Guest Story: Insubstantial

Happy Friday the 13th, everyone! In honor of today, please enjoy a story written by my wonderful friend and writing buddy, Kate Sheeran Swed.


Image from Pixabay


Calliope cannot convince her blood to circulate.

It is the sensation of waking with one arm splayed on the pillow, the limb drained and temporarily useless—only it tingles throughout her body. She can’t convince her numb fingers to grasp the doorknob.

The window is open, and she sneaks onto the slope of the roof more easily than ever before. Though she can’t manage her usual grip on the gutter, her ankles don’t smart when she lands.

She is weightless. She almost giggles, thinking of how she will surprise her mother by walking in the front door. But a cold feeling against her spine stifles her laughter. It is like getting up to use the bathroom at night, when the darkness convinces her to waste no time in returning to her room, lest the monsters should realize there’s a morsel out of bed.

If she loses her grip on the earth she will fly away, a balloon without a tether.

Calliope gives her head a shake, willing the dizziness to pass. Soon she will go inside, where her mother will press a cool hand against her forehead and check for fever. For now, she scans the yard for something familiar. The trees tilt, and she blinks to set them right. The flowerbeds wobble from daffodil to snapdragon, a double exposure in her brain.

Through the chaos, she catches sight of her lunchbox, anchored in the grass. She tries to remember the last time she held the handle, but it’s hard to distinguish the difference between days and years.

It should not be here. It belongs on the kitchen counter, jaw unhinged, waiting to be sated with peanut butter sandwiches and notes from her mother: Don’t forget to hand in your lunch money! Always with a heart.

On the street, kids hurry by, backpacks quivering as they cast wide-eyed glances at the house. Calliope kneels before the lunchbox. She expects damp knees, but no sensation leaks through her jeans.

There are two boys beyond the fence now, poking noses and fingers between the bars and whispering, jabbing one another with elbows. Calliope cannot hear what they’re saying. She wants them to leave her alone.

The lunchbox is decorated with a unicorn. There are rainbows on the thermos. But the hinges are rusty, the unicorn’s horn all but faded away.

Calliope reaches for the clasp.

One of the boys squeezes between the bars of the fence, pauses, looks back to his friend. The friend urges him on with a bright red sleeve.

“What do you want?” asks Calliope. The boy looks past her and swallows, then darts toward the porch.

Calliope decides to pay him no mind. She touches the tip of her index finger to the clasp on the unicorn lunchbox.

Her finger disappears. When she pushes forward, alarmed, the rest of her hand follows.

She jerks it back.

The boy reaches the porch, touches the bottom step. For a moment, the house settles in Calliope’s vision, and she sees it as if for the first time.

The porch swing hangs drunkenly from one chain. The welcome mat is gone. The kitchen window is broken, mold-black curtains hanging dirty and frayed.

It’s disorienting, like stumbling into a carnival and searching for a familiar strain through the cacophony of clashing tunes.

The boy hurtles back down the walk while his companion giggles.

Calliope is heat. She pours it into her fingers, curls them around the handle, and hurls the lunchbox with all the substance she has left.

The boys scream when the box hits the fence. They run.

Calliope sinks once more to her knees and tries to piece it all together, her thoughts no more solid than the ground beneath her feet. She will grow too heavy for the surface and descend through layers of earth, forget her place in time and fall through the years, until everything exists at once. She will hear the reason for the cockroaches, and how they keep the melody of the world from tilting off key.

The day slinks on.


Calliope cannot convince her blood to circulate.

Kate Sheeran Swed loves hot chocolate, plastic dinosaurs, and airplane tickets. She has trekked along the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, hiked on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland, and climbed the ruins of Masada to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. Following an idyllic childhood in New Hampshire, she completed degrees in music at the University of Maine and Ithaca College, then moved to New York City. Her stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Electric Spec, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Pacific University. You can find her at or on Twitter @katesheeranswed.


Halloween Short Fiction Contest!

This year, in honor of my favorite season, I’m running a flash fic contest for Halloween! Read on for details.


What: Short fiction under 1000 words in the spirit of Halloween! Give me creepy, spooky, or funny. Let your imagination run wild and do what you do best! (Please, no graphic violence.)

Where: Send your submissions pasted into the body of the email to writingrosa at gmail dot com. Any emails with attachments will be disqualified and deleted.

When: Sub your stories by October 1!

Who: 18+ humans can submit. 🙂

There will be 1 winner and 2 runners up! Your stories will be posted on my blog during October and all winners will receive e-copies of a creepy Halloween book (Book TBD!)

Good luck and happy writing!

Cinderella, At the Ball

Light seeps in around the edges of the door. Not enough to see by, but enough to know it’s daytime and I should stop sleeping now.

I pick at the hole near the baseboard of the closet. Insulation pokes out and makes my hands itch, but I ignore it. I focus on making the hole bigger.

My plan to escape the closet came after hearing mice in the walls, scrabbling around as I tried to sleep. If they can move around in the walls, maybe I can, too.

The only problem is working without making noise. As the wall rips away in my hands, the hole grows, but so does my fear of discovery. They can’t know. They can’t find out.

The jingling of keys forces me to the front of the closet. It must be time to eat. Or maybe it’s time to go to the bathroom. I can’t always keep the schedule straight.

Bright light hurts my eyes and I duck my head down until they adjust. She’s standing in front of me, blocking some of the light. Well, one of them, at least. I can never tell them apart. I think they like it that way.

She thrusts some paper into my hands. No, not paper. An envelope. I open my mouth to ask about it, but she turns and leaves. She doesn’t shut the door again, so I take it as an invitation to leave the closet.

The envelope is heavy in my hands. Who knew paper could weigh so much.

I slit it open with my fingernail and ease the contents out. Frilly pinks and whites surround elegant handwriting.

You are cordially invited to the Branson’s for Emily’s Sixteenth Birthday Masquerade
Saturday, October 31
Please wear a mask

A masquerade! My heart leaps at the thought of fancy masks, feathers, and ballgowns. I can’t let the twins know about it. They’d never let me go. I burn the invitation.

I count down the days until the ball. Back in the dark of the closet, I have to fight to pay attention, counting meals and bathroom trips. I can’t miss the party.

The hole in the wall is almost me-sized. The pieces are stacked in the back corner of the closet, as far from the door as possible. The ladies haven’t seemed to notice.

I wish I knew why they kept me in here. I wish I could tell them apart. Every time I thought I had a connection with one of them, the other would show up and confuse me again. All I wanted was to get out of this closet.

Saturday comes. Dinner is served. The ladies settle in downstairs for the evening. The soft blare of the tv reaches my ears, muffled through so many walls and doors.

The hole in the wall is big enough. I’m amazed the ladies haven’t caught me. The thought disappears once I wiggle into the space and find my way outside. I had to break another hole in the outer wall, but freedom is worth any price.

I don’t have a dress. Only the rags the ladies saw fit to allow me to wear. I run into the woods near our house. Their house, I remind myself. It was never mine.

Leaves crunch under my feet. Twigs snag my clothes and snap. I fashion a mask from sapling twigs, pliable and strong, and leaves stolen from trees. Acorns adorn the sides where jewels and feathers should be.

I am ready.

People at the party give me a wide berth. I want to dance, but no one crosses the gap between them and me. This makes me want to flip tables over, but I don’t because that would make me a bad guest. I want nothing more than to stay here.

I eat the food and stalk the edges of the crowd. No one speaks to me, but everyone watches me from the corners of their eyes.

A mirror reflects my image as I make my rounds around the room. A waif of a girl stares back at me. Dingy clothes, matted hair, a mask made of the wilds. I don’t recognize myself.

Grabbing the nearest heavy object, a crystal vase with real roses in it, I smash the mirror. The crash satisfies the beast inside me.

The music stops. Everyone stares at me, the wild girl with feral ways and bared teeth. I growl at them. They take a collective step back.

The ladies glide through the crowd, confident and calm. Without a word, they grasp my arms and guide me home. Not to the closet, though. I’ve become too good at escaping for that.

I don’t know what lies in store for me at our home. Their home. It was never mine.

Originally posted at for the story prompt “identical twins, a party invitation, and a locked closet.”


Ocean’s Pull

Pikapod 018

Photo by Lisa

Nothing’s been the same since Pa left us last year. He got up early one morning, said he was going for some cigarettes, and he never came back. Ma said he left us for that bimbo secretary of his, but I know different.

He left us for the sea.

And now the same waves crest and crash in my soul. I’ve been trying to ignore it for Ma’s sake. She needs me. But the pull is strong and I can’t resist anymore.

It’s a wonder Pa lasted out as long as he did. I’m not as strong as him.

So tonight, when the moon is high and the night is deep, I’ll pack my things, kiss Ma’s sleeping forehead, and leave. She’ll understand. She’s got to.

Pieces of my Heart


Photo by Lisa

“It’s not what it once was,” I said. We stared at the run down house, trying to imagine it in its prime.

I blinked back tears at the gaping windows and falling roof and porch overgrown with weeds. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

You placed your arm around me and I tried to stop shaking. As you squeezed me tighter, heaving sobs surfaced and I buried my face in your chest. I soaked the front of your shirt with my tears.

“It’s okay,” you murmured in my ear. Over and over, a mantra I clung to. I wanted so badly to believe you, but I knew it would never be okay.

They say you can never go home again. I finally believe it.

The Void


Photo by Lisa

Silence lives on the other side of the door where the Other Family dwells. No one believes me when I tell them people live there.

“That’s just the pantry,” they laugh and open the door to show shelves full of cans and vegetables. “There’s no one living in there.”

But I know the truth. Every time I go past, light leaks around the outside of the door. I place my ear to the rough wood, hands splayed out in front of me as I balance myself, and try not to get splinters. There is nothing to hear. Not the comforting murmur of adults or the laughter of children.

There is nothing but the brilliant white void that leaks around the door. Vast, blank, and deafening.

My love is like a jellyfish


Photo by Lisa

“My love is like a jellyfish,” I told him. We stood watching them undulate around their saltwater tank.

“That’s stupid,” he said.

He turned to smile at me. An attempt at lessening the rudeness of his words, but they did not hurt me. I smiled back to show him I was not hurt.

As we moved through the aquarium, he kept asking if my love was like an otter. Or a turtle. Or a minnow. I sighed and grinned with forced patience and told him each time that, no; my love is like a jellyfish.

One day, when I break his heart with stinging words and leave him crying in the space we once shared peacefully, he will understand what I meant. Until that day comes, and it comes sooner with each inane question he asks, our love will be as soft and beautiful as a jellyfish in motion.