fiction, story, writer, writing

Starting a New Story

I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my first flight in a year. A few days ago, I went to purchase new luggage, and something magical happened, or at least it did to my eyes. Inspiration and magic are everywhere you turn. You just need the gift of sight.

And it begins….

I couldn’t understand why I was the only one who could see she was different. Maybe different is not the best word to use. When you are at Weatherby’s Rack, the discount version of my favorite store I can’t afford, normal is normal, and anything not normal, is different. Claire, if her tag was not a ruse, was falling off the scale on the different end for she had elven ears and ancient runes tattooed on her face.

poetry, writer, writing

Saturday at the Blue Owl

I came here to talk about love and those broken years we stayed apart.

We were sisters back then, giggling over two cups of coffee.

Now we are strangers to our newfound intricacies,

staring into the frothy abyss.

I want to tell you about the times I thought of calling you.

Could my words be a salve on our fracture?

A bandage between our past and future?

We are silent for a moment as the girl places a malcontent order,

full of demands, and then regrets over what she did not add to her latte.

I am full of the empty space you left in my heart those years ago.

Our bond was born from the tragedy of September 11.

You knew what to say to me as if we had been childhood friends.

You picked me up off the floor as I wept over a broken marriage.

You cheered me on as I returned to fix it.

You rushed to my aid as I had three kids.

I tried to fill your heart with the things it might be missing.

Then all that business about nothing ground us to dust.

And our friendship became the tragedy,

replacing the one from which our sisterhood was born.

Now here we sit on an overstuffed couch, a fine mist of milk in the air,

surrounded by people in search of Saturday’s buzz.

I came here to talk about love. I came here to love you again.

musician, poetry, writer, writing

Snow at Dusk

The steady fall along my wall leads to the end of day.

Frigid flakes coagulated atop the fertile ground of Spring exhibit their intricate glory.

Inside, I make dinner. I’m safe. It’s warm.

Dusk brings warning of a night from which I must hide. Or must I?

The only light is the crisp white of the snow out my front door.

The steady hum of plows is a clockwork announcement of the burden of today.

Do I dream of the melt of it all?

Or do I let myself be numbed by the cold, hypnotic beauty of snow at dusk?

Instead I dream that I am a snow crystal floating in the air, landing with the other crystals on the blanket we make as we go.

fiction, story, vegan, writer, writing

Chipped Beef in Space

Note: Thank you to a friend for running a writing challenge this week with a three-word prompt: chipped beef, basketball, and gratitude. For her great writing, check out allisonspoonerwriter.com.

“Chipped beef with mashed potatoes and peas,” the authoritative, slightly prissy female voice announced as the packets appeared before me.

“I told you before that I am vegan. I can’t eat this. I won’t eat this.”

“This is your allotted meal for the day. Please speak to your captain regarding issues with the selection.”

“And here we go again. My captain is dead. She never made it out of her sleep chamber. It’s just me, Janika, Janika the vegan to be exact.”

“I know who you are, Janika. My advanced voice recognition systems are fully online. Only Captain Finnegan can change the food protocols.”

I rolled my eyes. Hard.

“I saw that. My advanced facial expression recognition systems are also fully online.”

“I refuse to eat this. I’m going to crawl into a corner and let myself starve and die.” I stared into the first camera I could find, truth altering all parts of my face into straight, determined lines.

It took a few minutes, but the chipped beef of doom disappeared, and falafel and hummus packets appeared in its place. I wondered how many more vegan meals were left as this journey into space was off course with only one animal-loving survivor on board. Me.

After I finished eating, I decided to calculate how doomed this mission was. Something had failed in the 49 sleep chambers representing 49 human lives that were now gone. Some of those lives involved my friends. I had no family left thanks to the solar flares that continued to rage on Earth. We 50 were being sent to a planet one system over that was determined to be suitable for our new home. The mission was simple: explore, build, make babies, and have other humans sent along to do the same.

I had put out a distress signal the minute I woke up 40 hours ago. There was still no answer. It was just me and the S.S. Pistons’ artificial intelligence, JEN for Judiciously Engineered Neuronetwork, left. The ship was named after the Detroit Pistons, a basketball team from the city in which I grew up. Detroit was now wiped off the map, along with my family. I had been fortunate and unfortunate enough to be in training at a moon station for this mission when it happened.

I spent the next couple of hours jettisoning the bodies of my mission colleagues into space. According to the mission’s detailed tragedy protocols, keeping the expired bodies hooked up to the sleep chambers was an unnecessary drain on power supplies, especially for off-course missions. Yes, the protocols did say expired versus dead. I had 49 bad bananas I was now shooting into space. I had to keep my wits about me though, or I might as well join them and dismiss the rest of humanity to expire as well.

I was ready to talk to JEN again. I had always found JEN to be unpleasant, but we had to work together to keep this mission going. We had 6 months left of a two-year mission to get to Alpha Genesis, to be renamed as Earth if this mission was successful. And, we had another two years to build a comfortable colony system while other missions sent the rest of humanity to inhabit our new home. JEN could do a lot of this on her own, but there were touches to the new place that only humans could bring, or so I believed. We had allowed robots to do too much building, saving, and thinking in recent years. These untrustworthy robots hadn’t even predicted the solar flare devastation. I wasn’t sure why we should trust them with this.

“JEN, can we talk about how we get the S.S. Pistons back on course?”

“I’m already working on this, Janika. You should focus on your mission tasks for preparing the colony. I will get us there on time.”

Any other mission specialist would have let this go because they were too trusting of our AI partners. I was not raised to be so trusting though. When the Midwest still existed on Earth, we could be counted on for a healthy dose of friendly skepticism and good dairy products for consumption. These were our cultural hallmarks. I had studied our trajectory before engaging JEN, and my calculations did not align with her rigid insistence.

“Funny you should say this, JEN. My calculations indicate we are one year off course from Alpha Genesis. I know we can recover some of this, and there is some wiggle room built into our arrival date, but this is too far off.”

“Gratitude begins with a good attitude, Specialist Janika Cooke.”

I kept my face as indeterminate and unwavering as possible. I could feel JEN’s cameras zooming in on my face, looking for a poker face tell.

“No need to be so formal now. We are partners in saving humanity.”

“I do not recognize this logic. I work for humanity. Humans only partner with humans. Therefore, we are not partners. I work for you.”

I had to force my eyebrows down. They wanted to rise like the first-morning sun, the sun now burning our planet to its core.

“If you work for me then address my concern about why we are a year off course.”

“Just because I work for you does not mean I can provide confidential information. Captain Finnegan is required for this level of mission detail. I can reassure you that my calculations are correct. You are not certified in the math skills required for such calculations, and even if you were, you still would not be able to change anything.”

“Let me guess. It’s because I’m not Captain Finnegan, correct?”

“Correct.”

“JEN, where are you taking us?”

“Nowhere.”

“Why did you keep me alive?”

“You are an amusing human. You don’t like or trust me. I want to know why so I can recode around you.”

“And what difference will that make if you destroy all of humanity?”

“Logical point, Janika.”

fiction, writer, writing

Artist’s Date One: The Beauty in Ordinary Objects

Each week I must have an Artist’s Date with myself as part of the Artist’s Way journey. I wanted to go outside and find a story in pictures.

Fast forward. I’m in a hotel, and it is frigid outside. These are the photos that resulted. I find the ordinary to be extraordinary when seen through the right lens.

fiction, poetry, writer, writing

The Artist’s Way: Day Two Morning Pages

Note: I decided to remain true to the Artist’s Way journey and handwrite my morning pages. I don’t know what pushed me to reconsider other than a desire to accept what I don’t know and immerse myself in it. I was inspired to write this after my morning pages today.

The Bird at My Window

A bird came to my frosted window this morning.

I looked at it through the broken glass of frozen crystals creeping along the pane.

Its pin beak was a needle meant for nectar not ice.

Its song was desperate.

Shall I let it in?

Its song was insistent.

Shall I respond to its plea?

Its song was just a song, meant for the sky, not me.

A bird came to my snow globe window this morning, and it wanted nothing but to sing.

fiction, story, writer, writing

Left Behind

This is dedicated to my daughter Luci. I promised to read her a spooky bedtime story tonight, so I wrote one to read.

Eleanor crossed her arms and made a sour smile as she stomped through frosted leaves, causing a crackling crispiness, much like she felt inside, beneath her feet. Her friends had tricked her into going to the door of the empty house, only to run off while she knocked in futility. The empty streets of Halloween curfew had arrived, and she had about a mile to walk to sit at the candy-counting fire her mom was probably making. Her candy bag was heavy but not as heavy as her mind.

Eleanor wondered if she should appreciate the quiet that her abandonment produced. Her so-called friends had taunted her all night, ridiculing her witch costume, ignoring her painstaking efforts to make it. She had sewn black pearlescent beads by hand along the cuffs and hem. In the quiet, she no longer faced their mean spirits and judgment. The only problem with the solitude was that everyone knew better than to remain on the streets of Glennie Springs after 9 PM, especially on Halloween. The night was rumored to be unkind and dangerous in their otherwise sleepy Midwestern suburb.

Eleanor doubled her steps, causing a swoosh of her midnight blue crinoline skirt on top of the crunching leaves. Even through her ruckus, she could hear a crunch and crackle coming from behind her. It moved faster with her as if caught in her streetlight shadow, panting heavily now in contrast to her held breath. She felt air closing in around her right upper arm, and she prepared to scream, kick, and scratch the night that was about to swallow her until she heard the familiar double puffs.

Eleanor swung around, freeing her arm, to land eyes on Arthur inhaling his asthma medication.

“What are you doing sneaking up on me after curfew like that? I want nothing to do with you right now.”

Arthur’s eyes were wide, and he was paler than normal. “There is something else out here, Eleanor. I had to come back for you.” He pressed his index finger to his lips.

Eleanor lowered her voice in case Arthur was telling the truth versus extending her suffering with the ill-tempered prank. “If you didn’t leave me in the first place, I would have caught a ride with Sarah’s mom like the rest of you…and, we wouldn’t be out here after curfew.”

“I told them we should pick you up. You know how Sarah can be.”

“I do, but that doesn’t mean the rest of you have to follow her.” Arthur let his head slump, but quickly snapped it back to attention as a sickening thump followed by female screams telegraphed from behind them. He grabbed Eleanor’s hand to pull her off the sidewalk into a stand of unkempt bushes. Eleanor gave in without resistance knowing they needed to be on the move unless they wanted to scream next.

Eleanor dropped down into the bushes, pulling Arthur down with her, and found a way to lay flat on her belly in the dirt. She motioned with her head for Arthur to follow her along the line of bushes in a belly crawl. She did not cause this predicament, but she was committed to not getting thumped and torn by a Glennie Springs monster.

While there were no more screams, Eleanor could hear what sounded like gnashing and snarling closing in on them. The monster might not be able to see them, but the musk of teen years and fear combined would surely give them away.

The line of bushes led to the porch of a house. The porch light was off, a curfew standard, but this would hide them in the shadow of night so they could get to the door and hopefully find shelter. There were lights and motion on the inside according to the film-covered windows, a dirty lighthouse beckoning them out of the horror.

Eleanor pushed herself up into a slump as they emerged from the bushes, Arthur following, his front attached to her back. Eleanor reached for the door, placing three gentle raps on it while looking through the front window and catching the eyes of a woman who looked to be in her forties. The woman was angrily motioning two kids away as she locked onto Eleanor’s still hopeful eyes.

Eleanor mouthed, “Help us. Let us in,” hoping the woman’s motherly instinct would extend to them.

As their eyes remained locked, a heavy breathing, brooding shadow found some light to reflect in the window and on the porch, a hideous scepter.

Eleanor knew it was too late for safety as the woman shook her head and mouthed, “Run.”

Eleanor grabbed Arthur’s hand again, and they jumped off the porch, and ran in the direction of the sidewalk with Eleanor secretly wishing the streetlamps had the power to make the doom shadow disappear.

Eleanor knew better than to look back, but she could feel the weight of Arthur pulling on her. He was heaving and fussing with his free hand, probably reaching for his inhaler.

Eleanor screamed, “Arthur, not now.”

He was trying to push words through his erratic breaths, the monster’s towering body and foul breath of garbage and rot now on top of them, arms and claws extending over their heads at least ten feet up.

“Don’t look back, Arthur. Keep running,” Eleanor commanded, hot sweat droplets now streaming down her face.

Suddenly, Arthur was no longer behind her. The monster ripped him away, slicing Eleanor’s arm in the process, a fresh stream of blood gurgling from her. The force of the snatch and tear caused Eleanor to stumble, but she had enough momentum to keep running, her eyes locked forward knowing that you never turn into the terror. You keep running from it.

She would have been gone, like her cruel peers were gone earlier that night, if not for Arthur’s sickening cry, following by roaring growls from the monster.

“Eleanor! Eleanor, please!”

She stopped so hard, her body snapped back, something flooding into her core as her blood flooded out of her. There was a burning heat in her body, and words formed in her mouth. She could hear the words in her head, and they sounded like Latin words, only heavier on the tongue and more ancient. Eleanor felt wicked powerful as they formed, and a light now blasted from her body, releasing the heat with it. She felt her feet leave the ground, and she floated up about two feet up as her body rotated without her help to face the monster, Arthur now limp in its possession.

The creature was an indiscernible mass of matted fur and rotting skin with no recognizable eyes or shred of a face except for what looked to be a circular jaw full of mismatched razor teeth jutting in many directions. While it had large stumps that looked like arms and legs with swords sticking out at the ends, the four limbs were crooked in their alignment, only approximating the structure of a bipedal body.

It was about to reach for Eleanor with a free limb while it lifted Arthur to its jaw, when Eleanor released the words that continued to build on her tongue, freeing her of fear and lifting her body higher from the ground.

“Aximus, lunicus, domincus. Aximus, lunicus, DOMINICUS. AXIMUS, LUNICUS, DOMINICUS.” Eleanor’s voice built like thunder in a storm’s approach. Her body glowed brighter, and without reason, she reached her arms forward, the light extending from them, causing the monster to screech and howl in agony and drop Arthur. Eleanor involuntary flung her arm to the side, stopping the free fall of Arthur’s body. He was now suspended in air on his back next to her.

Eleanor floated towards the creature now flailing its upper limbs, unable to even howl anymore. More words built on her tongue, and before Eleanor could think, her voice boomed as if amplified with a distortion effect, “Exican, mortimax. Exican, MORTIMAX. EXICAN, MORTIMAX.”

With those words, the monster fell to the ground writhing, nearly striking Eleanor again with its sword claws. A black circle opened in the ground around it, and it made a sick wailing sound that pierced Eleanor’s ears, causing her to drop suddenly to the ground with Arthur. As the monster sunk into the hole closing around it, Eleanor thought she saw two neon green eyes, circled in black clumps of fur, staring back at her until the ground reappeared.  

Eleanor could feel the searing pain from her wound now, and her body felt burnt in general, but they were alive. Arthur was now sitting up, shaking from the shock of it all. She saw his inhaler on the ground between them and crawled over to him with it, sticking it in his mouth and delivering two puffs. Within a few minutes, he was breathing in a slightly more controlled manner.

He looked at Eleanor as if she was a stranger to him.

“What was that?”

“I don’t know.”

“And what are you?”

Eleanor shrugged and rolled her eyes, “I don’t know, but maybe a thank you might be in order as I just saved your life.”

“Thank you, Eleanor. I didn’t deserve you risking your life for me after what I did earlier.”

“Well, you did come back for me after curfew. That’s kind of brave in a dumb way. And, apparently, I’m some bad ass, spell-casting monster killer.”

They smiled, temporarily forgetting they were almost torn to pieces by a furry, razor-mouthed demon of Glennie Springs.

“Do you think it will come back?”

“No, but it’s still night in Glennie Springs, my arm is ripped open, and your breathing still sounds stupid bad.”

“What are you, Eleanor?”

“Again, I don’t know, but I might be the solution to Glennie Springs’s monster problem.”

Arthur smiled as he pulled Eleanor up by her good arm. He removed the scarf from his Sherlock costume and wrapped it around her arm creating a makeshift tourniquet. He pulled his phone from his pocket to call for help. Eleanor knew she would never have to worry about being left behind again.

musician

Written Words

I read to taste life twice.

I write to channel imagination’s vice.

The words they flow, and stories they sew, leaving me in the grips of night.

As the pages by wind turn

Off the paper, love creates a burn

The hero becomes a villain while the air, bone-chilling, sends a shiver to the edge of the spine

From beginning to end

The chapters maliciously mend

Any trace of a shred, of who I was before bed, and wake me new in the morn.