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March 30, 2024 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing tagged as , ,

A day of never-ending rain. Pounding on the roof, dripping off overflowing eaves, collecting in pools and puddles on the lawn. Hour after hour, by the quarter- and the half-inch, the water climbing the sides of the rain gauge in the small yard until it reached a full three inches.

Photo by reza shayestehpour on Unsplash

The broad Delaware flowed brown with the mud it had picked up farther upstream. And like the water in the rain gauge, the river crept up its banks until it swirled only steps from Cara’s back porch.

Flood stage was sixteen feet, and according to the gauge at Frenchtown, the river stood at fourteen feet and rising.

It was the price she paid for living in a house perched on the riverbank. When it rained, she risked being flooded out. 

And, unbelievably, the rain drove even harder against the roof. The plastic bucket she set under an intermittent leak in the living room splatted with a steady rhythm—Thunk-thunkThunk-thunk.

Jasper, her beagle, trotted back and forth across the kitchen tile, keyed up because of the downpour. He hated storms and only barely tolerated steady rain. Just like her ex, hating their stormy relationship and only barely putting up with their daily life. It was no surprise when Todd bailed three years into their marriage.

At two o’clock, Cara put on her rain jacket and boots, and drove slowly through the slosh of water that ran across her road, the new stream seeking the river, on the downslope. Her mother would be waiting at the door, ready for her doctor appointment.

Sitting in the waiting room, Cara felt her phone buzz. Kimm, her neighbor. They R evacuating us. Closing roadI’ll be at my sister’s.

But Jasper. She texted back: Can u take Jasper? I’ll get him from u later.

Several beats later Kimm responded. Water 2 highSorry.

“Mom, I can’t stay,” Cara said, as she dropped off her mother after the appointment. “My dog …”

“Oh, he’ll be fine.” Her mother shuffled slowly beneath Cara’s umbrella. “Todd is there, and it’s just a little rain.”

Her mother routinely forgot Cara was divorced, had been for a year and a half. He’d wanted them to move to higher ground, but she refused. The river was her life blood.

Zipping back to her neighborhood along the river, Cara splashed through standing water, her wipers on high, and cursed the car’s defrost, which couldn’t clear the fog from the front window.

A flashing Road Closed sign a quarter mile from her turnoff stopped her momentarily. But no one official was monitoring the road, and she maneuvered her car around the barrier to continue up the road. 

She was about a thousand feet from her destination when she could go no farther in her car. The water stretched ahead of her, swirling and frothing. Pulling well off the shoulder, she parked and waded into the flood. The water reached her ankles and then her knees, but she could see her house, the brown roof, the thirty-foot pine near the south wall. The house itself was up a slight rise, so that by the time she reached it, the water had retreated to her ankles.

Jasper’s barking welcomed her onto the porch. She unlocked the door, and the dog pranced around her legs. 

“Yes, I’m home.” She wrestled playfully with the beagle, but the rising water lapping at the porch steps caught her eye. It was a major torrent; this time the house might not survive. 

She had to. To prove to Todd she was right.

With a calmness she didn’t feel, she found her backpack and a duffel bag, placing within them essentials she wanted to save. Jasper followed her from room to room, whining softly. She knew what he meant: Stop the rain.

“Wish I could, buddy,” she said, pausing briefly to give him a pat. 

She checked the house one last time and locked the front door. The river churned in a muddy eddy, like a mug of pale chocolate. The water was now at the bottom porch step, knee deep—too deep for Jasper. But if she didn’t leave now, the combination of rising water and current might overwhelm her.

She hauled the stuffed pack onto her back, looped the duffel over her right shoulder, and picked up Jasper. He let her hold him, without a wiggle or squirm. 

One foot into the water, then the other. The current tugged at her. Step by step, careful to position each foot solidly on the path, Cara traveled several hundred feet. Then a misstep let the current spin her and she started to fall. Releasing Jasper, she caught herself and gasped. 

The dog. He’d disappeared beneath the surface.

“Help!” she called, although no one was there to hear. “Jasper!”

After she battled a moment of frozen panic, the dog’s head popped up. He was swimming beside her. 

Pushing ahead, Cara reached the shallower water and then the gravel; Jasper now trotted on solid ground.

She bent and hugged him, his wet fur wiping the tears from her face. They’d made it.

These Anthologies Contain Some of Dianna’s Short Stories

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Answer Me This

January 30, 2024 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing tagged as ,

The deck beckons you to turn over a card. The cryptic symbols on the backs intrigue you, but you aren’t sure you want to wade into the tarot just yet.

A friend gave you the deck yesterday, on your birthday, telling you with a smile, “This will help with your decision.”

Britt knows you too well—that you are often indecisive and in fact have put off this most important action until it is almost too late. 

“But I know nothing about fortunetelling,” you sputtered after opening the small box that neatly held the tarot deck. 

“All the better,” she said with a knowing nod. “They will guide you.”

And now you stare at the deck, your hands trembling slightly. You feel like a skier at the top of a steep hill: Once you push off, you will be on a downward slope without any ability to stop until you reach the bottom—or hit a tree.

Britt has already nudged you gently. “Start your session with the cards by asking a question.” She winked. “You already know one, right?”

Yes, you do. And, so here you are, whispering the question to yourself. The deck is ready even if you are stalling.

The first card’s smoothness belies the fellow on the other side: a joker. You wonder if you’ve misunderstood the intent. Are these meant for playing a game like poker? Then you notice that the card’s name is the Fool. Ah, that makes sense. Who’s the Fool now?

From some memory your mind dredges up—was it a carney attraction when you were a kid?—you recall that a handful of cards are turned over and from them your fate is revealed.

The memory comes crashing back: The woman with the short-cropped hair and dramatic eye liner, her long, blood-red fingernails tapping the cards as she discussed your future. The musky perfume that infused the small room off the main carnival path.

“Today is here, make the most of it.” Then her frown as she turned over the last card. 

You fled before she could pronounce your fate. What had seemed a lark had become menacing. Now, you mull over her cliched answer and realize how spot-on she was: You were indecisive even then.

The Fool’s card is followed by the Six of Wands, then you flip up Judgement, then the King of Cups. Is that enough? Once again, you mine that long-forgotten memory, but the number of cards on the threadbare carney tablecloth is just beyond your grasp. 

You decide to turn just one more face up. This time it’s the Wheel of Fortune, reversed.

And now you should have the answer you reluctantly seek . . . somewhere in these images. 

The words form in your mind, as though someone or something is dictating them: You are at the cusp of a new beginning. This is your wake-up call; once you take this step, there is no going back, but this is good news. You have long seen your life as one in which you are waiting for the best to come. That changes with today.

And now you are texting Britt. She has posed a question to you, one that will indeed change your life.

“Yes,” you text. “My answer is yes.”

Some of Dianna’s Stories are in the following anthologies:

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Turning Point

October 30, 2023 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing tagged as , ,

The pumpkin foretold the event—the dare, the maze, the fire, all of it. If only Gregg had known to heed the warning of that orange jack-o’-lantern on the porch: The flickering slits for eyes, the leering mouth with mold grown over the gourd’s carved incisors. He’d laughed when he spotted it. So Julian

Photo by Burst on Unsplash

But then Breslin stood in the doorway, with her beestung lips, the look in her eyes that invited him—demanded that he come into the cabin without delay. 

“You’re late,” she said, pulling him inside. “We’ve started.”

She joined the three others at the wood-planked table: Julian, Monty, and Claire. One chair sat empty, and Gregg claimed it.

The windows were draped with dark fabric, and the only light came from candles that flickered on the mantle and the stained kitchen counter. In their dim glow, Gregg glanced at the quartet. The room smelled of unwashed bodies and beer. 

“Drink up,” Julian said, pushing a bottle of IPA toward Gregg.

“It’s still on?” Gregg opened the bottle and hesitated before raising it to his lips. If what they’d planned was still a go, he wanted to be alert, fully sober.

“Fuck, yes.” Monty wrapped a scythe with tape, winding the sticky strand round and round the handle. “You’re not backing out, are you?”

Gregg shook his head. He was there and he would stay, even though his better sense urged him not to. 

Julian pushed back from the table. “Let’s go.” He stared for several moments at Gregg. “What happens tonight stays with us. Anyone who talks is dead. Anyone who runs, we’ll find you.”


The five walked up the wooded Poconos hillside to the large expanse of open field at the top. Monty carried the scythe, Claire held an unlit torch, Breslin grasped a dagger, and Julian led the way with a backpack on his shoulders. Gregg, empty-handed, trailed behind—not far enough to invite Julian’s wrath but a good ten feet behind Breslin. Had she ever really liked him? Gregg wasn’t sure. What she did love, he knew, was the rush of the dare.

Julian’s challenge that evening: They would brave the hilltop corn maze, cut to resemble a spider’s web. Once through the maze and if they survived its gallery of obstacles, they would destroy it by fire. The cabin they would torch on their way out. No one would be able to pin the destruction on them. So Julian said.

How had Gregg gotten himself mixed up in all this? It was Breslin who’d invited him. Julian was chilly to the idea of Gregg’s presence, but they’d all hung together in high school, and why not continue the friendship circle? Gang, Gregg corrected himself. He remembered the hazing. And Breslin was a looker. He would follow her anywhere.

Almost anywhere.

At the entrance to the maze, Julian looked at his phone. “One hour,” he announced. “If you’re not out by seven, we light the field anyway.”

Monty held up a hand as though to put Julian on pause. “Wait. Send up a flare if we’re not out in time. We can whack our way through to you before you burn it.”

Julian laughed. “I’ll think about it.” He looked up at the sky. “Clear and calm. This is your last chance to say no.” He smirked. “Of course, if you do, you may not see tomorrow.”

Then he was through the entrance and around a corner before anyone else could react.

“Motherfucker,” Monty muttered, and he, too, was gone.

Breslin and Claire put their heads together for a beat, then set off into the maze at a sprint, but not before Breslin looked over her shoulder at Gregg. 

Maybe she just wanted to make sure she wasn’t the last one in.


Twelve minutes to seven, with the October daylight fading, and Gregg stood at the junction of two paths, absolutely lost. He had not seen or heard any of the others—had they made it out? A slight breeze made the dried corn stalks scratch against one another, and he heard the distant cawing of a murder of crows.

His palms were slippery with sweat even in the coolness of sunset. Somehow he had a machete in his left hand. He didn’t recall picking it up, but the last fifty minutes had passed in a blur. Out, out, get out, his mind urged.

“Fuck it,” he said aloud. He would never finish by Julian’s deadline, not unless he borrowed Monty’s idea of hacking his own path. But which way? With the corn stalks a good foot above his head, he couldn’t see the tree line or anything but the sky. His phone was no help.

A series of loud pops and a scream straight ahead made the decision for him. He dashed up the righthand path toward the cry, holding the machete in front of him as a kind of shield. When the path turned, he nearly hit Breslin. She stood frozen, silent, staring at the ground, where Julian lay, the dagger Breslin had carried buried in his chest. 

Gregg moved Breslin to one side and knelt to feel for Julian’s pulse.

“He’s . . .” Breslin whispered the word.

Gregg nodded and closed Julian’s blank eyes. “What did you do? Where’re the others?”

Her face cycled through conflicting emotions. “He’s . . . a monster.” She crumpled to the ground. “I had to . . . stop him.”

Gregg wanted to comfort her but wasn’t sure he believed her. The evening was skewing far off course, and the main objective now was to get out of the maze before it was too dark to see.

“We’ll chop our way out,” he said, standing. He could do nothing more for Julian. Swinging the machete, foot by foot he cut a path that he guessed would lead him out. If he stood on his toes, he could see the top of a bare tree in the distance. That would be his landmark—until it was dark.

“Gregg.” Breslin was behind him, and he whirled to make sure she wasn’t about to stab him, too. Her face was pale in the dimness, and he could see her shaking. “It was self-defense,” she breathed.

Once again he nodded. “We need to get out of here, now.” He returned to his task of clearing a path.

She touched his shoulder. “Do you smell it?” she said. “The smoke.”

He caught the scent and battled his impulse to freeze in panic. “Jesus,” he said. “The field’s on fire.”

His chopping became a frenzy. Whenever he glanced over his shoulder, the light of the flames danced against the roiling smoke above the maze. 

At last, the stalks thinned, and they were standing in the shorter field grasses. Gregg’s shoulders ached from the effort of swinging the machete. Breslin moaned and sucked in a gasp: The maze fire was advancing rapidly toward them.

“Breslin? Gregg?” Monty emerged from the darkness, Claire a few steps back.

Gregg squared off to face them, the machete still in his hand, the flames glinting the blade. Someone had started the fire—someone who hadn’t checked to see if he and Breslin were still inside. “We’re safe. And you?” 

Monty held up his hands; he no longer held the scythe. “We didn’t start it. Julian must have planted some igniters ahead of time.”

“So we’d all die,” Gregg said. “Good of him.” He raised his voice above the crackle of the flames. “We’ve got to get off this hill. The fire’s going to overtake us if we don’t.”

Claire stepped forward to hug Breslin. “What a fucking nightmare.”

Breslin pushed her away, shaking her head. “He’s dead,” she said. “I killed him.”

“Because you had to,” Gregg said. He believed her now, but still he shivered. If they’d been a few minutes longer in the maze . . . “Let’s go,” he said, echoing Julian’s earlier command. 

He jogged off to reach the graveled path back to the cabin, and the rest of them followed. 

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An Unexpected Legacy

September 30, 2023 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing tagged as , ,

The hall closet was the final frontier for Asher. For three days he’d been chipping away at the house: the trash bin on the porch was overflowing, the growing pile of items marked for donation threatened to topple, and Asher’s patience was worn to a nub. Neither of his siblings could be persuaded to help him with this overwhelming task—despite both of them sharing the same now-deceased father as he.

“Dad’s place is filled with junk,” Asher’s sister told him, after pleading her excuse of a busy schedule. “Just get rid of it all.”

It’s my vacation time, too, he wanted to point out. But Leigh thought her time more valuable because she was the CPA and a mother of two to his no-kid, single-man, dev-ops job.

With a sigh, he pulled down a cardboard box from the top shelf of the closet. He’d lost count of the number of boxes his father had packed into the nooks and crannies of the suburban rancher. Caution was printed in marker across the lid: Do not open. Asher shook the box, but heard no rattle or clunk. A forgotten Christmas present his father had squirreled away? He eased off the lid. Inside, a weighted bundle covered in blue silk filled most of the interior. Unwrapping it, Asher held a goblet that once must have been shiny gold. The cup was etched with faux lettering—It reminded him of a party store prop. Part of a Halloween costume? He tried to picture his father dressed in a Medieval tunic and Arthurian crown, sipping rum and Coke from the cup at a late October party. Nah, not Cooper Plack, whose imagination was limited to whether he could cheat on his annual tax return.

Asher ticked off what he’d found so far that might be worth something—something that would help pay off his father’s debts. It was a short list: a four-year-old Ford sedan parked in the driveway; a pair of diamond studs he’d found in a jewelry box (his late mother’s?) in the master bedroom; a vintage roll-top desk (once Asher cleared out the notebooks, catalogs, and random slips of paper stuffed into it), and now this—a goblet of questionable provenance. 

Eager for a break, Asher carried the goblet into the kitchen and washed it, hoping a little soap and water would bring out the luster it may have once had. He whistled as he scrubbed the fancy cup with a dishcloth. The end of his house-emptying ordeal was in sight.

A sudden pop and flash surprised Asher enough that he almost dropped the goblet. 

Why are we summoned?

The words that Asher heard seemed to float in the kitchen—or were they inside his head?

“Who’s . . . there?” He said this aloud, cautiously.

The only sound he heard back was the faint ticking of the clock on the wall above the microwave. Then . . .

We are the Calet of the Chalice. You know the Decree. State your purpose.

Asher still held the goblet, but it no longer looked tawdry. Instead, it gleamed from within. Clever party gag, he decided, and turned the goblet over to feel for the on/off switch. His fingers found only the smoothness of the goblet’s stem and base; no button, no toggle.

Oh, well. He would play along until the unit’s timer reset. “Ah, a Chalice, is it? Well, then, if it’s magic, I get three wishes, right?”

We will grant one wish.

“Only one?” Just like one of his father’s tchotchkes to act parsimonious. 

Please note that after your wish, the Decree requires we receive something in kind.

Asher laughed. “Dad, where did you find this cheap-ass toy?” He set the goblet back in the sink and dried off his hands with a dish towel. Time to get back to his task.

Cooper Plack found us while dumpster diving along Walnut Avenue.

Frowning, Asher felt a twinge of unease. “Wait. That wasn’t a wish directed at you. It wasn’t even a wish.”

It counts. You should have read the Decree.

“There wasn’t any paperwork in the box,” Asher protested. He felt silly arguing with the toy. Even a toy that somehow knew how it came into his possession. His father a dumpster diver?

You have your wish. Our turn now.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said with a smirk, wishing that he’d never opened the box, never removed the blue silk. “But I’m a nobody. Just a software tech guy.”

Done. We accept that trade.

With another pop and flash, Asher vanished. 


His sister, finally worried that she couldn’t reach him, stopped by their father’s house to investigate. 

“Asher,” she called from the open front door. The word was swallowed by the silent rooms. He’d made more progress with the de-cluttering project than she expected. But where was he?

In the kitchen, she surveyed an open cardboard box, a yard of blue silk, and in the sink, a shiny goblet. But still no Asher.

She picked up the ornate cup and rotated it to study the antique lettering around its middle. Was this for real? She rubbed at a smudge near the rim.


Stumbling back from the sink, Leigh dropped the goblet on the table as though it were scalding. 

Why are we summoned? 

A haughty voice filled her head, but underlying it she could make out an urgent murmur of others, and one in particular caught her ear.

“Asher?” she said. “Where are you?”

Run, Leigh, run.

And she did. Out the door, slamming it behind her.

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Dry Run

July 30, 2023 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , ,

What was July but sun and heat and more sun? Terina wiped the droplets from her forehead and wished for the crisp days of October. Grunting slightly, she pushed the wooden cart forward. In the noon warmth, she wanted to simply lie down in the shade beneath it and nap the afternoon away. But she was due in Ladenville before dark, to set up for the next day’s festival.

It had been more than two years since she’d attended the festival, and she didn’t recognize the harsh landscape that surrounded her: the dry grasses, the trees whose leaves were mostly wrinkled and yellow, the dusty creek beds. It should have been a verdant season, but a drought had sucked the life out of the countryside.

Her own hamlet, miles back, was a lucky oasis still green and lush.

Had the townsfolk of Ladenville not spoken to their resident merlin? Bade him summon the rain beasts?

A man carrying a burlap bag over his shoulder approached Terina on the path. Sweat soaked his shirt. He nodded at her and she nodded back.

“Sir, can you spare the time for a short question?” Terina wiped her forehead again.

“Aye,” the man said, but stood away from her, cautious.

“I am several years away from this land, headed to the Brine Festival. Why such dryness?”

The man frowned and spat at the ground. “Our merlin passed on more than a year gone now, and no one left has the knowledge to call the rain.”

Eyes wide, Terina tried to imagine such a scenario. “The Fates are often fickle. My sympathies, sir.”

He nodded again and went on down the path. 

Rummaging in her pack, Terina pulled out a flask of water and sipped; the aridness made her thirsty. She contemplated her next steps: Maybe the Brine Festival was a bad idea. Drought made people irritable and less likely to spend their coins. When she slipped the flask back into her pack, her hand brushed the bottle of elixir.

Uncorking it, she sniffed the sweetness of ripe berries. She knew only a brief sketch of the rain ritual—not being a full-fledged merlin, but it was worth a try. She held the bottle above her head, letting the desiccating breeze lift the scent upward.

Iniye ab-wo neq,” she recited. There was another step that she tried to remember. A tuft of sedge? A handful of creek mud? The small rill that crossed her path contained neither. Every creek stone she turned over yielded only hard, cracked earth.

Digging again in her pack, Terina located the peach she’d squirreled away for a snack. Soft with ripeness, the fruit might work. Holding the peach aloft as she had the elixir, she squeezed it until the juices ran down her arms and dripped to the ground.

She repeated the incantation and waited several moments.

In the deep blue of the sky, the smallest of cumulous clouds popped up. 

She waited again, this time for the cloud to spawn more clouds. But the cumulous remained solitary.

With a sigh, Terina cleaned the juice from her arms and closed her pack. Pushing hard against the cart, she persuaded it to roll onward, to the north and east, toward Ladenville.

Behind her, as her one step became ten, and then stretched to a quarter mile, the water vapor in the blazing heavens condensed. Thunderheads mushroomed and spread, cutting off the sun. And the rain beasts rumbled long and low.

More of Dianna’s Stories

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