One of my best friends, Kenzi, told me at the end of August that she was going to create a new painting every single day in September. Being the friend that I am, I asked if I could tag along– the result has been more than I could have hoped for.
Every day, Kenzi sends me a picture of her painting, and I send her a story. She posts it, and boom! It is done. This has been such a fun project, because it is so easy for a creative to get into the muck and mire of editing– this keeps it light, simple, and lovely.
All paintings (with hand-written copies of their stories) are available at Kenzi’s Etsy Shop. All works are original; please do not use without artist permission (for more on this, you can contact me directly). You can find these and our other projects on our Instagram pages: Jessica or Kenzi.
Her eyes were the color of a thousand sunsets.
Not in the way that someone’s might look more blue or green or gray depending on what they were wearing, but like a prism; her eyes reflected everything she had ever seen in the world. Every green leaf, every purple sky, every drop of blue water and spark of red flame– it was all there.
Some might call that kind of beauty a blessing, but I knew what it really was: her greatest weapon.
And she was not afraid to use it.
The air was thin, cool, crisp. It was still dark out, and I was eager to watch the sun rise. I pulled on all my layers, and stepped outside. The snow was brilliant under the navy sky; touches of blues and purples kissed every surface I could see. As the sun began to climb, warmer colors pressed toward me. I took a deep breath of the thin air, and turned back to my camp. The sun would cause everyone else to stir any minute.
I waited. Nothing.
I waited a while longer– still nothing.
I tapped on the outside of the other tents. The sun had been up for an hour, and I hadn’t heard so much as a single snore. I began to shake a tent, my anxiety rising, my breath quickening. The tent toppled over, completely empty. I ran to the second tent, and it too flipped over, empty.
I was alone. On top of a mountain. With no knowledge of where to go next.
I looked at the sky, then towards the direction of the base of the mountain. I gathered my pack, and looked at the sky again. “What now?” I whispered. I waited only a moment before taking a step, back towards the warmth of civilization.
From behind NASA-approved helmets, the twins made eye contact, both of their smiles giddy. They had landed on a planet that had been under study for years– there were hypotheses that it might be life-sustaining. There was only one way to find out.
He marveled the dirt; it looked so much like the dirt at home even though it was a brighter hue. He ran it through his gloved hands, and then scooped it into a specimen jar.
He turned to look for his sister, the sound of his own breathing echoing inside his suit. He spotted her near a body of liquid– unlike the dirt, it did not look familiar, with its thick, magenta coloring. They made eye contact, and she jumped in. He screamed and ran to the edge where she had disappeared. Orders were coming in to his helmet from his captain, but once he was standing next to the liquid, he suddenly felt at home. The liquid looked foreign, but felt as safe as an earth lake, and strangely magnetic. “Do not follow her in, I repeat, do not!” “Captain, I can’t leave her…”
“Do not! We can send a drone in, I cannot risk losing you too!”
The brother dipped the edge of his foot in. It was warm. The same giddy smile from before crossed his face, & he jumped.
It had just finished raining. The ground still smelled like sweet earth, and the air hung heavy with humidity. Water dripped from the mossy edge of the bridge into the still water below. The bridge had long been neglected; no man or vehicle had passed over it in years. Bursting from the concrete, mosses of all varieties danced, and from within their life, other plants began to bloom. The pride of the bridge was a young willow tree; with every rain, she collected the heaviness she needed to persist, her roots digging wider and deeper, and with every drop of sunshine, her truck grew stronger, higher, embracing the glory destined to be hers.
My guru said that if I stared into the crystal long enough, at that specific rectangular imperfection, I would be transported.
I just assumed he meant that something metaphysical– not literal transportation. Yet here I was, standing in what appeared to be a frozen desert, when I had been sitting on my yoga mat before. I looked around; surely this was a dream. I pinched my arm so hard I could see blood vessels breaking. Nope, not a dream.
I had been transported.
She had been training her whole life; you could see it in every part of her. Not only in her thin, muscled arms– she looked like some wild woodland goddess– but also in the carrying of herself. Her shoulders were always pulled back and regal, her gaze and her steps always certain. I was starting to wonder if she was magic.
With one flick of those wild eyes, I knew she was.
She sat across from a small ragtag group of humans, watching them intently. Some of them eyeballed her– how could they not?– but many acted as if they didn’t notice her. Me? I stood with my arms folded, trying to assess what she was assessing. She cleared her throat, and the whole room fell silent.
You were the light that broke through the windows every morning, slipping sweetly between sheer curtains.
You were the first really deep breath of fresh air I had ever taken, expanding my lungs, my horizons, my dreams.
You were fresh eggs on Sunday morning.
I was leftovers.
I confined you by reminding you what it meant to be human, to be vulnerable, to be whole.
I was blinding, and you prefer the darkness and all that implies.
I won’t stop shining just because you are lost.
“Breathe in, nice and slow. Now breathe out as evenly as you can. Take your time, and find your space. Breathe again– in, nice and even, out, slow as you can.” By the grace of God, the radio could pick up one station, and luckily it was some new-age meditation station, where soothing voices breathed through the speakers. I couldn’t listen to it all day, but in the evenings, once I found a safe space to tuck myself away, I would turn it on low, and hug it close to me, following breathing instructions.
Before the world went to shit, I was one of those peace and love yogis. I ate all my greens and meditated all the time– truth be told, I still sink into my meditation as often as I can. The world is far too frightening to not search for calm, though finding a safe place to really sink into my seat is hard.
I’ve found a balcony of an abandoned hotel. Well, mostly abandoned; I know there are probably animals and people hiding the same way I am. I’m up three floors; high enough that someone would struggle to get to me, but low enough that I could jump. I’ve barricaded the door to get in, so the room behind me is empty as well. I just needed fresh air. Stagnant, stale rooms are the fastest way to sink into Sadness, and if I’m going to survive, I need to keep the darkness at bay.
A storm was moving in– one of the biggest storms we had ever seen. We were told on Thursday that we had to be out Saturday morning.
My car hasn’t run in weeks. I have thirty two dollars cash saved up. I have one dog, Potato, who I love more than anything in the world.
I sit on the floor of my apartment and cry. I don’t have much, but what I do have is so meaningful, I cannot imagine leaving it behind. If my car was operating, I probably could pack everything except my furniture into it.
I cannot stay. My only way out would be to fill a backpack, get Potato, and hope I can out walk this storm.
And what then? Be homeless? Thirty two dollars might feed us on our trip, but it certainly won’t also put a roof over our head.
But I don’t really have a choice. I begin to pack.
“If you keep looking into it, it will help you to forget.” She held an orb in her hand, and he looked at it, then up at her. “Forget what?” A smile crossed her face. “Nothing,” she said in a soothing voice. “Come with me.” .
Autumn has the most comforting smell, he thought. The air was crisp, and yet there was warmth in every scent, whether it was hot cider or decomposing leaves.
He had wandered far off the gravel path. The leaves boasted their radiant oranges, reds, and yellows, and yet he was certain from the path he had seen purple flowers just a few yards off. He had been walking for miles, still certain the violets were just a few feet ahead.
He finally came to a place in the woods where he realized that he was very, very alone. He took a deep breath of the cool air. “What do you have to be afraid of?” He whispered to himself. He took another deep breath. “Nothing.” He reminded himself. Nothing, that was, except for the flowers he seemed unable to reach.
“You are here because you know something has to change.” Her voice was warm, and the edges of her words melted like butter; slowly and sweetly. She rose from her chair and paced around the room. All eyes were on her now, wide with uncertainty. “We serve an unjust king, a coward who sits on a throne he does not deserve.” With each insult, sharp inhales could be heard about the room. “Wrongfully crowned, but not for long. You know this to be true.” The room was silent, and I stepped forward, my heart thumping so hard I could taste it in the back of my throat. “I am with you.”
“A walk through the garden is good for your entire being; it’s good for the mind, the body, the heart, the soul. Not too shabby for the eyes or the sniffer either.” He’d wink on that last part, and we’d take a stroll through his immaculate garden.
How does one have the patience for flowers, let alone other more complex living things? People, for instance. I find myself highly intolerant.
Cool, crisp kisses covered her calves where the water met her skin. She watched as tadpoles and small fish swam towards her and darted away when they noticed she didn’t belong.
It was quiet. Only the sound of the woods surrounded her; chirping birds and insects, the breeze slinking through leaves.
She was alone, and that was all she had ever wanted.
“You know how sometimes the same action produces different feelings? Sometimes a touch on the back of the neck feels delicate and attentive, and sometimes it feels threatening? You need to keep that in mind, always.” I scribbled notes as quickly as I could. “Because what works one day, one moment– it may not always work.” “Okay,” I said quietly as I finished writing. I put the notes to the side, then rose to my feet. “Are you ready to go in, then?” “I am.” A large security door opened and I stepped into a small hallway. The first door closed and snapped shut, and the moment before the second one opened, I could hear a voice in my earpiece:
“Do not become complacent, or you will be in even greater danger than you are now.”
When you see the one who has a soul made to match yours, you know it instantly. Something in your body knows– something in your soul. Sometimes, though, you understand cognitively.
As I watched her at the other end of the bar, I knew. She had a white t-shirt on, her hair short and ruffled. An empty glass sat in front of her, and her lips were pursed in thought as she listened to one of the bartenders. “Will you send her another of what she’s having, from me?” I asked the second bartender. He looked over his shoulder at her, then back at me. “You probably don’t want to do that.” He said quietly, and I shook my head. “No, I know that I do.”
Saltwater bubbled in shades of dark green and blue, dancing above soft white sand. It was sunny out, but the beach was empty.
Why was the beach empty?
I looked up and down; there were no chairs, no shovels and pails, no half-built sand castles, no bottles of sunscreen or rum. The waves roared, but there was no sound other than that repetitive song.
Why was the beach empty?
I looked out at the sea; there was no one. No boats, no intertubes, no surfboards, no inflatable creatures. I looked at the land; tall grasses blew in the wind, but no children dashed between them. There were no shoes piled by piers. There were no shouts between laughter.
Why was the beach empty?
The sun was rising, & I was still behind on chores. The cows had been milked and turned out to their fields, the horses brushed and turned out, the pigs fed, and as I walked to the chicken coop, I watched the sun peek through the trees. I took a deep breath in, and smiled.
Who needed computers when you could have the sunrise?
I had just committed to a leader who was guilty of treason simply by her speech.
I was not sorry.
I was also not alone; the shock fell away as I volunteered, which allowed others space to volunteer. With each commitment, our new leader nodded slightly, only the smallest of smiles on her face. She turned her head, and I noticed feathers woven into her hair: the sign of an unbeaten warrior. Wild, exotic feathers indicated wild, exotic battles– I longed to know the story of each and every one.
“Hey Lilac, come see this here.” “Lilah.” “It’s what I said.” The man was burly, with wild hair and kind eyes. “No, you keep calling me lilac, like the flower. My name is Lilah– I’m a person.” “I can see clear you ain’t a flower, girl.” The man shook his head with a chuckle. “Now quit that bickerin’ and come see.” He nodded down into the canyon, and eyed the girl as she peered with him. “It looks fine.” She shrugged. “Safe to stay the night?” He asked with genuine concern. She looked again, clicked her tongue, and turned her eyes towards him. “Safer than sleeping in the middle of the desert. Let’s head down.”
Her full gown pooled like water as she sunk to the floor, her feet sliding out from under her. Royalty may have its perks, but it did not protect from heartbreak.
It is way more difficult to disappear than one might imagine. Lucky for me, the technological side wasn’t as complicated as it might have been; I have never desired to be social online, so I thought it would be simple. What I didn’t consider is that even though I wasn’t online, my photo was. My information was. It made the transition a bit more complicated than I planned. Nevertheless, I planned. I created a new identity. I drove over two state lines, cut my hair in a gas station bathroom, drove another state, and pierced my septum. It felt bold; the best lies are simple, but this wasn’t a lie anymore: this was finally me.
I kept driving.
It was early, and I was pacing the edge of the woods, as I did every morning. The mist hung heavy, dancing with the promise of humidity that would only intensify as the day grew warmer. My heavy workboots landed softly on the ground with each step, and I heard a branch snap behind me. I had worked here long enough to not be startled by such things, but then I heard a girl’s giggle. I turned and looked over my shoulder, and saw nothing. It was clearly my imagination matched with the wind in the leaves. I continued walking, and it was then I realized it wasn’t laughter I heard.
It was singing.
We had stopped the car to take a picture. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen; the sky was so blue, the grass so green, the earth so rich, and surrounded only by tall grass stood a beautiful, bold tree. It’s limbs were long and wild, with glorious pops of purple. I lifted my camera, and that’s when I heard the padding of a dozen pair of feet against the earth.
Hungry children in ragged clothes, running at me like their lives depended on it, with big grins painted on their faces.
I could not decipher if I felt so loyal because she was so powerful, or if it was because she was so passionate. She was both things, yet possibly too humble– or too focused– to use either to describe herself. Her eyes flashed colors I had never seen before; she had captivated us all and knew it well.
We rounded the corner of the house, smiles on all of our faces. “It’s a beautiful home.” I said, holding my hands up to shield my eyes from the brilliant sun. “Yeah, we’ve done a lot of work to it.” The owner nodded, his hands on his hips. I heard a clucking noise, and turned around to see a chicken standing in the middle of the yard. “Oh. What… what will be done with this little gal?” I asked with a chuckle. “What does it matter? It’s just a chicken.” He scoffed. I looked at him, then back at the chicken.
This was not just a chicken.
This was more.
There is a tale I’ve been terrified to tell, but tell it I must because I know it will transform everything.
Autumn had finally arrived. A crisp, cool breeze pushed through the crunchy orange and brown leaves on the ground, a few remaining blossoms dancing in the air. It would be the last cool season she would ever experience, & both joy and sorrow filled her heart. “Are you afraid?” Her companion asked. She breathed slowly, and shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not sure. There are so many things to feel, and yet my feelings will be different tomorrow and the next day than they are today. I try not to pay them too much attention.”
“We will meet just before dawn, when the sky is darkest– we will be protected until we can get everyone inside. We’ll watch the sun rise through Gibson’s window, and then we will get to work.” It was then and only then I noticed the fire-haired man at our leader’s side, and a pang of competition but at the back of my throat.
When we arrived, I set my intentions while I stood at the gate. I had chosen to follow this leader not because the was beautiful, not because of her magic, but because she was just. She was right. Our current king was out of control, and would be the demise of our land if he was not stopped. “He must be stopped.” I murmured to myself.
Bonus: Seven of these tiny tales add up to the beginning of something bigger. Click here for the 30 Day Challenge Bonus Story!