Friday, August 25, 2017

2 Minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON'T IDENTIFY AS 'WRITERS' - all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the 'comments' section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds ... no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send 'em here to read your 'two' and encourage them to play.



Shadow (Some folks suggested a prompt. Here it is. Use it if you want. Or not.)

She was not an old woman, but she was no longer young. She was an overgrown lawn. Hair, like shrubbery, sprouted from her head and expanded out in layers. Her eyes were dark, but luminous. She was the kind of woman who just looked wise. There was something about her.

I didn’t know her. Most people didn’t know her because she did not want to be known. She moved in shadows and hid in folks’ peripheral vision. She was a presence, but she was elusive. It was hard to get a grasp on, really.

She was an enigma.

The children in the town smiled at her because she smiled at them. She might glance in the direction of their parents, but her gaze did not hover long. She was old, and she was not interested in old or dying things. She liked to see fresh tendrils of grass in a rich, rain-soaked field. 

She liked potential.


#2minutesgo Tweet it! Share it! Shout it from the top of the shack you live in! I will be out most of the day, but I'll be back...

132 comments:

  1. Ah, that's beautiful and hopeful... and you gave her just the right amount of mystery.

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    1. "She was an overgrown lawn." I love that.

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    2. If this was a dude, it would be a patchy lawn. ;)

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    3. This is quite poetic, Dan. Great how you brought it all around the circle to the beginning of the metaphor and her POV.

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  2. It’s a helluva thing, waiting for a hurricane. Joseph was obsessive about checking the forecasts. Houston was in the path. He stockpiled bottled water. Batteries. Had his generator and gas to feed it. Bread. Milk. Toilet paper. The radio was on, and he was checking the weather app on his phone every three minutes.

    He knew that it would come eventually. Seven years since nature’s most destructive force had last visited the coast. But it was inevitable that it would return.

    Storm shutters were up, cellphones were fully charged. The knives were sharpened. The dogs were inside.

    His wife Janet laughed at his compulsive preparations. Let her laugh. The neighbors called him a prepper. Like that was a bad thing.

    As the winds picked up, as the rain moved closer, he practiced, practiced the look he’d have after the storm, He held the mirror up to his face. Yes, heartbroken. And only one tear. TV will eat that up.

    It’s a helluva thing, waiting for the right time to murder your wife.

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    1. Oh. Wow. I was not expecting that ending. Nicely done.

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    2. NICE! This is the best hurricane-related thing I've seen yet. AND a great little story. Thank you, Leland!

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    3. Flash with a twist is so hard to pull off, but you did it, my friend.

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    4. Build complete character, setting and situation in such short strokes and then...BANG. The left field smash of truth.

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    5. Yup. Late to the party, but I agree. Prepper indeed.

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    6. Leland goes dark. And you do it so well! And I love the twist at the end.

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  3. A growl, in the middle of the night, awakens you. Your dog sleeps more soundly than you, so you reach for the light. He sits at attention, staring at the foot of your bed, as if there is someone there. Someone he doesn't like.

    In the corner of your eye, you see movement. It is summer, and you sigh as you imagine one of the miller moths that Frodo likes to chase.

    But it is not a miller moth. It is a face. Or the shadow of a face, and her lips are moving. Your blood chills. You and your dog are staring at the same spot in the air, so you can't blame your imagination.

    You shush Frodo, and you listen. You wonder if you can hear the words from the shaded lips.

    There is only the sound of your pounding heartbeat.

    And then it disappears. Frodo whimpers. You tell him he's a good boy. He jumps up on the bed and presses his body against yours. You turn off the light.

    You do all the meditation tricks you know, trying to slow your heart. At last your eyes close, and sleep is just within reach when a voice whispers in your ear.

    "Let's try this with the lights off." And you feel,fingers on your chin, tracing a line down your neck, your chest, under the covers, and...

    And then it stops. You wait in the dark. For Frodo to growl again. For a whisper. For a touch. But there is only the hollow of the night. You do not move, do not close your eyes, until gray dawn shines through the gauzy curtains. You scan the room and see no one. You get out of bed. You walk to the dresser with the mirror, to check the depth of the dark circles under your eyes.

    And in the mirror, you see the bed, the blossoms of blood on the sheets, and your own lifeless body.

    Frodo is nowhere in sight, and your scream is silent.

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    1. What Ann said. Loved this. And I traipsed right along after you, into the abyss.

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    2. Dude, you're getting increasingly into the creepy horror stuff. I approve. lol

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    3. I got a Tell-Tale Heart vibe off this one, Leland. Well done!

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    4. Agree with Antrobus. I like the dark MagicalRealLeland.

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    5. Thanks! I suspect there will be so many opportunities for darkness in the next few years... I shall endeavor to set the dark words free... mwahahaha

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  4. I feel like I’m running out. Like the hard drive is damn well full. Like I gotta back those files up before I lose them for good. Things don’t seem like it seem they should. Sometimes, I don’t remember so good. And yeah, I’m old, I see what’s coming down the pike. I’ll lose more data, but some of that data is bad. Corrupted. So, really, what’s not to like?

    You don’t want to lose the good memories, but you don’t want the bad ones hanging around your neck like an anvil either. You can’t stand being here? Maybe you should leave, seer? You want to play in the corn rows of memory?

    Have at it.

    I’m afraid of what I might find in there.

    That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop looking. That would be downright foolish. You gotta try. Why? I don’t know. What else is there to do? Let it all slip away without even trying to grab it? Naw, I’ll take a swing. I’ll take a stab at it.

    If I could just remember where I left it...

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    1. Hard drive is full, send it to the cloud! But yeah. Made me think. The memories we choose and the memories that choose us.

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    2. You've hit at something that's been bothering me a lot lately... the memories we carry, and the memories we leave behind... I think it's about where we put our focus... those memories stay with us, and the ones we don't focus on, they slowly wither and die... for good or for bad... my favorite line though was "You want to play in the corn rows of memory?" Took me back to getting lost in a cornfield when I was little...

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    3. I don't know, lately I find myself remembering stuff I can't even believe I remember, just bubbling up from nowhere. What I had for dinner last night? Much harder...

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    4. I don't know anyone who can write dark like this. It's excellent and you've a fabulous voice you can turn on effortlessly. Fabulous!

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  5. I was sitting in a Starbucks in Albany, just hanging out and sipping my coffee for a change, rather than running out to the car in the rain, only to run someplace else, while gulping down all my venti Caffe Verona before I got to wherever that was. But not this day.

    I decided to sip at today, to savor its flavor, swishing it around my mind to parse its qualities and nuance instead of tipping it down my throat, like I was tossing it down a drain. Rather than tighten my focus to the tunnel of vision before me and the compact thought of my present obsession, I opted to absorb the room before me from the chair by the door.

    I noticed the longer hair and scruffy beards of the university students that reminded me of myself from four decades before.
    I looked into the faces of the coeds to discern their thoughts and dreams, rather than just peripherally noticing their legs as I normally would while speeding out the door focused on my cup’s top.

    They’re so young, I thought, so self-absorbed, so locked on what’s in the front of the line inside themselves while the world whooshes by.

    At a table in the far corner, a quintet of men about my age held a raucous conversation about politics, the Yankees and the weather, punctuated with thunderous laughs that drew side-eyes and smirks from the students as they viewed their own worlds through the glowing windows most held in one hand while sucking down some frothy-topped espresso concoction in the other.

    I made a note of this dichotomy on the mirror that sat on my lap reflecting my own thoughts. I turned that off, slapped closed its flap and carried the rest of my still more-than-warm coffee out to the car, where I began sucking it into the gut that told me I didn’t didn’t really belong with either of the tribes with whom that morning I’d shared breathing in the aroma of roasted Arabica, fresh perfume and carpe diem.

    The rain had stopped and I started the engine, tucked my cup in its center console nest pulled out of the parking lot, my eyes seeing little more than that framed by the windshield and my mind viewing more than the traffic around me.

    I took on long final pull on my Caffe Verona and tossed the cup of knowledge on the floor behind me with the others lying there since Monday. Today, I’d slowly consumed more of the world around me than usual and it tasted of sweet memory, bitter realization and the tempering half-and-half of middle age.

    It would have to keep me going until 10:00.

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    1. Nothing like a Starbucks to help us realize how fucking lonely we all are. Captures it.

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    2. Who was it that said youth was wasted on the young? Oscar Wilde I think, but it's too late for me to google... this juxtaposition of the world ahead and the world behind is very powerful.

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    3. I feel you, looking for that sense of belonging for those of us who are no longer chasing youth, nor embracing complete geezer hood, either.

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    4. I really, really dig this one my friend. I agree with all of the above, but also the writing is so well balanced. I adore this: "I decided to sip at today..." - the wording and the idea.

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    5. Choose a table and watch the world go by. An excellent piece and it's something most of us can identify with one way or another.

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  6. I stare out into the blackness and wonder. For one thing, I wonder what real blackness looks like. Haven’t seen any for a while. My neighbor’s lights are always on. And there are always machines blinking red and green somewhere. You can’t even see the stars from where I live. Not really. We don’t have a whole lot of nothing.

    And nothing is something I miss. I remember when I was a kid, camping in the middle of the desert. There was stuff there, but there was also a whole lot of nothing. Enough of it that you could see the stars; you could hear the coyotes singing. Now, I just hear TVs from other people’s apartments. Not nearly as charming.

    Some people are scared of nothing. They want something all the time. Nothing makes them uncomfortable. Me? I don’t mind. Nothing or something. It’s all the same to me.

    But not really.

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    1. Yeah. I love how "Some people are scared of nothing" is so perfectly ambiguous. Ditto: "Nothing makes them uncomfortable." Which, in context, leads to the great last line. A lot more going on here than first meets the eye!

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    2. Yep, the ambiguity of the last paragraph is beautiful word play... and the whole thing is a reminder why I cherish my dark skies in the middle of this beautiful nowhere...

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    3. We all yearn for nostalgia. I feel like I was there with you. Great writing!

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  7. They’re coming at me from every direction, fluttering like moths to a flame. They’re coming out of the woodwork. They’re dripping down the walls. I didn’t buy the brochure, but I did get a barrel to go over the falls.

    Words are my blanket. I wrap myself in them, and I feel safe. But they can be sharp, too. Words are like Legos. They’re fun to play with, but you don’t want to step on the wrong one in the middle of the night.

    I’ve known so many words in my life. And I’ve forgotten a bunch of them, too. I hope they’re waiting for me somewhere. I hope that when I die, I fall into a giant pile of words. And I’ll make snow angels, scattering words like pebbles on cement. Listening to the clatter.

    They better be there. I don’t want to be dead AND wondering where all the words went…

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    1. In the beginning was the word? Makes sense it would be there at the end too. :)

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    2. I believe the words will be with you forever... and there will be new words for all the colors and sounds we've never known... and there will be soft words to land in... and the occasional word to step on to make us appreciate what we've got.

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  8. The voice came from all around him. From every direction. And, still, he screamed at it. Days now. Days without food or water. It wasn’t so bad at first. Then it started to get bad. Then his brain started to go haywire, and he found himself screaming at the canyon walls and cowering from the noises that seemed to hover around his head like fog.

    He was not scared. Not in the way people think of scared. He had been scared. Now, he was past scared and all the way to hysterical. Nothing made sense. Everything was backwards. He called out, but all he heard were indistinct voices that seemed to be mocking him. The voices even sounded familiar, like they might have come from someplace deep inside him.

    When they found him, they found a man without a pack. A man who had clearly starved to death. That far out in the boonies, it wasn’t odd. What was odd were the words scratched into the dirt.

    "Who’s out there?"

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    1. Chilling! Seriously, that made all the hair on the back of my neck stand up. (And it's kind of a companion piece to the previous one: words and voices.)

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  9. The license plate on the bike is from Kansas. He walks the hundred feet to touch his beloved bike. As he reaches it, the sun rises above the buildings and a glint of sunlight reflects from the headlight, like the bike is winking at him. He is a flirt. He winks back. The mirroring on his sunglasses would keep anyone else from noticing, but both he and the bike know. 

    He touches her. Looks her over to make sure she has not been disturbed. If she were a cat, she would purr.

    He sits down on his haunches, so his face is at her height. He looks at his reflection in her chrome and wonders if this is how she sees him, distorted and bright. He speaks softly. "I'm walking today, girl, but one day I'll be back."

    He stands up. Touches her headlight again. Turns around and walks back to the Main Street. Turns toward the bridge again. A drop of oil from the bike touches wet pavement, making an iridescent rainbow. His sunglasses hide a tear.

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    1. Anthropomorphization (is that a word?) at it's subtle best.

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    2. I agree completely. I think I'm going to go give my MC a hug.

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    3. Thanks... this is making its way into a longer piece... it's a fun one to write...

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  10. He waited a few minutes for the debris to settle, for the ringing in his ears to stop. Then, against his better judgment, he went outside. She was sitting on the white wrought-iron bench on the patio near the garden. Her hands nested primly in her lap. Her head inclined as if in prayer. His heart expanded toward his wife as if it had arms to hold her, comfort her. But as he got closer, he realized that her head was bent not in repentance but in deep, aching fatigue. And what she was contemplating was not her sins but the gun she clutched atop her thighs. The gunpowder scent laced through the thrum of cicadas in the thick August night.

    He froze.

    “Don’t worry.” Her voice another drone in the nocturnal chorus. “I’m not gonna shoot you.”

    “Good to know.” There was just enough room to sit beside her, but he didn’t want to take the chance.

    She sighed. A small, wounded sound like a bird dying. “I’m sorry about the TV.”

    “We can get another one.”

    She turned, the gun scraping over the flaking wrought iron so fast he flinched. “You don’t get it, do you?”

    He swallowed, took a step back. “Yeah. Yeah, I get it. He pisses you off. But…honey, what are you gonna do? Keep shooting up the TV for the next three years?”

    “If I have to.”

    He knew better than to try to solve this problem for her now. To suggest a therapist. A hobby. A support group. He’d heard somewhere that there were a few of these. Named for that guy in that movie, Network. The guy who was mad as hell and wasn’t gonna take it anymore. He imagined the sound that would have made back then. All those TVs falling out all those windows. The mess that would have made on the streets of New York. The mess that waited for him inside the house. He couldn’t imagine even suggesting that she do it. Adding insult to injury.

    “Maybe we won’t get a new one,” he said.

    A corner of her mouth lifted. “You really don’t get it, do you?”

    His body sagged. “What? What don’t I get?”

    “Putting a bullet through his face.” She turned away. “I kind of liked it.”

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    1. Oh, I love this so much. That last bit of dialogue...perfect.

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    2. This is the darkest of comedies. I mean, I laughed, but I also get it. So glad I don't own a gun.

      Also, I plain loved this simple, effective description: "The gunpowder scent laced through the thrum of cicadas in the thick August night." Has a noir feel.

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    3. I guess I'm the Antrobus ditto today. Totally agree.

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    4. Brilliant... and I, too, laughed... and what does it say about us that we all know who was on the screen when she shot? The contrast, too, between indoors and outdoors was good... and the wrought-iron bench gave a nice texture and coldness to the scene... someday, I wanna be able to build scenes as completely as you.

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    5. Thank you! Kind of afraid to post this outside of here. Secret police and trolls and all that. If you never hear from me again, that is why... ;)

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    6. Oh, I so love this. But I do love dark writing. You hit this one for a home-run, easily.

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  11. We were staggered by rain. A torrent of it, for damn near half a day, before the sun broke through once more and redaubed our world in accustomed gold. Some called it cleansing, but if you haven't showered in a month or so, one won't get you clean.

    Before they abated, the littoral squalls had a faint salt taste, it's true.

    I do recall my period came in heavy that month, lasted a good week.

    ***

    Hunter S. Thompson bowed out right on time, Shaun assures us. One of those moments America forgot to hide its death rictus. Baghdad shenanigans and worse. He—HST, that is—clicked off the safety and cocked his piece while he spoke on the phone of love and language. Then he triggered the mechanism that drove that fingerlike cylinder of shiny metal into his raging, glorious brain, and left instructions to fire his ashes from a cannon to the sound of "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum. That mad, splendid sacrificial ram.

    Somewhere in the universe he's pursuing Richard Nixon like a bloodhound, like the finest hunter. Once he catches him, he'll circle back.

    All those beach houses, lined up, balancing seasonal abandonment with clusters of carousers, while a faraway train trails its melancholy bray eastward, northward, calling for backup.

    Cross my heart and hope to fly. Shaun demands we all meet on Rodeo Drive and shop. To our credit and our shame we comply. The evening sun cracks its shell-like rim and drips like fulvous glue among us.

    ***

    I don't know what to do with myself. This is something new. Last thing I remember 'fore I killed the motherfucker was dancing at the strip club, my dress rehearsal legs astride some pole already smeared with someone else's body fluids, my ropy arms holding me trembling in a pose above the sightlines of a bevy of blithe and lustful men. A magnificent queen of tawdry caught in the lustfire.

    Backstage the man named Crawdog stepped in my path, and I lost some part of myself. I never even knew I'd kept ahold of that blade until I drove it between his obdurate ribs and into his stupid heart. It felt dirty. Cuntish. Before he died, for ten whole seconds, he sobbed his ruined heart out.

    He sure knew. Play his drastic songs now, he sure did know.

    ***

    "We need to agree to a meeting place."

    "You know it."

    "How about that old motel out on Sunset? Wait, no. Pacific Coast Highway? The Magic Motel? The Magisterial?"

    "Ain't no such place."

    "Uh, you sure? I can see it in my dreams, you know?"

    "That's just dreams, though."

    ***

    Who dies first? Is the desert next? What do we fear and who do we loathe, before and after a rain squall? We don't know. Not even Shaun. No. We won't ever know, have no idea where to gather, amid the oily puddles, stumbling ghoulish in this filthy sunset glow.

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    1. God this is gorgeous. That whole para about Hunter S. Thompson. Glorious.

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    2. Littorally amazing... and beautiful... and true.

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    3. I never cease to be amazed by the breadth and depth of your imagination and the fierce strength of gifts to draw word pictures we not only see, but feel.

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    4. You put words to feelings I never even knew I had.

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    5. This is amazing. And I agree with Laurie, the HST section is fucking brilliant. Man, I feel like you should really put all your 2minutes pieces together and publish them. Like right now.

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    6. You always lift the reader up to a place he or she could never imagine but you do it with such ease. You never disappoint us and you make us better people as you do it; raising our awareness and putting us into a more refined mental space.

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  12. In the Shadow of the Blood Moon

    Step by silent step, beneath the brilliant red moon staring into his face, Dekanawida, Two Rivers Running, was careful to keep his shadow — hidden among the weave of trees on the forest floor — behind him. This way, he would never signal his presence to the prey.

    Dekanawida remembered hearing the Shaman’s teachings of the legend, calling it a Blood Moon, a night for the hunt. He knew it as a time to prepare for the coming dark times, keeping his family sustained for when the white storms would come and game would become scarce.

    In memory, Dekanawida heard the ringing words of the missionary, the Rev. Mr. Kirkland, when he told of the old holy man Joel’s foretelling, ''The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.''

    Closer now, Dekanawida shallowed his breathing, coiled, his trade gun charged, ready to slay the nearby animal for which he bore no malice. After all, he was stalking under the blood red moon, just like the one the Five Nations first came together under in the before times. The one that made the Haudenosaunee the strongest of all the people east of the Great River.

    In the end he decided to use his warclub on the white hunter, who pushed his black shadow ahead of his loud steps upon the trail.  But the young warrior knew the hunter was but a drop compared to the white storm about to cast its shadow over the land by the lake called Teshiroque. Perhaps a shadow that would remove the light and life of the people he swore to protect.

    Dekanawida took the hunter's gun, powder and lead, but left the man his hair. He then melted back into the shadows to resume his mission of bringing food back to his family's longhouse. After all, this was the night of the Blood Moon, and, while blooded in war, it was still a hunter's job to hunt.

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    1. This is awesome. I love it when you write from this wheelhouse.

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    2. Thank you, Dan. I enjoy writing American (both native and Euro-) historicals. Maybe they ARE my wheelhouse.

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    3. I too love when you are in this world, the world you've written. Your voice rings true. The last sentence is absolutely perfect to a beautiful piece.

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    4. A flawless voice and a perfect telling. Great work, Joseph!

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  13. Part 1

    “Let’s get him into Treatment 4,” Maggie Hennessy, the physician’s assistant said with the firm and confident voice of someone who’d worked at this East Side hospital ER for five years. She’d seen it all, from overdoses to obstetrics, gunshot wounds to ears stuffed with gummy bears.

    “Get me some vitals, Angie.. Sir? Sir? Can you hear me? My name’s Maggie and you're in the East 23rd Street Hospital. Can you tell me your name? How about what your problem is?” she said to the elderly man who hd just collapsed in the clinic doorway.

    The old man rolled his head side to side and moaned, attempting to form words but all that came out was an unintelligible slurring in an accent no one understood. Hennessy leaned down so she could hear him, but said, “I’ve no idea what he’s saying. Sounds like an eastern European language, maybe? Do we have anyone on staff who might know what he's saying?”

    “What about Joey Markov in maintenance? Isn't he Russian or something?” Nurse Angela Mezzanote asked,

    “Let’s page him, Angie? This guy’s looking pretty bad and I'd love to have a translator to help me make a damn diagnosis,” PA Hennessy said.

    Within three minutes, Josip Markov rolled his maintenance cart up to Treatment 4.

    “You need cleanup?” he asked Hennessy.

    “No, Joey. I need you to help me diagnose what's wrong with this guy if you can. I don't even know if I can give him a sedative if I can't communicate with him. Do you understand anything he’s saying? Is that Russian?”

    “What do you need to know?” He asked the PA.

    “His name would be a good place to start, I guess.”

    In Russian, Markov asked the man his name.

    “Śeśpĕl Praski,” the old man whispered through clenched teeth. Markov moved closer, eying the old man as if he was the physician instead of a mop jockey.

    “Good, now we’re getting somewhere. Translate for me, please, Joey. ‘Mr. Praski, can you tell me what's wrong?’” Hennessy said.

    “Śeśpĕl.”

    “What?”

    “His name’s Mr. Śeśpĕl. He's Chuvash, not Russian.” Markov said.

    “Do you speak the language, Joey?”

    “Yep. It's my native language.”

    “Thank goodness. Would you ask him that question in Chuvashian?”

    “Chuvash. Sure.” Markov said, and translated the basic questions Hennessy fed him and Śeśpĕl’s replies. He got closer to Śeśpĕl with each question until his mouth was right up to the afflicted man’s ear. He kept speaking to Śeśpĕl and Śeśpĕl would reply, each time with more agitation and pain.

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  14. Part 2

    “He says he’s a hemophiliac and believes he’s bleeding in his gut.”

    “Get me some bloods on this guy, STAT. He is showing symptoms of bleeding. Man, his spleen is frigging huge,” Hennessy said as she palpated Śeśpĕl’s abdomen.

    “We’ve got a lead in, Maggie,” Nurse Mezzanote said. “Blood pressure 80 over 40, heart rate 134, respirations are 22. I think he’s gonna crash.”

    “Shit. Okay, let's slow push one milligram IV of TXA and see if we can get his bleeding under control. Call upstairs and let them know we’ve got bleeder down here on his way up.”

    Śeśpĕl frantically looked around the room as Markov once again whispered in his ear. Then he focused intently on the maintenance man, who smiled and said in Chuvash, “Epĕ Josip Markov jatlă. I’m Josip Markov. I know who you are, who your father was, what he did to my family seventy years ago. How he forced them to leave our home and move to that frozen hell in Karelia, just to be a human shield between his Muscovite masters and the Finns. My grandmother died on that trip. Our women were degraded by our own soldiers. My great uncle killed himself in despair. I know what your father did. Did you like growing up in our home? Oh, I see our time together today is up. Tav sire! Good health to you, asshole.”

    Śeśpĕl tried to speak, but he couldn't. The stroke was instantaneous and massive. The clotting agent Hennessy had administered for internal bleeding was the worst thing she could have given someone with Chuvash Polycythemia. Markov knew the condition made Śeśpĕl’s body produce too many red blood cells, thickening his blood, slowing its flow, which alone could lead to a heart attack or stroke at his age. Markov was counting on the clotting agent to seal the deal.

    “Out of the way, Joey,” Hennessy yelled. But it was too late. Śeśpĕl expired before the ER team could do anything to help.

    “Okay, guys, let’s call it. Time of death, 14:20. Sorry we couldn’t help your countryman, Joey,” Hennessy said.

    But Dr. Josip Martinovich Markov, once a physician back in Tsivilsk before his breakdown and immigration to America, was already pushing his maintenance cart toward the service elevator. He recognized the symptoms and the man from his name and the questions he'd asked.

    "I'll let Julio clean up the mess," Markov said to himself with a satisfied grin. He pushed the elevator button marked B. The doors swished closed in front of him and he dropped one more floor closer to hell.

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    1. Wow. This one snuck up on me. So powerful.

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    2. Thank you, Laurie. I'm such a noodge when it comes to peppering my stories with what I hope is the right language and culture. Chuvash translation was as hard to find as Shoshone from one of my westerns.

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    3. I did see where this one was going, but in exactly the right way. Like, oh snap, this is going to be epic retribution. And it was.

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    4. Wow, now THAT is revenge, a dish best served cold! I admire your research and storytelling skills.

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  15. Three author events tomorrow so I'm slightly freaking out but I have to mention I've been asked to be a special guest at one of them. Wow! I'm still speechless over that invitation.

    Back later to read and comment, I can't remember my own name right now.


    Shall I whisper of the promise that resides within my heart?
    Should I shout to all who'll listen of the hope that's taking seed?
    May I sing of all the beauty that's unfurling in my soul?
    Can I share this blooming brilliance lighting incandescent need?

    Once a barren wasteland filled me, bleak and dismal, dark with pain.
    Through this drought I just existed, stuck in amber's crystal tomb.
    But the shower of your laughter and with rays of your sweet smile,
    Now the garden's overflowing with the scent of your sweet bloom.

    So in hushed tones I will tell you of the joys found in your charms.
    Buds I tenderly will nurture and so carefully will tend,
    Lost within the growing beauty of this bower we have made.
    Your oasis lush and lavish, where I hope my life to spend.

    ~Tamara McLanahan

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    1. Good luck at the events! and this is a lovely poem... I really like the form of questions, and answers... and I still don't know how you make it all rhyme without seeming forced!

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    2. Indeed, congrats and good luck! You know I feel self-conscious about critiquing poetry because I'm not very good at it, but I agree Leland. The rhyming seems effortless. And there is something in the rolling rhythm and feel of this one that reminds me of Poe. Which is ALL good.

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    3. I hope the events went well, Tamara. And congratulations for your being invited and also for yet another excellent poetic reverie.

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  16. If you could ever say about anyone that they weren’t as dumb as they looked, you could say it about Mitchell Broadhead.
    It was mostly his face, which was more like a Bassett hound’s, with enormous ears and drooping cheeks and a disappearing chin, but at least a hound has those big brown sad eyes going for it, while Mitchell’s were small and piggy and nearsighted to boot. He was downright astonishingly homely, florid and acne scarred, all centered a ludicrous, comically large nose that, though his mother had probably tried to reassure, he would never, ever grow into. The face of a pharmacist, a podiatrist or a funeral director, some graveyard shift manager at a fast food joint. A buzzard in some animated cartoon.
    He must have known it, for that curse of a face gave him a perpetually deferential attitude and an eerie, almost super human patience. Before all the trouble started, he’d come to the Post office in a Beemer, always wearing Polo shirts and khakis and expensive looking shoes. He’d wait his turn, his shoulders rounded like he was waiting for someone to hit him. It wasn’t his habit to look up or make eye contact until the last possible minute, but when he did, the expression in his eyes made you swallow any smile you might have felt coming on. Those ice-colored eyes could stop you in your tracks. And any stray thought you might have had about being lucky or superior flew out of your head like a frightened bird.
    He kept it simple, I’ll say that for him. ”I’ll have that package, “ he’d say, or, “A book of Liberties, please.” But there was never any small talk with Mitchell, no talk about the weather or asking about your kids. But he was always listening with them big ears of his, I know that now. Hell, you could spend twenty minutes in line at the PO and learn half the town’s secrets if you cared to. Coop folks up against their will in an understaffed facility and they get real forthcoming, believe me.
    You can’t judge a book by its cover or any man, either. I know that, too. Today, he walked up in his uniform, with his collar buttoned up tight and his shoulders back. I saw that insignia up above where his heart should have been, and it was me who bent my head and kept it simple. It didn’t matter anymore that Mitchell Broadhead was the ugliest son of a bitch in town. What mattered was that he was white.

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    1. Wow. The last paragraph blew me away, after a mysterious build-up. You got me!

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    2. Agree with Leland. That last sentence was a punch in the gut that literally made me go, "Oh!"

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    3. I third the sentiments. And WOW, what an amazing character description. I especially love this: "The face of a pharmacist, a podiatrist or a funeral director, some graveyard shift manager at a fast food joint. A buzzard in some animated cartoon."

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    4. Definitely masterly from beginning to end. A phenomenal character piece with a killer punch at the end. Excellent.

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  17. A prompt I couldn't resist...for long.

    Shadow

    We were so small when we hid in the shadow of the grandfather clock, until its arthritic hands reached the appointed hour, until the old woman’s heels went tick-tock-tick-tock across the tile, one leg longer than the other, the “tock” coming slower than the “tick.”

    When we hid in that shadow we whispered in our made-up language. About pink icing and black cats and one day, what we would both be. We were cowgirls and circus clowns, movie stars and astronauts. Then the tick and the tock receded into the distance and once again we were free. We held our breath and scuttled outside, where there were more shadows, more places to hide.

    We hid in the shadow of the giant oak tree where the grass beneath was cool and dark. Where we shook off our white Keds and let our toes wiggle free. Before grass was forbidden and trees hid secrets in their bark.

    We thought we were so grown-up that night, when we strutted in the shadow of the streetlamps, wearing short skirts and lipstick that you stole. I heard you gasp, like you had seen a friend from long ago. Then the shadow swallowed you whole.

    Now when I see my shadow I see yours. Sneaking up on me, giggling. Urging me in our secret language to open the door to the memories I never let myself unlock. Telling me that my time is running out. Tick tock, tick tock.

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    Replies
    1. Beautiful, though dark... and what a different ending than I might have expected... of all the lovely sentences, this one haunts me, and I don't know why: "About pink icing and black cats and one day, what we would both be." Well done.

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    2. The characters are so well drawn, the ending so mysterious. And that lead graf is a treasure chest of creativity and ingenuity. Well done, Laurie!

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    3. Wow, I just want to see a whole novel come out of this one.

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    4. I agree. Glad I put a prompt up! This is awesome. This is beautiful: "We held our breath and scuttled outside, where there were more shadows, more places to hide."

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    5. Everything they said. Nice little dark piece.

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  18. He earned his nom de guerre when he was a child. Always holding back, hiding, but always underfoot. “Mama’s shadow,” they said then. Thank God that only the shadow part stuck.

    Now he hides for different reasons. Nefarious, some would say. But they wouldn’t know who they were saying it about, because there are no photos of him. None.
    He is an assassin. A damned good assassin. He has 374 kills to his name. He is the only one who knows the exact number. The news credits him with dozens. One client says a hundred.

    He does not do this work for money. You can kill three, maybe four people for cash. If you invest well, that can be enough. He does this for reasons. For his own reasons.

    When he tallies the kills, he lists them alphabetically, by surname, then by first name. Sometimes, for variety, he lists them by killing date, first to most recent. He prefers alphabetically.

    Even his clients do not know which assignments he will accept, which he will turn away. He researches each victim carefully, digging deep into archives to which he has illegal access.

    Most of them are men. The races vary. Most of them are wealthy, though some only have political power. All of them have been violent, though usually their violence is hidden behind high fences, heavy doors, and security.

    He watched his first target die slowly, painfully, from a poison he had concocted. There was time to make accusations, to listen to the denials, the begging, the confession, and the appeals. He was unmoved.

    His first target had a name. Daddy. When he lists his kills, he alphabetizes this one in the Ds, not by the legal name.

    Daddy beat up on his wife when he was drunk, when he was angry, when he was bored. Daddy beat up on his son, too. Daddy wept when he died.

    Nowadays, he reserves the slow lingering death for the child abusers, the rapists of young boys and girls. The ones who beat their wives he quickly dispatches.

    How long can he keep this crusade going? Keep it secret? Even the Shadow does not know. But the possibilities are endless.

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    1. Alright, the prompt WAS a good idea. This is dope. This simple sentence blew me away - no pun intended: "He does this for reasons." So perfectly succinct. Kind of noirish. I love it.

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    2. Nothing constructive to say, but I love this piece.

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  19. stephanie williamsAugust 25, 2017 at 7:57 PM

    It seems strange to feel this way. There was a long period of time where light and sunshine were gone, and the world moved not, but lately, things feel different. The Sunshine feels warmer on my skin, flowers look brighter, music sounds softer, fruit tastes sweeter. Something in me has changed but I don't know what. Whether it is purely the time of year, the circumstances, or a simple chemical imbalance in the brain - it doesn't matter. I thought that one dramatic change in me would be enough, but there has to be more.

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    1. Ah, the powers of positivity addiction! Thanks for bringing us along!

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    2. I really like this "simple chemical imbalance in the brain" - the inherent contradiction is telling and on point. Well played.

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    3. A quiet, thoughtful piece. And so well written. Perfect.

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  20. Just Another Morning in the Little White House

    The little white house is asleep
    in a ceasefire as fragile
    as the blossom in a wedding bouquet.
    He lies on his bed, his mind now
    simmering in a feather-light sleep
    providing little rest and no cure
    for the anger and confusion
    that will boil over again to splash
    those closest to him with more pain.
    She lies in the big bed,
    the little one tucked close
    to provide the nurture that’s
    in her nature. The scars she bears
    from all the fearsome scolding scaldings
    she thinks she hides from most in passing.
    The little one, bright and loving,
    rolls over and blinks her blue eyes
    that have seen it again and again
    over all her scant handful of years.
    She’s too young yet to know this
    is not how a family’s life is
    supposed to run, yet too perceptive,
    too trusting, to not learn
    this is how it should.

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    1. I love the depth here. And this: The scars she bears
      from all the fearsome scolding scaldings
      she thinks she hides from most in passing.

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    2. Damn, Laurie took my answer. :) Ditto!

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    3. haunting, and it rings so true. thank you for giving voice to that little girl.

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  21. "Don't try moving," she said, shaking me awake. Her face loomed over mine, blurred and with the contrast mixed up. "You may feel a little strange too." She shrugged. "We had quite a night together."

    My lips curved into a grin as I thought back. Last night in the bar, the woman who could match us all drink for drink, the sensuous way she moved even when she was reaching across the table to lick my wrist. To lick my wrist? What was it with her?

    And then now. What else had we done? I could almost remember a few things; her driving me to her home, the kissing when she was unlocking her door...

    "Don't struggle," she said. "You may feel a little sick. The enzymes will begin to work soon and then the nausea will pass. You'll remain conscious throughout. It's kind of like an acid trip - it can be the most exhilarating ride for as long as you survive." She still had that staccato, cut-glass-accented way of speaking, like she was nobility from an eastern-European country. It had been that that had attracted me at first; the wrong-noted melody heard across the cacophony of a bar-room. She’d looked strange even then, just a head and a pair of hands floating in space, the darkness of her clothes making her look unworldly.

    But, the enzymes? The what?

    Wrenching my head about, I tried to focus on where I was. The room was darkened and lit only by the light from the open fire. There were so many shadows and nothing seemed fixed. My chest felt tight…

    “Hush now, Baby. You mustn’t panic. It spoils the pleasure for me.”

    Elena rose onto the bed, her body smaller than I’d remembered. She’d had a very slim waist – I could remember being able to touch both fingers and thumbs about her when she’d danced for me – but there was something else different about her that I could never have forgotten.

    Those legs she had.

    She straddled me now, with three of them to either side of me. They were impossibly slim and dark and moved as though they’d double the number of knees a normal girl would have. Her face was unchanged though; those deep dark-irised eyes she had, the lushness of her mouth. Her scent rose strongly again; a cloying, thick candy-sweetness reminding me of my childhood.

    “Is good. I will feed now.”

    I felt nothing when she pierced my stomach, the thick spur that linked us throbbing as it drew the liquified contents from my gut. My kidneys, liver and the other organs would follow soon after, my heart being among the last to be dissolved. My muscles had already begun to atrophy, I had no strength, both that and the paralysis making it impossible for me to resist.

    I closed my eyes…

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    1. Holy shit! I'm glad I don't drink anymore. This is all kinds of cool and creepy and intriguing. And this line kills: "the wrong-noted melody heard across the cacophony of a bar-room."

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    2. ohmygod... you've managed to tap into two of my deepest fears... spider bites and hangovers... and you did it brilliantly...

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  22. (This may have been more like twenty minutes go. But it had to be written, so I thought I'd share. - Concluded in comments.)

    “The sail won’t deploy, Captain!”

    The bosun had to shout to make his words heard over the pounding rain and howling, whistling wind, even though the Captain was standing no more than a foot from him.

    “We’ve run out of luck.”

    Captain Harrington shielded his face and looked up, to where the aether sail should be curved ahead of and just above the Delphinia’s envelope. She’d made it about halfway and then stuck, her lines tangled by the relentless wind. When he turned away again, Javier could see the despair and the resolve in the Captain’s eyes.

    “We’ll have to keep running,” Captain Harrington said.

    But they’d been trying to outrun the storm for two days. For a while, it had seemed like they might succeed, but then the wind picked up and the storm caught them in its deadly grasp. They’d been flying nearly blind ever since, praying that the engines held until the storm abated.

    But the storm showed no signs of letting up.

    Javi glanced from the Captain’s face to the sail and back again. Then he snatched the goggles from where they hung on the Captain’s belt, slicked the sodden hair back from his face, and slid the goggles on.

    “Javi, what are you doing?”

    He ignored the Captain’s shout and sat down on the deck long enough to pull off his boots. They’d only get in his way. His socks followed. Then he clambered to his feet, the weight of the Captain’s stare almost enough to keep him down. He shrugged off that weight and headed for the ratlines.

    “What’s he doing?” the bosun shouted. Javi thought that rather silly question since the man could see for himself that Javi was climbing the ratlines toward the tangled sail. “Is he mad?”

    Javier pondered that question as he climbed, his eyes only on his next handhold, his heart banging against his ribs, as much from exhilaration as from trepidation. Was he loco? He didn’t think so. He didn’t feel crazy. But if he was, he’d earned it. Life had not been especially kind these past six years. Most nights he’d slept with one eye open, half expecting someone to kill him in his sleep. Most days, he’d ended up in situations where he half-expected someone to kill him, whether by accident or intent. Somewhere along the line, he’d stopped fearing death.

    Then Capitan Harrington had come along, and he’d offered Javier a very different life. One where he didn’t have to sleep with one eye open. One where his days were filled with mundanity instead of heart-stopping chaos.

    He wasn’t ready to give that up. Not to some stupid storm. So he climbed.

    The wind tore at him, but he knew how to climb in the wind. The goggles kept his hair out of his face and let him keep his eyes open wide even in the wind and rain. They were rain-streaked, and his vision was limited, but at least he could see a little. The rain plastered his clothes to his body, keeping the wind from using them against him. His bare feet hugged the rope-rungs like they were old friends.

    Rung by rung, he made his way up. When he was up high enough to reach the sail’s tangled lines, he moved a metal clip from his belt to the ratlines. The clip was attached to a tether that wrapped around his waist. It wasn’t a proper climbing harness, but it should be enough to keep him from falling to his death if he slipped. Hopefully it wouldn’t cut him in half in the process.

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    1. The sail’s lines were wet, and that along with the wind slowed Javi’s efforts to untangle them, but untangle them he did. Then he removed the clip and started the arduous journey back to the deck. Down was always harder than up. He had to feel his way, couldn’t see where he was going at all.

      He was just beginning to wonder if he’d ever make it back to the deck when he was pulled from the ratlines. He had a moment of panic, thinking he’d been snatched by the wind, before his brain made sense of things and he realized the captain had plucked him from the ratlines.

      The captain passed him off to someone else who chivvied him belowdecks. He pushed the goggles up on his forehead and realized that it was the bosun.

      “I am not crazy.”

      “Crazy or not,” the bosun replied, “I’m grateful for what you did. The aether is our only chance.”

      “Si. I know.”

      The bosun’s eyes narrowed slightly as he studied Javi. “Maybe not crazy,” he said. “Maybe you’re just too young to realize you’re not invincible. How old are you, boy?”

      Javi knew he wasn’t invincible, better even than the bosun or the captain knew. He knew the bosun couldn’t see his past when he looked at him, the things he’d seen and done and felt. He didn’t hold it against the man.

      “What is the date?” he asked.

      The bosun’s eyes narrowed further. He counted on his fingers. “September 1.”

      Javier’s face broke into a wide smile. “Then I am fourteen,” he said. “Today is my birthday.”

      The bosun clapped him on the shoulder. “Happy birthday, airman,” he said. “I’m glad it wasn’t your last.”




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    2. Man, the tension is so palpable here. I feel like I am sea-sick and stricken with vertigo just from reading it. Nailing this voice, too.

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    3. Wow... your technical details are just at the right level... enough to show us the picture, not too much to slow us down... I swear I could smell the salt in the air as I read this... and calling a sailor "airman" in the last paragraph was a stroke of genius...

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    4. The atmosphere and voicing you used was spot-on. And as Leland said, the depth of detail you used was gauged perfectly so as to be enough to satisfy the reader without throwing him - or her - out by adding too much seasoning to the word-stew. Fabulous!

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  23. Stop Signs

    Sometimes you don’t see them. Blow right through them. That don’t make it right. But things don’t always have to be right. Sometimes you take the shot and you miss. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you cruise right on through; sometimes you stop so hard it rattles your teeth. Sometimes, you just kind of roll and hope no one notices.

    They’re all around us, these signs. Do this. Don’t do that. Look like this. Buy this toothpaste. Lord almighty, don’t you want white teeth?

    You can’t ignore them. That’s a good way to invite an accident. That’s a poor precedent. But you can’t get so tangled up in rules that you let them supersede common sense. That’s just silly.

    Stop and ask yourself why? Why so many signs? What are they trying to accomplish? Order? Or control…

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    1. You end with an age-old question... I like the way you ponder. And I hope one day we'll have fewer signs. And more common sense. Call me Pollyanna.

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  24. Lost

    She looked up into the big eyes of the man in the uniform. Lost? She wasn’t lost. She was at Safeway. She went to Safeway all the time. She probably knew her way around Safeway better than the man in the uniform. She saw his lips moving. Do you know where your Mom or Dad are at? She turned her head so fast she was afraid she’d broken her neck. It dawned on her. She felt it wash over her like ice water. She knew Safeway. She did not know where her mother was. And everything went blurry with tears.

    And then she heard her name. Saw her mom rounding the corner from the dairy aisle. She looked a little bit happy, a little bit mad. Mostly, she looked thankful. They ran towards each other and held each other tight for what seemed like a long time. Then, the man in the uniform was there, smiling. And she smiled back.

    I’m not lost, she said. Thank you.

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    1. Wow you caught that "can't find mommy" feeling so well.

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    2. Love that last line... and the buildup. You took me back to a time this happened to me! I was younger then.

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  25. Elephant

    Old and gray, the elephant sits waitng. Waitng for what, he doesn’t know. He spends a lot of his time waitng and a lot of his time being yelled at by a man with a stck and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but he knows elephants live for a very long time. And he knows that good things come to those who wait.

    So, he waits.

    And one night, there is a fire. The whole big top goes up in flames. People run screaming, including the man with the stick. And he thinks: here is the good thing I have been waiting for. He takes a trunkful of water and sprays it in front of him while he runs.

    Elephants can run very fast. Soon, he is far away from the circus. And then he is waking up in paradise. There are kind people here. People who bring him fruit to nibble on. Children visit and they don’t shriek and make faces at him. They smile. They are happy to see an elephant.

    And he is happy to see them.

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  26. The boy bounced down the trail after the dogs.  He smiled and laughed.  He loved it in the forest.  His heart almost burst when his father asked him to walk his dogs.  Out here there were no lessons or chores, out here there was freedom and a clear mind.  He felt like a child again; running with his friends.

    As he ran his mind began to dream and all sorts of new thoughts flooded his head, but as he dreamed he was also aware of his surroundings and he saw the black snake in the path before they got to it.

    He pulled the dogs up and bade them stay back.

    "I see you Mister Snake.  Would you bite me or be on your way?  I will let you pass if you let me."

    The snake slid off the path and disappeared into the bushes and the boy smiled.

    They continued on their way.  Laughter filled the air.

    The boy took in all of the forest and smiled again.

    The sun filtered down through the trees and painted light on the leaves around him.

    "What a beautiful day!  Thank you Sun!"

    He was thankful for this day.  He felt blessed.

    The dogs saw a rabbit and pulled on the leash.  Instead of pulling back and slowing them, he decided to run with them.  They ran down the trail; tongues hanging out.  He swore he saw smiles on their faces.  They got to the spot where they had seen the rabbit leave the trail and sniffed frantically.  They ran back and forth and barked.  The boys smile widened.  The dogs were happy and excited and he could feel that too.

    He had learned from his father that all beings were connected and he had embraced that knowledge.

    There was an energy he could feel when he was near someone or an animal; an understanding without words.  He picked up on this energy and reflected it back.  Sometimes it worked , sometimes they were unaware of the connection they shared.  He used the energy to calm animals and had even tried it on a merchant who had a short temper and an unpleasant disposition.   He put all of his effort into it and after several minutes, he had the

    old man laugh at the stories the boy told.

    The dogs pulled ahead, they wanted to run again.  He felt so good, how could he deny them their joy?

    They ran.  It felt good.  In his head he heard pipes and a sitar playing as they ran.  The music matched their pace and made it celebration.

    He loved to run.  It made the thoughts flow faster.

    He had learned a lot out here.   A lot about life and circles.  His father praised him for his wisdom and told him he was a fast learner.  He liked making his father proud almost as much as he liked making sense out of the truths swimming around in his head.  Connections at lightning speed.

    The dogs slowed down and he decided to head back.

    He hated to turn around, but made peace with it.

    "I control my reactions."

    He smiled.  He *was* learning.

    And after all, they'd run again.

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    1. That just made me grin... what a good moment in time to share! Thank you!

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    2. This has a classic fable-like voice to it. An excellent piece of writing!

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    3. This is such a lovely vignette, and with so much truth in it.

      This line spoke to me: "He had learned from his father that all beings were connected and he had embraced that knowledge."

      And the payoff, the bit about him learning and controlling his reactions, is perfect. It's something we all need to be reminded of. Thank you. :)

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    4. Oh. I love that last line, and the "fable-ness" of it.

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    5. Dang. You did nail that fable vibe because that is what I WAS GOING TO SAY!!! ;) I love fiction that is not quite a fable, but feels like one. And I totally relate to the freedom and the expression of peace. Well played.

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    6. I think the hardest thing for any writer to write about it that "Wordless" understanding. You've done it REALLY well!

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    7. Yeah, another "fabulist" here. Everyone said what I was gonna say, but I still wanted to acknowledge this. Nice.

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    8. Thanks guys! I'm glad you liked it because I had a lot of fun writing it!

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