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

Unmasked

 

 

Iguana

 

The mask was broken into three large pieces, laying on the tile floor.

Earlier…

Muzzy from sex, she murmured to her partner, “Are you ever going to show me your face?”

“Does it matter so much? A face to put with the body you’ve been touching, caressing?”

“What you look like doesn’t matter, no. But we just made love – ”

“No, we didn’t,” her partner countered. “We had sex. Amazing sex, but we just met… it’s not love.”

Earlier…

A hand tapped her shoulder, and she whirled around, coming face to face with a person wearing a painted mask. It was a deep pink, almost magenta, and a green iguana, done in bas relief, was draped across the top edge. Her own mask, made of cloth and feathers, suddenly seemed inadequate.

“Sorry, did I bump into you?”

“No… would you like to?”

“Bump into you?”

“I think most people call it ‘dancing.'”

“Sure.” She took the Iguana’s hand and led the way to the dance floor.

Later…

They’d been dancing for hours, it seemed. Masked faces  – ceramic, cloth, even latex – surrounded them, and the tables were few and far between, but they found a two-top in the corner by the window, overlooking the surf below.

“Beer or cocktail?” The Iguana asked.

“Cocktail,” she said. “Something with rum in it.”

“Do you trust me?”

Hell no, but I don’t trust myself either.

“To order, sure.”

Iguana ordered two combinations of rum and fruit juice then leaned back in the chair, rocking it so the back rested against the wall. “You’re a good dancer.”

“You’re not bad yourself.”

“I teach ballroom sometimes, as a side gig.”

“What’s your main gig?”

“I paint.”

She nodded. It wasn’t surprising; half the population of the tiny beach town painted. Or sculpted. Or sketched.

“I write,” she said.

“Have I read your writing?”

“Maybe. You read much horror?”

“Sometimes.”

The drinks came, sweet with that warming rush of alcohol. They both used straws, but Iguana gave away their gender when they tilted their head back and revealed the Adam’s apple bobbing there. “Would I know your work?”

“You’re looking at it.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

Later…

They’d closed out the party, and moved to her house. They’d exchanged names by then. But he’d requested, “Let’s keep our masks on. If we get along, we’ll see each other again… and then we’ll take them off.”

She’d agreed. Why not? It sounded like a fun game.

Later…

The masks had come off in the morning. She’d been relieved… her skin needed to breathe. He’d seemed tentative. “I’m not so good looking,” he admitted.

“I’m sure you’re fine,” she told him. He removed the mask, and he was right. He wasn’t much to look at, but he wasn’t horribly disfigured either. His nose had a lump, as if it had been broken at some point. She reached out to caress his stubbled cheek. “Kiss me.”

They’d had sex, but they hadn’t yet kissed.

His lips tasted faintly of mango and rum, and a little like almonds.

“Are you sorry?”

“Not a bit.”

 

Later…

They were in and out of each other’s houses for days, weeks, after their first encounter. They made love in the afternoons and cooked eggs at midnight. She wrote, naked, in his bed, or hers. He painted masks in her living room and came to bed with splattered skin.

Later…

“I have to tell you something…” he said. “I had a wife… a kid… they died in a car accident on the way to my gallery opening. It’s ten years tomorrow.”

“I’m so sorry.”

He came to her, drunk, the next night. She knew he was using alcohol to soothe his grief, but it also brought out a rougher part of him. Their joining wasn’t tender, but primal.

Afterwards, she asked him to tell her the whole story.

“I can’t,” he said. “I can’t…” and he cried.

Later…

Six months of  mostly good times, but his story niggled at her brain. She googled and googled again. She found a seed, a trail, the truth.

They’d died in a car wreck alright, but he’d been the driver.

“You could have trusted me with this,” she said, confronting him.

“I wanted to escape it,” he said. “I should go.”

“Stay…”

Later…

The sky was barely pinkening into dawn, but she woke up anyway, sensing a change. His side of the bed was cold. She pulled on a long t-shirt and padded through the house. His paints, his easels, his splattered shoes – all gone.

She heard a noise and moved toward the front door. He was leaving in the dark, carrying a box. As she watched, something fell from the box and fell to the floor. But he didn’t stop. The door banged shut behind him.

She turned on the light and saw it.

The iguana mask was the one that had fallen.

The mask was broken into three large pieces, laying on the tile floor.

 

Written for Brief #8 of Like the Prose 2021: Begin at the end.

 

Long-time Companion

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I met him for the first time when I was six years old. I had no front teeth  and wore my hair in pigtails. He was the strong, silent type. It sounds scandalous, I know, but really, it wasn’t much different for any girl my age.

At first our relationship was tenuous. I wasn’t sure where to put my hands, how much pressure to use. Sometimes my hand would slip, or I’d lift the wrong leg, and my foot would make abrupt contact. It hurt me far more than it did him.

Over time, I grew to count on him. I learned that he would always be my supporter, that I could lean on him with all my weight, and he would be unfazed. I eased my grip and found that he responded in kind, vibrating slightly against my palm.

As I grew older, our relationship changed. By the time I was twelve, thirteen, fourteen, we were spending long hours together. I would lie on the floor with my ankles resting against him, and he never complained that my feet were smelly, or that I was putting too much pressure on him. His support helped ensure that I never had lower back pain as I grew older.

As so often with young love, we eventually drifted apart. I found new hobbies, new interests, new partners, and didn’t visit as often as I should. In fact, I left him for years, and while I gave him a fleeting thought now and then, usually if a television show or film prompted a memory, I told myself it was for the best, and that I’d done the right thing.

And then it happened.

I rediscovered him as an adult.

No longer as flexible or supple as I was once was, I hesitated to return to his side, but he never judged, never complained. He just let me wrap my hands around him and use his strength to rebuild my own. With his assistance I retrained my muscles, improved the strength in my toes, perfected my posture. In his presence, I became my best self.

I’ve had to leave him from time to time. I’ve spent time with other partners, and gained new experiences, but he is my long-time companion, my other half, my strongest supporter, and the one who helps me maintain my balance.

I am a dancer.

And he is my barre.

Written for Brief #6 of Like the Prose 2021: Non-traditional Romance

 

Brass Rings

It’s not what you think. The art deco building that houses the old carousel still stands, but the painted ponies on their pneumatic poles are gone.

History would tell you that the carousel was dismantled because it was old, because Asbury Park was sinking into decrepitude, because maintaining the wooden horses was too expensive.

History would be wrong.

There’s a little known secret about that vintage carousel. It was actually a portal. Or, a collective of portals.

The kids knew. Oh, not all of them, but the geeky kids knew: the bookworms, the dreamers, and the sci-fi enthusiasts knew. If a kid caught the brass ring and made a wish, the ride would speed up and the pony would leap from the platform.

There wasn’t any specific location the ponies went to. It was assumed the destination was tailored to each kid. But they’d be back less then a moment after they’d left – though they always returned talking of adventures that lasted for days.

By the time the news of the carousel’s closure became public, most of the kids who knew its secret had grown too old to go on adventures. But they had a plan.

They identified kids in their communities who needed to escape. Homeless kids. Abused kids. Kids unlikely to be missed.

24 children. Twelve painted ponies. They were put two to a horse and told what to do, how to wish.

The carousel was started. The calliope music blared out, filling the empty building, echoing over the boardwalk.

And one by one, the ponies pranced into oblivion, carrying their charges to permanent safety.

The media reported on the missing carousel horses, but not on the missing children. The rest of the ride was torn apart.

No one ever spoke of the magic carousel again. But the kids who’d grown up around it remembered. And sometimes, they still dreamed of reaching up, catching the brass ring, and going on an infinite ride.

Written for Brief #5 of Like the Prose 2021:Alternate History

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.

 

 

SwimTime

I’m participating in the Summer Love Notes project this summer. (If you’d like to contribute, feel free to drop me a line.) Here’s an excerpt from my piece “SwimTime,” which ran on June 8th.

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She drapes her pink and white striped beach towel across the arms of one of the patio chairs and leaves her flip-flops underneath it. Her sunglasses, she leaves on as she descends the steps into the pool. They’re a little too tall for her, so her movements aren’t graceful, like a reverse Aphrodite slipping back into the water, but more half-way between a step and a hop.

Read the rest of this piece here: SwimTime at SummerLoveNotes

(De)Caffeinated

This was supposed to be for Day 8 of Like the Prose – Heroes and Villains / Good and Evil  – but I had to twist it.

clay-banks-_wkd7XBRfU4-unsplashHe is her hero.

Dark. Silent. Slightly broody.

But he’s also reassuring.

When she needs a boost he’s always there for her, in a stance that even Superman couldn’t imitate.

When a migraine threatens, when she has a thousand tasks and only time for ten, when sleep is threatening to steal her senses – he comes to the rescue.

But…

He has an evil twin.

Equally dark, equally silent.

Possibly a bit less broody (villains always are; their evil deeds instill delight.)

When he shows up, she trembles in fear, because she knows – she knows – that her energy will not be enhanced, her tasks will not get done, her drowsiness will not be swept away.

But she’ll enjoy the experience, even so, because he’ll lure her in with assurances that he’ll treat her the same, that her lips won’t know the difference.

Yet, every morning, every evening, she must choose:

Hero or Villain?

Regular… or Decaf?

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Deception Betwixt R and T

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a lipogram

 

It had begun, like much did, at a bar. There hadn’t been a band that night. Rather, the entertainer had been a magician, of a kind.

The title he’d claimed had been “Mental Deceiver,” but I remain certain that he were better called a charlatan or conniver.

The food and liquor had flowed like – well, like food and liquor tend to flow in a place where the barkeep let you run a tab and the final check never actually arrived. Gourmet, all of it, or high-end where gourmet didn’t apply.

The blue drink offered by the Deceiver, we imbibed by the tumbler, one after another after another.

And then the he began to… nudge.

Not out loud, but with a piercing look, a tiny hand movement, a voice in your head.

To me, the order came mentally: For a fiveday, no longer will be, that letter betwixt the ‘r’ and ‘t’.

I laughed… anyone would. The Deceiver couldn’t really eliminate a letter. Could he?

But come morning, I found to my horror that he could.

Annoyance!

Anger!

The feeling of being completely tongue-tied and fighting it.

For a week, I could neither greet my lover by name nor utter my own.

I could not even affix it to a legal document.

The initial two of the fiveday were extremely difficult.

After that, I learned to be mindful of my thinking, I learned to hear the tweeting and chirping of the flying and the feathered. I appreciated the din of a downpour and let ever-whirring electrical hum be my lullaby at night.

At midnight on the final day, I heard the Deceiver announce in my head “Challenge Completed.”

I let my mouth curl up in glee and gave in to my dreaming  knowing that in the morning, all would be like before.

Mainly.

Photo by Markos Mant on Unsplash