Long-time Companion

ballet-3301195_1920

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

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

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

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

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

And then it happened.

I rediscovered him as an adult.

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

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

I am a dancer.

And he is my barre.

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

 

Brass Rings

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

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

History would be wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Causeway Considerations

 

 

Howard Beach

No matter how many times I drove out to Howard Beach, the moment where the pine woods give way to the causeway, stretching a mile across the Gulf of Mexico, would never fail to take my breath away.

That drive, which begins as a meandering trip through the waterfront neighborhoods of Tarpon Springs before you enter the outer park and it’s canopies of trees, multitudes of squirrels, and the occasional turtle (there are turtle crossing signs at several places along the road), is beautiful enough. But when you exit the dark woods into the bright light of the sun, and its reflection on the water, it’s as if you’ve set foot on the Yellow Brick Road and are approaching the Emerald City.

The beach isn’t just a beach, of course. One side of it, tucked in next to the causeway’s terminus, is dedicated to aquatic sports. Athletes, and those inclined to think they’re athletes, can rent kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, or water bikes. For slightly more sedentary folks, there are also paddleboats.

Across the causeway the other leeward quarter of the island (okay, it’s only an island when the tide is extremely high) is marked by a palm grove, and it’s usually occupied by a few people who want solitude, and don’t really swim. There is no lifeguard on either if the leeward beaches.

The windward coast of the island slopes gently toward the warm water of the gulf. The bottom there isn’t clear, as there is sea grass covering most of it, but it’s short, and unlike seaweed and kelp, it doesn’t wrap itself around your ankles.

This is the swimming beach, and it’s typically filled with happy families. On a recent trip I ran into a young woman with vivid blue hair, spending the day on the sand with her pink-haired partner, and their toddler-aged daughter, and a Greek mother with three kids, though none were under her umbrella. Rather, they were out in the water with their father while she caught some sun.

It’s worth mentioning that the water here is warm and shallow. An average-sized woman can touch the bottom with her feet while keeping her head above water most of the way out to the channel markers. It’s deceptively calm, though, there is a serious riptide if you get caught in the wrong current.

Howard Beach, like most of the beaches in the Florida State Park system has a lifeguard on duty. It also has clean bathrooms, outdoor showers, and a small walking trail to an overlook with a bench. Parking is ample, and costs five dollars a day, though locals and long-term visitors can buy passes. Handicapped parking is free with a placard, and also ample. There is no concession stand, but the town of Tarpon Springs has many restaurants and cafes. Greek food is most plentiful as the town was originally a Greek fishing village, but there’s a whole range.

After a day at Howard Beach driving back across the causeway feels a little like leaving technicolored Oz and returning to black-and-white Kansas. What helps is watching the fishermen along the road, asking them if they caught anything.

What also helps is the knowledge that this little piece of sand will still be there, welcoming the next families, the next laughing children, the next people to cross the causeway looking for fun in the sun.

Written for Brief #4 of Like the Prose 2021: Literary Travel

A Thread on Thread

(A Twitter Story)

https://twitter.com/Melysse/status/1400651144440041473

Thread

1) This story is true… mostly.

2) I’m visiting my mom for a month or two while storm damage is finally fixed in my house in Texas. The damage is from the February Freeze, but that’s another story…

3) So, my mom is a self-described “sewist,” and that comes with certain hazards. Like, I cannot count the number of stray straight pins I’ve found embedded in my feet over my lifetime (which is one of the reasons I wear shoes in the house, but I digress).

4) But this story isn’t about pins; it’s about thread. Sewing thread. It’s insidious stuff. Gets everywhere. Sometimes it floats through Mom’s living room like a weird, skinny, insect.

5) It’s bad enough that I have to keep pulling stray thread off my clothes every time I get up from the couch or the bed or any chair. But lately… lately the thread has been following me.

6) Specifically, there is this one piece of turquoise thread – and none of the clothing I bought here is turquoise – that was moving from the living room toward my bedroom.

7) The first day, it was in the hallway leading to the front door, as if it was planning an escape… or maybe just heading out to take over the world. Either is possible. But then…

8) …then the thread got to the entry-way and instead of taking advantage of the open doors and making its escape into the wider world, it turned toward the guest room and guest bathroom. AKA MY bedroom and bathroom. I swept it away, but it came back…

9) I was in the bathroom, when it returned. I had just finished my “paperwork” and I looked down and the turquoise thread was wrapped around my foot! I unwound it and dropped it into the trash can.

10) The next day I saw the same thread, but it was drying to enter my bedroom. Of course, I closed the door, but I was worried. Maybe this wasn’t just fiber. Maybe it was a sentient being bent on world domination…

11)… or at least on the murder of an innocent writer who hadn’t yet reached her full potential. What would my dogs do without me? How would my husband cope? Who would inherit my mother’s art when the thread eventually turned on her???? The mind had to boggle.

12) Things improved the next day. Somehow, the turquoise thread wound up in the bathtub while I was taking a shower. (There isn’t a rule about getting them wet or respooling them after midnight, is there?)

13) I have to confess: I was smug as I watched that evil blue strand slither down the drain. I thought it was over, but the next night as we were watching that awesome @AmyTan documentary on  @Netflix a red strand attached itself to my leggings.

14) I pulled it off in much the same way one removes a tick and cast it away. “Are you alright?” My mother was looking at me as if she wanted to know which meds I wasn’t taking and should have been.

15) “No,” I complained. “Loose thread is following me everywhere. I think it’s revenge.”

16) “Revenge?” my mother asked. “For what?”

17) “I don’t know… maybe for all the times when I was a kid that I bitched about it when you made me stand in line at the fabric store with an extra coupon so you could buy more fabric. And more thread.”

18) “Oh,” Mom said. “Thread would never care about that.” She took a beat. An ominous beat. “But mothers do…”

19) I laughed at her, of course, but I was still worried. And when I returned to my room that night, I knew my concern was not unfounded… because red threat was wrapped around and around the handle of the window…

20) I knew then that you CAN go home again… you just never get to leave once you do.

 

Written for Brief #3 of Like the Prose 2021: Write a Twitter story.

 

Final Scoop

Ice Cream Parlor

Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy
You better chase all your cares away
Shout “hallelujah”, c’mon get happy
Get ready for the judgement day

 

The smell of sugar was nauseating, the air conditioning was turned too low, and no matter how many times Dave had cleaned them, the inside tables were still sticky, and the outside tables were still clammy with the thick Florida humidity that hovered over everything on summer evenings. If he were lucky, it would rain, and break the monotony.

Dave was never that lucky.

He glanced at the Elvis clock on the wall above the menu board. Both hands were pointing downward from the King’s crotch.  Six-thirty. Ninety minutes to go.

The song changed from a Jan & Dean surf tune to an older piece. Judy Garland crooning about forgetting your troubles. Funny, he thought, how even when she was urging people to get happy, she still sounded sad.

The stand-up poster of James Dean, standing guard over the freezer case full of ice cream cakes and six-packs of Dixie cups – the old-fashioned kind with the wooden paddles that tasted like tongue depressors when you sucked the ice cream off them – seemed to reflect Dave’s mood. The movie star looked even flatter than a cardboard cutout had any right to.

The penultimate hour of his shift was typical of the beachfront ice cream parlor. A group of teenagers came in giggling and asking to taste five different flavors apiece before choosing their single-scoop cones. A tired-looking mother entered with two children in tow, got them each a single-scoop sundae and took them out to the brightly lit patio to eat them. “…so you won’t mess up the floor if you spill…” She got an espresso, affogato style, for herself.

Dave didn’t have the heart to tell her that he had to clean the patio floor, too, before he could go home.

It was eight-forty-five when She appeared: a large woman on an electric scooter. The door rattled open, and the bell attached to it seemed to shiver rather than ring, and she bumped it several times as she lined up her mobility device with the entryway that was just barely ADA-compliant.

“Ma’am,” Dave offered. “If it’s easier for you, I can serve you from the window.” The walk-up window was a remnant from the days when the parlor had been more of a shack, and kids had been encouraged to remain outside.

“No need.” She maneuvered the scooter inside with a sort of metaphysical pop. “Might need your help getting out though.”

“Sure, happy to…” He wasn’t, really, but what was he supposed to say. “Do you know what you want?”

“You,” she said, and while she was smiling, Dave wasn’t entirely certain that she was kidding.

“Aw, thanks, but my girlfriend might have a problem with that.” He didn’t have a girlfriend, but weird customers hit on him a lot, and it was his stock response.

“Mmm. Then I need a minute.”

“Sure. Take your time.” Dave busied himself with the beginning of closing prep while he watched the woman on the scooter. She wasn’t overweight, exactly. She was just… big. Thick ankles, thick wrists, a more-than-ample bosom that her sports bra and tank top barely contained… even her hair, which desperately needed a brush run through it, was big.

“Mint chocolate chip. The green kind. In a cup, with hot fudge.”

“Do you want whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry – the whole sundae experience?”

“No,” she said. “Just the hot fudge.” Her eyes, when they met his, were nearly black. “A lot of hot fudge.”

“You can pay over there.” He gestured to the cash register counter, where the spoons were hidden. It was the way they guaranteed no one would walk out without paying. Spoons weren’t provided until after cash had exchanged hands.

ice-cream-2194062_1920She rolled up to the other counter and met his eyes again, passing him a ten-dollar bill and asking, “You enjoy working here?”

“Truth?” he asked.

“Always tell the truth, so you’re ready for the judgement day,” she said, her tone ominous.

“There are worse jobs,” Dave answered honestly. “But sometimes I swear the smell of ice cream will never wash out of my hair or clothes. Like, it feels like that sickly-sweet sugary sent will linger on my skin forever.”

“Not forever, Dave…” she reached for the ice cream cup, and he flinched when their fingers touched.

He forced a smile. “I sure hope not.”

She rolled over to one of the tables by the window and he finished the closing process while she ate, then held the door when she indicated she was ready to leave.

“It’s coming soon, Dave,” she said. “Get ready for the judgement day. The ice cream was good. Be careful when you leave; rain’s coming and the roads will be slippery.”

He didn’t ask how she knew his name. Probably, he’d actually remembered to wear his nametag. Or maybe she’d been in before, but you’d think he’d remember. “Uh, thanks for the advice.”

Dave couldn’t lock the door fast enough.

The rain came as he was leaving, one of those torrential summer storms that pops up for an hour and leaves no trace. He watched the lightning for a while from inside the door, then locked it behind him and headed home.

He never saw the truck that swerved on the rain-slick pavement and hit him. The next thing Dave knew was the soft squishiness of the large scooter-woman’s breasts against his back. “Am I dead?” he asked. “Is this heaven?”

“You already lived through hell, Dave.” Her voice vibrated through him. “You’re not in heaven yet, though. It’s down the road a way.”

He accepted that. It was easier to just agree.

She changed a setting on her scooter, and they glided down the road to a place where he’d never have to scoop ice cream again.

Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy
You better chase all your cares away
Shout “hallelujah”, c’mon get happy
Get ready for the judgement day!

 

“Get Happy” was composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Ted Koehler.

Written for Brief #2 of Like the Prose 2021: Heaven and/or Hell.

 

 

Wait and Hope (A Basil and Zoe Story)

“How much longer?” I asked, feeling like all the time in the universe had passed at the same time that none of it had.

My partner’s response was patient. “Three minutes, twenty-six seconds.”

I sighed. “That long?”

But Basil, always imperturbable, didn’t react to my mood. Instead, he went to the other end of our quarters and replicated a single cup of chamomile tea with honey. “Sit,” he said, gesturing to the couch. “Drink,” he continued, once I’d followed his first instruction. “By the time you finish this tea, the required time for the test will have elapsed and we will know if our most recent insemination attempt was successful.

I could have argued with him, but when organics attempted to argue with synthetic life forms, it was never pretty. Especially when said synthetic life form had known you since you were seventeen.

“Do you think it worked?” I asked, after making a show of sipping from the cup.

“I prefer not to speculate. But I sincerely hope our change of venue was helpful. Certainly you were more relaxed during the process this last time.”

“Babies shouldn’t be created in antiseptic surroundings,” I said. “I’m glad that you agreed to try again after we lost…” I trailed off. The infant son we’d lost eight months before had barely lived long enough to breathe. It might have been caused by the extreme levels of radiation in the region of space we’d been in during his conception and the early months of my pregnancy, but Dr. Ogillvie had told us that sometimes “things just happen,” even in the twenty-fourth century, and even when you live on a spaceship. “I’m sorry.”

“Do not apologize,” Basil requested. “Zoe, I could remind you that my studies of human emotional states have shown that feeling grief months, or even years, after such a loss is normal. I could also remind you that you did nothing wrong while you were pregnant. Instead, let me remind you that I also feel that loss, and I believe we will eventually have a child.”

“How much longer?” I asked again.

“One minute, seventeen seconds.”

I nodded, sipped more tea, and thought about how our most recent insemination attempt had been private and low-key. Dr. Ogilvie had expressed her concern over not doing the procedure in med-bay, but Basil and I had prevailed. We’d taken the vial of donor sperm back to our cabin, piled pillows on the bed, and made it a romantic event. We would never be able to make a baby the way two organic beings of compatible species could, but we could  – and did – at least remove the clinical element.

After I’d waited the proscribed amount of time after the technical part of the act, we’d made love, talking softly as we moved against each other, and making it as natural a process as possible.

Basil joined me on the couch, and I leaned up to kiss him. “Zoe?”

“I love you,” I told him. “I’m not sure I say it often enough.”

“I will never tire of hearing it, Dearest. I love you, also.”

I set the tea down – chamomile was my least favorite herbal brew – and kissed him again, turning our waiting period into a make-out session. We were just getting to the point when relocating to the bed would typically occur when Basil held me away from him.

“Basil… ?”

“It is time, Zoe.”

“Oh.”

We went to the bathroom to read the result on our test-kit, and once I saw it, I buried my face in Basil’s solid chest, letting the thrum of his internal systems move through me as I cried happy tears onto his uniform jacket.

“Zoe…? Dearest…? Are you alright?”

“No,” I said. “I’m happy and scared and nervous and excited… but I have a feeling it’ll stick this time.”

Basil held me close, stroking my hair. “We can only hope,” he said softly. “We can only wait and hope.”

 

Written for Brief #1 of Like the Prose 2021: Waiting.

Sleeping Positions (A Basil and Zoe vignette)

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black background“You don’t sleep.”

“Zoe?”

We’d just been intimate – sexually intimate – for the first time, and while there’d been some pleasant pillow-talk before and some flirtatious talk during, after had me feeling a bit off-kilter.

“You don’t sleep,” I repeated. “I mean, I know people don’t always spend the night after sex, but skulking back to my mother’s quarters isn’t my idea of fun, ever, and especially after…”

“Have I done something to cause you discomfort?” Concern filled Basil’s voice, and when I turned onto my side to look at him, I saw that it was evident on his silvery features as well.

“No, not at all. It’s just… you don’t sleep, and I’ve never… I mean all my other experience was in summer camp dorms or at home, hoping a parent wouldn’t show up at an inopportune time. I don’t know the protocol for…this… especially with you. You don’t sleep.”

Basil reached out and brushed some of my hair out of my face. “It is true that I do not require sleep,” he said in a gentle tone. “But I am capable of sleep. However, I do not believe that is your real concern. You have ‘crashed’ here many times while I was working or writing.”

“Yeah, but none of those times ended up with us naked in your bed.” I pointed out. “It’s different.”

“It is,” he agreed. “And it is not.”

“Now you sound like me.”

“Zoe, dearest,  if I ‘sound like you’ it is only because we are spending significant time together and your patterns are becoming integrated into my own. However, we are digressing from the issue at hand. If you are truly uncomfortable remaining here, I will not be offended if you return to your mother’s quarters. It will not be ‘skulking,’ however, as we have nothing to hide.”

“O… kay?”

Basil continued. “I would much prefer that you remain here, though.” His silver features softened into a vulnerable expression. “I have never had a sexual encounter last through the night. I’ve also  never had a lover wake up in my bed. I find I want both.”

“With me?”

“Yes, with you.”

I relaxed back into the bed. “So… your programing prevents you from hogging the covers, right?”

“I am afraid we will have to discover that together.”

I couldn’t think of an adequate response, so I just curled against him. “I can live with that,” I said. “But if you decide to experiment with snoring, it’s grounds for a break-up.”

Basil didn’t answer me. Instead, he just ordered the computer to dim the lights for sleeping.

Labyrinth

Labyrinth Photo by Kathy GreyShe walks, following the pattern of the stones. Her feet sink into the soft earth and when she’s on the outer rims of the shape the evergreens reach out to snatch bits of her hair, letting go with only a little reluctance.

The only sounds she hears are the birds above, and her own breath. The ground is clear enough, soft enough, that her bare feet make no sound.

She traces the switchback paths with her whole body, one quadrant at a time until the circle is complete. The sun is partially occluded by lingering morning fog, but she likes it that way. It makes this place feel more mystical.

A smile curves the corners of her mouth upward; she is amused by her own whimsy.

Half-way through the ritual, standing in the center of the circle, she pauses to reflect. Unlike the story, there is no spool of thread to guide her out if she loses her way. Instead, the only tether she has is the one that binds her to friends and family. A mixture of love and obligation, of belonging and duty… life isn’t ever purely one thing or another, after all.

There isn’t a great beast waiting in the dark to prey upon her. Sadly, David Bowie doesn’t lurk here waiting to escort her to a different world, either.

But there are still monsters.

There are always monsters.

These monsters, though, aren’t tangible. Rather, they go by names like Fear and Doubt, and they travel with impish sidekicks like Impatience and Annoyance.

She moves on, into the last quarter of her journey, and considers: no king created this collection of stones. She’s pretty sure most of the maintenance on it is done by women. And she likes that notion.

Women’s hands, women’s work creating a sacred space for all to walk, and think, and just be. She wonders if they sang while they worked, sending their energy into the rocks, trees, and soil. She hopes they did. She imagines they did. She thinks she might hear the echoes of their voices blended into the whispers of the trees.

The end of the path is met with a sigh. She has completed the circle, and emerged back into the light, and maybe no big decisions were made, or problems solved during her walk, but maybe that isn’t the point.

Maybe it’s enough that she walked the trail with her monsters and left them behind to make their own way out, shrinking in the sun – as such creatures are wont to do.

She wonders how long it will take them, then smiles at the thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zenia’s Bedraglon

0930 - Bedraglon

 

“Mama! Come look! There’s a bedraglon on the beach! We have to help it!”

 

“A what?” My child confused me sometimes.

 

“A bedraglon,” she repeated. “You know, when a thing is all mussed and tired and fade-y it’s bedraggled, right?”

 

I couldn’t fault her vocabulary. Since moving to Vios, she’d had little to do but read. She read in the house when I was preparing our meals, or in the back of flitter when I made house calls. And as the only xeno-veterinarian in the colony, I made a lot of house calls.

 

But the girl was still talking.

 

“Well, the animal on the beach is a dragon. And it’s bedraggled, so it’s a bedraglon, and we have to help it.” She looked up at me with her liquid blue-grey eyes, the color precisely the same as that of the stormy skies above us. “You can help it, can’t you, Mama?”

 

Ah, the faith of fools and children! You must never intentionally break either. “Let me get my bag,” I told her. “And I’ll see what I can do.”

 

The little girl half-led, half-pulled me down the beach from our back door, to where the poor creature had collapsed in the surf, and I had to admit, her name for it was sadly accurate.

 

I’d only ever glimpsed these native flyers in the air, and once I saw the evidence one of them left behind on one of Mr. Copnick’s sheep, but I’d never been up-close-and-personal with one, and even as a sodden heap, it was a bit intimidating.

 

“Easy there,” I said to it, speaking as I would to a spooked horse. “I’m here to help.”

 

It seemed to understand that I meant no harm because its dark eyes brightened slightly.

 

I walked around the creature making a visual assessment, and that’s when I realized what had happened: the poor beast had been snared by a fisherfolk’s drift net. Long since banned for ocean use, these nets were used on Vios and other colony worlds to catch aerial prey. Specifically, the fisherfolk here cast them out from trawling shuttles to snare the flying turkeys that had become one of our staple foods. Apparently, even when used in the skies instead of the seas, they still caught other creatures unintentionally.

 

“Zenia, darling, will you do Mama a huge favor and bring the big shears from my bag?”

 

“Okay!” She trotted over with them, carried point-down as I’d told her so many times. “Can I help?”

 

I hesitated. I needed someone to keep the dra – bedraglon – calm, but I wasn’t certain it was safe. I did my own sort of casting out, probing the creature with my vet-sense. There was no return crackle of danger, so I took a chance.

 

“Go sit near its head, sweetie. If it lets you touch it – like this -“ and I demonstrated, giving the animal’s side a firm but gentle stroke with my flattened hand “- then pet it, and talk to it. Talk soft and slow, like you do with Spot.”

 

Spot was our dog. Or cat. I hadn’t yet determined if the local domestic was analogous to canine or feline house pets, but we referred to them as Viosian Cloud Leopard Dogs, and almost every family had adopted one.

 

“Okay, Mama.”

 

I gave the bedraglon – I was thinking of it that way, by then – a few minutes to settle, and was relieved to see that Zenia had dropped into a cross-legged position and coaxed the great beast’s head into her lap. Then I went to work with my shears.

 

Freeing the first wing was easy enough, but the second was folded backwards and the ribs were straining. I had to find the tension point before I could start snipping and balancing it with one hand while I clipped the strands of the net with the other was a little awkward. But I managed, and even though it felt like hours, it was only a few minutes before the animal was completely free.

 

I sensed the bedraglon’s motion before I saw it move. “Sweetie, move back,” I warned, but my daughter was already up on her feet.

 

The animal rocked back and forth a few times, then got to its feet. It snaked its thick neck around to look at me, then blew warm air into my face. I could have lived without the strong scent of masticated fish, but I understood it as a gesture of thanks.

 

“You’re welcome,” I told it.

 

I walked toward the front of its body, running my hands along its side as I did so. Nothing felt wrong, but what did I know? What surprised me was that it wasn’t scaled like a lizard or leathery like bats. Rather it had the coarse hair of a Terran hunting dog. A pointer, maybe.

 

By the time I got to where my daughter was standing, the bedraglon had turned back to look at her. She also received the animal’s breath of gratitude, and her expression of disgust only matched her delighted giggles for pure adorableness.

 

We watched as the creature launched itself into the air, and if its first few wing strokes were a bit wobbly, who could blame it.

 

I expected that would be the end of our first encounter with Bedraglon Zenian, as it was officially named, but about a week later as we were sitting on the sand right below our house, a shadow obscured the twin suns for a moment and then our friend was standing before us.

 

Zenia was racing toward it before I could even get up, but I needn’t have worried. The bedraglon had lowered its head so my daughter could hug its neck, just like she had with our ponies back on Earth.

 

My husband came out to join us then, bringing me a glass of iced mint tea. “What’s going on there?” he asked. “Should I worry?”

 

“Nope,” I told him. “That’s just a girl and her bedraglon. It’s all good.”

 

And it was.

Art by: Rasmus Berggreen – http://conceptartworld.com/artists/rasmus-berggreen/

 

 

Just Desserts

666 - Route 666

They were somewhere in the desert, the one that spanned Nevada and Arizona but changed names, or spellings anyway, at the state line. Mojave, Mohave, either way it was Mo-freaking-hot-as-hell.

Tracy could even see the heat waves rolling up from the ground, making the endless stretch of empty road look more like rolling sea than a black asphalt river bleeding its way across the parched flesh of the empty land.

Sure, there was another car from time to time, but mostly the only thing that punctuated the monotony was the occasional mournful whistle of a cargo train – they were automated, those things – and over a hundred cars longs – and their whistles made Tracy shiver every time.

“Too much a/c?” Steve asked? The outside temperature gauge read 106 but it was 72 in the car.

“No, just the train whistle.”

“You like trains,” Steve reminded her.

“I like passenger trains,” she said. “These cargo things… they’re more like ghost trains. Sometimes I think maybe it’s just one endless train on a loop, never ending or beginning…”

“Drink some water, babe; you’re dehydrated.”

“I’m not!” she insisted, but she reached for her water bottle anyway, and took a healthy swallow. “How’re we doing on gas?” The design of the dashboard meant she couldn’t read that information from the passenger seat.

“We can make to Flagstaff.”

“Oh. Goo – Shit!” A red sports car had come zooming up beside them in the wrong lane, nearly clipping her mirror. “That wasn’t the same car we saw leaving Vegas?”

“I think it was… ”

Tracy reached out and teased the nape of Steve’s neck. “Crazy.”

“I know.”

They kept on driving, stopped at a couple of truck stops for bathroom breaks and gas. And then, just outside Flagstaff, they turned off the interstate, following suggestions to a tourist destination on the old Route 66. “I-40 parallels it along this stretch,” Steve told her, when Tracy questioned the detour. “There’s a ghost town with a burger joint that supposed to be to die for. They keep it open for tourists.”

“What tourists?” Tracy wanted to know.

“I guess there are more than we think.”

Tracy shrugged. “Sounds fun.” They weren’t in a race, after all.  They were headed to a new life in a community of artists and writers in Taos, New Mexico, but their schedule was their own. So why not enjoy a slight diversion?

Unlike the Interstate, the road they turned onto was faded and crumbling at the shoulders. The paint marking the lanes was barely discernible, but ruts in the road marked the divisions as well, or better.

The burger joint – a roadhouse, really – had a rusty highway sign on the top, Tracy froze looking at it after they got out of the car. “Steve. There are three sixes on that sign.”

“What?” he said. “Baby, we really need to get some protein in you.”

When Tracy looked again, the sign was a normal Route 66 sign.

Inside, the place was full of tourist kitsch. Stuffed jackalopes and Route 66 t-shirts were everywhere, and the song – that song – blared from the speakers.

A tired waitress in a polyester uniform greeted them with a dusty smile. “Welcome to the Roadhouse.” She reeled off a list of specials and left them to decide while she went to get drinks. A few minutes later, they were sipping iced tea and waiting for bacon and cheddar burgers.

“You headed somewhere specific?” the waitress asked, when she brought their food.

“Taos,” Tracy said.

“Nice town,” the other woman answered. “You’ll like it there. Best cheese enchiladas ever come from Gloria’s. Don’t miss them.”

“Thanks for the tip,” Tracy said.

The burgers were wonderful. Steve ate his own and half of hers, but that was typical. She ate all of her own fries, though. They had garlic on them. They watched people come and go as they ate – families mostly, and a few couples like themselves – but then he entered.

Tracy could tell he didn’t fit. Didn’t belong. His teeth were too white. His sunglasses were too expensive. His t-shirt had a logo that meant it had cost more than their typical electric bill.

“Can I get service?” he asked loudly. He’d barely been waiting fifteen seconds.

“I can seat you at the counter,” their waitress offered. “If it’s just you.”

“Fine, I guess. Could you wipe the grease off it first, though?”

Tracy couldn’t see his face, but she could practically hear him rolling his eyes.

“Asshole,” Steve muttered under his breath.

“Bet you anything he’s the guy in that red penis-car that keeps almost killing us,” Tracy whispered back.

In an attempt to wait him out, to not be ahead of him on the road, they decide to order pie and coffee. Tracy went for peach – her favorite – Steve was excited that they offered strawberry-rhubarb. “Good choices,” their waitress approved. “You want a la mode? It’s on me.”

“Because we’re going to Taos?” Tracy asked.

“Sure. That.” The waitress gave asshole-customer a furtive glance. “And because I know you don’t want to be on the road with him. I can tell.”

“He’s… we keep running into him. I guess the upside is that he’s the one who’s been caught in every speed trap since Vegas,” Steve said.

“Don’t doubt it.”

“A la mode sounds fantastic,” Tracy smiled. “It’s summer, after all. Thanks.”

“You bet.”

They finish their dessert, by which time the guy with the attitude has disappeared. “Bet you anything he’s from L.A.,” Tracy said, as they paid the check. “Leave the waitress a generous tip.”

“I left twenty-five percent,” Steve said.

“And that’s why I love you.”

“Not for my hot body?”

“Well, that too.”

They paused for a selfie in front of the roadhouse. It was dark by then, but there was so much lighting in the parking lot that it might as well have been noon. There’s a mark on the ground telling people where to stand so they can guarantee the sign is in the picture.

Back in the car, they headed back to the Interstate, only to be halted by flickering red and blue lights. “Sorry folks,” a highway patrol officer says, coming up to their window. “Gotta redirect you. To get back on Eastbound 40 do this…”

Tracy took down the directions with the “Notes” app on her phone. “Can I ask what happened, Officer?”

“Bad accident,” he said. “Speed demon in a red car wrapped himself around the signpost on the ramp.” He took a beat, then added. “These roads… they may seem flat and empty, but they make you cocky. You drive safe, hear?”

“Sure thing, Officer.” It was Steve who answered.

They follow their detour directions which take them to a ridge on the other side of the Interstate. Looking down, they can see the car that was smashed. No surprise, it was their “friend” from the road. The asshole from the  roadhouse.

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” Steve said.

“Hush, honey. No one deserves that. Not really.” She paused. “We should go.” But their vantage point also let them glimpse the sign from the roadhouse, and Tracy shivered when she saw it. Checking her phone, she confirms what she’d seen before. The sign on the roof. One side was the normal road sign for America’s most famous highway.

The other? It had three sixes.

Get your kicks on route sixty-six.
Get your kicks on route sixty-six.
Get your kicks on route sixty-six.