Friday, September 8, 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.

I don't think about you often.

But sometimes I do. 

Sometimes, I can remember the soft, forgiving darkness and forget that you alway, always, always fucked me over in the end. 

Sometimes, my mind can tuck its feet under its chin. 

And gee golly jumping beans ...

It all seemed so neat. 

Simple. That's what it seemed. As simple as a pissed-off polecat. Simple as a desperate, hungry hobo in a Woody Guthrie song. 

Sometimes I'm so sorrowful.

See, I played along.

And it did all start with one dance. One song. One young man's realization that you could stop everything. Just for a little while. And the consequences would be dire, but that was part of the fucking point, man!

And it was soft at first. The repercussions gentle. Yet to become concussions, sinful. Years until it would find us bent over a sink in the morning, puking shot after shot of bourbon into the rust-stained steel until one stayed down. Eyes watering. Couldn't even smoke a cigarette right. Then, one more. 

Then, the pain starts to go away. 

Then the blackness returns. 

Oh, Jesus, how we danced. Gee golly, son. It was like a goddamn movie. And a bad one, at that - poor acting. Shabby actors. 

So, it's something I think about. And I miss it the way you miss acne. But I remember that it was a sword with forty edges. The sharpest one, control. It let you feel like you were in it: sexual, buried to the hilt inside some wet, soft place. Smelling of freshness. Like a fucking drier sheet commercial. 

With sex. 

But I don't think about you often. You seem like a woman I once knew. One I barely remember until, randomly, I catch a whiff of perfume on the breeze.

And freeze.

And make myself breathe.

#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...


  1. Well told tale of the highs and lows of first loves... I think I know that sink. And it seems like it always starts with just one dance...

    1. I really liked this: Sometimes, my mind can tuck its feet under its chin.

    2. Yes! That's the line I plucked out, too.

  2. "Back through time? You're kidding, right?"

    Rae shakes her head. "No. Not kidding."

    "But that's crazy. I mean, if I can do that I could get rich. Invest in the right companies, zoom back to present day, and I'd be a billionaire."

    Rae's smile is sad. "That's not exactly how it works."

    "Why not?" You realize your voice sounds just a little petulant.

    "There have only been a few cases of time travel that we know of." She looks down at the floor. 


    "And they all seem to be one-way."

    "Meaning I can go back but never return?"

    She nods. "In a manner of speaking, you return, but one day at a time, like normal people move forward through time."

    "Still, I could go to the day before a lottery drawing, with the winning numbers in my head, and buy a ticket..."

    Now she looks you in the eye, maybe judging if you're the person she--they--were looking for after all. "Theoretically."

    "But I'd lose a day of my life, and I'd not be sure if my going back changed the timeline enough that different numbers would be drawn." You've read some science fiction, seen some movies. You know how this works.

    She looks relieved. "And of course, you might go mad, or be diagnosed as a lunatic, if you ever told someone."

    "Has that happened?"

    "There are more than a few patients in the mental hospital who say they're from the future."

    "And there's no way to tell." 

    She shakes her head, and you notice the color of her hair. Cinnamon. The fire reflects the highlights. You can't tell the color of her eyes, maybe the blue light is making them look blue. 

  3. See, the thing about solitary is the silence. First it feels good, not having all the noise of other prisoners, the testosterone-fueled belligerence. But about three days in, something breaks. Your mind realizes it needs something, anything, to build cycles with.

    You become aware of your own heartbeat. Your breathing. You try counting them, to use as a sort of clock to measure the minutes, but the numbers get too big, too fast. You stop hearing your heart beat, and you start feeling your pulse, in places you never noticed before. Your neck. Your ears. Your wrists. Your feet. Your stomach. It becomes overwhelming, so your mind looks for something, anything, else to latch onto.

    They don't turn the lights off in solitary. The same gray-blue light illuminates the night and day. There is no night. There is no day. You sleep when you want to, when you can, and you lose track of time entirely.

    The only break in the silence, in the routine of nothingness, is meals. Sometimes you can guess what time of day it is by the food. Something with eggs must mean it's morning. Everything else, noon or evening. But when the eggs are missing, you try to count back and see if you forgot a meal.

    Most of the guards don't talk when they bring food. The little door opens, and like a dog, I run to accept my treat. The door closes. And I am left with food that is as plastic as the plate it is served on. They come back for the plate later, and the spoon. But there's one guard, he's different. He waits for me to eat. Talks some, too.from his accent I know he is from the south. Kentucky, I think.

    He tells me a joke or two. I grunt back. I cannot remember anything funny to tell him in return. I don't know the rules, but I'm sure he does. There's no talk of politics, no trying to save my soul, just a joke, and then he leaves.

    I've never seen his eyes. I've never seen any part of him but his hand. Big hands. And sometimes, I can see part of a tattoo on his wrist. Words. But not enough letters show for me to guess what words.

    And then it happens. The silence is broken. Not by voices, not by music. When I hear it, I am afraid I am going insane. It is regular, like a heartbeat.

    Drip, drip, drip.

    I get up. There is a small puddle of liquid forming by the door. I touch it. Cold. I smell it. No smell. I touch my finger to my tongue. No taste. Water?

    I sit down. This makes no sense. It fits with no pattern from my time in this room.
    One of the fluorescent lights has been flickering for a while. Occasionally it hums.
    For a moment, all the lights go out. I have never felt this alone. I hear my heart accelerate. And then the lights come back on. I tell myself to breathe.

    The little food door opens, and I hear noise outside. Not the normal noise of the prison, the shouting. This is panicky noise, irregular. There is a scream.

    It's Kentucky boy; his voice calls in to me. "You okay in there?"

    And I try to tell him about the puddle but he's in a hurry.

    "There's a flood. We're evacuating. Sit tight and I'll be back to get you." And the little door closes.

    The silence returns, and a moment later, I hear maniacal laughter.

    My own. "Sit tight." And I can't stop laughing. What else could I do? "Sit tight."

    I walk to the door. I place my ear against it. I've never done this before. I can hear noises. But the noises are growing fainter. Metal on metal. Shouting. And something else.

    The sloshing of water.

    I am afraid. But Kentucky Boy said he'd come back. I place my trust in the hand that feeds me, the voice that talks to me. And I wait. I sit tight.

    1. I really, REALLY like this one! I could real a whole novel about this guy!

    2. You got me hooked in, with the sounds, and the pulses, and the maniacal laughter. "I place my trust in the hand that feeds me..."

    3. I agree. This one is riveting from the start. I've often wondered what solitary would be like. And I NEVER want to find out.

  4. “But I have faith in us,” the first voice said.

    The cavern swallowed the words, its roof and its walls so far away that not the tiniest echo returned to the speaker. It was dark too; a night beyond all knowing. There had never been visible light in this place.

    “It makes no difference. It’s their belief we need.” The second voice was dry and as faint as the first, its timbre such that you knew it came from someone immeasurably old. A voice that could say as much with its tone as with the words it spoke. A voice that only the other could hear.

    A pale form appeared, vague and indistinct even here. The other sensed it dimly, perceiving its potential rather than seeing it. They were alike in many ways and it was their kinship that had drawn them here together.

    That and the desire to be.

    “I feel a little. Just enough to keep me here. Not enough to be seen anywhere else.” The first voice was lower now, even more quiet than before, diverting its energies into maintaining a hint of its physical form. It could have been tall and noble in its demeanour, with pale flanks and ears that rose above its head. It stood four-footed and could have been majestic. It knew this. It could remember.

    An empty sigh ghosted in the stillness and the other drew into itself, assuming the little solidity it could manage. It raised its singular horn and wept.

    1. Ohhh I like that! I want to read more!

    2. "An empty sigh ghosted in the stillness..." I want to know more!

    3. Eerie and prophetic... and Laurie chose my favorite line, too.

    4. I'm the ditto head I guess, but I also think you've tapped into something here for sure...

  5. I’ve been meaning to tell you. The old pond dried up. I took Billy out that way to do some fishing, since I remembered how you and I used to go over there when we were kids and come home with all those sunnies for Mom to fry. Yeah, I know she hated it, complained about the smell and the mess, but she loved it, too, in a way. So I was standing at, well, what I guess used to be the place we used to set up shop, the open end of the cattail horseshoe, by that nice big flat rock, and Billy looked up at me like I was crazy. His crazy auntie had taken him fishing where there wasn’t any pond! I’m standing there holding the bucket and the rods, and he’s asking all these questions: “Where did the water go?” “Where did the fish go?” “Where did the turtles and the frogs and the ducks go?” “Did they all die?”

    I have never taken as big a breath as I did then. In and out and wondering what to say. That was definitely a sit-down sort of conversation, so I sat. And he sat next to me, on the lip of what used to be our cute little fishing hole.

    “Let’s just take these one at a time,” I told him, and he was so quiet, his eyes so round and blue, his cheeks splotchy-red with upset, his mouth kind of crooked, like yours used to get when you were worrying over something.

    So I said, “You know how it hasn’t rained in, like, a really long time?”

    I knew he’d get that one. We’d just been talking about it that morning. How we couldn’t run through the sprinkler the way he liked, because of the restrictions.

    He nodded.

    “Well, just the way the leaves are drying up and falling off the trees way too early”—I pointed out a few trees that had started turning brown already. Can you believe it, autumn in July?—“if there’s not enough water, the ponds and such dry up, too.”

    “But the ducks…?”

    “Yeah, they’d be the first to fly off. I’m fairly certain they just found themselves a bigger pond. They’re smart that way.” Were there ducks on our pond? The darning needles skimming across the water, I recalled. You don’t forget a bug called a darning needle. The minnow armies slithering underneath, I remembered, the gulp of the bullfrogs. There could have been a duck. I added a duck for him. It would have made a pretty picture. I have tried to paint that scene so many times, you and me fishing at the pond, but something just stops me every time.

    His voice hopeful, he asked about the frogs.

    “Hopped away,” I said. “They can survive a bit out of water, so maybe they just followed the ducks.”

    “Not the fish,” he said.

    “No, honey. Not the fish.”

    His cheeks were all red now, and I worried he was going to have another one of his spells. I’m getting better with those. You just gotta keep your voice soft and hold him tight until he feels safe. He calmed down soon enough, and instead of fishing we went to get ice cream.

    Don’t need much water for that.

    It took a couple hours to get him to go to sleep that night. But I kept thinking about the ducks. You know, I’m gonna give that painting another try. One day I hope you get to see it.

    1. Oh I really like this! Darning needles and minnow armies, right up my alley. You painted a pretty picture in my head!

    2. An epistle for the ages... and it makes me weep. You are a master at style changes, and at painting the most vivid word pictures...

    3. Agreed. You are a painter. And this is a tragic and beautiful bit of flash.

  6. X. A variable. Mathematically represents anything within a formula. Thousands, perhaps millions of possible substitutions.

    That's what I like about it. I can be anything- anyone.

    As I finish carving the X into the wooden mask, brown oak revealed beneath the white painted finish. The mask is new. I am new. But I am anything. I am anyone. And this gives me power.

    I place the mask upon my face, breathing in the earthy scent of oak. The anonymity gives me power. I am confident. I am creative. I am new.

    I am X. I am young. I use this mask to hide my identity- not because I am afraid, but because I am unsure. In time, perhaps, the mask will be removed, but for now...

    I am X.

    1. There is a typo. The phrase is supposed to be 'brown oak IS revealed.' My apologies.

    2. I like this. It leaves a lot of interesting questions.

    3. Me, too. Masks are fascinating to play with.

    4. I like it too! What we hide behind the mask, and which mask we choose, tells so much about us. Brown oak and an X are a good combination.

    5. I agree with what those knuckleheads said, but I also think it's a testament to the simple strength of the writing that I didn't trip over the typo at all. Wouldn't have noticed it if you didn't mention it.

  7. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon as Andi Simkins positioned the empty glasses in the dishwasher, poured the detergent into the dispenser, clicked shut the door and pressed the buttons to bring it to whirring life. Other than the one in her hand, she’d run out of clean rocks glasses.

    Andi fished a handful of ice from the freezer and clinked them into her tumbler. From the liquor cabinet she withdrew a new bottle of Ketel One, gave the black top a vicious twist to break its seal and poured enough into her glass to turn the pile of crescent-shaped cubes into miniature icebergs.

    She walked into the family room and settled into the sofa, took a large sip from her glass and placed it on the cocktail table next to the copy of Jami Attenberg’s “All Grown Up” she’d started three times (because her sister insisted she read it) but never got past its first thirty pages. She picked up the book for Try #4, but after six page-flips she gave a resigned sigh, picked up her glass and took another great sip.

    Andi looked into her glass as the vodka rested for a second in her mouth then slid down her throat. She was surprised at how the sunlight sifting through the vertical blinds was converted into rainbows by the cut glass, the ice and the vodka. But then the glow changed to neon tangerine and Andi’s eyes grew wide at the color and quality of of the light that painted the gray room a citrus hue, but locked it and her behind the black bars of the blinds’ shadows.

    Pulling aside the blinds, Andi gave a little gasp and shaded her eyes. She finished her vodka and thought she’d pour herself another. She turned and took a step toward the liquor cabinet, but stopped and faced the scene playing out beyond the patio again.

    Lifting her glass to her lips, she sucked in the dilute dregs of the vodka and a couple of ice cubes, which she crunched between her teeth.

    “Joel, you've got to hurry up here and see this,” Andi called to her husband down in what Joel Simkins called his Subterranean Lair.

    “I’ll be up as soon as I finish this part of the Times crossword, hon,” Joel replied from his leather lounger. And I could hear a football game providing Joel’s background soundtrack from his 50-inch flatscreen Samsung. She often wondered why he needed a drive-in movie screen down there when he used the television primarily for ambient noise.

    I guess because he can, she thought.

    “Lemme see…54 Across…seven-letter word for skyline,” Joel mumbled to himself, just an Eagle player intercepted a pass directed toward a late-afternoon sun-blinded Giant receiver. That sent the Philly crowd into a high-decibel frenzy. Joel looked up at the screen and recalled his last trip to the City of Brotherly Love. Business. Always business. But Philly was where he struck up his special relationship with Patty Diana, who’d since become known as his “work wife” around the office.

    Andi, still watching the sunset, called one more time, “Joel, please, you’ll miss this if you wait much longer….”

    And when he didn’t answer, Andi sighed once again, stood by the patio window, watching the spectacular demise of another day in the overall autumn of things.

    It reminded her of all those afternoons spent looking out the back window of their third-floor walkup. Bathed in their own glow, Joel would comb his fingers through the tangle of her auburn hair as she’d beam at him with her gold-flecked blue eyes. Over the expanse of apartment buildings, they watched the sun sink, a searing communion of light and heat, beyond the southwestern horizon.

    The sunsets were dazzling, Andi recalled, as well as how the encroaching darkness would be spangled in sprays of stars, even with the bedroom door closed. In tonight’s gloaming, the shadowy bars had expanded into an overall darkness of nebulous freedom or solitary confinement.

    Andi had to admit, though, tonight's sundown had its own melancholy charm — like a fire decaying into glowing coals — when viewed through a fresh glass of Ketel One on the rocks.

    1. Sigh.... the hollow emptiness of their lives... who could let a crossword puzzle or a glass of vodka steal away the beauty of sunset. You did a great job of letting us see who they are... Your descriptions are vivid and complete. Well done!

    2. I agree with Leland. I also love the way you use such simple language to convey so much: "a vicious twist" - I've opened a lot of liquor bottles and I know that twist well. Speaks volumes.

  8. Y. A variable. Similar to X, but always chosen second. Equally representative of millions of substitutions. X and Y. The two most common variables.

    Sparks fly as I finish grinding the Y into my mask, polished, oiled metal contrasting the rough, scratched surfaces my angle grinder has moved over.

    I am not new, but I am equally unsure. I thank X for this opportunity.

    I place my mask upon my face, the padded inside not hindering the smell of oil and burnt metal. Unlike X, I like a bit of flair in my creativity.

    I am Y. I am polished, but not tempered. I am experienced, but not a veteran. The mask gives me confidence, and looks pretty cool as well. I may or may not reveal my identity in the near future, but I'll see what X thinks. X and Y, like two peas in a pod. Two variables in a formula. Where he is subtle descriptions, I am harnessed flair.

    I am Y.

    1. I really like X and Y! I want to read more!

    2. I'm intrigued. I like your writing. I like weaving in the X and Y of math and of chromosomes and of maybe two separate personalities.

    3. The contrast with the oak mask is really cool... and I went where Laurie went, with X and Y as chromosomes... and "harnessed flair" is beautiful. Good stuff!

    4. Really cool counterpoint. And I love this: "Where he is subtle descriptions, I am harnessed flair. "

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    2. Kiaan laughed as another fish flopped of the hook. He tried not to. His dear friend was getting frustrated with his efforts.
      "Calm yourself. We fish for pleasure today not to feed the family."
      Avi brushed his wet hands through his hair. "But what if we were?"
      "You'll bury yourself with what-ifs!
      If we were here for dinner, perhaps our luck would change. Perhaps the gods would bless us with slower, dumber fish."
      He laughed as he looked around him and was delighted by the sights and sounds of the forest stream. The sunlight danced on the water and painted pictures in his head. The leaves were so green he could smell spring in the air and the trickle of the slow moving water cleansed his soul.
      "Ha hah! Got one!" Avi beamed with his prize. He took it over so his friend could see it.
      Kiaan took the fish and admired it.
      "It's a nice one."
      He leaned forward and let the fish slip back into the water. "For pleasure today."
      Avi started to protest. Kiaan held his hand up.
      "What have you taken from this day? I've taken pleasure in being in this beautiful place. Pleasure from being with my friend and I've remembered that this water moves my soul like nothing else can. You are left with frustration and displeasure. Empty hands and an empty basket"
      "It saddens me that you couldn't enjoy our day."
      Avi was silent for a moment.
      "You are right Kiaan. I was foolish not to take pleasure from our time together."
      "Let us catch another fish and start again."

    3. Another beautiful fable, filled with truths. And I really like the names... they could be Asian or from another world, and the story would be as true. Well told!

    4. I agree. And I'll never understand why so many anglers don't get this. The names and the tone - yep, I love that this could be any time, any place.

    5. Thanks Mr. Mader, I appreciate it. IT encourages me to keep writing!

  10. This is it. The final showdown. The final round. Me and him. Him and me. Man to man. Soul to soul.

    "In the South Gate, hailing from Bydgoszcz, Poland, wielding the mighty spirit Magnum Law, the challenger, Armand Bartosiewicz!"

    I've risen so far, beaten out hundreds of others in this tournament. We fighters let our spirits flow forth from our bodies, taking physical manifestations in the arena as they battle head to head to determine who has the stronger spirit.

    I was heralded as the only one in my town who could participate in this tournament. My soul was barely strong enough to manifest for more than a few minutes. But I trained as hard as possible for every second I could, not just with my soul, but mentally and emotionally as well. After all, what is a soul if not a melting pot of our emotions and mentality?

    I need to win this, and I've got one shot. If I can hit him, just once, I win. His spirit is weak, but fast.

    "In the North Gate, fighting in his home arena of São Paulo, Brazil, the Champion, João Sanchez, and the mighty Citadel Phoenix!"

    The crowd goes nuts. It's like a scene out of some insane Japanese Anime, a huge Knight clad in armor fighting a Half-Man-Half-Phoenix hybrid. The bell sounds, the crowd roaring so loud my ears are physically hurting. Citadel swoops in for the kill, and Law rears back his huge metal fist. We prepared for this, my spirit and I. We know how this is about to play out. Citadel is no more than a few feet away as Law swings.

    And misses as Phoenix swings to the right, claws and talons ready to strike, smirking triumphantly, before he notices the other fist traveling at near mach one inches from his face.

    1. This has a classic feel to it, but also feels fresh and urgent. The tone is on point. This line really resonated with me: "After all, what is a soul if not a melting pot of our emotions and mentality?"

  11. I wish I could just be alone. The way they say it and how they look crashes straight into me. How do I explain that just being here hurts? I wake up confused, not knowing who I am or how I feel. This is supposed to be fun, but it's hurting me. I don't want to be here but I can't go back. It's like I have a word thats on the tip of my tongue - except I'm asking myself who I am.

    1. Ah, a question to be pursued through the rest of life... and I love that the character is putting her/himself into a situation that is a challenge... something that isn't comfortable... that's how just about all growth happens... Imagine how the caterpillar felt emerging from her cocoon, wondering what to do with those wings...

    2. thank you so much. I don't normally reply because I never really know what to say, but you always say it so perfectly. Being 18 isn't easy, especially in some weird place i've never been, but your words always help me.

    3. Leland's words help everyone. And I agree. I also think this is something that a lot of people feel but don't express, and you express it well. Quiet lives of desperation and all. The simplicity of the language really drives the point/confusion home.

    4. And hang in there. ;) It will get better. Or it won't. But part of life/writing is being interested in finding out.

    5. Dan's right... just the expressing of it is an act of courage, and you're giving voice to those who don't know how to express it. I'm gonna work on a piece of non-fiction flash for next Friday... it'll be written with you in mind (and yeah, I'll be cheating, 'cause it will take more than two minutes)... if you're on facebook, feel free to friend me there... I'm Leland Hermit there, and slvhermit on instagram and tumblr.

    6. Never mind next week... here it is, for you...

      I’m almost an old man now, pushing sixty. I thought I’d die when I turned thirty. I’ve made a shitload of mistakes, and I’ve been lucky enough that none of them has killed me. Yet. And I’ve been luckier still in that most of the mistakes took me down a path I wouldn’t have chosen for myself.

      You’re young. People have probably told you to “be safe” most of your life. That’s good advice sometimes. But safe lives aren’t really lived lives.

      You’re living in one of the most expensive, fastest, strangest places on earth. I don’t know how you got there, if it was your choice or someone else’s. But you’re there. It’s exciting. I know. I spent some time there, too. Mostly as a visitor, because I didn’t have the financial means to live there. Also I hate cockroaches. I was a little older than you are now when I first stepped onto the ground of Manhattan. I felt some kind of weird energy pulsing in the earth. Maybe it was the subways. Maybe it was the noise. But I think it was more than that. I think it was pure energy. So many people go to the city to pursue their dreams, their get rich schemes. And so many miss the true magic of the city: its people.

      Every native New Yorker that I’ve known, and I’ve known a few, revels in that “tough as nails” exterior. They look suspiciously at strangers, wondering how you’re going to rip them off, how you’re going to hurt them, what your story is, and whether they can make a buck off you. But in truth? They’re like hardshelled candy. Once you get past the hard outer shell, they’re full of heart, most of ‘em.

      On that first day on Manhattan, I learned two valuable lessons:

      1) Being a country boy, I was always taught to obey the traffic lights. So I’d stand at the corner, waiting for the walk sign to turn. People jostled me as they ignored it. So I learned not to always wait for the walk signal.

      2) A few blocks later, I was blithely ignoring the walk signals, and thought I’d figured it out. If a pedestrian was in an intersection, the cars would stop! Except, that wasn’t true. That was a mistake. I heard a horn blare, looked death in the eye (he looked a lot like a taxi driver)and some stranger yanked me by the collar back to the curb. He said, "You gotta watch."

    7. (continued)
      It was back in the day when there were no smartphones, so it was pretty easy to pick out us visitors. We were the ones carrying maps... we were also the ones who kept looking up at how high the buildings were. I thought they were making fun of me, but by the second day, some of them were asking me how to get places, because I had the map.

      It's important for a New Yorker to feel "cool." Another thing I learned is that New Yorkers love to tell their stories. One of my favorite questions to ask the strangers I met was "How'd you get here?" They'd tell Ana amazing story that I was pretty sure was half fiction, or they'd tell me about where they came from, or their ancestors, or whatever. And I realized that one of the reasons New York needs outsiders is that we listen.

      Listening. It's an amazing gift you can give, one of the most intimate acts one human can perform for another. It doesn't matter whether it's to a stranger, a friend, or a lover. And active listening helps you learn not only about the talker, but about yourself. Parts of their stories are parts of your story, too.

      I loved walking down the streets of the city, and hearing a dozen different languages being spoken. I loved going there in Christmas and seeing the incredible window displays in the department stores, hearing people on the street singing Christmas carols. And at all times of the year, the street performers held me in awe.

      I loved the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York City Public Library. The lions at the entrance, by the way, have names. The one on the south side is Patience, and on the north, Fortitude. I hope they still wear wreaths at Christmas.

      I mention all these places because I think in a place as vibrant and energy-filled as the city, it's important to find a couple of anchors, places that feel a little like home to you. Not necessarily the home you came from, but the home you are building for yourself. The home I'm talking about is getting to know yourself, and who you are, and who you want to be. That home is one you will carry with you anywhere you go.

      The one thing I'll tell you in no uncertain terms to stay away from is drugs. Not only for all the reasons of health and life that you've probably heard all your life, but because they will eat you alive, financially, and in your soul. They might mask the pain for a few minutes or even hours, but they'll rob you of who you are, and of the ability to listen, to notice. Also, the guy who sells them to you won't give a damn about whether you live or die once he's got your money, because he know if you die, someone else will be there to buy from him next week.

      Find a good cheap restaurant or coffee house to hang out at. Meet strangers in public places. Go visit the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park. Watch the model sailboat races on the lake. Talk to people with dogs. Let the real you show. Just because you're not from the city doesn't mean you're not interesting, though sometimes you'll feel that way. I remember feeling underdressed, not attractive, not a good enough dancer, and yes, weird. But when I let me be me, people liked me. When I tried to be who they thought I should be was when I was most awkward, most out of place.

      When you eventually leave the city, and most people do eventually, I hope that you'll take a bit of its magic with you. That you'll have found some people, some memories that will make you smile when you talk about them.
      Thank you for making me smile, for giving me cause to remember. You're good, you're talented, and you're beautiful from the inside out. I can tell that just from your writing. Let that light shine...there are others around you who need that light, and the poor suckers probably don't even realize it. Yet.

  12. Everything inside my head is small and enclosed and everything outside is huge and muffled. There are sounds within the woods at night, terrible sourceless sounds, screeches from unseen throats, and we awake to a sun like a penny glued to a fawn-gray board. A coin fixed to a sand-dusted slate. Brassy light falls amid the shadows all day.

    Things are going wrong, have gone wrong. I wonder if I mean within or without, and discover I can't answer either way.

    Gerhardt left three days ago and hasn't returned.

    I clutch our old retriever Lola at night, my arms encircling the pitiful trellis of her ribs, and she whines quietly at the shrieks from the woods. Come daylight she doesn't investigate.

    And come daylight I pull up the ghosts of carrots and beets, translucent things like alien pods spawned in our friable dirt. Dirt that looks and feels but will never taste like the crumble topping my Auntie Molly used to bake over apples and sweet rhubarb.

    Must stop remembering. Too dry. Too drained of faith. Even yesterday is beyond the pale now.

    Gerhardt took the crossbow; I have the old Winchester pump-action and the last two shells.

    I can't help myself. I think back to a time when the worst thing I thought could happen was losing my children. Laughter now would be legitimate, yet I don't laugh. Irony is as stupid as nostalgia.

    Right before he left, Gerhardt laughed.

    "What is funny?" I asked him.

    "Nothing, my dear."


    "Not fine. Not funny. And yet…"

    "What?" I could never resist his artful pauses.

    "A dream is an unfinished life, so maybe they were all dreams."

    "The children?"

    "All of them. Taken before their time. Maybe the life they're meant to live hasn't yet begun."

    "But how is that funny?"

    "Oh, outside of the cosmic scale, it isn't."

    "And also, what then are we?"

    "Midwives, perhaps? Or morticians."

    His fragile smile left the cartography of his face like a misremembered shallows and he winked and kissed the air by my cheeks and he shouldered the crossbow over his day pack and stepped on the loose boards as if to release a pent and groaning sendoff—secretly ordained by impish music-loving satirists—and he never turned his unkempt head the whole time his wiry frame hitched itself down the long gravel lane.

    Irked as I was by his cryptic foolishness then, how I miss him now. Stabbed by loneliness, I call Lola, who happens like a specter out of the strange quiet air. I bury my sorrowing face in her patchy fur, but when I pull away, her fur is dry. Perhaps I am the wraith, not her.

    Perhaps my grief leaves no stain on this world.

    Gerhardt and I once spoke of Christ and redemption. He was once a Lutheran and I a Catholic. We might as well have conjured Anubis or Krishna. Kali or the Morrigan. Cthulhu. Isis. A thousand echoing rooms and hallways spiraling beyond the vacant futile atrium of unanswered human prayer.

    The night is too generic for copyright, and as it passes once more, stamped by the screams of the arrested trees, by the endless moonless hours, my insomniac eyes become the only things in this world that are large. They keep growing—while morning enters like an intruder pissing weakly in a corner—expanding like fungus or a thing far worse, daring the fawn-gray sky to blink in toxic fellowship, tempting the universe to tremble in abject defeat.

    What is this now? Men? With guns and lust and deadened eyes?

    O woe.

    When Gerhardt returns, I will be a strand of spider silk shimmering with rosy dewdrops and stretched between splintered fenceposts, and holy Lola's howls will fill the whole valley.

    1. Damn. Just damn. If you don't smoosh all these beautiful dystopic pieces into a novel, I will brain you. I love this: "Midwives, perhaps? Or morticians."

  13. The sea held up the sky, pushing back at the rocks where she sat. The rocks thrust back against her feet. She was located.
    Far off toward the horizon, a cloud of frenetic motes swirled, too small to have either colour or form. They'd been hovering for some time now, the whole mass of them shifting as they were either caught by the winds or moved of their own volition toward prey. They were most likely bone-beaks, the voracious sharks that flew, but they wouldn't have seen her yet. And if they did, she'd almost certainly die.

    Cyranth shrugged. At least it would be a quick death. She'd seen if happen before; the flotilla of fish angling toward its prey, individuals stripping off from the bulk of the swarm, the guttural barks as they flashed their teeth in anticipation of their strike. They'd circle then, moving closer, the hungrier ones turning in more sharply to take quick bites before moving back out into the mass again. The victim would struggle - they always did - and the cloud would close in further, both bulging and contracting as they grew more excited. It never took long though and soon there'd be little to show where they'd been. Maybe a scouring of the rocks from their fins. Nothing more. They were very efficient.

    She'd dressed for her death today, knowing it would come. Tanith was a hostile mother to her children and there were many more ways to die here than there were to survive. A walk out alone in the dark or an ill-advised excursion to the cliffs; each of these would almost inevitably end in the death of the foolhardy. And anyone who wore a dress that was as red as a wound would stand little chance.

    1. "She'd dressed for her death today/red as a wound..." - fantastic. Man, you write dystopian scifi stuff so well. I'm rereading Brave New World right now. I was primed for this, but I needn't have been. You delivered.

  14. I don't want to say I'm sorry because then I'll mean it. I'll feel it. It will be the dark, mocking parrot that sits on my shoulder. Glare all you want, I can reflect it. Or internalize it. Or let it eat my insides like carrion. But I'm not going to say it.

    You can stare until your eyeballs fall out. You can take all my shit; tell the world I'm unfit. You can lock me in this room, but you can't make me open my mouth. Not you, not the army, not the superheroes that you pretend are real. What? You think I'm stupid?

    I'll sit here until I starve. Then, you'll find me in the center of this big, white bed. And you'll feel terrible. You'll feel horrible. You'll wish you'd never opened your big, stupid mouth and tried to make me feel smaller. I am small. I don't need your encouragement.

    I'm not going to say it. Not ever.

    I was playing with the doll first. And that's what matters.

    No matter what you say.


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