The Camels of Mars

0398 - Camels of Mars

Their craft had finally set down on the ground that didn’t look all that different from any desert back home.

“Isn’t it supposed to be red?” Benjy asked glancing from the scenery outside to his father, who was also staring through the viewport.

Fahrid O’Reilly sympathized with his son. He’d wanted Mars to seem different, too. “That’s just because of the dust in the air when we look at Mars from Earth,” he explained. “Are you disappointed?”

“Who’s gonna believe we really came here if the dirt I send home is just… dirt?”

“Benjy, we’ve been through this before. You can’t send soil back to Earth. But you can send a photo of yourself at Curiosity Memorial.”

The ten-year-old was not impressed. “Anyone can photoshop that.”

“Well, we’ll have to figure out something else to prove to your friends where your new home is.” He was about to remind the boy that his mother had arrived on the previous lander, three months before, and that he’d get to be reunited with her shortly, but one of the officers – Morris – came to join them.

“The umbilical into the Habitrail will be attached any second now,” he said, gesturing to the series of interconnected domes and tunnels that provided a livable environment on the Red Planet. “Everyone’s anxious to get to their quarters and decompress from the trip, but we think it’d be best if you took the animals out first. Get them settled in their enclosure.”

Fahrid nodded, “A wise choice, Commander Morris. I’ve been checking on them and they seem to be alright, but large animals shouldn’t be cooped up for so long.”

“Do you mind if I ask… what made you pitch the idea of bringing them?”

“I was going through my father’s things after he died, an I found a picture of him with a camel, and a book about the Texas Camel Corps.”

“Is that a real thing?” Morris asked.

“Oh, very real. In the early twentieth century a rancher in Texas who’d been the camel caretaker at a zoo decided that camels would be fantastic herd animals.”

“O’Reilly, don’t you dare tell me they raised camels for food?”

“No… no they didn’t. They used them as pack animals and for transportation in the Chihuahuan Desert – there are places where it isn’t practical to use road transports, and it’s too dusty for flitters. He started doing tours for tourists, but eventually he was training camels to be used as riding beasts for ranchers throughout the southwest.”

“Wow, I had no idea.”

“Most people don’t. Anyway, I did some research, found out that he’d been experimenting with genetic mods, and his descendants had continued his work. Not only can our camels store liquid water, instead of just fat, they can actually create water out of what they eat and breathe.”

“They’re not dangerous, are they?” Morris asked.

“Benjy,” Fahrid said to his son, “why don’t you take this one?”

The ten-year-old uncurled his fingers from the rim of the viewport and pushed himself away from the bulkhead. Standing up straight, and speaking in rapid, but well-rehearsed sentences, he shared, “It’s a myth that camels are mean. Llamas have been known to spit at humans, and camels can do that too, but for the most part they’re docile creatures. Some people even describe them as giant hay-eating puppies.” He paused and grinned up at both men. “Lucy’s my favorite. She likes to give kisses.”

Morris seemed like he was about to ask a question, but there was a jolt followed by a hiss. “Sounds like the umbilical is linked. Can you two manage, or could you use a hand?”

“The more help we have, the faster we finish,” Fahrid said. He turned and led the officer down to the part of the hold where the livestock had been quartered on their long journey. “Coming, Benjy?”

“I wanna get Sophie first,” the boy said.  Part family pet, part herding animal, Sophie was their border collie.  “We’ll meet you there.”

“Okay, but don’t dawdle.”

“I won’t.”

It took the men, the boy, and the dog about an hour to offload the seven camels and five goats, and usher them into the umbilical tunnel that led into the main dome of Opportunity Village, where much of the extant community was waiting to greet the new arrivals, whether they had four feet, or only two.

From the center dome, there was another tunnel that led to a series of gates and beyond them to another dome, this one carved among pillars of stone that were part of the natural landscape. It had shaded stalls, water troughs, and pens full of hay. An older woman, dressed in a coverall, was waiting with a pitchfork, and several people using tablets to control camera drones were also gathered.

“Mr. O’Reilly! Welcome!” She greeted Fahrid first. “Benjy, it’s good to see you. And Commander Morris, welcome back. You staying, this time?”

“Looks like it,” the officer said. “Especially since Specialist Weaver finally agreed to marry me.”

“Did he! That’s wonderful. You two will have to join George and me for dinner soon.” But she turned back to the O’Reillys. “I’m Anna Meier, the governor. I’m so excited to have you and your charges with us. Join me, now, as we pitch the first hay into the feeding bins… folks back on Earth are dying for a photo op.” More softly, she added, “Penelope is waiting for you in quarters… she asked for a private reunion.”

“Penny’s always been camera shy,” Fahrid observed. He reached out to ruffle his son’s hair. “Okay Benjy, line’em up.”

And they cajoled the animals into a loose semicircle around the feeding bins and let Governor Meier toss the first loads of hay to each beast.

“I’m so excited. I know the dome won’t be their favorite place, but with rebreathers, we’ll be able to use your animals to explore the surface and hopefully find more access to the underground sea.”

Benjy and Sophie wandered away while the adults were talking, heading directly toward Lucy. The camel blinked at the boy and the dog, and then slurped the former. Benjy heard the whirr-click of the drone camera capturing his picture.

“Hey, kid!” A blonde reporter with a friendly grin called out. “Mind looking this way?” Benjy turned and flashed her a smile that was a dimpled echo of his father’s. “Awesome,” the reporter said. “That’s the money shot.”

And it was.

All the papers and news feeds on Earth, Luna, and Mars had the image of boy, dog, and camel, with the great stone pillars behind them, as their lead story. The caption? The Camels of Mars.

 

 

 

Duet for Two Young Superheroes

0395 - Halloween Carols

“Dashing through the streets,
Meeting goblins as we go,
Wearing contour sheets,
Wishing it would snow.”

Ethan marched down the street, singing the hood piece of his Amazing Spider-man costume dangling behind him like a cape. Well, more like a deflated balloon. He couldn’t help it though. The costume was a little bit too big for him, and when he wore the mask he couldn’t see properly.

Besides, it was hot for October. Nearly ninety degrees. He would melt into a puddle of red and blue goo if he had the hood on.

He launched into the chorus of the song, his favorite of the Halloween carols they’d been learning at school all week.

“Trick or treat, trick or treat, trick or treat we say!
Try to get the treats before the ghost takes us aw–”
Ethan trailed off, realizing he was singing alone.

“Zach, why aren’t you singing?”

“I’m Batman!” his friend answered, trying (and failing) to make his young voice sound deep and husky. “Batman doesn’t sing.”

“You wish you were Batman,” Ethan retorted. “I don’t wanna sing alone. You have to sing with me.”

“Halloween carols are lame,” Zach complained.

“You’re only saying that because people kept singing the other version of the song to you.”

“Don’t remind me,” the boy in the Batman costume groaned. This had been the day they’d all worn their Halloween costumes to school, and he’d been constantly assaulted with eight-to-ten-year-old boys – and some of the girls – singing at him: Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg…. It had been funny the first time; now it made him want to puke. “Why’s it so important that we sing anyway?”

“Because,” Ethan said, his bravado and cheer fading somewhat, “we’re turning onto Willow Street when we get to the corner, and that means we have to pass that old white house, and Rebecca says it’s haunted.”

“You mean the house with the tower-thingy?” Zach hadn’t learned the word ‘turret’ yet. “It looks haunted. Like, when I’m riding my bike, I always cross the street so I’m on the other sidewalk.”

“Yeah, me, too.”

“So, if we’re singing, won’t that make it easier for the ghosts and monsters to find us?”

“No, it’s like that movie. The with the widow and the bald king and the kid who played Draco Malfoy, except this was before he was Draco?” Ethan lived with his mother and older sister, who were both into musicals. He kinda liked them too, but he didn’t really tell people that. “In the movie, if you whistle something happy when you’re scared, you stop being scared.”

“So, if we sing while we walk past the Ghost House, we won’t be afraid of ghosts?”

“Either that or the noise of happy singing will make them afraid of us.” They’d reached the corner, by then, and Ethan stopped walking. “So… will you sing with me?”

“I’m a singing Batman,” Zach answered, in the same voice he’d used before.

Ethan didn’t twit him though. Instead, he launched into the chorus, grinning as his best friend joined in.

“Trick or treat, trick or treat, trick or treat we say!
Try to get the treats before the ghost takes us away! Hey!
Trick or treat, trick or treat, trick or treat we say!
If you don’t have treats for us we’ll never go away!”

Like Clockwork

0392 - Ticking“It’s good to see you again,” he tells me. “I’m glad you’re home.” He leans close to give me a welcoming kiss – and I can’t deny I’ve missed his kisses – but something skitters up his arm to perch on his shoulder.

A spider. But not the typical kind. One of his creations.

“You’ve been tinkering again,” I observe, and back away.

“A bit,” he hedges. “More than a bit,” he amends, off my accusing glare. “A lot, actually. You were on tour for six months, love. I had to fill the nights somehow. Besides, it was a distraction from the pain.”

Before I’d left him to go on tour, he’d been diagnosed with the wasting disease that had decimated the human population of Earth. (The aliens and the hybrids, like me, were immune.) I’d offered to stay, but it had been my farewell tour – my last chance to dance the lead roles I’d loved so well – Giselle, of course, Aurora, and – somewhat appropriately – my very last performance had been Coppelia.

“Did you have to build spiders, though?” I’d always feared the creatures. They had too many legs, and too many eyes, and tended to appear in places where I was wearing too little clothing – the shower, the deck of the hot tub, our bed.

“I didn’t build him,” my partner said.

“But I can see the clockwork.”

“I enhanced him. Come, let me draw you a bath, and I’ll explain.”

I let him lead me through the bedroom, into the luxurious master bathroom that had been the selling feature for our house. He’d made sure the bed was freshly made for my arrival, and I smiled at that detail. I undressed as he lit candles and filled the tub with hot water and scented bubbles.

“Join me?” I invited.

“Not tonight,” he said. “Would you like wine or tea while you soak?”

“Not tonight,” I echoed his words, as I stepped into the tub I sighed as I sunk into the water. My forty-five-year-old body was pretty battered after six months of performances and travel, and I’d danced five years longer than many of the women I’d started with, ten years longer than some. I could easily have closed my eyes and fallen asleep, but the bubbles tickled my skin and reminded me… “So, the spider?”

“Ah, yes. The first month you were gone, I was a bit sore, but I managed, but as the disease worsened, I knew that there would be no medical marvel for me unless I created one. I started with spiders because – gods forgive me – I didn’t care so much if they didn’t survive the process. Then I moved to small mammals; don’t worry, they all survived.”

“So, what, you were making clockwork prosthetics?”

“At first, yes, but I learned to recreate entire joints, even organs. It was as if someone was directing my ideas, guiding my hands. When I woke one morning and couldn’t walk, I called Sam.”

Sam was my partner’s oldest friend, a fellow tinkerer, and a specialist in robotics. “There was a Doctor Who marathon, and we spent the weekend watching it.” He chuckled ruefully, “I’m afraid it only gave us more ideas. In any case, we needed to test our creations on humans, and Sam’s wife is a surgeon, so…”

He rolled up his sleeve and displayed his elbow, then pressed inside the joint, causing the skin to open and reveal more clockwork.

I gasped. I couldn’t help it.

My partner knelt by the side of my tub and began to unbutton his shirt. He didn’t speak, but the seam in his chest told me all I needed to know.

“Maybe don’t open that just now,” I said, managing to infuse my words with a tiny bit of humor. “Is that why you didn’t want to join me in the bath?”

“You mean, will I rust? No. Totally waterproof, or, as much as I ever was. I just wanted you to have room to stretch.”

“How much?” I asked. “How much of you is… still you?”

“My knees, elbows, and heart are clockwork. The rest… the rest of me is still very much organic. I haven’t cured myself, love. Just arrested the progression of the disease.” He lowered his head a bit, the way he always did when he was sheepish. “The patents made us a lot of money… if you ever want – “

“NO! – ” I cut him off. “I mean… I’m sorry, but… no. It’s not for me. I’m glad you’re not in pain, though.”

“Not in pain,” he said, and then, waggling his eyebrows, he added, “and no longer impotent.”

I’d been gone for six months, but we hadn’t had sex for at least as long before my tour. “Prove it,” I challenged.

* * * * *

Later, sated and sleepy, I rested with my head on my lover’s chest, and listened to the ticking that came from deep within his chest. “Well, I said… that still works.”

“It does,” he agreed, “like clockwork.”

Etiquette

0361 - Medusa

The hissing of her serpents echoed in the stone chamber. He’d followed all the clues: the puzzle games on the open internet, the more difficult tests that came first through the dark web, and then, later, through the mail.

 

The mail! Seriously! Who even used the postal service anymore? Well, other than Amazon and politicians, anyway.

 

But after months – years – of Facebook friendship, Discord chats, and late-night text marathons, he’d worn her down.

 

“I want to meet you,” he’d said for the seventy-millionth time.

 

“Find me if you can,” she’d challenged.

 

And he had.

 

The legends said people froze because she was hideous. But she wasn’t. She was power embodied: sinuous beauty, with eyes that could penetrate your soul, legs that were long, toned, and tanned, and a voice that coiled itself around you almost as tangibly as a warm scarf.

 

He couldn’t help but stare.

 

“What, forgotten how to use your words?” she teased.

 

He could only nod dumbly.

 

She rolled her eyes. All of them. Not just those on her face. “It’s not polite to stare,” she said, a note of sadness coloring her tone. “Didn’t your grandmother ever warn you that your face would freeze that way?”

 

A drop of drool pooled in the corner of his mouth.

 

“She was right.”

TSR: For Your Health. For Your Future

TSR For Your HealthThe presenter is a woman in her late forties. Old enough to convey gravitas and command respect. Youthful-looking enough that appearance-oriented audience members will not read her as “old,” and tune out.

 

Her dark brown hair is pulled into a loose bun. Her make-up is subtle. Her pearl necklace and diamond-stud earrings are the epitome of taste

 

She is wearing a red sheath dress with a lab coat – a perfectly tailored lab coat – over it. Her black pumps have a conservative heel.

 

When she speaks, it is in a low-pitched soothing voice, halfway between a flight attendant and a psychotherapist.

 

The projected images on the screens to either side of her change to mirror her topic.

 

“TSR – Total Spine Replacement. For decades our orthopedists and neurologists have been working together to refine this process.”

 

“As so many projects did, it began with a spark. Our chief of R&D nearly lost his son in a car accident – that was before ground-cars were banned and replaced by CTG flitters. Cloud-to-ground vehicles are one life-saving mechanism.“

 

“TSR is another. “

 

“No longer will survivors of devastating accidents be relegated to years of pain management, rehab, braces, and mobility devices. No more will children born with severe spinal defects have to live with diminished capabilities and physical therapy.”

 

“With TSR we can replace the entire human spinal column, first replacing the main neural connections with retractable synthetics, which allow us to remove the spine as one unit.”

 

She continues, walking her audience through a procedure that looks awfully realistic for a computer model. (It is a computer model, right?)

 

“Finally, we complete the procedure with our Bio-Orthopedic Reintegration Geometrics machine. How many of you are Star Trek fans? Well, we are, too, but we promise: this BORG has nothing to do with assimilation.”

 

She holds for the expected laughter. “Clinical trials – human trials – are set to begin in two weeks, on rigorously vetted volunteer subjects. Thanks to TSR our patients will be walking, running, climbing – or just picking up their children – by Christmas.”

 

The lights come up. She favors the audience with a pleasant smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “Thank you for coming today. I’ll take your questions now.”

 

Later, behind the curtains, she faces her superior. “It went well,” she says. “I think we’ll see increased numbers of volunteers. This group of physicians specializes in severe spinal trauma.”

 

“Excellent,” her superior responds. “I require nourishment. Join me for dinner; we will discuss the launch of phase two.”

 

The woman in red gives a nod, but her neck locks and she must lift her hands to straighten her head.

 

Her superior stares at her through slitted eyes. “Get that servo checked out. We can’t have you glitching during a presentation.”

 

The presenter’s eyes widen ever so slightly. But she gives the appropriate response: “By your command.”

 

Fool’s Gold

georgetownlake

We weren’t supposed to ride our bikes out to the reservoir. Certainly, we weren’t supposed to play on its rocky shore, but it was 1977 or 78 and we were innocent – the world was innocent – or at least, it seemed that way.

And so we rode our bikes along the frontage rode of the highway, mine still bearing the red, white and blue streamers from the 4th of July bike parade, and we parked them on reasonably level ground. Then we took old beach towels, purloined snacks, and cans of soda from our baskets and set up a sort of picnic area, before we went close to the water.

We were imaginative seven- and eight- year olds. Jeff decided that the big chunks of dried mud from where the water had receded over the summer were actually fossilized dinosaur turds. “Boys are so gross,” Monica and I said to each other behind his back. But out loud we asked, “What kind of dinosaur?”

“It’s from the Megapod,” Jeff insisted. “It’s Megapodtastic!”

“More like mega-disgusting,” I said. But it was Georgetown, Colorado. We’d all been to the natural history museum in Denver on school trips. We knew that dinosaurs had lived here once, just like we were certain the cannibalistic Goat-Man still haunted the woods outside town. It could have been ancient dino-dung, or at least, our child-brains didn’t immediately reject the idea.

We continued to enjoy the afternoon. A lonely kayaker appeared on the far side of the reservoir at one point. We hadn’t seen him arrive, and we never saw him leave, he just ghosted across our field of vision the same way a shark will sometimes swim near you without actually bothering you. You don’t see it, but you know you’re not alone.

“Maybe he’s searching for dinosaur bones,” I suggested, mostly kidding.

Maybe he’s fishing for the lake monster,” Jeff responded. “Hey, is it true you and Gil are going together?”

Gil was the older man in my life. A fourth-grader, to my second, and he’d asked me to go with him after the mandatory school square dance recital. Of course, in elementary school, going together didn’t mean much. We never touched, except in dance class, we never spent much time together. I think we sort of sat near each other at lunch. Whatever.

“Here,” Jeff opened a can of Mr. Pibb and handed it to me. It was still slightly cool. “See, it didn’t even explode. Told ya.”

I took a sip, just as Monica, who’d taken her shoes off and was dancing in and out of the water – even in the hottest part of summer, that reservoir was cold – shouted for us to join her. “Guys! Come here!! Look what I found!”

I took my soda with me as Jeff and I went to join her, looking down into the water, where she was pointing at gold sparkles on the rocks.

“What the-what the hey?” Jeff squatted down and pulled out a handful of the rocks. “It’s gold!” He said. “We’re gonna be rich!”

We immediately gathered as many of the glittery-gold rocks as our young hands could carry, stuffing our pockets and the baskets of our bikes. We ended up sharing my Mr. Pibb – all three of this – as we stared at our collection.

“Now what?” Monica asked.

“We go to the rock shop, and have Sidney tell us how much it’s worth. He sells gold nuggets. I bet he buys them, too,” Jeff said.

The ride back to town was longer and slower with our collection of rocks, but we didn’t mind. Jeff said he would use the money to hire a running coach – his older brother was a track star, and he wanted to be even better. Monica said she wanted the Barbie dreamhouse she’d been wishing for. Me? I didn’t know what to say. Admitting that all I wanted was books and games seemed wrong somehow.

But when we got to the rock shop, Sidney had bad news for us. Oh, he made a show of looking at each rock very carefully, but then he sat us at the table in the middle of his store, the one where the rock polisher was usually grumbling and burbling. “Bad news, kids. What you have isn’t gold. It’s mica?”

“Mica?” I asked.

“Some people call it ‘Fool’s Gold.’

“So, it’s not worth anything?” I asked. Well, one of us had to get all the information.

“‘Fraid not,” Sidney said. “But don’t feel bad. I have grown-ups bring this stuff in all the time. Why don’t you each choose a polished rock before you go, to remind you to keep exploring.”

We were disappointed, of course. I mean, we’d been millionaires for a whole hour and suddenly we were just normal kids again. Still, a free polished rock could not be turned down. “Thanks Sid,” Jeff said. “Thank you,” Monica added. “Thank you, Sidney,” I wrapped up.

We left his store with mostly empty pockets, and stood on the sidewalk, where our bikes were waiting, and the light was waning. “It’s getting late,” Monica said. “I should go.”

“Yeah, me, too,” I said. “Mom might let me put price-tags on stuff for extra money. You guys want to do something tomorrow?”

“We could go to the little park,” Jeff said. “I heard all the levels – ” He meant terraces but hadn’t yet learned that word – “are there to hide the fact that it’s an Indian burial ground.”

“Sure,” I said. “Maybe we’ll meet a ghost.”

Monica didn’t look thrilled by our idea. “I think I have to do stuff at home tomorrow,” she said. “I’ll let you know.”

But we knew she wouldn’t.

The three of us went in different directions. Jeff went down the dirt road that led to the neighborhood tucked into the edge of the woods. I’d ridden my bike down that road after twilight once and had been convinced the Headless Horseman was chasing me the whole way. Never mind that the Headless Horseman lived in New York, and not Colorado.

Monica went up the hill. Her family lived in a big old house, but it was creaky and leaning in places. I think the idea of hunting for ghosts didn’t appeal to her, because she lived with so many.  Visits to her house were hard because all they had to play with were half-complete board games, none of which were meant for only two people.

And I went back down the block, around the main square, and across the street to the building where my mother owned a store, and we lived in the apartment above it, but I knew better than to bring my bike in through the front. I locked it under the back stars behind the building, climbed up to the back entrance of our apartment, and walked through it, down the front stairs, and into the store.

Mom was finishing with a customer, but when they’d gone, she smiled at me. “You look tired and dirty,” she said. “What have you been up to today.”

“Out with Jeff and Monica,” I said. “We were seriously wandering and talking about stuff.”

Mom smiled. If she knew where our wanderings had taken us, she would not have been so pleasant.

“Go upstairs and clean up,” she said. “We’re driving to Idaho Springs tonight.”

“Idaho Springs? Why?”

“Because Floyd has the projector fixed and is doing the first weekend of Mad Movie Mayhem.”

“And we’re going? Really?”

“We’re going,” Mom said. “Really.”

I didn’t answer her. I just turned around and ran back upstairs to change. My dog greeted me at the door, and I brought her into my room with me. “Sorry we didn’t spend much time together today,” I told her as I ran my fingers through her curly white fur. The little park was within walking distance and had soft grass that was perfect for poodle paws. “But tomorrow is another day, and with any luck, you’ll get to come out with me then.”

Porte

0345 - Porte - via flash promptThe initial meeting had gone well. True, it had been set up by their families, two of the most noble houses of their country, but despite that, they found, she and he, that they genuinely liked each other.

That first meeting was little more than dinner and a chaperoned walk through the perfumed gardens of her family’s estate. No, not a walk. A stroll. Of course, he’d been clad in formal attire, and her skirts had been ridiculously voluminous, especially in the August heat, but they’d shared a real moment of connection under the rose arbor.

A marriage to this man might not be horrible, after all, Elisabeth thought. He was funny, he was courteous, he was well-read, he was an excellent dancer, he didn’t mind that she was slightly mad, and while they didn’t speak all the same languages, they shared at least three common tongues. Communication would never be an issue.

Their second meeting, a trip to the opera, had also been pleasant enough. They’d both appreciated the talent of the singers while mocking the absurdity of the story. Their quiet laughter had become a trilled counterpoint that only those sharing their private box could discern.

On their third meeting, though, the moon had been high in the sky after the official festivities of the ball had ended, and she’d been edgy and cross all evening, for no apparent reason. He’d tried to break through her prickly mood with romantic advances – advances she would have welcomed on any other night – but instead, she’d let her dark emotions dictate her response, rather than letting her level head or empathetic heart take control.

He’d known… he’d seen the stains on her hands when the gloves came off, and that had provided all the information he’d needed. She’d barely had time to kiss his screaming mouth into silence before the portal had been opened, and he’d been pushed inside.

Of course, no one blamed her. It was an accident, they said. She couldn’t be expected to control her power. No one in her country had used that sort of magic for years – centuries even.

“Put your gloves back on, dearest,” her mother chided. “He won’t be missed for hours, and by then, we’ll have brought him back.” Unspoken were the next two words: we hope.

She turned her eyes to her mother’s face and nodded, silent tears wetting her cheeks.

The power to rip a hole in the universe had been dormant in her family for generations, until, with her birth, it woke. The consequences – the bloodstained hands, the screams of the universe echoing constantly inside her head – had been mitigated with extensive therapy: hypnosis, meditation, an herbal remedy from time to time.

But sometimes, when the moon was full, and her emotions were riding high – even if they were positive emotions – she slipped.

Well, witty and wise as he’d seemed Henri would not be so difficult to replace. There was always another suitor looking for a rich wife. And as her mother had said, they’d likely be able to fish him out – whatever was left of him – before too long.

Elisabeth smoothed her black satin gloves over her hands and up her arms. No more stains were visible. Her dainty fingers were once again hidden from view.

She wondered, though, if they could see – her parents, her friends, the endless line of Henri’s and Jean-Michel’s and Edouard’s – the stains on her heart and mind. The way every glance in the mirror reflected back a fractured soul.

She adjusted her hat and flashed a brittle smile at her shattered reflection in the window glass, and decided that if she had to be mad, at least she could be mad with style.

 

 

Kaleidoscope

0328 - Kaleidoscope

“I’m bored,” Anisa whined to her grandmother, whose arms were elbow deep in soapy water.

 

“Bored?” The old woman scoffed. “How could anyone with a brain like yours ever be bored? Go outside! Use your imagination!”

 

But before Anisa could follow through on that suggestion the sky darkened and thunder began to grumble at them.

 

Grandma finished washing the last dish, and rinsed and dried her hands. “Bad timing,” she told Anisa with a hint of a rueful apology in her tone. “I have an idea.”

 

The old woman sliced an orange into thin circles and retrieved an empty paper towel roll from the recycling bin.

 

Anisa was confused. She liked oranges, but she’d only ever seen them cut in circles when they were to be floated in punch bowls. “Grandma? What’s your idea?”

 

“You’ll see. Get the honey and come to the table.”

 

Anisa did as she was asked.

 

Taking her seat, she watched as grandma did the same. She kept watching as the old woman used the squeeze-bottle of honey to draw a line around the inside of one of the orange slices, along the white pith beneath the rind. Then she pushed the cardboard tube from the paper towels into the honey.

 

“I don’t get it,” Anisa said.

 

“Here.” Grandma handed her the orange and cardboard contraption. “Look through the open end.”

 

Anisa peered through the cardboard tube expecting to see just the flesh of the orange, but her grandmother stroked her hair and reminded her, “Use your imagination!”

 

And so she did!

 

“I see a fireball turning cartwheels across the sky,” she announced. “I see the sun rising on a field of clover. The bees are so happy! I see butterfly wings, and the round part of the big window at church.”

 

Anisa paused. A lifetime of being taught to share her toys was prickling her conscience. “Grandma,” she asked. “Would you like to look.”

 

“Thank you,” the old woman said. “I’d love to.” The little girl handed over the make-shift toy and the old woman turned the tube this way and that, as if she were changing the focus. “Hmm,” she said. “Just as I thought!”

 

“What? What do you see?”

 

“I see joy and creativity and a little girl who isn’t bored anymore.”

 

Anisa giggled. Grandma had a point. “Now what?” she asked.

 

“Now? Now, we eat the rest of these orange slices, and we figure out what story the thunder is trying to tell.”

 

And they did.

 

 

 

 

Time Piece

Time Piece via Flash Prompt

She wakes up, looks at the time. 12:46 AM. It’s been twenty minutes since the last time she went through this step.

She stretches her arm toward the opposite side of the bed.

Her hand meets emptiness. Emptiness and cool sheets.

She closes her eyes and sends a silent prayer to the universe.

She had always known, of course, that being married to someone in the Space Fleet would be challenging: long hours, dog watches on the bridge of the spaceship where they live, missions to unknown planets…

For the actual officers, for the crew, these things are, at best, par for the course. For people like her -for the ordinary people who share their lives with the brave men and women in uniform – the reality is a vastly different one.

They carve out their lives in between the remote assignments. An hour here. An afternoon there. They hold off on plans to acquire pets, to have children, to plan for the future after the tour of duty is finished, until that magical retirement date is in sight.

Well, they try to.

But life isn’t so easily controlled.

So, while her partner is off the ship, she listens to the comm-box the captain – an older woman with short white hair – provides to all the officers’ significant others in such situations. She listens in on the chatter from within the space rover – the small crafts used for remote missions – and smiles at the easy banter between the crewmates.

And when the chatter goes silent, when the signal is too weak, too far away, or the remote team is dealing with situations too sensitive to be broadcast to unsecure receivers, she has nights like this, where sleep comes only in snatches and the face of the clock seems to mock her, melting into the darkness like wax from a flickering candle.

And of course, because it’s digital. Because everything is digital, she doesn’t even have the comforting tick-tock, tick-tock to lull her to sleep.

She opens her eyes.

She looks at the clock.

Sure, she could ask the ship’s AI to just tell her the time, but she’s half-convinced it’s becoming tired of answering her.

12:59 AM.

Her partner’s side of the bed remains empty.

She closes her eyes again.

Butterscotch

0299 - road not taken via flash-prompt“Where are we going?

My mother looks over at me from behind the steering wheel. It’s barely a glance, but I see the indecision in her face, even if I don’t know to call it that.

What I do know is that she woke me up in the still-dark of my room and had me put shoes and socks on with my pajamas and bathrobe. She packed my slippers and threw some of my clothes and underwear and my Winnie-the-Pooh into the big suitcase, already half-full with the silkier fabric of her own stuff.

“We’re going to see Charlotte and Greg,” she tells me after a moment.
“Is Daddy coming?”

“No, he had to stay home.”

Daddy hadn’t come to the door to say goodbye, but it would be years until I put it all together. My parents screaming matches had been a near-constant part of my childhood, but that night – that night – I’d gone to bed with the covers all the way up to my ears and my big koala bear and bigger lion on either side of me.

I’d heard their normal yelling turn into something else. Something dark and scary with the sound of something cutting through the air, followed by breaking glass and slamming doors and then a weird *pop* before everything had gone still and quiet, like someone had siphoned all sound out of the world.

If I looked back at my mother, at her hands gripping the steering wheel, would I see the remnants of energy crackling around her fingers? Would I see her eyes glowing slightly green in the not-yet-morning light?

Daddy had called my mother a witch so many times. Not witch-with-a-b like other people said. Just the regular word. But when Daddy called Mommy that, it wasn’t just a mean word. It was Meant. He’d say things like he Should Have Known Better than to Marry a Witch. And he’d scream that Solving Problems with Magic Wasn’t Really Dealing. And he’d flinch sometimes when she tried to touch him.

It was the flinching that bothered me the most.

When I got older, if my eyes started glowing green when I was upset, or my fingers sparked when I was angry, would Daddy pull way from me too?

I had a feeling we would.

The car moves ever forward, toward Charlotte and Greg’s place. They live in a house in the woods, and whenever we visit they bundle me into a loft bed at the top of the house with tons of pillows and quilts and books, and Greg pulls flowers out of the air and gives me bags of chocolate drops if he thinks I’m sad.
“Mommy?” I break the silence that has settled. “I’m thirsty.”

“We’ll stop in a little while,” she says. “For a snack and a potty break.”

“But I’m thirsty now!”

“I forgot the bottled water,” my mother confesses. But she reaches behind my ear, and then opens her hand, where a wrapped candy rests. “Suck on this, for now.”

I take the candy and unwrap it, popping it into my mouth. My favorite kind: Butterscotch.

I look out the window, and I smile. Charlotte and Greg will keep us safe and maybe Daddy will learn that a little magic isn’t so bad after all.