Encounters with the Writing Process
|Today is July 31, 2018. 806 PM. Down below is what I wrote when I started this project. I can't believe I finished it. It isn't such a big feat but I have a very busy real life. And just for that, it was very difficult to come up with a story each day, inane though the stories might have been.
Still, I am giving me a pat on the back and promising myself to never do such crazy stuff ever again, especially alone and on my own.
July 1, 2018
Someone asked me to try a-story-a-day, but I have no desire to go to another site for anything. So, I decided I’d try writing a story each day here. It is better not to spend too much time on them, not more than 15-20 minutes or so. Some days this may even be a sentence or an idea, and I am sure some of those stories will be crap, but I think it will be worth a try.
I’ll see what happens in July and if I can pull it longer than a month.
July 31, Tuesday, 2018
The sound of the engine wakes Sharon, but when she opens her eyes, she sees her father instead of her mother in the driver’s seat. She turns her head away to the window on her side to stifle the anger and push away her tears.
Outside, rows and rows of trees intercepted by rows and rows of fields with cows on them flash past her window. What happened? How could they get away from her mother?
“Don’t you remember? I got your custody…finally. So, I’m taking you away.”
Sharon remembers in a haze. The party in the house. Her mother’s boyfriend in her room…”I am Incubus,” he’d said. Sharon calling her father…Sharon calling the police…Protective custody…foster parents…Her dad…
“Sorry, Sharon,” her father had said when he picked her up. “I couldn’t be there. I was out of the country.”
His words keep coming to her now, although he isn’t speaking at the moment. His dad must be nervous, too. Sharon doesn’t recall him being this quiet, as the few times as she has seen him.
“Dad? Where are we going?”
“Far away. Probably the West Coast, somewhere. Where she can’t reach you.”
Sharon reaches for her backpack on the backseat next to her. Her most favorite things are there. Her I-pad, phone, Polly Anna, the book that was her foster mother’s gift, her notebooks, her tiny MP3 player, change of clothes, sandals, nightwear, toothbrush, comb…She handles them one by one. She’ll survive.
She wonders if her dad is better than her mom. He’s taking her away…at least that.
She takes a deep breath and turns slowly toward the window again.
The engine sputters and stops and the passenger door opens. Oh, God, no! Her dad is giving someone a ride. Hitchhikers are dangerous. Doesn’t he know that?
“Henry,” says the stranger. “I’m Henry. Henry Coles. Thank you, Sir. Next town or Bisbee if you’re going that way.”
“Bisbee, it is, then,” says Dad.
Sharon sees the stranger’s head from the back seat, but she saw him better earlier. A young man with large sunglasses and a funny hat too big on his head. But his voice, or maybe his tone, she doesn’t know which, it just doesn’t sound right. Kind of mechanical like a robot talking. Sharon feels like roadkill with this strange guy up front and her clueless dad driving.
“Don’t worry Sharon,” says Henry Coles. “It is downhill from here on. Your life will be terrific.” Just how did he know her name?
Sharon watches the towering rocks on the side of the road and closes her eyes again.
When she opens them again, Henry Coles is not there.
“Dad? Where did he go?”
“Henry Coles. The guy you picked up.”
“I don’t know any such person. I never pick up strangers, Sharon. What happened? You keep dozing off. Did you dream this?”
No, she hadn’t. But then, maybe she had. Incubus at work giving her head trips, vagaries, or things dried, burnt, cooked too long, coming alive again. Just maybe.
July 30, Monday
She was someone he loved. Someone he could not help but love. A mate in fact. One of the guys. Someone he felt he could have a beer with, share a joke or two, since he had known her for a long time.
He loved her hair, reddish golden. The hair of a goddess. She waved at him as she drove by in her white Honda Civic with a monogram on the back of the driver’s seat. He didn’t always catch sight of it, but he knew it was there. Her license plate said FLEX 32, whatever that meant. He always wanted to ask but never got around to it.
It was early summer but spring-like. Everything was fresh and light-toned green with a tint of yellow. He sort of wished she would stop and talk to him today, just for a minute or two. But, hearing the crunch of her tires on the asphalt, he watched her as she drove by his store, her reddish golden hair wavering in the wind behind the windshield.
Except…except she laughed like Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a Dracula, as she raised her fists and punched the air. So unladylike, but it was not his business to bring that up.
She also smirked when she didn’t like what someone said. Not a frown but a smirk. One had to study her to understand what her each gesture meant.
He didn’t expect her to return, and when he heard the noise of a siren at a distance, he came out of the store, wiping his hands on the flaps of his half-open shirt. That was when her car appeared and stopped in front of his store. A stroke of luck, he thought. A real stroke of luck.
She got out of the Civic, slamming the door and sauntering over to him.
“I need an extra hand to carry...err bury...something? Can you help?”
“Oky, doky! Just a sec.” He yelled to the inside for the boy to mind the register, then he followed her to the Civic.
“Pleasant day,” he said, as she revved the engine.
“Not for me,” she said. “Got a mess in my hands. Gotta get rid of a load if you know what I mean.”
He nodded agreeably although he wanted to ask what that mess was, but he didn’t for she was really flying on the road, and since he had heard the sirens earlier, he worried about the sheriff catching them like this or him throwing up all over the place since fast driving wasn’t his thing. Instead, he kept opening and closing his fists as if exercising.
Abruptly, she stopped the car, which lurched forward, suddenly giving out an angry groan and finally halting. He thanked his lucky stars for the seatbelts or else he would have flown right outside through the windshield.
“Follow me,” she said, and she rushed out to follow a tiny path that snaked around an old dilapidated cottage and curved out into the woods in the back of the property. He took sturdy steps after her without too much haste. After they’d walked a while, they came to a small clearing. Suddenly she whirled around and faced him. “Please, do not ask questions. What happens here didn’t happen. Okay?”
Mesmerized, he just stared at her. Maybe he didn’t quite get her. If she wanted something, some trash dumped, they’d do that. What was the big idea, now!
“Nothin’s the matter,” she explained. “We gotta bury something. I just shot at someone to scare him off, but he wasn’t so lucky. You see, I ain’t a sharpshooter.”
He didn’t answer, but he looked around. Not much to see through the overgrowth except for a big trash bag at the bottom of a tree. That had to be him, the man she shot. Then he noticed the shovel lying on the ground next to the bag.
“Come on!” She pulled him toward the bag.
His hesitating manner made her blurt out a laugh, her Vlad-the-Impaler laugh. She walked ahead of him and undid the knot.
“Come, look inside,” she said. “No, there ain’t no murder. I was just pullin’ your leg. This is my Da’s. If the Feds pick it up, he’ll spend his last days in the slammer. See?”
Inside the bag, was a huge copper moonshine still kit, broken in parts, obviously due to her handiwork.
July 29, Sunday
There was only one way for Lydia. She could escape. But where? With time travel gone wrong, she couldn’t know where she could land.
The doorway to life is always open, she heard the directions, although only as a whisper. So quaint, so welcoming, so olde world charming, or if you wish where you left it last.
She didn’t know that was possible, but even that possibility. frightened her. She murmured, making a choice, “Okay, Earth where I left it last…”
When she opened her eyes, she wondered why the light was coming from the wrong side of the room and why the windows had moved to the opposite wall. Strange place.
Then, she recalled. Something had happened. Something bad. Really bad.
That something really bad made her really mad, which helped her to hold her tears back. Anger sometimes helped not to cry. The thing was what made her mad was also the thing that made her shed tears. And all that had to do with Philip.
She knew she should never accept a long-term relationship with a time traveler, but Philip seemed to know what he was doing and he had some kind of a pull on her. She closed her eyes and tried to recall what he had said about the images of moments floating freely in the universe. She couldn’t recall well. Only because she was new at this and couldn’t get a grasp of the vastness of the universe or its possibilities. After all, according to Philip, everything was a possibility and she didn’t want to live with possibilities anymore. So, she had left him, taking the universal GPS’s advice.
As Lydia tried to sit up in the bed, vertigo took over. Her vertigo was always a laughing matter. Anyhow, to Phillip she was a joke, someone he could dump at every crossroad, especially if things got sticky on occasion.
“Just hold on!” Someone said, in a voice she recognized. “Stop being so pessimistic, Lydia.”
Startled, she looked into Philip’s face with the funny smile on thin lips.
“The door isn’t always open to wherever we want to go. You weren’t on time. We’re ten years ahead.”
“You came with me!” The sudden realization startled her.
“I won’t leave you again. I am not pulling a fast one on you. I can’t because you have no concept of time. I can’t afford you lost out there. And there’s that thing.”
“You. Me. And the time stream. Sometimes it flows haphazardly. Its randomness may not always be to my choosing. But life, this life on earth. The door to it is always open, I’m told.”
“Then, you will stay?”
Philip pinched the bridge of his nose, and in a huskier voice said, “I am sick of wondering and worrying about losing you inside a hub or a weird crossroad, or inside the barriers of thick mists.”
Lydia repeated her question. “Then, you will stay with me?”
“Yes, we will stay here, together. Earth is pretty in any era.”
Lydia wasn't mad anymore.
July 28, Saturday
She ran with the ball, dribbling it all the way to the basket.
She was so good at it, too, and didn’t let anyone of the other team steal it. It was the last game of the season. Her last one, also. Then, while she was trying to make the basket, the other team's huge defense stopped her, but they couldn’t faze her. She snaked around them and sent the ball back to one of her teammates who scored three points from behind the line. Those three points won them the game.
Now, she smiled sadly and readjusted her shoulder bag. Then, she walked slowly, a quiet tune escaping her whistling lips.
The fact was, she wasn’t on the basketball court anymore. Instead, she was trying to make her way to the Supermarket, with the aid of her cane that made sounds similar to her dribbling the ball, for she always recalled how fast she was at the right front on the basketball court sixty years ago when anything made the sound of a basketball's dribbling.
She stopped to rest leaning on the cane. So many memories…Blink, blink, blink… and she shattered the illusion, but as soon as she began walking again, she saw the basketball in her mind’s eye, and the sound waves carried themselves around with her without reason…or maybe with reason.
Anger, love, forgiveness.
Forgiveness of others of an ancient time who didn’t let a young girl follow through a career in basketball.
Now, if only she could make it to the Supermarket in one piece...
July 27, Friday
Outside on the corridor after the meeting, Murry avoided colleagues and nurses. For that so-called meeting was a meeting in name only. It was, in fact, a how-not-to-punish-a-colleague mission.
Murry knew, inside himself, he could never remake something that was destroyed, like a hand of a patient or his image or what he had done.
How could he have done that! How could he let things go this far! How could he not have checked for himself if there had been a mistake! It was, as they claimed, someone else’s mistake in the data, but still!
Joel had presented the evidence, insisting that an operation was a team effort, and someone else, not Murry, had entered the wrong data into the computer. Yes, Murry should have checked for himself, but what could the board expect after the man had taken care of several people’s woes earlier due to a traffic accident. Yes, the hospital would face a lawsuit. But the misconduct was understandable on the surgeon’s part. It was a serious error as the board realized, but why put all the blame on one person? After all, wasn’t Murry the most respectable, the most accomplished surgeon on the staff? Wasn’t Murry the one who had erected a hospital in an African country and worked with Doctors without Borders? Shouldn’t the board protect the name and reputation of such a person and try to avoid a national exposure by accepting the terms of the patient’s lawyer?
“Great presentation, Joel,” the chair had said. “The problem is the patient’s lawyer is asking for Murry’s punishment, but he also said the patient likes him.”
“That smells money,” Michael Kagan said. “In which case, our insurance could cover it, maybe. Depending on what they ask.”
“We all know Murry,” Joel said. “We all know how good he is. Doesn’t that count for something?”
“Maybe we can point the finger at the computer,” Arlene Weiss, the internist, said. “It might be a computer glitch for all we know.”
“On all counts, we need to avoid any wider investigation. Anyhow, I submit we claim no medical misconduct.”
The vote was unanimous, but Murry knew better. He was in the midst of it. He barely could raise his head and say anything in his own defense or else.
When Joel caught up to him as he was entering his car, he thanked Joel for the defense. Then, “I am the one to blame, Joel,” he said, and he meant it, but then, only he knew the extent of his own guilt.
Several days later, the mistake was taken care of by the hospital board and litigation was avoided.
What nobody knew or would ever know was that this Murry was Marty, Murry’s twin brother, and he had never finished the medical school, unlike the real Murry. The real Murry was long dead in an accident when both brothers were in the same car when a semi had hit them.
July 26, Thursday
Lack of Trust
Vandan Khan’s figure was twisted but Bethiel recognized him anyway. He knew she would even before she became visible like the whirlwind and sat high on her throne of copper and gold. She still wore the pendant with seven corners of ruby tacked on a platinum chain. It was the amulet he had given her, but Vandan Khan showed no recognition as he stood with his hands tied at the back and his head lowered.
Bethiel’s throne spun around, moving closer to Vandan Khan. At that instant, Bethiel’s guards drew their swords. Bethiel raised her hand to the dark cloud hovering above her and drew something from it. At the same time, she motioned the guards to put their swords away. Once the blades were safely tucked away in their scabbards, Bethiel addressed Vandan Khan. “Vandan Khan! Friend or Foe! What is the meaning of this? Why were you in Conayra’s army, knowing she’s no friend of ours?”
Vandan Khan lifted his head and looked at her, his eyes glowing white. “I wasn’t!” he said. “Conayra captured me, tricking my household. With the powers you were bestowed with, you should know that, Bethiel.”
“What now, Vandan Khan,” she taunted him with her sinister chuckle. “Those powers need refurbishing. Besides, I want to hear your treason from your own mouth.”
“There is no treason!” Vandan Khan said.
“My cloud says there is!” Bethiel looked up at the dark cloud over her head. Then, she threw the object she had drawn from the cloud at Vandan Khan, who directed his sight at the object, pulverizing it.
“Your sight won’t protect you much longer,” Bethiel shrieked. “Unless I do the untwisting.”
“I told you the truth. And You won’t be able to keep your throne much longer without my help.”
“Maybe,” said Bethiel. “But don’t forget you are the one who left me.”
“I left you to stop Conayra and I was rather successful at first, but she tricked my guards and penetrated into my tent.”
“Why am I supposed to believe you?”
“You are the witch. You should know.”
Bethiel handled the pendant she was wearing. “It is this, isn’t it? You gave this to me to put me under your spell, and you united with Conayra.”
“If you believe that, why are you still wearing it?”
“I am not wearing it anymore, but you will. Now, I am putting you under my spell,” and as she said that she unhooked the chain and held the seven-cornered ruby in her hand.
Vandan Khan laughed. “I am already your prisoner, and that’s only a trinket.”
Bethiel threw the ruby and the chain at Vandan Khan’s feet. ”Onier, put this around his neck,” she ordered one of her guards.
“It isn’t polite to return a gift in such a disgraceful way, Bethiel,” Vandan Khan said, but he let the guard put the amulet around his neck in a docile manner.
The Ruby glowed at the end of its chain and as soon as Vandan Khan’s gaze fell upon it, it grew bigger. Vandan Khan’s ties came apart instantly. Bethiel screamed. The guards drew their swords again, but the flashes from the ruby turned each sword into a twig with little green leaves on it.
“Too bad, Bethiel,” Vandan Khan said. “No student of magic should treat her teacher so terribly. As of now, I am taking away everything I gave you. If you lose to Conayra, it will be your own doing. Heck, probably you have already lost.”
Bethiel begged,“No, please, don’t!” as her throne disappeared and the cloud over her fell on her covering her, making her smaller, much smaller, turning her size to that of a rodent, and becoming a grey furry coat covering her body.
“Too late,” Vandan Khan said as he exited the place. “You should have believed me. Trust is the most important thing when you are still a student.”
July 25, Wednesday
Melissa didn’t give a damn about the stolen watch. He could keep it. The papers in the safe were untouched. She figured the alarm scared him witless. Was the disk that held the codes with all the important data in it untouched?
He wasn’t unattractive she thought as she watched from behind the screen, unbeknownst to him. The screen had glittered when he had turned facing it. He had to have been wearing contact lenses. She had wondered if they were for better sight or for changing the color of his eyes. But she hit the button to get his face full view, and then the alarm.
As always, Melissa could be quite persuasive, and she steered her controls across the board, then gave him a sweet smile. “Do your job!” What a genuine badass, and she pulled on the joystick.
Melissa hurried then and flung a deterrent in front of the escaping man but not before she pulled out her laser. The man had to have felt the heat flush his face. He lifted his hands to his face. When he lowered them, his eyes together with the contact lenses dropped from his hands.
The deterrent jumped him, coming from behind. The robot-man disintegrated into pieces.
Melissa looked at the pieces and retrieved the watch from among them. “What a pity,” she murmured “It was a good-looking robot, but could he have done something to the disk, like messing up the codes or something? He was a robot, after all…”
“Of course, but I didn’t see it from the screen,” she answered herself. “All robots steal from others’ codes, but I don’t think...”
Before she could finish her words, she was almost thrown backward as everything on the screen exploded. Darn! The robot had certainly messed up the codes, Melissa realized, making her lose the game.
Just then, Melissa’s mother texted. “Where are you?”
“I'm in the game room!” she texted back.
“If you’ve survived the blast, come down to the kitchen for milk and cookies!”
July 24, Tuesday
I can’t help thinking about death. My mother’s…my own…Somehow they seem to have merged together. Meanwhile, I am trying to breathe with short gasps and I clutch at the wall for support.
It takes time, this grief. Although I acted stronger than everyone else at the time, I was wrong. Again!
Acting brave is not the same as being brave.
A large warm hand rests on my arm. “Are you okay?” the man asks. “What’s wrong?”
“I just was…” I pause. “I don’t know where I am.”
He wraps his arms around me. “Don’t worry,” he says. “I’ll take you up. The stairs are difficult for anyone.”
My inner voice tells me to breathe, to stop holding back my sobs, my thoughts…my life.
I suddenly feel lifted up. He is not going up the stairs. He is flying over them. When we land, he lets me on my feet, but all I see are clouds down below.
“Just a bit more,” he says and lifts me up again.
When he puts me down, I am in a totally different place, an alien place. He offers me his solid upper arm and I take it for him to guide me through a pair of double doors. They look like bifold patio doors but so much bigger.
“How do you like the new décor?” he asks. “This is what we did. We modernized the place. Now, we have these doors instead of the Pearly Gates.”
“Thanks,” I tell him faintly. I am not trying to breathe anymore. I don’t need to.
July 23, Monday
So unfortunate! Although he was a successful entrepreneur, Duncan had impulsive urges forcing him to act or cause a turbulence. Most of his impulsiveness was on the passive side like driving fast without the seatbelt, closing his eyes when crossing the street, taking part in rebellious demonstrations, or smoking in his mother’s kitchen when he went to visit her. All because he liked to get a reaction from others. He enjoyed the sights of innocent people who went about their own ways suddenly becoming shocked at his unexpected escapades.
Even when he seemed as if he were idling, this wasn’t the case. In fact, he usually concentrated, thinking his way through the bristles he might cause for people to work their way through. He knew very well that a respectable mayhem could be started by planning with coolness, calm, and reliability. He also didn’t think much about what happened to him as a child or if he had any fun while growing up. What happened was what happened. All that mattered was the present, and he was the one who made his present interesting.
And today would be interesting, really interesting, as it was his father Rich’s seventy-first birthday. His father was an upright senator for many years who the people had once believed would drain the swamp, and promising to do just that exactly like others before him and probably those that would come after him, he had bravely jumped into the swamp. Yet, loving the murky waters, he had become a beast of the swamp instead. Still, he led a reputable life because he looked respectable, and he looked respectable because he always wore a tie, even to bed. Who knew when he would be called on to give a speech or sign a declaration!
So, today the party leaders as guests and the news media alerted to the happy occasion, Duncan hovered about with a secret plot that put a smirk on his face from the minute he woke up that morning. And why not? Didn’t politics involve everything sardonic in some backward universe sort of way, with a fake intellectual and capitalistically societal face?
With that in mind, Duncan had hired a couple of strippers to delightfully appear while Rich was cutting the cake in front of the television cameras. It was a clandestine move and involved the support of a secret service guy who had it in for Rich but with Duncan's promise that, just in case, he would be left out of it, should they ruffle some feathers.
Duncan’s mother wasn’t especially wild about the idea that Duncan was planning a secret gift for Rich since she had grown suspicious of her son’s capabilities over the years, but she went along with it, not knowing what the secret was. She hoped just maybe this gift could make the relationship between the father and the son improve, and also, she thought the two women who arrived at the house in nuns’ habits would do something cultural as they had carted inside a large box full of thick books, which they had stacked in a corner of the dining room and hid them behind a folding screen.
How was she to know that, in her large, impressive dining room with high ceilings and French doors, Duncan would announce his gift during the champagne toast, as the show by the veiled sisters of an exotic order, and the books would be arranged as steps for the women to rise above the eye levels of the guests as the women stripped off their habits and their bikinis under them?
She had certainly expected something else other than what she now observed and made her sick, for Duncan’s jacket was off with his shirtsleeves rolled, revealing his thin skeletal arms as he danced with the strippers. Now, she certainly knew her son would get the reaction he had been pining for.
Then Rich, his face cast in a devilish shade of red, after squirming in his seat and not knowing what to do while the women danced, suddenly screamed for the show to stop and ordered Duncan out of his sight for life. Duncan’s lanky legs froze in the middle of his excited dance while the news media went wild, some cradling the birthday party as the wild one and Rich as the wronged father while others ached for the neglected son. For weeks or maybe for months, the tabloid psychologists would try to figure out the ins and outs of the relationship, stepping on one another and getting all over themselves.
Afterward, Duncan would host a startling conviction that his impulsive urges might actually have a ghastly nature in them, but in no way, would he be giving them up.
July 22, Sunday
Barry felt it inside his teeth, in the fillings that still had mercury in them. He felt it when mercury made his gums twitch. He reasoned mercury was a signaler that alerted him to something being off, as the leaves under his boots gave off a grating, crushing sound. Then, his feet hit something solid; he flexed his hands and looked down.
There was a woman on the ground half hidden by the rust-colored leaves. Barry assessed the situation. The woman could be dead or too hurt to move. He walked around the woman. Then, he sucked in a deep breath, held it and let it go. He licked his finger and held it under the woman’s nose. She was still breathing.
He dragged the woman who was still unconscious under a tree, dusting off the leaves off of her. The woman was tall and heavy. What else was he to do? He a weakling of a man who was only five feet three, with the nickname Midget. No wonder!
He couldn’t carry this woman, and he was hesitant to drag her any further for fear that if she had something broken, it would get worse. To get help, he couldn’t leave her alone, either. What if she died until he came back with other people…No one would believe him. The Sheriff was already wary of him for his drunken behavior. They’d think he'd killed her and all his goodwill was a cover-up.
Each man for himself he thought and turned to go. He’d just leave her there and let the Almighty figure out what to do.
“Don’t leave, just yet!” a husky voice called after him.
Barry whirled around. The woman’s eyes were open, watching him. He gave her a big guilty smile. “I was going to get help,” he tried to say but his voice crackled. The woman stood up suddenly, brushing off her clothes. She was so tall. Maybe twice as tall as him. Her height reached to the lower branches of the huge tree she stood under. More than seven feet, even eight or more… Who was she? What was she?
“I was only sleeping,” she said. “You woke me up. How dare you!” She took a step toward him.
“Who are you?” he stuttered, stepping backward.
“Delia,” the woman said. “I live in the woods. Everyone thinks I am an elf. Silly people!”
Delia? The one Milton wrote about?
“Yup, the same and only!”
She just read my mind!
The lines reverberated inside Barry.
like a wood nymph light,
Oread or dryad, or of Delia's train,
betook her to the groves, but Delia's self
in gait surpassed and goddess-like deport,
Barry took off in a hurry while Delia chuckled then doubled in laughter after him. He ran like the wind as if all the bloodhounds in the world were after him.
When he thought he was out of Delia’s sightline, he stopped and looked back. He didn’t see her. He stood and listened. No more laughter, No Delia!
He walked fast now, very fast, all the way to the roadside where he had parked his truck. Instantly, inside his mouth, the mercury twitched his gums again. “I’ll find you!” echoed Delia’s voice in his head. “I can get the signals from your mouth.”
Barry panicked, sprinting once more.
“Hey, Barry, where are you going? What’s the hurry?” Cal, the plumber from the town, called to him from his car as he drove by.
“To the dentist,” said Barry, hopping into his truck. “I’m having all the mercury taken out of my fillings.”
July 21, Saturday
Inside the Swamp
At the deep end, the swamp’s pond is thirty feet deep. At its edges, five inches of muck lap the rust-colored sand. At its center, an island rises for gators to crawl on and enjoy the sun.
Inside the heaven of the swamp, mystery is a lonely computer with algorithms of life and death. If the old eleven-foot gator had a hat, he would tip that hat to all those who disappeared to witness the afterlife.
The two boys come here to shush, curse, and crushed against each other while walking along the edges, and the brackish water wrinkles like black cotton. What they don’t catch sight of is the eleven-foot gator, its jaws agape, its scales gloomy black. It watches them for it has seen things it shouldn’t have seen.
The old eleven-foot gator is afraid for the boys. Sometimes, the shushes and the curses excite the young gators and whoever is walking on the edge is no more, although turtles, fish, and birds are the more desirable gourmet bites.
The whole clan of gators, however, are on the island now, shoulder to shoulder, tail to tail, which is a rarity for mostly any gator enjoys being alone. They’re all on the island now because the water has become dark and viscous, slithering serpentine but in a different pattern. Another hurricane! as the old gator knows. He has to alert them. So, he roars, grunts, and hisses. All the gators dive into the water, going as deep as they can. They’ll be safe under the muck.
But the old eleven-foot gator worries for the boys, and he suddenly splashes on the edge of the pool close to them, to make them scream and run away. For as soon as the winds die down, all the gators will go on land, looking for scraps like hungry drunks looking for bits to eat. Then they’ll become frisky, and anything and anyone on their path will have gator-toothmarks on them. The old gator roars again after the boys to make sure they don’t fool around outside anymore.
After the boys are gone, the old gator lets itself sink under water, pleased with itself to have done its share to spare those he cares for. It will come up, again, for good when the winds finally moan and die down and the moon is caught between the fronds of the distant palms.
July 20, friday
She thinks she dreamt it all. All those gunshots, their noise breaking her windows, the growls in the night, and her running barefoot under the rain and finding a hiding place inside a cluster of trees.
Her body feels stiff and clammy and the sheets gritty and damp. She sits up, throwing back the covers. She stares at the sheets, mystified. Her brand new sheets are muddied with scrapings and pieces of grass on them. Her feet are dirty, too, as well as her nightgown.
The next morning, the same dream and the same sight when she wakes up. Maybe these are not dreams. Maybe the fates are pushing her toward her true calling.
She thinks of seeing a shrink, but what if they put her into an asylum? She couldn’t bear that.
She realizes her chickens have come home to roost. This may mean on an overnight visit to her mother.
Her mother says on for the phone, “Oh, that’s nothing. Stay with me for a few nights, and it’ll all go away...and then some...you know.”
She loves the idea. Staying with her mother, the enchantress, a few nights, except for the snakes that always tickle her whenever they hug. After all, her mother’s hair turned to snakes when she conjured up Hecate in an incantation.
Still, it is worth the trouble, to let go of her realistic everyday life, the life she once preferred over what was ordained for her, all because her mother can heal her of those dirty dreams and her unbearable life in the present.
Muddy sheets or Hecate…The choice is easy now. She realizes she needs to come to her senses.
It is probably time for her training to begin along her family’s destiny and fortune.
After all, who can fight against what is already pre-determined?
July 19, Thursday
Zoe held John Grisham’s new book, Camino Island, tightly under her arm as if it were as priceless as a Tiffany diamond and pushed the shopping cart with her laundry basket in it toward the Busy B’s Laundromat. Zoe always brought a book to this place. The hum of the machines and an occasional glimpse at her clothes churning behind the circular window added to her reading experience, which she considered particularly delightful.
Even the arrest of the criminal, Roberto Kitsch, three days ago, who was sitting next to her with a worried frown on his face as he watched his clothes in the opposite washer didn’t take away from Zoe’s experience. She had only looked up from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold for a second to notice the two policemen walking toward the man.
A white-haired old woman who had arrived right at the heels of the police had pointed to him and said, “That’s the one, Roberto Kitsch.” Next thing you know Roberto was in handcuffs and was being taken out by the police.
Zoe had felt so bad for the guy that, after the washer with his clothes in it had stopped, she had put them in the dryer paying for them with her very own hard-earned coins, folded them, placed them in a large plastic bag, labeling it, “Roberto Kitsch’s clothes,” and had left the bag on the long rectangular table for folding clothes
She never took into account what the man had done to that old woman and she didn’t care. Old women in the laundromat had been a pain in the ass because they liked to make small talk and they’d never shut up. Roberto might have been a criminal, but at least, he had sat quietly next to her, letting her read.
Now today, she stopped at the door of Busy B’s, not believing her eyes. At first sight, she thought the laundromat was closed. The wide glass window up front had been boarded up with wood planks and there were still tiny pieces of glass on the sidewalk. But the door wasn’t locked and there were customers inside. She pushed the door open and walked in. Without the window, the place looked dark and dingy, even though every ceiling light was turned on.
“What happened to the window?” she asked the woman standing by the wall whom she knew to be an employee.
“A jerk broke it to get his laundry inside. He wrote a message on the table that said, ‘Thanks, Roberto.’ With a marker, too. Can you believe it? My skin almost tore off while cleaning it.”
Zoe turned her head away to hide her blushing face. “Oh, oh! Sorry!” she said, meaning every word.
July 18, Wednesday
The night took a ride on his shoulders coloring him in its black ink, but only the nightbirds would know the difference between the darkness of the night and a dark man, Lenny, walking into the night.
At daylight, the gutters on the buildings would wake up clogged by his darkness, as if suffering from cirrhosis, but then, Lenny would be the one sleeping until dusk in his coffin, something akin to a slammer with rusted bars. No saint could exorcise the darkness out of him anymore.
It was fun in the beginning to take just a little and not have to kill anyone, but twice, he had goofed and took blood from the same people. They were understandable mistakes. The first one was a woman who had dyed her hair a different color. The second one, sometime after Lenny’s first feeding, had hurt his feet and was in a wheelchair; Lenny hadn’t recognized him. This had turned both these souls into what Lenny was, into the victims of eternity's imprisonment, and into his rivals of the feeding ground. Now, they were both living with him, in the rundown attic of his family home.
Lenny was irritated; life had become impossible, unreasonable. He felt he was on the edge of violence especially during the early-evening feedings. Another failure would make his existence even more unbearable.
Next night, Lenny rested his head on the front door. He was so tired. He needed a feeding very badly. Still, he pushed himself to open the door.
“Where are you going?” It was the wheelchair man who had miraculously gotten rid of the wheelchair, becoming cured by a five-month-old baby’s blood.
“Out!” Lenny’s voice was terse.
“Wait for me,” the two said in unison.
“No, you need to fend for yourselves.”
The woman crossed her arms and stayed silent for a minute, fixing her eyes on him. “It’s you who did this to us,” she barked.
The words hurt, and Lenny stared ahead. “You’ve got to realize this is serious. You are becoming impaired and unable to feed yourselves.”
“You caused this,” the man said. “But I am not complaining. Look I can walk and I am really healthy. I’d rather be this.”
Lenny tilted his head toward him. “That’s why you should learn to feed on your own.”
The woman interjected. “I can’t walk the streets on my own. I am a woman; people may take advantage of me. They’ll think I am a streetwalker.”
The man guffawed. “So what! Let them. Aren’t you worse than a streetwalker, now? Besides, you can lure them to feed on them. So much the better.”
The woman shrugged. “I have my standards, but I’d rather not be alone.”
“Why don’t the two of you go together?” Lenny offered. “She can attract them and you can both feed.”
“What if we don’t?” The woman was defiant now. “Are you the Chief of Service to take away our privileges!”
“But Lenny has a good idea,” the man said. “Let’s go together. We’ll let them think I am your pimp. It’ll be fun.”
“In that case,” the woman’s eyes sparkled. “We can hunt by the Springfield Harbor.”
“It is the next town,” said Lenny, breathing with relief. “Which is a very good idea. The three of us in the same place will attract attention of the wrong kind.”
Lenny opened the door wider and stepped outside.
After him, the man whispered to the woman, “We’re going after Lenny. We’ll feed after him, making an army of us.”
“Something like a sporting event,” the woman said, as they walked behind Lenny, letting some distance fall in between.
“Lenny won’t know what hit him!” the man said.
On their pale faces, their fangs glowed in the dark.
July 17, Tuesday
Joseph looked at the gun still in his hand. A phantom killer, but it had the guy backing up, who had threatened to come back with backup. Lucky, he had saved it when his daughter had moved away, a year ago, with her son. Yes, a phantom gun, a kiddie toy.
It was vulgar maybe what he did, but he needed time, time to store away his possessions. The repo people would be back even as soon as tomorrow or in a few hours, Joseph was sure, and they might even put him in shackles and manacles, to make the angels in Heaven cry. But if the angels were crying, why didn’t they help him? Hadn’t he been the kind they always applauded? Just because he was 89 and forgot to pay taxes o to make payments, why did they allow those things to happen to him? Now, he had just found out that a gun, even a toy one, did better work than all the angels put together.
Was that what the voices in the wind were telling him when he was standing on his weedy lawn? He went upstairs and took out his old army-issued rucksack, put in a change of clothes and his slippers, his deceased wife’s diamond ring, the money he had squirreled away, and a few other items that were important to him. He couldn’t take his ukulele or his other important belongings, a pity, of course. But as it was, the rucksack was heavy enough.
“How bad could it be,” he murmured. He’d walk slowly, taking his time.
It would be better than everything being repossessed and him being thrown on the street, capturing the attention of his neighbors. What a nightmare of an embarrassment that would be!
He would try to walk to Wendy’s. Not the fast food place, but her daughter’s. He was sure she’d put him in an old people’s home. She had told him that was her intention, some time ago.
Before he left the house, he turned back to retrieve the gun. He’d give it back to his grandson. This way nobody could say he pulled a gun on the repo man. On second thought, he put the gun in his pocket. Who knew what could happen to him on the way?
Leaning on his cane, he took another look at the house. He had forgotten to lock the front door, but did it matter! He shrugged and began walking.
He paused for a second and felt the gun in his gun. No, he wouldn’t give it to his grandson. Besides, his daughter’s house would be the first place they’d search for him and find the gun.
As soon as he walked to the end of the block, he felt tired. He stopped and leaned against a tree. No, he wouldn’t throw away his rucksack, which was pulling him down and making each step a step from hell.
He turned and saw the neighbor from two houses down. He raised his hand and waved.
“You need a ride back home?”
“No, I am going to my daughter’s,” he said.
“Hop on, I’ll take you.”
“You sure? She lives behind the mall.” That meant the next town and this man probably wanted to go home himself.
“Okay,” his neighbor said. “Not a biggie. Hop in!”
“Thank you,” he said, moving toward the car. “I don’t want to impose, but I guess I am feeling my age.” He put the rucksack in between his feet and sat next to the driver.
As he drove, the neighbor made small talk about his bank job, his son, and politics. Joseph threw in a word or two to show he was paying attention and that this conversation was important to him, but the engine’s noise was cutting his hearing in half and he only understood less than half of what the man was saying. His head began to fall with a sudden attack of sleepiness, but he made himself sit up, hoping this nice guy didn’t notice. As he did so, his hand brushed against his pocket and he felt the gun.
The gun! He had to get rid of it before they arrived. He couldn’t open the window and throw it out, as the mall was already in view.
“You tell me which way, Joseph,” the neighbor said and he did, but as he talked he took the gun out, and acting as if he was reaching for his rucksack, he slipped the gun under the passenger’s seat.
No one would search under the passenger’s seat in a neighbor’s car. Joseph was safe now.
July 16, Monday
The New Teacher
(Based on a Personal True Story)
It is not easy to be a new teacher. It has only been a week, and she feels rundown, already, but she had to work hard to get this job, and she is not going to complain or ask for the principal’s help.
She can feel their negativity directed at her. In the parking lot. At the entrance, hallways, classroom. They whisper things so outrageous, she thinks there might be something wrong with her hearing.
They giggle slyly, always. Loudly laugh, sometimes. Obviously, her students revel in their guilt and in her softness.
Their noise levels sometimes rise even during class. When that happens, she bangs the ruler on her desk and says “Quiet!” in a stern voice. It helps, but probably because the first day she tapped the ruler on the desk, the principal who happened to be passing by entered the room and told her class, point blank, “If your teacher tells you to be quiet and you don’t listen, you’ll get detention.”
Shouldn’t she be learning from him? She had always wanted to become a teacher, a good one whom the students trust, can talk to, and respect. Why was it so difficult now?
It was, is, difficult because she is a mouse. Last night she wrote down what went wrong and why she wasn’t able to do things the way she wished.
To begin with, she has been a mouse where her extremely strict mother is concerned, and this has carried on to the other areas, even to boyfriends, but today is a new day, and she has decided to change things, to show firmness. Change only comes from within, she always thought, but now she is also giving credit to good discipline.
After she exerts some power today, inside and out, she’ll find a place to move away from her mother’s. She is not going to be a mouse, anymore. Anywhere!
After the students take their places at their desks but they are still talking to one another almost out loud, she bangs her ruler on the desk and moves to the front of the room. She is a tall girl and, standing up, she signals power.
“Today,” she says, looking at every young face, ”You and I need to talk. I was easy on you because we needed to get used to each other. But that is over.” She stops and gazes at them seriously.
“To be able to finish this course and get credit, you’ll have to do a lot better in every way. I don’t want any one of you disrupting the class, making noise, or showing any other impertinent behavior. Also, during the class, you will raise your hands to ask for a chance to speak. People who don’t respect me or his classmates or disrupt the class will see the principal. And you know what that will do to you.
“And for each negative behavior, your grade at the end of the semester will go down five points. Now that I’ve told you what things will be like from now on, are there any questions? Please, raise your hand if you wish to speak.”
She looked around the room. They were looking at her with surprise on their faces. She felt like hugging every one of them, but she forced a frown on her face, and continued, “Today, we’ll discuss your reading assignment and remember to raise your hand if you want to speak. What do you think about….”
She knew it wasn’t over. She knew they would challenge her, but they would change because she would change.
Why she was changing already! She didn't feel like a mouse anymore.
July 15, Sunday
(A Modern Fairy Tale)
Why, it was just the right piece of land to build a business on! Ellie stopped and gazed lovingly at the empty parcel. She imagined her restaurant on it, tapering columns built of brick in front of its double glass doors for customers to enter…She held her breath as her lips twitched. Her name flashed in Neon lights on top. Ellie’s.
She closed her eyes. Inside a circular bar, and tables after tables covered with white linen tablecloths with lit candles on them, several booths lining along the two opposite walls, a hallway in the back leading to the office and the inside entrance to the kitchen, and at the end of the hallway, clean restrooms for customers. A dream so perfect, so doable, but requiring a great deal of cash. Cash she didn’t have.
That night, the moon hung heavy and low in the sky, with its golden light hitting the garden wall and the lawn, wrapping the world in its glow. Ellie, not being able to sleep was sitting on the steps leading to the front door, enjoying the glow the moon sent to the world. “Can’t you also send answers to dreams, dear Moon?” she whispered, recalling the empty lot and her dream restaurant on it. As if an answer, a blur darted toward her, then froze, turning itself to a golden wand. Ellie reached to it, muttering, “So lovely!”
The wand leaped off before she could grab it and it raced away into the backyard with Ellie running behind it. She caught the wand or thought she did, but on her palms, only its golden sparkles were left. "Oh well,” Ellie mumbled, “Too beautiful, to believe, anyway.”
At sunrise, she woke up with her heart beating wildly as if some wind was funneling through it, but when she sat up in her bed her heart became calm. After breakfast, she left the apartment she was sharing with her brother and walked on to meet another day of a job search. Still, for some reason she couldn’t put her finger on, today she felt comfortable in her own skin, unlike her earlier days that were mostly filled with worry. Peculiarly, the rising sun at her back felt like a promise as she walked.
Soon, she reached the road she had taken the day before while she had been walking with her brother. Then, everything seemed to flow in slow motion until she spotted the restaurant from afar. The restaurant, the same exact one she had imagined. Oblivious to the presence of other people on the road, she moved slowly, as if in a trance, toward its double doors. Sure enough, on top of it was her name. Ellie’s.
“Ellie, we are waiting for you. Everything okay with you?” A woman with thin lips and a uniform of a kind with the name Estelle emblazoned on it and who seemed familiar waved her in, but Ellie couldn’t imagine how she knew her. The only thing that escaped her lips was, “I am here!”
“Finally!” answered the woman. “We need your approval for the changes the cook made with some of the dishes.”
Ellie walked around the place in amazement. Everything was the way she had imagined the day before. And how quickly the place had been erected to her specifications!
Ellie rubbed her palms together, then stared at them. They were still shining with moon dust.
July 14, Saturday
Only a Knife
The clearing was encircled by bushes with tall trees behind them. He dragged her toward it, despite the fact that she was still struggling. The lovely Madeleine, her loveliness no one would ever see again. No one would hear while she screamed and begged for mercy. His mercy. For he was the one she turned her head from when she passed by him on the Company’s corridors. The one she snubbed when he asked her to have coffee with him downstairs in the cafeteria.
He had just turned a new leaf, promising himself not to fall back into his old ways, but Madeleine had done it for him; she had broken him. The old secretary what’s her name, Alicia the gossip, had told him Madeleine was the new girl on the top floor and he should stay away from Madeleine because Alicia had seen her enter into a conference with the big bosses. No other newbie had ever entered those conferences except for associates or so Alicia had said, which made him want Madeleine even more.
No real reason, just that he liked to break women, especially when they had power over others. That she was a looker had been the icing on the cake. And now, he had her. That was all that mattered. The hardest part was the finding the darn chloroform. After that, she had lain in the back seat as if sleeping. This was what could happen to snotty women. He shook his head as he dragged her. He hadn’t counted on the fact that she’d be out of it so soon. Because of that, the tying and dragging had to happen. The truth was he never liked to tie them up. Ropes left marks and marks could point to something or other.
Anyhow, he would get a few kicks first. He would do it all in a beautiful ceremony at this holy place. After he would be done with her, he’d leave her here and go to the coast. This time he could use his brother’s name as his own. He had set everything up already. His bags were packed, waiting for him in his rental car, and the sun would set behind the woods in a few hours. By then, he would be finished with Madeleine and would be on his way. Let her haunt him after that.
“Why are you doing this?” Madeleine mumbled through the tie on her mouth. What a miracle that she could speak through his expert handiwork!
“Because that’s what I always do,” he said truthfully.
“Yeah, always. What did you think? You were the only one?” He set her down on the edge of the clearing and pulled his knife out of its leather case. “Now the fun begins,” he said, approaching her. “My holy fun.”
He lifted the knife in the air and waited for her to beg. Instead, she had pulled her knees to her chest. That meant he had to use the knife for her to realize where she stood or rather where she was sitting. He moved nearer but before he could make a cut on her, she kicked him hard with her feet, which were tied together. This he wasn’t expecting, and he fell, sprawling on the ground.
“Don’t move!” he heard a command as several men came running from behind the trees.
What? How could she have ambushed him? Of course, GPS. He hadn't taken into account she could have some kind of a GPS thingamagic on her. How could he? He had thought of her as only a lowly office girl.
“Police!” One man yelled while another one untied Madeleine.
“Good job, Sergeant Madeline!” another one said.
“Drop your weapon!” Madeleine ordered him.
What weapon? It was only a knife.
July 13, Friday
Clare, the Witch
Clare the witch would have liked to watch television tonight to let the inanity of the late-night-show host’s words wash over her, lulling her to sleep, but tonight was not that kind of a night. It was Friday the 13th and witches did not watch TV on such nights.
So, she mounted her broom and took off, looking for victims. Finally, she saw a couple, at a far distance, as illusory as a scene in a novel or on screen. Didn’t they understand the fragility of life, that in a second, their well-planned future could be altered?
Clare thought about dismounting and facing them head-on. Instead, she flew around them, cautiously without a sound even though the ether tonight was made up of thin, fragile substances as if they might fracture at any moment and expose her if she weren’t careful. She kept circling around the couple, around the garden table from where they were watching the full moon. She kept picturing a dark light, an amorphous glob, in suspension over the couple. She concentrated on that light and visualized the dark rays entering their bodies, washing them, flooding their innards, darkening and reversing things inside them.
But what was that? There was another heart beating. Another heart inside the woman. A baby waiting to be born. No, a dark light wouldn’t do. Never a dark light for any baby!
She quickly undid her spell and tried to summon tenderness to this couple who were sitting quietly, holding hands. Then, she reached her hand toward the moon and gathered all the white light she could hold and sent it to the woman first, then to the man, even though the dark light she had taken away from the couple was now gathering about her.
So what! I can turn this into another black cat! Clare thought, as she turned the black light into a furry ball. Better to play with a black cat instead of listening to the disgusting jokes of the late-night TV hosts who have become far too political for my taste.
She took another look at the couple who were now about to kiss. If they had taken their eyes off of each other, they’d have spotted Clare the Witch flying away against the face of the moon.
She couldn’t believe what she was capable of when out of her left hand poured a stream that spiraled into an upward river, and when she stretched her right hand, the river puckered into a fast-flowing current causing a waterfall, and through her fingers eddies carried twigs and a kayak over the boulders. “Your timing is excellent,” said the maestro and the applause and the thrum of the approving voices from the audience caused her tinnitus as she fled from the stage.
This was what Jen recalled when she opened her eyes in her bed that morning, the morning of her recital. The minute she opened her eyes, her fears drove into her as well the stirrings of excitement. What if she forgot the notes or drew a blank or her hands suddenly refused to move on the keys?
She went through the morning like a robot, through a pre-scheduled hairdo and dress rehearsal. The recital was in the afternoon, and her mother tried to calm her down all through the earlier hours. “You’ve worked very hard. It will go well. Even if something happens, you just go on. Remember what your teacher said.”
Yes, she remembered well. He had drilled it into her. And now, he was telling it to her again, behind the stage. “Make the melody sing. Start softly but make it rise before the arpeggio. You know this. You can do it. Now go, and make the audience feel your drama.”
And he pushed her onto the stage.
Jen almost fell as she walked on the stage, but averting her eyes shyly, she curtseyed to the audience. Then, at the piano, she could not stop staring at her hands, trembling and pale. She reached to the keys with her left hand first, then her right. She leaned over to the keys, far too close. Then, with a sudden feeling, she remembered, again, her dream. She turned to the audience with a strained smile on her lips as her eyes caught her parents sitting in the first row, expecting her to begin.
She turned her head away and closed her eyes, and just as soon as she did that, her fingers started flowing on the keys. She felt herself swelling, growing larger, and pouring away into the piano. Now, there was only music cascading, rushing, sparkling into a thousand waterfalls.
The applause was tremendous. Every member of the audience was on foot, clapping, and this went on for quite some time. Her teacher came on the stage and holding her hand bowed to the audience with her, even smiled at her as if he were the main player on stage.
But now, all Jen wanted was to go home and tear open a Klondike bar. She might be considered a prodigy, but she was still an eight-year-old.
In the Bar
Aaron watches as he sips his beer thinking, So much action in a small place! But it is cold outside and he needs to warm up a bit before he faces his cold rental flat. Two drunks are fighting over sports or something or anything. Not a girl though. Drunks don’t fight over girls; they only make fun of them. Now, punches are thrown and customers surround the fighters. Just a stupid fight at the bar. Aaron watches them and the barmaid slipping down, in rapt incomprehension.
The two men suddenly stand apart in shock and shudder at the sight of the barmaid on the floor, a gash on the side of her head. “only an accident,” the owner says. “She slipped and fell.”
Then, he calls for drinks on the house for everyone. “Please, sit down. She’ll be helped soon. She’s fine, breathing. Just knocked out a bit.”
How can anyone be knocked out a bit? The owner is like the crocodile that slips its dirt-colored body into the river, denying violence. Slick with a thin smile he kneels down to lift the girl’s head on the crook of his elbow.
Soon an EMT a and a paramedic arrive to tend to her and take her out of the bar on a stretcher.
Aaron turns his face away from them toward the wall, in case he is recognized, while he is still sipping the same beer, ever so slowly. He feels it is him, wading into this river of crocodiles, his mouth opening for each sip, for the humid, dense feeling inside the bar. He puts the stein down on the table and checks his neck for scales. Maybe, he too is turning into a crocodile that hunts for herons to tangle their feather along the muddy bank. Has he no shame?
But he has been like this ever since his wife left him, soon after their five-month-old daughter Willow died. His Willow, now a fragment of a dream, billowing in the dust.
Don’t children die? Don’t they die all the time, taking a part of their parents’ selves with them?
Aaron had seen how the barmaid fell, sidestepping to avoid the fighting men. She fell because she was hurrying toward him after he had signaled her. And he did nothing, although he was a doctor. Although he had been a doctor, once. Now he watches life like a museum visitor, circling around people as if they are articles on display, each one an enigmatic piece to view from every angle. How sad! How ridiculous! How ridiculous the sad! The sad like Aaron who is immobilized in silent panic in the face of his internal abyss.
He puts down a few bills near the stein and stands up, and with a sideways dip of his head, he nods at the owner who has now taken over the barmaid’s job. The owner murmurs something, but Aaron doesn’t hear as he is now stepping out of the door.
That First Sentence
Despite the extra-strong cold medication he took, Dirk doesn’t feel any better, and now, he fears he is going to fall asleep at the wheel and crash into something, but would his wife Lynda ever pay attention to Dirk being sick? No, absolutely not. It is Lynda’s sister’s birthday and they have to attend the party 450 miles away. And Dirk would rather crash into something on the side of the road than face his wife’s family members especially now, in his semi-robotic condition.
After 250 miles, Dirk says he can’t drive anymore. Lynda doesn’t have a license and neither can she drive. So, they stop at a wayside inn for the night. The birthday is two days away, anyhow.
On top of the table in the room, stand some magazines. Dirk picks up a Writer’s Digest. It is dated, really dated from ten years ago, March 11, 2008, to be exact.
“Who leaves such ancient magazines around anymore!” Lynda murmurs, but Dirk is happy enough to read something, anything, rather than make small talk with her in between his sneezes.
“We know fiction covers genres like fantasy, with worlds that don’t exist, and genres like romance, with men that don’t exist. And yet, in the fifteen years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never sat down at my desk and started making things up. It takes me nine months to write a novel; sometimes more of that time is spent researching than physically writing,” says Jody Picoult in the essay called The Fact Behind Fiction.
Dirk abruptly lifts his head, his eyes sparkling with an idea. Why not treat this dreaded trip as research? Although he’s not a writer per se, he could write for vengeance. After all, he’s had it with Lynda’s pushing him around. He can do it, too. When in school, didn’t he always turn in good-to-great composition papers?
Suddenly, he begins asking Lynda about her family. Where was she when her sister was born? Does she recall her parents’ reactions?
Lynda is shocked. “What got into you?” she asks. “Do you have a fever, too?”
“I just want to know,” says Dirk. “Why is it so strange?”
Tonight, he’ll write or record the first sentence after Lynda sleeps. What did Jody Picoult say in the magazine? She said it took her nine months to write a novel. Nine months for a baby to be born, a baby of a book. A book with an edge. The edge Dirk will use as a dagger.
Dirk rubs his hands with pleasure. “I think you’re losing it,” says Lynda.
“No, not losing it,” says Dirk, “finding it.”
“That first sentence!”
Don’t Look in That Mirror
I barely ever looked into that mirror. Ever since I'd set foot in this place. That mirror seemed as if its silver shimmered and buckled, almost in motion. It had to be heavy, too, since it covered the entire wall.
I barely ever looked into that mirror because of shadows that seemed to move across it. When my eyes caught sight of it, I sometimes spotted a craggy profile. Of a voluptuous woman holding something in her hand, a wand maybe like that of Cinderella’s fairy godmother. Another time I saw her, she had an enormous crown on her head and wore a red flashy gown, but she seemed to be in a foul mood. So, I averted my eyes.
When I told the landlady that I wanted a room without any mirrors, she stared at me funny. “I have no room like that.” Then she pointed to the mirror. “She’s making you uneasy, isn’t she?”
I nodded, thinking maybe I wasn’t the only one in the loony bin heaven.
“Here, in Bavaria,” the landlady said, “Especially in this establishment, our mirrors store memories.”
“How’s that?” I asked. “Is it like they store videos of people?”
“Huh!” she snorted. “You must be a techie. Their memory bank doesn’t work like your contemporary thing-a-magics. They are real magic.”
“But I am not a techie. Far from it. Still, how does that work?”
“How should I know! You just look at it and find out. See what it has to tell you.” And she left the room in a huff, murmuring to herself, “Those crazy Americans!”
It took more than a little courage to look directly at that monstrosity, however temporary my brave action was.
At first, it was nothing. I just saw me looking back at me. I raked my hair with my comb while I did that. At least, I could comb my hair, which calmed me down somewhat. Maybe all that was in my head and the landlady was putting one on me, too.
Turning adventurous half an hour later, I took my comb again and stood in front of the mirror. The girl looking at me and combing her hair wasn’t me anymore. At least not me in the present, but me when I was a teen. That me-when-I-was-a-teen pulled her hair in a ponytail and stuck her tongue at me and disappeared. I stood stunned, unable to pull myself away from the mirror. Then, I felt a hand in my hair. Inside the mirror was my grandmother who had passed away forty years ago. She was combing a five-year-old’s hair. That five-year-old was me. Grandma turned to look at the now-me and smiled. Then she started braiding the five-year-old-me’s hair.
Suddenly, I saw her. That voluptuous woman wearing the enormous crown rushing at the images inside the mirror while holding a spear. I screamed, then physically held my head to turn it away.
Within the next few minutes, my bag was packed and I was out the door. Behind me, the landlady kept saying something about spoiled American tourists. Maybe Bavaria wasn’t for me after all. I should go somewhere nicer, somewhere like Lake Como. Who knows, I might catch a glimpse of George Clooney, instead.
“How would you like to live in an alternate world?” His son Mark’s question echoes in his mind again as he plucks the weeds off the flower bed. Should he be thrilled because the kid has an imagination or should he be worried because he is not all there?
He shrugs, then stops and sits back on his heels, noticing the sparkles on the leaves of the rose plant. When he looks up a raindrop hits his nose. Only a soft drizzle, but the gray clouds are in the process of blanketing the sky. He stands up and shakes each leg one after the other. After several minutes of crouching, he’s had it.
Yes, he’d love to live in an alternate world where the body obeys the mind better and living things do not have to feed on other living things. No wonder that Mark doesn’t understand this world. How can he when his dad doesn’t either.
He starts walking toward the house. The hum of the vacuum cleaner greets him even before he pushes the door open. Cindy’s back is turned to him but she keeps going, pushing her entire body into each move of the sweeper across the hallway runner.
“Wipe your feet!” Now, how did she hear him coming in above the noise! Maybe she’s in an alternate world. As if reading his thoughts, she clicks off the machine and turns to him. She nods in approval of his feet sliding back and forth on the mat.
“I just made tea. Come into the kitchen,” she says.
“It’s raining!” he says, just to say something while following her.
They sit across from each other sipping tea. “You must stop reading to Mark science-fiction stories,” says Cindy.
He answers defensively, “I’ve been reading from Brothers Grimm, not science fiction.”
“Then why is he asking about an alternate world? His question bothered me all morning.”
“He asked me the same thing and I couldn’t get it out of my head either.”
“Maybe they put that into his head in the nursery school, which he should be back any minute now.” Cindy puts down her teacup and rises. “I better go by the curb to meet him since it is raining.”
He watches her from the window. She is skipping on the flagstone path under an open umbrella even though the drizzle has stopped.
“Alternate world, it is!” he mumbles.
Funny how the kid could get into their heads!
Something about the Italian restaurants. No other place is like them. That is, of course, when both the clientele and the owners are Italians themselves. So is Rufino’s in Port St. Lucie, although I can’t vouch for every single person who eats there. Take me, for instance. I do look Italian but I am not, but the people who work there don’t know this about me.
Today, at lunch, while biting into the best pizza in the world, my companion said, “Something’s happening!” I looked up from my pizza, which is a rarity because, with pizza like this, I see and hear nothing; however, I caught sight of a man rising up from his seat at the next table.
He was a tall, large man with tattoos on his arms, and he had made a single braid of his possibly very long beard. It was the beard that was eye-catching, not the woman sitting at his table whose head was in her plate of eggplant parmigiana. I know it was eggplant parmigiana because I smelled it. “That shows you not to cross me again,” he bellowed to the woman whose face still remained inside her plate. Three servers surrounded the woman immediately, I assume, from further harm. One of the servers lifted the woman’s head up. Her face was a mess of cheesy tomato sauce and eggplant bits.
Everyone, at this time, stopped eating and were watching with eyes like saucers as if this were a live show. And a live show it was. The woman grabbed a paper napkin and cleared her face as much as she could. Then she reached for her wine. I have to say the wine excels here, much better than anywhere else in the county or even the entire state. This was when the man had turned his back and was walking toward the door. The woman took a sip of her wine and closed her eyes in ecstasy. Why, wine makes everything better, right? Nope, she had something else in mine. She rose from her seat and with all the might of her four feet eleven frame she threw the wine at the back of the man with the braided beard. Geronimo! And what a shot it was! How's that for women's lib!
The man turned around with murder in his eyes, and I murmured, “Oh, oh!” while shrinking into my seat. But don’t shortchange the second amendment. Three guys with their pistols drawn surrounded the guy and led him out of the door.
The owner announced right then and there, “All drinks on the house. Sorry for the inconvenience, folks!” A round of applause followed. The woman was taken into the ladies' room, and when she came out, she acted as if not much had happened to her. She was served a new dish accompanied by a bottle of wine. Two men immediately sat down at her table, offering their support, I bet, for a share of her wine.
All around us, a lot of talk took place in Italian, which is one of my half-cooked languages. This means if I understand one word, I miss the next one, but still, I can get the gist of things. As long as I keep telling my server, “Grazie!”
Not much of a show, really, but the pizza is always heavenly here.
And as a postscript, where this story takes place may not be at Rufino’s or it may just be that I may have imagined it. In any case, I highly embellish my stories. So, don’t take them to heart. You know, that forewarned thing?
What You Truly Seek
“What is it you truly seek?” he asks, his voice clear like a running brook.
I shudder in surprise. A newbie, obviously. In training. Why me! I wasn’t even aware I was seeking anything. I am only following orders, walking and gathering data on this rocky surface with him following behind me.
This is an ancient star system we're on, and this planet’s face is intensely irregular with indistinct colors, but I notice residues of metals on a boulder and direct the metal-searcher machine toward it.
“Do you mean on this planet?” I ask to be sure.
“I mean in your life,” he says, softly. Oh, oh!
My life? What difference does my life make? So what?
“I never thought of that,” I answer. “I guess, now that we’ve reached beyond the solar system, I want to help the exploration process.”
“There’s more to life than that,” he says.
Oh, No! Another religious freak? I must alert the headquarters not to team me up with such newbies; that is, philosophers or freaks or free thinkers. Doesn’t he know free-thinkers aren’t allowed into world-headquarters’ secrets?
I decide not to answer him, but he continues. “Do you ever imagine that we are fools and all this is for nothing?”
I still keep my quiet.
“We are all creatures of our sun. What if you suddenly fall into something and perish? Then, what good is your life?”
“That is a possibility, as we’ve all been told. So what? Exploration is the most important thing for our species.” I say, parroting our instructors. I know this idiot is not yet told that we are always under observation.
“No, it isn’t. Thinking for oneself is the most important thing,” he says. “That should be the first thing we should be taught. Those who cannot think for themselves shouldn’t be allowed into a life of exploration.”
Now I am getting hot under the collar. He has to shut up before we both get into trouble. “Yeah, what can you do about it?”
“This!” he says as I feel his laser-blaster’s warm tip on the middle of my neck. “Death over Life!”
But I know better. I know when the enemy shows up. I suddenly jump up and leap forward, hitting the button on my vest. My robo-guard steps in between us, as the newbie falls on his personal blaster. In the next few seconds, his own blaster erases him.
So much for thinking for oneself! Got it?
While I stood to the side, she smiled and posed for the photographers. Tall for a woman with gold streaks on reddish hair and huge hazel eyes, her asymmetrical features glowed; I thought she was jaw-droppingly beautiful; yet, somehow she seemed to be not quite human. When had she turned into this creature?
People were holding their cellphones up in the air, taking pictures. Someone pushed me aside to see her better when a shiny black town car with tinted windows pulled up in front of the hotel.
She traipsed toward the car unhurriedly, not from trying to appear natural but probably because of her stilettos. She suddenly turned around and pointed her finger precisely at me and said something to one of the men around her. Photographers, camera crews, her agent, and a couple of her bodyguards turned to me with a surprise on their faces.
Oh, no! I have always hated these situations and have never wanted any attention turned toward my direction, but she knew better. She knew what the public really cared for. She posed again leaning against the town car, while her people took me to her.
“Here is a delightful surprise for you, people,” she said, clutching my hand and raising it to her lips. Then she placed her arm around me and pulled me to her as I blinked when the cameras flashed.
“Meet my mother! Isn’t she a charm?”
Into the Woods
She ran into the woods, not minding the scratches in her hands and legs from the wire fence enclosing the camp when she snuck out from under an opening. She congratulated herself once she made it behind the trees since no one had shot bullets after her and nobody had heard her.
They had told the inmates that the woods were dangerous and no one came out alive once they were swallowed up by the shadows and secrets of the tree nymphs. She was jogging now instead of running, despite the snapping twigs and the whispers of the leaves. The woods had lured her and they meant freedom. Freedom from the Nazis. Well, Nazi-like people. Now, she had done what her great-grandfather had done a little less than a century ago.
A rustle behind the thickening trees startled her. Could it be a huge bear or a ferocious tiger? No, it only was a deer and her fawn, both watching her with large slanted eyes. As soon as she spotted them, they turned back and fled into the shadows. They ran away from her or probably from the howling of a dog. A dog?
It was then she heard her name called. She lowered herself to the foot of an oak and sat on the ground.
“Didn’t I tell you never to go into the woods?” Her mother towered over her while Max, the family dog, kept licking her face. “What got into you?”
“I was escaping from the Nazis,” she said in a small voice.
“There aren’t any Nazis. The Nazis are no more!” Her mother slapped her own forehead, then, and murmured to herself. “Oh, Grandpa! Why do you always talk about your experiences near this child!”
“Thou shalt not make history on this couch!” her mother had bellowed the day she had caught Di with her high-school boyfriend Miles, after returning early from work.
While her mother’s words fell heavy, Di had looked at the snow outside, as Miles had hastily slammed the front door behind him, leaving footsteps on the soft snow. After that Miles had become history.
Now, forty years later, she was still looking at the same couch, with its middle sagging and the cloth covering it faded and threadbare. They’ll probably leave this at the curb, she thought. Her mother was attached to this big piece of crap. It was the first piece of furniture she and Di’s daddy had bought together. It was this couch that had first alienated Di from her mother.
In a little while, the Salvation Army would be here to take it, together with the other stuff in the little cottage. Di had contacted them right after the funeral.
“Thou shalt not make history on this couch!” rang in her ears again. She could not forgive her mother even after death, although it wasn’t really a big deal what happened. Except her mother’s thou-shalt-nots had amassed over the years.
The sound of the truck driving up the driveway shook her to attention. Outside, snowflakes were hitting the window panes, and although icicles hung on the tree outside, the ground was still patchy.
Despite her tears, she turned to smile bitterly at the couch, “How’s that for keeps? Now, your history is no more!”
When the story ended, there were sighs of yearning almost in unison from the five-year-old listeners. “I hope you enjoyed today’s story,” said the librarian. “The library will be closed in fifteen minutes. Go join your parents in the main room. Happy dreams, tonight! And don’t forget the mermaids in your dreams.”
Jenny so wished to see a real mermaid, now, although there were no lagoons where she lived. And those mermaids lived in a lagoon.
“How come we have no lagoons around us where we live?” she asked her mother when they were in the car.
“We have the ocean in front of the house. Why do you ask, Jenny?”
“Nothing!” Jenny shrugged, downcast. She’ll never understand.
“We have a pretty garden, too. With a thicket of red tea roses around it. I think it is better than a lagoon. But I am glad you now know what a lagoon is.”
“The goats can eat the roses,” said Jenny.
Her mother laughed. “But we don’t have any goats, Silly! No one around us has goats. Too many stories inside you, aren’t there?”
Jenny barely heard her mother’s voice for she always felt drowsy in the car, and almost immediately, she closed her eyes.
“We can play tag if you come with us into our cave,” the mermaid with the pink sparkly tail was saying.
Jenny then spotted not one but three slinky mermaids in different tail colors, green, blue, and pink, that glistened and shimmered. Their fins were so perfectly fluted and edged with a tint of crimson! “Yes,” she said. “Yes, let’s go!”
“Hold on to my tail,” said the mermaid with the green iridescent scales on her tail. And they dove under the water.
The cave was huge with a few pieces of mossy furniture alongside its walls. Suddenly, from the bowels of the cave appeared a beautiful woman, her hair a pale, golden-reddish color, but she had a bulbous nose and a damaged tail. “Take her back! Now! She doesn’t belong here!”
The three mermaids looked down guiltily, and they led Jenny out of the cave. Water…first, there was water around her, then in front of her…Jenny was now sitting on the sand and...no mermaids…
“Jenny! Wake up! We’re home!” Jenny opened her eyes to her mother’s face, and she slid out of her seat, stepped into their driveway, and sighed. No more mermaids.
But, the thicket of red tea roses on the side of the property seemed to be smiling at her. After all, this was where she belonged.
Too Close to Home
He scraped the reddish mark on his palm, which didn’t move. Would he have to slice off the skin to erase it, and how could skin grow over it? How could it immortalize it as a scar? He guffawed, but his throat clamped after that.
It could be that the air was thick or humid or something. A storm was needed or possibly another killing. Sweat glittered across the bridge of his nose. He reached for the knife, his fingers rubbing across the handle as if playing a musical instrument. Then his fingers felt glued to it.
A tremor ran up his spine. He’d get into the truck and drive to the next town or even further. There would be someone out wandering on a deserted pathway or something. Someone whose blood will be on his hands.
Outside, thunderclaps bellowed one after the other. Just the weather for it! Just as he rushed out the door, he spotted the neighbor’s little daughter, running and screaming at the same time, scared from the roar of thunder. His hand holding the knife twisted.
“Betsy, it is okay, Sweetie,” he yelled, jumping over the fence, still holding on to the knife.
“Mommy’s not home, and my school’s out earlier today,” she sobbed.
“She’ll be home, soon. Don’t cry!”
“Will you stay with me until she comes?” The little girl begged, her eyes large and wide with fear.
He led her inside his closed porch. “We can see her come in, from here,” he said. “Is that okay?”
Betsy nodded. He smiled at her as a white flash of lightning above zigzagged in tentacles, and he imagined her blood oozing on the garden tiles, toward the street, in a puddle then in long meandering strips.
Something powerful opened and closed inside him as he let the knife drop on the porch table.
No, not the neighbor’s child. Too close to home!