Disease Is The Enemy, Not Each Other

Last night I dreamed I was back in an Applied Microbiology lab with one of my favorite professors who has since passed from Cancer. He said something back then (early 90s) in his quirky, ominous voice that caused us to lovingly make fun of him for a couple of weeks. This was the guy who had his car keys in his hand when he asked us if we saw them. He was a great teacher, and he loved science. He dedicated his life to research and students. He bought me a $100 distillation tube when I broke mine for the third time in a semester.

He said, “Disease is our enemy, not each other.”

This was during the concerns we faced from the Ebola virus. I wanted to share this before I continue working and before I forget again. He also said we have great power as scientists to help.

The Night Gardeners 2: The War of the Rabbit

“Tallyhooooo and bugaboooooo! Troops, we have a problem,” Smith yelled, forgetting a whisper yell was the preferred communication for the Night Gardeners. He tilted his blue cone to the left and placed his hands on his hips just above his trowel holster.

“Smith, it is just one rabbit. I think this might be a wee overreaction. Yes?” Margie just wanted to weed tonight. Smith had been too focused on the nibbling of rabbits for her taste this week. This garden had a one rabbit problem, and Margie was content to weed and forget, weed and forget.

“Bob, can you explain to Margie about how one rabbit becomes thousands of rabbits, tearing your Centaurea montana from the earth, beautiful flowers and roots…NEVER TO RETURN?”

“You were always better at biology, Smithy. Anyways, what is the common name for Century Mount Tana?”

“Sweet weed whipper near a perennial, Bob. Amethyst on snow. I’m not even going to correct your pronunciation of the French name.”

“I thought it was Latin,” Margie poked the pint-sized, portly bear she called Smith.

“Enough, both of you. The enemy returns in a few minutes, and we must take back this garden and do so quietly. We don’t want to wake the ginger…public enemy number two. I have stacked some rocks over there. When it arrives, we will throw rocks at it until it surrenders…alive…or worse.”

“Smith, have you been sniffing too much weed killer? I am not killing that bunny. Live and let live, I say. It doesn’t attack us, and we are not attacking it.”

“So be it, Margie. Bob and I will be the brave souls to eradicate this menace.”

“Alrighty then, Smith. I’ll be in the back of the garden protesting this war by pulling weeds.” Margie pulled up her gardening apron hoisting the only thing ample about her…her bosom.

 It was a muggy night in late June, the air heavier with Smith’s dissatisfaction over the rabbit who was now late to arrive. Bob stood behind Smith, a distracted foot soldier not entirely understanding the nature of this war. And just like that, the rabbit emerged from the darkness, pausing, wiggling its nose.

“Look at that Bob. Our enemy at the gate is mocking us.”

“Where’s the gate? I didn’t think the Rogers had a garden gate.”

“Of course they don’t, Bob! Now shhhhhhhh and grab us our weapons from that pile!”

As Bob slumped and trudged to the rock pile, quickly losing interest in hurting the rabbit, Margie emerged with her tiny shovel from the back of the garden.

“GOOOOOOOOOO NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!” Margie went running at the rabbit, like Braveheart against an entire army, her jiggle in full force. The rabbit quickly pivoted and hopped the hop of a thousand hops, disappearing into the night, a silent surrender.

“Well there we go, Smith. I don’t think the fuzzy fellow will be returning anytime soon.”

“Margie, the war is not over. We have won this battle, no thanks to you. We must be vigilant.”

“No thanks to me? Humph.” Margie stomped off with the truth at her side.

The next morning, the ginger girl, enemy number two, ran to the garden. She sprinkled pellets of rabbit food from her pet bunny named Sasha. She was determined to find Sasha some friends. Before she left, she bent down and eyed the gnome with the blue cone before lifting him and setting him face first in the dirt of her mother’s garden.

For the first story in this wee series:

https://queenofquill.com/2020/06/13/the-night-gardeners/

The Night Gardeners

“To the left, Bob. No, not that left, your other left,” the one with the unusually bulbous nose with a spot of dirt on the end whispered harshly into the dark of the night.

“You told me to put it over there the other day, Smith. I wish you would make up your mind. She’s going to notice this time.”

“Well, it’s about time she noticed. Everything would be dead out here if we weren’t helping her out.”

“I think she is doing a pretty good job. Her rosebush finally bloomed, and all of the perennials she planted last year came back.”

“Bob, she murdered the succulents, and she weeds like she is blind. Please do not defend her,” Smith wiggled his finger at Bob in admonition.

Bob shrugged and then started to pull on the planter with all his short, squat might to move it ten inches to the left, grunting and sweating even though it was a cool summer night. Sometimes he wondered if Smith was moving things around just to move things around even though he tried to sound like one of those botanists with his reasons. Bob stopped to adjust his long, pointy hat which had flipped to the back. He preferred it at attention, a centered green cone on top of his red, scratchy hair. It was then he heard a sneeze from the back of the garden, a dainty sneeze to start which triumphed at the end with a foghorn type sound. Margie had arrived.

Margie emerged from behind a Rhododendron. “Hello, gents. I see we have a good start to tonight’s efforts. How can I help?”

Smith sighed, hands on his hips. “Perhaps you could start by not sneezing like a ship coming into port, Margie. You know her kids can hear us. The ginger one comes to the window like a sentry when we are out here, and then she babbles stories to her mother during the day about us.”

“Oh, Smith, always so worried you are. If you could just enjoy this and worry less, I think you would have better humor.”

“My humor is not up for discussion. The health and success of this garden is our concern!”

“Okay, okay, no need to get your trowel in a tizzy. I will weed diligently tonight.”

“Perfect. Be sure to get weeds hiding inside of the bushes and plants. She always misses those,” Smith stroked his beard as if doing this made him look more in charge than he actually was. Bob was too genial to challenge him, and Margie did not want to spend precious gardening time to take on old Smithy.

The three gardeners worked well into the night, trimming, moving, watering, weeding, and all other manners of good gardening practices. As night faded into morning, they returned to their places, satiated by the soil and pollen covering them.

The ginger was the first to come out that morning. Her skinned knees met their eye level as she wandered around inspecting their hard work. She stopped briefly to stare at each of them. They could not respond. That is just not how they worked. She wandered the entire perimeter of the garden before returning to Smith and kneeling to look him directly in his immovable eyes.

“I know what you do at night, Smith. Even if my mom won’t listen, I know what you do, and someday I will catch you. Then, we can be friends.” With that, she ran off giggling like a fire-haired elven princess. To Smith, elves were like tall, beardless gnomes. He had no use for them, and he had no use for this little girl, especially the daughter of a substandard gardener.

100 Word Ghost Stories

NYC Midnight Microfiction Contest Prompt: Ghost story, with the word focus, and action of licking an envelope

The Toast

Mark, always the focus at their table of friends, let Anna sit in a quiet shadow beside him. He would toast her, like he always did, to make up for it.

“To Anna, a bright light lost to shadows,” Mark solemnly spoke as he raised his obligatory glass.

Anna struggled to grip her wine glass, perplexed at the toast and her last fight with Mark. When the fight ended unresolved, she licked an envelope at his insistence, still remembering the odd metallic taste.

Anna went to speak, but Claire sat down through her, grabbing Mark’s hand with a coy smile.

The Promise

“Promise me you will move on,” Wren insisted with ragged breath through the fence. Even through her mask, she could smell his intoxicating spice.

“I want to go with you,” she screamed as he walked away for the last time.

Two years later to the day, she sat at a desk in the grim flat issued to her upon surviving the final wave of illness. Her focus was lost to an apparition on the wall and the smell of spice in the air. Suddenly compelled, she licked the envelope containing her positive response to the previously unrequited love of another.

Violet in the Dark

Violet found the darkest corner of her closet, leaving a tenuous sliver of focus into her room, lit only by unicorns and stars projected onto the ceiling. Her hands were covered in a dark, oozing slime found around the necks of her parents and sister, stiff in their beds.

The apparition was here now, preceded by a telltale chill­. It picked up something off her desk. Violet swallowed her breath as it licked the barely visible flash of a white envelope, setting it down outside the closet door, palpably pausing, then leaving. The note read, “You killed them, not me.”

Maggie’s Last Stand

“Focus is what you lacked, Maggie. I’m finally done taking care of you,” he said before he licked the envelope and slammed it on the table near the stairs.

“The only thing I lacked was your love, Greg,” Maggie said, looking down at her tattooed bruises, colored sunset purple.

With narrowed eyes and clenched fists, he walked past her. Sometimes, he would walk into her, delivering a jab or push.

Greg fell to his death down the stairs that night, the startled victim of a whispered threat. Maggie’s death certificate was found in a sealed envelope near his crumpled body. 

The 10th Quarantine

I remembered the day I opened my door after the last six-month quarantine of The Great Illness. I lived on a typically quiet cul-de-sac in a sleepy Midwestern town, but the sound of an amped guitar hummed through the air, and I could hear the lyrics of Here Comes the Sun carried to my doorstep like it was floating on water.

I walked onto my porch and dots of bright yellow dandelions littered my lawn. Nobody cared anymore what their lawns looked like during quarantines. We only cared about when we would be let out again. Suddenly, I heard the sound of laughter from my two favorite neighbors, the Smith twins. All of my children were now grown and sheltering elsewhere, so the Smith twins brought me the joy of youth and possibility.

The lily skinned twins with shocks of bright red hair ran to my doorstep. “Mrs. Rogers, Mrs. Rogers, we’re so happy to see you.”

“I am so happy to see you, too, my darlings. Would you like some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies?”

“Oh, yes please,” they said with crooked grins of missing teeth.

As soon as I gave them the cookies, they exchanged additional pleasantries, and jumped away like dolphins on the open ocean.

As I stood, my dress swaying in the spring breeze, watching them return home joyful, I could see my roses in bloom in my front garden. I took in a deep breath and stepped out onto my lawn. Somebody was cooking something spicy smelling of Sriracha and garlic. The Great Illness could not take my senses, my sculpture of memories, or my will to dance in life’s ballet of normal. I left the safety of my lawn and the 10th quarantine of my lifetime to visit the rest of my neighbors, with the words of the e.e. cummings’ poem “I carry your heart with me” in my head.

Lake Fortitude #1: The Librarian

Note: This is the first of a series of stories set in Lake Fortitude.

The town of Lake Fortitude slept in the valley of a mountain range not pretty enough to entice a tourist’s time. They were old mountains, worn down to shaggy, only slightly craggy hills. People of means today wanted massive peaks they could pretend to climb or lush hills, that when blanketed with snow, offered great skiing and romantic evenings around a fully stocked and modernized cabin’s fireplace. The Vandalay Mountains did not even merit a local park. So, the town of Lake Fortitude continued to sleep, holding its 722 residents safely in its quiet bosom.

It was summer in Lake Fortitude and Gwen, the town’s young librarian, was devoid of sun-kissed skin. She preferred the light of the library to that of the beach, and as she walked to the town’s bakery for her before work latte, she swore at the inconsiderate rising sun for bouncing off of her wire spectacles. Gwen was the only one in town who drank a latte. The other 721 residents were sensible and stuck to straight black coffee or coffee with light cream and real sugar, none of that packet stuff. Gwen, in fact, gave the owners of Meyer’s Bakery, Frank and Marley Meyer, the heebie-jeebies with her special coffee order. They had to Google it, and Mrs. Meyer did not trust the Google much to Gwen’s secret frustration. According to Mrs. Meyer, it could lead people down the dark path to leaving their town, ruining the perfectly curated composition of the place.

 “Good morning, Gwendolyn. Will it be your usual?” Mrs. Meyer questioned with a firm sigh at the end.

“Hi Mrs. Meyer! I was thinking of trying almond milk in my latte today. Would you have any on hand?”

Mrs. Meyer’s shoulders dropped, and she tilted her head. “No, we do not, dear. Farmer Jack does not milk almonds after all. Besides, a young woman like you could use a healthy dose of calcium each day so you don’t shrink like me.”

“I guess I will just have my usual then. Milk alternatives are gaining popularity from what I’m reading online lately though. I would love to try some almond or soy milk if you would humor me.”

“Well aren’t you just the young chick continually exploring outside of the safe, warm nest! Lake Fortitude has survived all these years without fancy milk alternatives, darling. I think we will continue on just fine without. Boy, you sure do come up with some interesting thoughts upon perusing the Google, don’t you?”

“It doesn’t hurt to explore the world outside of Lake Fortitude does it? I’m the town librarian. I should help you all find a window to that world. At least that is what my mom taught me.”

Mrs. Meyer muttered under her breath, “And a lot of good that did her.”

“What was that, Mrs. Meyer?”

“Oh nothing. Let me get you this latte so you can back get to those lovely classic stacks at the library, sweetheart. The internets can be left to those unpleasant dreamers beyond our lovely Lake Fortitude.”

Mrs. Meyer whipped up Gwen’s latte, spending less time at the frother than Gwen liked. It would be impolite to point this out though. Gwen knew she was being humored, so it was best to provide cheerful humor in return. Persistent pleasantness was the way in Lake Fortitude. Gwen paid her dollar for the latte and made her way to work.

As soon as Gwen was clear of the bakery, Mrs. Meyer picked up her rotary phone and dialed Peter, Lake Fortitude’s esteemed Mayor.

“Yes, Peter, it’s Marley. Uh-huh. I hope you are having a great start to this lovely day, too. I hate to tarnish it, but we may have a problem. Yes, it is Gwendolyn again. She is on the Google again. Now she wants almond milk of all things. It might be time to tweak her programming again. Her exploratory protocols seem to be set to the maximum. We can’t have our town librarian getting too many notions about the outside world and leaving us again. Oh, I know! We would have to stick her in the closet next to her mom, may she rest in silence. Okay, thank you so kindly, Peter. Always happy to help. Toodle-loo.”

The End

The metronome clicked at the required intervals as Kai completed her pre-travel report. She had no idea how many times she had completed this same activity in her lifetime. Her life was not the focal point of a single timeline now. Kai happened throughout time, completing this same activity when she finished what she was asked to start along one point in time before traveling to another, thus requiring another pre-travel report, or a PT as referred to by all field agents of Traveler’s Quest, Inc. The only consistency in Kai’s timeline was that Cole Rainier was present at every point in time she landed in this plain white box of a room for PT completion.

“I see you are not quite done yet with your pre-travel report. Are you feeling fatigued from your most recent activity?” Cole walked up on Kai like he always did. She could hear his self-important breathing before he even spoke.

“How would I know? I don’t remember what I did. I only fill out PTs. I assume someone else is collecting the results of what I did last,” Kai snapped.

“Fair enough. You wouldn’t be here though if you didn’t want to be. This is your choice.”

“What made you think I was complaining? I’m just stating a fact. I was simply having a moment wondering how many PTs I have filled out.”

“I could tell you, Kai, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t mean much other than a number to satisfy your sudden curiosity. Curiosity is the first sign of burnout in our agents according to a recent study,” Cole said as he shifted his substantial weight from one foot to the other and placed a hand on his hip.

“No need to get bothered by my curiosity, Cole. It is not that important. You should be more worried about me finishing this PT before the metronome hits my travel click.”

“I was simply checking on your well-being. We do care about our agents here at Traveler’s Quest. The world needs your service to determine how The End arrived. It is the only way we will find The Begin Point.”

“So you say. I would very much like to be the agent that finds Begin Point.”

Cole stepped away without further word at this. He was skilled at talking in generalities or disappearing when it came to a discussion regarding the purpose and importance of agent work. Kai was sure it also had something to do with his strong concern over agent burnout. She quickly averted her mind back to the PT in front of her as time was waning based on the clicks, which she learned to count in the background like a concert pianist.

She took her chipped hand with her assignment in it, held it to her empty report screen, holding her hand there until her PT populated. The next step was to review her PT assignment and agree to it by once again touching her chip to the screen.

Kai found it odd sometimes that there really did not appear to be a clear process for disagreeing with the assignment. She always just agreed to what was in front of her. Today should be no different until she started to read the screen.

“For this assignment, you will be sent back to 2020 on the afternoon of October 10. You will report to a bar called The Green Door in Lansing, Michigan on the night of October 10, 2020. You are a waitress named Kate at this bar, and you will report there for your shift at 21:00. You have a vial of poison in the travel pack on your right thigh. You will empty this vial in the drink of Cole Rainier, your customer, at approximately 23:00. He will die. You will leave. PT complete.”

Kai gasped and looked around the room in vain for anything which could be recording her or provide some sign of how to reject this PT. Had she been asked to kill before? And why would Traveler’s Quest want one of their own dead? If they she and Cole were here working, they were part of the solution to get to Begin Point, not a part of the problem that led to The End.

Kai started to scream just as her metronome hit the travel click, and her world went black.