Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Tag: creative writing

The Congregation

by Treehouse Editors

Bailey Bridgewater

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Bailey Bridgewater’s work has appeared in Crack the Spine, The Molotov Cocktail, The Eunoia Review, Nanoism, SubTerranean, As You Were, and Fiction on the Web.

The Gift

by Treehouse Editors

Karen Collier

I sit at the kitchen table with my mother, stepfather, and one of my new classmates, Kim, a girl with long black hair, eyes the color of a glacier, and skin so translucent I can see the veins meandering across her temples. They finish the last refrain of “Happy Birthday,” although Kim is singing the version about a monkey in a zoo.

“Make a wish!” My mother shoves a lop-sided chocolate cake with twelve candles in my direction.

I blow out the candles in one breath.

“Here!” Kim hands me a wrapped box as my mother begins to cut the cake.

I rip off the paper and open the box to find another smaller wrapped box.

“Fooled you.” Kim giggles, and I join her.

Our laughter grows as I open each box, only to find increasingly smaller wrapped boxes.

When I reach the smallest box, I think it is the perfect size for a pair of earrings or a friendship bracelet, but as I peel off the paper, I notice that Kim’s laugh has become maniacal and my mother looks worried.

I open the final box and see a sheet of fluffy cotton. I lift the cotton to find the bottom of an empty box.

“There’s nothing in it.” Kim doubles over laughing. “That’s why it’s such a good joke.”

We eat our cake in silence. I fight back tears. When we’re finished, Jerry offers to drive Kim home.

“See you tomorrow.” Kim waves as she bounces out the door.

My mother covers the leftover cake with tin foil and wets a washcloth. As she wipes cake crumbs from the table, she asks, “Is Kim the only friend you’ve made at your new school?”

“Yes,” I say, and I pick up a piece of torn wrapping paper from the floor.


Karen Collier is a native Texan. She spent twenty long years in high tech before becoming a high school English teacher and discovering how the other half lives: in poverty. She left teaching after five years to pursue life as a creative writer. Her work has been published in Full Grown People, The Austin-American Statesman, The First Line, and The Ocotillo Review.

Blurbs for My Forthcoming Novel Madam Anna

by Treehouse Editors

Barth Landor

“This is a fine work, an excellent contribution to the genre. Bravo!”

“An instant classic!”

“Evanescent, empathetic, prophetic, emetic: this tale wrenched everything out of me.”

“When I reached the last words of this stunning novel, I immediately started over, that heart-stopping finale (spoiler alert), ‘Bob, Ada? Madam Anna’s…Mom!’ a palindromic hint to begin reading this bewitching book backwards.”

“My first puzzled reaction to this book was “Huh?”, and when I realized the brilliant device it employed, I exclaimed, ‘Wow!’”

“I read this book in one sitting. There was no other choice, as I was orbiting Earth, having decided to launch myself into space to achieve what this stupendous novel demands: total silence (except when Houston was calling).”

“Do not ask me if Mr. Landor’s writing is deserving of the Nobel Prize. Any award that begins with No is not worthy of this writer. Show me a Yes prize, and I will say, ‘Yes! That is the prize for Mr. Landor.’”

“This is a phenomenal book, one likely to be added to the Western canon, and probably the Northern canon, too. Profound yet witty, with ravishing prose, every sentence of this masterpiece was labored over by me until I achieved perfection–until I reached the very last sentence and could exclaim, ‘Yay! I’ve just written a palindromic novel!’”

“Don’t just walk to go buy this novel; break your stride. Sprint! Race as fast as you can in your new Nike Bookmaster shoes, in which you can book faster to your nearest Barnes and Noble.” (Paid advertisement)

“It is nearing midnight. I compose this note on a bridge high above the River D–. I have just finished Madam Anna, and there is a contentment in me that I know I cannot surpass. I am happier than I will ever be again, and so why go on? Far below me on the street, I hear voices shouting, ‘You can turn back!’, and more confusingly, ‘It works in reverse!’–but no, this is art to make a life complete. I am ready to go to my maker knowing that after all (spoiler alert), Madam Anna really was Mom.”


Barth Landor is the author of a novel, A Week in Winter, and an essay, “Forty Passages for Shakespeare.”

The Cactus Moment

by Treehouse Editors

       Mary Haidri

Today Nina is a tender herbaceous annual plant    She permits cuts to callus over    woody &
green    Out of doors she is nearly translucent    Layers of tissue keeping her inside herself

anything can cut into it    anything can drop out    The fully mature seeds of Nina are black or
dark brown    There are nights when Nina is all mouth    crawl in    the open jar of her throat

working the trap    I don’t mind that you didn’t send a card    you can’t even look me straight in
the flower stalks    Nina develops best under long days in sunny conditions    She sits in a chair

by the window & drinks the light    fingers unfurling   Twenty-two weeks into propagation Nina
discovered she was rootbound & rotting    small briny daughter    overwatered into drowning

This is the cactus moment    the pulse & ache    a fist closed around nothing    Her parents drove
her to the hospital    they packed cotton between my legs to keep the roots from falling out

Standing in the red dirt of the garden    Nina droops her head    overripe & seedbound    She
has thickened fleshy parts adapted to store milk    not all mothers are soft    I am spines & thorns

for you little one    Blood turns rusty    Milk dries up    The evidence washes away in the shower
this husk is skin-thin & cursed    here    you can push your fingers right through the membrane


Mary Haidri is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of the play Every Path (La Jolla Playhouse & Moxie Theatre). Her work has appeared in Winter Tangerine, Portland Review, Nightingale, Bird’s Thumb, and Fairy Tale Review. She was the recipient of the 2017 Fairy Tale Review Poetry Award and is now a poetry reader for the journal. Visit her at nettleworks.com.

Celestial Divorce

by Treehouse Editors

Mary Haidri

give me a bed to die in    your honor    hear my appeal
my hands will become pale starfish    fingers signing slowly

against sheets    I know I know I    stutter    the human tongue flickers
we are guttering candles    your honor   I request protection of the court

his rage will drown me in a rock quarry    the loss of a god wounds
only soft places    like the skin of a wrist   the gap of a pulled tooth

the place between my mother’s arms    where she rocked me    singing
injure us and bind up our wounds   Holy One    thou art the blue bee

thou art the sting and the honeyed mouth too    your honor
he took every child we made    I was brought to the mountains

where everything drowns   they were all born face down in lake water
pond weeds wrapped around their throats    o holy court

what is a mouth for?    they say my ancestress was too lovely
to escape north to Pakistan    not without brutal attention

with each extracted tooth    the family shaped her face into a safety
for them all    mouth is a hole is a wound is a mouth   o holy court

little by little I will scrape myself away   until god no longer sees me
I curse these whispers    this is what a mouth is for


Mary Haidri is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of the play Every Path (La Jolla Playhouse & Moxie Theatre). Her work has appeared in Winter Tangerine, Portland Review, Nightingale, Bird’s Thumb, and Fairy Tale Review. She was the recipient of the 2017 Fairy Tale Review Poetry Award and is now a poetry reader for the journal. Visit her at nettleworks.com.

Brief Encounter: I’ll Tremble If You Like

by Treehouse Editors

Timothy Stewart Johnson

Mitchell stands before the fireplace spinning the cylinder in his father’s revolver. Mark and I sit before him on the sofa trying to telepathically communicate a plan to save ourselves, but fear blocks our brainwaves and we sit quietly, waiting to die.

“I’ve decided not to become a composer. I’ve decided to be a murderer, and I have someone picked out.” He keeps us pinned with the gun.

“Tim, you’re not trembling. I bet you’d tremble if I shot Mark.” I will tremble if you like, I say, lying. He cocks the hammer and points the gun at Mark’s face. We see the little gray bullets in their cylinders.

Click.

He blows imaginary smoke off the barrel. “The old empty chamber routine,” he says, smiling broadly. Still I don’t tremble.

We hear the crunch of tires in the driveway. Mitchell puts the gun in his pocket and he and Mark walk out the front door. They smile and say, “Hi, Mom and Dad.” Everyone calls my folks Mom and Dad, and they have no idea they are being patronized. I help unload the station wagon. Later, Mark comes back alone. “He was just fucking with us,” he says.

As the bus passes the school the next morning, I see Mitchell standing by a side door, hand inside his coat, waiting anxiously to kill Terry Payne, for she has decided not to be his girlfriend. I run from the bus to the parking lot to tell someone, but no one cares. Joints are being passed around, and I end up getting stoned.

An hour later, I come out of gym class and see a parade of police cars rolling down the street in slow motion. From the back of the last one, Mitchell flashes me the peace sign.

I am called to the office and asked what I knew and when I knew it. No one ever asks me why I didn’t tell anyone. I think they know. It’s because they are grownups and they are not to be trusted. We handle our business, they handle theirs.

The hives and the diarrhea keep me out of school for two weeks. Mark discovers heroin, and Mitchell is placed in an institution to be cured. Still I do not tremble, for it is not my way.


Timothy Stewart Johnson survived the 1960s with little more than some minor cuts and bruises and now works as a writer and designer in corporate marketing.

Brief Encounter: I Could Never Do a Cartwheel

by Treehouse Editors

Katie Miller

I imagine it feels like this: a single step off a ledge, a free fall so fast you forget to hold your breath.

*

I’m not saying that doing a cartwheel is the same thing as making a bad decision, but I am saying that I’ve never been able to do either, and I just think that maybe the two deficiencies are not unrelated.

As a kid, I’d watch my friends’ bodies slice through the air, all ease and stretched-out limbs. You just sort of—well, you just sort of kick your feet over your head, they’d tell me, brushing the dirt off their palms as they landed back on their feet as though seconds before they hadn’t been upside down, head inches from the ground. You just kick, let your body follow. Let go.

My body swollen with a pent-up energy that I’m only now beginning to recognize as a lifetime’s worth of accumulated indecision, I’d start the lunge. I’d fold myself sideways, tentatively palm the warm grass, repeat to myself: just kick just kick don’t think everyone can do a cartwheel you can do a cartwheel just let go. Before I could even plant my second hand on the ground, though, the inevitable self-conscious hesitation—potent, physical, this hesitation would seep through my body, settle into my stomach and weigh down my arms and legs like lead until I crumpled to the lawn, motionless.

*

Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that I’ve never made a real bad decision—one of those willed, eyes-squeezed-shut-to-the-inevitable-fallout risks that you might talk about only years later, in a dimly-lit dive bar, maybe, head bowed over a beer as you tell a stranger about this one time, when. Because if I could never trust myself enough to let go for a cartwheel—the simple one-two kick, a rotation guaranteed to deliver me back to solid ground—there is certainly no chance that I could risk a fall with no bottom, a somersault through the air sure to deliver me, battered, to some different reality. A reality in which I’m left aching, sore for the assurance of solid ground.

*

But still, I close my eyes sometimes and imagine I can hear wind whistling through my ears. I imagine that for just a moment, I don’t think about the bruises that will line my shins when I hit the ground: I’m here, suspended, weightless.


Katie Miller lives and works in Tucson, Arizona.