leonard charged me a pretty penny for that damn thing,” said Romeo’s father.

“Hank, not in front of the boys!” scolded Mrs. Cox.

“Oh, they’re old enough to hear it. ‘Bout time they learn what this world is really like, and just how unfair some men can be,” Mr. Cox said.

Mrs. Cox just shook her head as she finished washing the dishes.

“Father, can I borrow your hat? ” Romeo asked.

“Of course you can, son. Just make sure not to lose this one, too. That’s my good hat. You know, that was the hat I wore when I proposed to your mother.”

The once-pristine dark brown hat was now worn and tattered, with a chunk missing from the back and a larger part flopping down on the right side.

“I won’t. The wind just whipped that last one right off my head,” he said.

Romeo went over and took the hat off of the top of the coat rack.

“Bye Mother, Bye Father,” Romeo said.

“Good-bye Romeo,” said his mother, smiling at him as he walked out the door.

Romeo’s stomach churned a little as he walked through the town. He carried the ring that he had just bought the day before. What if Julia said no? Or, more likely, what if her father wouldn’t allow it? He tried to block those thoughts from his mind and smiled, thinking back to the day when they had first proclaimed their love for each other.

Romeo remembered that he had come over to Julia’s house, carrying a bouquet of daffodils. At that point they had gone out with each other several times, but they had yet to experience their first kiss. He was wearing his best suit and the hat that he hadn’t yet lost. He rang the doorbell, and a few moments later Mr. Leonard answered. John Leonard was not really an imposing man. He was rather short and stocky with a friendly smile. Romeo could hear Julia’s younger sisters, Judith and Mable, giggling in the background.

“Will you have my daughter home by 10 o’clock?” Mr. Leonard asked.

“Yes, Mr. Leonard,” Romeo replied.

Just then, Julia came to the door, and she was as beautiful as Romeo had ever seen her. She was wearing a light-blue flowered dress, and her long auburn hair was swept up with a ribbon that perfectly matched the color of her dress. She smiled, and Romeo could see the twinkle in her bright blue eyes. He loved the way her smile always showed in her eyes.

Julia gave her father a kiss on the cheek and walked down the sidewalk with Romeo. “It is such a beautiful evening,” she said.

The sun was just setting, coloring the clouds above with shades of pink. It was early autumn, and the leaves on the trees were just beginning to turn red and yellow. Romeo looked over at Julia, whose hair was gently waving in the cool, light breeze. They reached the park and sat down on the bench, watching the swans in the pond ruffle their feathers and flap their wings against the water.

They sat quietly for awhile, and then Julia turned to Romeo.

“Romeo, do you believe our country will go to war?” she asked him, with concern in her face.

“I don’t know, Julia,” he replied. “President Wilson says we won’t, but it is getting awfully bad over there in Europe.”

“I know…but would you go if there was a war?” said Julia.

Romeo looked away for a moment. He wasn’t quite sure what to say. The last thing he wanted to do was leave Julia, but wasn’t it his duty to fight for his country? Would he even have a choice? Maybe he would be lucky, and the war in Europe would end before it came to that point. He prayed that would be the case.

“I don’t know,” he said.   “I mean, if this country goes to war, I might feel… I just don’t know, Julia.”

Julia just nodded.

“Julia, no matter what happens, I love you,” said Romeo, taking her hand in his.

Julia smiled. “I love you too, Romeo,” she said softly.

They leaned toward each other and kissed, not hearing the sound of thunder in the distance.

Now here Romeo was again, standing at her doorstep. President Wilson had since entered the United States into war, and Romeo had a feeling he might have to go. However, he was determined that he and Julia would walk down the aisle before that day came.

He rang the bell, and Julia’s father again answered.

“Good evening, Mr. Leonard. Is Julia home?” Romeo asked.

Romeo noticed that Mr. Leonard had a rather sad look on his face.

“Yes she is Romeo, but I’m afraid you can’t see her,” Mr. Leonard said.

“What—why not?” Romeo asked, feeling confused. ” I have something important to ask her, actually, to ask you as well.”

“Julia’s sick, Romeo. She has the influenza. She said that she doesn’t want you to see her. She’s afraid you’ll get sick too.”

Romeo was dumbfounded. Julia had the influenza? He had heard of so many who had died of that horrible disease. Romeo remembered Mrs. Garrett standing with his mother, crying and talking about how pale and weak her son had been and how Mrs. Garrett held her son’s hand until it fell from hers.

“Maybe you can just write her a letter, and I’ll take it up to her,” Mr. Leonard offered.

“Alright,” said Romeo, still not believing what he had heard.

Romeo slowly walked away, his legs feeling like lead. He didn’t see those same beautiful shades of pink in the sky as he walked down the street. He didn’t see the twins playing kick the can in Mrs. Johnson’s yard. He didn’t hear the wind rustling the branches of the newly-budding trees.

All he could hear was the sound of John Leonard saying over and over again “Julia’s sick, Romeo.”

He could see her in his mind, her face pale and drawn, the color gone from her eyes. She’s dying, he thought. The love of his life was dying.

He wasn’t quite sure how he got back to his house, but when he did, he went straight to bed, without so much as a word to anyone. He dreamt of Julia that night, and he woke up to the rooster’s crowing. Usually that damn crowing bothered him, but this morning he had something he wanted to do.

He began walking down the street toward her house when he noticed that the general store was closed. Usually Mr. Leonard would be there by now.

He was still walking down the same street when he heard a couple of neighborhood gossips say a familiar name.

“It’s so sad, isn’t it? Poor Mrs. Leonard. She was so close to her daughter, and she was such a beautiful girl. That influenza is just horrible,” said Mrs. Bernard, an old woman who was carrying her yipping toy poodle.

Romeo just stood there, not believing what he was hearing. Were they talking about Julia? They had to be — her father had just told him that she had the influenza, hadn’t he? His mind was spinning. Did she just say “was?” Maybe he hadn’t heard her right. That poodle was still yipping pretty loudly.

“Quiet, Fufu!” Mrs. Bernard scolded the dog.

“Oh, I know, it’s such a pity. That influenza is just horrible — it’s taken one life after another, but I never imagined it would take the Leonard girl,” said Mrs. Conner, a younger woman with a very nasally voice. “I heard that Julia… Ethel, can’t you get that dog to hush up?”

“Oh, she’s just excited. Fufu, be quiet!” said Mrs. Bernard. “It’s so sad when someone dies so young. At least Mrs. Leonard still has… Fufu!”

Romeo had heard enough. Choking back tears, he walked as fast as he could to the army station, determined to get out of this place as soon as he could.

When he came back, he wrote Julia a letter:

Dear Julia,

I know you will never receive this letter, but somehow it eases my pain to write it. I have always loved you Julia, ever since I saw you running through the park with your hair flying in the wind and your mother yelling at you to come back. You were so beautiful even then, but what captivated me the most about you was your spirit. Nobody could laugh like you, nobody could dream like you, nobody could brighten the whole day with just a smile like you.

Sadly, though, you have been taken from my life. I don’t know what I will do without you, which is why I am choosing to leave. I know you would not want me to voluntarily go to war, but I don’t see any reason not to anymore. Maybe you will read this letter in heaven; maybe I will soon see you there.

All my love,

Romeo

He left the letter on his dresser, still not quite sure why he wrote it, but knowing that it had helped somehow.

He had asked to go as soon as possible, which meant he was leaving the next day. His family had desperately tried to convince him otherwise, but he refused to hear it. In his mind, his life had ended with Julia’s.

That next day, Romeo was ready to get on the train.

“Romeo, please, at least be careful. We don’t want to get a letter that says…” Mrs. Cox’s voice broke off, and she turned away.

“I will be fine, Mother. I have to go,” Romeo said. He gave his mother a quick kiss on the cheek, and he was surprised when his father took him into his arms and hugged him.

“Make us proud, son, and be careful,” Mr. Cox said.

“I will, Father,” Romeo said, turning away and getting onto the train, leaving his father attempting to comfort his crying mother behind.

As he got on the train, he took out the little black-and-white picture of Julia.

“God, Julia, I loved you so much. Why did you leave me?” he said, kissing her picture and turning toward the window as tears streaked down his face. As the train began moving away from the station, he saw the crying wives and fiancées of the soldiers waving and blowing kisses, but no Julia. He would never see Julia again, he thought.

This was true — Romeo never would see Julia again, but it wasn’t because she had died. What Romeo would never know was that it was Mable, not Julia, who had died from the influenza. Julia had recovered from the disease the day after Romeo had left on that train. Maybe he would have found out if he hadn’t died four days after he arrived in Europe. Maybe he wouldn’t have volunteered to be on the front line. Maybe it could have been a happy ending, but no one will ever know what could have been for Julia and Romeo.