28 Plays Later 2024 – Brief 02 – The Math/Numbers Challenge: Circles and Commas

Circles and Commas

 

An excerpt from CIRCLES AND COMMAS:

ZOE (annoyed): Is it flat-flat, or android flat?

BASIL (perplexed): As we have discussed many times, there is no such thing as ‘super android tuning.’

ZOE (still annoyed): No, but there is super android hearing, isn’t there.

BASIL: It is true that I can discern sounds that humanoid ears would be oblivious to, Zoe, but my audio processors do not alter the sounds themselves.

Read the entire play here: 002 – 2402.02 – Circles and Commas

28 Plays Later 2024 – Brief 01 – the TLC Challenge: The Lost Cow

The Lost Cow

 

Excerpt:

Scene: the front porch of a weathered farmhouse. GLADYS enters from a door, center, and sees something in the distance.

GLADYS

George! Tyler’s little calf is on our lawn again. Hasn’t he fixed that fence yet? This is the third time this week the poor thing’s gone stray.

GEORGE

(off stage)

Guess I better call him to come get it.

GLADYS

(bossy)

I guess you’d better come out here and lead the calf to our barn. It’s supposed to freeze tonight, and that creature’s too young to stay in the open. (beat) George? (another beat) George, I mean now!

GEORGE

(closer)

I heard you, and I’m coming! You don’t need to scream your fool head off, woman. You’ll scare the calf away.

GEORGE enters from the same center door. He’s wearing denim overalls, and a baseball cap with the CAT logo on it. He’s carrying a rope lasso, which he swings as he moves

GEORGE

Alright, I’m here, now where’s the calf you’re so concerned about?

GLADYS

(pointing)

Over there, by the horse trough. Be careful you don’t trip, it’s dark out there.

GEORGE steps off the porch and disappears upstage left. There’s the sound of a lasso being twirled.

GEORGE

(off stage)

Oof! Hold it there. Now c’mon closer. I ain’t gonna hurt you.

From offstage there is a loud MOOO and then Blackout.

Read the entire play here: 001 – 2402.01 – The Lost Cow

Southern Discomfort

 

 

Depositphotos_528540742_XLI

The man in the hat is still there, standing by the porch steps as Megan huddles into the swing, her sleeping daughter on her lap. The sun is low in the sky, but twilight is a couple hours off yet. She hums a lullaby that Holly is too old for, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she’s home. What doesn’t matter right now is that the man who returned her child might well be an actual demon. Except that he’s still there, on her porch, waiting….

She looks up at him, sees the pale, puffy face, and strands of gray-white hair between the black fedora and the white collar of his shirt. His eyes, she notices, aren’t black, the way you’d expect a demon’s eyes to be, but ice blue.

She takes a long breath, lets it out in something like a purposeful sigh. She picks through several things she could say, none of them polite, but figures pissing off a demon is maybe not the best idea. Instead, she says, “Thank you again for bringing her home, Sidney.” She makes a face, as if his name tastes like ash in her mouth.

The man – demon – whatever he is – touches two fingers to the brim of his hat. “You’re welcome,. ma’am.”

His voice has the merest hint of a southern accent, as if, like her, she grew up in West Virginia, and knows its rhythms, but there’s a raspiness underneath the drawl, as if he’s not quite accustomed to the voice, or the vocal chords, he’s using.

“It’s funny….” Megan says, not sure why she’s continuing the conversation.

“What?”

“You don’t look like – ”

” – a child molester?” he asks, cutting her off.

She chuckles ruefully. “I was gonna say ‘the devil,’ but I guess a child molester’s pretty much the same. Are you?

The man echoes her chuckle, tone for tone, then asks. “A child molester? Or the devil?”

Megan shakes her head. “Either. Both. No – no – you know what? I don’t…” She lifts her head, looking past him at the driveway where her truck is parked, but her husband’s SUV and her brother’s jalopy remain absent. “You should go. Kyle’ll be coming here with Amber any time and…” She lets that thought trail away, realizing, “Oh, but, you already know that, don’t you? That’s why you’re here.”

When the man in the hat responds, he sounds tired, and Megan thinks maybe he looks paler than he did just a few minutes before. “Kyle and his daughter are in no danger from me tonight.”

“I’m not sure I believe you,” Megan says with blunt honesty.

He makes that chortling sound again. “Probably better that you don’t, but it’s still true.” He’s silent for a second or two, and Megan can hear cicadas chirping in the space of his silence. “Offer me a glass of tea.”

Confused, she asks, “Excuse me?”

The man’s drawl grows broader as he says, “We’re in the South. It’s hot. We’re both thirsty. Offer me a glass of sweet tea. Go inside, put the child in her bed, then come back and I’ll try to explain what I am – what I was – what – what I used to be.”

“What if she wakes up?” Megan asks.

“She won’t,” the man assures. “But if she does, you’ll be right here on the porch.”

“Then what is this? A deathbed confession.?

He shakes his head. “I hope not. Maybe… maybe everyone needs someone to talk to on a sultry summer evening. Even you. Even me. Maybe if you understand there’ll be less fear.”

“You want to turn me. Woo me to the dark side,” she accuses.

Another headshake. “Forcing you isn’t working. Forcing anyone isn’t working. But no. You’re… once you come back from the Change, you’re lost to us. Almost invisible.

Megan stares at the man for a long moment, concern for her daughter warring with her curiosity in her mind and on her face. Getting up, her child cradled in her arms (and wow! is Holly getting too heavy to be carried this way!), she addresses the gray-haired man in black. “I think this one would be better in her own bed, after all. Listen, Sidney, I’m ever so grateful you found her. Can you… wait a few minutes? Stay for a glass of tea.”

A smile spreads across his face. It’s not a kind smile, but it’s not exactly malicious, either. “I’d like that. Thank you, ma’am.” He takes a seat on the top step of the porch, leaning against the pillar that supports the porch roof.

Megan turns away, using the toe of her sneaker to open the screen door, then carrying her daughter inside.

II

It takes more than a few minutes for the woman to return to the porch. By the time the screen door swings open and shuts again, the sun has sunk past the horizon and the moon has just appeared. It’s not dark, yet, but the eerie twilight time when day and night are still battling for supremacy.

When she does emerge, she’s carrying two frosty glasses. She exits the house, pauses, stares at Sidney, then shakes her head as if she can’t quite believe she’s fraternizing with the enemy.

Sidney can hear the clinking of the ice cubes in the glasses, and the sound prompts him to rise to his feet.

“You’re still here, hat and all,” the woman observes.

Sidney adds the faintest hint of flirtation – really it’s more like southern charm – to his tone when he says, “Well, I don’t often get to share a glass of homemade iced tea with an attractive woman in the moonlight.”

The woman snorts at him, and her response is full of derision. “Don’t go there. You’re not even – ”

Sidney cuts her off again. ” – human?” he suggests. “I am now. As much as you are. Maybe more.”

She steps toward him, but stops about an arm’s length away, so that she has to stretch her hand to hand off one glass of tea. “Here,” she says grudgingly. “And it’s not homemade; it’s NesTea.”

“Thank you anyway,” Sidney says, gripping the glass with a hand that has a slight tremor. After sliding back down to his previous, seated position, he takes a long drink, grimaces, then smooths his features. “So…”

“So,” she says.

“So…?” he makes it a question.

The woman sighs. So, are you? The devil?”

Sidney’s answer is given with what passes for honesty among his kind. “No. We’re a race of beings that you might call ‘imps’ or ‘demons’ if you saw our true forms, but you might just as easily refer to us as ‘angels’ or ‘sprites.’ If you watch science fiction, you’d recognize us as ‘symbiotic lifeforms.'”

She nods, accepting this, but then she asks. “And the child molester part. Is that true?”

He makes a half-shrug. “Yes and no.”

“I don’t get it.”

“The person inside this body, the brain and soul and mind operating this meat-puppet, is no such thing. I think harming children is abhorrent. Life is sacred. Even human life. And ending a life is never the first option.”

She nods, but says, “I sense a ‘but’ coming.”

Sidney dips his head in agreement, then lifts it to meet her eyes. “But… the person who occupied this body before me – the person who died using it – the host, if you will – liked to take home little boys. He’d tie them up and play with them until he got bored.

He doesn’t miss the look of revulsion on her face. He remembers feeling the same when he realized the truth of his host.

“And then what?” she asks.

“Not sure you really want to know that, Megan.”

Her voice returns to him, ice cold, “Not sure I like you using my first name, Sidney.”

“Ms. Holter,” he corrects, backing off.

“Better.” She says. She continues, her speech coming in tentative blips, “I… I need to know…. Did you – did he – was he just an abuser? Beating them up? Or did… was there… sex?” The last word comes out as a whisper but the next several do not. “Or did the boys get killed?”

Sidney pokes the brim of his fedora with a single finger, adjusting it on his head so he can get a better look at Megan’s face. “If you don’t mind my saying so, Megan – Ms. Holter – questions like that are usually more about the person asking than they are about the person being asked.

“So, you wont tell me?”

Sidney is silent for a moment, and when he finally answers his words are thoughtful and measured. “Your kind – true humans. You look at us like demon-spawn. You can’t accept that we might be better than the hosts we claim. But just like you, we come in all flavors, Ms. Holter. Good. Bad. In-between. Now, Original Sidney – don’t much care for sharing his name, so let’s call him Sid. Ol’ Sid was low in every sense of the word. He worked as a carny – a carnival busker – selling crappy novelties to gullible kinds for too much coin.” He mimics the voice a barker might have used, back in the day. “Knock over five bottles fer a dolla’ – win a price. Git yer fun heah!”

Something bubbles inside his chest, and before he can continue, he pulls a white handkerchief from his pocket and coughs into it. He looks at it, pulls a face that mixes fleeting fear with distaste, folds it differently, and replaces it in his pocket. Then he says:

“He’d find his marks that way. The kids who didn’t have a posse of friends. The poorest, scrawniest, loneliest little boys. The ones least likely to be missed. “Sorry ya didn’t win, Son. Hey, he’p me close up and I’ll se if I have an extra toy fer ya…” And then he’d take them home.

The woman gasps softly, and asks, “No one noticed?”

“No one cared,” Sidney corrected. How many times did your brother Kyle stay out late as a kid? It was easier when he wasn’t home, wasn’t staring at everyone with his big, lost, eyes. Wasn’t it? Ol’ Sid picked the boys whose absence made life easier.

“Oh. My. God.”

“Afraid God had nothing to do with it, ma’am.”

“N-no,” Megan says, crossing the expanse of porch and sitting down on the top step by the other pillar. It’s a wide porch, and even though she’s mirroring his position, they’re not too close. And yet, Sidney reflects, there’s a certain intimacy even so, because of the growing dark and thickening shadows. “No, I guess not.”

Sidney lowers his voice, as if he’s telling a campfire story to a bunch of scared kids, “Sid liked to punch his way into the tender flesh of untried boys. The younger, the better. He’d keep them tied and scared like lambs waiting to be slaughtered. He had one in his special room when he had the heart attack that let me in.

The woman is horrified when she says, “Oh, God – tell me you didn’t – ”

“I didn’t.” Sidney interrupts, his declaration fierce. Quietly, intensely, he shares, “My first human act was to set the kid free. My first human word was to tell the kid, “RUN!” The last word rips out of him like a blade slicing the night in two. Then he collapses.

III 

It’s still summer, but Megan is cold – so cold – and a violent storm has come, seemingly from nowhere. Lightning flashes illuminate her living room as she moves about, lighting candles, starting a fire in the fireplace. Once the flame is crackling, she retreats to the rocker that faces the couch, moving the man’s hat from the seat to the coffee table. He’s sprawled on her couch, looking a lot less dangerous than before, and she is sipping tea – hot tea – and waiting.

Thunder crashes loud enough to rattle the windows and wakes up the sleeping man, who sits up with a start. “What happened? Where am I?” He starts coughing, like before, and black slime sprays from his mouth. “Ugh.”

Maternal instinct – or maybe just human decency kicks in, and Megan leaves her chair, grabbing a towel from a basket of folded laundry as she does so. “Hang on. Let me help you.” She uses the towel to wipe the sludge from his face as if he were her child. “You had an attack after you – never mind.” She looks at the stained towel, and asks, disgust dripping from her tongue, “What is this shit.”

“Disease,” he answers weakly,. “Infection. Our kind can’t always adapt.”

“Is that what the Merge is for?” she asks. “Are you… terraforming?”

He chuckles softly. “You been watching the Syfy channel?”

Megan shrugs. “My husband liked Star Trek. I guess it kinda sunk in..”

He nods in apparent appreciation. You’re not far off though. The Merge – it’s a – a reforming of place and people in our image, and for our needs.”

Megan asks, resentfully, “At the expense of the rest of us? Doesn’t seem fair.”

“What is?”

His question was rhetorical, but Megan answers anyway.  “You gotta point there, but you also gotta know: Kyle’s not gonna stop. Not gonna give up.”

He nods. “We know. We’re counting on it.”

“What’s so special about him, anyway,” Megan asks. “Is he some kind of extradimensional bounty hunter for your kind?”

Sidney laughs at that. “Hardly. But if I ever decide to give up my day job and write a novel, I think you just gave me the plot.” He takes a moment, possibly to regroup, then says. “Kyle… Kyle’s like a beacon. A guiding light. It’s as if… You said your husband liked Star Trek? Think of us as anti-matter and Kyle as pure matter. We’re opposites who attract. We counterbalance each other, but we can’t coexist.”

“Like Harry and Voldemort?” Megan asks.

“Sure. Like that,” he says. “My entire people reduced to a children’s book plotline. Yes… it’s like that, only… more.”

Megan nods her understanding then presses on. “You said it was Sid’s heart attack that let you in.” She waits for his confirming nod. “But when I was… when it came for me… I wasn’t at the point of death.”

“No.”

“So, it’s random?”

“No,” the man repeats.

“I don’t understa – ” Megan begins and then the light dawns. “- oh.”

The man’s voice is gentle when he speaks again. Soothing. “We come at the break of life and death. At the moment when your kind makes the choice to leave, whether consciously or not, we slip inside. If you’re… still there… we retain most of what makes you you. But if you’re not, we’re on our own.”

“Okay, but why are some of you… feral?”

“We try to get to our new arrivals as soon as possible, but sometimes… we miss. We missed with you. Without a guide – the shock of new sensation, the harshness of yellow sunlight, the piercing freshness of the air. We go from zero to madness and bloodlust in sixty seconds.”

Megan drops back into the rocker, digesting this. Finally, she asks, “So, you… did you have a… a demon midwife?”

The man emits a loud guffaw. “Demon midwife?!? Hilarious!” He shakes his head and calms himself. “I didn’t. I’m a little different than most. I came with a sort of… mission objective, I guess you’d call it. Sorry, I’m afraid I can’t reveal all my secrets.” He coughs, then asks, “Could I trouble you for a cup of the tea you’re drinking. It’s…” he sniffs the air. “…Chamomile, isn’t it?”

Megan is momentarily taken aback by such a mundane request, but she gets up, says, “Sure,” and heads toward the kitchen. “You know,” she says, pausing in the doorway, “you’re al lot less intimidating without your hat on.”

He glances skyward, then smiles. “Yes, I know.” After a beat he speaks again, but it’s not clear if his words are meant for Megan, or himself, or some other entity that might be listening in. “Sometimes, it’s nice to just… talk.”

Another round of violent lightning and thunder sends the room into darkness, the only light coming from the flickering fire and the candles.

IV

Hours later, the storm has quieted, and a steady rain falls outside the woman’s windows. The fire is dying, and the candles are guttering. Sidney pushes a plate with the crust and crumbs from a sandwich to the middle of the coffee table and stands up.

“Storm’s let up,” he says, retrieving his hat and clapping back onto his head. “I should take my leave of you. I do appreciate your courtesy, Ms. Holder.”

The woman rises, as well, as if she’s walking him out like any other guest in her home. Trying to be cool and failing she says, “It’s been an informative evening, Sidney.”

“I suppose it has,” he agrees.”

“Tell me about your hat.”

Sidney doesn’t startle easily, but this question – this very human question – shakes him. “I – I’m sorry?”

“Your fedora. I’m guessing ‘Ol’ Sid’ wasn’t such a natty dresser?”

“Ah… no,” he says.

The woman elaborates, “And I couldn’t help but notice the quality. Police and firefighters order their hats special; I’m guessing you did, too. It definitely didn’t come from a department store. And that watch you’re wearing – Holly calls pieces like that ‘dad’ watches.”

Sidney glances down at his wrist, then back at the woman. “‘Dad’ watches. Hmph. We don’t… we don’t have parents. If we’re lucky, we retain the memories of our hosts’ parents. And if our hosts were lucky, those parents weren’t utter assholes. Ol’ Sid’s father was the person who broke him, but his grandfather…. His grandfather would have been a guiding force for good if he’d lived longer.”

“Was he… one of you?”

“Sadly no. Sid might’ve turned out differently if he were.”

“The hat was his?” the woman asks, as if she’s known all along.

Sidney shakes his head. “Not this one. The first one, and the first watch. They were his. They seemed to fit. I felt at ease with them on, like they were part of me.”

Megan nods. “A costume.”

Sidney suggests a different perspective: “A uniform.”

“Interesting.”

Sidney lifts his eyebrows and lets them fall. “I suppose.” He opens the inner door and pushes open the screen, hesitating before he steps onto the porch. “Ms. Holter, I thank you again for your courtesy. Take care of Holly. Tell Kyle… we don’t mean him harm, but we can’t promise him safety, either. He needs to watch himself. The reverend is not the ally Kyle perceives him to be.”

“He’s a man of God,” the woman protests, but it’s half-hearted.

“Is he? Which god? Whose god? How do you know we’re not ‘of god?'”

“How do I know you are?” she counters.

Sidney favors her with a toothy smile, one that is full of ambiguity and discomfort. “I guess you don’t,” he says, and steps through the door.

The power surges back on as soon as the door closes behind him, and as he walks down the rain-slick steps, he can hear the little girl’s voice coming through the door. “Mommy, is the storm over.”

Faintly, Sidney hears Megan’s answer, “This one is, sweety. This one is.”


NOTE: Sidney, Megan, and Holly are characters from the television show and comic book series Outcast that was created by Robert Kirkman. This story was originally a script I wrote for “28 Plays Later” (2019 edition). The original assignment was to pick a favorite fictional character and write their origin story. So, yes, this is technically fanfic, but these two characters never had scenes together in the show.

 

 

 

A Visit From Sandy Klaws

Sandy Klaws

 

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and down in the deep,
Not a creature was stirring, nor making a peep.
The seashells were hung by the coral with care,
In hopes that Old Sandy Klaws soon would be there.

The merkids were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of shipwrecks sailed through their heads.
And Neptune with his trident, and I with my tail,
Had just settled down to a seaweed-filled tale.

When atop the sea, there arose such a clatter,
I surfaced to see just what was the matter.
Up, up  to the shore, I swam like a flash,
Slicing through waves with nary a splash.

Moonlight reflecting on the smooth as glass sea,
Seemed as bright as the midday sun  – well, to me.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a pontoon sleigh, pulled by eight dolphins, dear.

Though the  crustacean driver never would pause,
I knew in a moment, it was Sandy Klaws.
More rapid than makos his porpoises came,
and he clicked and whistled and called out their names.

“Now Splashy, now Coral, now Finny and Bubbles,
On Glisten, on Ripple, on Shimmer and Troubles!
To the top of the waves, to the top of the wall,
Now swim ahead, swim ahead, swim ahead all!”

As phosphoresence that in the  ship’s wake glows,
to the crest of the wave, the dolphins, they rose.
Then down to the sea caves those silver forms dove,
with the boat full of toys and of course Mr Klows – er – Klaws

And then with a splish-splash I heard in my cove,
the frolicking sound of the dolphins he drove.
As I floated toward them without making a sound,
down the waterspout Sandy Klaws came with a bound.

He was dressed all in kelp from his head to his shell,
with barnacle decorations shining as well.
A bundle of toys he held in his pincher,
and he looked like an orca contemplating dinner.

His eyestalks rotated, his feet –  how they skittered!
His mouth parts and beard were all dusted with glitter.
His first legs were holding on tight to a bow,
and his whole carapace did certainly glow.

He couldn’t have smiled (crabs don’t have teeth),
but his bubbles encircled him just like a wreath.
He had a broad shell, and a hard belly plate,
and his color was pink from the shrimp he ate.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old crab
And I laughed as I offered a plated sand dab.
But he ducked his eyes and waved me away,
and I realized he was keeping his pinchers at bay.

He spoke not word, but emptied his bag,
leaving something for every mermaid and sea hag.
Then snapping his claw like a bone castanet,
he rode the up waterspout, fast as a jet.

He scuttled to his sleigh, to his team clicked and whistled,
and away they all swam like a Landwalker’s missile.
Still, I heard him exclaim as his bubble trail died…
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a Good Tide!

Dear Santa… 2023

Dear Santa

Hi there, Big Guy, it’s been a while. I used to write to you every year, but I’ve gotten out of the habit.

Dear Santa 2023

This year, though, I feel like the special kind of magic you bring is especially needed.

You know I hate to give you laundry lists of wants, but there are so many who need so much and so few who can carry the burden of taking care of the world, that I feel like I have to.

First, I’m really worried about the oceans. As you know, this last summer saw some of the highest ocean temperatures ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. Coral is dying, polar bears who depend on ice floes are starving, and the earth is getting warmer. I know you can’t wave a holly bough around and magically fix climate change, any more than you can strike a peppermint stick on the ground and call forth endless supplies of fresh water for those who are parched, but maybe you could give everyone a little reminder that we only have one planet, and not protecting it is only hurting ourselves.

This year, there’s also been more visible prejudice and hate, and too many people I love and respect are fearful and hurting because of it. I’m not going to ask for peace for the middle east, as much as I know you’d love to make it happen, because that has to come from us – from ALL of us. Instead, I ask you for patience and discernment. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is raw, yes, but it’s also nuanced. It’s going to take monumental efforts from people on both sides and on the outside to come to a place of healing.

The anti-Muslimism and anti-Semitism that are so prevalent need to stop. One of the things I’ve learned from a lifetime of embracing pluralism is that we all have more that unites us than divides us. Take candles, for example. Almost every culture in the world has at least one celebration that involves the use of candlelight, and even those who aren’t religious understand the symbolism of lighting a candle against the darkness. So, Santa, if you could light a bunch more candles this year, perhaps the flickering flames would warm our hearts as well as enlighten our minds.

I could ask for so many more things, Santa, like health care, both mental and physical, free school lunches for every kid, but I know there’s only so much one jolly old elf can do. So, here’s my requisite wish for health, happiness, and hope for everyone, everywhere.

And finally, I know I’ve asked more than once for a pony, Santa, but honestly, horses require a lot of upkeep and a safe place to live, and those are beyond me right now. So, save the pony for some rural kid who needs one, and instead, if you could stick a Hurricane Osprey 120 Kayak under my tree, that would be awesome. I mean, my little Skimmer 106 has served me well, but I’d like something a little more adaptable.

That’s it for now, Santa. Give my love to Ms. Claus, and scritch Blitzen behind the left antler for me. You know that’s her favorite spot.

Much love,

MissMelysse

Yes, Marina, There Is a Sandy Klaws

Sandy Klaws

 

A message overhead via the A-Sea-and-Sea Conch Network:

Dear King Neptune,

I am thirty-two cycles old. Some of my mer-friends say that there is no such thing as Sandy Klaws. I think they’re wrong. The Great Kraken says, “If you hear it in a shell, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth. Is there a Sandy Klaws?

From,

Marina Wavesong
The Cove of the Seven Sea Stars
The Warm Part of the Ocean

And the reply comes as follows:

Dear Marina,

Your little mer-friends are wrong. They are cursed with exposure to Landwalker ways and have lost the innocence and magic of being OceanKind.

Yes, Marina, there is a Sandy Klaws. He exists as certainly as the tidepools, ocean currents and kelp forests exist, and you know that they abound to help sustain the lives of you and your family, as well as providing beauty and joy.

Alas, how dreary would be the seas be if there were no Sandy Klaws! It would be as dreary as if there were Marinas. There would be no pearls to dive for, or whalesongs to listen to, or dolphins to play with. Instead, we would be as limited as our Landwalking kin, without the shimmer of scales and tails to gladden our existence.

Not believe in Sandy Klaws? You might as well not believe in shifting to having two legs when you wish to walk on sand!  You might get your papa, and your friend’s papas, and all the mermen in the ocean to watch in every waterspout on Christmas Eve, but even if they did not see Sandy Klaws arriving, what would that prove? The most real things in the seven seas are those that no mermaid can touch or hold.

Have you ever been able to capture the green glow of phosphorescence floating in the water? Of course not, but that doesn’t make it any less real. No one can imagine all of the wonders that swim unseen and unseeable in the deepest depths.

You may pry open the oyster’s shell to see how a pearl is created, but there is a veil shrouding the unseen abyss that not even the cleverest mermaid, or the united talents of all the merfolk who ever lived could push aside. Only faith, fancy, love, romance, and ocean magic can draw open that curtain and allow a view of the beauty, glory, and mystery beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Marina, in all the ocean there is nothing else more real and everlasting.

No Sandy Klaws? Thank the Mother Ocean that he lives, and lives forever.  A million tides from now, Marina  – nay – ten times ten million tides – he will continue to foster joy in the hearts of  mermaid kind.

 

(With apologies to Frank Church.)

Whatever It Is That You Think You Remember

Think You Remember

Memory is fallible. You tend to treat it like it’s not, but you’re wrong. It’s pliable, suggestable, sometimes even amorphous. What really happens and what you remember happening – those are often completely separate things.

Here’s an example:

You wake up covered in blood and assume you got into a fight the night before, but your mind is blank, and when you turn the phone camera to see your face, there’s no sign of bruising. Even your knuckles are pain-free. But there’s blood flowing from your neck. Weird.

You close your eyes, try to think. Where were you last night? You swallow, and your saliva tastes like old blood and stale beer. Gross! But then you recall…

You were at a bar. You met a woman. She had blonde hair. She looked vaguely familiar, but you couldn’t place her, until…

“Paul? Oh my god, how are you?” Her enthusiastic greeting was met by your blank stare.

“Do I… know you?”

“I’m Sam’s sister,” she said. “Don’t you remember? I used to try to tag along whenever you and Sam went to the movies.”

Sam was a friend from childhood. Every Saturday, they’d ride their bikes to the dollar theatre to see second-run movies and gorge themselves on junk food. But he didn’t remember a sister, until…

“I had a pink bike with streamers.” The woman – Sam’s sister – was still talking. “With this really tinny bell and you guys hated it. You told me I could come to the movies if I kept up, but…”

“… but you never did.” The memory was there as if it had been implanted. “We’d kill ourselves trying to outrace you, and you almost caught up once.” You paused. “Your hair was darker then, wasn’t it.”

“So, you do remember me!”

“Sure,” you say. And you realize that an age gap of three years when she was nine and you were twelve was an unbridgeable chasm, but now that you’re thirty-one, a three-year difference is nothing. “Can I buy you a drink?” you offer.

“Do you buy drinks for a lot of women?”

“Hardly ever,” you say. “But you’re Sam’s sister.”

You spent the night drinking and telling stories about Sam. “I haven’t seen him in years,” you said, trying to recall the last time you even called him. “He moved around a lot. He’s somewhere back east, isn’t he? New York? Or…?”

“Pennsylvania,” she answered. And you nod. Because you’re suddenly quite certain there’s a postcard of Liberty Hall on your fridge with Sam’s newest address.

The evening flew by. The drinks flew faster. You aren’t typically the kind who drinks to get drunk, but somehow you’d stopped keeping track. You were surprised when the bartender announced the last call.

“I should go,” you told her, “Can I give you a lift somewhere?”

“I’m good,” she said. But when you stumble at the curb, she pulled the keys from your hand. “I guess I’m giving you a lift. Where do you live?”

You don’t recall the drive. You can’t remember how she got you up the stairs to your apartment. But you remember her voice in your ear. “Invite me in,” she’d said, a faint rasp coloring her tone. Had that been there before?

The hazy image of undressing comes back to you. Your skin was hot and hers was cool. You kept reaching for the light switches, and she kept preventing it. “Darkness is better,” she said.

You remember her pushing you backwards onto your bed, and you feel the echo of her weight on top of you. You reached for her face, to pull her closer for a kiss, but she dodged and got your neck.

(Your neck where the blood is coming from.)

“She bit me,” you remember with a start. “Holy fuck, she was a vampire.” You say the words out loud even though your apartment is empty. “Wait, that’s not even possible.”

You have a sudden urge to call your friend Sam and ask him if he knew his sister was a vampire.

Except… you’re pretty certain Sam never had a sister, that the girl with the pink bike was some other kid on your street, that there was no postcard from Pennsylvania stuck to your fridge with a Domino’s Pizza magnet.

Your phone chirps. An incoming text from an unknown number. A single word. “Forget.”

You move to the bathroom and start the shower. By the time your hot piss hits the cold water of the toilet, you only remember that you met a woman in a bar and had some drinks.

By the time you emerge from the shower, all traces of blood down the drain, you’ll be absolutely sure that you cut your neck shaving.

 

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, or whatever it is that you think you remember?” –  Elizabeth Loftus

 

 

Photo credit: PkProect

Operation

Operation

She always arranged her tools before she began any operation. Just as in an any operating theater, it was important to be able to lay your hand on the correct instrument without looking, without thinking. Her young assistant was inexperienced and didn’t always make the right choice, so it was best to be able to direct her to the proper implement.

The operating table had been draped in protective material designed to collect any leaking fluids or stray bits of flesh, and the lighting had been adjusted to illuminate the field with no confusing shadows.

Her hands were already clean, so she drew one glove and then another over her fingers, and down around her wrists. The girl across the table had already done the same, and, she noted approvingly, her long hair had been tucked into a cotton cap. Good.

The patient was already in place, with glistening skin ready to be pierced by a blade. They had marked the surgical site to ensure no mistakes would be made.

“Wait,” she said. “Something’s missing.”

“I forgot to start the music!” Her assistant had the decency to look embarrassed. The girl gave an order to Alexa and the first notes of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre” wafted from the speaker system, the opening monotone chime seeming very like a countdown clock.

“No, there’s something else.” She surveyed the scene, and then smiled as realization dawned. She left the area for a moment and returned with metal container. “The collection bowl was missed,” she explained, placing the thing in position. One more confirming look, and then, “Alright, now we’re ready.”

“I hope this goes well,” her assistant said. “Last time we messed up the mouth, and it really wasn’t pretty.”

“We’ll be fine,” she said. “Hand me the first blade.” The girl’s small hand placed the serrated knife into her larger one. “Making the first incision now.”

The blade pierced the patient’s skin and fluid oozed out. Her assistant wiped it away with a paper towel and the two shared a look of glee.

“Shall we continue?” she asked, and when the girl nodded her approval, she made the second cut, announcing, “Alright, Jack! Time for your lobotomy!”

Mother and daughter giggled together. Pumpkin carving had never been more fun.

Tlanchana

la_tlanchana_by_andro_san12_df23o87-414w-2xThe Mother of Water has many moods and many forms.

When she is sad or angry, her tears fill the basin of the lake near our home, and the power of her emotion fuels wicked storms. The fishermen and sailors beg her for mercy, but she is the snake mother then, and she whips her tail in agitation. The men know to remain ashore and use the time to sit near the fire repairing their nets or stitching new sails.

They tell stories of my mother’s worst tantrums, but their voices are full of respect in equal measures as the fear.

“I remember,” the oldest man says, “that when conquerors tried to cross the lake and take our village, the Water-Mother used her snake tail to whip their weapons from their hands and push their ships back with her well-placed waves.”

When my mother is feeling happy, the skies reflect the bright blue of her eyes, and the waters in the lake are calm. She takes a fish-tail then, swimming alongside the fishing boats and guiding them toward the best catch.

She likes to play with the children on these days, and while I was not the first or the last to wrap my young arms around her neck and let her carry me over and under the surface, coming up for air always at the exact right moment, I am the one who is never afraid.

“The Water-Mother is our protector,” the other mothers tell their children. “And it is an honor to be invited to swim with her.”

Sometimes, though, the Mother of Water must take human form, trading tail for legs, and walking on the land. She did this once to find a mate, and that’s how I was made, but she also comes to shore whenever one of the elders passes out of this life.

In those times her tears are salty, and she cries them over the graves of those who have left. She wraps her silky hair around herself like a cloak and keeps vigil over the bones of the dead.

The old grannies cook for her at those times and leave pots of food and jugs of water to sustain her while she sits in silence. She might sit for two nights or five, or even seven, but when she leaves, it always seems she takes our collective grief away with her.

“Death is part of life,” she reminds us, as she returns to the lake.

Unlike the other girls in our village, the Mother of Water is also my mother of blood. When I am older, she tells me in her voice that ripples like a stream, I will learn to shift my form, to take on the snake tail when I must be fierce and the fish tail when I am being playful, and legs when I am ready for love.

Sometimes she visits in her human form, just to spend time with us.

“Did you love my father?” I ask her.

“I did,” she says. “I do,” she adds.

And she walks on legs into the candlelit depths of our house and shares her joy with the man who raises me. When she departs after those times, her eyes are dry, but my father’s face is wet with tears, and so is mine.

The Mother of Water has many moods and many forms, but in every one, she protects those of us she calls her own.

Art credit: Andro-san12

The Warehouse of Lost Dreams

1730 - Dreams

 

“So, it’s your first night at the warehouse, huh, kid?” The paunchy older man with the graying whiskers and faded denim overalls asked. His tone was conversational. His smile was sincere. “Lemme guess… you’re putting yourself through college?”

“I am,” I said. My own coveralls were new, the indigo still deep and dark, with creases from where they’d been folded in the package. With self-deprecating humor, I said, “I’m on the six-year plan.”

“Better six years than no years,” my mentor said. “I’m Maury; lemme show you around.”

“Sure,” I said.

“As a custodian you need to know the sorting policy. Here, on the first aisle are the Childhood Fantasies… things kids grow out of before they turn ten.”

“Like being an astronaut?”

“More like being a spaceship captain, although we still get a lot of firefighters, lion tamers, and superheroes.” Maury shakes his head. “Some of those are messy – the kids who tried flying before they gave up on the idea… their bodies usually didn’t suffer much, but those dreams literally went splat! That’s why we cover up.”

“I was wondering,” I said. “What’s next?”

“Well, this next section, it’s the dreams that are set aside when we’re coming of age.” He reaches into a bin and retrieves a handful of pointe shoes, dangling from faded pink ribbons. “Lots of ballerinas in this section, and tap dancers, but also baseball and soccer players. These are the sports and arts that kids give up when they head off to college.”

“Because their tastes change?” I ask.

“Some of them.” Maury returns the ballet shoes to the bin, picks up a soccer ball and bins it, and then moves a unicycle into a bike rack. “Others… they just didn’t have time, or they couldn’t afford to keep up after high school.” He stops, turns to face me, and stares for a long moment. “Your clarinet is three over, fourth shelf,” he says.

“How did you know about that?”

Maury favors me with a sympathetic smile. “You work here long enough, and you start to pick up on things.”

“How long have you been working here?” I ask.

“A long time,” he answers vaguely.

I follow him up and down a few more aisles until we reach a bin of hard hats. “Put this on,” he says, handing me a yellow one. He places an orange one over his buzz-cut hair. “This section can be dangerous.”

We enter a warehouse aisle that has bits of things – dolls, china, musical instruments, paint brushes, running shoes… riding saddles and medical texts.

“Broken dreams?” I guess aloud.

“Yup,” Maury answers. “Next aisle isn’t dangerous, but it might make you a little sad…”

“Oh?”

But he doesn’t need to explain. One side of the aisle is bins full of college sweatshirts and corporate IDs. I gulp, knowing that if I’m not careful my own future could end up folded and graying here. The other side of the aisle, though, is different. Smaller bins. Engagement rings. Wedding bands. Baby shoes.

“Oh,” I manage to say, since Maury seems to expect a reaction of some kind. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” he answers, as if we’ve just had a profound conversation. And maybe we have. It just didn’t involve a ton of words. “C’mon.”

More rows, some are things I recognize, some are poorly lit, and the shapes are abstract and indistinct. But there’s a warm light emanating from the very furthest aisle, and here’s where we find rows of easels, fishing poles, knitting supplies, baking equipment.

“This stuff doesn’t seem like it’s lost or broken,” I say.

“No. This… this is where I come when the rest of it gets too much. This is the place where later-in-life dreams are protected until they’re ready to be used. Most of these dreamers are grandparents, and they’re either planning retirement activities or embracing hobbies to share with their grandchildren.

“Oh… wow.”

“It’s not good to linger too long,” Maury says quietly. “Maybe I’ve come here too many times.” He picks up one of the fishing poles. “Work hard, while you’re here, kid,” he says. I notice that his hard hat is now a canvas one with fishing lures attached to it. Like that guy from the TV show M*A*S*H.

“I don’t understand,” I say.

“Don’t let go of your dream,” he continues. “Six years, even seven, you finish college.”

“I won’t,” I say. “I mean, I will. I’ll finish.”

Maury turns away from me and walks down toward the brightest part of the light. I take two steps to follow him, but then there’s a loud alarm from somewhere above me, and a computer voice announces “Incoming shipment. Custodian, please report to the loading dock.”

I turn toward the place where I came in, which is suddenly only a few feet from me, instead of rows and rows away. It’s my first night at the Warehouse of Lost Dreams, but it won’t be my last.

Art credit: Max Steksov