Like the Prose: Challenge #21 – Today was about doing the opposite of what you usually do. I typically write in bed and work in a horror or sci-fi twist. I wrote this in the living room and it’s completely human and earthbound.

matcha tea

The teabag arrived in a pink envelope on a gray day. The sender had wrapped it in a page of lined notepaper and scrawled a brief message, but it had gotten wet, and she couldn’t really read the signature. The message was clear, however: it was Penelope’s turn for the tea exchange,  that she should sip the tea and think of someone she loved and then send a bag of her own favorite tea to the address on the note.

The address was surprisingly clear.

She looked at the green envelope. “Pukka,” she read. “Supreme Matcha Green.” She’d had matcha before, when visiting her college roommate’s family for the holidays. Though Emi had been born in America her parents had left Asia shortly after their marriage – her mother was from Taiwan and her father from mainland China – and they’d had packets of instant matcha powder in a basket on the counter.

Penelope had fallen in love with the stuff, searched all over it, finally told her friend she loved it, and asked how to get it. Beginning that Christmas, and every year in the decade since, she’d received a box of the stuff every December and she measured it out over the next year until the next box came.

But this wasn’t her treasured matcha powder; this was a bag of green tea with matcha in it. Still, it seemed like a lovely rainy-day sort of tea. She filled the kettle and turned it on, took her favorite mug from the cabinet, and sliced an apple and some cheese to nibble with her cup.

Never a patient person, Penelope forced herself to follow the directions on the bag and let the tea steep the required length of time. She took deep breaths of the deepening brew, absorbing the herbal scent. She appreciated the deep emerald color.

Finally, she pulled the bag from the water and discarded it.

Taking tea and snack to the dining room table, she sat facing the window and watched the rain on the street. Think about someone you love; the note had said. There were so many people! Her husband, obviously, her parents, her local friends. But afternoon tea with Emi had become a ritual in college that continued through their grad school days.

They’d rented their first apartment together – a horrible sixth-floor walkup with a toilet that whistled for three full minutes after every flush and a clawfoot bathtub that rocked back and forth when you stepped over the side to get in it.

Both sets of their parents had been mortified by the choice, but despite the apartment’s quirks, it was in a safe building in a decent neighborhood, and they had a small balcony that held two chairs and a bistro table they’d found free on the sidewalk.

On days when it wasn’t raining, they’d bring glasses (okay, bottles) of wine out there, and trade their boyfriend woes, complain about classes, share fears about work and life after graduation…

And on days when it was…

That’s when they’d sit in the bay window and drink tea.

Penelope finished the last wedge of apple, the last square of cheese, and the last swallow of the tea.

Then she picked up the phone and punched in the number she knew almost as well as her husband’s.

“Hello?” It was as if ten years had dropped away when she heard that voice.

“Hey, Em? It’s Pen. It’s raining here, and I was just sipping tea, and thinking of you. Do you have a free weekend anytime soon? It’s been too long. We should get together.”



Like the Prose: Challenge #20 – Write smut. (Well, really, write erotica. But I didn’t, quite.)


There’s a subtle secret about violets. Their scent contains a chemical that turns off the human sense of smell. For this reason, you never perceive them as a constant presence, like roses or lilies. Rather, they flirt with you, tickling your awareness in subtle bursts.

The girl on the train reminds you of violets.

At first, you aren’t certain you’re seeing the same girl every day. You catch a glimpse of her calf above the top of a scuffed boot, her delicate hand holding her commuter pass to be punched, the wisp of an errant curl against her cold-reddened cheek.

You know you shouldn’t be looking. Because this girl – and she is a girl – likely sixteen, seventeen at the oldest – is a student at your school. Because she’s underage, untouchable, unspoiled. And you are none of those things.

But once you give in, once you do look, you realize, it’s not only the same girl on the train, it’s the girl in the third row of the biology class you teach.

And your interest becomes an obsession.

You study her in class, watching her when her eyes are not on you. You note the way she holds her pencil close to the tip, which cramps her fingers. You memorize the particular way she loops the letter ‘y’ in the word ‘biology.’ You make a mental catalogue of her facial expressions – happy, sad, frustrated, confused – her fresh, young face is so emotive.

You alter your schedule to ensure that you are on the train one stop before her in the morning. You watch her laughing with her friends when she boards. You bristle when she bends her head close to the black-haired boy’s on the journey home in the afternoon. You observe her sadness when he discards her for her blonde friend and then her return to joy when the handsome-but-geeky brown-haired math whiz expresses an interest.

And through all this, you consider that she is like the aroma of the violet. Something to be appreciated in fits and starts, but never in long moments.

Something to long for, but never quite have.

Alley Cat

Like the  Prose: Challenge #19 – Use an obituary to inspire a ghost story. (I used the obit of a random veteran who happened to share my birthday (8/17) about thirty years prior to my birth.)

Bugler silhouette via 123rf.com

If there was one thing that Catfish hated it was “Taps.”  He’d been a bugler in the army drum and bugle corps and switched to drums just to avoid ever having to play “Taps” again. He couldn’t help it. Every single time those first three notes rang out, every woman in a three-klick radius dissolved into tears.

And the thing is, he couldn’t hit on a woman at a funeral.

He just couldn’t.

Even if he knew she was single, and kinda into him (because he heard his buddy Frankie mention that her best friend was his girlfriend’s sister and they’d mentioned his name in the powder room at that dance o.c. the other weekend (not that he was attending the dance – oh, no! – he was enlisted – but the band was short a drummer and they knew he was good with the sticks as well as the horn so he was there).

And Pamela was the kind of woman that would make even a champion bowler like him throw all gutter balls just to make her look good, or just because she looked so good, he couldn’t concentrate.

He’d never been sure which it was. That first time.

But she’d laughed at him.

Laughed and called him Alley Cat, riffing on the nickname his buddies in the unit had given him. A nickname based on a nickname. Why not?

Of course, after the laughter came the kissing part and Catfish  – Alley Cat to his Pamela (and only to his Pamela, and god, she was gonna be so pissed at him for leaving her alone this way. So pissed. So lonely. So… STOP IT!)

The kissing part had been amazing. Forty-seven years of her kisses. Slightly fewer years of weekly trips to the Ocean View Lanes for bowling with their usual group. The group was just couples at first… then it was couples and kids, then the kids grew out of it, then they came back… then it was them and the grandkids and lately… well, lately the group had dwindled. These youngsters didn’t like bowling, The Lanes were gonna close next year, probably. Not enough business.

But that was the way of the world. Popular pastimes peaked when people needed them the most and then they waned in popularity and then maybe they spiked again, or maybe they didn’t. Roller rinks. Stick ball. Bowling. All the things he’d grown up with… they were fading.

He was fading.

He just wanted to make sure they didn’t play it. Cuz Pamela knew, but oh, god, there was the bugler standing by his grave.

And there was his Pamela, his Pammy. Her brilliant blonde hair was silvery gray now, but still as soft and silky as the first time he’d stroked it, just like the skin of her cheek,  and her skin, he knew still smelled like rose petals. God, Pam. How am I supposed to find peace without you? he wondered.

He didn’t precisely have ears anymore, but he remembered what they felt like, so he craned them to listen.

“If there was one thing Catfish hated it was ‘Taps.’  He made me promise, military funeral or not, that we wouldn’t play it for him. Said if we did, he’d haunt us all forever. As much as I might like the notion of my Alley Cat lingering nearby until I’m ready to join him, I can’t let him have unfinished business. So, my darling, wherever you are, this is for you…”

And the bugle played.

And Catfish laughed.

Well, he would’ve if he had a body that could laugh.

Because the guy with the horn played the opening from “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

No, Catfish couldn’t laugh, because he was done with earthly things.

But everyone standing near his grave, everyone listening to the horn player… they would have sworn they heard his laughter anyway.





Allez-vous En (Go Away)

Like the Prose: Challenge #17 – Begin your story with the first line of a famous novel or short story. (I used the first line of The Awakening, by Kate Chopin).

Pedro Parrot

A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over: “Allez-vous en! Allez-vous en! Sapristi! That’s all right!”

It was rare to see an old Earth animal in a place like this, rarer still to encounter one that spoke French – and obscure French at that – but I chose not to heed its advice to ‘go away.’ Instead, I reached for the bright new keypad set into the peeling blue paint of the ancient door and entered the code I’d been provided.

For several seconds I was convinced the code was a dud, that the door would remain shut, but finally there was a deep thud from within, followed by a series of clicks and whirrs and then it swung open.

Inside, I found a lively café. The scents of coffee, spices and just a hint of smoke from clove cigarettes perfumed the room and the buzz of conversation was at the perfect level for anything from a discrete affair or clandestine business – loud enough to dissuade eavesdroppers but not so loud that a quiet conversation was impossible.

Scanning the room, I found an empty table against a wall with a view of the door. Claiming it, I sat down and perused the menu. Basic Terran bistro fare mixed with more exotic offerings including pub food from about seven of the non-aligned worlds. Impressive. A server came to take my order. “Just espresso for now,” I said. “I’m waiting for someone.”

I knew I should eat, but I also knew that if I waited for my… appointment… to arrive, there was a good chance the bill would come out of his credit account rather than mine.

I was halfway through my second cup when he sat down opposite me with no greeting whatsoever.

“You’re late,” I observed.

“You were early.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You’re always early.”

I bristled as much because he was right as because he knew me well enough to point it out. Unsurprising, really. He’d been my handler for half a decade longer than he’d been my lover, and another two years since we’d ended that aspect of our association. I pasted a fake smile on my face. “Are we eating?”

We called the server back over. He ordered a burger, fries, a beer. Earth food. I chose a baked fish dish from Pacifica and replaced my espresso with a glass of firefruit cider from an obscure planet I didn’t think anyone else had ever been to.

As was our habit, we didn’t talk business until we had our food, and then it was conducted between bites.

“The gunrunners out of Aldebaran?” he asked.

“Hancho Alliance is behind it,” I said. “Authorities nabbed them this morning, local time, and you’ll find that Orzo wired payment to your account.”

“The arranged marriage between…”

“The princess from Betelgeuse and the prince from Hattaras Six? They’ve agreed to move forward for the good of their planets. The trade agreement that was part of the marriage contract was crucial in order to maintain peace in the space lanes.”

“Doesn’t it bug you the way we talk about space lanes as if they’re narrow corridors we have to stick to instead of huge expanses of vast nothingness?” He often diverged into philosophic questions.

“It does,” I agreed. “But language isn’t mine to change.”

“True enough.”

We went over several more cases I’d handled for him, and then I reached into my pocked and handed over a data solid.

“What’s this?”

“My final expense report. My notes on everything else. There are one or two long-term projects that haven’t been resolved. You’ll need a new field agent.”

I saw his eyes, his face, change as they registered what I was really telling him.

“Sasha – no.”

“Martigan – ” I matched his tone. “- yes.”


“Because it’s time. Because the ‘negotiation’ between the Betelgeusians and Hattarians nearly got me killed. Again. Because…”

“Because you met someone.”

“That, too.”

“Who is he? Jonas? Noah? Benjaril?”

I shook my head. “No one you know. No one in the business. He’s… normal.”


I smirked. “As much as any of us are, these days.” Pure humans didn’t really exist anymore. All the species of humanoid had been intermixing for centuries.

“Fair point.”

“You won’t be able to stay out of it,” he said. “Normal life… it’ll kill you. You’re built for adventure and intrigue, Sasha.”

I was silent for a long moment. In a slow voice I suggested, “Maybe… adventure and intrigue are what you make them. Maybe… learning to be in once place and discovering all the secrets of one person… maybe that’s its own form.”  I pushed away my plate, drained my glass, wiped the corners of my mouth with my napkin. “I should go,” I said, rising.

“But… Sasha…”

“No, Martigan. It’s time.”

He met my eyes and held my gaze with his for several seconds. Then he nodded. “Okay. Yeah. Okay.” He took a beat, and then favored me with the insouciant grin that had made me fall for him in the first place. “I’ll be seeing you.”

I kissed his cheek. “No, you won’t.”

The voices of the other patrons drowned out the clicking of my heels on the floor of the café as I walked out the way I’d come in. I felt Martigan watching me, but I didn’t give him the satisfaction of looking back.

The parrot in the cage squawked at me as I passed it and repeated its earlier admonition: “Allez-vous en! Allez-vous en! Sapristi! That’s all right!”

But the words didn’t ward me away so much as remind me of a song I once heard in an ancient film, and I sang it to myself as I headed toward the transport station that would take me to the man I was going to build a new – normal – life with:

“Allez-vous-en, allez-vous-en, monsieur
Allez-vous-en, go away
Allez-vous-en, allez-vous-en, monsieur
I have no time for you today.”


“Allez-vous En” was written by Kate & Anna McGarrigle.




Old Friends

Like the Prose: Challenge #15 – Write a story with all four narrative styles used in the previous week. (Mine is actually a sequel to Sincerely, Megan)


I held the postcard in my hand. Like those I’d been receiving since I was in high school, it was a vintage card, postmarked from somewhere in central Iowa, but I knew it had actually originated somewhere much, much further away.

Dear Megan.

It seems impossible that this day would ever arrive, but our worldship is close enough to your Earth that we can engage in a brief visit, if you wish.  We have, of course, been exchanging photographs of one another for several decades by now. My antennae are no longer proudly erect, but are beginning to wilt from age, and you have complained that your facial epidermis bears wrinkles. And yet, I hope that you will be brave, my long-distance friend, and allow me to set foot in your back yard one the evening of your summer solstice. It will be a brief visit. Only fifteen of your minutes. But I do not wish to waste the opportunity.

Your friend,


I took the card into the house. The summer solstice was a week away. Jasmine, my daughter, was away at a songwriting camp with her partner Noreen. They’d met at college the previous September. Separately, they were each talent, together, they were electric, in songwriting and in love. It was lovely to see.

My husband Jeff was off on Luna Colony for three months. We hated the separations that took me to different parts of the Earth and him to the Moon and Mars, but the saying about absence making the heart grow fonder? Totally true.

I pulled a postcard from the antique secretary my grandmother had willed to me. My first summer of correspondence with my alien friend had turned me into a habitual letter writer, and my grandparents had only encouraged the tendency.

Dear Xplo!kka’t

Of course, you may visit. Fifteen minutes, fifteen seconds, fifteen hours. I’m so excited to meet the person who has been one of my dearest friends for so many years. Be welcome.

Sincerely, Megan.

* * *

“You aren’t really meeting him, are you?” Jeff asked his wife when the call from Luna Colony to New Jersey finally went through.

“Of course, I am,” Megan replied, her voice firm with her decision. “Xplo!kka’t inspired me to become a science journalist, and then to turn my experience into books. Without his encouragement Earth would never have corrected our pollution problem, and we’d likely be dead.”

She didn’t tell him that her spacefaring friend had once confessed that his race was seeking a new homeworld, and that their interest in Earth was not initially friendly, but rather, they looked at the green and blue world as a place to invade, to reform, to claim as their new home. It was only because Megan continued her strange correspondence with the person she’d thought was her husband (though of course they were only schoolmates at the time) that Sol III had been given protected status. Now, her friend was coming to visit. Not his whole worldship, she knew. That wouldn’t be close enough for another several decades. This was a dart pod. Sort of like a super-fast shuttle. And okay, fifteen minutes wasn’t a lot, especially given the span of years and the vastness of space, but it was fifteen minutes more than zero. And until now, zero was all they’d had.

“Do you want me to see if I can come home early? Be there with you?” Jeff asked.

“Can you?” Megan responded, hope lighting up her face.

“I can ask…”

But they both knew it wasn’t likely. Transport was expensive. And slow.

“What if we made sure you Facetimed while he was here?” Megan suggested. “I’d love for you to meet him. As much as you can.”

Slowly, Jeff nodded. “I can do that.” They chatted for a bit more. “I love you, Babe. To the moon and back.” And he grinned at her the way her always did when he made that horrible, horrible joke.

“Love you, too. Around the world.”

And they cut the connection.

* * *

You look in the mirror. You are no longer the teenaged girl who sent a postcard into space and actually got a reply. You’re a grown woman. A wife, a mother, an accomplished journalist. A bestselling author.

You have wrinkles in your face – your husband calls them ‘laugh lines’ and thinks they give you character, and you smile when he says it, just they way he smiles when you tell him you don’t mind that he’s a little paunchy because you find him sexy as much because he’s familiar as for any number of other reasons.

It’s just after twilight on the summer solstice and you’ve moved all the lawn furniture out the way. You hear a whooshing sound in the back yard, and open the back door, iPad in hand, and pause on the threshold.

From this moment on, alien life isn’t just a fantasy, and even though you sort of knew that, you couldn’t quite accept it until now. Because now it’s not just postcards. It’s real.

You step out the door, and down the two steps.

A figure about a third of a meter taller than you, not including the slightly wilted antennae, is descending a ramp.

His voice, when he speaks, is warm and mellifluous, even though the English comes a few seconds after his own language. (But you’re accustomed to that, from your occasional video chats).

“Megan,” he greets. “I am Xplo!kka’t. It is good to meet you, my friend.”

He extends a hand, six digits including an opposable thumb, because you’ve told him a handshake is an appropriate greeting, but you step closer, and push it away.

“I meant to tell you,” you say. “Handshakes are for strangers. Friends hug.” And you gently embrace him.

Because he is bright and adaptive, he follows suit.

When Jeff calls a few minutes later, you are at ease with one another. As old friends should be.







School Figures

Like the Prose Challenge #14 – Write a story in second person. Make it a choose your own adventure story.


You are six years old, and you’re standing on the rubber mat at the edge of the ice rink. In your head you’re wearing a pretty skirt and leotard and your skates are white with shiny silver blades, like Dorothy Hamill’s.

But your outfit is not a cute skating dress; you are wearing a track suit over tights so that you stay warm, and your hair isn’t cut into a sassy wedge, but twisted into two braids.

And your skates are not the pristine white that they wear in the Olympics.

They are boy’s skates.

Black and heavy, with double blades.

They are clunky and ugly and make you feel slow and clumsy, which, in truth, you are, but in your head, you know every jump and turn.

You even know how to do the school figures, the perfect figure eights that the skaters have to execute in order to demonstrate their technical proficiency.

* * *

You are twenty-one years old and you are sitting on a folding chair on a rubber mat in front of the barrier that separates the main seats of the arena from the ice of the rink. Your best friend from college is in the seat next to you. It’s winter break, and she’s housesitting for her parents while they’re in Europe and you’re there for her birthday weekend. She’s just turned twenty-two, and this trip to watch Stars on Ice is your gift to her, because you both love figure skating but neither of you actually skate anymore.

You’re kind of reeling because a few hours before, while you were eating burgers and drinking beer at a really great diner near the arena, she came out to you, and you’re not sure if you reacted the right way, because no one’s ever come out to you before.

It’s 1992, after all, and this isn’t a common experience for you yet, though as you get older (you don’t know this yet) you will become the person your friends come out to, about their sexuality, gender identity, and more.

If Harry Potter had been published at that time you would define yourself as the world’s Secret Keeper, except what Cora has told you isn’t a secret, exactly, it’s just a thing, a fact, and you don’t think you gave it the respect it deserved.

Were you supposed to stand up in the diner and hug her and say, “Congratulations?” Or was your actual reaction – telling her that you’re honored that she told you, and that you’re happy to listen to whatever she needs to talk about but you’re not the best to advise because except for some brief experimentation you’ve really only ever driven stick – the right tack to take?

You’re not sure, you can’t be sure. You can only be there.

But the music is starting, so you resolve to put it aside for the moment. Maybe the feminist bookstore downtown has cards for this, and you can send her one when you get back home.

* * *

You’re thirty-eight, and your husband is in Tokyo on business, and won’t be home for three days, and you know something is off because you’re late in the way women sometimes are, even though you haven’t missed a pill even though you haven’t missed a pill (because you stopped trying, thirty-eight is too old to try, right?), so you get a test and are shocked when it flashes ***pregnant*** at you (the digital tests leave nothing to interpretation).

There’s a fluttering in your stomach that you can’t quite name. It might be fear or anxiety or happiness or delight or a little bit of all of them, with a touch of wistfulness that your partner, your best friend, is half-way around the world and many time zones away and you can’t interrupt him to tell him.

You take a picture of the stick and the result and you text it to him and wait.

For three days the two of you are long-distance giddy, and you imagine his homecoming and how you’ll greet him and how you’ll send ultrasound pictures to your parents and his on Mothers’ Day. And then, when you’re on the way to the airport to pick him up, the cramping starts, and by the time you park, you know – you know – that your three days of blissful hope were all you were going to get.

He’s tired, but he takes over the steering wheel so you can close your eyes and let the tears come on the way to urgent care. You’re their last appointment – they close at seven – and they give you warm blankets and coddle you as they run their tests, but the results are clear


You’re not surprised. You’ve had two others.

But you really thought this time it would stick.

And you’re thirty-eight.

So, when you and your husband have dried the last of your tears and his, you tell him you’re done trying.

He finds a skating competition on television and you curl up together with hot tea to watch it.

And you confess that you always wanted a little girl to watch skating with, the way you watched it with your mother.

* * *

You’re fifty.

And you’re hosting a Ukrainian orphan for the summer. You got the idea from a friend of yours who did it a few years ago, and you always wanted a child, but never really wanted a baby… Then, too, you and your husband are in a place where you’re financially stable. You have a house with empty rooms. If not now, then when?

Her name is Natalia and she dreams of being a figure skater.

Using a translation program, you ask her if she knows how to skate, and she says there’s a pond they skate on at their school, but their skates aren’t very good.

It’s summer, but there’s a rink at the mall, so you find out when the open sessions are and whether or not there are lessons in the summer. And after you and Natalia have had a few days to get to know each other a bit, you tell her you have a surprise.

The rental skates at the mall are brown, and clunky, and you are reminded of the ugly black skates you had as a child. But then you remember your second pair of skates which were still used, because you were a growing kid, but were white, with proper blades, and you take your foster daughter to the pro-shop.

A soulful Russian with bright blue eyes crouches in front of the sandy-haired teenager, and at first, she’s thrilled because his language is similar to hers, but then he remembers he’s required to speak English, and so is she.

You tell him to fit her with a basic pair – student skates – and he understands. They’re not professional skates, but they’re better than the rentals, and they’re hers to keep, you tell her. You realize, as the salesman laces them onto her feet, that they are the first things she’s ever owned outright.

You decide to buy a pair for yourself, as well.

You are fifty years old, and you are standing on the rubber mat at the edge of an ice rink, but you are not wearing a pretty skating dress. You are wearing jeans and a tank top and a hoodie, and you are holding the hand of a skinny Ukrainian girl who is only yours for the summer but is somehow the child of your soul.

Sincerely, Megan

Like the Prose: Challenge #13 – Write an epistolary story.

Retro Style Vintage Postcard With Greetings From Hawaii

Dear Alien Spacefarer,

My teacher is making me put this postcard in a box that’s going on the space shuttle, but I have no idea what to write. Everything seems lame. Hello from Earth. Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.

Sincerely, Megan

* * *

The postcard was vintage “Greetings from Vail!” and had a happy 1950’s couple skiing on the front. It was June, but whatever. I flipped it over.

Greetings Megan:

We were most pleased to receive your missive. We, too, wish we were there. Tell us more about this ‘Earth?'” Does your spaceforce remain undefeated?

With respect,


Rolling my eyes, I took out one of my postcards from the Baby Animals Postcard Book my grandparents had given me as an incentive to get me to communicate with them more. I was pretty sure this card was a joke but responding to it meant delaying cleaning my room for at least five more minutes.

And it had a return address in… Iowa.

Didn’t Jeff Neuhalfen have relatives in Iowa?


Dear Xplo!kka’t,

Your postcard came as quite a surprise. As far as I know we don’t actually have a spaceforce. As least, my country doesn’t. Our president has talked about building one, but since he thinks there’s a prince in the UK who oversees whales, I wouldn’t hold my breath. And Earth is… Earth. You know. Little blue-green planet. Third rock from the sun, and all that.

Write back if you want.

Sincerely, Megan

* * *

The next postcard arrived just after the 4th of July and had a picture of a happy 1950’s couple water-skiing. Apparently vintage outdoor sports were a thing. This one read “Come to the Catskills!”  “Um, no,” I told it. Then I flipped it over to read it.

Greetings, Megan:

Would you mind being more specific? There are many sun-stars in the galaxy. Are we correct in interpreting that your Earth is the third planet out from your sun, counting by the diameter of the orbit? When you refer to it as blue and green, do you mean it is a world with an oxygen-based atmosphere that plays home to carbon-based lifeforms? Does your Earth also boast liquid water?

We look forward to your next missive.

With respect, Xplo!kka’t

Carbon-based lifeforms? Really? This had to be a prank from Jeff. He’d been trying to get her attention during math class for the last year, after all. And she was certain he had relatives in Iowa. Besides, alien stuff always had to do with Iowa. Or maybe that was Kentucky. Well, the summer was boring enough. This was relieving the status quo at least.

Dear Xplo!kka’t

I’m pretty sure you know this already, but Earth is like 70% ocean. Saltwater, full of sharks, but, whatever. I’m guessing from all your questions that you’re not from around here. So, tell me, Xplo!kka’t, what’s life like where you come from?

Sincerely, Megan

I wondered what crazy reply Jeff would come up with for that.

* * *

It was two weeks later that the next card came. Faster than the last. Interesting. This time the vintage image was of a waterfront and read, “Monaco Memories!” I flipped it over.

Greetings, Megan:

We are pleased that you are curious about us. In truth, most of my peer group has never seen our homeworld. We were born on a worldship, and we travel the stars searching for a new home. Those who came before us destroyed our world’s resources, until we could not breathe our air, drink our water, or grow things in our soil. Do the people of Earth know pollution?

Regards, Xplo!kka’t

I shivered reading the latest words. These didn’t sound like Jeff. Maybe it was my teacher trying to teach us a lesson. We were supposed to have advanced biology when school resumed after the summer.

I went onto my computer and texted a friend.

– From megtastic to sciencechick: Hey, Sierra, you know that postcard project Mrs. Lieberman made us do in May?

– From sciencechick to megtastic: Yeah? What about it?

– From megtastic to sciencechick: You haven’t… you haven’t, um… gotten any responses or anything have you?

– From sciencechick to megtastic: Meg-a-licious, you know those postcards went on the space shuttle. No one could be responding.

– From megtastic to sciencechick: You busy tonight? You up for a sleepover?

– From sciencechick to megtastic: I’ll be right over.

Dear Xplo!kka’t,

My best friend Sierra came over the other night so I could talk to her about your postcards. She’s a science geek, but I like art and music and literature more than science. Maybe you should be writing to her. Anyway, yes, the people of Earth do know pollution. Our fish and ocean mammals are dying because they’re ingesting the plastic we toss into the seas, and our carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have just reached 400 parts per million. (They say 350 is the upper safe limit for life here).  Sierra says you’re asking these questions because you plan to invade the Earth and kill us all. I hope that’s not true. But I have to tell you, we’ve already poisoned our planet. You don’t want it.

Sincerely, Megan.

* * *

Xplo!kka’t approached his division commander. She was a dominant female, with dazzling purple antennae that always made him hyperventilate a little, but he forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand.

“Commander, I have news of Planet 7439.3”


He handed over copies of the postcards. “I have been corresponding with a young female from the planet. It began with one of the message cards in the box on that vessel we intercepted. The exploded  – ”

“I believe they call it a ‘shuttle’ yes. They’ve had more than one explode, but this is the first such ship that was unstaffed and sent deep enough into space that we could salvage any of the technology. Such as it was.”

“Yes, ma’am. In any case, the young female, Megan, and I have been exchanging ‘postcards’ and I have learned that 7439.3 is not the garden spot we hoped. The sentients there – they refer to themselves as ‘humans’ have already sent their world down the same irrevocable path as our own homeworld.”

“War, then?”

“There are skirmishes, yes, though so far nuclear power and weaponry have only destroyed limited segments of the planet. No, ma’am, the larger issue is pollution. Their oceans are being choked with a petroleum-based product called ‘plastic’ and the level of carbon dioxide in their atmosphere has surpassed 400 parts per million.”

“That is a correctible number, Xplo!kka’t,” the commander said. “If we were to help them fix it, they would be grateful. We could stage a bloodless invasion.”

“We could, ma’am, if we were close enough, but even if we were to increase our speed tenfold it would take another fifty years to get there, and I fear by then the damage would be irreversible.”

“You have a point, youngster. A valid point. Very well. We will remove 7439.3 off the potential list.”

“Commander, I request a favor…”


“I wish to… continue my correspondence with the young female.”

“You have grown fond of her.”

“I… she… yes.”

“I do not see the harm. In fact, I will offer a gift. We will give her world protected status. If the sentients there manage to correct their own errors, by the time we are close enough, we will invite them to become allies.”

“I believe they have potential, ma’am.”

“I hope you are correct, Xplo!kka’t. Dismissed.”

He returned to his duty station.

* * *

I stared at the postcard rack in front of me, and grinned. It was suitably cheesy, and I hoped my pen pal of six years would appreciate it. The front was an iceberg and across it was GREETINGS FROM FAIRBANKS!

Dear Xplo!kka’t,

Well, I’ve done it! I’ve finished my university studies, done the graduation thing, and made it to Alaska. I’ll be here in Fairbanks for a few days for orientation and then I’ll be heading to a boat to spend the next three months at sea working as a journalist on an oceanic research vessel. The science types will be studying coastal erosion, ice melt, water temperatures, and other things that have to do with climate change and pollution. I’ll just be writing about it. I guess all these years of writing postcards to you gave me a lot of practice and really increased my interest in ecology. Thank you for that, my friend from the stars.

Oh… and Jeff Neuhalfen got the research grant, so he’s here too. I’m not sure if we’ll stay together, but three months at sea feels like a really good test of a relationship. I guess the other test will be telling him about my pen pal.

Looking forward to your next postcard.

Sincerely, Megan












Like the Prose: Challenge #12 – Write a story in third person omniscient tense with stream of consciousness in it.


Claudia heard the bell over the door and looked up to see who had entered. It was ten at night, the last hour she was typically open on weeknights, but there was one customer who always came in at this hour on a Thursday, and when she glanced around the mostly-empty tables she saw him.

He was probably twice her thirty years old, and he dressed as if he’d come out of a 1950’s movie, with a black fedora and a proper suit and tie, not just a sweater and jeans (or dockers, she supposed most men his age actually wore dockers). His suit was scruffy, though, the sleeves were worn at the cuffs and the elbows were shiny, while the hems of his pants were starting to fray slightly.

Claudia often wondered if he simply didn’t realize his clothes were wearing out, or if he didn’t care, and yet, at the same time, his slightly out-of-time look suited him, though if pressed, she’d confess to being curious about his profession. Was he retired, or still working? A professor at the university down the block, perhaps? Or maybe he’d been a spy in his younger days, and hadn’t quite shed the last remnants of his cold war habits.

If truth be told, what really loved was watching the graceful way his hands moved as he picked up his cappuccino cup and lifted it to his lips. How he managed to drink the stuff without ever getting foam on his salt-and-pepper mustache she never knew.

With a start, Claudia realized her customer was starting at her, even as she’d been watching him, and she blushed. “Hello, Viktor,” she called softly across the space between them. “Your usual?”

“Yes, please?” he answered her in softly accented English.

She smiled at him and moved to pull the shots and steam the milk for his drink.

* * *

At his usual table, the one that allowed him decent views of the front and back entrances of the café as well as the bar area, Viktor allowed himself a long moment to observe the young woman who owned the establishment.

He had been coming here once a week in the two years since his Sophie had died, as much for the organic fair-trade coffee as for the young barista herself. Something about her reminded him of a woman he’d known in Paris decades before – not so much in the way she looked, for that woman had been a brittle blonde and Claudia the café owner had vibrant red hair – but in the way she carried herself confidence, and treated all of her patrons as if they were family.

Just when he was certain she’d noticed him staring at her, Claudia called his name. “Hello Viktor. Your usual?”

He’d confirmed his regular order and then turned his attention to the buttons of his overcoat, undoing each one, slowly, and then shrugging his shoulders out of the thing. He knew there was a stain on the right lapel, and if Sophie were alive, she’d never have let him wear the thing out of the house, but he liked the way he felt in it: as though he were a man of substance.

Perhaps, he thought, this would be the night he invited Claudia to sit with him while he sipped his coffee. And perhaps the younger woman would accept. He would look into her warm brown eyes and find the spark of connection he longed for, and they would begin a conversation. Conversation would lead to an invitation to dinner and dinner would turn into… he didn’t know what. It had been too many years since he had courted a woman. Hell, he was pretty certain that ‘courting’ wasn’t even done any more. Kids today ‘dated’ or ‘hung out’ or ‘hooked up,’ none of which sounded appealing to him, and none of which seemed appropriate for a woman like Claudia.

* * *

“Cappuccino for your thoughts?” the woman in question appeared at his side and set his drink on the table. “It’s a nice night tonight. Probably be warm enough to open the patio this weekend.”

“It always feels festive, drinking coffee in the starlight, of an evening.”

“I think so, too,” Claudia said, smiling. “Mind if I sit down?” She hoped he wouldn’t object. He’d been a mystery for two years and it was time to change that.

Viktor returned her smile with one of his own, his blue eyes dancing. “I had finally worked up the nerve to ask you to join me. Can you afford the time?”

Claudia looked around. “You’re my last customer,” she said. “Wait a moment.” She left his side and went to lock the doors and flip the signs from OPEN to CLOSED. Then she went behind the bar and made her own drink, and also served a slice of cheesecake, returning to his table with drink, dessert, and two forks. “Share this with me?” she invited settling into the chair opposite his.

“Did you bake it?” Viktor asked. He knew that Claudia made many of the pastries she sold at the café, as well as the soups and pastas, but that others on her staff also cooked.

Claudia nodded, offering him a fork. “Family recipe. The key is to use real lemon. Try it.”

Viktor accepted the fork and sectioned off some of the cake. It was perfectly crumbly, and there were none of those too-sweet fruit sauces on top. He tasted it and his eyes went wide. “But, this is lovely. It… it tastes like home.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Claudia said. “I’m a cheesecake purist. Most people these days want all this stuff on top, but I think if you can’t do a perfect plain cheesecake, you can’t do anything.”

“Have you always wanted to be a baker?” Viktor wanted to know everything about this woman but it was their first real conversation, so he was restricting himself to safe topics.

“No, when I was little I wanted to be Mata Hari.”

“The spy?”

“Yes. I wanted to be the femme fatale who seduced secrets from handsome men.” She laughed to show that she was joking, and let her eyes go wide. Would he find her too audacious? Claudia hoped not. “For the longest time I’ve wondered if you might be a spy,” she confessed.

Viktor laughed. “Me! A spy! No… oh… oh, no. Not at all. I teach at the university.”

“That was my second guess. What subject?”


“Tell me more?”

Viktor took a sip of his cappuccino, noticing that the woman across from him paid close attention to his hands when he lifted his cup. Smiling softly, he said. “Well, I’ve always liked to know the stories of how things came to be…”

Claudia put her elbows on the table and her chin on her hands. This man was all she’d hoped he’d be. Charming, funny, smart. She could listen to him for hours. To think that she’d been watching and wondering about him for two years, when all it took to get him to open up was cheesecake.


Like the Prose: Challenge #11 – Write a first-person narrative where the narrator is not the hero.

Curly hair fragment as a texture background composition

I can’t help but stare at her hair. Chestnut coils cascading down from the top of her head nearly to the small of her back. I fantasize about running my fingers through it and letting them catch on the curls.

The weight of her tresses must bother her for she rolls her head back and forth from shoulder to shoulder as if working out tension. I can only imagine what it must feel like to carry that mass around with her on a daily basis.

I decide I must have it. Her hair. Her.

I learn her patterns. She works in an art gallery, wears black far too frequently. I understand that dark colors are less likely to detract from the art, but a deep green would set off her hair, and suit her pale coloring, so much more favorably.

I spend time gazing at the works she represents. I strike up a conversation about one of the better pieces. Most is contemporary, abstract, cold. The piece I gravitate to is all warmth and curves. The female form exploded.

“Do you like it?” she asks. “It’s one of my own.”

I invite her for a coffee.

She suggests wine and tapas instead.

I accept.

We see each other several times over the next few weeks, months, but never on a set day. “I’m in town for a day,” I lie. “Dinner?” This continues. Our acquaintanceship becomes a friendship, a romance, a casual relationship.

When we’re sitting side by side in a banquet seat at a restaurant, I tease her by playing with her hair. It’s soft, I realize, and smells faintly of peaches. When our lunches and dinners become bedroom trysts, I watch her hair curtain my nether parts from view as she kneels over me to give me pleasure. When, later, our positions are reversed, her hair is fanned around her on the pillow, and I’m nearly overcome by the sight.

“Sometimes,” she teases, when I’m playing with her hair as we sip wine and nibble artisan pizza in front of the television, “I think you only want me for my hair.”

She is more correct than she knows.

Relationships built on lies and half-truths never last. She begins to suspect that I’m not what I seem. I claim to travel for work, but never tell her what that work is. I never invite her to my place, only spend time at hers.

When the news begins to carry the story of a serial killer whose kills are on certain days of the week, she laughs and notices, “We never seem to meet on Thursdays.”

“I never got the hang of them,” I answer, quoting a cheesy science fiction novel with a line that is both funny and suitably cryptic.

She is not amused.

She tells me she’s not comfortable with our arrangement.

She wants answers, or an ending.

I give her the latter.

We were in bed, of course. I made sure she was satisfied before I wrapped my hands around her neck.

It doesn’t take that much strength to squeeze the life out of someone, but it takes patience. Perseverance, really.

Of course, I kept a memento of our time together. I’m sure I don’t need to specify, but I will, because where others will see one more box of hair, I see a treasure chest of chestnut coils.