Just That

0220-Escher meets Okeefe - via Flash-PromptHe’d wanted to be an artist for as long as he could remember. He colored until his crayons were stubs, painted his way through canvas after canvas.

 

When natural talent couldn’t take him far enough, he performed magic on street corners, pulling quarters out of little boys ears and making bouquets appear from nothing to present to little girls.

 

In college his excellence at card tricks led him to the poker table, where he was careful to lose every few games so no one would accuse him of cheating.

 

He never cheated.

 

Magic and poker paid for art classes. Technique. Practice. Materials. He tried sculpting for one semester but it didn’t appeal. He liked turning lines into pictures more than clay into objects.

 

An art appreciation seminar gave him his heroes. He fell in love with Escher’s skewed reality – Möbius stairs and the like – mixed math and art, while O’Keefe made cow skulls beautiful and flowers sexual.

 

In grad school – an obscure private institution on an island off the coast of the northern USA – he found HIS art. He combined the math and the magic and the lines, but paper wasn’t big enough for his ideas.

 

He puts his art into the places where it’s least expected. Balancing on a log, he’ll sketch a shape in mid-air, suspending it on a fractal dream. Turn your head and it’s a flower. Blink your eyes and it’s a woman’s face.

 

When people caught him Making Art, they all asked the same question. “What is it?”

 

And he would counter, “What do You think it is?”

 

Whatever they said, so it became.

 

“But… how did you know?” They would demand.

 

“Art is subjective,” he would answer. “It doesn’t matter what I see, it matters that you see something, and respond.”

 

Then he’d make a balloon animal out of a piece of sky, and hand it to a little old lady. “Just imagine…”

 

Yes.

 

Just that.

 

The Tiger Inside

0241 - Inner Beast via Flash-Prompt“You know how Rottweilers think they’re really lapdogs, and chihuahuas believe they’re the most ferocious beasts ever?”

 

“Yes. What’s your point?”

 

“We all, every one of us, have our own inner vision, our own perception, of what we are. It’s sort of the reason Gran lies about her age. In her head, she’s still the dewy-eyed, smooth-skinned twenty-year-old Gramps fell in love with.”

 

“Okay, but Gran lies about her age for so long she forgot how old she really was, and got pissy when we all missed her 75th birthday.”

 

“Well…”

 

“And you can’t expect me to believe some wild rabbit living in a suburban hedgerow thinks it is a twenty-year-old virgin bride. I mean… do rabbits even get that old?”

 

“You’re missing the point.”

 

“Oh, please… Enlighten me, then, oh wise one.”

 

“We see a timid, little, bunny caught outside it’s burrow. But look at it – REALLY- look at it. Ears alert, paws flexed to pounce, nose twitching… in that bunny’s head, it’s not potential hawk-lunch. It’s a fierce lion. It’s the king of beasts, ready to defend its entire domain.”

 

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

 

“Well… either that, or it believes it’s Bunnicula. Seen any exsanguinated veggies in the garden recently?”

Conversations with Ghosts: Father and Son

0280 - CWG - Father and Son via FlashPrompt

 

“Kafka said that writing letters was like having a conversation with a ghost.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“Is it?”

“No. Yes. Maybe.”

“Come on, son. Be decisive. Tell me what you really think.”

“Dad…”

“No, really. I want to know. We used to talk, didn’t we? Sure, we told your mother we were going fishing, but I don’t recall either of us ever baiting a hook.”

“No. We didn’t. We’d come here, and you’d give me a couple of dollars for the pinball machine or let me blow my allowance on pool while you played old jazz songs on the piano and drank yourself into oblivion.”

“Ouch.”

“You said to be honest.”

“So I did.”

“Why…?”

“Why what?”

“Why didn’t you ever play music at home? Katie would have loved your music. You know she’s at Julliard now? And Mom… she kept that piano dusted and tuned for you, not for us. Why did you hide that part of you? Why didn’t you come to our recitals? What closed you off from this thing that you loved?”

“Life, I guess.”

“Ironic.”

“Well… life was the reason then. I wanted to be the next big thing. I studied and practiced, and I was rising… I had a label come listen to me play at a high-end club. I met your mother that night. I think she was attracted to the possibility of my success.”

“Well, it couldn’t have been your sparkling personality.”

“Son…”

“Sorry, Dad. Go on?”

“It’s the classic story. I met your mother. We started going out. Things got serious, she got pregnant. And I had to choose. Did I want to chase a dream that might not come true, or do the responsible thing and settled down, be a husband and a father.”

“So, you settled.”

“I chose, son. I looked at what I had and what I might have, and I chose the sure thing.”

“Mom would have supported your dream, you know.”

“I know.”

“Then why? Dad, I found your records – you were good. You had it… that thing… that spark. Your playing was transcendent.”

“Fear.”

“Of failure?”

“Of success. Isn’t that why you haven’t tried to publish any of your stories?”

“I…”

“You write them in letters to your mother, to your sister, but you should be sharing them with the world. Yeah, some of them are not so flattering to me, some are not so pretty, but that’s what artists do, son. We use our pain to make beautiful things.”

“You didn’t… well, you did… but you stopped.”

“No, I stopped playing gigs. I made – well, your mother did most of the hard work – two very beautiful things.”

“Dad?”

“You’re one of them.”

“Oh… I… ”

“So… is it?”

“What?”

“Writing letters? Conversing with ghosts? Are they the same?”

“I don’t… I’m not sure.”

“Well, when you figure it out… drop me a line.”

“Drop you a  – Dad? DAD?”

Knots

245 - Terminal via FlashPromptYou’ve heard other people say it, right? That life is a terminal disease? That the only two things every single being MUST do are to be born, and to die, and everything in between is subject to whims and foibles.

 

The threads of fate – yesterday, today, tomorrow – they’re a tapestry to some, an intricate weaving of experiences, great adventures and small, human moments.

 

But for others, those threads combine in another way. They are a knot, a noose, an ever-increasing feeling that life has you in a chokehold and the more you struggle, the more it constricts.

 

Pity those people. Love them. Be kind to them. Help them find periods of respite, if you can: minutes, hours, days when their feet are resting on firm ground, rather than balancing on the edge of a blade.

 

Depression. Disease. Destitution. We all have our own ropes. Even those of us with tapestries instead of braided twine have those glimpses at the ticking clock, its hands pointing ever closer to midnight.

 

Humankind. We’re such messy, crazy, wonderful, scary animals.

 

We have the potential to pull the lever, remove the footrest, jerk the rope. But we also have the possibility of weaving a piece of another’s tapestry. Patching a hole. Fixing a tear. Adding our color to someone else’s knotwork.

 

Human. Kind.

Choose kindness.

Because what we weave cannot be unwoven.

And every knot (noose) was once straight rope.

Applied Kinesiology

“You’re kidding, Jack. That’s what you want to do for our midterm project?”

296-Kinesiology - via FlashPromptJack nodded his head, forgetting he was still attached to the test equipment, which meant his classmates – teammates – nodded as well. “Glad we’re in agreement,” he teased.

 

Paul groaned. “Really?”

 

Marco was the first to really be on board with the idea. “Actually,” he said, his slight Italian accent softening the other student’s name, “Zhack may be on to something. The women’s team – they used a Ouija board for their first round.”

 

“They were debunking it, though,” Kazuo pointed out. “They were proving that the planchette is controlled by the group’s ideomotor response and not the work of ghosts or spirits.”

 

“Listen to Kaz,” Jack pleaded. “Kaz, don’t you think this is better than just moving objects or writing rude things on the blackboard?”

 

“Aww, c’mon,” Yuri piped up. “It’s our one chance to mock the prof and get away with it.”

 

“No,” Jack countered. “I mean yes, but it would be a cheap shot. This? This has an element of spectacle.”

 

The men, barely more than boys, really, continued to throw ideas back and forth – beach volleyball! Hot wheels! Making a sandwich! – but they eventually circled back to Jack’s original suggestion.

 

It took hours of practice, of course, out by the lake, out on the table rock in the college’s arboretum, and once in the dining hall to disastrous effects. And even so, they never managed to rotate the group target into a horizontal position.

 

Still, on presentation day it was agreed that the men’s team’s use of applied kinesiology to play the old party game “light as a feather, stiff as a board,” was both clever and innovative.

 

Jack made sure that they credited his little sister Amy for the idea.

 

And he never again grumbled about chaperoning her slumber parties.

Stranger Than Fiction

251 - Reginald via Flash-PromptReginald had always known life would be interesting when he’d gone to live with his uncle. After all, Commodore Franklin Giles-Whitton was known for the adventure tales he’d written after leaving the navy.

 

They were wonderful books, full of fantastic creatures the Commodore claimed he’d encountered during his decades of service to Queen and country.

 

In the first one, a little boy named Ronald befriended a creature that was half-leopard and half-snowy owl, taming it by giving up bits of his breakfast bacon each morning. Of course, the creature had befriended the boy, ultimately protecting him from the Stone Knights that came to life, literally, once in a blue moon.

 

Reginald had always suspected that Ronald was based on him. Certainly, the ink boy shared his features and the stupid fussy clothes his mother made him wear. He was eleven! Surely, he was old enough for long trousers by now!

 

But his suspicion wasn’t confirmed until he’d been living with the Commodore and his wife for three months. He’d woken to a murky sky and rolling thunder had arrived just after breakfast. Confined to the house, Reginald (no one ever shortened his name) began exploring the back hallways of the ancient mansion.

 

He found a stray feather at the bottom of a steep stairway – an owl feather dotted with leopard spots – and took it as an invitation. He was halfway up to the top when a red ball came bouncing toward him. He caught it – he was a decent athlete despite the stupid clothes – and tossed back.

 

This game of catch continued until he reached the landing. To his right was a foggy window. To his left – he wasn’t sure why he hadn’t seen the light flooding out of what was obviously his uncle’s workroom – but the bright space beckoned.

 

Also beckoning was – well, Reginald thought it was a bat at first – and it DID have wings – but the red, rubber ball in its mouth and the way its furry body wriggled with joy reminded him of his friend Anne-Elise’s Yorkshire terrier.

 

“Hey there, little one,” he addressed the animal. “Can I have the ball?”

 

And so, the game continued, and with each round, the bat-dog-thing drew Reginald further into the workroom until, finally –

 

“It’s about time you joined us, m’boy!” The Commodore’s booming voice preceded the big man’s appearance. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

 

And that’s when Reginald realized. All the creatures from his uncle’s books were REAL. All were in cages or on perches around the room – the white leopard-owl had a raised bed right near the old man’s desk.

 

“But… this… how?”

 

The Commodore laughed. “I had a feeling it was Tiberius here who would find you. Every boy needs a dog. And every man needs someone to follow in his footsteps, as it were. I’m drawing the new Ronald book’s first frame… care to watch?”

 

Reginald’s eyes were wide as saucers, but his voice had gone missing. He could only offer an enthusiastic nod.

 

“Catbird got your tongue?” The old man’s tone was full of amused affection. “No worries, lad. Take a seat over there. Tiberius likes his ears scratched, and his shoulders at the wing-roots, too.”

 

He knew a command when he heard one. Reginald went to the indicated chair and sat in it, and the bat-dog, Tiberius, landed on his lap. Dropping the ball, the furry creature darted out a rough tongue and licked the boy’s hand, then looked up at him expectantly.

 

Reginald understood that sort of command, also, and immediately began giving the animal the attention it was demanding.

 

Many more rainy days were spent in the workroom, often with Tiberius resting atop Reginald’s shoulders while the boy watched his uncle draw and write. He didn’t mind, except when the animal put its paws across the boy’s mouth. The tiny claws made his skin itchy.

 

On sunny days, the endless games of catch continued, in the house, in the gardens, and even outside the gates in the rolling hills. Their bond had been forged and was unbreakable.

 

Aunt Felicity worried and fussed over her nephew, but the Commodore brushed aside his wife’s concerns.

 

“He’s just a boy playing with his dog, my dear.”

 

“Yes, my love,” Felicity responded as the two gazed upon their sleeping nephew and the ball of wings and fur nestled at his side. “But the dog has wings.”

 

“That’s true, my love,” the Commodore said, guiding his wife from the room. “Then again, so do you.”

Just As It Should Be

284 - Doggie via Flash-Prompt

“Doggie!” My daughter cried as we entered the final wing of the pound. It was noisy, full of the sounds of clicking, whirring, and the occasional grinding of gears as the various cyberpets tried everything to get our attention.

 

“Actually, that one was originally a monkey / raptor hybrid.” The attendant seemed a little bit embarrassed. “He’s always been responsive, never harmed a staff member or another ‘pet, but…”

 

“But what?” I asked, as my daughter knelt in front of the creature’s cage. “Keep your hand flat,” I reminded her. “No poking fingers.”

 

“I know,” she said, with all the impatience a four-year-old could muster.

 

“You’d probably be better off with one of the actual dogs from alpha wing,” the attendant suggested.

 

But something about this poor creature, primate head, exposed skull, cybernetic attachments as well as prosthetic limbs, reptilian (well, almost avian) claws and a furry, wagging tail, pulled at the heart strings. Made you feel sorry for it.

 

“The truth, please?” I asked softly. “Why is he still here. Hybrids have been forbidden since – “

 

“That’s part of it. He’s licensed. You don’t have to worry about that, but his skull reads ‘human’ to some. It’s why primate hybrids were the first to be banned.”

 

“I remember,” I said. After the alien attack, life on earth had changed. Not just our way of living, but life itself. Something about nanites in the water and soil recoding our DNA.

 

Animals, humans, all had begun being born with cybernetic parts. It had taken a decade to restore the original gene sequences. Meanwhile, adoption agencies were full of these Adapted children, some of whom would never find loving homes.

 

And the animal shelters were just as bad. It used to be that big black dogs were the ones to languish. Now it was the cyberpets.

 

But the hybrids… those were the most pitiful of all. They were the results of lab tests gone wrong, and most were put out of their misery on sight. Too bad, really. They were good pets, even if they were disturbing to look at.

 

“He was originally a service ‘pet for a politician’s little girl, if that helps,” the attendant said. “She went to college and couldn’t take him, and he missed her so much… he would climb up on the roof and gargoyle for days. Rain, snow, heat. It was really sad. Rehoming him was the humane choice.”

 

“Those claws though…”

 

“We’ve had him in the staff lounge lots of times. He’s never harmed the furniture.”

 

“Katie? Wouldn’t you rather have the retriever we saw earlier?” I was pretty certain my daughter had already chosen, but I had to ask.

 

My daughter shook her head, her hair swinging to reveal the cybernetic reinforcements in her neck. They reinforced her whole spine, but you couldn’t tell when she was wearing clothes. “Doggie,” she said firmly.

 

I sighed. “I guess we’ll take him. Does he have a name?”

 

“Pierre,” the attendant said. “Previous owner was certain all monkeys were French. Even hybrids. I’ll fetch a leash, and she can bond with him while we do the paperwork.

 

“No need,” I said.

 

The attendant released Pierre from his cage and the creature went right to my daughter’s left side. She extended her hand, hovering it over the ‘pet’s back, and a cable snaked out of her palm, connecting to Pierre’s linkport.

 

I smiled looking at the two of them. Just a little girl and her monkey/raptor/thing.

 

Just as it should be.

Posted Elsewhere: Snapshots from the Shore (flash-fiction)

43804508 - back view of a couple taking a walk holding hands on the beach

 

Read an excerpt:

“Just put your feet in,” she coaxes the man who has come to drive her to the flatlands in the middle of the country. The flyover states, they call them. Except now they’ll be the land-in states. She wonders if the wind on the prairie can ever come close to the soothing sound of her beloved waves.

“No.”

“Come on,” she urges. “Seriously, it’s not that cold. At least take your shoes off. You will not actually melt into goo if your bare feet touch the sand.

But he refuses. And she wonders if maybe she’s making a mistake in choosing someone who doesn’t love the beach the way she does. Still, she splashes in the choppy surf, dodging sharp white-crested waves and body surfing the gentler blue ones until she’s tired and sated.

Swimming in the sea, she thinks, is the only thing that even comes close to being as good as sex with the man she loves.

Visit this link to read the whole story:

Modern Creative Life: Snapshots from the Shore by Melissa A. Bartell

I Am The Earth

0231 - The Earth is Such a Mother - via Flash Prompt

 

I cry.

You fill my great waters with your cast-off plastic, my streams and rivers with toxic chemicals.

You complain that the water is no longer fit to drink.

You wonder why the fish are scarce and the grasses withered and brown.

I bleed.

I shed my heart’s blood for the animals left homeless and undernourished, the starving polar bears, the treeless birds, the hooved and pawed beasts cut off from their homes and food sources by barbed wire, burning highways, electric fences, and projectile weapons.

I express my rage.

I send hurricanes, blizzards and the occasional volcano eruption.

I whisper my truths into the inner ears of those who would protect me.

They understand: to protect me, is to protect yourselves.

You forget, you see.

You oh-so-conveniently forget that I was here before you, and I will remain long after.

You might not recognize my evolving form.

You might resent the changes I must make to ensure my own survival.

You might shiver in fear at what I’m likely to become.

And yet, you do nothing to stop me.

I am the flood and the fire.

I am the coppery blood of all things, living and dead.

I am the earth.

And I can be maternal.

But I can also be a mother.

Morning Mist

224 - Retreat in the Woods via flash-prompt

 

She’d always thought of herself as a city girl, or at least suburban, picking her living spaces as much for their distance from a good café – anything over half a mile was too far – as for the state of the kitchen, the size of the bathtub, and the amount and quality of natural light.

Still, she loved her husband – was still madly in love with him after twenty-three years, so when he asked her to spend a week in a cabin in the woods with him, she couldn’t refuse. After all, he’d been on innumerable trips to the beach for her.

On the drive up, she made the requisite jokes about the dark forest being the perfect setting for a murder mystery or horror movie. “You’re not planning to chop me into pieces and hide them under a carpet of pine needles, are you?”

“Of course not,” he’d replied, blue eyes twinkling at her when their gazes met in the rear-view mirror. “For one thing, this isn’t a pine forest.”

“So. Not. Reassuring.” She sing-songed the words.

Their first two days were sodden with rain, but her husband kept a fire burning in the Franklin stove and lulled her into a good mood with endless cups of gourmet coffee and the soft strumming of his acoustic guitar, classical music alternated with folk – her favorites.

On the morning of the third day at the cabin, she woke before him, and set the coffee to brew. The rain had finally stopped, and the first rays of sun were beginning to penetrate the morning fog. She brought her mug of coffee with her to the deck that surrounded the cabin and lost herself in the view.

Birds called to each other in the trees and she glimpsed a couple of squirrels playing on a nearby branch, making her smile, but it was the light on the trees that really entranced her. The play of sun and fog, brightness and shadow. She almost believed that if she could just stretch far enough she could catch a piece of morning mist on the end of her finger, like cotton candy at the firemen’s fair.

She didn’t hear him come up behind her, but she knew he was there even before his rusty-voiced “Morning, babe,” tickled her right ear.

He slipped his arms around her from behind, and she leaned back against his chest. “The rain stopped,” she said, as if he couldn’t tell.

“And?”

“It’s not the beach…” she began.

“No, it’s not the beach.”

“But it’s kind of magical in its own way.”

He didn’t respond, not with words. Instead he squeezed her just a little tighter, and then released.

Together, they watched as the forest fully embraced the new day.