Humor

Thrill Me mentions repose in contrast with action. Could humor work as well? From the excellent 3 A.M. Epiphany, consider these two exercises. Draft an example of one that might work for your fiction portfolio.

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For workshop 23Oct17

“You know you can take a breath now.” I hear the displeasure in my voice but don’t care to change it. “You’d think that as long as you had been in my pond you’d need a good breath by now.”

I take a closer look at the person I’m dragging back to the side of the pond. She’s turning purple. “Oh for the love of…” I notice what it is I’m holding onto. Shit! I let go of the camera strap. Before she can slip beneath the surface again I slide my arm under hers and around her chest kicking a little harder for the edge. She still hasn’t taken a breath. Reaching the side, I realize it’s going to be a little difficult to get her out.

My pond is of a good depth and has steep sides. Placing my arm on the soggy side I adjust my grip to her armpit and hoist her none to gently onto the grass. The jolt of hitting the ground seems to knock the breath back into her. Back arching the air seems to force its way into her lungs. Suddenly she starts coughing and I pull myself out of the pond. Turning her on her side she vomits bile and water, coughing up any that got in her lungs.

When she’s finished she lays back. Her eyes are closed and I start to think she has gone unconscious again. It is the perfect time to study her features. She isn’t the first person to appear in my pond but she certainly is the first one who seems familiar. I look at those petite features and can’t place where I’ve seen them before. The round cheeks and pixie chin aren’t what stand out to me. The dark hair could be on anyone and since it’s wet I can’t tell if there is anything remarkable about it. What seems the most familiar is the indent on one cheek and the slight slant to her eyes.

Startling me those eyes pop open. I freeze as I notice the color when her eyes meet mine. Silver. I’ve seen silver eyes before.

###

 

I hear the static from a blank television set, and when I finally open my eyes I can see it on the wall beside me. As I pick myself off the gray carpet I notice that there’s no one around. The room is nice — one of those fancy penthouses you’d find next to Central Park. There’s an empty bottle next to me. I’m not sure what was in it, but whatever it was is gone. The room is empty except for a glass coffee table and a few chairs. Walls are empty.

There’s a note in the kitchen.

“Hey Baby, sorry I can’t be here when you wake up. I had so much fun with you last night. Maybe next time you could throw a party at your place (even if it’s just the two of us!). I left you some soup on the table. It should still be warm when you wake up. Love, Cadence.”

Cadence. Is that the dancer from Frezino’s club downtown? My mind is flipping through my mental log, but only that Cadence comes to mind. Big blonde wavy hair. Tan skin. Thighs thicker than mine.

What am I doing here? This isn’t Maria’s apartment. She’d freak out if she knew I was at another girl’s place, especially if she knew I stayed the night with someone like Cadence.

On the table I see a white bowl with some soup. I dip my spoon, fill it completely with the dark broth, and then lather my tongue with it. It’s good, real good. I fill my spoon again. The rich flavor makes me more hungry. Eventually my spoon isn’t enough and so I pick up the bowl with my hands, place my lips next to the edge of the bowl, and down as much of the broth as I can. I can’t remember the last time I tasted something so delicious.

 

###

 

I had just gotten out of my massage when I got the text.  It was a picture.  An old gentle face i knew and loved with a breathing mask strapped on it, clearly in a hospital gown.  The words were short and simple from my twin brother, Dan.  “He’s going”.

I took a deep breath and let it out.  I sent the response I could muster.

“Be there in 20.”

The next message was to my husband, Phil.  He was ready to leave work and pick me up so we could drive to the hospital.

I took a quick, hot shower.  The steam was soothing.  Not like the way people say it feels like the womb–that kind of analogy of soothing has always weirded me out.  It just feels like the air molecules can get in and out of my lungs a lot easier.  That’s all.

At the hospital were most of my siblings.  Patty and my mom were in the room with him.   Julie was on a flight from San Francisco, sprinting as fast as she could since the morning to get here in time.  Dan.  John.

John was there.  That was what made a tear almost escape my ducts.  Seeing John made this feel more real.  John wouldn’t show up if he didn’t feel the gravity we all felt.  He wouldn’t show up unless he had no doubt that his father was dying.

Dan was trying to make conversation with John, who was remarkably animated.  I mean, it wasn’t anything impressive for anyone else: he cracked a smile a couple of times; he didn’t keep his hands folded in his lap, comfortable with silence; he responded to Dan’s questions with answers and then questions of his own.  Simple conversation was actually impressive from John.

Seeing John like that almost made me forget the circumstances we were meeting in.  I didn’t have to really fake enthusiasm.  I was grateful. When Dan saw me, he stood, we hugged and he kissed my cheek.

“Hey sis! Look who we’ve got here!”

“John, hello!” I wasn’t loud.  Just cheery.

To my surprise, he got to his feet and smiled.

“Valerie!”  he came to me for the hug.

When we broke, I held him by his shoulders for a moment to take him in.

“You look good, John.”  It wasn’t a lie. I loved not having to pretend that this was easy.  I loved that he was putting forth effort too.

Up close, I could see that his eyes were a rich, deep brown, they must be the color of his mother’s.  Yet, they had the same shape as our father’s.  Funny how that could be.  And I noticed that on top of his head was the same hairline I recognized from my childhood hero.  The volunteer firefighting businessman I knew as my dad.

“Well,” John breathed in thoughtfully, “I’m making peace” he breathed out. He smiled warmly.  He repositioned his body so the three of us were facing each other.

“Can I just say something before we go forward?  Like, before the rest of–” he gestured vaguely to imply our siblings, but he couldn’t conjure a word he felt comfortable with “–and before your mom comes out of that room.” He took a deep breath.  “I’ve actually thought a lot about what this might be like.  When this moment came.  When we’d all–well mostly when I’d have to face the music.  And I just want to apologize.  I know that I’ve been cold.  And I hope you can understand.  I so hope you can understand.  I mean we’re talking about a really sleazy move,” he chuckled, I smiled.  Dan’s face was soft.  Almost a smile.  He would not give up being our father’s champion.  Not even in the face of someone who could testify firsthand of his misdeeds.

“But,” John continued “None of this mess was any of your faults.  I’m sorry for taking my anger out on you all for so long.”  He paused.  He swallowed hard.  “What he did really hurt my mom.  It really hurt me.  It really made us feel like second class.  Like last place.  And like I said, I’m working on making peace.  And this whole-” he gestured in general to the hospital surroundings “-thing that’s going on is making it glaringly obvious that I’m running out of time to forgive him.  But I’m grateful that I have you.  You always made it easy for me to feel like you were my family, even if I never liked to acknowledge how we became so.  Walter, whatever kind of man he might be, he’s our dad.  I have him to thank for you.”

Stunned.  I was paralyzed.  I hardly realized the tears running down my cheeks.

I grabbed him and pulled him in for a hug.  Dan included himself in a dorky three person hug.  “We love you, John,” muttered Dan into someone’s shoulder. Still through the muffled voice Dan ruined the moment.

“Besides, you’re the executor of the will.”

John stiffened.

 

###

 

He knocked on the mahogany door. A moment passed before footsteps could be heard coming closer. The door opened, but before he could get a word out, the door was slammed shut.

He could hear disgruntled sounds from the other side coupled with distressed breathing.

A meek, far away voice that was barely audible to him said, “What’s the problem?”

‘What’s the problem?’ Not ‘Is there a problem?’ This person must be the nervous type, he thought, Easy. Best be charming. 

After some not so quiet whimpering, the door opened much more slowly than before.

“Hi,” the woman was middle-aged and squinting vaguely at him. She seemed to be generally unkempt, but, bless her heart, she was trying. There were traces of mascara on her left cheek and just below her right brow. “Do you have a name?” As soon as the words left her mouth, he could see the regret and cursing across her face.

“Hello, may I come in and ask you a few questions? It shouldn’t be long.”

“By all mens – uh, means.” She looked down and motioned in, but he motioned to follow her. Stuffed in a nearby plant sat a pair of think pink glasses.

The living room clashed horribly. Colors, material, size, and style. It was awful. In the stale air hung a pungent mix of cat and musk. A woman with graying hair sat on a metal folding chair, teacup and saucer in hand.

He smiled, “You are Lily Smith?”

The middle-aged woman nearly missed the tacky ottoman, “I am.”

“Oh!” there was something girlish about the older woman, “What a lovely name. Lily. I only know her by her pen name – Virginia M Samoinella.”

The man faked confusion, “Pardon?”

“You’re not from the publishing house?” Lily picked at the clasp on her broken watch.

“No,” said the man, “I’m with the National Security Agency. I would like to ask you a few questions about your search history.”

 

###

Another crack of thunder and immediate flash of lightning, but louder this time than any before. The echo reverberates through the house, from the rafters to the floor boards; framed pictures flutter on the walls, a gurgling belch rumbles down the pipes beneath my bare feet. The burst of light coming through the windows blinds me for a moment, leaving sparkly motes twinkling wherever I look. The cat hates loud noises and might take this cacophony as an impetus to flee the house. So, I run upstairs to find her. “Cat?” I hear nothing but feel everything. The house has come alive around me, populated with shadows, and ghosts of a sunny day in California–when the grass is dead, and you only wear as much clothing as you have to. Kids running through sprinklers down my narrow hallway—disappearing behind the attic stairs; a group of wanna-be Indian dancers swaying and turning and hollering around my minimalist bedroom; fire trucks and barbecues and weekend sleepovers–appearing and vanishing in the corners of my pink-tiled bathroom.

The familiar taste of bile has risen to the back of my throat, assaulting my tongue, attacking my taste buds. I cover my eye–like I used to do when my brothers and I would watch scary movies, while Mom and Dad were gone—movies that Jared snuck in from the neighbor’s. My big toe hits the threshold of the bathroom doorway, my knee bangs into the towel cupboard—but I don’t put my hands down until I know I’ve reached the porcelain vanity; my eyelids are squeezed shut so tight that I think I feel the back of my skull pressing forward, sucking my brown irises past hollow sockets and into the past I have been running from, unsuccessfully, for two decades. I drink cold water from the bathroom sink, flushing the bile back down; shake my head, and finally force my unwilling eyes to rip open—like tearing out crooked seams from a summer quilt top–hoping that the host of apparitions have retreated.

I am alone again, but now my nose, mouth, sinuses, and tortured eyes are keenly aware of a thick, caustic mist, spilling down the attic stairs. My ears suddenly activate–quick, harsh. The deep aural canals fill with a low grumbling, followed by the crackling chatter of sparking flames, tap-dancing across the floor above me, each skipping movement echoes through the ceiling, building to a crescendo of conflagration. It consumes the contents of my dusty little attic, while its vibrations, the resonant clatter and occasional crash of seared wooden beams, claw insistently at the ragged edges of gray matter filling my skull—the snaking jumble of tissue retreats, turns on me; my own brain a traitor as it shifts into survival mode—attacking me with flashes of memory, eruptions of guilt, blazing a circular path, around and around the recesses of my mind.

The smoke billows now, having decimated the attic; it seeks more fuel. And I am frozen amid the flames, crumpled into a useless, helpless pile of nothing at the columned base of the vanity. I am a destitute wanderer in a rich sea of dazzling orange waves, sparkling with recurrent golden crests—never ebbing, only flowing, closer and closer; as though to ease the dry existence I have struggled through—bringing a compassionate end to the desert aimlessness that has been my adult life. My heart is thirsty and the thread of sanity that I have clung to is slipping into the proffered cup of salvation before me, held out by the delicate extension of a flaming tentacle.

 

###

He pushed against the freezer door but it wouldn’t budge. His hands had started to shake. Cold seeped into his bones and suffocated him. Shallow breaths. This time he threw his shoulder against the door. Nothing. Lungs spasming, he rubbed his arms, trying to warm them.

“Help!” he called through the door. No answer. “Help!” he called again, louder. Still nothing. The door was almost a foot thick—of course no one could hear him. His mind wandered back to a dark closet. He was four years old again. He could see the shadows of his Dad’s feet under the door. Please, he’d begged. Let me out. Nothing. Yelling would have been better than silence. He tried to remember his tricks. Deep breaths. But his lungs forfeited the air immediately. Again. No, they still won’t hold anything. He tried clenching each muscle in his body but they wouldn’t hold on. He was losing control. Get your ass back in that closet, his father’s voice said. Darkness. He slumped back against the wall of the freezer. Ice carved into his back as he slid down to the floor. He pinched his arm-it was supposed to keep him in the present. You ungrateful little bastard, his dad’s voice again. It wasn’t working. He pinched harder.

“Help,” he cried out, but it was only a strangled plea. His teeth began to chatter. His stomach moved in tiny jerks like he was asphyxiating. Trying not to blink, he began to count: 1You’re trapped in the freezer. His heart constricted, sending a chill down his spine. 2Someone is bound to come in and let you out. The counting was supposed to help him move toward a solution. He tried to think of something for number three, but cold stole his fingers and toes. 3You might die before they find you. His heart tried to race against the frigid air. 444 He couldn’t think. It was getting worse. Dad’s belt on his back. Each muscle in his body tensed and released in erratic shuddering. Mom walking out to get her hair done.

He laid his head down on his knees. The cold was making him tired. I just need to lay down, he put his legs out so he could lay on his side. He should be pacing, trying to stay warm. The freezer floor cut through his chef’s coat and straight into his bones. Get up! Get up you stupid little runt, his dad’s voice assaulted him again. A foot in his abdomen. I can’t get upI can’t get upI can’t get up.

 

###

So I heard you found somebody else and at first I thought it was a lie

I sat at the end of my bed next to the cardboard box I filled with the stuff you had given me over the past eight months. I had stormed around the apartment, collecting items that had any emotional connection to you, letting my roommates wonder at the state of my sanity. The book you had bought me for Christmas went in, even though I hadn’t read it yet and it was supposed to be good. A Blu-ray copy of The Darjeeling Limited, although that was technically yours. I didn’t care, so it went in the box. The spatula you’d used to cook chocolate chip pancakes with the morning after the night you stayed over for the first time. Box. Hell, I would have even tried to fit the couch considering how many times we’d made-out on it.

Kara had tried to warn me. “Hey, I think she’s been hanging out with Lexi lately…”

I had shrugged it off. You were friends and you’d told me I looked cute jealous. All while our limbs were entwined and we couldn’t tell where one of us began and the other ended. All while one of your hands was running through my hair and the other was running a finger underneath the waistband of my favorite jeans.

I was scrolling through the pictures I’d found a week after she’d warned me. On Facebook, on Instagram, even on Snapchat. Selfies of the two of you, filtered to make your eyes look brighter and your smile happier than it ever did when you were with me. There you were running a hand through her hair. There you were planting a kiss on her cheek, while my chest contracted painfully. A kiss on her lips and my ribs all but punctured my lungs, inching painfully close to my heart.

I took my scarf off and threw it in the box.

###

I gave a small smirk up at the cloudy sky because it was my absolute favorite type of weather. It was overcast and a little cool, but not cold enough to need longer or thicker layers of clothing on. My partner and best friend, Jed, and I grabbed our guns and empty duffle bags that we threw over our shoulders before shoving each other in our rush to meet the Commander for our patrol duty. We waited for the large, metal gate to open and we stepped out while barely managing to avoid getting squashed by it as it came flying down once we had stepped just a hair out of reach. Flinching, we waited for the echo to die as we raised our guns and stared around the area, waiting with bated breath for any sound or sign of movement. Jed glanced at me and I gave a sharp nod before we crept like the ninjas of old through the abandoned streets we had memorized from a map as we headed to the nearest drugstore that our district hadn’t hit yet for supplies, which was sadly about seven blocks away. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were in a cheesy horror film as we slipped through the cracked streets. Several decomposing corpses and disintegrating skeletons littered the streets along with burned out cars.

Something crunched under my foot and I crouched down before gently sifting through the ashes to find a small doll that was extremely old and had definitely seen better days. I lifted it up to my face and my eyes searched around until I found the tiny skeleton nearby with a tattered dress covering it. Tears pricked my eyes when I saw the larger skeletons holding that small skeleton as if trying to protect it from anymore horror and I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had lost in such a short time as well.

A hand softly fell on my shoulder and I followed the arm up to the face of my best friend. His chocolate eyes held the same sorrow and horror that I’m sure mine had, but he was being strong for the both of us while I had my moment of grief for the young life that was lost. I took a deep, shuddering breath and slowly tucked the doll into the back of my jeans before rubbing my eyes to get rid of any tears. Standing up, I gave a minuscule smile to Jed and we continued on our way to the drugstore. It wasn’t long before we reached our destination and I immediately headed into the back to get all of the medication and bandages that were stored there since the Commander and the Chief Medical Officer made sure to tell me that those supplies were the main focus of the mission. A sudden yell broke me out of my thoughts and I froze when I heard shotgun rounds being shot as fast as they could.

###

I tried and failed to memorize where we were going, but with all the turns and doors we went through, I knew it was a hopeless cause. He touched a door that looked as thought it belonged in Versailles Palace with its crème colored wood, and gold filigree that I giggled slightly at the oddity. Hades stopped and glanced at me over his filled out shoulder. “As part of the Fates decree, you will live in Persephone’s quarters.” My laughter died. “Will I never make a home here of my own, or will I forever live in her shadow?” He shrugged. “That remains up to you.” He opened the door and left me staring into the bedroom fit for a princess of Versailles, from the pearls adorning nearly every surface, down to the feathers adoring the top of her canopy four-poster. Oh boy. I learned a lot about her as I went through her things that now belonged to me. She had a specific taste for things that were delicate and all things French it seemed. Her dresses were a good five inches too short for me, and the styles were nothing like I would wear. She could easily fit into Dallas glam with all of the diamonds adorning everything she wore—it was more like body armor than fashion.

A small cough alerted me to a maid’s presence. I lowered the diamond-studded gown I was holding and looked at her. She was a young girl, and was neatly dressed in a maid’s uniform. She introduced herself as Bess and informed me that the ‘Master’ would like to have dinner. I paused at her carefully orchestrated sentence. “So does that mean I have to attend?” Bess tried not to fold in on herself as I directed my question to her. I sighed. “Bess, if you are my maid, then I need to you to be yourself. I don’t do well with timid people. I’d prefer if we were friends, however the choice is yours.” She thought about what I said for a moment, and I carried on looking through the closet, deciding that I would have to remove all the clothing. My size six would never be a size zero. “Master Hades had a deal with my lady that she would have dinner with him every night.” I sighed. “Well, then I best get dressed.” Bess perked up considerably as I let her choose from gowns in a different closet that were somehow miraculously my size. She chose a black lace cocktail dress that was barely above the knee with cap sleeves. I nodded my approval and slipped on the dress. I wasn’t prepared at all when she sat me down and I saw my reflection for the first time since I was crowned. Gone were my long locks of black and blue. Instead I stared at my reflection of Jungle green eyes—like mothers—surrounded by honey blonde hair. Persephone’s powers had changed my freaking hair color. I didn’t altogether hate the color; the blonde just wasn’t me. Bess finished curling my hair I stood and praised her work. “When I get back, I want to see what the real you looks like. No more of…this.” I waved my hand around the room gesturing the overall gaudiness that was Versailles. She nodded and gave me a small smile, which made me feel as though I had won at least one friend today.

I left and thought of Hades. I knew it would take me forever to locate the dining hall, or wherever he was eating, so I hoped I could teleport to his side, saving me time and preventing me from looking like the idiot I felt like. Turns out I could teleport, and I found the dining hall wasn’t very well lit, save for the massive Gothic fireplace, which put out heat into the medium sized room. The dining table was a black polished wood that gleamed as it reflected the firelight. Hades didn’t say anything about the dress, or much to me. When I asked about the roles and responsibilities I had to do, he stared at me in surprise. “You’re going to actually do the job?” I nodded. “Fine. I’ll email you the list.” I finished the snow crab and steamed vegetables. “Hades? I’m sorry I killed Persephone. I reacted, when I should have walked away.” He stood, making his chair scrape against the floor. “My relationship with her died a long time ago. Just do your job, and ask me if you have questions.” He turned, and yet paused when I said to his back, “I’ll do my best, and thanks for dinner.” He didn’t turn around, but continued out the door, and when the room echoed with it’s closing I began to realize just how alone Persephone had been, and how alone I would be.

###

It was 11:37pm when I realized Dylan hadn’t been at his desk for the past 45 minutes. He had a way of slipping away from things when they got the hardest. We were getting call after call after call of angry Australians who couldn’t figure out the different between a website and an email address.
Just as I was looking over, Marshall stopped at my desk. “So where’s your buddy?”
“Which buddy? Meredith or Bhaskar?” I replied jokingly.
Marshall frowned, “Your buddy Dylan.”
“Oh he must be in the restroom.”
Hands on hips, Marshall informed me, “Tell him he can use the restrooms on his break.”
“Will do.”
I sat there tapping my desk to no particular rhythm giving a fake, closed-mouth smile.
Marshall stared blankly in return.
I piped out a quiet laugh and said, “Speak of the devil, I think I’m gonna use one of those breaks to go to the bathroom now. It’s funny how these things work, right? You start talking about one thing and then you—”
“Just go get him.”

 

***

I rushed down the metal staircase and burst through the door of the bathroom.
“Hey, Dylan. Dylan!”
Bhaskar was washing his hands. I gave him an inquiring shrug and he nodded towards the corner stall.
I pounded on the stall door.
“You gotta get up man. The boss is asking about you, wondering why you’re not appeasing the Australians.”
I peered through the tiny gap in the stall door and saw Dylan, pants on, sitting on the toilet lid, slow to get up.
“Come on man. You gotta be quicker than that!”
He yawned, stretching his arms high up to the fluorescent lights, and rubbed his eyes.

“I’m up! Just give me a moment.”
I checked my phone and saw that Mary had texted me a thousand times, so I locked it. Finally he got up, unlocked the stall and asked me, “How long was I out for?”
I rolled my eyes, “Like 45 minutes. Long enough that Marshall asked about you.”
“I’ll just tell him I was having stomach problems. I ate one of those rotten Lunchables in the breakroom or something.”
“Yeah, right. This is the third time you’ve done this in the same week. He’s not gonna buy it.”
Dylan shrugged, “Well that’s his problem.”

###

The leaves crunched beneath her feet as she held her vivid, white shawl as close to her chest as she could away from the clawing wind. Sheets of rain soaked the land behind her nearing as quickly and loudly as an explosion. She bent, wrapped herself anew, and tucked inside a hollow of trees that were only high enough for her to curl into a ball under. Despite their height the trees were packed tightly together and did well to keep the rain off of her. Was all of this worth it? The falling darkness permeated her thoughts and she began to doubt. Am I worth all of this? Is it really so bad back home? The bruise on her cheek visible from the moonlight which lined her face protested that it was, in fact, so bad back home.
At that moment there was a loud bang that made her heart feel like it had burst and was trying to keep up with the high frequency situation by beating fiercely and in a lopsided fashion. There was the sound of metal scraping against everything near fence posts, railroad tracks, and finally a cow who shrieked like the banshee of death when it was mowed over. She thought it was odd that she heard no people and then the sound of someone’s sobbing grief as if they were pouring it straight from their heart, out of their eyes, and into the air pierced her drums as though the sorrow were a pair of railroad spikes someone picked up and jammed into her ears.
She wanted to run toward the noise and run far away all at once. It was then that she, from her little nook of trees, heard another car pull up. There was shrieking, and the sounds of someone struggling to get away then three gunshots and the night was still again. She wasn’t sure what her ears had just witnessed and wished she could just erase it all. It was then that she felt a clarity that rang in her ears as loudly as the scuffle up the road, ‘nothing will ever be the same.’

###

General Braltin exploded into a fit of derisive whinnying laughter. His rear hooves clattered against the floor, and the sound echoed with peculiar menace around the chamber. “You mean to engage me in a duel?”

“If it shuts you up. No magic. Just weapons. Do you want a minute to fasten your horseshoes?”

That got his attention. “You shall pay for your impudence, runt.”

“Ooh, someone needs their saddle uncinched.”

“Saddle!?!” The general roared.

“If I win, this blacksmith stays, and you don’t bother him again,” Sarisha stated firmly, “nor me, for that matter.”

“Conversely,” Braltin interrupted, “when I win, both you and the smithy shall taste my steel on your knees.”

“Deal,” Sarisha agreed coldly, her eyes a pair of chilly, rough-cut emeralds.

“What do you think you’re doing?” the blacksmith panicked. “He’ll trample you!”

“Well, I’m sick of sitting here and stewing,” Sarisha said shrugging. “I want to move on, whether that means going forward or six-feet under.”

“The old man has a point, child,” Braltin sneered. “I might mistake this for a death wish.”

“I’ve never had anything to live for,” Sarisha replied dully. Then a grin like the Cheshire cat’s spanned her lips and sharpened her eyes. “I guess the look on your face after I make an ass out of you would be a good place to start.” She raised her blade, catching a ray filtering in through the crumbling vaulted ceiling above. “Shall we ride?”

“Are you mad?” the blacksmith hollered as Braltin charged.

“Is that a rhetorical question?” Sarisha replied, before leaping to her left. Braltin’s blade sailed downward, striking the floor again. Sarisha darted around to the side and took a swipe at his flank. The general reared up and took a mighty swing sideways. Sarisha bent over backwards, supporting herself with her sword, and Braltin’s blade swooshed over her nose. She pushed back up and stabbed him in his lower shoulder. The general howled and threw a wild and ungainly reverse swing. Sarisha ducked and rolled to her left, winding up next to Braltin’s flank. She took a swift pair of slashes before backing up to avoid a vicious lash from the centaur’s back legs.

###

I thought I was prepared for what I would see at school after the holiday break, but the moment I entered the doors, I felt ill.

Jason’s locker had been turned into a shrine: a picture of him in his football uniform covered the ugly maroon locker door and students had littered the ground around it with stiff carnations and notes stamped with “RIP” and other random items like a can of coke and a baseball. What would happen to all of that stuff? Would a janitor just throw it all away? Would everything be boxed up and given Jason’s family? There was a group of girls crying in front of the locker, one of them kneeling and rearranging flowers around a small teddy bear holding a football. I don’t think I’d ever seen Jason talk to a single one of these girls.

His girlfriend Natalie was standing a little ways off, completely motionless. Almost everyone that passed her squeezed her shoulder or said something to her, but she didn’t react, except for an occasional nod. She wasn’t crying, just staring, her eyes hollow. But they’d been hollow like that for weeks, though I doubt anyone but me noticed. Her eyes flicked up and met mine, and we stared at each other, unsure if we were enemies or comrades after everything that happened. After I warned her. After she didn’t listen.

After he died.

An announcement came over the PA and broke our connection. I put my head down and skirted around edge of the crowd around Jason’s locker. I only vaguely heard the principal’s voice saying something about the school counselor being available if anyone wanted to talk about Jason.

As if everyone wasn’t already talking about Jason. As if they hadn’t always been talking about him.

Mrs. Horowitz repeated the message in homeroom, along with the news that the start-of-semester assembly was postponed and there would be a memorial for Jason after first period instead.

Everyone spoke in whispers, punctuated by the occasional sniffle. I stayed silent. I didn’t trust myself to open my mouth and not scream.

###

It takes two days to incubate.

I woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off. I got up and started my morning routine. No point in lieing in bed waiting for my alarm. I had breakfast, and left for class. I’ve never learned to drive, and my bike needs repair, so I bus everywhere. The school bus pass makes the bus a cheaper alternative, but I have to work my schedule around the buses.
I have to wait for the previous class to leave before I can find a seat. Ten minutes in it’s still just me and two other girls. One is finally able to find the professor’s notice that class is cancelled today. They decide to leave, but I stay, I have a class after. I just work on homework while I wait.
When the time comes for class to normally end, I leave and head to my next class. I like this class more than the other one. My philosophy professor could be hit and miss funny. However, my English professor was a riot! Today we were going over how to make a resume.
When class ended, he said, “Sorry I’m letting you guys out a little early.” We all laughed.
I replied, “At least you’re ending class early. My last class, the teacher cancelled early this morning.”
“Yeah, it’s this d@π√ cold that’s going around.” He sighed.

###

The scent of sulfur was thick and mixed with the smell of molten steel from the blast. There was also the tang of frozen earth and mud.
“Who exactly do you think would come to help us?” Liz challenged. She supposed she sounded a little bit resentful and frustrated. She realized that if she was being honest… she was resentful and frustrated.
“Surely someone will,” Jess retorted, somewhat indignantly.
Liz turned about as she cleared the rubble field and reached out to help Jess while she crossed the last few bits of debris. “Why are you so sure?” Liz pressed. Having been an orphan most of her life, she had a fair amount of experience in the fact that most people are not reliable and are usually only interested in themselves and things which can only benefit them directly.
‘What about Matthew and Ellen?” Jess challenged as she stepped down from the rubble field to stand next to Liz on the descending stone floor of the tunnel system.
Liz turned and looked at the darkness before them. The torch tried to eat away at the blackness, yet the scene was so utterly devoid of light it was hard to imagine ever making it safely through.
“Ellen wants to exile me, Jess,” Liz challenged. “She is convinced that I stole her stupid broach.” She grimaced at the memory. “No one around here is reasonable except that infernal Rachel.”
“Reasonable?” Jess whispered the challenge as she withdrew her bow. “How can you say Rachel is reasonable?”
“Fine,” Liz acquiesced, stepping forward as the torch probed the darkness. “How about rational then?” Mrs. Rachel carries a disruptor pistol which she calls “Little Miss Rache”, Liz informed. “Now that is sensible,” she amended. “Talk about being realistic about your circumstances.”
“I confess,” Jess supplied, nocking an arrow. “It would be infinitely handy to have such a weapon now,” she agreed to flank Liz to offer them a greater tactical advantage.
Both women knew the conversation was partly a real conversation, yet there was an element of it which was being used to deceive any shadow creatures which may be observing them into thinking they were not as alert as they actually were.
Liz paused briefly, her eyes narrowing in hesitation. Jess took her cue from her friend and slowed to a crouch. Her bow raised slowly as she discerned a low growl emanating from just outside the ring of light shed by the flickering torch.
The sound was guttural, evoking a sense of primal fear which both women choked down with a dreadful swallow. Liz stepped lightly forward, the torch casting an inconsistent light about the tunnels. Yellow flames licked into the bitter air, the flickering light bouncing in the hidden ice left a sense of ethereal disconnectedness.
Jess leaned lightly against the tunnel of the labyrinth to steady her bow if need be. This was not the best situation to use a bow as a weapon. The quarters were close, any melee could easily lead to a quick life or death exchange in which she would be lucky to get off one clean shot in a place such as this. Yet she knew Liz’s skill with the sword and it was likely her friend would keep the beast at bay long enough for her to get a solid shot.
Another deep threatening growl issued forth like razors on bloody morning dew. Liz gritted her teeth and clenched her jaw. Her hand gripping the hilt of Shadow Slayer like a vice. Jess braced herself.
The shaggy black wolf was enormous, and Jess involuntarily drew a breath as the beast came from the shadows. Its yellow eyes were molten hate and its teeth like ivory daggers.
Liz’s sword shot forth in swift thrashing darts of razor-edged punishment. The creature was fierce in its defense. Its huge claws clanged against the sharp steel of Shadow Slayer. The blade bit deeply into the tough claws nonetheless and the beast quickly realized it was in a battle for its life.

###

Pulling his shield off his arm, Maldor holds it with both hands and brings it over his head, the woman mimics his action and brings Althrin over her own head. Maldor hurls his shield at the woman, who brings Althrin down, striking the shield and shattering it to pieces. Maldor dives through this debris, ignoring the shards of metal that slice into his face as he does, tackling the woman again, only this time he grabs onto Althrin as he drags the woman to the ground. The two grapple over the sword, neither one willing to let go, the woman claws at Maldor, trying to gouge his eyes. In response Maldor punches the woman, who responds with a series of punches of her own. The two fight on the narrow trail, pulling and punching as each one tries to gain the upper hand.

Maldor finally manages to drag the sword from the woman’s grasp, kneeling over her he expertly spins Althrin around and drives it into the woman’s chest. Her screams tear through the mountains, echoing all around them. Maldor uses Althrin to push himself to his feet, the woman continuing to scream as her body ignites. Soon she is engulfed in an inferno that forces Maldor to release his grip on Althrin and move back, for fear of being consumed by fire himself. He falls against the steep mountain behind him, using it to hold himself up as he watches the woman burn, her screams fading away on the wind as her body is consumed by the inferno. The fire stops as abruptly as it started leaving behind a pile of ash and scorch marks on the ground as the only signs of the woman having been there.

Maldor steps into the ashes and grips Althrin’s black handle, the metal cool to the touch, despite having been engulfed in flames a moment ago. He easily pulls the sword from the ground, and brings it close to his face. Examining the black jeweled handle, the blood red guard, curved up like the horns of a dragon, and the silver blade rising above him, curving slightly at the tip to meet the back of the sword. Maldor gives Althrin a quick swing, enjoying the familiar crackle of energy as the blade moves through the air. Looking up from the sword he spies the pile of supplies the woman dropped. Using Althrin as a cane he slowly makes his way up the trail to the discarded pile.

###

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Final proposal planning

With the reading for today in mind, do the following.

  1. State your tentative thesis. Notice, from 364, “Come up with a tentative thesis that identifies the problem and proposes a solution. Use this statement to guide you as your write.”
    1. What else do you have to know to persuade your audience toward this solution? When will you do more research?
    2. What main points will your proposal have to make? List them. Leave a gap between the items on the list.
      1. Which sources support which main points? Which list items?
      2. How convincing are your sources for your audience? Why?
    3. Connect sources and main points on the list by writing the names of sources in the gap.
    4. Briefly explain the connection between the sources and the points.
  2. List other solutions you’ll need to acknowledge fairly.
    1. Which sources document them?
    2. How will you reply to these alternative solutions?
    3. Which sources can help you reply?
  3. Share with a peer.
    1. Which spots seem weak in terms of persuading the audience? Why?
    2. What are two strengths of the planning?
  4. Email 1 and 2 to me.
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Quotation, paraphrase, and summary

Quotation: According to linguist Fredrick Jones, “this is a great location for words; not elsewhere” (128).

Paraphrase: To paraphrase linguist Fredrick Jones, rather than some other spot, words ought to be placed here (128).

Summary: To summarize linguist Fredrick Jones, insert words here (128).

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Beginnings

 

This exercise comes from Brian Kiteley’s excellent book The 3 A.M. Epiphany. We’ll talk about and slightly alter the exercise during class.

After that exercise, complete this one.

Constrast the two.

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For workshopping 28Sep17

Secret Admirer:

 

Hair golden like honey, dripping over his eyes,

Beautiful and haunting like a winter storm.

A laugh like liquid fire in my veins,

Stoking the furnace of my heart

Breathing me back to life.

 

With his neck bent in a solemn prayer,

He was otherworldly.

I felt his presence all around me,

A ghost, a silent watcher.

 

I envisioned him holding me in his arms

Wrapping me in a cocoon of never-ending spring.

I knew he wanted me, loved me

And I convinced myself we were meant to be together,

But the rejection shattered me,

His knife cutting and destroying.

 

I wallowed in my delusions,

Sinking myself deeper into the love I created.

I carved his name into my notebooks in red ink,

The candid polaroids in a well-worn scrapbook,

Hidden under my bed.

I became a fixture in the window,

Viewing my favorite kind of film.

 

I watched and followed,

Wanting to be closer, craving him near me

Wishing to experience what it would be like to be his.

A piece of paper signed,

On the dotted line couldn’t stop me

And I became the ghost, haunting and stalking

And I knew he couldn’t run forever.

 

***

Blood drips from my knuckles onto sterile white tile as I pick up the pieces of the mirror I smashed. I hit it because I was angry and because I was tired. Because I wanted to feel strong and for once I wanted to feel like there was something in my life I had control over. I hit it because I’m tired of holding in the screams. I feel a storm trapped inside me, but there is nothing beautiful or magnificent about it. It is terrifying and ugly and it cuts into my heart as surely as the glass cut into me. And thus I am left, picking up the pieces of a mirror and wondering if my hands will scar.

***

 

С Любовь

 

A Villanelle

 

This handheld package in my arms

where my fingers dust along foreign characters.

His simple box of gifts and charms.

 

At first sight, my heart is a loaded firearm

demanding the box be pried open. Obedient hands are wrestlers

with this handheld package in my arms.

 

By little delicacies I’m disarmed.

Cautiously painted eggs–Ukrainian treasures.

His simple box of gifts and charms.

 

These mere trinkets grow lukewarm

beside his eleven-page handwritten letter.

This handheld package in my arms

 

held sweet concerns yet soft alarms

for me, my sake, and my endless misadventures.

All in his simple box of gifts and charms.

 

My giddy grin is overwhelmed in violent tears by the swarms.

His months of effort contained in one gesture:

this handheld package in my arms,

his simple box of gifts and charms.

 

***

 

Rondelet

 

Chill winter air

Miserable, or so I’m told

Chill winter air

But I love the crisp cool fanfare

The glassy ice, so clear so cold

But that’s just me; I break the mold

Chill winter air

 

***

Rest in Peace


 

I, the self I’ve always been,

Died this day as all good things must do.

So from this life I take my leave

Many things still here, have I yet to see.

Years go by and times will change,

Ago, the ages pass me by.

 

Ago, this time I look into the past.

I spend these years in peaceful rest.

Years go by and things all change,

Died, these years of days gone by.

Many have walked above my grave,

So few know, I watch them from below.

 

So few know that I rest here,

Ago, they put me in the ground.

Many have joined me since that day,

I lye here and wait in my grave.

Died, as all things do, lye here waiting for all,

Years go by and things do change, but still I wait, in my grave

 

Years, do pass and life does change.

So I’ll wait here in my grave

Died, another one, now joins our crew.

Ago the ages pass us through,

I watch the living in the sun

Many soon to join our fun.

 

Many times I’ve wondered why

Years go by and all must die,

I wonder at nature’s course

So why the living have to hurt.

Ago, the ages pass me by,

Died another thousand more.

 

Died so many here today,

Many more are on their way.

Ago as time walks by and by

Years of anguish pass us by,

So we lye here in the grave,

I wonder why they put us here.

 

So this is how all stories end,

Many tales have spun into this thread.

Years go by and all things change,

Ago, the time walks past my grave.

I watch as all these things do change,

Died, another thousand, add to the grave.

 

***

Incantation No. 3 (Bring me the Disco King)

[sung something-like A Villanelle]

 

ring of awe, full floating things,

bow down closer. regiment in skeletons:

bring me the Disco King.

 

catacombs of castaways, a sewer line

space & time—once-dead bells

ring of awe, full floating things.

 

revoke this new era: cancel our subscription.

revoke all the smoke & mirrors. bring

Me the Disco King.

 

gallop, drag me, on the bones of progress.

rat me out as the wind rustles, you

Ring of Awful Floating Things.

 

musty meadow, ashen downs

collapsing. meteor on my kite string:

bring me the disco king

 

Flesh, wind, and arrows sing

—ring of awful floating things.

Meat cleavers, cleverly:

Bring me the Disco King.

 

***

I never thought I’d see our end,

Never thought I’d have to say goodbye

That day I lost my dear old friend

 

There were pained letters that I couldn’t send

And no matter how hard I tried,

I had to let go so my soul could mend

 

And there was a time when

After I left, there was always a tear in my eye.

That day I lost my dear old friend

 

But did your sympathies ever bend?

Are there times that you cried

And wished to die

And hide away so your soul could mend?

 

That day you lost your dear old friend.

 

***

Pantoum

 

Like the Venus de Milo she stands

A glorious statue of femininity

She memorizes my face with her calloused hands

I have never beheld such divinity

 

A glorious statue of femininity

With soft, supple curves warm and inviting

I have never beheld such divinity

I pray that the lord with hear my plighting

 

With soft, supple curves warm and inviting

And milky skin with freckles like the stars

I pray that the lord will hear my plighting

Her picture hidden in my box of memoirs

 

And milky skin with freckles like stars

She memorizes my face with her hands

Her picture hidden in my box of memoirs

Like the Venus de Milo she stands.

 

***

Rondelet

 

Control yourself

Punches land on the mat he holds

Control yourself

Tired of fighting this battle

He pulls me in with strong arms

I guess the fight is over now

Control yourself

 

***

Rondelet

 

She left me here.

To curse, to weep, to gnash alone.

She left me here.

In the dark, forsaken, I moan.

She said we would forever be.

She chose instead to go be free.

What the hell has she done to me?

She left me here.

 

Alone.

 

***

 

In all the things I wish not to see

The image of my past home

Whose eery skeleton shows the burns

That left her empty, void, and dead.

And with her all the memories I know

Are gone all things I used to love.

 

My father yelled, “Run far, dear love,

And dont look back,” so I would not see

The reality that I now know

As he ran back into our home.

He went to get our loved ones, dead,

And emerged no more, instead, he burned.

 

Now in my memory flashes burn

Of the bodies of those whose love

Once proved enough, but now, memories dead.

I long for days to no longer see

The reckage of a once dear home.

A place I wish I did not know.

 

Now among the crowd who thinks they know

All the turmoil that burns

Inside my soulless home

They try to comfort my young heart to love

Again, new things to see

But all inside I just feel dead.

 

Of the world, I cannot reach the land of the dead

But there, I know

He will wait for me, to see

The hope he saved to burn

Throughout my life. I long for the love

That he taught me inside our eternal home

 

A million remnants of that home

Still fall in ashes as I watch, now dead,

And wait for a Father’s endless love

The comforts that I can know

Amidst the heroes ending the burn

And showing that which wasn’t to see

 

To see the home

That burned him dead,

And know his love will come again.

 

***

Dance with the Wind – Villanelle

 

I tap out a rhythm as I smile,

Anxious breathes run thin with the breeze

Awaiting the resounding wile.

 

The steady beats drum wild,

As I sung a familiar tune of my child past,

And tap out a rhythm as I smiled.

 

Now alone, but not with guile

I shudder with pride and singing cold

Awaiting the resounding wile.

 

My eyes open to a green isle,

Where stands my baby looking at me, expecting.

I tap out a rhythm as I smile.

 

He leaps and giggles into leaves’ pile,

A dance with the wind ensues on the moor,

Awaiting the resounding wile.

 

The dance is done, the mirth now bile.

My child fades, woe besets me to rile!

I tap out a rhythm as I smile,

Awaiting the resounding wile.

 

***

There is a island of guilt. They call it the guilt island.

continue it is a island from the edge of the shore u could

shore horror ran from it. the island continue in guilt as if

something was continue and thee is a need in needing it.

Guilt seemed to be the only thing it ever saw and every

time it saw it it always humbled the slow tune of  week.

I felt sad and the fear was unreal to the sense of the guilt

made the water seem like a endless pit of sadness and guilt

of course and out guilt there is no fiend there is no guilt why

guackening the store and guilt.  what was the fell should i carry

it out to the beach so it feels no longer the same feeling.

 

***

Gasping for breath

My mind spins, I cant concentrate

Gasping for breath

No energy, make it stop-please!

Mundane tasks I’ve now come to hate

Rest I need, and I gave,  too late

Gasping for breath

 

***

 

Love,

that’s what they told me.

They told me love,

that’s what they told me.

 

That’s what love told me,

they told me, love.

What they told me,

that’s love!

 

that’s what they told me,

that’s what they told

Love.

 

Love..

They told me,

that’s love.

Me? They told me?

What?

That’s love?

 

That’s love.

They told me.

That’s love.

 

Love, love, love

that’s what they told me.

 

That’s what they told me,

Love.

***

I’ve fallen out of poetry

My muse no longer visits me

I tried and tried to fill the page

The war, it seemed, not mine to wage.

Abandoned by my fallow words

I’m struck down

silent.

This is a blank page by which I have silently sworn to redeem myself.

Where has my inspiration gone?

The other night, I brought heavy steps to the side of a snowy mountain, seeking my inner instructor.

My enemies were upon me

on my very heels!

but I was incapable of fear.

The terrifying part came in the morning

when the invisible guru turned me away with the sound of an alarm

and I realized that the guide I sought

didn’t exist—had never existed.

My muse is dead

but I still carry on over desolate white hills

By this blank page, I have silently sworn to redeem myself.

 

***

Title:The Perfect Fall Day
I listened to the crunch of heaven colored leaves
as I walk over to the park near my house,
I loved fall the beautiful leaves that came in colors
that we might never know how or where they were created.
The leaves seem to sparkle in some lights the sun not always
visible but always easy to feel. I loved that. The white fluffy
balls in the sky always waved in a motion only described as
wonderful and beautiful.
My walks in the morning were always fun especially in the warm
fall weather and I always bought a coffee with a pumpkin pie slice
 to go along with it to get into the spirt after all halloween was just
 around the corner.
The tree were already bald from leaves falling off every day.
 A deep breath though the nose sent a feeling of hope and wonder
 and a smell of all the things about fall.All the pictures that are taken
on this beautiful scenario are just perfect to post online. Fall a season
of wonder and beauty all around This is my perfect fall day.
***

Twenty- One

In elementary school we use to play this game

where we thought that the length of a crease in our palm

or pinky finger could tell us how long we’d live

or how many kids we’d have.

 

“You’ll live to be 76, and have 4 kids” she said.

 

Natalie and I had nothing to fear

because our lives would consist of happiness and love.

And somehow we were fortune tellers at the age of nine

and we had the stars aligned in our favor acting as saviors for each other

while we whispered silent prayers to God

asking him to make us best friends forever,

but apparently forever only lasted until middle school.

 

It’s now January 2014 and my hands

they hold story lines,

they’ve worn and calloused,

they’ve scarred and torn,

carrying expectations like a balancing act,

sweating and slipping until they can’t hold on anymore.

 

But we all carry around these things inside us

that no one else can see

and it took me twenty-one years to realize what they meant

when they said the monsters don’t live under your bed.

 

I remember when the mornings started with the sun rising.

I remember when the days ended with the moon shining.

I remember how I used to see the world,

how I use to live.

Now days fade into nights and

nights fade into mornings,

what felt like a perfect picture,

now looks like a distorted drawing.

To have what feels like a beautiful masterpiece,

and to see it bleed,

to see all its colors fade,

right in front of you,

and the only thing you can do is try to paint a new picture,

but sometimes it’s hard,

when you realize the world doesn’t appreciate art

like it used to.

***

The humans walk past me, barely acknowledging that I’m there.
Legs and feet dressed in pressed black slacks, soft leather shoes.
They don’t ever stop. I can flash my sensors or try to follow them
But they just sigh and say “Malfunction. But what else can we do?”
I try to do my work well so they’ll notice how much I care.
They made me after all. Why shouldn’t I love them all?
But for forty two days, five hours, twenty-seven minutes, three seconds
All I’ve gotten is spilled coffee, tripping feet, knocked around like I’m nothing.
They made me and I love them.
So why don’t they love me?
“Finally, here’s my files. What took it so long?” The man sighs
I am invisible to them. It is something that I just have to accept.
“Not an ‘it’, Tal. His name is CAS8.” Her voice is gentle.
I spin around slowly, worn treads on worn carpet
The database of Pathos employees crosses my sensors,
Blue light flickering too fast for the humans to see until it stops
On a small picture and a name. Someone who sees me.
“It’s a robot, Kate. It doesn’t understand you.” How can’t he see?
When Kate turns to leave I follow
Despite other orders. They can wait.
“You have a shadow, Kate,” the others whisper to her, like it’s bad.
But she replies “I know,” and continues on her way. With me behind.
These blank white walls now glow with halogens when she turns
And calls “Come on CAS!” The lights are glittering in her eyes.
They call it a malfunction. They don’t know how to repair me.
Only Kate says “He’s not broken,” and takes me back with her.
She likes her room warm, 73 degrees, but she still likes warm clothes.
And she likes explaining her work to me, all calculated trajectories.
It’s strange. She didn’t make me.
And yet, I think she loves me.
An alarm goes off. Three klaxons, and a red switch goes up in my sensor.
Emergency Protocol. Kate wakes up, her heart rate too high.
“Stay here, CAS,” she says, running out her door but I
Can’t just leave her. My treads whir to life. Too slow. But Kate could die.
The lights go dark, and all sound stops. It’s black like I’ve never seen.
I check my optical sensor. No issues found, but I can’t see a thing.
One last alarm rings out, and one final notice pops up on my screen.
Electromagnetic Pulse detected. Station security compromised.
I need to find Kate and tell her.
Because without her, no one will love me.
Rebooting. 34 percent functionality. Welcome online CAS unit 8.
Part of my optical sensor has been damaged, but I still see
Down a hallway of broken walls, fallen pipes and black screens.
Through dim lights and smoke and dust, I move my treads through debris.
I’ve followed Kate to her office so many times before, nothing feels different.
I enter underneath a collapsed door. Kate is sleeping at her desk,
But I can’t see her life signs on my screen. And when I flash my sensor,
She doesn’t move. And then I understand. Security compromised.
Kate isn’t waking up. Her smile is gone forever, and all
Of her projects and ideas and gentle words aren’t coming back.
And realize that now I see
That despite all I tried to do
She won’t wake up.
And never again will she love me.
***

A Monster Is Born

A gunshot rang out in the night

Breath turns to ice in winter air

And then it stops.

For just a moment,

the world is one monster fewer.

A second shot,

A woman tears through the forest

Hands of trees and villagers

Clawing.

Three shots this time;

Uttered by the looming clock tower

Watching the woman run for her life

And for theirs.

A fourth shot

A new monster is born

As her pistol fires towards

Her Victims.

Five shots

Gunpowder and bruises.

Terrible pain and melting snow

Breath turns to ice in winter air

Six shots.

One from each victim.

Six new monsters are born

The previous, face down in the snow.

Now the world is one monster fewer

Yet six monsters more

For, who can truly destroy a monster

Without becoming a monster too?

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For workshopping: 26Sep17

When I open my eyes, the stone walls feel far away. I stretch my arms above my head and let out a deep yawn. There’s just enough light filtering through the window fifteen feet above me to reveal the floor covered in human waste and food. I wonder if they’re mine, and then realize I’m in the middle of it. I remove my orange shirt and roll it into a ball. I use the dry parts to wipe my back and sides, and then chuck it across the room. The putrid smell makes me gag, and I have to face the wall to hold back my vomit.

My fingers find four scars across my chest. I look down and don’t recognize them. My eyes discover the tattoos, and I’m at a loss for words. My skin is also different. I look up but find no mirror. In fact, I don’t recognize the room at all. My headache must have something to do with that. I look at the four stone walls, but my eyes focus on the door. It’s made of some type of blue metal that I’ve never seen. I hurry over to it, carefully avoiding the pile on the floor, and look through the slit three-fourths the way up.

A hallway is on the other side. The walls and floor are made of the same material, a type of white plastic that reflects the fluorescent bulbs above. A man stops at my door and stares at me.

“82579,” he says, and then lists more numbers, but I don’t understand. I look away, but that just makes him speak louder. “…251. Time for our routine check.” The sound of a key sliding into a lock, turning, and a spring recoiling, fill the cell. I step back, half-expecting the door to swing open, but it instead retracts into the wall.

I’m wondering if I know this man. He’s tall; clean; his hair is pulled back and to one side, and his skin is soft; he’s dressed in a white coat that hangs to his ankles, and he’s got on a white shirt, black tie, and slacks. He’s writing on a clipboard, but his dark eyes are on me.

***

Seeing the time, I left the restaurant and descended into the Underworld’s main entrance meant for guests and not souls. I waved to my brother Charon who nodded back, as I boarded his boat that would ferry us into Hade’s realm, he stared at my black leggings and whispered to me, “You need to change into proper attire Skiá. You want to look your best when your father and his mortal bride see you.” Not wanting to disappoint, I called my shadows to me as one would call a small adorable kitten to them and snuggle them close to the heart. I felt their caress as they obeyed my commands to weave into an array of grey, blue, and black threads and beading. When I dropped the shadows to reveal my floor length, empire waist, perfectly beaded masterpiece, he smiled and nodded his approval. Reaching the shore, and passing through the castle, I found and stood with Mother and watched as my father married his mortal. Mother left soon afterward, but the celebration was still in full swing thanks to Dionysus, who was loud and full of drunken energy.

I gravitated towards the shadows being cast by the giant chandelier, which made the gold veins in the black marble columns gleam and sparkle. I didn’t get to admire much more of the room before the haughty, bratty, very drunk platinum monster in heels clacked over to me. She had no real cleavage to speak of, and the plunging Grecian neckline didn’t do much to emphasize anything other than the fact her chest made her look like a small girl playing dress-up. The merlot she was guzzling ran down her chin and dripped onto her shiny silver dress, staining the corded belt she wore around her tiny girlish figure. Her haughty brown eyes bore into me as she teetered on her pointy, matching silver shoes that were bedecked with white diamonds. She was very…sparkly.

“Why did Nyx even come? Hiccup. It’s not as though anyone wants her here. She is a nobody, passé. The same with all you Titans, you all belong in Tartarus.”

The light in the room steadily vanished as though someone had flicked a dimmer switch down. “Shut. Up. Persephone.” The platinum harpy shrieked. “I AM QUEEN HERE, YOU INSOLENT, BASTARD, LOVE-CHILD.” I rolled my eyes and sighed. There was no point to even speak to this harpy. I would have gotten away did she not grab me hard enough for her pink nails to break the skin on my arm.

“Don’t.” I let the ice that hides in shadow color my words. What I didn’t expect was the heat from her power to smack into mine. Persephone slapped me across the face. I felt my face stinging in the shape of her annoyingly delicate, callous free hand. Rage, pure and unadulterated flooded my mind. I wanted nothing more than for her to die. With that emotion came the power, it surged from my heart and desire for her to simply disappear, down to my hand to fulfill my command. I looked at her widening, washed out blue eyes, as they stared at my glowing being. As I snapped my fingers, the outpour of power was more than I anticipated and I felt slightly raw and sore from the exertion. Her frame bent and contorted as her skin turned an ashy blue-grey color, her life force being drained as my shadows took her form apart, molecule-by-molecule. Wine stained clothing and ash was all that remained. The silence in the room was eerie, and slightly creepy. The moment was broken when I felt her presence coming towards me. Mother’s thoughts invaded my own. “What. Have. You. Done?”

Dark shadows, a deeper, colder hue than my own spread across the landscape of the Underworld and into the throne room, announcing the Titaness Nyx’s arrival back into the Underworld.

***

It had been six months since the fires had begun devastating the hills of lower Appalachia.  All around the town of Fayette, the smoke pumped into the sky, the sun harmless to look at in daylight because of the insulating screen of ashy sky.

Bobby sat on his roof, chin on hands and hands on knees, watching the sky, perplexed.  He was starting to forget what the sky looked like before now.  He cocked his head to one side as something unusual seemed to catch his eye.  It was a speck of solid black on the horizon.  The speck seemed as though it was being blown about by the turbulent, ashy winds, but somehow resisting.  It was as though the speck had a will of its own.  The speck grew larger and Bobby could see it had wings.  It grew larger and larger as it came closer and closer.

“It’s a bird!” he exclaimed.  Bobby was on his feet now, excited by the unknown.  He wanted to call to Drex or his mom or somebody who could come be excited with him.

“Drex!” he yelled out, at the sky.  “Drex! Mom! Lilly! Patrick! Anyone! Come here! You have got to see this!”  No one heard, he thought.  No one would believe him at the dinner table.  Drex would make fun of him.  His mom would pretend like she understood but if he brought it up after today, she would tell him to let it go.  Aaaghhh!! He was so frustrated! If he stayed here and saw it alone, he wouldn’t be able to help but tell about it later and no one would believe him.  If he went to grab his mother or one of his brothers or sisters, he would miss it and then they wouldn’t believe there was something he wanted to them to see.  So he stood alone, regretting confiding in his older brother about the things he saw that no one else saw.

“Bobby?” Drex’s voice suddenly sounded from the backyard below.  “Bobby, you on the roof?”

“Drex!” burst Bobby!  “Drex come up here!”

“What’re you doing up there!”

“Drex, just come up!  There’s something you gottta see! It’s amazing!”

“Bobby, are you seeing things again?”

“No! Drex! Come up here!”

“You’re not supposed to be on the roof anyway!  You could fall!”

“Please!  Please just come up here!”

Drex sighed, reluctantly.  He didn’t want to keep indulging Bobby everytime he thought he saw something.  But their mother had asked Drex to watch out for his little brother.

“No nine-year-old has the kind of imagination Bobby has,” she had said to Drex.  “Please make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.  I’m worried he’s got something wrong with his mind.”

Drex was reluctant, but he felt responsible.  He was the man of the house after all.  He was fourteen, but he was the man of the house.  That’s just how it was when your dad was gone away on a year’s deployment with the Air Force. You had to take care of things, look after your little brothers and sister, respect your mom. So up the tree he climbed.  Branch to branch to branch.  Then he slipped off of the branches onto the roof and carefully but quickly made his way over to where Bobby was standing. It wasn’t a whole lot of time but all the while Drex was moving from ground to roof he was almost hoping that there would be something out of sorts when he got to Bobby.  Just so that Bobby wouldn’t be making things up.  It worried their mom when Drex had to tell her that Bobby was imagining too well.

Bobby lit up as Drex crossed the roof to where he stood.

“Look!” he pointed at the bird.  “Do you see it!” he looked to Drex and scanned his face to see his reaction.  “What is it?! Can you tell!?”

Drex looked hard to the tangy golden sky where his little brother was pointing.

“See it wiggling?  It’s a bird!  You see it right?  It’s flying away from the smoke!  Isn’t that crazy?!”

Drex looked and looked.  He knew exactly what Bobby was referencing.  He breathed out and realized he had been holding his breath.

“I see it Bobby.”
“You do?!”

“Yeah. I see the bird.”

Bobby looked up at Drex with big, grateful eyes.

“How ‘bout we get off the roof, Bobby?  Let’s get out the boards and go to the park?”

It wasn’t a bird at all.  Bobby was seeing an airplane.  And it was getting closer.  It was making a crash landing.

***

Time travel isn’t all the romantic writers tell you it is. Sure I fell in love but when your future catches up to you…

There are places in this world that are gates to different times. Most often they are dormant waiting for the fated one to walk into the gate. Jamie has mapped quite a few of these. He is an addicted time traveler. I don’t know what century he was born in but I know it wasn’t this one. I don’t think I’m telling this right.

I met Jamie when I appeared in his backyard after an unfortunate step on a certain spot of ground in the future. I’m still not telling this right. I’ve made it sound as though Jamie was the person that was most important when I ended up in the past.

It all started on September 14th 2015 in Naknek, Alaska. I had taken a cruise to see the whales and visit some friends I had made the last time I had been there. It was the last day of my visit and I’d decided a walk along the beach was in order. This turned out to be what fate wanted me to do.

 

Walking along the beach enjoying the view of a September day. The sky is grey which doesn’t change my mood. The whole scene is grey with flashes of white and blue that excite me. I’m hoping that I’ll see whales, the locals tell me that this is the best kind of day to see them. So here I am standing on the beach staring out at the ocean.

The fact that I was even standing on a beach in Naknek, Alaska was amazing to me. Every summer I have been invited back to King Salmon, a small town just up the road. I’d turned down the invite because of school and money. Now I have my degree but I’m still strapped for cash. So when I had won the Alaskan cruise I was elated. I had entered the contest on little faith of winning.

***

Maldor reaches down and breaks off the arrow shaft, hoping that will keep him from moving the arrow around too much. He forces himself to his feet as the giant approaches, towering over him. Maldor tries to ready himself, but his injured leg can’t support him and he once again falls to his knees. The giant laughs at Maldor’s distress, his deep throaty laugh echoes around them. Maldor again tries to rise as the giant laughs and again he falls to his knees, thinking quickly Maldor comes up with a plan. As the giant continues to laugh, Maldor shifts his position as best he can, then he hurls his sword like a javelin. The sword slams into the giant man’s chest, impaling him clean through. The mountain falls eerily silent as the big man’s laughs die away, replaced with a single thud, as the man falls to the ground.

Maldor struggles to rise again, this time leaning heavily against the steep side of the mountain to support his weight. As the man with the ax moves to his fallen companion’s side, Maldor takes the opportunity to glance down at his injured leg. Crimson blood continues to seep from the wound, adding to that already staining his leg and boot. Maldor is startled from his examination by a bellow. Looking up he is just in time to see the man racing down the trail at him. Maldor manages to bring his shield into position just as the man brings his ax around, resulting in a deafening crash. Maldor is slammed against the mountain, his body ringing from the impact, as his opponent is nearly thrown from the mountain trail from the recoil of the blow.

Maldor is the first to recover and he presses his advantage. He brings his shield around using it like a battering ram, trying to knock his opponent into the clouds below. However like his companion this man seems born from the mountain. He moves along the trail with an almost unnatural ease, even dazed he is nimble and graceful in his movement along the trail. The man strikes back, slamming his ax again and again into Maldor’s shield. Maldor blocks each blow, his adrenaline numbing the pain in his leg, allowing him to counter each of his opponent’s moves. However this strength fades fast, and Maldor knows it. Soon his body tires, and his wound begins to hurt again and drag at his strength.

***

“Bozhe Moi!”

 

The exclamation cut through the silence of the early morning and awoke

Ivan from his half slumber. It wasn’t comfortable resting in the

damp,murky mess of a trench, having to lean against the wiry branches

that were supporting the walls, but that didn’t stop Ivan from cursing

the rude awakening.  He unconsciously scratched the small, brown

moustache on his lip before wiping the drool that oozed from the

corner of his mouth.

 

“What is it now, Gregory?” Ivan asked, lifting his head to squint at

the youngest member of his squad. Gregory was the only man awake in

the unit, though the rest were supposed to be as well. The squad of

cossacks had been awake for at least thirty-six hours, staring through

what remained of the yellow and green forest at the German lines,

paying special attention to the large craters that  now dotted the

landscape in case some overly brave Krauts tried to sneak up on them.

The older men had decided that a watch should kept in order to catch

some sleep, and made the youngest stay up. It was good experience for

the boy and his eyes were better anyway.

 

“Ivan, you need to see this. The Germans are up to something!”

Gregorii whispered.

 

The youth seemed barely able to control himself, pacing in circles and

peering at the German lines over and over through his small rifle

scope. His tall, wiry frame combined with the unconscious facial

twitch in his left cheek earned him the name ‘Krolik’ amongst the rest

of the squad. While Ivan refused to call him by that name, even he

agreed that the young man could come across like a rabbit in constant

fear of being eaten, with brown eyes wide open with fear.

 

Ivan pulled out a small silver pocket watch from his breast pocket,

peering at the diminutive hands in the moonlight. It was 3:55 in the

morning. With a sigh, the soldier slid the watch back in his pocket,

grabbed one of the support branches and pulled himself to his feet. He

did not stand upright, his shoulders stooping out of habit as he

walked, though he doubted he could straighten his back at that moment.

 

“Damn it, Grisha, Those bastards had better be charging, because I was

finally able to dream again.” Ivan said, taking a moment to adjust his

visored cap.

 

***

Tray ran as fast as he could. It wasn’t very fast. He didn’t know why he bothered to run, they always caught him, and then he’d be winded before they started to beat him up. Tray was constantly bullied by the other kids in his neighborhood. Part of it was probably because he was an easy target, he was smaller than average, so he couldn’t fight back. The other, probably bigger, part of it was his mother.

Tray was about ready to give up his flight. He couldn’t run for much longer, maybe if he wasn’t completely worn out when they caught up to him it wouldn’t be as bad. As he slowed down, Tray heard one of the bullies cry out, “It’s a knight, scramble!”

A shadow passed overhead. Tray looked up, but he missed it. How fast had it been going to already be out of sight? Something crashed down next to Tray, making him jump and fall over. It wasn’t a something, but a someone. A knight was next to Tray, as if he had fallen from the sky. The man was wearing armor that looked like it was built from the scales of some huge beast. He turned his gaze on Tray, and Tray shrank under his stare. The knight’s eyes were a startling red color, but Tray blinked and they were brown. His glare was no less intense underneath a normal eye color.

“Do you know where I can find the man called Gap?” the knight asked.

It took a moment for Tray to comprehend the question. He was still trying to decide if he had actually seen those eyes or not. “Oh, y-yes. Gap l-lives pretty close to here.” Tray didn’t normally stutter, he’d managed to get over it a few years ago, but sometimes it still showed up when he was surprised.

“Can you show me?” the knight asked.

***

 

I wasn’t there when the Mexican state police kidnapped my brother. I say kidnapped, not arrested, because that is what it really was. An officer had been driving erratically and struck my brother’s minivan, with him and his three sons inside. Rather than take responsibility for the accident, the officer, and his counterparts who arrived moments later, decided to arrest my brother, without benefit of the usual rights that an arrestee would receive. I’ve wondered many times if the whole incident had been planned ahead of time. Being a dual citizen, and earning a hefty salary in the medical field stateside, my brother and his family made themselves targets by living comfortably on the other side of the border. Driving a nice car, having their children attend a private collegio, and my brother crossing the border daily in his bright, freshly-pressed scrubs; they couldn’t have been more conspicuous.

He was left in an empty cell for three days, without a cot, or so much as an elevated cement block to sleep on. A bucket sat in the corner, like a scene from a primitive 19th century prison. I assume they at least gave him water, but he did lost fifteen pounds before being released. All of this was after the now notorious all-day ride through the desert. Shackled and hand-cuffed, he sat in the open bed of a state police pick-up truck, surrounded by men in black commando gear bearing machine guns. None of his questions were answered; in fact no one said one word to him during the thirty hours that he was driven around in the desolate wilderness outside of San Juan. The average daytime temperature at that time of year hovers around 118. He had no hat, no shade. He never said if they gave him anything to drink. Along for the ride were several other state police vehicles, filled with still more armed officers, all equally intimidating and equally silent.

One can only guess at the intended result of the exercise, but my brother had determined that he would never return alive from that forced foray into the Mexican desert.

His wife later told me that when she was finally allowed to see him at the jail, that not only did he look painfully thin, fatigued, and desperate, but he also bore noticeable bruises and more than one obvious scratch. The officers blamed this on the initial auto collision, but we knew better.

The American Consulate negotiated my brother’s release and advised him in no uncertain terms to get himself and his family out of Mexico as soon as possible. Having been once targeted, his family would not be safe again and the police’s failure to extract a bribe from my brother would leave him continually open to abuse, allegation, and incarceration. The police had confiscated my brother’s van, demanding that he pay a large fee to have it returned and that he also pay for the damages that the involved police cruiser had sustained. My brother refused, and has never regained ownership of the van.

He took the advice of the consulate and began immediately to make preparations for returning his family stateside. The house needed to be sold, a new family vehicle acquired. He was able to secure hospital-owned temporary housing in Yuma, Arizona, just down the road from the Emergency Department he worked in. The few times that he returned to Mexico, whether for meetings with the realtor or to make final preparations, he did not go alone and drove in a small, beat-up, inconspicuous, compact car, with more dents than horsepower. His trips were quick and made only when absolutely necessary. He was able to journey to other parts of Mexico without trouble though; like taking his wife to visit her parents in Guadalajara, far south of the border, and just a ways north of South America. There he was able to enjoy himself with little fear of reprisals.

State police function seemingly independent of the government authorities. There are federal troops that patrol the entire country, but the state police govern their individual domain mostly autonomously, and are generally corrupt.

***

 

***

A gunshot.

Snarling and jaws snapping shut.

A scream that suddenly chokes to an end.

I sat straight up in bed, heaving for air. Something warm presses against me and I flinched for a second before giving a minuscule smile to my dog. He was trained as a police dog by my father and I can remember the day my father brought him home. I was only twelve and, boy, was I excited when the beautiful dog walked in.

“Alexa! Come down here for a moment!” I set down my guitar and plodded my way downstairs when I heard my mother’s call. I saw her and my dad talking in the entryway, “What’s up?” They both looked up at me and gave me their familiar grins filled with love that they always gave me. My dad nodded towards the door and winked at me, “Why don’t you take a look for yourself, sweetheart?” My brow furrowed in confusion, but I trusted him with anything. Heck, even knows who I’ve been crushing on the entire school year.

I skipped the last three steps and that’s when I saw him. The most beautiful and amazing dog in the universe. My mouth dropped open with a gasp and chuckles sounded behind me, “Alexa, meet my new partner. His name is Steel.” My emerald eyes stared into the chocolate brown eyes of Steel and my dad clicked his tongue before giving a command to his canine partner, “Steel, meet Alexa,” my dad clicked his tongue again and the dog tilted his head, “Steel, protect. Understand?” The dog seemed to sit up straighter and regarded my father in a serious way before looking back at me. He came close and held out his front right paw to me and I glanced at my father in confusion.

***

A lot of memories flickered through my mind as I raced down the 15 South going ninety-something miles per hour. Like shooting hoops in my front yard until it got dark. Like that time Karen and I waltzed in the park to Iron & Wine. Like walking up and down University Parkway to and from college classes when I first moved to Utah. This was another walk of sorts. A walk back. And I can’t tell you all the reasons why I was going back, just that I had to. It was like a light was left on in my childhood bedroom that I needed to put out before I could truly leave home.

See, it was actually the worst possible time for me to pull a stunt like this, that is, driving all night to my hometown in Southern California on a whim, because I’m graduating this Friday. At least I think I am. It depends.

Fiction was the last class I needed to graduate. I completely recognize that it was my fault that I wasn’t going to pass. I had done absolutely nothing in that class all semester but stare at the hem at the bottom of Professor Fender’s dress shirts. He seemed like the kind of person that would tuck his shirt in, but he didn’t, and I ran through all the possible theories in my head as to why. Maybe he thought it was edgy to be a professor with an untucked shirt. Maybe his shirt wasn’t quite long enough and it kept untucking when he bent over, so he decided to hell with it. Maybe a student called him uptight on Rate My Professor, so this was his defiant response. I didn’t have a definitive answer or a passing grade in the class.

So after class one day Professor Fender told it to me straight.

***

Taeryn Stormwrath

I’ve lived in this secret haven for millennia. I used to be among the Prime Firekeeper’s elite guardians, the Valdraven Guardians. I came to this paradise with the Prime Keeper Kaelyn, but she was not herself that day. She cursed me to remain here until the day I died. After the curse on her was lifted, she came back to release me. All her efforts were in vain. Not willing to kill me, for there was no guarantee I could be revived, she left me to my long solitude. She could not bear to tell anyone what had happened, thus she was my only visitor.

It has been quite some time since she has visited me. I know it is likely because she died. It is the not knowing that really tears me up inside. Recently I got an answer to what happened. A young lady was hiding from some vile necromancer’s faerie underlings in the deep caves. They were going to find the new Firekeeper soon, so I had to slip her away quickly and quietly. So I swam up behind her, opened my great mouth and held her gently inside. Then I sunk back into the water and swam through the waterlogged caves of the old mountain, up to the valley paradise where its peak used to be.

I set her down as carefully as I could out of my mouth onto the grass on the island in the lake. Apparently she is mortally terrified of dragons. She fled before me whenever I drew near, and seemed to not understand my words. So I changed to my elven form and returned to her. She seemed wary, but I managed to find a way to converse with her. Kaelyn was long dead, as were many of her successors. This tortured, frightened, innocent maiden the next in line. After some time we managed to understand each other and become friends. She wanted to help me. I wasn’t expecting to be beaten unconscious by a cast iron frying pan, or drowned thereafter while bathing in the lake water. I awoke on my back near sunset, outside my paradise prison, and she was missing. I must find her.

***

Jamie sighed as she dragged her assignment into the hand-in folder on the computer. She looked up at the clock. There was still almost an hour left in the class period for her Multimedia 1 class, and, as usual, she’d proven more than a match for the work. Yawning immensely, she took out her notebook and began scanning her French notes, hoping to cram a bit more study time in before her test next period. They’d been told the test would have essay questions on it, and she wanted to make sure that she had the vocabulary down.

Something soft bounced off her head. Annoyed, she looked up. Someone had thrown a paper ball, hoping to hit someone behind her. She rolled her eyes and returned to her notes. Today was not a good day. She’d gotten a grand total of three and a half hours’ sleep due to an ugly set of coinciding assignments for Pre-Calculus, U.S. History, and English, as well as being at the hospital for the birth of her older sister’s second child. To say she was drained and exhausted would have been a gross understatement. She did not want to be here. She would’ve loved nothing more than to lay her head down on the keyboard and see on her computer how many z’s (among other letters) she could catch before waking up.

This plan was made impossible by the arrival of a pair of loud boys at the computer beside her. They began conversing in obnoxiously loud tones with their friend, just as they did every day. Jamie didn’t know them personally at all. She knew they were called Eric, Nash, and Dalton. She preferred to think of them as Fluffy, Beanie, and Mop respectively, due to their individual hairstyles…though perhaps “hairstyles” was the wrong word. There was a French phrase for it…faux pas—that was it. French. Time to get back to studying.

“Yeah, she likes tattoos…”

Tired as she was, Jamie couldn’t help pick up the fragment of the conversation going on next to her. Why couldn’t they socialize elsewhere? Out of the three of them, why’d it always have to be the one that sat next to her that hosted the other two? Wearily, she turned a couple pages of her notes, trying to ignore her noisy neighbors.

“…yeah, just look it up on Google Translate and draw it on my arm.”

***

The ring of trees created a perfect circle, and the clearing was devoid of any kind of vegetation. The soil was black, blacker than any soil Victoria had seen before.

“Where do you think this came from?” she asked, bending down to examine it.

“Don’t touch it!” Fredrick hissed.

She turned around to look at him, surprised at how pale his face looked. “Why not? It’s just dirt.”

He shrugged uncomfortably. “It gives me a bad feeling.”

“Nonsense,” she said, removing one of her soft leather riding gloves and running her fingers through the soil. It was soft and springy, almost like running her fingers through feathers. “Fredrick, you must feel this!”

He remained resolutely in one place. “Let’s go,” he pleaded again.

She straightened up, replacing her glove, but instead of turning away from the strange clearing, she stepped forward onto the soft soil. “We must be in the middle of the forest. Why has nothing grown here?”

Fredrick didn’t reply. She turned around to face him, but he was gone, and so was his horse. Had he just left her here? “Fredrick?” She charged back into the ring of trees, panicked. She lifted her skirts as she ran, calling his name, but there was no reply.

She tripped over a protruding tree root, and found she didn’t have the strength to stand back up. How could he have left her out here? As she tried to catch her breath, she took in her surroundings.

Something was different now.

The forest was alive. Not just that the birds were calling or that the trees and moss were a resplendent emerald, but the breezes that whistled through the trunks felt oddly like an exhale, and the sunlight that fell in the dirt in splotches through the canopy pulsed like a heartbeat.

Then all at once, it stopped, and everything was complete silence and stillness.

Except for a warm breath on the back of her neck.

***

I watched the clock on the stove gleam dull green as I drank my coffee in the lavender light of the morning, while the sun still hid itself behind the mountains, struggling to stretch its fingertips over the horizon. How early was too early to be awake?

My great-grandfather once told me, leaning on his carved oak cane like the lazy, tall tale-telling cowboy he was “the dead never sleep before dawn.” I didn’t either after that. Maybe it was fear at first, gaping like a tar black pit in my chest. Later, I believe, it was curiosity poking its nose out from under the sheets two beats of silence after an unfamiliar creak of the aging floorboards or a book had fallen off the bedside table.

Was there mist, like that of waterfalls, that fell from ghosts leaving puddles of fog pooled on the ground if they flickered in one place too long? Were the black sockets of their long-decomposed eyes devoid of any feeling? Or could one see their silent shrieks pleading, reaching from the darkness of their deaths?

I never found out.

That was before I started a new office job six weeks ago an hour’s drive away from home, and I had to wake up right as the moon was pulling the mountain peaks like a blue fleece blanket above its head. In the twenty minutes before dawn I would brew two cups of coffee, sipping on mine (creamed and sugared) while the mug of black beside me would slowly disappear as if dissolving into the blushing atmosphere of the morning.

***

Nick sat hunched over his desk next to the washing machine. The desk was a plastic Fischer Price picnic table they’d bought for twins last Christmas. Sour smelling dishrags and soiled baby bibs with mashed green bean stains sat soaking in the gray water.

Beads of sweat coalesced at Nick’s hairline and dropped onto the laptop as he pecked at the keys. The story was for his online fiction-writing course. He was revising. Always revising. A new draft had to be submitted in the next twenty-four hours.

The H key was loose on the keyboard. It stuck up and kept catching Nick’s fingernail. Finally, he tried to pry the black tile off its plastic tab. He could fasten it on straight if he could just see the screw that was supposed to hold it in place. Instead, it shot off and landed between the washer and dryer. Nick slammed the computer shut.

Jenny had crashed a couple hours earlier after pulling a graveyard at the hospital. And by some miracle, the twins were still asleep. When he had peeked into their bedroom both toddlers had been lying face down in the bed, their doughy limbs splayed at obtuse angles. For a split second Nick had considered moving them onto their backs but he didn’t want to wake them. He had work to do.

The venetian blinds sliced the September sun as it slanted through the window and into the front room of the basement apartment. A lot of natural light for a unit like this. Mrs. Kratski had mentioned this when Nick and Jenny had toured the basement. Jenny had shuffled from room to room, a little off balance at twenty-nine weeks. Mrs. Kratski had neglected to mention that in her old age she got cold, even when the temperature outside was holding steady at ninety degrees.

***

Within the borders of a magical land known as Italy is the once sovereign land of Florence. Up until a few years ago, you could see part of its history as you walked on Plexiglas above old blacksmith workshops, then deeper and richer, before Caesar’s soldiers settled the land, Remus was murdered by his brother Romulus. But that’s what you get when you’re raised by a she-wolf.

All I’m getting to is that the history of the ground itself is older than me. Who am I? Imagine a gorgeously toned bronze body. That would be my twin brother. He’s Greek and I’m Roman, but that doesn’t bother us. To be honest, I haven’t seen him since I was born. I’m white, but I think that gives me an extra je ne sais quoi – that’s latin for “bodacious”.

Have you heard of the Renaissance? Leonardo? Donatello? Michelangelo? I knew Michelangelo when he was just a little boy. He would come visit me with his teacher in the Medici garden. The Renaissance couldn’t happen anywhere else. The beautiful Arno River, the distance from the Pope, the volcanic earth, the banks, the distance from the Pope, the medieval architecture. Florence is nothing like Rome, because we would never let this place become a dump.

Savona used to visit sometimes. His dark beady eyes made me wish marble could squirm. That bitch burned stoned.

I had a wonderful home in the Medici’s garden. I was appreciated, and there was always something to be appreciated. Like a new guy named “David”. He’s little and flowery, but I like him. He’s a child of the Renaissance. He had some interesting ideas. That’s what happens when you live with humanists. Even if you’re not a human, like yours truly, this free flow of ideas and possibilities opened up the heart and the mind. Savona Rollo came in the night and left in a storm, screaming and shouting, damning my dying homeboy. This would have never happened if he told everyone the Medicis were the Anti-Christ. Takes one to know one, bucko.

Have you ever seen something that touched you to the very core? When I saw Venus and her gentle birth, I knew she would grow into something special. She was so young and so beautiful, and just as soon as she made her way into the world, she had to be hidden away. She was lucky. Mr. Rollo went on an absolute rampage. Never in all my years – the raising of Rome, the enslaving of the Greeks, the plagues – had I seen something so heartbreaking. I heard it called “The Burning of the Vanities”. Masterpieces young and old were set aflame, fueled by the same books which inspired the ending of bloodshed and poverty. I watched my friends vanish into smoke. I wish I could have looked away, but I turned to stone from the inside out. Have you ever felt cold marble? Have you ever seen a stone cry?

***

He was late. Sharon was already there—off playing with Ben in the other room. Brandon pulled on his jacket and patted his pants’ pockets for his keys, searching frantically until he saw them on the counter from the corner of his eye. He hadn’t been late a single day at this job, and he wasn’t planning on ruining his streak.

“I’m headed out Sharon!” he called. No answer. But he was certain she’d heard him, and he didn’t have time to wait. He rushed out the door and down to his beat-up Ford. He slid in easily, throwing his bag down on the passenger seat. His sunglasses had fallen on the floor and he had to bend over to reach them, at which point he heard the car door latch. His heart started to race and he sat up straight, throwing the door back open and trying to control his breathing. He kept one arm on the door to make sure it didn’t swing shut again, letting the panic race through him. This had happened before, but he hadn’t yet figured out how to stop it. His muscles were tensed up involuntarily and his fingertips shook with tiny little tremors. All he could do was try to breathe through it and let the feeling subside, but it wasn’t getting any better.

He clenched one hand around the steering wheel and tried to focus on the grip instead of the constriction he could feel around his heart. You’re okay, he thought to himself, and then he began to count, taking a deep breath with each number and then letting it go before he moved on. When he got to five, the tremors started to subside and he managed to loosen his grip on the steering wheel. Still keeping one hand on the door, he used his other to put the key in the ignition and start the car. But even when the engine turned over, it took him another few seconds to pull the door closed. There was no way he’d make it to work on time now, but he was just grateful he’d been able to pull himself out of the episode. Sometimes when things happened unexpectedly like that it took him half an hour just to get back to normal.

***

In a teeny, tiny town in the middle of northern nowhere, there was a girl named Gabriella. She had warm amber eyes and honey skin to compliment her beautiful, sweet temperament. Her hair was dark but with the odd dynamic of natural gold highlights which made her appear to always be haloed in light. Even if her hair had not been so effervescent, her smile would certainly have cast the same glow about her face. She was an otherworldly beauty with the benefit of also being endearingly kind and exceptionally tender hearted. Unfortunately because of her good looks she was so popular in the local high school that she was treated like a celebrity by her small town. The pressure of being so high on the town pedestal caused Gabriella to put up walls and to protect herself, she acted rather shallow. It seemed to her that if she hid her depth and lived like a clear pond with nothing to hide, no way to displease anyone, that she would not live in fear of disappointing her beloved town.

Her kind heart was buried below layers of dirt at the bottom of the clear pond but it was still present and tested daily. The other popular kids made fun of those they thought were lesser and tried to get Gabriella to do the same. On one occasion, her friends were making fun of a girl named Ceilia’s arm fat in the locker room without regard for the fact that the girl could hear them. Ceilia’s face burned red with sheer humiliation as she pulled on her clothes as fast as she could. Irregardless Gabby made her way across the locker room to the Ceilia. She threw her arms around the poor dear and whispered something in her ear. Ceilia’s eyes brightened and she teared up, “thank you.”

“What did you say?” one of the girls that had been bullying tilted her head and her long, straight blond locks spilled over her shoulder.

“I told her that she looks just like her mother and that no one should feel bad about looking like their mom.”

“What does it matter if she looks like her mom?” there was a brunette leaning against the locker next to the blond and when she addressed Gabby she sounded like she really did not care to hear the answer.

Gabriella’s eyes slid half closed warning both girls that she was not amused, “because her mother died a week ago.” She did not chastise the girls for their behavior because she knew the depth of the human heart and even if her friends would not admit it, she knew they were feeling terrible right now. It was not her intention to make them feel bad but it is kind of the nature of bullying to come back to bite whomever dares to participate in it and when it does so, it does so hastily. Unfortunately Gabby herself knew the consequences all too well not by participating in the foul behavior herself but through the passing of someone close to her due to bullying. As long as her heart remained buried she would never talk about it and so her shallow life went on and the only times her real personality revealed itself were in times like these with Ceilia. Times where she was tested by those that wished to catch her being more than just popular.

 

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