Words Have Power

 Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_kladyk'>kladyk</a>

“Chill out!”

I knew that voice. It was the scratchy tone of a faerie  – almost more white noise than actual speech. But I knew what to listen for. And I knew it wasn’t just dated slang. It was a curse.

“Why me?” I whispered into the darkness, already feeling the temperature start to drop. “I haven’t wronged you.”

“Haven’t you? So many stories about the fae, the djinn, the fanged ones… so many begun, none finished. A book promised and not executed. Your lack of attention to your avocation over the last year has caused harm to the creatures you used to write about.”

“Harm? How?”

“How can you be a tale-spinner still be such a nitwit,” the faerie snorted. “Dim bulbs, the lot of you humans, but you… you should know better… why do you always have to finish reading a scary story?”

“Closure,” I answered.

“Wrong!” The temperature in my house dropped again. “Peter would be so disappointed in you.”

Peter… oh, Peter… my first love! Before my husband. Before my dogs. Before my friends and family… there was Peter. “He… he would?”

“‘He… he would?'” The faerie mimicked my voice and my tone. “Of course, he would you idiot bird. When’s the last time you clapped your hands in glee? When’s the last time you created a working plot? When’s the last time you finished a story?”

“You mean… my writing gives you power? I didn’t know.”

The room grew even colder. “You didn’t know? YOU DIDN’T KNOW!” A blast of cold came with her  – I knew it was a female faerie now and was certain of her name, as well. “Our existence in this world depends on the belief of humans. Try thinking with your brain instead of your tits, girlfriend, and you might understand. Without belief, we don’t exist. Without stories, there’s no belief. We’re dying… all of us… and it’s  all. Your. FAULT!”

“I’m not the only writer…”

“No, but you’re one of the few who still retains that hint of childhood possibility. Why do you think you have so many nightmares? Why haven’t you been able to sleep well for a year?”

I mentioned things like stress and a global pandemic.

She didn’t buy it.

“Look, Chica, writers write. You’re failing yourself. You’re failing us. What do I have to do, bust a pipe and let water flood this idleness out of you?”

“No!” I scooted back against the pillows of my bed. “I mean, please don’t. I’ll try. I’ll try tonight… only… please turn off the cold first? I can’t feel my fingers.”  I held out my hands. They were rapidly turning blue.

“Twenty-four hours, wordwench, or I come back and turn you to an icicle.”

I looked at the place in the room where I thought she was and smiled softly. I knew what I’d write. “Sure, Tink…” I said. “Give Peter my love, won’t you?”

“Bitch!”

Her word hung in the air where she no longer was, but my house was warm again.

Written for Brief #9 of Like the Prose 2021: Faeries and Folklore

Causeway Considerations

 

 

Howard Beach

No matter how many times I drove out to Howard Beach, the moment where the pine woods give way to the causeway, stretching a mile across the Gulf of Mexico, would never fail to take my breath away.

That drive, which begins as a meandering trip through the waterfront neighborhoods of Tarpon Springs before you enter the outer park and it’s canopies of trees, multitudes of squirrels, and the occasional turtle (there are turtle crossing signs at several places along the road), is beautiful enough. But when you exit the dark woods into the bright light of the sun, and its reflection on the water, it’s as if you’ve set foot on the Yellow Brick Road and are approaching the Emerald City.

The beach isn’t just a beach, of course. One side of it, tucked in next to the causeway’s terminus, is dedicated to aquatic sports. Athletes, and those inclined to think they’re athletes, can rent kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, or water bikes. For slightly more sedentary folks, there are also paddleboats.

Across the causeway the other leeward quarter of the island (okay, it’s only an island when the tide is extremely high) is marked by a palm grove, and it’s usually occupied by a few people who want solitude, and don’t really swim. There is no lifeguard on either if the leeward beaches.

The windward coast of the island slopes gently toward the warm water of the gulf. The bottom there isn’t clear, as there is sea grass covering most of it, but it’s short, and unlike seaweed and kelp, it doesn’t wrap itself around your ankles.

This is the swimming beach, and it’s typically filled with happy families. On a recent trip I ran into a young woman with vivid blue hair, spending the day on the sand with her pink-haired partner, and their toddler-aged daughter, and a Greek mother with three kids, though none were under her umbrella. Rather, they were out in the water with their father while she caught some sun.

It’s worth mentioning that the water here is warm and shallow. An average-sized woman can touch the bottom with her feet while keeping her head above water most of the way out to the channel markers. It’s deceptively calm, though, there is a serious riptide if you get caught in the wrong current.

Howard Beach, like most of the beaches in the Florida State Park system has a lifeguard on duty. It also has clean bathrooms, outdoor showers, and a small walking trail to an overlook with a bench. Parking is ample, and costs five dollars a day, though locals and long-term visitors can buy passes. Handicapped parking is free with a placard, and also ample. There is no concession stand, but the town of Tarpon Springs has many restaurants and cafes. Greek food is most plentiful as the town was originally a Greek fishing village, but there’s a whole range.

After a day at Howard Beach driving back across the causeway feels a little like leaving technicolored Oz and returning to black-and-white Kansas. What helps is watching the fishermen along the road, asking them if they caught anything.

What also helps is the knowledge that this little piece of sand will still be there, welcoming the next families, the next laughing children, the next people to cross the causeway looking for fun in the sun.

Written for Brief #4 of Like the Prose 2021: Literary Travel

A Thread on Thread

(A Twitter Story)

https://twitter.com/Melysse/status/1400651144440041473

Thread

1) This story is true… mostly.

2) I’m visiting my mom for a month or two while storm damage is finally fixed in my house in Texas. The damage is from the February Freeze, but that’s another story…

3) So, my mom is a self-described “sewist,” and that comes with certain hazards. Like, I cannot count the number of stray straight pins I’ve found embedded in my feet over my lifetime (which is one of the reasons I wear shoes in the house, but I digress).

4) But this story isn’t about pins; it’s about thread. Sewing thread. It’s insidious stuff. Gets everywhere. Sometimes it floats through Mom’s living room like a weird, skinny, insect.

5) It’s bad enough that I have to keep pulling stray thread off my clothes every time I get up from the couch or the bed or any chair. But lately… lately the thread has been following me.

6) Specifically, there is this one piece of turquoise thread – and none of the clothing I bought here is turquoise – that was moving from the living room toward my bedroom.

7) The first day, it was in the hallway leading to the front door, as if it was planning an escape… or maybe just heading out to take over the world. Either is possible. But then…

8) …then the thread got to the entry-way and instead of taking advantage of the open doors and making its escape into the wider world, it turned toward the guest room and guest bathroom. AKA MY bedroom and bathroom. I swept it away, but it came back…

9) I was in the bathroom, when it returned. I had just finished my “paperwork” and I looked down and the turquoise thread was wrapped around my foot! I unwound it and dropped it into the trash can.

10) The next day I saw the same thread, but it was drying to enter my bedroom. Of course, I closed the door, but I was worried. Maybe this wasn’t just fiber. Maybe it was a sentient being bent on world domination…

11)… or at least on the murder of an innocent writer who hadn’t yet reached her full potential. What would my dogs do without me? How would my husband cope? Who would inherit my mother’s art when the thread eventually turned on her???? The mind had to boggle.

12) Things improved the next day. Somehow, the turquoise thread wound up in the bathtub while I was taking a shower. (There isn’t a rule about getting them wet or respooling them after midnight, is there?)

13) I have to confess: I was smug as I watched that evil blue strand slither down the drain. I thought it was over, but the next night as we were watching that awesome @AmyTan documentary on  @Netflix a red strand attached itself to my leggings.

14) I pulled it off in much the same way one removes a tick and cast it away. “Are you alright?” My mother was looking at me as if she wanted to know which meds I wasn’t taking and should have been.

15) “No,” I complained. “Loose thread is following me everywhere. I think it’s revenge.”

16) “Revenge?” my mother asked. “For what?”

17) “I don’t know… maybe for all the times when I was a kid that I bitched about it when you made me stand in line at the fabric store with an extra coupon so you could buy more fabric. And more thread.”

18) “Oh,” Mom said. “Thread would never care about that.” She took a beat. An ominous beat. “But mothers do…”

19) I laughed at her, of course, but I was still worried. And when I returned to my room that night, I knew my concern was not unfounded… because red threat was wrapped around and around the handle of the window…

20) I knew then that you CAN go home again… you just never get to leave once you do.

 

Written for Brief #3 of Like the Prose 2021: Write a Twitter story.

 

Final Scoop

Ice Cream Parlor

Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy
You better chase all your cares away
Shout “hallelujah”, c’mon get happy
Get ready for the judgement day

 

The smell of sugar was nauseating, the air conditioning was turned too low, and no matter how many times Dave had cleaned them, the inside tables were still sticky, and the outside tables were still clammy with the thick Florida humidity that hovered over everything on summer evenings. If he were lucky, it would rain, and break the monotony.

Dave was never that lucky.

He glanced at the Elvis clock on the wall above the menu board. Both hands were pointing downward from the King’s crotch.  Six-thirty. Ninety minutes to go.

The song changed from a Jan & Dean surf tune to an older piece. Judy Garland crooning about forgetting your troubles. Funny, he thought, how even when she was urging people to get happy, she still sounded sad.

The stand-up poster of James Dean, standing guard over the freezer case full of ice cream cakes and six-packs of Dixie cups – the old-fashioned kind with the wooden paddles that tasted like tongue depressors when you sucked the ice cream off them – seemed to reflect Dave’s mood. The movie star looked even flatter than a cardboard cutout had any right to.

The penultimate hour of his shift was typical of the beachfront ice cream parlor. A group of teenagers came in giggling and asking to taste five different flavors apiece before choosing their single-scoop cones. A tired-looking mother entered with two children in tow, got them each a single-scoop sundae and took them out to the brightly lit patio to eat them. “…so you won’t mess up the floor if you spill…” She got an espresso, affogato style, for herself.

Dave didn’t have the heart to tell her that he had to clean the patio floor, too, before he could go home.

It was eight-forty-five when She appeared: a large woman on an electric scooter. The door rattled open, and the bell attached to it seemed to shiver rather than ring, and she bumped it several times as she lined up her mobility device with the entryway that was just barely ADA-compliant.

“Ma’am,” Dave offered. “If it’s easier for you, I can serve you from the window.” The walk-up window was a remnant from the days when the parlor had been more of a shack, and kids had been encouraged to remain outside.

“No need.” She maneuvered the scooter inside with a sort of metaphysical pop. “Might need your help getting out though.”

“Sure, happy to…” He wasn’t, really, but what was he supposed to say. “Do you know what you want?”

“You,” she said, and while she was smiling, Dave wasn’t entirely certain that she was kidding.

“Aw, thanks, but my girlfriend might have a problem with that.” He didn’t have a girlfriend, but weird customers hit on him a lot, and it was his stock response.

“Mmm. Then I need a minute.”

“Sure. Take your time.” Dave busied himself with the beginning of closing prep while he watched the woman on the scooter. She wasn’t overweight, exactly. She was just… big. Thick ankles, thick wrists, a more-than-ample bosom that her sports bra and tank top barely contained… even her hair, which desperately needed a brush run through it, was big.

“Mint chocolate chip. The green kind. In a cup, with hot fudge.”

“Do you want whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry – the whole sundae experience?”

“No,” she said. “Just the hot fudge.” Her eyes, when they met his, were nearly black. “A lot of hot fudge.”

“You can pay over there.” He gestured to the cash register counter, where the spoons were hidden. It was the way they guaranteed no one would walk out without paying. Spoons weren’t provided until after cash had exchanged hands.

ice-cream-2194062_1920She rolled up to the other counter and met his eyes again, passing him a ten-dollar bill and asking, “You enjoy working here?”

“Truth?” he asked.

“Always tell the truth, so you’re ready for the judgement day,” she said, her tone ominous.

“There are worse jobs,” Dave answered honestly. “But sometimes I swear the smell of ice cream will never wash out of my hair or clothes. Like, it feels like that sickly-sweet sugary sent will linger on my skin forever.”

“Not forever, Dave…” she reached for the ice cream cup, and he flinched when their fingers touched.

He forced a smile. “I sure hope not.”

She rolled over to one of the tables by the window and he finished the closing process while she ate, then held the door when she indicated she was ready to leave.

“It’s coming soon, Dave,” she said. “Get ready for the judgement day. The ice cream was good. Be careful when you leave; rain’s coming and the roads will be slippery.”

He didn’t ask how she knew his name. Probably, he’d actually remembered to wear his nametag. Or maybe she’d been in before, but you’d think he’d remember. “Uh, thanks for the advice.”

Dave couldn’t lock the door fast enough.

The rain came as he was leaving, one of those torrential summer storms that pops up for an hour and leaves no trace. He watched the lightning for a while from inside the door, then locked it behind him and headed home.

He never saw the truck that swerved on the rain-slick pavement and hit him. The next thing Dave knew was the soft squishiness of the large scooter-woman’s breasts against his back. “Am I dead?” he asked. “Is this heaven?”

“You already lived through hell, Dave.” Her voice vibrated through him. “You’re not in heaven yet, though. It’s down the road a way.”

He accepted that. It was easier to just agree.

She changed a setting on her scooter, and they glided down the road to a place where he’d never have to scoop ice cream again.

Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy
You better chase all your cares away
Shout “hallelujah”, c’mon get happy
Get ready for the judgement day!

 

“Get Happy” was composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Ted Koehler.

Written for Brief #2 of Like the Prose 2021: Heaven and/or Hell.

 

 

Wait and Hope (A Basil and Zoe Story)

“How much longer?” I asked, feeling like all the time in the universe had passed at the same time that none of it had.

My partner’s response was patient. “Three minutes, twenty-six seconds.”

I sighed. “That long?”

But Basil, always imperturbable, didn’t react to my mood. Instead, he went to the other end of our quarters and replicated a single cup of chamomile tea with honey. “Sit,” he said, gesturing to the couch. “Drink,” he continued, once I’d followed his first instruction. “By the time you finish this tea, the required time for the test will have elapsed and we will know if our most recent insemination attempt was successful.

I could have argued with him, but when organics attempted to argue with synthetic life forms, it was never pretty. Especially when said synthetic life form had known you since you were seventeen.

“Do you think it worked?” I asked, after making a show of sipping from the cup.

“I prefer not to speculate. But I sincerely hope our change of venue was helpful. Certainly you were more relaxed during the process this last time.”

“Babies shouldn’t be created in antiseptic surroundings,” I said. “I’m glad that you agreed to try again after we lost…” I trailed off. The infant son we’d lost eight months before had barely lived long enough to breathe. It might have been caused by the extreme levels of radiation in the region of space we’d been in during his conception and the early months of my pregnancy, but Dr. Ogillvie had told us that sometimes “things just happen,” even in the twenty-fourth century, and even when you live on a spaceship. “I’m sorry.”

“Do not apologize,” Basil requested. “Zoe, I could remind you that my studies of human emotional states have shown that feeling grief months, or even years, after such a loss is normal. I could also remind you that you did nothing wrong while you were pregnant. Instead, let me remind you that I also feel that loss, and I believe we will eventually have a child.”

“How much longer?” I asked again.

“One minute, seventeen seconds.”

I nodded, sipped more tea, and thought about how our most recent insemination attempt had been private and low-key. Dr. Ogilvie had expressed her concern over not doing the procedure in med-bay, but Basil and I had prevailed. We’d taken the vial of donor sperm back to our cabin, piled pillows on the bed, and made it a romantic event. We would never be able to make a baby the way two organic beings of compatible species could, but we could  – and did – at least remove the clinical element.

After I’d waited the proscribed amount of time after the technical part of the act, we’d made love, talking softly as we moved against each other, and making it as natural a process as possible.

Basil joined me on the couch, and I leaned up to kiss him. “Zoe?”

“I love you,” I told him. “I’m not sure I say it often enough.”

“I will never tire of hearing it, Dearest. I love you, also.”

I set the tea down – chamomile was my least favorite herbal brew – and kissed him again, turning our waiting period into a make-out session. We were just getting to the point when relocating to the bed would typically occur when Basil held me away from him.

“Basil… ?”

“It is time, Zoe.”

“Oh.”

We went to the bathroom to read the result on our test-kit, and once I saw it, I buried my face in Basil’s solid chest, letting the thrum of his internal systems move through me as I cried happy tears onto his uniform jacket.

“Zoe…? Dearest…? Are you alright?”

“No,” I said. “I’m happy and scared and nervous and excited… but I have a feeling it’ll stick this time.”

Basil held me close, stroking my hair. “We can only hope,” he said softly. “We can only wait and hope.”

 

Written for Brief #1 of Like the Prose 2021: Waiting.

Sleeping Positions (A Basil and Zoe vignette)

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black background“You don’t sleep.”

“Zoe?”

We’d just been intimate – sexually intimate – for the first time, and while there’d been some pleasant pillow-talk before and some flirtatious talk during, after had me feeling a bit off-kilter.

“You don’t sleep,” I repeated. “I mean, I know people don’t always spend the night after sex, but skulking back to my mother’s quarters isn’t my idea of fun, ever, and especially after…”

“Have I done something to cause you discomfort?” Concern filled Basil’s voice, and when I turned onto my side to look at him, I saw that it was evident on his silvery features as well.

“No, not at all. It’s just… you don’t sleep, and I’ve never… I mean all my other experience was in summer camp dorms or at home, hoping a parent wouldn’t show up at an inopportune time. I don’t know the protocol for…this… especially with you. You don’t sleep.”

Basil reached out and brushed some of my hair out of my face. “It is true that I do not require sleep,” he said in a gentle tone. “But I am capable of sleep. However, I do not believe that is your real concern. You have ‘crashed’ here many times while I was working or writing.”

“Yeah, but none of those times ended up with us naked in your bed.” I pointed out. “It’s different.”

“It is,” he agreed. “And it is not.”

“Now you sound like me.”

“Zoe, dearest,  if I ‘sound like you’ it is only because we are spending significant time together and your patterns are becoming integrated into my own. However, we are digressing from the issue at hand. If you are truly uncomfortable remaining here, I will not be offended if you return to your mother’s quarters. It will not be ‘skulking,’ however, as we have nothing to hide.”

“O… kay?”

Basil continued. “I would much prefer that you remain here, though.” His silver features softened into a vulnerable expression. “I have never had a sexual encounter last through the night. I’ve also  never had a lover wake up in my bed. I find I want both.”

“With me?”

“Yes, with you.”

I relaxed back into the bed. “So… your programing prevents you from hogging the covers, right?”

“I am afraid we will have to discover that together.”

I couldn’t think of an adequate response, so I just curled against him. “I can live with that,” I said. “But if you decide to experiment with snoring, it’s grounds for a break-up.”

Basil didn’t answer me. Instead, he just ordered the computer to dim the lights for sleeping.

Labyrinth

Labyrinth Photo by Kathy GreyShe walks, following the pattern of the stones. Her feet sink into the soft earth and when she’s on the outer rims of the shape the evergreens reach out to snatch bits of her hair, letting go with only a little reluctance.

The only sounds she hears are the birds above, and her own breath. The ground is clear enough, soft enough, that her bare feet make no sound.

She traces the switchback paths with her whole body, one quadrant at a time until the circle is complete. The sun is partially occluded by lingering morning fog, but she likes it that way. It makes this place feel more mystical.

A smile curves the corners of her mouth upward; she is amused by her own whimsy.

Half-way through the ritual, standing in the center of the circle, she pauses to reflect. Unlike the story, there is no spool of thread to guide her out if she loses her way. Instead, the only tether she has is the one that binds her to friends and family. A mixture of love and obligation, of belonging and duty… life isn’t ever purely one thing or another, after all.

There isn’t a great beast waiting in the dark to prey upon her. Sadly, David Bowie doesn’t lurk here waiting to escort her to a different world, either.

But there are still monsters.

There are always monsters.

These monsters, though, aren’t tangible. Rather, they go by names like Fear and Doubt, and they travel with impish sidekicks like Impatience and Annoyance.

She moves on, into the last quarter of her journey, and considers: no king created this collection of stones. She’s pretty sure most of the maintenance on it is done by women. And she likes that notion.

Women’s hands, women’s work creating a sacred space for all to walk, and think, and just be. She wonders if they sang while they worked, sending their energy into the rocks, trees, and soil. She hopes they did. She imagines they did. She thinks she might hear the echoes of their voices blended into the whispers of the trees.

The end of the path is met with a sigh. She has completed the circle, and emerged back into the light, and maybe no big decisions were made, or problems solved during her walk, but maybe that isn’t the point.

Maybe it’s enough that she walked the trail with her monsters and left them behind to make their own way out, shrinking in the sun – as such creatures are wont to do.

She wonders how long it will take them, then smiles at the thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mermaid Meditations 001 – The Reef

Image by Leandro De Carvalho from Pixabay

“She looks so natural,” I hear my aunt say.

“I can’t believe she’s only two hundred,” my grandmother replies.

“That color really isn’t her best look, though,” my mother adds, and she’s right, because where once our dearly departed was rosy pink and bright orange with streaks of green and blue, now she’s a dismal, ashy grey.

“Why do we keep coming to these things?” I hear my father mutter to my uncle.

“Family obligation, I guess,” my uncle answers back.

I move away from the crowd, end up crashing fins with three of my cousins. Bubbles are suddenly everywhere, and it takes me a moment to re-orient myself. One of them, Red, a couple of cycles older than me, waits to make sure I’m alright. The other boys swim off, giggling. I guess it’s good that someone can still laugh.

“You okay, Starfish?”

“My name is Estrella,” I remind him.

“Estrella de Mar,” he responds. “Star of the sea… but in one of the human languages, they say ‘starfish,'”

“Human languages are complicated,” I grouse.

Red grins. “Humans are complicated. They claim they love the ocean, but then they do this…” He waves his hand toward the grey mass where the aunties are still gathered.

“Kill our reefs, you mean? I don’t think they do it intentionally. And a lot of them are trying to reverse the damage being done.”

“Yeah,” he says.

“Yeah,” I answer.

“It’s time!” I hear my grandmother announce.

“Let’s go!” Red grabs my hand, and we swim back into the school of merfolk.

“Mermaid tears,” Grandmer says,  “are the only thing that can heal a dead reef. Everyone, summon your sadness, but also summon your hope.”

One at a time, from oldest to youngest, we swim along the gray reef, and let our tears cleanse the water around her, bringing back the shrimp and krill, willing the restoration of color.

Some people say that the reef is the godmother of all mermaids. Some people think something about her let us become real, instead of merely existing in the tall tales of sailors and the dreams of children.

In this case, the only truth that matters is this: The coral reef is where we begin, and where we end. She is our first home and our last. The least we can do is give back what we were given.

Image by Leandro De Carvalho from Pixabay