Amy Rodriguez Lee is a writer who gets inspiration from her solo travels whenever she can. When she’s not globetrotting, she enjoys spending time with fellow writers, enjoying her patio garden, walking and bicycling around Alameda, and has been known to socialize over a glass of wine from time to time. An active member of To Live & Write … Wherever You Are, Amy can be found in weekday Write Alongs, joining online from her sunny patio or cozy living room. She has one NaNoWriMo-inspired novella ready to start circulating with beta readers and has shared her work at the occasional Alameda Shorts and Proof of Write.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective |Prompt #1:
Everything about her face was ethereal.
Charlie almost laughed out loud at the poet in him that must’ve been hiding until now. He looked again at her over the book he was holding and found himself trapped in a laser track from her eyes. If he’d been able to look at anything else, he would’ve seen a slight smile lift the left corner of her mouth. But he was frozen while she looked down at her own book on the table. He watched her lift her coffee cup to her lips and…
He jumped at the sound of his book hitting the floor and made a big deal out of bending over to pick it up and then turning quickly to disappear around the stacks away from what most certainly would be a look of amusement in her eyes at his clumsiness.
Once behind the safety of the N-P shelves of fiction, he lectured to himself, God, Charlie, the woman doesn’t know you exist–well, that is, she knows you exist, but she doesn’t know anything to differentiate you from any of the other men existing here. So what’s with the junior high school nerves? “I’m not in junior high!”
Unfortunately, the last part of his self-flagellation was said aloud, no doubt so that Ethereal Woman would have something else to remember him by.
“Jesus,” he muttered as he walked down the aisle toward the exit.
And right into her.
“You like to make an impression right away, don’t you?” Her voice was ethereal, too.
He turned mute as her eyes captured his own again. What color were they? Grey? Blue? Ice? Ocean? Then she smiled.
She laughed, a musical sound floating from behind improbably perfect teeth and ideal pink lips. And were those feathers where her eyelashes should be? What WAS this creature?
“Are you okay?” She lightly touched his hand, and they both jerked at the spark generated. “Ouch! Quite the impression indeed,” she said with a flirty side glance through…feathers.
“Sorry, I mean…yeah, I’m okay, but…” Way to go, Charlie. “Impression? What do you mean? Oh, the book. Yeah, sorry if I disturbed you.”
But she was coming closer and he could see her eye color shifting like the sea coming ashore. He had just enough time to register that her nose was unquestionably perfect, too, before she kissed him.
He embarrassed himself again by groaning loudly into her mouth as she took his face in her hands to deepen the kiss. His arms flailed to find something to hold onto so that his knees wouldn’t buckle under him. This can’t be–this woman can’t possibly be kissing ME. This Ethereal Woman wouldn’t…oh, god, her tongue!
“Wake up asshole! You’re gonna be late for your first class again. And stop making those gross noises, man. Or get yourself a private room. I don’t wanna hear that shit.”
The door slammed, and Charlie was left with only a familiar boner that was anything but ethereal.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #2:
The Eye of the Beholder
“So you see, these little…things are floating out of this…girl’s open mouth, okay? Oh, man, I have no idea!” Justin waggled his eyebrows and shrugged, delighted at the giggles and guffaws from the rest of the class.
“What KIND of things? Describe them, please.” Mr. Ramos wasn’t amused by Justin’s way of delivering his interpretation of the painting, but also wasn’t surprised that this particular student was trying to get a laugh from his classmates.
“Well, Mr. Ramos, I can’t really describe them. That’s why I just called them little things. I guess I could say what color they are—would that get me at least a passing grade?” He smirked.
The smattering of chuckles subsided as every student waited to see what their teacher would do about Justin’s smart-assed comment. The silence built until even Justin looked uncomfortable. But Mr. Ramos simply kept standing and staring, as if patiently waiting for Justin to redeem himself without being chastised.
Justin was used to this kind of treatment and had lots of practice dealing with it. His father had a much meaner stare though and would usually be pulling his belt out of their loops at the same time if he hadn’t already slapped him upside his head, so this particular stand off was easy-peasy. He knew Mr. Ramos wouldn’t beat him.
“C’mon, Justin! Just talk about the stupid painting! Don’t make such a big deal of it. It’s easy, see?” Kevin, Justin’s best friend (and one of the few), walked to the enlarged painting projected on a screen.
“So she likes music—see all the records at the bottom of her neck? And when she listens to music, she feels special so she sings. And the notes are like little yellow birds flying out of her mouth to make nests in her hair. The birds bring vines and flowers and stuff to make a nest, just like the notes work together to make a song, see?”
Kevin turned away from Justin and bowed to the class’s applause before returning to his seat.
When the applause died, Mr. Ramos sat down at his desk and looked at Kevin. “Kevin, that’s a very creative interpretation of the painting, thank you. Justin, if you have nothing more to add, you may sit down.”
But Justin’s face got red and he yelled, “Well, some of those records are broken in that picture, and that girl’s father probably did it. Look at her eyes! They’re squinty from crying in her room with the door closed. And she’s making a mess, not a nest. Nothing good ever comes out of her mouth—just things nobody wants to hear.”
By the time he finished, a few children’s mouths were hanging open and some were sniffling. Justin was breathing hard as his tears overflowed. Finally, he turned to his teacher. “YOU know what I mean, don’t you, Mr. Ramos? Please know.”
Mr. Ramos fought back his own tears as he said softly, “I do, Justin. I really do.”
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #3:
A Walk in the Woods
Although nobody had seen it, local lore was that there was a building in the forest bordering a village. Nobody knew who owned the building or why it was in such an odd place. Supposedly, it had been built before the forest had become so overpowering and that the building had simply been left to nature.
The townspeople, especially the older ones, spent lots of lazy mornings at cafes proposing theories about the building and how somebody should go find the damned thing. But in all the years that Woodrow had lived in the town—and they were many—nobody had ever accepted the challenge. He never participated much in the talking, but he loved observing the others doing so.
“Why the hell don’t YOU volunteer to check this thing out, Earl? You talk the biggest game about it, so you should walk your talk is what I say.” There were mixed murmurs of agreement coming from clouds of cigar smoke at the table of the old friends, and finally Earl spoke.
“Sure. Marvin. I’ll go. But not alone.” Laughter. “Hey, that’s got nothing to do with the building; it’s my fucking knees. I don’t trust them, and the last thing I need is to fall with no help around. I’m pretty sure phone reception ain’t all that out there.”
One man finally lost his hold on his laughter and guffawed, choking on his cigar.
“Great, Frankie, boy. You just volunteered.”
The next morning Earl and Frankie met their friends at the usual time and place and had their usual coffee and cigar before starting off into the forest. At the last sight of them, they heard Earl shout, “Save some whiskey for me: we’ll be celebratin’ when we get back!”
The oddest thing was that the building wasn’t really far into the forest, but it was hard to find because of the wild foliage and huge draping trees everywhere. The trees especially seemed to be reaching down for embraces—or possession. The walk wasn’t easy, but the two old men were determined. At least Earl was.
While the morning sun graced the men at the cafe, the forest’s darkness and many branches and thorny vines challenged the explorers. Finally, as the density of the surroundings pressed on them unmercifully, Frankie had enough. “Ok, Earl. You’re welcome to keep going through this shit without a machete, but I hear my cigar calling me. I’m done.”
Frankie turned to retrace his steps just before the giant trees swooped down to pass Earl from one to another with their branches. Eventually, one thorny tree held him above the famed building where hellish flames were bellowing back at him at the end of a bloody path.
Woodrow greeted him. “Oh, Earl, you ass. I knew you’d be the next one.” He nodded, and the branch dropped Earl in the sticky, bloody path. As the path slowly began carrying him toward the flames, Woodrow, as usual, laughed at his victim’s screams.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #4:
Photographer: Shannon Marsden. Like her work? Let her know: Venmo @Shannon-Marsden-1
Up and Down
“What an amazing view!” Jeff was staring at the sky, his mouth open and eyes wide.
Ellen looked over at him with one side of her mouth was raised in a familiar sign of cynicism. “What’s so amazing about that old wreck out there? I bet there are rats the sizes of cats running around in it.” She waited for him to turn to her before rolling her eyes and shaking her head.
“Ellen, I was actually looking at the sky. The clouds and stars are really gorgeous dancing among each other. And if the clouds weren’t there, the sunset would be a real show stopper!” He put an arm around her and drew her to him as if being closer might make her soak in some of what he could see.
It was just the right weather: they didn’t need jackets and Jeff thought everything was just about perfect with his arm holding her close. For a long while they simply sat silently, the incessant crickets the only sound.
Suddenly, Ellen pulled away. “You know, you could at least acknowledge that the damned shipwreck exists! Imagine how even more perfect your perfect view would be without it, Jeff. I know that hopelessly optimistic, but it would be refreshing if you saw the more realistic way life really is sometimes. Then maybe our discussions could be more than defending our opposing opinions.”
With that little speech, Ellen got up and started walking back to their car, leaving Jeff once again sitting with his eyes wide and mouth open. With a quick glance back at the darkening sky, he followed her and pulled her into a hug.
“What are you doing? We weren’t arguing.” He felt her shudders against his chest, and she looked up with eyes swimming, but not overflowing yet before punching his shoulders.
“I’m mad, damn it! I’m so fucking mad I can’t see straight, Jeff. I’m so tired of being the negative part of this duo, but I don’t know how to change. I think about it all the time, and—believe it or not—even hold back comments sometimes. What’s wrong with me?” The tears fell and she sobbed against him.
Jeff considered his words carefully.
“I love you, Ellen. I don’t always love how you don’t look for the positive, or don’t see it, but there must be a reason and it’s obviously making you unhappy.”
After what seemed like hours, Ellen pulled back and said, “If I hope, the bad truth always seems to bite me in the ass. So I don’t set myself up anymore.”
“Maybe you’re just not looking UP often enough, babe”
Suddenly, Ellen pointed at the sky. “Look, Jeff! A shooting star!”
Jeff turned but was too late and only caught the faint tale of the star. He smiled, though, and bathed in the wonder in Ellen’s eyes. She looked at him and then kissed him lightly. “You were right, Jeff. I was looking up and could see the star.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #5:
Photographer: Jesus Manuel De Haro
Follow him on Instagram: @grizzlydeharo
Tip/donate: Venmo @jesusdeharo
The sounds from the shore continued to echo over them, but they all ignored the call. As more and more travelers emerged from the water, they were met by their colleagues obstructing their arrival on the sand and so turned to look at whatever was holding them enraptured.
It was home.
At least it was supposed to be home, but Freedst had never seen it look like this. She was used to seeing a definite end to its irregular surface, a horizon in any direction, but a crisp one—not this shifting, veiled, magical light. Others around her who’d been staring at the shimmering orb were moved to utter sounds of wonder, awe, and even heartbreak at the new and incredible picture of their beloved Moonover.
“Freedst! Can you believe it? THIS is really what our home looks like from Earth? Are we sure this isn’t some trick by the Earthlings to hypnotize us so they can capture us? We should go back!”
Soolvun’s sound waves were static and anxious, his aura emitting fear. Freedst sent soothing frequencies to her friend and answered, “Yes, Soolvun, that is our beautiful home, Moonover. Isn’t it wondrous? No wonder Earthlings worship it and want to visit. It looks like a dream.”
As they thought to each other, more Moonover citizens continued to appear from the deep sea, and the discovery scene repeated itself until the air was chaotic with mind waves discussing, exclaiming, and wondering. Finally from the shore a deep, powerful vibration stopped their silent chatter. Their leader, Gowl, had had enough.
Gowl roared, “Enough! Gather yourselves. You’re not silly Moonlittles! You were chose for this important mission because of your intelligence and courage: are you now so dumbstruck by the first visage of home from Earth’s perspective that you’ve forgotten our mission? There’s no time to lose. You know that our physical forms are not timeless. We must move on to find a leader in this place. Our fellow citizens are depending on us. Now get going!”
Slowly, but inexorably, the citizens of Moonover followed Gowl’s commands, some of them still gazing at the shining, muted star that was their beloved home.
“I want to go home,” Soolvun said, his transmission sorrowful. “We have no idea what we will find here on this violent planet, but the history we have learned is barbaric. Why should we expect a welcome or any kindness from them? They might try to kill us before Gowl even practices his Earth talk with them.”
Although Freedst was more optimistic about their mission, she also feared the meeting with the Earth people. If another planet and civilization were closer to Moonover, the expedition would most certainly have chosen it for their desperate plea for help. Would Earthlings even give them a chance to explain their circumstances?
As the Moonover people emerged from the water and slowly shifted into human forms, the army in the darkness readied their weapons and waited for the general’s command to fire.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #6:
Arms building sails, Sand breaking falls Wind as savior I knew there would be times when I’d need Someone selling tricks, offering magic answers, telling me where to go, when to turn, how to fly This time I looked into the eye of the unknown, Cliffs looming above and around me. All just too much until I called on my own heart to fuel my leap Into the soft sands of hope.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #7:
A new couple renting the Victorian next door disapprove of the paint job of my house. I told them I’m sorry they don’t appreciate the art, but that I hope we’ll be friends anyway.
They were not amused.
Maybe it’s the very artwork of the house that is blocking inspiration for my book—a strange reversal of art’s effect on creative minds. I’d been feeling hopeless with blank paper and pen at the window when a cracking voice spoke.
“May I ask you about the designs on your house?” An ancient looking man was leaning on his cane to pet Ole’ Yeller, my old cat whose arthritis now kept her from using top steps for her daily lookout perch, but who still inspected any stranger. Evidently this one passed the test since Yeller was purring and rubbing herself against the man’s legs.
“I’d be glad to answer any questions as long as you don’t mind getting cat hair on your pants legs,” I answered with a smile. “I’ll come outside.”
“Oh, no need: I can’t stay long. Why did you choose to buy THIS house? I know the paint design is older than you. I also know that some people see the art as reason NOT to buy—or they’d buy and then repaint.” He smiled shyly, his gums showing instead of teeth.
Why did he care so much? And just how old WAS he? This house was built in the 1800s, and I knew for a fact that the unusual designs were on the original structure. Was he a history buff or retired architect?
“You seem to know your houses—and town history! I’m just one of the buyers over time that wanted to honor the original artist. The design seemed too integral to the home itself to change it. I’m Carrie, by the way.”
“Emmett Gaines, ma’m. Are you an artist, too?” He crossed both hands over the top of his cane and leaned towards the window to hear better.
I had no idea why his question brought tears to my eyes. “Well, like the house painting, I guess that depends on what you call art,” I replied. “I’m a writer, although lately the words haven’t come easily.”
He looked at me with rheumy eyes—when had he gotten so close?—and winked. “Oh, I bet they’ll come. Patience is the key. Good art, whether by brush or pen, takes time and sweat. You don’t always know where you’re going with an idea when you start, but you’ll know when you’re finished.”
I looked down at the blank page in front of me. “I don’t know, Mr. Gaines, I’ve been…” I raised my head to find him gone.
I wasn’t surprised when my online search showed a blurry image of a much younger Emmett Gaines in front of his new house he’d designed himself. The caption read, “I was inspired and this was the outcome.”
My tears finally fell as I thanked him.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #8:
Strangers We Know
Jared guffawed and someone behind him whispered, “That’s not very nice, you know. The artist didn’t intend to make you laugh at this painting. It’s full of pain, and it’s never right to laugh at someone’s pain.”
He was ready to tell off whoever was talking, but when he turned around all he could do was stare with his mouth hanging open at a girl with the most amazing gray-green eyes he’d ever seen.
“Rude? Why? Because I think this painting is weird?” Jared was getting himself back together now. “Art’s supposed to speak to people, right? Maybe the message I’m getting from this bizarre mess is funny to me. Should I pretend I see some deep meaning in this ghoul’s empty eye sockets?” That was funny, too, so Jared chuckled again.
The girl looked worshipfully at the painting. He was about to leave her to her crazy when she touched his arm. “No, please don’t go. Not until I have the chance to…” Her eyes begged.
“I painted this. I’ve tried for two years with other works to be part of this gallery’s showings. It took my father’s death to help me succeed. This painting was accepted.”
Jared shook her hand off his arm and stepped back. “You?? You painted this? That’s not possible! I mean, I’m sorry that I don’t love it, but…I don’t know what it IS, so I’ll just leave.”
“Please let me at least tell you what it is to me. The eye in the purple pyramid behind the tormented figure? That’s supposed to be me. My dad was always tormented, from the first time I was old enough to know that.”
Jared was getting uncomfortable but couldn’t think of a decent way to disappear. Why was she telling him all this?
“I don’t think he ever was really with us. I mean, he was around, but he never let anybody really know what he was feeling. He just hurt US. We didn’t know how to….what to do. Finally, he ended it himself. The pain, I mean.” Her eyes became wavy with tears.
“Look, I’m sorry you lost your dad, lady, but I…hell, I just came here to give my brother a ride home. He’s the art lover in our family, not me. And I don’t know you, so why the hell would you tell me all that personal stuff?
“Don’t you see? We’re supposed to share personal things with each other. Otherwise, how would we ever be able to know how to love somebody? Or help somebody?” Jared kept staring. “I don’t know you either, but maybe if we took time to get past all the superficial stuff, we’d know how to make each other laugh or we’d find out how to stop each other’s pain.” She lowered her head as the tears finally fell.
Jared couldn’t listen anymore and he backed away before hightailing it to the exit.
Man, that chick’s as crazy as her painting.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #9:
The director’s perfectionism kept demanding another take, and the model was complaining about her arms getting tired. The crew was swearing under their breath in the suffocating humidity, and even the insects were determined to make everyone miserable. The director’s dissatisfaction with every take was the only thing stopping them from shutting the whole damned thing down.
“Carolyn, you’re slouching too much. I’m looking for ease and sexy self confidence, not petulance!” Gavin was a renowned director but a supreme asshole.
“I’m fucking tired, Gavin! Let’s see YOU keep your arms up while the mosquitoes go for your armpits. I need a break.” And without waiting for permission, Carolyn swatted yet another bloodsucker before trouncing off to her air-conditioned trailer.
The crew chief grabbed an opportunity to suggest, “This might be a time for everyone to hydrate—maybe shed a layer of clothes. A ten-minute break might re-energize everybody, what do you say, Gavin?”
Grateful for a target, Gavin yelled, “Sure, Robin, that’s a great idea—more money for your crew. Yeah, let’s draw this hell out as long as possible, shall we? I’m only the director!” And with dramatic, indignant rage, Gavin did some trouncing of his own to his separate trailer.
Meanwhile, Carolyn stared at herself in her vanity mirror. Damp tendrils lay on her neck, but she took out the big clip holding her hair up anyway, and a heavy weight brushed across her shoulders, causing her to shiver. She studied herself again.
Looks better with it down, she thought. Gavin had been adamant, though, about her holding her hair up. He said her exuding “innocent seduction”.
But just last night she’d basically fucked his brains out with her hair down as she rode him violently. She’d taken out every hateful feeling she had for him after he’d told her this would be their last shoot together—that he wanted to ‘change things up’ a bit with a different model. She almost bit him during a very intimate act but decided she had more class than that. He’d killed any sweet attitude last night, though, so she knew what to do.
As she began her pose again, she thought of the efficacy of the models’ network. One derisive comment about Gavin to a few colleagues, and they’d take care of its spread.
She stood with her arms holding her hair up and smiled in what felt like a smirk to her, but looked more like an invitation to those watching. Her eyes shot daggers at Gavin but sent sexual invitations to everyone else.
“That’s a wrap!” Gavin grabbed Carolyn for a hug.“Perfect, baby! Perfect! I knew you could do it.”
Carolyn shook his arms away without a word and with a sly smile headed to her trailer.
Oh, I can do it, all right, you sexist ape. But YOU might have problems doing it with another model after I let everyone know that your ego’s the only ‘big and successful’ thing about you.