I Know What I Did Last Summer . . .

For those number of you who have inquiring minds and want to know

Smallboobug

This mantis is ready for the creepies and goblins, as it’s already preying on a ghost. (CREDIT: Archive of bad puns.)

(hi, hubby o’ mine!), here’s a round-up of a few things that have been on my mind of late, what I’ve seen, read, or been working on and so forth. Let it henceforth be know as a Smorgasblurb, or daisy-chain of what’s-its, widgets and, quite possibly, the world’s best collection of literary bric-a-brac.

1. Are you nervy, irritable, depressed, tired of life? Don’t keep that up! Here’s a short, down-to-earth post by author Dan Alatorre to help dispel the writer’s imposter syndrome that all some I have been feeling this summer and into the now-autumn.

2. Followed by the not-so-flattering assessment, albeit literary, of the United States’ commander in thief, by the ever-creative Rebecca Solnit (“The Loneliness of Donald Trump”) and available on Literary Hub. My favorite turn of phrase is in the very last graf: “The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego . . . One way or another, he knows he has stepped off a cliff, pronounced himself king of the air, and is in freefall.” And that, folks, is how you bring it on home (whether you agree with the message or not).

3. I’ve had quite a few “close, but no cigar” with my writing this year, so the main thing I’ve got in the pipeline right now is a short story in the Biketopia anthology of feminist speculative fiction. (Yes, that.) But seriously, Publishers Weekly has said it’s “…a deeply moving and powerful anthology. ” Wow! 

P.S. Have you got anything close to publication or recently published? I know for a fact that some of you do. So consider this your pop quiz! Your chance to blast your own horn. Please feel free to comment in the ol’ leave a reply section below. And thanks!

4. A couple weeks ago I was pursuing one of my hobbies by perusing a nearby community’s town-wide yard sales. There was an old truck parked across from a church, and I don’t know why, but I stopped to look at the wares situated among the dust. Nothing there was probably anything anyone would need or want, but the woman tending them kept engaging me, imploring me to take a look at this or that. So, I got to talking with her and, unfortunately, concluded that she most likely has some level of mental illness and lives in her truck (long story) with these two kittens she says she couldn’t bear to leave at home because they got scared. Anyhow, without trying to sound sanctimonious, have you ever looked around you to everyday people and situations? We seem to not see images we are regularly exposed to, with them fading bit-by-by, day-by- day. Perhaps it’s something as simple as misplaced keys or something vastly more important: an invisible person or unjust situation or environmental problem that just keeps persisting in a sad state mostly because of apathy.

In short, have you tried helping anyone or anything in need lately?

Our opportunities to be loving and helpful to our fellow humans abound (and not only during natural disasters): to earthquake victims in Mexico, for Puerto Ricans who might not have potable water or electricity for weeks or months, Rohingya families driven out of Myanmar/Burma, bombed-out Yemeni people starving to death or dying of cholera, or innocent people rotting into the rubble of Syria. It turns out, if we look, I mean really look, we will probably find that there’s a literal neighbor of yours or mine who is silently in need. It can certainly be very depressing and soul-submerging to confront all the violence and hatred in the world; you’re only one person, right?! But . . . Whatever you do, just try. 🙂

5. Now, on to a much more pleasant topic. If you love fantasy, fae, and fairy tales like I do—you’re probably a super-fan, in fact, as I feel like I can never learn enough from all the world’s cultures—you will want to support Enchanted Conversation, a fairy tale magazine. Not only does this publication pay authors, but its editor/creator Kate Wolford helps keep the word percolating about how fairy tales and fabulism resonate and enrich our lives today . . . whenever we see an Emperor with No Clothes or a squirrel digging hundreds of tiny nut-graves all over our yards to prepare for cold weather, a figurative army of furry ants guarding against unprepared grasshoppers. Please chip in to their Fundrazr campaign now (there are rewards beyond just knowing ‘you did good’!) and if you’re a poet or fiction writer, consider submitting to the “Godfather Death” issue now through Sept. 30th or the “Elves and the Shoemaker” taking subs in November.

6. Well, this is rather long, isn’t it? Here’s one more, and just in time for the scary month of October! Stitched Smile Publications is seeking your horror-themed stories for two different paying open calls, one about the Seven Deadly Sins and another about a drive-in pulsing on the warty split-lip of damnation. I’ve not worked with them before, but they’re listed on Duotrope and have a history of in-genre publishing with a stable of many authors. Good luck if ya do construe a boo or two for them, much like the mantis on the ghost above. And, with that, I’m in copywriting mode!

ONE FINAL WORD Hang in there, everyone; help is on its way (with apologies for the crudulous advert at the beginning)!!

Monday Writing Markets (and More): The Icefire Edition

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I keep written & digital files. How about you?

Some say the universe will end in boiling,

Others say in Frost, or Snow.

But from what I know of roiling,

I prefer the fate whose face waits to show.

 


 

Whew, I’m glad that’s out there in the aether now. Moving on . . .

To writing. So, keep in mind, carpe diem (carpe scribere diem? why yes, I’ve forgotten high-school Latin completely). In other words, seize the day and write!

To help you in that regard, I’m wielding another edition of the somewhat-biweekly sword that is Monday Markets (& More). Partake, imagine, write, edit, submit, accept, integrate, and enjoy!

  1. Tonight only (Feb. 15), starting at 7:30 p.m.!

    See feminist firebrand, author, and essayist Claire Vaye Watkins—she of “Let us burn this motherfucking system to the ground” fame—and poet Steven Schreiner at the River Styx reading series in St. Louis, Missouri, at the Tavern of Fine Arts. Entrance fees are $5 at the door or $4 for students, members, and seniors.

  2. Deadline: as soon as possible! Milkfist, a self-described “compendium of art and writing for stammering low-lifes who barely know what year it is” wants your poetry, art, and/or nonfiction. They are a paying market. Check out their guidelines or buy a back issue.
  3. Deadline: Feb. 20, 2016. After the Happily Ever After (anthology) by TransMundane Press is in search of new blood. That is, they want updated takes on old (fairy)tales like Cinderella, Goldilocks, or even Snow White. Exactly what does happen after Ariel gets her voice back and marries her prince? Does Cinderella ever see her Fairy Godmother again; does she keep that glass slipper forevermore? Does Red Riding Hood grow up and develop agoraphobia or, alternatively, an overwhelming fear of canines? It’s up to you to give them new experiences.

    20160215_163419.jpg

    Thanks to my audience volunteer (who didn’t even have to get sawed in half, except by the photographer!).

  4. Win a book, through Feb. 27! Author Sarah Potter is giving away a copy of her newest novel, the sci-fi crossover Desiccation. This novel is suitable for ages 14 to 90-plus, as she says. Here’s her blog post about the Goodreads #giveaway.
  5. March 13, 2016: Grammar Ghoul Press (full disclosure: they reprinted one of my poems in their Spring 2015 edition of The Ghouls’ Review) is holding a Winter 2016 Fiction competition. There’s a $10 entry fee per fiction story, 100 to about 3500 words (so, both flash fiction and short story categories), and a $100 top prize, per category, as well as publication in the Winter/Spring 2016 issue of The Ghouls’ Review. Multiple submissions allowed. Be advised that they like weird and wacky tales, so give them a whirl if oddities are in your wheelhouse.
  6. Deadline: Now through March 15. The Indiana Review has waived their traditional $3-per-entry general submission fee for their Spring 2016 window. Get your general submissions of poetry, fiction, or visual artwork in pronto (only 1 submission per genre)!

 

Now, as Rush might write in a lyric, get out there and rock!

Advice on Writing and a YTD Self-Assessment, in Honor of NaNoWriMo

Writing Fuel

Sugar: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner of writing champions everywhere. (!Eek!)

It’s Friday. You know that that means. Time to retreat into your shell and hope school is back in session soon. Er, no. I mean, time to pile up those leaves and disappear into their crunchy kingdom–forever! [Insert Vincent Price “Thriller” laughter here, as appropriate.]

Only kidding.

In honor of NaNoWriMo, Six Word Memoirs/SMITH magazine (no relation) held an “advice on writing” 6-word special that ended, oh, about an hour ago.

But there’s absolutely no reason the party show that is freelance writing shouldn’t go on. Perpetually. (Thank you for the memories, Mr. Bulsara/Mercury.)

I penned some writing advice earlier in the week. See what you think; share your own; laugh; enjoy. Repeat tomorrow.

1. Sit down, shut mouth, shine on.
2. Sit down, shut off, shine down.
3. Shut mouth. Open mind. Listen. Write.
4. The 3 R’s: Re-Create, Revise, Re-Submit.
5. Reduce adjectives, repurpose words, recycle mind-matter.
6. Plant butt. Cultivate creativity. Repeat daily.
7. Live. Love. Laugh. Think. Sit. Write.

#BestAdviceinSix

And now, for something not so completely different. A brief YTD note/assessment on the state of my writing endeavors, in case you’re curious. This way, you can see I’m entirely worthy of dispensing said writing advice (snark mode engaged).

Anyway, just this year, I started keeping an Excel file so that I could see submissions in an orderly fashion, as well as the results. It appeals to the “statistician” inside my noggin.

Yearly Manuscript Run-Down

  • Writing submissions (includes anthologies, contests, and magazines; some print, some online, some both; includes many genres, but usually either literary fiction or speculative fiction): YEAR-TO-DATE, from March 2015 through November 6, 2015: 25 submissions
  • REJECTIONS (or, how I learned to stop worrying and just love the times I bomb): 18
  • OUTSTANDING MSS: Keep in mind that a few of these were submitted in the last week: 7
  • UNKNOWN: A subnote. One of the 7 outstanding manuscripts, I’m not sure if I’ll ever hear back from, as the publisher seems to be defunct (although I’ve never seen it as such on Duotrope).

I could break down the rejections further. There have been a handful that have offered some critique to me other than the catch-all “does not fit what we are looking for.” But I think it’s fruitful to look back on these things as we drive forward, regardless of whether we’re involved in NaNoWriMo or not. (This year, I have opted out of the festivities, as it were.) Not as a discouragement kind of thing, but rather an honest self-assessment and noticing any areas that are in obvious need of improvement.

But that’s my spiel. What about y’all: any writing advice? Doing NaNoWriMo? Enjoying your November? But, most crucially, if you’re him and he’s him and he’s him and you’re him, am I still me . . . and is anyone eating this chicken? 🙂

Bunnies with Bombs: A Year (and Then Some) of Writing Dangerously

Bunnies with bombs_rotated

“Bunnies with bombs,” she says; I say: like a good book!

I write rough. And judging by the spate of rejections in the last 8 months, quite rough.

But this post is not about that. It’s my 100th post—pop the literary corks, y’all—and I’m reflecting on the past year and five months that I’ve been blogging on WordPress.

First and foremost, I thank you all again for being here.

Suffice it to say, I never expected to get to this destination. This writing-and-sharing-my-angst depot is a surprise, but a welcome one.

I never expected you wonderful 200-odd folks to trip the lines, occasionally fantastic, along with me, from my first few tenuous, nonfiction baby-blogging steps into full-blown fiction and what turned out to be a serial novella, called “Undelivered Valentines.”

My nebulous goal, I can safely say—to write more regularly and, moreover, to take gut-twisting chances with my fiction (and the occasional poem or nonfiction piece), including submitting it to applicable publications and contests—has been achieved, gang-busters.

Spooling through my Submittable account (one of the leaders in content-submission systems for fiction and poetry writers—hint, hint—along with others like the up-and-coming publishing platform Medium), which nevertheless doesn’t embrace all the legwork that I’ve done, I see I’ve submitted to at least 10 publications and/or contests since late November 2014, which exceeds what I’ve been able to do in the past, working within only a wedge of part-time. Several times, I’ve tried the same market; I haven’t pitched the same piece each time, but I have re-submitted. You know what they say about not succeeding the first time . . .

Speaking of submissions and rejections: if you are a writer, are you making time to resubmit your work? See Damyanti’s provocatively titled “Do You Submit Like a Man?” for inspiration.

That said, I have even had the good graces to not submit a piece but be approached to have a poem appear (titled “Bivalve’s Love Song”) in a literary magazine. This time, it was in Grammar Ghoul Press’ spring 2015 issue of The Ghouls’ Review.

Along the way, I have received numerous and invaluable feedback moments from editors, guest readers, beta readers, and many among you. I have also done a good deal of reading, although a person can never do enough of that! How does a writerly gal get so lucky?

toasting-image-blogiversary

Yep, I’ve left it all on the page and now am hollow. Time for a story re-fill!

In short, my year-and-almost-a-half blogging has been “bunnies with bombs,” a phrase suggested by my thoughtful and funny daughter (who has not, by the way, seen “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or its rabbit of Caerbannog). I suppose it’s fitting, as my Chinese astrological sign is that of the {presumed creative} rabbit. (All in good fun, my fellow STEAM-loving friends!) So, something agile and prolific linked to something painful, life-changing, and even lethal, making for quite a novel combination. Yep, that pretty much sums up what writing fiction and nonfiction (and drama and poetry, for that matter) require. Blood on the keyboard, tornadoes in the brain, tears on the cheeks, and vim, vinegar, and perseverance in the veins.

And so, a final toast: here’s to many more years, friends.

Let’s do what you fear most,/That from which you recoil/but which still makes your eyes moist.–attributed to Lou Reed

Terminal House: Flash Fiction

Photo copyright Björn Rudberg.

Photo copyright Björn Rudberg. Björn is also an amazing poet and fiction writer.

Terminal House

WORD COUNT: 183 words

GENRE: Paranormal, horror

If Megan Beuchanan had been the type of person to take the figurative temperature of a potential home, she’d have discovered the Turner House was zero at the bone.

Clinging to the cusp of the ravine, every bit the Victorian-era vulture, the now-dilapidated residence was everything the single mother sought: cheap.

It also, then, wouldn’t have come as such a shock when daughter Ava found the small sachet of letters stuck behind a swatch of old wallpaper in her closet. The letters spoke with the ghost-tongue of long-lost lives and lovers. Thomas would come back for Gladys, somehow. His illness—and confinement in the Turner pest house—would be only temporary. She was to pay no mind to the purported mystique of the manor. Indian haints* did not roam the grounds, nor could they be heard screeching as the diseased husks of their bodies were rolled into the waiting arms of Brine River below.

If only Megan could have steeled her psyche for the night Chief Swift-as-Hare John Harris’s smallpox-addled corpse came calling. Ready to reclaim the feathers of his people’s whisked-away souls.

THE END

*A Southern United States (dialectical) word meaning ghost, specter, or spirit.


This flash fiction is humbly submitted for Rochelle’s weekly Friday Fictioneers photo-prompt challenge, though it comes in a bit too long (as usual). If you enjoy writing or reading (or both), I encourage you to take part with your own story or to follow along by absorbing the brilliant fiction out there in Rochelle’s quadrant of the WordPress-iverse. Cheers!

Busy Monsters, Long-Form: Flash Fiction

scribescavepictureprompt-pic-number29

One of the two images offered up by The Scribe’s Cave this week. If this doesn’t get your spec-fic juices a’effervescin’, I don’t know what will. Image from Scribe’s Cave via boredpanda.com

Hello, everyone. I’d like to depart from what is possibly standard blog-operating procedure and post a long-form version (530-something words compared with 298) of my earlier flash, “Busy Monsters,” which was posted in response to the Scribe’s Cave Picture Prompt #28. (By the way, A.R. has a new prompt, a two-fer, up now. A sampling springs to life, up above in the image.)

I don’t know what you all think, but I have grown less fond of this version over the last few days. I can’t remember where I read this now, although it was recent, but it’s the idea that backstory can kind of unnecessarily bog down the “present” plot. In any case, your thoughts are always appreciated.


Busy Monsters (Long-Form)

Clouds that had earlier skulked now stalked the sky like drifting plastic bags pregnant with latrine water. Avie quickened her cadence down the path she’d been taught no drone could access, where her shadow’d been smothered an hour before. She was the group’s swiftest trail runner by leaps, even with the pokers* she wore.

abandonedplaygroundpic

Image creator: Wim Van den Eynde. Source: abandonedplaygrounds.com. Picture prompt provided by The Scribe’s Cave (prompt #28)

She nearly spiraled to her knees cresting a clot of invasive roots about 5½ kilometers from home. Instead, her palms took the force, bore brute furrows of scrapes. In one lupine motion, she wiped her hands on trouser legs and sprang up from the crouch. In that tunnel of oak and hemlock before she reached the wooden ascent—the home straight—felt like—and was—danger incarnate. Fears arose, and not only of the hyperevolved, pesticide-resistant feasters that used to be deemed mere mosquitoes. About every kilometer so far, Avie had been strafed by one of the fist-sized flyers.

Sage would be waiting in the sanctuary of the park. Nicking his ragged nails in the relative safety of the unlit “House of Horrors” of old, clogged as it was with boxy televisions topped by rabbit ears, radios, carriages and cars, and even books made of paper.

Keep the hammer down! Not much farther!

Mantras quick-stepped through her head as she prodded her stride to open despite constricted lungs and leaden legs. What she carried was that important, for Fire Season was approaching at what she sorely remembered had been dubbed “the quicksilver pace of progress” by the Dex.

Every so often, she’d come across a discarded Dex tablet, called “talkies” by her friends and family, that alternately leered and proselytized grandly at anyone within earshot. The Dex had sworn that such glitches would never, ever arise in their perfect world. They’d even sunk their hooks into a phrase whose former meaning was lost in the bowels of their dusty memories, changing it to “Profit macht frei.” Progress was profit and profit was progress to the beings who called themselves the Deus ex machina. Namely, the Dex represented a transmogrification of flesh into metal or other nonflesh, a silicon synthesis as polymer procreated with protein chain and cells cavorted with chips nested in nodes. They were one with their technology in the same way that Avie’s people had turned from its corroded facade in most facets of their daily lives. Her people were first named the Luddites or Luds, then the Neo-Luds or the Sentients, and were now pejoratively tagged by the Dex as Anti-Progressives or “Apes.” When they had to pigeonhole themselves, they usually went by the tag of Sents.

When Avie’s foot struck resounding, comfortable wood, her body should have flooded with relief. And it almost did. But for one thing.

Her shaded eyes fell to one pertinent symbol on the wall of the hill entering the group’s eastern enclave. “The Ape” mingled among graffiti, but in drone-sensitive ink. In effect, their haven had been DM’d, or drone-marked.

The Fire Season data obtained by spies in the northwestern camp would have to be put off a little longer.

Sage would be waiting, and she’d need to alert everyone. The Sents were easy prey and the Dex had the hate machine cranked up to complete annihilation.

THE END

*Pokers: Slang for shoes so rotted that toes, heels, or other foot anatomy poked through.


As a “reward” for slogging through these stories (thank you!), I’d like to share a few (mostly WordPress) sites I’ve seen that have challenges or contests running currently. Of course I would like to list them all, but space. And all that.

  •  Fantasy author Ksenia Anske’s “Mad Tutu Writing Competition,” due 11 July. May the magic be with you!
  • Week 20 of Haiku Horizons. It’s party time! Due Sunday, 13 July.
  • Former Trifectans are stoking the fires of the “Light and Shade” weekly challenge. Cruise over to the 7 July prompt, which features an image or a quote to spark the imagination. Keep it short, at 500 words or fewer.
  • Yeah Write hosts an array of weekly challenge grids, from poetry to personal essay to fiction. Get started here.

Busy Monsters: Flash Fiction

abandonedplaygroundpic

Creator: Wim Van den Eynde. Source: abandonedplaygrounds.com. Picture prompt provided by The Scribe’s Cave. Check it out!

Clouds stalked the bright sky like drifting plastic bags pregnant with latrine water. Avie quickened her cadence down the path she’d been taught no drone could access, where her shadow’d been smothered an hour before. She was the group’s swiftest trail runner, even with the pokers* she wore.

She nearly spiraled to her knees cresting a clot of invasive roots about 5½ kilometers from home. Instead, her palms took the force, bore brute furrows of scrapes. In one lupine motion, she wiped her hands on trouser legs and sprang up from the crouch. In that tunnel of oak and hemlock before she reached the wooden ascent—the home straight—felt like—and was—danger incarnate.

Sage would be waiting in the sanctuary of the park. Nicking his ragged nails in the relative safety of the unlit “House of Horrors” of old.

Not much farther!

Mantras quick-stepped through her head as she prodded her stride to open despite constricted lungs and leaden legs. What she carried was important, for Fire Season was approaching at what she sorely remembered had been dubbed “the quicksilver pace of progress” by the Dex.

Progress was profit and profit was progress to the beings who called themselves the Deus ex machina. The Dex were one with their technology in the same way that Avie’s people had turned from its corroded facade in most facets of their daily lives.

When Avie’s foot struck resounding wood, her body should have flooded with relief. And it almost did. But for one thing.

Her shaded eyes fell to one pertinent symbol on the wall of the hill entering the group’s eastern enclave. “The Ape” mingled among graffiti, in drone-sensitive ink. In effect, their haven had been DM’d, or drone-marked, and the Dex would soon be coming for them.

####

*Pokers: Slang for shoes so rotted that toes, heels, or other foot anatomy pokes through.

THE END


This short fiction piece, or flash fiction, if you will, was written especially for the Scribe’s Cave Picture Prompt #28. I encourage you to seek out these WordPress challenges, such as this one, and to have fun and learn all you can from your fellow writers and passionate readers. If you guys and gals would like it, I can post the “long-form” version of this story, about 532 words, that I whittled down to this 298-word flash fiction. Fire away your feedback cannons, folks — and thank you!

Flash Fiction: Touching Up the Gray

Genre: Dystopian sci-fi, flash fiction

As you step into the room that’s purposefully drained of color, your skin shifts, tries to hide its roots from me.

I don’t believe it. It’s World Leader Sangre! Here? In my research lab! What could she possibly want? It’s certainly not the publicity.

“Lady Sangre, it’s a distinct honor to have you here. May I ask why you are paying me a visit on this of all days? Surely you know the daily forecast is dodgy at best.”

Brushing aside my faux empathy, she blundered on. “Skin-perfecting,” she tentatively pokes at the air to bring up the advertisement bubble’s catchphrase. Magazines had dozens of decades since liquidified into denizens of the air, summoned forth like Athena from Zeus’ headache at the stab of a finger, epithelium-covered, mech, or otherwise.

“Can you do the opposite or at least make me think you can?” She gestured at the Damarcadian model in the latest issue of Womens Underground Today slathering synthetic eagle-tail oil on her time-disfigured face. Her voice is pitched just below a whispered beg, but her eyes worry the air where the model’s transformation hangs its now mercurially beaming face.

Presumably seeing my hesitation (did my face slide back its screen?), she continues. “I just want to feel the . . . creature comforts of my own old cells again. Please.”

Flesh-bound idiot!

I must have wrinkled my otherwise perfectly structured nose (if I do say so myself), because she reached across the charged space for my synth-enclosed hands. Like most all of us these days, she was nano-small but her bristles drilled crude indents into me so effectively, I could almost call up a dim memory of what pain was.

“Surely you can reverse the process that you yourself pioneered! I can offer you anything you want in payment. Potable water. Access to drought-resistant agriculture. The latest and best unsullied air. The newest tunneling technology for your dominion. (Yawn. I’d rather have unfettered access to the seed and gene catalogs.)”

Still, I dithered. Could there be more riches she’s not mentioning, like safe transport—?”

“Any. Thing!” she interrupted with outstretched hands, palms tremulous, but up.

“It’s a deal,” I said at last, pulling the skull saw and forceps from the case as I eased into my sales spiel. “Here at YouGenics lab, the focus is on you and the traveler inside your head. But don’t worry, the brain re-wrinkling process is non-irritating, doesn’t abrade the nostrils too much, and is absolutely completely 100% reversible.  . . .”

THE END

A scene from a fantastic movie, Terry Gilliam's "Brazil."

This microfiction was partly inspired by a scene from a fantastic movie, Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.” See it, if you haven’t already.

 

Friday Fictioneers: 100 Words on Lamps (Flash Fiction)

LampsbyDawnM.Miller_FridayFictioneers7Feb2014

This photograph was taken by Dawn M. Miller.

Another week has almost passed, dear readers, and that has brought more ruminating and writing and more editing and brainstorming. Please bear with me as I suss out the scope and schedule of this blog so it’s not so irregularly themed and timed.

For now, I’ll leave you with another brief piece submitted for a different flash fiction writing prompt challenge I discovered today, called Friday Fictioneers. Using the photograph by photographer Dawn M. Miller, which was posted on Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Addicted to Purple blog, challengers are to write a fully realized 100-word story with an end, beginning, and middle. I am not sure if the deadline is Friday or if it is posted by Fridays; however, the light bulb for the story crackled to life in my mind (pardon the pun), so I decided to take a stab at it even though I’m late for Friday.

This microfiction piece was challenging in that I couldn’t just plate up a solitary slice of time-pie, but I had to give you the whole, big (she)bang of the story arc in a mere century. I’m not terribly confident I succeeded with a real, flesh-and-blood flash-fiction story, but it was a fun springboard in any case. As ever, please feel free to offer suggestions or share your submissions, or both. In the meantime, happy writing and I’ll be back soon with some fiction not submitted for challenges!

________________________

White Shadows

Genre: Microfiction/flash fiction; possibly suspense

© Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014

“What should we do, Luci?”

The tortoiseshell purred plaintively.

“I can’t believe the shed collapsed on our bulbs! And Fiat Lux is all out; I e-mailed,” David spoke aloud. He lived alone, so there was no reason to hide his words under a basket.

During a morning spent triple-checking lamps and locks, he had looked out the window and spied the damage.

As each lamp died that day, he chanted Nothing’s gonna take my last light. Come night, the survivors’ shadows weren’t enough to barricade him against the formlessness where his father took shape and sinewy arms wouldn’t let go.

When We Were Handfuls of Dust: Part II of Cliff-Hanger

Hello, and thank you for visiting or returning to this little experiment I’m tentatively thinking of as the fiction junction (I’m sure the name is already taken, however). Here on my Wordsmithery blog, I hope to present at least one fiction piece weekly, making use of varying lengths, a gaggle of genres, a menagerie of styles, and so on. Right out of the box with the second post–and the first fiction presentation after the “Fiat Lux” introduction, I probably bent my already-plastic rules a bit by undertaking a cliff-hanger as part of the challenge presented by WordPress’s Daily Post, then evidently I missed their deadline for pingbacks for the second part of the cliffhanger. I also came to their challenge a bit late as well. All that said, I was already committed to finishing or at least advancing this young adult fantasy with possible paranormal elements, and I enjoyed reading other posts besides. I’m a new-old blogger (for a little mystery, you can parse that one!), for those who don’t know me. So, I am still navigating all the elements to a modern blog using WP; this is a roundabout way of saying that I might throw a poll at the end of the story if I can get it to work correctly and the demands of parenting will allow. See what you think with this follow-up story (after acquainting yourself with part I if you haven’t already), and I welcome any and all fruitful feedback, as ever. I’m even thinking this week of posting a self-critique of both parts, because there are definite stumbles in each section of the story.

And now, without further ado, here is the second part of Sam’s story:

++++++++++++++

When We Were Handfuls of Dust,

Part II

© Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014

N.B.: Contains mild profanity and possible triggers for susceptible persons

from Part I: As I stoop down and reach for the book, The Faerie Queene, which is turned upside-down and looks like the roof of a gingerbread house dreamily decorated with a myriad of animals . . .

By Nils Blommér

This painting is titled “Ängsälvor” (“Meadow Elves” in English; by artist Nils Blommér in the 1850s), and it was obtained via Wikipedia, through which it is in the public domain as a photograph.

. . . the menagerie in book form seems to undulate on its own. You should have seen me jump! I mean, already I am the kind of person who’s more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, but then add on top of it all this unexistence crisis. I bumped another stack of books as I scooted back and fell on my butt. Amazingly, the books didn’t topple like dominoes. A funny thing happened, though, and I wasn’t on the way to any forum—as far as I could tell, anyway. From that vantage point I could just peek under the “roof,” but what I saw made me rub balled fists into my skeptical eyes and blink the dust away. What appeared to be a miniature human-like creature huddling, a bit stooped itself, was smack-dab in front of me. A sniffing interrupted my astonishment, and I became aware K.B. had nosed in after me, which catapulted a kind of panic to land solidly inside my already coiled-up gut. The little figure let out a muffled squeal for the both of us, and then I saw a little blur dart out away from the dog’s direction and mine. Its blue garment fanned out and long brown hair spiraled back, which led me to believe it wore a dress of some kind. Is it a girl . . . elf? What would that be, a gelf, maybe? That’s the best word I could come up with at that spurred moment.

Snapping fully back to this gnarly reality, I quickly realized I had to catch it before K.B. did. K.B. wasn’t vicious in the least, but she sure wouldn’t hesitate to play with a squirrel or other little critter if she could get her paws on it. Playing, of course, meant vigorous head-shaking, mouthing, critter-tossing, and an altogether bad time for any small furry I’d ever seen her encounter. So I hoped the training we’d done back in the fall would kick in when I needed it, for something made me think this . . . whatchamacallher . . . might be important to the mystery of what was happening to me. And not just for the “wow, that’s awesome!” aspect of finding a mythical creature. What I mean is, nobody expects to find a unicorn munching clover in his backyard or an ogre next to the rubber ducky in her bathtub. Nobody outside of Piers Anthony, anyway. (A Groucho-esque voice intruded just then in my head: “Outside of Piers Anthony, it’s a reeeealllly dark and depressing place”! What a uni-CORNY joke, another part of my mind half-way teased, then snickered.)

I clicked in my cheek and gave the “sit” command just hoping. K.B. whipped her head around, whimpered, and then sat her wiggly, stub-tailed bottom almost to rest on the dried blood–brown carpet. I moved around the first disturbed pile to where the creature had run, and left of K.B. But she had moved out of sight again. Smart move! I wondered if I’d be able to find her among the tight and not-so-neatly stacked piles. I’m guessing there was  a good 500 or so books shoehorned into the room, even below the blinded window, and interrupted only by a small walk-in closet where Grandma’s cat, Pepper, had hid seven mewling kittens just a couple months ago. I loved those little puffballs, but, still I wished Grandma would get her cat fixed. Drifting, my mind fixed on a distant buoy, one where I was a veterinarian performing life-saving surgeries and routine exams; a hero to people who loved their pets. If I chased my dream of working with animals, all the way to vet school . . .

“Woof!” K.B. hardly ever barked, but this muffled outburst was enough to bring me back. The closet door was closed, and I moved over to open it just in case. Nothing I did seemed to budge it, though, so I figured something must be keeping it latched. Weird. But I didn’t have time to deal with it now. The gap under the door was so low and slender, I doubted the girl-creature could get under it anyway, so I hopefully scanned the nearby stacks. Nothing. Damn! Despairing, I let my skinny legs sink me low. It had been that kind of a day—one big ol’ letdown—and finally the tears dropped. I noticed they were real as they fell but seemed absorbed instantly into the tide pool of carpeting.

For better or worse–mostly beyond the latter—as I grew up, it seemed that this was my family and the circumstances were never going to change. The family would keep disintegrating around my ears, never mind what I did or how I felt about it, laying an ugly, unexpressive ash over my dark curls. My Fate was kind of the Road Runner to the Wile E. Coyote that was me. It would jet out its tongue in derision, then run, leaving me a loser or at least none the closer to self-knowledge.

I guess there was some comfort, a tiny security in the chaos. The family was as certain as Pisa, and though it leaned at an odd angle, it stood. Good, bad, or otherwise, it was always there, tilt and all. Now, I wasn’t so sure it wasn’t Vesuvius itself. Or, if not, at least in the encircling shadow of that epic ancient volcano that sealed its neighbors in a powdered, airless death pose.

What did I do to deserve this? I began  to wail and rock myself. From a distance where my outburst couldn’t be heard, I thought I probably looked like a farmer greeting the rain during a drought, with the broad, flat plains of his palms parallel to the sky and his eyes sprinkling happy tears of their own. But joyous tears were ancient waters, running deep and curving enchantingly away, receding from the hell of what shared the table, couch, bed, and bath with us. Or was us, maybe.

K.B. began to whine, probably in response to my distress, and if she’d had a full tail it might have thudded the carpet in nervous abandon. Just then, “shut up, dog!” echoed from another room. It was Momma. I was surprised she heard, because she was usually so involved with a book or writing numbers—or out at a bingo place. She was even gone most schooldays this year when I had almost tumbled off the bus and slogged in with way too many books in my backpack. I saw a program tucked in among the random papers a couple days ago announcing an event for this weekend, printed on neon-pink paper:

$$$50 pots, crazy &/wild bingo—free (yes FREE) hotdog’s, and coffee; come, one, come all!!!!!! Bing-Ohhh!!!!!!!

It screamed with its abundance of unnecessary punctuation. Mrs. Hendrix’s head would have snapped off at the neck to see such “abysmally horrific grammar,” as she put it. I was secretly glad I didn’t have to diagram or rewrite any sentences that Jack’s Bingo Parlor had cooked up for their fliers. Mom had dragged me there a few times instead of letting me stay home. The days-old coffee was okay; the hotdogs, I don’t know, since I don’t like those. I guess the coffee made me feel more adult, so I tolerated it, but it always felt like drinking cigarette ashes because it was so bad at Jack’s. About the only thing going for the place was that it had fewer people, which meant the mushroom cloud there was only at threat-level seven for my asthma. I felt sorry for whoever owned the stores on each side of this parlor, because it must have really stunk to high heaven with all the smoke and smokers everywhere. The entire atmosphere made it seem like the perfect place for hope and luck to choose for a murder-suicide.

It took me by surprise when Momma came through the doorway to berate K.B. again. “What’re you whining at, you fool dog!?” And K.B., like many intelligent dogs, seemed to take it to heart in some way—if nothing else, it was the tone.  She slid down onto her shaved pink belly, her muzzle between outstretched paws but curled away from Momma, as if wishing that by not seeing Momma, Momma wouldn’t see her. Nor would her outstretched hand be able to swat K.B. or hook onto and then drag her out by the collar. “I don’t know why we don’t ship you to the pound,” she concluded over saucer-sized spectacles when the dog didn’t rise to her sneers. She also didn’t notice me. Nor did she bother picking up the spilled books. I was glad for the junkiness of it all this one time.

“Please come out,” I tried again, falling into a puddle of strength, somehow. I was now more convinced that no people in the house heard or saw me, but I was less sure whether that applied to mysterious or mythical creatures. “I won’t hurt you, I promise.” I waited as long as I could stomach the patience, but nothing happened except a faint rustling I couldn’t locate in the room, though K.B. turned her head in the direction. “My dog’s name is K.B., and she won’t hurt you either. See? She’s sitting because she does what I command, so she won’t move until I tell her to.” Now there was no sound. “My family call me Samuel, but I like Sam better,” I spoke to the silence.

It was only a moment until a quiet-seeming “I know” punctuated the air. It definitely sounded like a girl’s voice.

“If you already know me, how come I don’t know you? I mean to say, please tell me what your name is.” The silent treatment again.

But trust seemed to be building, for she spoke again, with a briefer silence separating us. “I am called Flora. Flora Mae Jacobs. Or I used to be.”

She was surprising me already. I didn’t know small, potentially magical people had last names.

“Who . . . I mean, what are you, Flora, if you don’t mind my asking?” I ventured the question, hoping she wouldn’t take it as rudeness.

“I think I am just like you, Samuel Osric Blinn.”

“Please, it’s Sam. Just Sam  . . . Sam-I-am, thank you, ma’am!” I tipped an imaginary cap and grinned in the direction from which her voice had come, edging ever so slightly closer.

The silly joke hadn’t seemed to register. Either that, or she was as petrified as I was. She was still hiding, after all, but at least she had poked the rounded ends of what seemed to be two black shoes from behind a stack of books on the right wall, adjacent to the closet door. In that area, the four or so stacks that moved out away from the wall had some separation from some of their neighboring stacks, at random, so that on one side, they were cross-hatching with nearby books, then on the other there was a small canal separating them from other stacks. It seemed to be just enough that a small creature—uh, person—could walk between some of them.

I tried once more. “Will you come out, please? If you’ve watched me enough to know my middle name, which I hate and never, ever use, you know that I’m honest, right? And if I’m honest, then you should believe that I will keep my word. And I really will. K.B. and I won’t hurt you, Flora. Can we talk face-to-face, or at least face-to-top-of-head?” I smiled politely, hoping she’d understand I meant that in the best way possible. I never thought I’d be taller than just about anyone; so far, I took after my five-foot-six dad, or five-foot-zero mom, in that regard.

“It is not you,” she began low then stepped from behind the books, “that I am . . . concerned about. It is the others in this house. As for your dog, we used to have one, too. My brother, Milo, and I found him back out there near the pond, with a ripped paw. We named him Charlie, after one of my favorite movie stars. Milo and I used to . . .” Her voice trailed away, so much so that I was afraid she was going to bolt. “So I am not scared of your dog. Besides, I have watched and even petted her before. I know she is friendly.”

As ambient noise floated in from outside, I think we all became aware of movements out beyond the small living room in the open house: the distant sound of the refrigerator door closing more than a little too hard, then ice cubes propelled into a glass, and bits of a conversation. “Report it . . . I don’t have . . . my husband collects . . . take it, then, see if I give a . . .” I could tell Momma was on the phone and pacing around like penned-up tiger who hadn’t eaten in  a week.

Meanwhile, K.B. again whimpered and wiggled where she sat, not moving otherwise, as the voice ballooned and shrank, finally rising and coming closer at once. She looked from me to the girl in blue, like she didn’t want to let either of us out of her sight. Just then, the door swung fully open, quickly, and Dad plunged in, in a hurry. Looking straight through me as I looked into his eyes, he instead went over to K.B. and hovered menacingly. The way I see it, he was goaded into the display by Big Momma, the evident silverback in human-female form. “Look, Dog, you can’t make a mess in here or be so annoyingly loud. She’s on the phone with somebody in there. Another bill collector, from the sound of it. She sent me in here to keep the peace, but you better believe she won’t hesitate to take a piece if she storms in—and it’ll be a piece of your ass, not mine! So, BE QUIET!” he shouted as he wagged a short, stoutened index finger at the cowering dog. His sallow blue eyes had seemed to both dull in the irises and narrow overall from a rounded-semicircular shape to a half-moon one. Except in this case it was the moon rising over a small, fleshy mound; I always wondered if I’d have eye baggage once I got older, if it kind of went with the territory of being an adult and having “responsibilities,” whatever they truly meant. The way some adults said it, reeeee-sponsibilities, lengthening the word to practically double its normal size, which was already massive, made it seem like a fakey code word. A wink from adult to adult that only they were in on the joke and calculated to scare us kids into good behavior. Well, I always was one to mind them pretty well most of the time. It was either that or the hickory switches came out of the woodwork (pun intended, I thought), “just like my daddy used to do to make me mind him,” as Momma would say.

It was probably a good thing that Flora had ducked back into the stacks as she heard footsteps coming in. Our conversation so far made me wonder if she had been poking around the house a while, maybe even longer than we had lived in it—for close to the last six years. We didn’t know a lot about the place, but the seller had told us her “old-maid aunt” had owned it since at least the early forties and that the house was built sometime around “the Great War,” in 1915. Even at my age, I wasn’t too sure why any sane person would think a war was great, but I guess they couldn’t very well call it the Big-Assed Disagreement, or BAD, at least not officially or for history books anyway.

As swiftly as he had entered, Dad moved out of the room with a bit of a wobble, but he left the door so it was agape. The conversation from outside had ceased for the time being. I realized I’d been biting back my breath and didn’t even know it just then. But would Flora ever come out again? I didn’t want to lose her—a potential friend, if nothing else, as I went through this crisis.

“Flora?”

“Yes, Samuel?” She moved shyly from behind the stacks and came almost to stand a foot or so away. “Can we go somewhere else to talk? I hang out in the basement area a lot. It’s kinda my playroom and sanctuary all rolled into one. Are you able . . . I mean, do I pick you up or . . .?”

“I am able to move on my own quite nicely, thank you. I guess you do not realize it, but I have lived here for awhile—in the cabinets, in the walls, whisper-quiet. But this is not the first time I have been overlooked.” Her last word was almost inaudible.

I hated tense moments like this. Her tiny head dipped down and to the side, revealing the yellow ribbons at the nape of her neck. I figured her to be probably my age, but she was very oddly dressed. That is to say, most teenage girls, in my limited experience, wore shorter dresses. But blue jeans or leggings were more the norm at my school. Or at least they were; I had just gotten my latest—and last—report card for Purvis Middle School (yes, we were not only “purvs” but got the unfortunate PMS acronym, too, much like my horrific string of names). I was getting ready for the next grade, which included a larger school and probably even bigger obstacles than finally asking out Ashley or telling off Richie, if I ever percolated the gumption to do either.

“Let’s go,” I enthused, hoping I covered up any momentary awkwardness. We were at the stage that I didn’t want her to feel bad or to know that I knew she was feeling bad. I practically drifted through the house and down the wooden stairs as I kept turning back to watch her run from hiding spot to hiding spot. K.B. probably provided a pretty good diversion, too, loping through the small rooms. And I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t think she was visible to Momma and Dad either. Sometimes, I reckoned then, it was good to have someone in your life—even if you were currently no one.

THE END . . . for now

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