Archives for category: Fiction

Storytime again, methinks ūüôā

—~

The air was so wet you could squeeze it like a sponge. Steam curled in tendrils off of the great fan-like leaves at eye level and all around there was a vague greenish fog, tinted by the thick vegetation in all directions, including up and down. There was a steady¬†drip, drip coming from one of the nearest of the great leaves, as sparkling beads of water rolled gently down the leaf’s great spine and splashed on the green mattress below. Everything was covered in a layer of beading sweat that wouldn’t evaporate. All was green, except for tiny splashes of red, or orange, where occasionally a strange flower would lift its delicate head and seek companionship, flirting outrageously with neighboring plants and insects.

The jungle was not a quiet place. Monkeys, and probably other things, sent their keening calls through the shadowy lattice of trees. Wet echoes of dripping water jumped lightly from leaf to vine to fern, and it was impossible to move without swishing a steaming waterfall from at least five neighboring plants. Frogs and insects sang their constant, buzzing songs, and strange birds commented sweetly from their secret hiding places. Even in a quiet moment, you could hear, in the distance, the telltale rumble of an approaching thunderstorm. But no rain could alleviate this soaking, sweating heat.

Jules smiled, his teeth melting like sugar, and spread out his arms, absorbing as many degrees Fahrenheit as his skinny limbs would allow. He took a few steps to humbly approach a beautiful hibiscus-looking flower and bowed to it, caressing its petals. He held a giant leaf to his lips and tilted it, so that the crystalline water came streaming into his mouth like a sweet tea. Then he wiped his face on the leaf, and there was no damage to the thick layer of sweat that anointed his features. Jules smiled again, closing his eyes, listening to the sounds, and feeling the air moving in slow, sopping currents against his skin…

‘Jules, we are here!’ his mother’s voice wafted from the front of the carriage just as the sound of the horse’s hoofs stopped. Jules suddenly sat up straight. He had been facing out the window, but hadn’t noticed that they had arrived at the great grey mansion.

His mother turned in her seat. ‘Just look at you, Jules!’ she cried at the sight of Jules’s winter coat, hanging unbuttoned and half off. She set about furiously trying to fix it over the back of her seat, clucking things like, ‘You’ll catch your death in this cold, wearing your coat like that!’ and ‘Wrap your scarf around your neck, boy, do you want to freeze?’ and Jules could only let his mother fuss and scold until she was done.

As they dismounted the carriage, Jules drew his scarf up tighter, as cold gusts of wind rushed snow into his face. Now was the time for visiting with Grandma; Jules ached for when the visit was over and he could return to the warm, wonderful tropics…

This should be more understandable if you’ve seen Disney’s¬†Sleeping Beauty.¬†Enjoy! ūüėÄ

—~

 

The pieces were falling into place. Excellent.

Flora sighed and leaned back in her chair, rubbing her eyes. It was long after hours, and a single blue-white light shone above her desk. Everybody else in the office had long since gone home, even the nighttime janitors, who had come and gone without her noticing. She had spent the last silent hours hunched over her desk, the only sounds coming from her keyboard as she typed furiously and the papers she would sporadically stop to shuffle. Now, as she placed her hands firmly on the edge of her desk, finally surveying all she had accomplished tonight, the tension of the past few days threatened to catch up with her and devour her like a hungry wolf, but once again she steeled herself, telling herself that she should at least get home. It was not over, far from it; but at least she had done all she could, all they could, at least for now. The dates and precise times were set; all security details were in place; every foreseeable liability had been eliminated; all the higher-ups had given all systems go. The operation was to be launched tomorrow, and mostly thanks to her, Flora, it would be ready. She had been the one to stay in the office after hours for almost every single night since the mission began; it was she who had conceived of it in the first place. Indeed, as the day of launch had drawn nearer and nearer, Flora had reached a kind of frantically focussed demeanor which did not allow her to sleep but only to check, double check, plan, and make sure everything was going according to plan. Now it was ready.

Not, admitted Flora to herself, as she used her desk to push herself up to a standing position, that the others hadn’t given it their best. They, too, had stayed after hours, but not as long or often as she had. They had been the ones on the ground, planting equipment and guiding the subjects along. They were the ones carrying out their vision for sixteen years as agents of the secret mission. For this was not a routine strike. No, it was a large-scale offensive that was, they fervently hoped, to win the fight once and for all, a final preemptive attack that was to obliterate the opposition entirely. Flora ached as she gathered her things, but the pain was dulled with the knowledge that anything that could be done was done, and with the wild anticipation of the next day—just a few hours from now. Flora clicked off her desk light and headed home.

* * *

Fauna and Merriweather were still awake, of course, when Flora came home. How could they have slept, with thoughts of Operation Breaking Dawn racing through their heads? They had both been absentmindedly sitting at the kitchen table; they both glanced up and watched Flora with worried looks as she joined them.

‘Management should change the lighting in that place,’ Flora sighed at last. ‘Those horrible fluorescent bulbs are bad for my eyes.’

‘You’re¬†on¬†the management, dear,’ Fauna gently reminded her. ‘Perhaps you should magic the lights to a more pleasant color?’

Flora groaned. ‘I could, but it’s so difficult constantly concentrating on the lights when I’m trying to work on Op BD. If only we had another fairy in the place…’

Merriweather thought to herself that she would love to be assigned to the post of magicking the lights all day, and doing nothing but that, but she didn’t say anything out loud. ‘Yes, please,’ she said when Fauna offered to boil some tea for them.

Flora rubbed her eyes again.

‘Flora,’ said Merriweather earnestly, ‘whatever’s left to do has been done. I know you’re still worrying about it.’ She reached across the table and put her hand on Flora’s. ‘But at this point, there’s nothing more you can do. So please don’t drive yourself crazy.’

Flora smiled, because she knew that Merriweather was being a bit hypocritical. Most likely none of them would sleep well tonight.

Presently Fauna returned with the tea. ‘Perhaps we should review, just quickly, what’s going to happen?’ she suggested daintily. ‘Just so we’re all on the same page; I know it would help me feel better.’

Flora breathed in the steam from her tea. ‘Right,’ she began. ‘At four o’clock tomorrow the Prince will ride through the forest and meet the Princess. We must send her out at three so she will be sure to meet him. We have planted our magic forcefields in the ground already to insure that they will both follow the right paths, yes? Good. When the Princess comes home we will inform her of her true identity, and bring her to the palace. Hopefully by then she will be in love with the Prince. Merriweather, you’ve been slipping love-thoughts into both of their sleep for several weeks now.’ Merriweather nodded solemnly.

‘And I’ve been planting subliminal images of the Prince around the house, so the Princess should recognize him that way,’ Fauna added helpfully.

Flora smiled at her. ‘Good. Anything helps. Tomorrow night we will take her to the castle, where she will fall under Mallificent’s spell. If all goes according to plan, the Prince will try and rescue her, killing Mallificent in the process—killing—killing Evil, once and for all,’ she finished with a shaky note of awe in her voice.

Fauna was practically squeaking with excitement. ‘I’ve the Sword of Truth and the Shield of Virtue already; they arrived in the mail today.’

‘And not a moment too soon,’ Flora muttered darkly. ‘About time they got around to it.’

There was a pause, and Merriweather, who had been conspicuously silent during the briefing, could not stand it any more.

‘Oh!’ she cried suddenly. ‘I just don’t understand! I just—don’t understand why!’

‘Why what, dear?’ Fauna asked gently. Flora glared at both of them.

‘I just don’t understand why we have to use Love!’ Merriweather exploded. ‘Love’s disputed territory, and if we use it, I just think that’s a lot of risk and how do we—‘

‘That’s enough,’ Flora interrupted coldly. ‘That is the plan and that is how we are going to see it through.’

Her words hung like icicles in a sudden shocked silence. Fauna looked into her tea while Merriweather and Flora held each other’s hostile gazes.

Suddenly, Flora melted. ‘Good hired¬†us¬†for this job,’ she explained, ‘because of our work with Cinderella last year.’ All three of them knew that what she really wanted to say was, Good hired me¬†for my¬†work with Cinderella last year, but Merriweather was grateful she hadn’t brought that up this time. ‘We used Love then—‘

‘And it was just as risky!’

‘—but it worked, didn’t it? Another small victory for Good. This one will be another one, hopefully the ultimate, because this time we’re fighting Mallificent, and she’s one of them, employed by Evil. We’re fighting Evil directly this time, and we need all the help we can get.’ Flora reached for Merriweather’s hand. ‘Even if that means using Love like it’s ours. And it will be ours,’ she added knowingly, ‘once we win.’

Merriweather sighed and looked away. She probably just felt the usual guilt about always having to use the mortals as pawns in their battles, and not even their¬†battles; it was always between Good and Evil, never the fairies themselves—mortals were the pawns of pawns—but what could she do. She was the most junior officer and that was just the way things were done around here.

The three officers finished their tea and went to bed, for the last time in the little cottage. On the way to their bedroom, they passed the bedroom of their temporary ward, the Princess: sleeping in her bed, she lay blissfully unaware of her essential role in Good’s elaborate plan to defeat Evil. And she would never know; that was part of the plan. She must never be made aware of the sides she unknowingly served and was made to fight against, or the plans might crash apart like an eggshell. So ordered the higher-ups, at least, at Good.

The three officers slept fitfully, dreaming of all things that could go wrong with the operation, and set Good back at least sixteen years.

Flora was awake as the sun peeped over the horizon. Operation Breaking Dawn had begun.

I may not have made this clear as of yet, but I absolutely love the Beatles!

If you haven’t heard it, don’t you know that¬†Happiness is a Warm Gun?

—~

She’s not a girl who misses much

She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a windowpane

—~

You wouldn’t even notice her, if you had just walked into the mirrored room. There was enough sequin dazzle to flummox the eyes and enough laughter and tinkling of champagne glasses to tempt the ears, and if you weren’t looking for her, you wouldn’t notice her. Not until about thirty minutes in, towards the end of cocktails, when you had drifted deep into the ballroom, pulled by a waterless tide through flowing masses of people, and were just beginning to feel the first flushes of warmth from the champagne; that is when you’d notice her. Basking luxuriously like a lizard on a golden couch in the back of the room, cradling her glass in an elegant black-gloved hand. Her dress would be made of the deepest velvet night, with sequins like stars; and her skin like a pale sunbeam through a morning window. Her dusky hair would shade eyes that were rimmed in night but sparked with solar flares. Your eyes would linger involuntarily on her, but then continue their journey around the room, and you would forget her…

Later that evening, after the dinner was over, the speeches made, the guests thanked, and the coffees served, you would linger in the reception hall, reluctant to leave, and still feeling a little warm and genial from the red wine. And then you would notice her again, as the crowd began to thin, right where she was, on the golden couch. This time she would be looking right at you, and the fiery eyes would seem to be inches from yours, across the room. She knows you: she has seen everything you’ve done and said tonight, everything you’ve thought, everywhere you’ve glanced surreptitiously; she’s read it in the way you held your glass and the way you laughed and clicked your nails on the napkin ring. Her red lips would suggest the sheerest outline of a secret smile, and you would know what to do.

You would excuse yourself for a minute from your conversation, perhaps telling them you needed some fresh air, and then you would start across the room. Multicolored sequin lights from the many chandeliers would reflect off the mirror-lined walls and dazzle you. Your eyes would hunt for hers across the room and your heart would begin to pound. When she finally meets your eyes, your shoes would suddenly turn into heavy hobnailed boots and you cannot walk another step. The room would cease spinning. Something about the heat you feel rolling off of her in waves would remind you that the most beautiful lizards are also the most poisonous.

And then, reading your thoughts, she would actually smile, or smirk; a sound like a gunshot would roar through your belly and blow your hair back and you would have the sensation of wailing in high falsetto. Lights from chandeliers would dance before your eyes and when you finished blinking, your eyes would find the golden couch, and she would not be there.

And you might never see her again, but you would know that she will always be there, basking on the golden couch in the back of your mind, secret, like a gun in a closet, humming and warm.

—~

 

 

Another Bradbury-inspired story? Cool beans! Thanks to my bro, and thanks to this website about Planetary Resources. Cool stuff; apparently it’s legit! If you’re an eccentric billionaire reading this post, might I suggest this as a super cool place to invest.

If not, too bad. I know how you feel. ūüôā

Either way, enjoy!

—~

 

She closed her eyes and thought of the sea. In her mind’s eye she saw the sweet cerulean blue gently undulating, lifting small caps of frothy white in places joyfully. Her mind’s ear heard the calming roar, the voice of a mother singing an unending lullaby. Her nostrils flung themselves wide to welcome the salt tang of the sea air, drinking their fill of the pleasantly briny breeze. The azure waves grew old as she watched, sprouting white beards and kissing the shoreline before crumbling away, and submitting peacefully to the wave after. She closed her eyes and could still see it, from so long ago, could still remember, high above the water, the wind’s fingers attempting to steal her hair, the sun trying to melt her sweating skin off. The rocks under her bare feet like little knives, punching and scraping, and the distant crater across which she gazed a sleeping giant, rumbling secretly, so only she could hear, threatening, always threatening, to explode, to erupt, to swallow, to engulf! The blue waves pounding on the cliffs maddeningly, trying to get away, to escape, as she must—run! No time! The volcano is ready, the ashes spewing, lava hungrily churning, boiling, reaching, burning—

Her eyes snapped open. No, it would not do to think of the sea. Not out here, where everything actually was an enemy, and everything actually could go wrong, and was likely to.

As a child, on an island village where people had been finding contentment in the shadow of a volcano for centuries, she had been called¬†nevŐĪriko√ļ, nervous. Perhaps that was why she was so well suited to space. Out here, the quick and subtle movement of the eye, and the quivering stillness of heart and hand, was more likely to draw thanks and relieved sighs than worried shakes of the head. Yes, space hurled blazing rocks at you from millions of miles in the past, that would shred your ship without even slowing to notice. But there were also volcanos in space, that rumbled secretly but gave no sign of existence until suddenly the lava was upon you, swallowing your ship like a cherry on top. And these volcanos were the ones Ana spotted almost more easily than the already blazing rocks, somehow always aware of whence the next one would come, painfully attuned to another plane of hearing, sensitive to rumblings that seemed to sound for her alone. This ability, coupled with a natural aptitude for leadership, had named her captain of the first manned spaceship to the asteroid Eros. She commanded her ship with a steady hand but alert, quiet but always sensing, reaching out; always her tongue was on the brink of a crucial, subtle order, a slight change in direction that would avert certain catastrophe with an almost prophetic accuracy. The highly trained and steel-nerved crew would often stare with wonder out the windows of the craft as a jagged monster of a rock sailed ponderously and silently past, looking like a blue whale to a minnow, into the space where their ship had been minutes ago. And Ana would hardly glance at it, standing on the bridge, her hands clutching the railing, sending her thoughts forward, reaching out, sensing…

That was all over, though, at least for now, she told herself firmly, sitting bolt upright on the edge of her bed in her quarters. Her ship had landed, finally, on Eros, and the true purpose of the odyssey begun. They would mine the water, first, and use it to feed the ship’s thirsty fuel tanks, greedy for the promise of home, because fuel was the ticket home. The fuel tanks satiated, they would load more water into the ship itself, perhaps for thirsty mouths back home, where water was growing scarce enough to persuade eccentric billionaires to fund this frantic space-hunt for natural resources. Then, of course, they would mine for metals—precious platinum first, then unfailing iron, and wild methane. These ingredients would be loaded into the spacecraft and lugged homeward for a mysterious recipe to enlarge global GDP—or so the eccentric billionaires had said. For Ana, anyway, the Mining was to be two weeks in which she was to rest, recuperate her fraying abilities, and prepare for the exceedingly dangerous journey home. Her lieutenant would take over for these two weeks and oversee the Mining; Ana’s only duty was to prepare, plot, anticipate, and strengthen. Ana lay back on her bed again and tried to think of something else to think of besides the sea.

But Ana couldn’t rest, couldn’t close her eyes and think of her home; she couldn’t let her thoughts stray away from the ship for a moment, in case there was something out there, something coming, some deep rumbling that she alone could hear…

Yaya came up beside her on the cliff, huffing and creaking as usual, making no effort to ascend the rocks secretly. Ana turned away, abashed, frustrated at her own nervousness, at the wind, and at Yaya for intruding on her thoughts. This was the highest point on the island, and Ana often came here to be alone, sure that none of the villagers would want to follow her all the way up the treacherous path; but nothing ever really seemed to faze Yaya.

‘Ooh, but it is chilly up here,’ Yaya scolded; ‘why haven’t you brought your jacket up? You’ll catch a cold for sure, and then I’ll have to take care of you, and I have so many other things to do.’ Yaya’s¬†gray wispy hair danced gleefully in the stiff breeze.

Ana didn’t say anything, but toed the tiny rocks and watched them settle. Her T-shirt and cotton shorts whipped at her arms and legs, but the frown on her face stayed firmly put.

During a silence that was not really a silence, because of the roaring duet of the ocean and wind, Yaya gazed across the turquoise sea that so sweetly hid the caldera.

‘You know,’ she mused eventually, ‘the caldera is beautiful. But the houses lining it are quite lovely, too, I think.’

Ana looked across the windy space again; the sea was now flecked with gold as the sun set, as the white houses in the village gladly decked themselves in the accustomed honeyed-rose hue of the sunset hour.

‘But Yaya,’ Ana said almost before she knew what she was saying, ‘what if the volcano erupts? What if it wakes up and eats the village and then there are no houses anymore? And no sweet sea in the caldera? What then?’

Yaya was silent for a long time.

‘What if?’ she asked slowly, almost to herself. ‘Then we’ll have to build new ones, won’t we, Anastasia?’ Yaya looked sidelong at her granddaughter, whose gaze was fixed stubbornly into the wild air.

‘You must stand tall, my little¬†nevŐĪriko√ļ.’ Yaya smiled. ‘Anastasia. Your name means that you should stand tall and strong, just like those houses. No matter what rumbles beneath your feet.’

But I’m not strong, thought Ana. I shake and tremble at every wave; I feel like fleeing at every sudden sound. How are those houses so steady, knowing as they do how precarious their existence is?

And Yaya, with her uncanny ability to read Ana’s mind, said: ‘The houses know that some family will always love them, even if they crumble into the sea, even if a new family comes to replace the old family.’

The sound of the wind and the sea once again prevailed, and old woman and the young girl stood for a long while gazing at the ever-changing sea and the village, small and steady from such a height. Slowly the gold from the sun faded to dull bronze and Yaya turned away, and began the journey back down the cliff. Ana quickly followed, helping her grandmother not to slip on the loose rocks on the darkening path back to the village.

Slowly, Ana fell asleep in her quarters, as the mining equipment rumbled outside, as the asteroid sailed through space, steady as a rock, steady as Yaya, steady as home.

I have to apologize for not having a post for last night. I sat down to write and suddenly I was invited to an emergency jam session! And that’s why I didn’t have anything. So here’s the one that should have been last night’s; stay tuned for an extra post tomorrow or the day after.

Anyway, methinks it’s time for a return to stories, don’t you?

—~

 

I arrive, of course, ten minutes early.

I park my car in the lot right in front of the restaurant. Premium spot, in the shade–this is why it was a good idea to leave home early, I think, smiling to myself. I leisurely put the brake up and sit in the car for a few minutes, adjusting my seat, knowing I have some time to kill, unwilling to leave the icy air-conditioning. I glance at the digital clock on the dashboard, just to make sure I still have plenty of time. 1:51. Oh, only nine minutes, then.

There’s not much to look at, parked facing the wall of the restaurant, so it occurs to me to check my cell phone. What if Kate had texted me while I was driving that she couldn’t make it after all? That would be terrible! But there are no messages, so I lock my phone and check the clock again, sure at least five minutes have passed, only to find the digits stubbornly the same as they were the last time I checked. I begin to wonder idly if the clock is broken. Wouldn’t that be just great, if I’d been working on a broken clock all this time, and Kate was already sitting in the restaurant, waiting for me, all because my stupid clock was slow. I check my wrist watch instead, and then my cell phone. They all agree; it is only 1:52.

I sigh. Make myself relax in the air conditioning. My eyes wander out the windows into the heat and onto the highway from which I have just come. I examine intensely every single car that comes racing down the road, scanning, searching, hoping for that sunny flash of beige. Every car that slows at the entrance to the restaurant I stop in its tracks, interrogate, search, and, disappointed, send on its way. One of these cars has to be Kate. She’ll be here any minute. Maybe she got a new car, and I won’t recognize it.

No, you dumbass, she didn’t get a new car, and even if she did, so what, just wait, you have almost ten whole minutes before she comes! She might even be late. That makes fifteen minutes. Do you realize how long fifteen minutes is? It’s a quarter of an hour. A whole quarter of an hour. An hour! When you were little, an hour was forever. So calm down, stop worrying. You have time.

I look at the digital clock again, staring at it, willing it to go faster.

Why would you do that, come on, most of the time you’re begging time to slow down, huh? What if it listened to you and from now on you’d never have enough time to do things you want to do? What if the Time gods decided to heed you now and your entire life would go rushing by before you knew it, just because one day you were impatient to meet someone for a lunch date?

I turn the keys. Enough of this sitting in the air conditioning. At least I can be standing outside, so when Kate comes she’ll see me right away and won’t possibly miss me. I gather purse, my sweater, and the little wrapped box with a bow I have for Kate, extract myself from the now sleeping automobile, and arrange myself so that it looks like I’m leaning nonchalantly against the hood.

I’m not going to look at my watch just now, I’m going to turn it right side up so that I can read it just in case I decide to later. I make it look like I’m adjusting my bracelets, then cross my arms. I can’t help tilting my arm just so, and inclining my head just enough to read my wristwatch–1:55.

Excellent. Only five more minutes to wait.

A red sporty-looking car slides into the restaurant’s entrance driveway and careens around the parking lot until it finds an empty space in the sun. A man jumps out, spins his keys and blips his car shut, heads into the restaurant. Now there is a man with a mission, I think. He knows what he wants and he’ll go get it. Huzzah.

I won’t look at my watch again. Instead, I keep my eyes on the road, vigilant for a sign of familiar golden metal slowing up at the driveway. Instead, a grayish minivan pokes its nose into the driveway as if to ask permission to enter, and, sure that it’s welcome here, nudges its way along until it pulls into my row. My eyes follow it until it finds a spot of its own and carefully edges into it.

1:58.

I shift my weight. It’s such a nice day out today. What a lovely breeze. I should wait in the sun. No, I should stay by my car. Where else would I stand? I’m not going to just stand randomly in the middle of the parking lot. I’ll look like a weirdo. Not to mention be in the middle of the road.

Oh my goodness. I forget if I locked my front door or not. I hope I have. Jerry was sleeping when I left, so maybe when he wakes up he’ll realize and lock it. Or not. I’d better remind him. I take out my cell phone to text him, then put it back. Don’t be silly, I’m sure I did remember, and even if I didn’t, so what?

So what? What if today someone decides to break into our house and they can because I left the door open and they steal all our stuff and kill Jerry and burn down our house? All because I forgot to lock the front door? I could never live with that on my conscience. I finger my cell phone.

Swallow it. You’re being stupid. Your mind is racing. Jerry and the house will be fine. Put away your phone, don’t worry about it, and just have fun with Kate. That’s all you need to do.

Speaking of Kate, it’s 2:01. A honey-warm feeling of accomplishment flushes through me (I made it. It’s two. I thought it would never be two), followed by an instant, vague nervousness. It’s after two. We were supposed to meet at two. Where is she? Weren’t we supposed to meet at two? I take out my cell phone and scroll through my text history. Yes, it was definitely two, and this is definitely the place.

Maybe my watch is fast.

Fine, I’ll wait until my watch says 2:03, and then it’ll actually be two, and then I’ll be allowed to panic.

Ahem. Not panic. Be just a little worried.

But what if Kate got into a car crash? What if she’s in some horrible accident, being rushed to the hospital right now, and I’m standing here like an idiot waiting for her? I’ll be waiting here forever. And what kind of lousy friend would I be if she was dying and I didn’t know.

It’s 2:03. Nothing’s happening, she’s probably on her way, maybe there was traffic, maybe she hit a pothole, maybe she’s getting dressed, maybe she’s just late, maybe a thousand things could be the case that aren’t horrible and don’t mean that she won’t be sailing into the parking lot any minute now, and you’ll be on your way, having a nice lunch with her…

Lunch with Kate. What a concept. I haven’t seen her in about two years, but when she called me the other day to tell me she was in town it was like no time had passed between us. I worry what we’ll talk about over lunch today, but there was no radio silence to speak of during our three-hour phone conversation. Well of course we’ll have to talk about what we’ve been doing for the past two years. That’s as good a conversation starter as any, I guess.

If she ever gets here. Calm down, it’s only 2:05.

And then–could it be?–at last, glory to the high heavens, a familiar gleam of sunlight on beige–a car comes zooming up the driveway–a familiar golden head inside. The honey feeling comes back again, even warmer than before, swelling up from my stomach and into my smile. The sandy-colored car bounces around the parking lot and lands in my row. It’s over. I’ve made it. It’s 2:05 and Kate is here, and all that worrying was for naught, and I’m glad I came early and got a spot in the shade after all.

Quickly I try and make it seem like I haven’t been standing there doing nothing for ten minutes; I play with my purse and gather my things and adjust my shirt. She parks and floats out of her car, as golden and pixie-like as ever.

‘Hey!’ she greets me. ‘How’s it going!’ She beams and comes toward me, arms open wide for a hug.

‘Hey, Kate,’ I say, hugging her. ‘It’s been a while. It’s good to see you.’

‘You too. I hope you haven’t been waiting long?’ she asks as we head into the restaurant.

‘Not long,’ I say.

 

 

Middle schools sucks, doesn’t it? High school’s not much better. Trust me, kids, it really does get better in college, if you do it right.

 

—~

She moved in less than a month before school started. Her parents must have been crazy, or they were cruel–what kind of heartless being, responsible for their child’s happiness, would send her to a new school district at the tender age of eleven with only half of August to spare? I mean, this was the beginning of¬†middle school, the beginning of our lives; this was the end of the line in terms of floating aimlessly through life, friends with whomever, and no really bad consequences if you got caught inviting the wrong kid to your birthday party. From here on out, all that mattered was that you hung out with your friends all the time, got a girlfriend as fast as possible, and wore as much Abercrombie as you could get your hands on. At least that’s what my brother told me, and he was about to begin high school. If you could do that, he said, you were set for life.

But this poor girl–Blanca Cruz. Rumors flew about her, even before school begun. She was from Kentucky. She was homeschooled. She was a refugee from Cuba. She didn’t speak English. She was super-smart and would be taking eighth-grade classes and no one would even see her again. Most importantly, though, she didn’t have any friends. She spent most of the half-month before school started in her house, presumably unpacking moving boxes. Who would she eat lunch with? Where would she fit? She seemed pretty enough, and normal enough, from a distance, but I made sure to never get too close. From what my brother had told me about the ever-changing and multiplying unspoken and unbreakable rules of middle school social life, I decided that it would be best if I played it safe. So I couldn’t risk having anything to do with the new girl, lest she turn out to be a black mark on my thus far impeccable social record.

This was difficult, as the Cruzes moved in practically next door to me.

We lived in a complex of condos, not exactly on the wealthy side of town, not on the poor side, just kind of smack in the middle along a main drag where the speed limit was 40, so that every time we came home from school the bus had to do a little awkward stop in the middle of the turnpike and piss off all the cars behind it. I remember jumping down from the bus to the sidewalk and towards home feeling daggers from the eyes of the bitter commuters. When Blanca moved into my complex, it wasn’t long before I realized we’d be on the same bus together, and that we’d have to get off at the same stop. She didn’t even live in my building, but since no one else in my school lived there, it would be just me and her when the bus stopped, and this could seriously test my ability to ignore her.

Well, school began, and soon we were all so busy we didn’t even have to worry about acknowledging each other. In school we were in mostly different classes (she did turn out to be super-smart, but she was only taking a few accelerated classes, not eighth-grade ones). She focussed on her studies, as far as I or any of my friends could tell; I focussed on my friends, and almost managed the girlfriend bit within the month with a blond girl on the volleyball team (at the last moment she couldn’t go to the dance because her dad wouldn’t sign the permission slip).

The bus situation, it turned out, was quite simple. Luckily, our buildings were on opposite sides of the complex, so itdidn’t take long for Blanca and me to develop a routine in which we would dismount the bus quickly (I always went first), wordlessly turn in opposite directions, and head off immediately to our separate buildings. It was quite efficient, even from the first day. There was no animosity between us; we simply didn’t have anything to do with each other. So it was that in ten months’ time I don’t think we exchanged more than five words.

Middle school was going swimmingly by June. It was looking like I had played my cards well and was in the popular crowd, my closet burst with Abercrombie merchandise, and I had even walked down the hall one day in March while holding hands with a girl. I had dusted off my old skateboard and was finally getting decent at it. Thus my head was filled that spring with friends, my skateboard, the nagging thought that I should probably find a date for the June dance, and just how generally well everything was going. And I had even badgered my parents into buying me some skating sneakers, which I wore always without tying the laces.

They were soaking one rainy day, and my feet slid wetly around in them on the bus ride home. They squeaked water as I got off the bus ahead of Blanca as usual, slipped on the wet grass and landed sprawling, face-down on the sidewalk, my backpack and my shame together a hundred pound weight I couldn’t lift.

I heard the bus pull away, my mind swiftly performing complicated calculations, remembering who had been on the bus, who might have seen, how badly they were likely to make fun of me for it. I hoped to God it looked like Blanca had pushed me. That was it. I’ll say that. In fact, I’ll yell at her now to make it look more convincing to any stragglers who might still be staring. I flipped over on the ground, sending my backpack flying. ‘Blanca, what the hell–‘

But she wasn’t behind me. I swung back around and there she was, standing above me in the drizzle, looking slightly frightened and holding out her hand.

‘Are you okay?’ she asked in a trembling voice.

Expletives wandered out of my mouth as I accepted her hand, sure that the bus had finally disappeared.

‘Did you…break anything?’ Blanca asked nervously as I fruitlessly attempted to brush off the wet grass from my shirt.

What a dumb question. Nothing was broken, it was a stupid slip. ‘Uhh, no,’ I told her in my most condescending voice, waving my arms a little so she could see I was telling the truth.

‘No, I mean, like in your backpack, a binder or something. I thought I heard something snap.’

Oh. Right. Of course Blanca would be worried about a stupid binder, she was such a nerd. ‘Uhh, maybe, whatever.’ I glanced at it lying on the wet grass three feet away.

There was a slight pause. The rain kept drizzling. ‘Well…I guess you’re okay then? Do you want me to walk you home?’

Ew. Walk home with Blanca? ‘No,’ I said, still picking off the wet grass.

Blanca bent down and picked my backpack up off the ground and held it out to me. ‘Well here you go then.’

‘Thanks,’ I muttered. Then, the words were out of my mouth before the thought had even materialized. If the thought had materialized, I probably wouldn’t have said it.

‘I didn’t know you could speak English.’

Blanca, who was about to turn around toward her building, gave a small, confused laugh. ‘Why not?’

I felt my face growing warm. I shook my bangs into my face to try and hide it. ‘I mean, we all thought you were Mexican or something,’ I stuttered, flinging my backpack over one shoulder nonchalantly.

Blanca furrowed her brow. ‘I’m Filipina.’

‘Right,’ I nodded, sure I could locate Filipina on a map if I had one.

She stood there a few seconds more looking confused and then said, ‘I’m going to go home now, if you’re okay.’

And then, for the second time in two minutes, I felt my mouth saying words I did not want them to say. The first one was¬†‘wait’, followed by a pause, and then:

‘Do you want to go to the June dance with me?’

Once again my face flushed and I jerked my head ungracefully to see how low I could shake those bangs. My ears couldn’t believe what my mouth had just said and began blazing red with anger in protest.

Blanca looked worried. ‘Did you hit your head when you tripped? Are you sure you’re okay?’

Maybe I had hit my head. That would be the best possible explanation. I couldn’t figure out how to backtrack, but could only stammer, ‘Um, yeah!–I mean, just like as friends or something, like–yeah, like, the last–you know, dance…do you want to, you know? Go, like, with me?’

I tapered off into one of the most agonizing silence in my entire life. I fervently prayed for the earth to open and swallow me on the spot, or for a car to come whizzing off the road and crash into one or both of us, or some crazy pedophile to come and carry me off, or something like that to happen to save me from whatever horrible mess I had just gotten myself into.

‘With you?’ she asked incredulously.

Everything I had wished before I found myself wishing doubly, triply, I wished to die then and there, I wished to sprout tentacles, I cursed my family for seven generations, I was rooted to the spot, paralyzed with fear–

‘Umm…no thanks,’ Blanca finally replied, still looking worried and even slightly frightened.

‘Oh.’

‘Um…’

‘Ok.’

‘I mean–‘

‘It’s cool–‘

‘But–‘

‘No really, it’s cool, like, trust me, it’s totally cool, like, I don’t even know what I was doing, I must have been confused from the fall, you know, like, why would I want to go to the June dance with¬†you…’ I laughed pitifully.

She flared up for a second at that, but then laughed and shrugged. ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t want to go to the June dance with you, either.’

I was practically guffawing from sheer relief. ‘Like, are you even going to be there?’ I squealed.

Blanca was cackling almost as loud as I was. ‘If my dad signs the permission slip!’ she giggled.

We stood in the laughing at each other with abandon for a few more seconds and then both sighed lightly at the same time, looking down at our shoes, scuffing our feet in the soggy grass.

‘Well, I guess I better head home.’

‘Ok, see ya!’

And just like that we both turned in opposite directions toward our houses, and neither of us said a word to our families of what had just transpired.

 

 

 

 

No, this isn’t old material, I just kind of miss winter. ūüėõ

—~

 

We lingered at the table, long after everyone else had left, the light beginning to stutter and dim slowly as the candles went out one by one, and no one bothered to turn on the light. We sat in a silence that mirrored that of the snow that was beginning to float dreamily outside the misty windows. We preferred it that way. There was nothing to say, and therefore no need to talk, it was quite simple; and so we sat contentedly with our chins in our hands and our elbows on the table, eyes resting on the little flames. The festivities had migrated to the living room, producing a mellow roar that made no distinction between laughter and the popping of the logs in the fireplace. Ourselves, we made no distinction between the mellow roar, the little dancing flames, and our thoughts, which swirled as lazily as the snow outside.

Presently one of the lower candles sniffed out, sending out its floating ribbon of smoke as a farewell gift to the ceiling.

‘We should probably go and join everybody else,’ I postulated.

‘Mmm,’ said Dad.

The smoke ribbon waved and bent in the air like an Oriental dancer, an ancient ghost performing her ancient dance for two sets of half-closed eyes.

‘They’re probably toasting marshmallows.’

‘Mhmm.’

Slowly the smoke fizzled away, sucked like a noodle into space. Dad adjusted himself, his arms now crossed on the table’s edge, still leaning on his elbows.

‘We always kind of regretted not taking you and your brother camping,’ he declared, making the kind of cognitive leap from marshmallows that only my dad and I can make.

‘I’m not too worried about it,’ I replied. ‘Me, I’m a city girl, through and through.’

‘How do you know? You’ve never spent more than twelve hours at a stretch in New York City.’

‘Yeah, but those have been some awesome twelve-hour stretches.’

‘And besides,’ he continued as if he hadn’t heard me, ‘I just don’t get why people like cities;¬†every building pretty much looks like every other building.’

‘Well if you look at it that way, every hill looks pretty much like every other hill, and every blade of grass looks just about like every other blade of grass.’

Another low candle, which we had both been observing closely for a while now, finally sniffed itself out and sent the obligatory graceful smoke signal.

‘Where would you live, then?’ I asked, knowing the answer.

‘Easy. Nova Scotia. Not even a question.’

‘Why?’

It took a while for him to answer, even though he’s answered that question, too, many times before. ‘Oh, you know,’ he began vaguely, ‘less people, less houses, less traffic, more grass, and a view of the ocean every morning.’

I hid my doubt in flickering shadow. While it was obvious he was now floating nostalgically in maple-syrupy memories of his beloved almost-isle, I have never quite found his logic compelling, just as I know he would find my caressing descriptions of New York’s neverending bustle, where infinite numbers of infinitely different people come together to form an ocean of harmony, utterly confusing. But I went along for the ride.

‘So why don’t we live there?’ I asked, only about half facetiously.

He took a long time answering that one, too.

‘Well, your mother was never really into the idea.’

One for my side.

‘Plus we could just never really afford to.¬†It would probably be hard to find some work up there, too.’

Another candle winked out, another smoke ribbon floated to the ceiling.

Dad watched the smoke rise and fall, as if there were a tiny storm inside the room that only the smoke ribbon could feel. ‘We told you, we picked this house because it was exactly between your mother’s and my jobs when we first moved in.’

Someone’s laughter in the room next door drifted through the room like a plastic bag on a lazy breeze. Dad made a small sigh, or maybe I imagined it. It was hard to tell; there were only two candles left, and anyway a sudden gust of wind outside sent snowflakes swirling in all directions. It was looking to become a real snowstorm. Inwardly I praised and thanked my sweater.

‘Perhaps we really should join the festivities,’ I said outwardly, and immediately felt a little guilty.

‘What, and wait for the maid to clean all this up?’ Dad complained, referring to the erstwhile feast spread before us on the table in the half-light.

‘Mhmm,’ I said, only about half facetiously, pushing my chair back and rising from the table, carefully stacking more plates than I should have safely been able to in one arm and carrying them into the kitchen. A creak of another chair pushed back from the table, a few seconds later, and Dad followed me in with twice as many dishes.

‘You go on in,’ he said, gesturing with his chin, ‘I’ll get the last few plates. Go on into the living room.’

‘Will you be done soon?’

‘Yeah, I’m just putting the leftovers in the fridge.’

‘Well hurry, before all of the marshmallows are gone.’

‘Not for me, that stuff’s no good for me.’

I turned and left the kitchen through the dining room, surreptitiously snagging a half-full glass of wine from the table. As I opened the door to the living room, one of the last candles flickered out, as if startled by the sudden tumble of noise. There was one candle left, as I closed the door and turned to the large roomful of talk and laughter, people, and a merry fire.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally. Some new material. Gosh, I was scared ūüėõ

Enjoy!

—~

 

‘Oh, excuse me,’ Buddy almost shouted over his shoulder. ‘Did you see what that asshole just did? He just ran into me and didn’t even look! Goddamn people and their goddamn cell phones…’¬†He was a large person, and unlike his sister, with her fishlike darting movements, found it difficult to maneuver in the mall.

Lydia made no reply, except to walk even faster, her two-inch heels clacking on the floor like hobnailed boots.

Buddy kept on talking. ‘I fucking hate malls, I always did, I don’t get why we have to be here.’ Buddy’s old boots that were falling apart; the soles flapped and slapped against the fake-marble floor in time with his babbling. ‘This is so fucking stupid, there’s too many goddamn people. This is all your fault, if it wasn’t for you I’d be–‘

‘You’d be what? Lying on my couch drinking my beer? What else is new?’ Lydia was practically running now, the wind in her fashionably cropped hair obscuring her vision of the storefronts that whizzed by. This was counterproductive, she thought, and managed to slow to a brisk trot.

‘Look, why don’t we just get him, like, a coffee mug or something like we did last year, huh?’ Buddy began to pant as he tried to catch up to his sister. As hard as it was to navigate, the faint odor Buddy gave off, coupled with his wild-looking beard and dreadlocks meant people gave them a relatively wide berth. ‘He liked that coffee mug. Easy. Problem solved. Let’s get him a coffee mug like last year.’

‘Oh, you mean like the one I¬†bought him?’ Lydia couldn’t resist snapping.

‘Right, yeah, yeah, I think he still uses it, why don’t we get him one of–‘

‘You mean why don’t¬†I¬†get him another one of those stupid mugs? No, he doesn’t still use it, you haven’t been home since last year, you fuck, and no, I won’t buy him the same goddamn shitty mug. It broke within the week and spilled hot coffee everywhere. I had to buy him a new sweater¬†and a new pair of sneakers just to keep him happy. In fact, the only reason I bought the goddamn mug was because¬†you said you had something else planned. Stupid me.’

It took Buddy five whole seconds to recover from that.

‘Alright, I’m sorry my end fell through, alright, it wasn’t my fault, if only the Nicks had won the game and Paulie woulda won his bet, and I woulda had enough money to get the, the…the…’

‘Yeah, the, the, the. The nothing. The slip. Ha!’ Lydia swerved viciously into a store. Buddy took almost four more paces, and, marveling at Lydia’s ability to multitask, ¬†backtracked, and looked up at the storefront sign before dubiously ducking in after her. Mabel & Morely’s Custom Socks, Inc.

The interior of the store was not large, nor very well lit, and the walls were of dark wood with saccharine shutters painted at odd intervals. The designers probably hoped to create a cozy, homey atmosphere. Lydia was already rifling through the socks on the walls, flipping them, rubbing them, and throwing them back on the shelf. There were socks of every color and style, woolen, cotton, nylon, synthetic fur.

Buddy picked up one particularly ugly gray woolen pair and held it up with a thumb and forefinger before dropping it from eyeball height. ‘Jesus, Lyd,’ he said, loudy.

‘It’s Lydia,’ she muttered sharply.

‘Where the hell are we?’ he intoned as if he hadn’t heard her. ‘I mean, is Dad actually gonna like any of these socks? Hell, does he even¬†need socks? I mean, who the fuck even gets socks as a birthday gift?’

Lydia had made it almost to the other end of the store, perusing socks at an alarming rate. Her eyes were focused with a laser-like intensity on the merchandise, but she was well aware of the fact that the aged cashier had just looked up from her desk with a look like she had just smelled Buddy’s socks.

‘Yo Lyd, watch this,’ Buddy laughed, and knowing nothing good could possibly follow those words, Lydia was at Buddy’s side and snatching the rainbow-printed sock away before he even had time to shove his large fist into it. In the same motion she grabbed his shirt sleeve and was dragging him (she thought she was dragging him; she couldn’t have because he was three times her size; he was pretending to lag) away from the children’s section. When they reached a front corner of the store, farthest away from the cashier, Lydia turned on him sharply.

‘Look, I know you’re going to make me pay for everything and make me think of everything and make me do everything,’ she seethed in a savage whisper. ‘But you don’t have to cause any more trouble than you already do by making yourself a menace. You already smell bad enough that you don’t have to go cussing loudly in a tiny store with nobody in it. Shit, you look like you just came from the projects. You probably did. And it was mom’s idea that we both go shopping today, not mine, so you can shut the fuck up trying to blame this on me, Brendan.’

Buddy, who at first had been trying to get a word in edgewise, and then had given up and was now impatiently staring at the walls over Lydia’s shoulders, now looked his sister dead in the eye and said, ‘ ‘Ey. It’s Buddy.’

The cashier was craning her neck.

‘Your name is fucking Brendan and my name is fucking Ly-di-a. Now stop acting like a child and let’s get this done so we can both go home.’

‘Couldn’t have said it better myself,’ Buddy drawled as Lydia turned on her two-inch heel. She snatched another pair of the ugly gray woolen socks from the wall with athletic agility, and slammed them down on the desk where the cashier quickly busied herself poking her register computer.

‘Twenty three dollars and sixty one cents,’ she whined eventually.

‘Jesus,’ Buddy cried from the middle of the store, where he was wandering aimlessly. ‘For a pair of ugly-ass socks.’

Lydia dug into her purse to find her wallet and paid without a word, arranging her face in what she hoped was an apologetic sort of smile. The credit card took an agonizing twenty seconds; when it was finished she snatched the little plastic bag and blew out of the store past Buddy, heels barking like a pair of insults.

Buddy caught up with her at a light jog, boots slapping contrarily to the heels, maneuvering around the mall crowds like a pair of fish going upstream. ‘Hey,¬†Ly-di-a, this wasn’t my idea either,’ he flared softly into her ear, ‘so you can just shut the hell up and stop acting like this is all my¬†fault, and buy our old man all of his little birthday presents, like the good little girl you are, and don’t worry, he’ll know that they all come from you, ’cause you’re his little favorite, little college grad, designer CEO person, star of the fashion world’–Lydia had fished her sunglasses out of her purse and put them on–‘queen of her corner office, in New York fucking City–I’ll tell you one thing, the old man sure as hell knows they didn’t come from me, his stupid worthless fuckup son–‘

‘Shit, Brendan!’ Lydia cried, coming to a stop suddenly with a stomp of patent leather. ‘What do you want from me?’ She waited for Buddy to backtrack, once again having been surprised by his sister’s abrupt change in direction. ‘What do you want from me? You want my money? Fine, I’ll buy you shit. You want my couch? It’s yours, I’m single as a damn nun. You want my booze? Fine, get yourself sloshed every night and then come home and piss on my bathroom floor. But don’t you dare patronize me because I went to college, and can actually afford to buy our father a little something for his birthday–‘

‘Patronizing? Because you went to college? Ha!’ They were both yelling now; even Lydia had forgotten to check if people were staring. ‘I don’t patronize you because you went to college, I patronize you because you never did anything right!’

‘Oh, and you did?’

‘You never did anything that wasn’t for your old man,’ he exploded, ‘or your old woman, you never did anything just…just for you, to make yourself happy, I mean what the fuck do you do all day? Draw shoes? Yell at secretaries? Well good, your old man’s proud of you,’ Buddy spat at her.

‘Oh, and living for¬†yourself worked so well for you, didn’t it,’ Lydia retorted. ‘What’s it going to be this time? Did you get a DUI? Or just a new tattoo? How much money do you need this time? Are you going to stay a whole week? Are you going to flake on his birthday party like you did last–‘

‘Oh, the birthday party, I forgot!’ Buddy gushed in mock regret. ‘Can’t miss the birthday party, got to see and be seen, got to see who’s wearing what color dress, and whose ass looks like the mayor’s face this year–‘

‘Fine!’ Lydia screamed. ‘Fine! Skip the damn birthday party! Don’t even pretend you’ll come! Why don’t you leave a day early? In fact, why don’t you just leave now! Just go! Get out of here! We don’t need you any more. We’re used to you being gone. You’re dead to me. So just leave! And don’t come back this time.’

‘Maybe I will!’ Buddy hollered back at her. ‘Maybe I will!’

Lydia shoved her sunglasses back firmly up her nose and snorted. ‘Jesus,’ she sighed, ‘why do we do this every single time.’

‘Do what?’ Buddy wasn’t done shouting.

But Lydia was. ‘You come back home. I pretend to hate you. Mom and Dad dote on you. You sleep on my couch and piss on my bathroom. You leave again. I cry for days. I forget about you, my life starts looking up, you come back. Well this time I’m not going to fucking cry!’ she finished weakly.

It took Buddy a whole thirty seconds to come up with something to say.

‘Take off your sunglasses.’

‘What? No.’

‘Take off your sunglasses, look me in the eye.’

‘Why?’

‘This time’ll be different, look–‘

‘Oh, God, don’t give me that bullshit, Brendan–‘

‘Look at me! Just take off your sunglasses.’

Lydia angrily swiped them off, and to no one’s surprise her eyes were red and her cheeks were wet. She looked immediately to the floor.

‘Look, Lyd, I don’t know if this time’ll be different, you know, I don’t belong here. You know I don’t. But you should probably know that I miss you too sometimes. You might be a stupid shitty CEO person thing who goes to stupid shitty parties to see what peoples’ asses look like, but you’re my sister, and I miss you. That’s what your family is, no matter how lame it is, you still miss it, and they still miss you, no matter what a fuckup you are. And–for what that’s worth, there it is. I don’t think I can give you any more than that.’

Lydia nodded at the ground. ‘Yeah,’ she sighed.

But maybe it was enough. Somewhere, in some sense, Lydia knew that for once her brother wasn’t exaggerating, and in fact probably meant more than what he admitted. Hearing Buddy admit that he wasn’t completely the wild, cruelly thoughtless deserter of the family she had let herself believe he was might make it just a tiny bit easier to take; when he left this time, and she would be thinking of him for those terrible lonely days, it might comfort her to know that somewhere in that vast city, her brother was out there, thinking of her.

‘Love you, Bud,’ she managed.

As Buddy gave her an awkward, warm, vaguely smelly hug, Lydia squeezed herself together, saving the tears for another time, and sagged against the years.

She remembered the mall after she had grown old. ‘We should keep shopping,’ she mumbled.

‘Yeah,’ Buddy declared, clearing his throat and breaking away. ‘Probs. Where to, captain?’

‘I don’t fuckin’ know.’

‘Okay.’

And they continued navigating the mall like two fish swimming upstream, heels and soles clicking and flapping in a complicated tattoo that went unheard in the noise of the mall.

 

 

 

My goodness, guys, I have to apologize. I shouldn’t be this desperate this early on in my blog life, but I must give you old material once again. Turns out I actually had a life and was doing stuff ALL DAY today! (Never happens!) I wish I could promise new material for next week, but at the rate that I’m going, who knows!!

Anyway, I wrote this a while ago, so enjoy. Also, if you don’t know the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, as I didn’t until about a year ago,¬†here it is; read it first!

—~

Dear Rabbits,

Please consider this my two weeks’ notice that I am resigning from my position as The Fairy that Turns Loved Toys Real.

For quite a while now I have been growing steadily less comfortable with my duties. I never did understand what was so alluring about Reality that made you all so desperate to join the violent chaos of the woodlands after the slow life of your homes.

I will work until Christmas: business should be slower then anyway. I have named my successor; please find a Mr. Holden Caulfield’s contact information enclosed.

Please understand my reasons for retiring my magic.

Best of luck in the future,

     Fairy

the Fairy

Photo of Ray Bradbury.

Photo of Ray Bradbury. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors. His stories are mind-bending, to say the least, but his true power lies in his masterful use of the English language when he conveys a whole scene or thought process in shimmering words that bend around your mind like the colors in a kaleidoscope. (Bradbury’s ‘Kaleidoscope’ is one of my favorite short stories of all time. Look it up.)

UPDATE: I found a link to ‘Kaleidoscope’! Here it is ūüôā

I thought I’d honor him today by writing him a tribute, so here’s a little bit of fiction inspired by his stories. Enjoy! Also read more Bradbury.

—~

It was a dark and stormy night.

ūüėõ

Shutters on houses rattled ominously, and lampposts flickered high above. Trees bowed and danced with the wind, flailing their leaves as if ecstatic. The streets flowed with swelling torrents of rainwater that washed away the town’s daily garbage, like a grumbling old maid trying to wipe away the dust of modern civilization.¬†No one was foolish enough to wander outside; even the dogs had fled to seek shelter somewhere and were silent.

Inside the house at the corner, there was quiet, frenzied activity. Unlike the violent noise and whirling outside, inside the great clamor was hushed, like a time-lapse video with the volume turned low. The small girl sat on the couch hugging a little worn teddy bear, in the pseudo-dark of the living room lit by Christmas lights, a flat little television, and little else. Instead of watching the television, which was turned to a news channel, she watched her parents like she was watching a tennis game, back and forth, back and forth across the kitchen, into the basement, into the bedroom, back and forth. Their house was not large, but there never seemed to be as many things in it as there were now, tonight, gathering them all into one place, frantically separating the essential from the rest, opening cabinets, collecting, counting, carrying, and doing it all in a quiveringly taut silence.

Every now and then the thunder shook the whole house.

The little girl was kicking her legs against the couch when her mother came into the living room and turned once more to the television, breathlessly, her hand on her forehead, as she had been doing for the past hour, as though she were hoping it had changed its mind.

It hadn’t.

This time, though, she turned to the girl on the couch and held her had out to her.

‘Come on,’ she sighed, ‘let’s go. Daddy says we’re just about ready now.’

Her daughter leapt up from the couch and took her mother’s hand, still clutching her stuffed bear in the other. Together they descended the creaky stairs from the kitchen into the basement, where there was a couch, a chair, an ancient washer and dryer, a single light bulb, and enough dry food and water to last the three of them two weeks, if they were careful. Hats, scarves, rubber gloves, and blankets were heaped in a corner along with clothing and a sewing machine. The girl immediately skipped to the couch and sat hugging her teddy bear just as she had in the living room.

They could even hear the thunder in the basement.

The girl’s father came staggering down the stairs, laden with various supplies remembered at the last minute, including the still-running television. The mother rushed to help him, and they placed the television, still running the news, once again in front of the girl. The father went up the stairs to close the door to the kitchen, and the mother sat on the couch next to her daughter.

‘In all of those guidebooks, and in all of those practice drills, they never said it was going to be storming like this,’ she complained halfheartedly to her husband and the news anchor.

Her husband collapsed, exhausted, on the couch.¬†‘You never did practice drills,’¬†he panted, ‘and you never read the guidebooks. That was our parents’ generation. Our generation never thought it would happen at all, in a storm or not.’

His wife did not reply. She did not vocalize the thought that they should have seen this coming for years, decades even, and maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if she had been brought up doing air-raid drills, too. But people had gotten older and less paranoid, a bit more hopeful or at least a bit more cynical…or maybe just a bit more blind.

Because, the world had learned, it is impossible to raise an entire generation under a threat as oppressive as that of nuclear warfare, and still have it strike fear in the hearts of its grandchildren.

When the news came of imminent attack, screaming over the Internet and clogging phone lines, spreading like fire through all television and radio channels, and all the digital road signs, it had been a simple matter of a web search to find ages-old columns and handbooks scanned by some anonymous history buffs into digital files that advised the mid-century household on how to prepare in the event of a nuclear attack. They found most of the instructions still applied, but nobody knew what would happen to digital networks, the Internet connection, cell service.

‘When’s it gonna happen?’ the little girl asked brightly, a painfully shimmering sound like a needle in her parents’ thoughts.

‘I already told you, Ray, nobody knows,’ Ray’s father replied in between a short silence and a long silence.

‘What’s gonna happen?’ Strident and out of place as a kazoo.

Her mother sighed again. ‘Ray, we already told you, remember? About the bad guys and their weapons? Like when Mommy and Daddy watch the news, and things explode? Like that, but bigger.’

Thunder drowned out her last few words.

‘Why are the bad guys so bad?’ asked Ray, who already knew the answer.

‘Nobody knows, Ray,’ her father replied tersely.

Ray crossed her arms over her teddy bear in a cartoon-like show of indignation. ‘Boy, you guys don’t know much, do you.’

Her mother managed a small smile, and took hold of her husband’s hand over the back of the couch. Both parents held their daughter, forming a tiny circle of humanity that was warm against the chilly light of the television.

‘No, we don’t,’ admitted her father.

Ray shifted herself on the couch, curling herself between her parents, and began to fight her eyelids, which were sliding closed.

‘We love you,’ her mother added helpfully as Ray drifted off to sleep.

Every now and then the thunder shook the whole house.