A Dead Man’s Name

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Sir Wendig has challenged us once again on this fabulous Friday.  Music Shuffle Challenge, it is. I was thrilled when this song appeared. Here’s my story based upon the first song that popped up on my iTunes.  Sinead O’Connor’s song “Jackie.”   My flash fiction piece comes in at 494 words including the title. Enjoy. Comments appreciated.

I came to the shore each day at twilight, so I could see her. Her ethereal figure would appear, first just a shadow, then an outline, until her mourners gown and widow’s veil could be seen, a seeming solid being. I understood she wasn’t of this world, yet she was so a part of mine.

She didn’t see me perched along the rise of the hill. However, she wasn’t looking for me. She was looking for John Keane. Sailor. Husband. Lost. Weaved within the strong ocean winds you could hear her wail, “Jackie, oh Jackie.” Her figure would be hunched over, the sea swirling around her black skirt, as her shoulders trembled with grief. It felt invasive, but I couldn’t look away.

John “Jackie” Keane was my great-great uncle. My grandmother had told his story; how this seafaring man was lost and how his wife, Sorcha, had haunted the coast ever since. My cousins said she also haunted my grandmother’s home, which is where the Keane Clan had lived for many generations.

Only once approached the beach to see Widow Sorcha closely, to see the details of her haunted eyes, her lamenting mouth, and tormented face. In her eyes I saw a personal hell which made anguish an inadequate word. Her tears were the color of rotting kelp, her teeth — gritted in pain — mirrored the salt gray of November storms, and her arms reached out, skeletal with more than twenty years of searching for her sailor husband and accompanied with screeching sorrow.

I ran as fast as breaths of oxygen would carry me. Yet the chill for which the sight and sound of her did not leave me for weeks.

Now I brought binoculars with me, which saved my eyes from the blowing sand. I could see lips moving, as if she was obsessively chanting a mantra that would allow the sea to yield her beloved. A counter curse to her years of suffering.  I would watch the muted external dialogue and determined that she would never stop wandering the water’s edge, pacing and shaking her petite fist at the sea.

Grandma Keane said that Jackie’s death was really a murder, that creatures from the depths of the ocean had waged revenge on John Keane because his ship would survive even when others were turned to matchsticks by the sea’s wrath. Grandpa Keane had another story. A younger man, in love with Sorcha, had tied Jackie up and left him and his fishing vessel to be tossed about by an incoming storm. But Sorcha rejected him and he murdered her as well, stabbing her while breathing a curse upon her to wander alone for all eternity.

I did not care about the story. No, all I wanted was to see her peaceful and reunited with my uncle. For now, though, all I could do is visit, observe and wonder. Was she calling just my uncle, or was she calling me?

I got to TEOTWAWKI, and All I got was this lousy T-Shirt

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So once again, Chuck Wendig has me shaking off the constrains of my normal writing and stretching and reaching myself. His challenge was a genre-mashup.  From the choices, I picked to smush together Dystopian Sci-Fi and Slasher or Serial Killer genres. This has to be the silliest story I have ever written. But it was fun, I learned more about making voice strong and that an odd dream can be fodder for a story.

Hope you enjoy; it came in at a sparse 925 words including the title. Would love it if you tell me your favorite conversation T-shirt lurking in your wardrobe in the comments. Let’s make it fun, you know.

 

I got to TEOTWAWKI, and All I got was this lousy T-Shirt

Conversation t-shirts went the way of the Pet Rock, the original Ker-Knockers, and the Cabbage Patch Kids; but, not because Americans lost their interest in them or because such great classics like “I’m with Stupid” had become passé for any other reason; no, they had a typical unknown taste maker destroy them by way of serial killer.

Back in 2054, right after we were all living with these days, instead of hours of darkness and light, four years after the meteor hit and kicked Earth in her girly bits enough to get her orbit cycle all out of whack, conversation t-shirts basically put a target on your back.

I had a closet full of them and when the Center for Disease Control confiscated them, I learned that I narrowly had escaped the wrath of the Con-Tee Serial Killer.

Acid rain also saved me. But, I’ll get to that later.

A scientist, eventually only known as the Con-Tee Serial Killer, was working for some bio-tech corporation outside of Seattle, was frustrated with the lack of world population. He had seen the world’s population top over 10 billion in 2050. But no government, agency or non-profit organization was doing anything to help educate people. Now this scientist, he loathed the conversation t-shirt and thought that humans who wore them were not worthy of eating up the planets diminishing resources. He designed a formula that controlled people to seek out and destroy the “I’m With Stupid” populations. The formula dissipated – odorless, tasteless, and nearly undetectable – into water and fouled the water supplies in all of the Pacific Northwest first; then he hit up the Great Lakes area. Because bottled water companies had ago been importing water from both the upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, soon all of North America was infected. Riots broke out in places like Hot Topics, Outlet Malls and Wal-Marts. The population of the United States, then Canada and Mexico dropped. Japan and China were also infected quickly and suffered the greatest population drops. Somehow the formula made it to Europe, but save for some areas of the U.K., most of Europe seemed to not be infected. Of course, the experts on this condition didn’t know that real style centers of Europe scoff at such apparel. Only a few ugly American tourists were mugged and beaten within an inch of their life during the Oktoberfest in Munich. Other than those few incidents, most of Europe was spared the plague.

The serial killer’s plague started in the rainy Pacific Northwest, it was also along the bridges and byways of Portland, Ore. that the cure and eventual containment of the formula and its maker. I was searching out a vegan lunch truck on my lunch break in my “Ride Me Hard and Put Me Away Wet” t-shirt. Working as a flat-rate mechanic allowed a bit of liberty on the work wardrobe. Basically no one gave a shit what you wore under your coveralls. Why I wasn’t attacked on the way to the lunch is a bizarre anomaly and I credit it to the simple dumb luck I’ve been blessed with since birth. Just as I was taking a bite of my black bean burrito, we got a cloud burst that drenched me. So that my t-shirt was not visible and had abated and attack caused by an “Y__  _R_ _N _D__T : Would you like to buy a vowel?” t-shirt, which occurred near the historic Hollywood Theatre. A landscape artist who witnessed the start and sudden stop of the attack would be the one to bring it to the CDC’s attention that rain had some kind of calming, if not curing effect.

However, it would be a very long week. One that would prepare people for the coming celestial shift a few years later, when color and fashion faded to simple utilitarian warmth and cooling. REI made a killing. In fact the first mass killing of the outbreak was outside one of their stores. I wished I’d had stock in them. Regardless, people learned to dress more appropriately – especially for the weather. In fact today, moisture-wicking and anti-staining became the buzz words. It was the dawn of the age of the Road Warrior fashion.

The week started out with the first killings showing up in places like Tacoma and smaller suburbs of Seattle like Kent and Burien. Then places like Warren, Mich., Duluth, Mn. And Green Bay, Wis. had outbreaks of normally non-violent, law-abiding citizens just savagely destroying anyone caught on the street in a shirt with some sort of snide, clever or asinine saying on it. Most people may have seen the viral video of the guy with the “When I want a pointless conversation, I’ll let you know” shirt who was taken out by an old lady who wore a powder blue wool suit. However, the guy that caught the clip thought she was having PTSD because the guy had a beard. Regardless, the Con-Tee Serial Killer’s work was a success. Notes of responsibility were sent to various police departments up and down the Puget Sound and along the shores of the Great Lakes. Between death and imprisonment, the world’s population was impacted, just as the formula’s scientist intended it. But he only had one week of blissful victory and anonymity. Soon the whole world would know that bio-tech scientist, Caden O’Neal, was the evil Con-Tee Serial Killer.

As for me, I’m headed to the CDC’s warehouse. I want my clothes back.

 

2011 Against the Reading Glasses

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It’s that time again – the time to reflect on the last human notation of time – the year. This past year, to be exact. 2011 under the scope of my brand new shiny, picked-them—up-in-July reading glasses.

The year started off innocuous enough. Working *TSSDJ, grinding out the gears in my personal gerbil wheel, and wondering how to bring it all together. We had hatched a rough plan that by September I would step aside from *TSSDJ, but by Valentine’s Day that was moved up to June because of my eldest daughter’s apartment lease. She was my primary child care, so new arrangements needed to be made. It gave me three less months to put aside resources. As of today, I can feel that lack of preparation, but we’re making do.

In April, my husband and I celebrated 5 years of marriage. Our blended family truly seeming blended after years of work, heartache, joy, pain, defeat and victory.

My father’s cancer resurfaced and there was a mad-dash plan hatched to bring him, my mother, sister and youngest brother to Washington to visit. It was a clan-strengthening move and I’m thrilled they all got the chance to see my urban farm home and glimpse into the people their grandchildren/niece/nephews will become.

Mid year was a time of changes for me and my entire clan. Some folks, as was mentioned this past holiday, are not fond of my use of the term clan. But to me, it’s akin to tribe, which imparts more than just family, especially where the American culture is concerned. Family evokes a scene, to me, where backs can be turned and people left behind. But a clan, you fight for them ala Robin Hood style. That’s how it feels to me. But I digress from the point – reflection on the year.

Yes, changes. No longer do I hold an identity that links me with an entity that people judge me for prior to knowing me. It was scary and freeing all in one and I have no regrets for leaving the corporate world. None. Someone asked me recently if in 2011 I had been: a) Happier b) Thinner or c) Richer. By December I was much happier and thinner, but I was poorer. Sometimes, there are things that money cannot buy.

I also learned about unexpected charity when I did the call out for Operation Baseball. I also set a silent goal that my work would be published before my 11-year-old becomes a pro baseball player. Doable, yes?

Much more doable after receiving my first acceptance for a PAID short story. Yes, friends and clans-members, this little urban farmer writer has a real street-cred publishing success. At Second Glance the 4th Anthology from Gay City Arts came out. You can support me and other emerging and established authors by ordering yours today. Don’t delay. Because, you know, then you can say, “I knew here way back when…”

The summer and fall brought extended illnesses and broken bones for my sons. Both, hopefully have learned a valuable lesson on staying healthy and how that particular life skill is of the utmost importance. We also changed family doctors and the staff of my children’s school really know who I am – especially for my special needs son. A goal of my going to work for myself and stepping away from the proverbial rat race.

On Sept. 8, 2011, I finally secured my Bachelor of Arts degree from Antioch University Seattle. I didn’t walk the stage or any of that noise. I just flaunted my degree in my own face once it arrived a few weeks later. The sheepskin sits in a file in my writing desk, a foundation to build upon. I flirt with the idea of doing an MFA, but I want more publishing success before I do that. One day I’m hot for it; the next day it seems like a complete waste of time. Since there is confusion, I’ve passed on applying. I’ll get there in my own time.

My client list for my freelance business Creative Word Lab is steadily growing. Martius Catalyst secured a new artist and things are building momentum with that project.

The list of ideas, volumes of stories and just sheer creativity swells. I have a list of 34 things I’m focusing on for 2012. As the year progresses, I’ll refer to that list. I hope you’ll be joining me to see them all come to fruition.

Let’s hope the theme for 2012 is that art blossoms and proves a healthy harvest.

Blessed Be!

 

*The Soul-Sucking Day Job

Christmas in the Land of Phillip

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That pantless wonder Chuck Wendig has done it again. Given me a prompt that let the words just spill out — 999 of them. A little about this piece:  It draws on my real-life experiences, but poetic license has been applied to said Christmas day. I do have photos of me shoveling snow in Macedonia on a NATO base and there was truly a sergeant who smelled of cigars and gun oil and who affected my life greatly while deployed.  There also was an epic snowball fight, which some of us eventually got into minor trouble for from a humorless battalion commander. I know there’s at least one of my writing mentors who will groan when he reads the word ‘azure,’ but it truly fit. Also, if it was good enough for Vonnegut, Hemingway and Dick, it’s good enough for me.  Happy Yule all. Hope you enjoy the story. Leave me some comments below. Blessed be. 

 

We had snow for Christmas. I had to shovel it away from the guard shack and tower. Somewhere there are pictures of me doing so – rocking the hardcore camouflage and United Nations blue beret, a baby blue powder keg that would ignite the passions of those who felt a scary new world order was represented by an American military wearing olive branches against a peaceful azure sky.

I watched the squads come in and out of the make-shift NATO base, although this particular location housed nothing but Americans and if the American battalion commander had anything to do with it, it would remain that way. Across the Yugo-width road, Macedonian army recruits trained. They were dressed up for some kind of holiday observance and were practicing some drill-and-ceremony marching. Their dress uniforms had this Rembrandt-looking hats and capes. Tomorrow I would snap pictures with them. But at that moment there was a foot of snow to make a path through.

I had asked my sergeant if we couldn’t just get the combat engineers to fire up the heavy earth mover, but he said that was a waste of tax payer’s money, which at the end of the day is what pissed off right-wing opponents to any American forces wearing U.N. blue berets. Instead they paid me $800 to have me shovel snow, do patrols and tell the stories of the operation through photographs and words.

That was the day I met Sgt. Nicholas, what he was doing as an infantry non-commissioned officers confused me. He was too smart for that. Hell, we were all too smart for most of this all-volunteer army. I think back to those Rembrandt-hat wearing Macedonian army conscripts. They somehow had it better. They had no choice; their service was never questioned with suspicion. They were doing their patriotic duty.

Nicholas smelled of cigar smoke, gun oil and evergreens. He was wearing a handcrafted lei-like thing made of pine bough around his neck.

“Merry Christmas, specialist,” he said to me.

“Happy Solstice to you,” I responded without stopping shoveling.

“Oh, no, a witchy woman; I know your type,” he said. I glanced at him momentarily and went back to shoveling. He stood chewing on his cigar, resting one arm on his weapon, and just watched me work, which I couldn’t abide. I seethed inside and tried to keep my cool and put my irritation into the shovel and concentrating on my task at hand. But I could hear him just watching me – his breath, the cigar in his mouth, his watch against the steel of his rifle.

I stopped and faced him, “Watching me won’t clear the path faster,” I said, not blocking the annoyance in my voice.

“Didn’t you forget something?”

“Sergeant,” I emphasized what he meant I had forgotten, “you can grab a shovel,” I stuck my jaw out towards a spare shovel leaned against the observation tower, “and help or you can leave.”

He stared at me, and then walked away, saying nothing.

I shrugged and went back to work. My hands were beginning to ache with the effort and the 25 degrees Fahrenheit temperature. I stopped and sat down on a snow mount I’d created with the shoveled snow. I lit a smoke. I looked north towards the helipad and the battalion quad, its buildings sporting old communist architecture that made East Berlin look decorative. Just as I nearing the end of my smoke break, I saw about a platoon’s worth of soldiers, carrying e-tools, snow shovels and the like heading my way. I just stood there, trying to concentrate on their approach. It was as if I was just simply watching television, not like I was living this moment.

Nicolas approached and the rest stayed a few steps behind him. “We thought we would help you so you didn’t miss the slop the chow hall has cooking up for Christmas. They say we’ll have real ham and turkey – not that minced and form stuff either. The Norwegian commander at the downtown base sent dozens over for us for the holiday. But this is your mission; you don’t have to accept the assistance.”

I waved my hands towards the sea of snow all around us, “Feel free, sergeant.”

Thinking back I swear we moved a football-field of snow in about forty minutes. I would have been there well past lights-out. As it was when we finished, the sun was setting and a waning Gibbous moon made our piles sparkle. There were smiles all around. The short winter days a bane on a soldier’s task list, so I was very grateful. As I approached Sgt. Nicholas to tell him I appreciated his Yuletide gift, someone threw a snowball and it pelted me square in the back. I turned around and it was a doughy-faced young kid, a private first class. “Ah, man, you got in the way, specialist!” he threw up his hands and then pushed them towards the ground like grade-school kids do when they are exasperated. I stepped aside and fanned my hands ala Vanna White towards Sgt. Nicholas, and the private, along with two of his comrades fired off a new snowball attack at their leader.

Next thing I knew there was a massive snowball fight in every direction. I took refuge near the snow mound I earlier had rested on to smoke. I sat there protected from the onslaught and just looked up at the stars. Its beauty took me back to Christmas nights in snowy Michigan. The commotion behind me much like the pick-up hockey games and other snowball fights of my youth. Suddenly a mass of green, brown and black hurled itself over the mound. Once it unrolled, I realized it was Sgt. Nicholas.

“I hope you’re happy, specialist,” he said, grinning with one side of his mouth, as the other contained a cigar stub.

“Actually, Sgt. Nicholas, I am.”

We both took up position and started firing back snowballs at the rest of the platoon.

 

 

Solstice Ball #28 — Free Range Fiction via Terrible Minds Challenge

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Here’s my take for Chuck Wendig’s challenge. I had a lot of fun with this piece. My feminism may be showing as is too many years of horror and pulp writing. But, it’s a good break from all the holiday nuttiness. Wouldn’t you say? Let me know in the comments what you think.

 

#28

Janet couldn’t decide which of her Make Your Own Man XK6 companions was going to accompany her to the Solstice Ball. Hell, she hadn’t even decided what clothes she was going to wear. She knew that he must wear is best tuxedo. And a cane. He needed a cane. But, before that he needed a head. Did she go with the older distinguished gentleman? That would give Abigail Founderland something to gossip about, since she was constantly on and on about how so many women just wanted to be kept and not have a life of one’s own. There was the dark-eyed, private-eye man. Or she could dance all night with the entertainer. There was the athlete, or the scientist. There was even a gingered-hair banker.

Janet put the head of the scientist on. Suddenly she was feeling the need for some intellectual conversation. The MYOM XK6 came to life. She stood there nude, nothing but her dancing shoes on.

“Janet,” he said.

“Willard,” Janet said and smiled. “We have a gala to go to tonight.”

“Where is your gown?”

Janet rose and walked over to her wardrobe. Willard followed. She opened its doors. Willard reached above Janet and pulled out a very plain gray day dress. “This looks fabulous,” she said.

Janet knocked his head off.

She put his head back on the shelf. The face had the look of surprise now, as if he had found a Eureka moment in his lab.

She decided that since it was a gala, she should have the entertainer with her. She executed the head placement flawlessly, and before she knew it his hands rose up and clasped onto her breasts.

“Get off, get off!” she screamed. He wouldn’t let go. She tried to knock his head off, but her arms were too short. She kneed him in the groin and he moaned and let go. She was able then to knock his head off. She was so grateful that she had gotten the XK6 model that had between-the-legs sensitivities. She wasn’t a prude after all. But both the scientist and the entertainer were going to have to back to the shop and get repaired.

She sat back and thought carefully. Maybe the athlete would be a gentleman – although she preferred him for tennis doubles. She shook her head and chose the private-eye. He would keep her safe, perhaps.

She placed the head on. “Hey, dame, what gives? I haven’t seen you in two weeks.”

“I’ve been busy,” Janet said.

“Busy working for that greedy, ginger bastard? After all I’ve done for you?”

“Look, Cliff, we’ve been over this before,” she started to head towards the wardrobe, this was life with Cliff. He was going on and on about how bad all the other men were for her, but he also conceded that he wasn’t really the partner type. He always told her that he worked alone. While she was looking at an elegant red dress, Cliff approached the other heads and grabbed the banker’s head and threw it on the ground.

“Cliff!” Janet admonished.

“Stay away from him!” He ran to the bed side table where Janet kept her small pearl-handled handgun. One he had helped her pick out. And shot the banker’s face off.

Janet whacked him from behind with the cane she had wanted him to carry and his head rolled off. She put Cliff back on the shelf.

She sighed and realized that Abigail Founderland would have lots to talk about after all.

“Henry,” Janet greeted her Solstice Ball date.

“Janet, my lovely child,” he said, just a tinge of a southern accent he had worked hard with Janet to lose.

“Are you also feeling ornery tonight? Because I just want to go to the ball and have a good time – no other shenanigans,” she pointed the cane at her.

“I’ll be good, I promise,” Henry said. He put up two fingers and then marked an “X” over his heart.

Janet grabbed a gold gown, “This is perfect for tonight,” and she dressed. Henry watched, his eyes hungrily taking Janet in. Janet focused again on the wardrobe, trying to decide which stole she would wear for the evening. Henry couldn’t control his appetite any longer and came at her from behind and wrapped his arms around her and buried his mouth into the side of her neck.

“Henry,” Janet was irritated. “Stop. It’s time to go get a taxi. Could you do that.”

“No,” he said. “I want a different date for tonight!”

“What? You don’t like my gown?” She was trying to wiggle away so she could knock this version out of commission, too.

“No, I want a different date; I was thinking maybe that sassy Abigail!”

Henry bit into Janet’s neck and she fell to her knees, knocking Henry off balance and into the wardrobe. Janet crawled quickly away. She saw the handgun and grabbed it. Just as Henry was about to be on top of her, she shot. The first shot only hit his chest and made him take a few steps back. Henry charged again, and she took a quick breath and squeezed again. A small black hole appeared, and the MYOM XK6 fell over, sprawling between her bed and the wardrobe.

Janet went over and kicked Henry’s head off. She put the gun in her evening bag. Grabbed a dark mink stole, and headed out to the Solstice Ball, alone.

“Men,” she sighed as she locked the door.