The Isle Charon

This post is a response to March 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


After the darkness ended, I was greeted by a light. It wasn’t the kind of light I was expecting, as this pale chartreuse aura did not match the splendor of the spring sunlight I had woken up to yesterday morning. I remember groggily climbing into my car, turning up the heat to defog my windshield, pulling out of my drive way, and getting on the highway. From that moment until now, all I have is darkness.

Beneath my feet, the ground moved slowly and purposefully. Silver and gold handrails adorned either side of my path. I couldn’t see the ground itself, as the yellow-green aura kept me from seeing beneath my knees. But I felt it moving steadily forward. I couldn’t turn back.

Through the misty surroundings, a small island began to appear. Atop the island sat a large gazebo made from cherry wood. The gazebo was flanked by six dogwood trees, one for each of the structure’s six sides. The flowers of the trees were in full bloom, with the occasional petal falling to the ground below. The closer I got to the island, the more the aura faded away, allowing me to see that the ground was nothing more than a transparent walkway carrying me above a pristine lake. Beneath the walkway, dozens of fish swam happily along, darting to and fro within their schools.

When I was a few feet from the island, two women in simple silk robes exited the gazebo and began walking toward the edge of the land. The first woman was tall, lanky, and pale, with her flaxen hair tied up in a tight bun atop her head. She wore an indigo robe, while her counterpart wore a bright yellow one. The second woman also appeared to be taller than me, though shorter than the first woman. Her skin was much darker, with her own ebony locks also tightly and carefully positioned against the top of her head. As the walkway deposited me on the island, the woman in the yellow robe spoke to me.

“Welcome to the Isle Charon,” she began. “Do you know why you’re here?”

“No, I don’t,” I replied.

“Your name is David Jennett,” continued the woman in the yellow robe. “You were involved in an automobile accident. You fell asleep at the wheel and careened off of a bridge into a gorge below. You died instantly.”

“And who are you?” I asked.

“We’re known by many names,” said the woman in the yellow robe. “I am Elu, the keeper of what humans consider life. This is my sister, Eterna, the keeper of what humans consider afterlife.”

“What do you mean, consider life and afterlife?” I questioned.

“To Elu and I, life is one continuous line,” replied Eterna. “Humans see life and the afterlife as two separate things because your consciousness can’t handle the experience of death that occurs between the two.”

“I see.”

“We are the guardians of this passage,” continued Eterna. “We are responsible for the existence you experienced before arriving here, as well as that which you’re about to undergo after leaving Isle Charon. All experiences on Earth, be they good, bad, or indifferent, are through Elu’s creation. I am the creator of all things in the world to which you’ll be venturing after this visit. All experience in the afterworld, be they good, bad, or indifferent, are through my creation.”

“I’m sure you have many questions of us,” interjected Elu.

“So many. So very many.”

Elu chuckled to herself.

“Humans always do,” she stated. “There’ll be someone in the world created by Eterna that will help you adjust to your new life. I assure you that most of your questions will be answered there.”

“So what is this place then?” I asked.

“The Isle Charon is where every recently deceased soul comes to handle the complexities of their unfinished business,” replied Eterna. “For some people, they never got to say goodbye to their family. For others, there’s a feeling of not having accomplished everything you could have while on Earth. Elu and I will help you work through those feelings so that you can be at peace once you leave here.”

I stood there staring at Elu and Eterna, combing through every place in my brain I imagined unfinished business to be stored. Nothing. Not just unfinished business, but no memories. The mental block I’d hit was overwhelming. I could feel that I was me. Beyond that, there was just emptiness.

“What were those pieces of unfinished business I had on Earth?” I asked.

“Let’s have a seat and talk you through them,” said Elu.

“Coffee? Tea? Cocoa?” asked Eterna.

“Those things exist after death?” I inquired.

“Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you have to suffer through not having coffee,” replied Eterna.

“Coffee sounds nice,” I answered. I wonder what happened to the coffee I’d brought with me in my car. It probably exploded all over my windshield during the crash.

Eterna walked over to a cabinet on the far size of the gazebo. She reached opened the door and reached inside, producing a piping hot mug of coffee. She walked back over and sat it back down in front of me. Despite me giving no question nor command, Elu answered the question that was on my mind.

“Don’t think about it too hard,” she said. “The rules of this world don’t work the same as yours. We keep our coffee out of sight, be beyond that, we can get it whenever we want.”

“Huh,” I said, still surprised that a wooden door held steaming coffee behind it.

“You’re an uncommon one, David,” Eterna stated. “When many people come to the Isle Charon, we talk with them about their family and friends. Sometimes there’s a moment of disappointment of not achieving fulfillment with someone’s career.”

“We even had a gentleman the other day that just needed to see his rare ornamental bulbous plants bloom,” interrupted Elu.

“But your mental block that’s keeping you from moving into the afterworld is not what you had in life. It’s what you didn’t have.”

“I don’t follow,” I said.

“Let me give you an example,” stated Elu. “A few months ago, your girlfriend moved in with you. Things by and large were going fairly well for you, but you two fight a lot. When you fight at night, what do you go to sleep thinking about?”

“How much I wish we hadn’t fought?” I questioned.

“More specific than that.”

“How I wouldn’t be fighting if I was with someone else.”

“Exactly,” answered Eterna.

“Here’s the thing, David,” continued Elu. “It’s not true. No matter who you would have been with, you would have fought with them.”

“But what about that soulmate that’s out there for everyone?” I asked. “That one person that changes your world and makes love perfect.”

Elu sighed heavily.

“We both hate that concept,” Eterna replied. “It’s flawed in so many ways, not the least of which is that the idea that a perfect love exists without any frustration or anger is unrealistic.”

“Let’s try this,” said Elu. “Your relationship with your girlfriend, Arryn, is one that grew out of a friendship, right?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“Alright,” Elu continued, “now of all of the women you ever wanted to be with — regardless of whether you dated them or not — who was the most perfect person for you in your mind?”

Without skipping a beat, I blurted out the name of the only woman I never failed to fumble over my words in front of.

“Julie Soria,” I replied. “We were friends in college. She’s pretty much the only reason I stuck with my history minor.’

“And what made her so perfect in your mind?” Elu inquired.

“She was kind and caring. She had this very open mind, to the point where she took being humbled when she was wrong as a learning experience. Julie had these gorgeous green eyes that she always wore blue contacts over, making it look like she had either cyan or teal irises, depending on how the light hit them. And she always had the most wonderful smelling something for her hair. No idea if it was shampoo or what, but it made her lovely red hair that much better.”

“And why didn’t you guys date?” Eterna asked.

“We hung out here and there, even alone at times,” I replied. “She always invited me to church, but I never saw the appeal. After a while, she just stopped talking to me.”

“That church she went to was a cult,” Elu said. “Forty-six people, including Julie, killed themselves as part of a ‘religious experience’ or something.” Elu make giant air quotes as she said religious experience. “Had you gone with her to that church more than a couple of times, the two of you would have dated, but it would have ended with you bring brainwashed and being another death.”

“Holy fuck!” I exclaimed. “How do you know that?”

“This is literally what we do,” answered Eterna. “We know all, we see all, we help people move on from every possible permutation of their lives.”

“Okay,” I responded, “but what if I would have stayed with my high school girlfriend?”

“You two would have divorced six months into your marriage and you would have committed suicide,” replied Elu dryly.

“Do I always die young?” I asked.

“You always arrive in the afterworld young, regardless of the choices you made on Earth,” said Eterna. “But I promise it’s better there.”

“How do you know?” I shouted. “You’re not even there.”

“Because we created both worlds,” answered Eterna.

“And what if I don’t want to go there?” I asked.

“That’s not a choice you have,” answered Elu. “You have notahtame haeave to go farem.”

“What”?” I asked.

“I said it’s noth yarr cohiecth. Yoafa have moatame haeave feam.”

The chartreuse mist was beginning to engulf the gazebo and everything in my sight. Eterna and Elu faded into the distance, but I could still hear Elu talking to me, though I couldn’t understand what she said. As the mist grew stronger, I felt a searing pain in my legs, along with a massive headache forming around my eyes. The mist shifted into darkness, leaving me with nothing but pain and the echos of Elu and Eterna’s voices.

I woke up atop a hospital bed in a dimly lit room. I looked around, slowly moving my head as the painful headache was still there. It took me much longer to scan my surroundings than normal, but I found that I was alone. Outside my room, I could see a coffee cart. From my angle, I could see the elbow of the person behind the cart, but not much else.

“Hey!” I yelled, my voice straining as I did so. “Can you hear me?”

The merchant from the coffee cart peeked into my room and smiled at me.

“I don’t think you can have any coffee, man” he said. “I can flag down a nurse for you.”

“Nah, I’m good,” I replied. “Have I been here long?”

“At least since I got here Tuesday morning. It’s Friday now.”

“Shit. Any chance I can use your phone?”

The coffee cart man walked over and handed me his phone.

“Just don’t take more than a half hour,” he said. “I’ve got to head upstairs at 6:30.”

The coffee cart man unlocked his phone and left the room. I opened the keypad on his phone, only to realize I didn’t know Arryn’s number. It was always in my phone, so I never had to memorize it. I dialed the only number I could remember — my dad’s work phone. It rang multiple times before the voicemail picked up.

“Hey dad,” I said. “It’s me. I think I got in a car wreck. I’m at…where am I?”

“Cedar North Hospital,” the coffee cart man shouted.

“Cedar North Hospital apparently. When you and mom can, come see me. And if you could call Arryn and tell her…I don’t know where my phone is. I love you. Bye.”

I sat the coffee cart man’s phone down on my chest and closed my eyes. All I wanted was to go back to sleep. As I began to drift off, I could see the chartreuse mist in the distance, beckoning back to the Isle Charon. I didn’t want to go back, even though I knew I’d see Elu and Eterna again eventually. With any luck, I’d wake up to see my parents or Arryn, even if it was only for a few minutes before I had to go back to the island.

Mid-Month Short Story Challenge #8

Welcome to the eighth edition of the mid-month short story challenge. Thank you so much to everyone who participated in last month’s prompt. In previous months, you’ve written about change, people watching, a frantic lady at the airport, and many other topics. This month, the theme of the prompt will be focusing on death and reflection. Feel free to be part of this month’s challenge, or any of the other mid-month short story challenges by responding to a prompt with your own tale.

Your prompt is for this month below. Your story should be posted on April 1, 2018. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story and share.

  • Suggested number of words: 1000-2000 words
  • Seven words to work into your story: Command, humbled, mental, family, chartreuse, merchant, bulbous
  • Genre: Your choice
  • Rating/Content Limitations: Your choice
  • Topic: You are a dying or recently deceased person. You are confronted — either literally or metaphorically — with the ghosts of your past.

Time Crunch

This post is a response to February 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


Shit, shit, shit. I’m going to miss my plane. Why do they have to put the gates so far apart? I only have a half hour to make it all the way across the airport to the C terminal from the far end of the A terminal. I couldn’t have done that in my youth, let alone now.

Where’s the cart man? There’s always one around except when you need him. If I could only see past the aquarium that’s ahead of me. Who puts a giant fish tank in the middle of an airport? Is it supposed to be art? That’s not where fish live. I don’t care if it’s unorthodox or it’s kitschy. It’s an eyesore.

The lady at baggage check in Denver got all upset that my checked bag was over weight by one pound. One pound! She tried to make me pay for it. I wasn’t having that, not when I can wear all my hats on my head and put my handbag in my carry on. Oh the hubris of my morning self, always thinking I can do more when I have energy.  Two in the afternoon me hates that person and wants to give morning me a piece of my mind. At least there’s only three hats this time. Last trip it was four.

I ran by a baby in a stroller, my rolling bag careening perilously close to taking out the sleeping child. That’s the life. You get to lay and sleep in public whenever you want, all while having someone take care of you and watch for your safety. I don’t miss doing taking care of my children that way, even if I do miss their childhood. Pretty soon, I’ll have them take care of me. Not because I need it — you don’t run through airports at my age because you’re frail — but because I want to see the look on my daughter-in-law’s face when she has to regularly interact with anyone she sees as old. Selfish harlot. She only married my son for his money. Joke’s on her. He’s a compulsive gambler.

Up ahead, I see a cart. The man driving the cart is waiting as a woman in this lovely flower print shirt is slowly climbing onto the back of the cart. Her cane is dangling on the edge of the handrail of the cart, mere inches from falling to the ground. Fall! Fall you wooden trinket! It’ll keep the cart man from leaving until I get up there.

The cane didn’t fall. I start waving my left arm frantically as I drag by bag with the right.

“Cart!” I yell. “Don’t go! I need a ride!”

My top hat comes flying off my head as I pass an open seating restaurant. The brim lands directly in the middle of a pregnant woman’s fruit plate, knocking her assorted berries to the floor. At this point, I have a choice to make. Do I go back for the hat and miss my cart or do I keep running forward and leave the mom-to-be with my good sun hat? While time suggests I should ignore the hat and keep going, the data behind how infrequently my family calls me would dictate that my kids can pay to rebook my flight if I miss it and they really want to see me.

I slow down and turn around, running back to grab the hat. The woman has the hat extended out to me in advance, fully seeing that I’m in a hurry to go somewhere. If she knew I was going to South Carolina, perhaps she’d be inclined to help me avoid the trip.

When I turned around, the cart had begun moving. I shouted after it, but the cart driver didn’t hear me. The lady on the back of the cart did. She turned and looked at the cart driver, then turned back to me, raised her wrinkly arm to the sky, and flipped me the bird.

I need a drink. Family can wait.

Mid-Month Short Story Challenge #7

Responses to this month’s prompt

The Airport (Tabitha Wells)

Time Crunch (Me)


Welcome to the short story challenge that you’ll have the least amount of writing time on all year. With February being the shortest month of the year, you get only 14 days to complete this prompt rather than the standard 15 or 16 days, depending on the month. Not that it’s a concern — in this month’s prompt, you’ll take the point of view of a very hurried woman and tell her story. Now rush along and write your story.

Your prompt is for this month below. Your story should be posted on March 1, 2018. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story and share. Thank you so much to Stephanie for her help in coming up with this prompt.

  • Suggested number of words: 1000 word limit
  • Seven words to work into your story: Dangling, aquarium, stroller, data, orthodox, handbag, berries
  • Genre: Slice of life/melodrama
  • Rating/Content Limitations: Your choice
  • Topic: You are an elderly woman who is rushing through the terminal of an airport. You are wearing three hats on your head, trying to balance them on your head as you drag a small rolling bag behind you.

Your Order Is Ready

This post is a response to January 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


I miss it, you know? The calm, faint jazz music in the air. The antiquated computer systems set up on the far wall providing forever unused free internet. The clamor of touque-clad locals thinking it’s cold outside even when frost can’t form. It was a surreal place to be.

“Darren!” shouted the girl with deep red hair from behind counter. “Ice caramel latte with sweet cream for Darren.”

I watched as gray-haired man in a tan suit strode up to the counter and took the drink from the girl. She gave him a wide smile, though his face was angled away from me, preventing me from seeing if he’d reciprocated. Most people didn’t. I doubt he did.

Fall is a fickle time in the upper Midwest. You never know from one day to the next if you’re going to wake up to late-summer heat, bone-chilling Arctic plunges, rain that soaks through ever article of clothing, or unpredictable winds that blow umbrellas away from unsuspecting tourists. Today was one of the few lucky days before the birds flew south for the winter that nearly everyone seemed happy about the weather.

The variety of clothing in line at the register amused me greatly. At the end of the line, a short, bulky man in his later years wore khaki pants and a white button up shirt. He carried a book and a newspaper under his left arm, clearly set on using the coffee shop as a place to read. Why even bother dressing up? Behind him, a woman and her daughter wore matching outfits — a t-shirt about a 5k run that had taken place earlier in the day and a pair of black sweatpants with white lines running vertically up the side. Next in line, a woman with impatient eyes pulled a lint roller out of her purse, carefully removing every stray pet hair from dark blue top. She scoffed every time she rolled over a hair, only to have to go back to the same spot and try again. Finally, a young man in a dirty sweatshirt and stained blue jeans nervously fumbled with his hard hat, trying to find a way to balance it in his right hand while playing a game on his cell phone with his left.

I love visiting coffee shops. Aside from fulfilling me primal desire for caffeine, they allow me to watch as little moments within the stories of so many lives that take place independently of one another become ever so briefly intertwined.

“Arnold!” the girl with the deep red hair yelled out. “Black coffee with room for Arnold.”

The elderly man in dress clothes moved slowly toward the counter, grabbing his coffee once he arrived. The girl behind the counter gave that same wide smile I’d watched her give so many times before. The elderly man thanked her and made his way back to his paper and novel.

I missed that coffee shop in Arizona with the jazz, the computers, and the people who didn’t understand the cold. The drinks weren’t markedly better than they were here. Sure, I liked the weather here than there, but I could get authentic baklava with my iced coffee there. There’s nothing quite like eating a Greek pastry with Colombian coffee while sitting on the patio and listening to American jazz music as the smells of the Mexican restaurant next door waft past your nostrils.

There was a sense of community there, even if it was largely an unspoken one. On more than one occasion, I left my computer alone at my table while I ran off to the restroom. I knew no one would touch it while I was gone. That type of action wouldn’t have fit into the coffee shop’s community.

“I’ve got a french vanilla cappuccino for Karen and a strawberry Italian soda for Kat,” said the deep red-haired girl from behind the counter. She didn’t have to shout this time, as the mother and her daughter were waiting there for the drinks to finish. The child in particular was excitedly impatient for them to get done. The girl behind the counter added a friendly wave to the little girl to her smile, causing the child to chuckle.

The deep red haired girl behind the counter was particularly fascinating to me, as she was the lone like — aside from coffee, that is — that tied the two places together. The name on her name tag was Izzie, at least it is here. That said, when I first met her ten years ago in that coffee shop in Arizona, she introduced herself to me as Becky.

Izzie, or Becky as she was then, got in line behind me as I was waiting to order my coffee. Our meet cute, as Izzie insisted on calling it, involved Izzie not watching where she was going as I turned around from the counter. She ran into me hard, knocking the lid off of my coffee and spilling it down the front of her mint green and white polkadot dress. I apologized profusely for my own inability to keep the coffee in the cup, but she was too busy laughing at my failure to get a reasonable amount of napkins out of the holder to give to her to notice.

“Chai tea latte with skim milk and a shot of hazelnut for Miriel!” Izzie shouted to the woman still struggling with her lint roller. The woman tossed her lint roller into the trash, grabbed her coffee and stormed out the door.

I offered to take Izzie out to dinner to apologize for ruining her dress. She accepted, only to wear the exact same dress to dinner, just to prove it wasn’t ruined. She surprised me midway through dinner by kissing me on the cheek as she came back from the restroom, then surprised me further by taking me back to her immaculately cleaned apartment later that night. That kind of flattery got her everywhere. For as well as our first few dates went, the magic fizzled out quickly. Izzie and I broke up less than three months later.

Shortly after we split, I got a promotion at my job that relocated me to Fargo, North Dakota. I jumped on the offer and moved away, ultimately kickstarting my career. I only have to go into the office one day a week, meaning every other day, I can work from home — or as I prefer to do, work from the coffee shop. The last ten years have treated me quite well.

I wish I would say the same for Izzie. I ran into her in Fargo for the first time just over six years ago, with her behind the counter of a local coffee shop in Fargo, just as she is today. We recognized each other immediately, though she didn’t speak to me. As I was waiting for my order, Izzie told me to meet her outside as soon as I got my drink.

I got into her small sedan with pitch black tinted windows and listened to how Izzie’s life had gone south over the past three years. A later boyfriend of hers was a major drug dealer in the area, not to mention he had a nasty habit of killing anyone who crossed him. When Izzie agreed to flip on him in court in exchange for going into a witness protection program, she jumped at the chance. It meant not being Becky anymore — not going to a college where she had great friends and good grades, not living minutes from her family, not being who she once was, not dying her hair away from the deep red natural color she hated. But it meant she got to feel safe.

Every day during the week except Tuesdays, I sit in the coffee shop and do my work. I watch the people coming in and out. I’ve begun to recognize their faces, their habits, and their drink orders. I’ve learned to watch for that wide smile of Izzie’s to know everything was okay with the person she was helping. If something did go awry, I’d be there to help her.

“Decaf cafe latte for Aurelius!” Izzie shouted.

She handed the coffee to the man with the hard hat. He held his phone in his lips, placed his hard hat back on his head, then grabbed his phone and coffee and left. With no one in line, she shouted over to me.

“You need any more coffee?”

“No thanks,” I yelled back. “You guys going to start carrying baklava?”

Izzie laughed as she wiped off the counter with a wet rag.

“I’ll have to ask the manager.”