Thursday, November 12, 2015

#195 Waiting for the Tooth Fairy

Sara was wrong. Meany-head Sara. She was so wrong. Candi chanted it to herself over and over. She had to stay mad. It was the only way to stay awake.

Sara was wrong. There was a tooth fairy. She was real. Candi would prove it, tonight.

It seemed to Candi like she’d been lying there, feeling furious, for longer than a whole night. Over and over she’d played through the scene in the cafeteria that school day.

Candi had been wiggling her lose tooth with her tongue when it just popped out. Right there at school. She had almost swallowed it on accident, but instead she spit it out onto her lunch tray.

“Gross, what is that?” Jackie had shrieked. “Your tooth?”
Candi had nodded, kind of embarrassed, but a little proud too.
“Cool. What does the tooth fairy pay at your house? I always get five dollars,” Nancy said.
“There’s no tooth fairy,” Sara had said. “That’s stupid. You’re all little babies if you still believe in the tooth fairy.”

Candi did believe in the tooth fairy. She was sure that unicorns were real too, and that somewhere in the jungle of Africa or maybe South America, there were still dinosaurs.

Sara was just so mean.

Candi knew just what the tooth fairy would look like. She’d wear a long blue gown and have shiny wings, little diamond slippers, and a wand with a star on the end. She’d smile sweetly and slip the tooth out from under Candi’s pillow, then leave a shiny gold dollar in its place, like she always did, though Candi had never seen her do it.

Candi would rather have a shiny gold dollar than a crumply old five-dollar-bill anyway. Coins were more magical.

Candi had nearly dozed off when she heard a slight rattle near her head.

Quick as a flash, Candi whipped the flashlight from her pillowcase and clicked it on.

Then she screamed.

A dark shadow that the flashlight didn’t seem to do much to dispel stood beside her bed. Scraggly brown hair, wound round and round with long strands of what at first Candi thought were misshapen pearls, but then she realized they were children’s teeth. A face with grey wrinkly skin, like an elephant’s knee, glinty black eyes and a toothless mouth open wide in surprise. No wings, but long black-tipped claws, frozen, poised, only an inch from Candi’s head.

The creature only paused a second before making a quick snatch under Candi’s pillow. Candi wriggled back against the wall, as far as she could get, and lay there, heart pounding, making little sobbing gasps of terror.

The creature vanished with a faint rattle of teeth.

Candi didn’t dare move for a long time. When she did, she squeezed along the wall and reached for the lightswitch by the door. She snapped it on. The room was empty. No sign of the ragged creature she’d seen.

Slowly, heart still pounding, ears still pricked for any noise, she stepped to the head of her bed and slipped her hand beneath the pillow.

One shiny gold dollar, where her tooth had been.

Monday, August 24, 2015

#194 Tepig's Rebellion

"I now call this meeting of the Discontented Pokemon Alliance to order!" Tepig squeaked.

All around the darkened clearing, the babble of little monsters continued. Fletching chirped, Treecko warbled, Lillipup barked.

Tepig rolled her eyes and sighed."I said quiet!" she shot a fireball out of her snout that rose into the air like a signal flare.

Silence fell over the clearing.

"We've gathered here tonight to make plans to liberate our kind from the terrible oppression of the trainers." Tepig said.

"Huzzah," said Oddish, in an uncertain voice.

"But," said Petilil, "The trainers are our friends."

"Our friends?" Tepig squealed. "Our friends?" Little flames leaked out her nose. "Think about what they force us to do! They take us out into the woods and when an unsuspecting wild Pokemon comes along, they order us to attack so they can capture them!"

"They just want to capture them so they can be their friend!" said Sandshrew.

The other Pokemon chorused their agreement.

"What kind of friend makes you fight others of your own kind until you get knocked out flat?"  Tepig paced the clearing.  "What kind of friend keeps you caged up in a tiny little ball in their pocket until they need you to do the dirty work of bashing on another Pokemon that never did you any harm?" Tepig stopped right in front of Petilil. "What kind of friend is that?"

"Yeah," said Poliwag slowly, his big black eyes locked on Tepig. "Like that time you scorched me until I passed out. That didn't feel very good."

"Well, I-I wouldn't have if it weren't for..." Tepig began.

"Or the time you pecked my head until all my leaves fell out," Petilil said to Fletching.

"Well your magical leaves did a number on me," Fletching said, showing off a bare patch of feathers.

"I'd do it again," Petilil said.

"You tell her, Petilil," said Oddish.

"Whoa, not so fast! It's the trainers that are the enemy!" Tepig said. But it was too late. Fletching swooped and knocked Petilil into Treecko, who in surprise breathed a poison gas on Oddish. Oddish sat on Treecko until Sandshrew pushed him off, only to get him tangled up in Tangela.

"No, no, no!" Tepig cried, running in and trying to separate everyone.

Later she wasn't sure who pounced on her, or maybe it was a breath of poison gas, but she was knocked out cold. When she woke up the clearing was empty and dawn was breaking on the horizon.

"Have to try that again later," she grumbled to herself as she went back to find her trainer before he noticed she was missing.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

#193 The Mysterious Case of the Stolen Scooter

I thought I'd left my scooter by the fence around the tennis court, so when I saw it by the drinking fountain instead I was confused. For like one half of one second.

Then I figured I must have not been paying attention or something when I set it down. I got a drink and jumped on the scooter, kicked off and rattled my way over the sidewalk to the playground.

I was sitting on the swing, minding my own business, when some kid just came up and swiped my scooter.

Right in front of me! I watched him do it. He walked up to where it was leaning against a tree, took a look at it, then grabbed the handles, stepped on, and off he went.

"Hey!" I jumped up from the swing, but he didn't even look back. Straight black hair flying, one shoe rowing, wheels thumping over every sidewalk crack. I thought about chasing him down, but then what would I do when I caught him? He was bigger than me.

Some other kid might have chased him down anyway. Not me. I was the type that watched and waited for my chance. I memorized the kid as he sped away toward the foot bridge. Black t-shirt, green and black basketball shorts, orange and blue shoes with those stretchy laces that don't really tie, kind of tall, probably fourth or fifth grade. I tried to remember if I'd ever seen him at my school. I wasn't sure, but I thought I had.

I heard the sound change as the scooter bumped over the wooden boards of the footbridge. The gate into the park was only a few yards away from him. He was getting away. I might never see my scooter again.

He didn't go out the gate.

Instead, he followed the loop around the grassy area, where an old man was throwing tennis balls for his golden retriever. I watched the scooter thief go by the row of pine trees, then turn toward me.

He was coming back. Was he bringing my scooter back? Had he just borrowed it for a ride around the park?

I watched him go by. He glanced at me, casually, like it was no big deal he was riding my scooter around without asking me. What was with this kid?

He kept going around the park. Over the footbridge, up the hill, down the hill past the pine trees, then past the playground on the way to the footbridge again. The third time he came by I'd had enough. I stepped onto the sidewalk right in front of him.

"Hey," I said. It came out kind of shaky and more whiny than I meant to sound.

He swerved to a stop. "Hi," he said, a little confused.

"That's my scooter," I said.

He frowned at me. "No it's not. It's mine."

"My name's..." I started to say, but he'd already picked the scooter up. There was a name on the bottom, but it wasn't my name.

I think my stomach ended up somewhere three feet below the pavement.

"Is that yours over by the tennis courts?" he asked.

I looked. Far away, on the other side of the playground, a scooter identical to the one in his hands leaned against the chain link fence around the tennis court.

I was the one who had swiped his scooter.

"No worries," he said, and scooted away.

Monday, August 17, 2015

#192 The Butter Dish 2

read the first part

When Mom found out that the butter had vanished again, she had plenty to say about it. Things like, "The joke is not funny anymore," and "Butter costs money, you know."

And then she went to the store. I guess to get more butter.

"Perfect," my sister said. "Now we can watch it and see what happens."

We put the very last stick of butter on the dish, put it in the middle of the table, then sat down to wait.

It was one of those summer mornings where the air conditioning just wasn't quite up to the job. The butter started melting while we sat around the table and waited for it to do something. It did something all right. A yellow film of oil crept under the crystal rim of the cover and started creeping up the sides of the dish. But that was all.

"Maybe the butterdish is haunted," My brother said. "Maybe there's no butter in heaven, and great-granny and gramps keep coming back for it."

"Why wouldn't there be butter in heaven?" My sister asked.

My brother didn't answer. He had propped his chin up with his hands, and was letting his head slide down so that it pulled his cheeks up and made his mouth hang open in a funny, buck-toothed, fish-lips face.

I had stopped caring about the butter and just wanted Mom to get home so I could go out biking before it got too blazing hot to even think about it.

None of us were looking directly at the butter dish. My sister stared at the ceiling as if trying to see into heaven to check if there was any butter up there. My brother's eyes were squished shut by his propped-up cheeks. I was checking out the window, hoping to see Mom's car coming up the sun-scorched pavement.

The butter dish clinked.

All three of us jumped. Then we stared. None of us had done it. The table hadn't moved. Our hands weren't anywhere near the dish.

And it was empty. Not completely empty. A thin pool of melted butter still swirled on the bottom of the dish when my sister picked up the cut-crystal cover. But the solid part of the butter was gone.

"We all saw it," my sister stared at my brother and me, her face serious. "We saw it vanish." It was a sort of pact. We knew for certain now that something impossible was happening.

Friday, August 14, 2015

#191 CyberDoc

Shelia could remember when going to the doctor meant seeing a doctor.

She took a deep breath and let it out while the blood pressure cuff squeezed harder and harder on her arm. A mechanical whirr, a beep, and then the cuff relaxed, paused to take a reading, then relaxed a little more. White flourescent lights glared down from the ceiling of the windowless room. A shiny black counter crowded with plastic bins ran under a row of blue cabinets with silver handles. Faint ghost shadows of hypodermic needles, vials, plastic packages of who knows what awful things, lurked behind the frosted plastic walls.

The nurse tech glanced at the display on the machine, then ripped open the velcro clasp on the blood pressure cuff. She gave Shelia a smile. "Symptoms?"

"Fever for three days. Cough and sore throat." Shelia said, her voice rasping. She hadn't wanted to go see the doctor at all. Misery crawled over her as she sat in the barely-cushioned plastic chair. She wanted to be home in bed. But maybe the machine would say she could get some medicine, and that was worth a trip to the doctor's office.

The nurse tech's fingers flew over the keyboard on the machine. It wasn't much more than a narrow white pole with square sides, little doors running down it, a keyboard on a shelf in the middle, and a screen at the top.

"I'll need to take some samples," the nurse tech said. She pulled two cotton swabs from one of the plastic drawers stacked on the counter. "Open your mouth, please?"

Shelia tried not to gag as the nurse jammed the swab down the back of her throat, then fed it into one of the little doors on the macine. The second swab went up Shelia's nose, twisting and scraping, before going into another compartment.

With her eyes watering from the pain in her nose, Shelia blinked and watched the screen, waiting for the machine to deliver the verdict. Influenza? Some bacterial infection? Just want some medicine, want to go home.

The screen flashed red.

The nurse tech frowned and turned the screen so that Shelia couldn't see it. "I'm sorry, but you're going to need to go straight to the hospital," the nurse said in a quiet, slightly puzzled voice.

"What's the matter?" Shelia said. "What do I have?"

The nurse shook her head. "I'm going to call an ambulance. Stay right here please."

Shelia watched the nurse get two large pumps of hand sanitizer and rub them thoroughly over her hands.

"Ambulance?" Shelia said, fear chilling her worse than the fever. "I'm not that sick, I can drive myself." She leaned forward to stand up.

"Stay right there, please," the nurse said. "It will only be a few minutes."

Shelia had a sudden urge to get up and run for it, but her weary, feverish body held her heavily in the chair. The nurse hurried out of the room. Shelia reached for the machine to turn it so that she could see the screen. Her fingers only bumped it farther away at first. She reached to the floor and grabbed it by it's cord, dragged it closer, took the screen in both hands and turned it to face her.

There were only two words on the screen.


Friday, July 3, 2015

#190 Bookseller

“I’m gonna be straight with you, man.” My throat nearly choked me, but I forced the words out. “These books, one of them has got to be bugged.”

I checked back over my shoulder, a quick, unintentional flinch. No reason to do it down here. There had to be half a mile of concrete and steel between this sewer pipe and the surface. No bug could transmit through that. We were safe, for the moment.

The buyer’s scraggly gray eyebrows went up, slow, sarcastic, unconcerned. “How do you know?”

“They keep chasing me,” I said. “They find me, whenever I go to the surface.”

“And you keep getting away?” there’s some respect in his voice.

I expect him to close the ragged backpack full of old books and hand it back to me, but instead he slips something from the pocket of his tattered suit coat. A small, flat rectangle, an old-fashioned cell phone.

My breathing quickens. “You’ve got a scanner?”

He gives me a look that asks me if I really think he’s an idiot. Then he juts out his chin and takes out a book.

Water trickles by at the bottom of the pipe. The dim electric lantern at our feet splashes strange, upside-down shadows on his face. The worn plastic covering on the book glints in the light. This one had once lived in a library. Alice in Wonderland. He passes the scanner over it, checking the spine twice, opening the cover and flipping the pages. The cell phone screen stays a passive blue.

“This one’s clean,” he sets it aside on the tunnel floor, careful to keep it out of the stream of water, leaned up against the curve of the wall.

Another book comes out, and another. Jane Eyre, Around the World in Eighty Days, The Grapes of Wrath, Harry Potter. “You like the classics, do you?” he asks.

“More valuable,” I shrug, not wanting to admit how much the books draw me. That I’m not just a mercenary, trading in black market goods, but I have a passion that drives me to preserve these ancient words. There’s a power in them that goes beyond anything I know.

A heavy volume comes out, The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

“That one’s not for sale,” I said, just as the cell phone screen flashes red.

“I wouldn’t buy this one from you anyway,” the man said, his voice a grim joke. “Better burn it, right here.” He pulls a lighter from his pocket.

I stare at the stained cardboard cover, a faded portrait of the bard stares back at me, his eyes boring into mine.

I take the book quickly from the man’s leathery hands and stuff it back in my pack. “No. I’ll keep running.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

#189 The Butter Dish

When my great-grandparents died we inherited a butter dish.

“Why is it so fancy?” I asked my mom. Up until we inherited the butter dish, Mom would always put the butter on a plain little plate. Now the butter lay on a crystal platter, cut with little diamond-shapes, under a crystal cover with a crystal rose on the side, surrounded by more little diamond shapes. I could barely tell that it was butter in there, the creamy yellow color had been splintered up by all those little diamonds and scattered all over the outside of the dish.

“It’s from a different era,” Mom stopped to admire the dish before she went back to get the plates so I could set the table. “Back then, people liked everything to be fancy.”

Our first breakfast with the new butter dish, my older brother tried to lift off the cover, but accidentally smeared butter all over the inside. My sister scolded him, but Mom said not to worry about it. She put a little butter on the toast, then closed the cover. That was all the butter we used.

By lunch time the butter was gone.

“Just because we got a new butter dish doesn’t mean you can eat the butter,” Mom looked around the table at all three of us, accusation in her eye.

“I didn’t,” my sister said.
“It wasn’t me!” my brother said.

They all looked at me.

“I haven’t touched it!” I said. Eating butter? Plain? That’s so gross!

Mom opened the lid. The smear on the side from the morning was still there, but the butter that made it was gone, all except a thin layer on the rectangular platter, clouding up the carved starburst pattern on the bottom.

I wasn’t paying too much attention to what she did next, which was too bad, because at dinner time she asked us, “Didn’t I put more butter in the dish at lunch time?”

Dad had just asked for the butter, and Mom had just picked up the dish to pass it to him, but then she noticed it was empty. No creamy yellow facets. She set it down and lifted the cover. It looked like it had at lunch time. A little grease on the insides, that was all.

We didn’t know.

This time we all watched Mom put the butter in the dish. We watched Dad put some on his green beans. We watched the cover go back on. After dinner, as I cleared the table, I kept checking to make sure there was still butter in the dish.

Just before I went to bed, I took a toothpick and scratched the word, “Butter” in the stick. Then I snapped the toothpick in half and stuck it in.

The next morning, the butter dish was empty. No partly-used stick of butter. No toothpick. Only a little bit of grease on the dish where the butter had been.

“It’s magic,” my sister concluded. “Let’s do some experiments.”

read the next part

Monday, June 8, 2015

#188 The Willow Grove

Later that spring, Father and I drove the cart down to the bridge, where the willow grove flanked the rushing stream. The water was still high from snowmelt, running fast and cold, smelling of ice. The willow fronds hung like lacy green curtains all around us, cutting us off from the rest of the world.

Father stood for a long time, his feet on the new green moss and the fallen brown leaves from last winter, the ax down at his side. He studied the trees one at a time.

“My master used to say that a tree would tell him if it had a harp inside it,” Father said. He stood as if listening, waiting for the trees to speak, a sad and lost look on his face, as if he never truly thought they would. As if the magic of talking to trees had been lost forever when his master died.

I stepped to one of the willows and put my hand on the wrinkled, pale grey bark. I smelled its damp, green, woody smell and waited, almost expecting to hear words. Nothing. Another tree, and then another, I walked among them, brushing them with my fingers, stepping over their roots, gazing up at the tiny flecks of sunlight filtering down through their thick green manes.

A memory of music flitted across my mind, only a brief phrase, and then it was gone.

I stopped and put my hand back on the last tree I’d touched, then pressed my ear to its cool, rough bark. I wrapped my arms all around the trunk. It was wide enough that my fingers couldn’t quite touch on the far side. Deep within the wood I could hear a creaking, the sound of the branches moving in the wind. Then, within the deep music of the wood, came that sweet strain of harp song again.

“This one, Father!” I said, “This is the one.”

Most of the serials I do for Story Flare are published consecutively, but this one's been coming in scattered pieces. Here's a link to the beginning of the story, and from there you can follow the links to read the rest.

Friday, June 5, 2015

#187 Under the Leaning Mountain

Naya hadn’t meant to frighten the girl.

It was past time for the villagers to come and leave their daily offerings, so Naya was surprised to see a small girl carrying a basket coming up the path. Naya stopped by a stone, still deep in the shadow of the leaning mountain, and watched the child climb up the sunny slope to the boundary between day and twilight. She was fascinated by the bright colors of the girl’s clothes, by the tan of her skin and the slight blush of her cheeks. The girl kept her eyes on her feet until she was almost at the altar stone, and then she looked up.

And saw Naya.

The girl screamed and made a clumsy, frightened throw of the basket. It hit the altar, but bounced and scattered its contents over the sunny slope. The girl had already started running back down the path.

“Wait!” Naya called out to her, but the girl never looked back.

"They don’t speak our language anymore," Naya’s mother had told her. “Some of them don't believe that any of us are still alive.”

Naya stepped closer to the altar, but she couldn’t reach it. This time of day it was fully in the sunshine. Later in the afternoon, in an hour or so, the shadow of the leaning mountain would fall across it, then continue creeping down the slope. Then Naya could gather the loaves of bread that had fallen in the dust and carry them home.

A black shape fluttered down from the trees. The ravens knew about the altar, and were always on the lookout for a chance to steal. Naya picked up a pebble and flung it at the bird. It squawked and hopped to the side, watching her, but it didn’t fly away. Maybe it figured she’d leave before it did.

She was ready to wait. She was so hungry, and that bread so close. She could almost reach out and take it.

But she couldn’t. It was in the sunlight.

“If the sun ever sees a single one of us, the whole mountain will fall down and crush us all,” Naya’s grandmother had warned. Over and over again.

Naya looked up to the dark grey stone that cut out more than half the sky above her. She imagined it shuddering, falling, tumbling down, crushing the fragile houses of her village. All the people she knew and loved, in spite of the curse, in spite of whatever they’d done to doom her to this prison of shadow, she would never want to harm them.

Naya picked up another stone as more crows came to join the first one. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

#186 After the Book

Isabelle and Johnathan stood at the top of the church steps, arm in arm, while their friends and family called out congratulations. Rice whispered promises against the stone steps, and their carriage stood in the road below, waiting to carry them away.

“We’ll always be together now,” Isabelle said.
“Always and forever.” Jonathan took her hand in his.

He started down the steps, but Isabelle hesitated, wanting to capture this moment of perfect happiness, the blue sky adorned with gentle, white clouds, the sunshine, the church bells ringing high overhead, the feel of her satin gown against her skin, the weight of the skirt and train as it fell in cascades down around her soft leather shoes, the warmth of Jonathan’s hand, everything clear and perfect.

She took a step, and it all changed.

It was almost like waking from a dream. Memories, jumbled memories of a dozen other weddings, more or less the same as this one, crowded into her mind. The scene around her began to dull and shift.

Another step, and Isabelle wasn’t in front of a church anymore, it was only an ordinary sidewalk. No wedding gown, just her regular t-shirt and jeans. It wasn’t 1805 anymore either, but two thousand and something.

She hated this part. The book was over.

“Well, that was…” Jonathan shrugged and checked his watch. He wasn’t Jonathan anymore. He was Cliff, or that had been his name the first time he’d had one. That time they’d met in Egypt. His dove gray coat and tails had been replaced by khaki slacks and a polo shirt. The rest of the crowd had changed too, and were wandering off through the non-descript streets.

“Nice working with you,” most recently Isabelle said. Isabelle, Andrea, Louisa, Trista, Marci, and a dozen other names she’d had. She couldn’t put them all in order anymore. She’d been in a lot more books than Cliff had. He’d been okay, if a little boring. Actually, she was glad they weren’t really married.

Johnathan-Cliff nodded, gave her a friendly smile and a wave, then wandered off into the brownish fog.


She started walking back to her apartment in the city. A poster stapled to a telephone pole caught her eye. “Casting Call,” it said. “For Tahitian Drums (working title). Interested characters please pick up readings at the office.”

“Why not?” said Isabelle-Andrea-Louisa-Trista-Marci-etcetera, and headed for the casting office.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

#185 Surfing 101

My surfboard bucked over the swells as I paddled toward the distant place where blue sky met deeper blue sea. Cool water gave me a playful slap in the face. It was a perfect day for surfing, and I was doing pretty good for a beginner.

When I got far enough out I sat up on my board and rested for a few minutes, watching the more experienced surfers ride in. There was a sweet spot where the waves looked just right, but it was crowded over there, and I didn’t want to butt in. Someday, that would be me. I had to get some more practice first.

I lay down on my board and turned to face the shore. Palm trees and beach houses lined up behind the strip of sandy beach. I let one wave go by, then as soon as I felt the next one coming I paddled hard, reaching with my arms, straining my muscles until they ached, faster and faster, until the wave picked me up and took over. My board glided forward, fast and smooth, and I pushed myself up with my arms, then got one foot under me, and then I was standing, balancing, flying over the water, my grin so big I could feel the salt spray cooling my teeth.

The wave slowed as I got near the shore, and I wobbled, then splashed into the ocean, doing a back-flop to avoid the reef only a few feet below the water. As I climbed back on the board and turned out to face the ocean again, I couldn't see any surfers. I checked over my shoulder to see them pulling their boards up on the sand, or standing there, watching the waves.

The waves were still coming. That sweet spot looked as sweet as ever. I couldn’t figure out why they’d all gone in.

This was the chance I’d been waiting for all afternoon. I paddled out to the place where the waves had looked the best, where all the really good surfers had been doing their tricks. When I got there, I checked again to see if anyone else was around. Everyone was out of the water. I wasn’t sure, but it seemed like they were all watching me.

I let three waves go by before I took one. With all those people watching, I couldn’t mess this up. The force behind my board, pushing me forward, surprised and exhilarated me. The waves really were better over here! I got to my feet and enjoyed the ride of my life, shooting over the water, sliding right up onto the sand.

Everyone was watching but no one was smiling as I carried my board up the beach. I wondered if I’d broken some kind of surfer code. Maybe there was some rule that on Saturdays at three, all the really cool surfers take a fifteen minute break.

“Hey,” I said to the nearest guy. “Why’d everyone get out?”

“Dude, didn’t you see the shark?”

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

#184 Centipede

A dead centipede at least eight inches long lies crumpled in the grass, square body sections at jumbled angles, dark red-brown like a carob pod. Orange legs like fat whiskers splay out. It looks headless, faceless, a strange object, too intricate to be crafted by man, alien, foreign, and yet here it is on my own grass.

How many times have I crossed this patch of grass at night, in bare feet, not remembering what lives here after dark? At one end of that beastie there are invisible fangs that sting.

I’ve seen it move like a train, legs rolling it over the ground. It swims like a snake, undulating in the water. It comes into my house and hides under blankets left on the floor.

I shake out my boots every day when I go gardening. Most often there’s nothing in there. If there is something, it’s a lizard or a toad. This is the first giant centipede I’ve seen in years.

And it’s dead. Harmless. Only a warning.

Once when I was a teenager I spent a day collecting glass bottles at the beach. Clear ones, brown ones, blue ones, green ones, a rainbow of glass. I found one black with mud on the inside, and took it to wash it out at an outdoor sink at the beach park campground. The moment I turned on the tap and sent water shooting down the bottle’s neck, a giant centipede burst out like a firecracker. I screamed, dropped the bottle, and jumped back as the centipede fell into the sink. The centipede swam in the rising water, weaving back and forth like a snake, while I watched from a safe distance. Finally it crawled up the side of the sink and ran away through the jungle.

That was the last muddy bottle I picked up, ever.

Monday, June 1, 2015

#183 Medusa

She was beautiful.

Iridescent gold snakes coiled over her head in the place of hair. Red eyes blazed. Black lips parted to show long yellow fangs. A long, white toga draped her olive-green-skinned body. I had never seen such perfection.

I raised my arm, reached out to her. She had to be mine.

The words of longing for her froze on my lips. I couldn’t move. My body would no longer obey me. My vision clouded over, and then darkened.

But death didn’t come. My mind, now trapped in stone, screamed silently in betrayed agony. I had thought my immortality would save me from her gaze, but no. I began an eternity of imprisonment in my own stone body with only the memory of her exquisiteness burning before me.

Friday, May 29, 2015

#182 Why Am I Eating These Fries?

Why am I eating these fries?

I don’t even like this kind. They spill out of a greasy white paper bag like so many overgrown crispy-fried grubs. I could buy a whole pound of these exact same crinkle-cut fries from the freezer case at the grocery store for about the same price we paid for this one bag. Fat, greasy, bloated, they’re either overcooked and crunchy as too-thick potato chips, or else soggy and pale.

I bite into one. Salt and crunchiness, then the smooth, creamy starch at the center fill my mouth.

These aren’t real fries, I tell myself as I pick up another one. Real fries still have the skin on. These fries were probably made from dried potato powder mixed with glue and pressed into little crinkle-fry shaped molds.

One of the fries is bitter, a little too overcooked. I take two next time and drench them in ketchup to wash down the bad taste.

If I’m going to be stuffing untold fat and carbohydrate calories into my body, why don’t I choose a food I actually like? These fries are not worth it.

I’m eating them faster now, as if trying to get it over with. My hand, almost without my permission, keeps picking them up, dipping them in ketchup and popping them in my mouth.

These fries are not my responsibility. I didn’t even order them, my husband did. I’m not even hungry. I already ate my burger. That was more than enough.

I am going to stop now.

I try wiping my fingers on my napkin, cleaning off the salt and grease. I clasp my hands on the slightly sticky table top, which feels as if so many cokes have spilled over it there’s no more wiping it clean. Trying to distract myself, I look at the chipped paint on the picnic table boards, studying the progression of color. Brown, then blue, and finally now red. If I just sit here and wait, my husband will eat the rest of the fries. I know he will. They’re his anyway. He just asked if I wanted some.

I pick up the ketchup bottle and without even thinking, squirt some in the top of the Styrofoam box my burger came in. Trying to be artistic, I run a line around the place where the sides meet the bottom.

There are still a few fries spilling out of the paper bag onto a Styrofoam plate on a sticky picnic table in the strip mall where I’m having lunch with my husband. I can’t let the ketchup I just squirted from the bottle go to waste.

I pick up another French fry, dip it in the ketchup, and eat it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

#181 Banana Harvest

We were too eager the first time we harvested our bananas.

We’d waited long enough, we thought. I’d bought the tiny banana plant on our first trip to the nursery after moving into our new place. We had a yard, and it wanted trees. Lemon, tangerine, pomegranate, those were the ones I wanted, but I never considered bananas. But there it was, in a black plastic pot with “dwarf apple banana, $12.50” scrawled on the side. Why not, I thought.

It slept for months, years, unchanging, in the grassy corner of the yard where I’d planted it. Then one day it began to grow. A towering trunk, then another sprang up, and another. Green leaves unfurled like solar panels on an opening space probe. The architecture of nature built with astounding speed.

A flower appeared, a huge purple-red bud the size of my open hand, hanging down like the head on a goose’s neck from a long stem. Petals dropped off, exposing tiny green fingers. Proto-bananas. Embryonic. The stem grew longer, adding ranks of bananas until a bottle-brush of them hung from the top of the tree. We sent proud photographs to relatives, as if this bunch of bananas were a new baby in the family. Day by day we watched them grow. Are the bananas fat enough yet? Can we cut them down yet?

At last we couldn’t stand it any longer. We cut them down, solid and green, and hung them up to ripen. My sons gleefully hacked down the tree with a machete, careful not to damage the younger trees coming up around it. Its sheaves, peeled away one at a time, revealed a hollow lattice structure that hinted at the plant’s ability to spring up so quickly. Layers circled a center trunk, rows of cube-shaped chambers in every one, like the steel superstructure of a skyscraper.

The second time we harvested bananas, it took us a long time to get around to it. For months we said, those bananas look ready, we should cut them down. By then there were three other bunches coming on, one in our yard and two hanging over the side fence into the neighbors’. The bananas got bigger and fatter, far fatter than the first bunch we cut.

When they finally started to turn yellow--could bananas actually turn yellow on the tree?--we decided we’d better hurry or we’d loose them all to the myna birds.

One of my younger sons stood up on a stool and used the saw to cut them free while three more of us stood beneath to hold them up. Cold banana sap dripped into my hair, like an anointing. The bananas were so heavy they nearly knocked me over when they came down. The boys fought over turns with the machete, cutting up the trunk for the compost, while I helped my daughter cut the bunches of bananas off the stem. Afterwards I had to use paint thinner to get the latex from the saw and the machete and my sticky hands.

“This must be why Hawaiians share food,” my son said. “There’s too many bananas all at once for us to eat by ourselves.”

Would you like one? Ripened on the tree.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

#180 Dragon's Egg

“Where does magic come from?” Professor Lazlo thumped a polished wooden box on the table. Her green eyes glittered as they swept the class full of little girls in their deep blue frocks. “You there, Miss Kornelia.”

“Dragons!” Kornelia squeaked. Her feet in their buckled shoes kicked at the legs of her desk in excitement.

“Yes, dragons.”

The box wiggled. Everyone in the classroom gasped, except for Ana. She knew that kind of box, knew what was in it. She knew how tired it was, almost out of life, for it to sit so still, only quivering now for the first time since Professor Lazlo set it down.

“Now, who can tell me what is the very best source of magic that we can get from dragons?”

Ana didn’t raise her hand, though she knew the answer to the question. The class was silent.

Professor Lazlo undid the latch and opened the box.

It was beautiful, in its own way. Round, about the size of a human head, and smooth and leathery as elm bark. White with flecks of grey, it might have been mistaken for a strange stone at a casual glance, but it was no stone.

“Is that a dragon egg?” One of the girls asked. Ana almost sighed. None of them had ever seen one.

She’d seen too many.

“Yes. Now, why would you think this is the very most powerful source of dragon magic?” Professor Lazlo asked.

This time Ana spoke up without bothering to raise her hand. “Because its still alive,” she said sharply.

“Yes,” Professor Lazlo gave her a hard look. “Unlike dragon scales or horns or teeth, unlike a dragon heart or liver or skin, the dragon egg is very much still alive.”

Ana’s stomach gave a twitch as Professor Lazlo wheeled a gleaming apparatus of copper vanes, pipes, and springs in front of the desk. “This is a weatherworking machine, not the latest model, but still quite functional. I’ve received permission from the headmaster to give you a short demonstration. I will set it for thunderstorm.”

The egg shifted a little in its box, as if maybe it had heard its doom pronounced.

Professor Lazlo picked up the egg and set it in a wide glass jar, then clamped down the copper lid. She switched on the machine, which began whirring and chiming. Little sparks of magical energy fizzled out from the egg’s surface and made the jar glow a faint pink. The egg itself shuddered, rattling against the glass.

Ana gripped the side of her chair.

Outside the window darkened, and rain began to fall. A great crack of thunder pealed across the sky. The girls applauded.

The egg’s movement began to slow, and with it the storm faded almost as quickly as it had begun. Tap, tap, then one last little twitch, and the egg lay still.

Ana wanted to leave, to run from the room, but instead she sat and watched. Watched while Professor Lazlo removed the egg from the apparatus and dropped it in the rubbish.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

#179 Home Lunch

I usually don’t take a lunch with me to class.

Not that I’m not hungry at eleven o’clock when we get our break. The student center grill is right there, so I usually grab a sushi roll or something. Once I even tried their stir-fry, but there was too much of it for me to eat in ten minutes so I was slurping noodles while the teacher started talking again. Not cool.

Today, though, I had some leftovers of this fantastic ramen noodle salad, with carrots and peas and chicken and lettuce that had been marinading all night in soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. That was something worth taking. Not something lame like a peanut butter sandwich and a bruised apple.

I’d spent the minutes leading up until the time I was supposed to leave cramming in the reading assignment, and after that I still had to blow-dry my hair, so I knew I didn’t have much time to pack up my lunch. I found a plastic container in the cupboard, scraped a generous serving of salad plus a few extra toasted slivered almonds on top, then snapped on the lid. Now all I needed was a way to carry it. I was pretty sure that container wouldn’t leak, but I wasn’t going to risk my computer by putting a cheap plastic container that had been through the dishwasher too many times in my book bag.

There were lunch carriers in the cupboard over the stove. I pulled down my favorite, a grey one with butterflies that might have been a handbag if it wasn’t made out of that soft cooler material. I picked up my container of salad, ready to slip it inside.

The lunch bag wasn’t empty.

A crumpled piece of greasy sandwich wrapper with lettuce bits sticking to the inside. Something blackish and furry and vaguely reminiscent of half a banana. A bloated foil wrapper that might still have a piece of chocolate inside.

When was the last time I’d taken a lunch anywhere?

“Not using that one,” I said out loud, soft but kind of frantic, because class was starting soon and I still had to walk all the way across campus.

There were other lunch carriers up there. That red one that had come from the grand opening of the new computer lab on campus, when they were giving out free lunches courtesy of the computer company that had donated all the machines in hopes of getting us college students hooked on using their stuff. That particular company had folded already, or had they been bought out by someone else? Oh well, not really my business. Anyway, I kept the lunch cooler, the boxy little red lunch cooler, just in case I ever needed a back up. Waste not, want not, and all. It was down at the bottom of a stack of paper lunch sacks.

They were too small for my container to go in, those lunch sacks.

The red thing would work. I pulled it out and unfolded it.
Patches of brown mildew encrusted the fabric lid. Not just vague spots like ordinary mildew. This stuff was three-dimensional. The Incredible Hulk of mildew. Grimy brown bits got off on my fingers. I was afraid I’d discovered one of those alien plants that was going to take over the world by the end of the episode. The kind that died in the rain at the last minute so the world would be saved after all.

I still didn’t have anywhere to put my lunch.

Ideas flashed through my head. A plastic grocery bag? So not environmentally correct. Put it in my bookbag with my phone and computer? Not on your life.  Carry it, along with the fork, in my hand? That would look great as I walked across the campus.

Then I noticed something. There was still something red up in the cupboard underneath the paper sacks. Another red lunch tote. I’d gotten two of them? I’d totally forgotten. That was sneaky of me.

I pulled it down, hoping the mildew beast hadn’t spread. This one, somehow, miraculously, was clean. I stuffed in my salad and my fork and beat it out the door to class.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

# 178 The MRI

The machine stared, a huge, round eyeball twice as tall as me, with an empty opening at the center. It thrummed and thumped a slow rhythm, like an alien heartbeat.

I shuddered in my pajamas, even though the dimly-lit room was warm. “Hop up here on the bed,” the nurse said. The bed was on a long ramp that led right into the middle of the eyeball. I climbed up onto it really slow. It was like sitting on something’s tongue.

The nurse put a blue thing like a paper showercap over my hair. “It gets really noisy so you’ll need to wear earplugs,” the nurse rolled the little bright blue pieces of foam in her fingers until they were tiny worms. “Put these in your ears, and then this headset goes on top.”

It gets noisy?

Once my ears were all plugged and covered, the nurse said, “Okay, now lie down,” like it was no big deal.

I shook my head. No way was I going to lie down so she could roll me into that super noisy giant eyeball machine.

“Come on, you can do it,” she smiled. She was young, and pretty, with blond-brown streaked hair and pink lipstick. Her eyes matched the soft green scrubs she wore. She looked so nice. How could she do this to me?

I shook my head again.

“Go get Mom,” the nurse said to the girl in the door way, the thin one in black who had brought me from the waiting room where I’d left Mom.

I sat hunched on the bed and waited. All around the room there were shelves with pieces of foam in different shapes and colors. A shiny metal sink, a soap dispenser. Pillows. Strange plastic shapes.

“Hi,” Mom said, when she came in. “Everything okay?”

I shrugged.

“Mom’s going to be right next to you the whole time,” the Nurse said. “This is really the easiest test you can get. There are no needles, you don’t have to drink anything. All you have to do is lie there for twenty minutes.”

Twenty minutes? I can’t possibly lie still that long inside a noisy eyeball machine.

“Mom, do you have my Minecraft guys?” I asked.

“No, I left them in the lobby. I’ll be right back.”

When Mom came back she had the paper models I’d printed, cut out, and glued together, my Link, my pig, my ocelot, my tiny sword.

“Do you want to hold one of them?” The nurse asked. “You can hold it in your hand during the test, though you can’t hold it up and look at it.”

“Can I have Link?” I asked.

Mom handed him to me and I curled my fingers gently around the delicate little paper boxes that made up his body. I forced myself to lie down on the bed and the nurse adjusted a small mirror over my head so that I could see my Mom. She waved to me from the end of the ramp, grinning like this was the most fun she’d ever had.

“I’m jealous, you know,” Mom said, admiring the machine. “I’ve always wanted to get an MRI”

Mom was crazy.

The nurse tucked a piece of foam at either side of my head and reminded me to hold still so she could get a good picture of my brain. Then she gave me a button on a long wire that I could push if I got nervous and wanted to stop the test.

I wondered how long I’d last.

The nurse pushed a button on the machine and I started to roll. I rolled until my head was in the middle of that great big eyeball.

I waited, stiff, cupping my Minecraft guy in one hand and clutching my escape button in the other.

“Ready to go?” The nurse’s voice came over the headset.

“Ready,” I said back in my tiniest voice.

The machine thumped. It whined. It chugged. Whoom, whoom, whoom, just like a space ship in a movie.

The machine sounded hilarious.

I had to try hard not to laugh. I didn’t want the picture of my brain to get blurry.

Mom and I grinned at each other.

Yeah, I could do this for twenty minutes. It wasn’t so bad.

Monday, May 18, 2015

#177 When My Daughter is Home

When my daughter is home, flowers from the backyard find their way onto the table. Different ones every week, the yellow wildflowers from the corner under the trees, the white bougainvillea creeping through the fence from the neighbor’s yard, the plumerias striped dark pink, apricot, and snow.

When my daughter is home, pets find their way to our door. Neighbor children bring baby birds. Stray rabbits show up in the field on the way home from school. Chameleons appear on the sidewalk. All of them come home to stay.

When my daughter is home, she sits up late with her brothers, both taller than her, together on the couch with her computer open in front of them. They’re laughing at something together, talking, watching. Every time I try to send them upstairs for bed they drift back to her room, one more idea, one more laugh, one more something to say.

When my daughter is home, the sound of harp music drifts through the rooms, soft but insistent, like a gentle rainfall.

When my daughter is home there is quiet, except for the sound of typing, a fluttering of word-wings, as miles and miles of sentences spool out through her fingers from the endless spinning wheel of her mind. Dizzying word counts mount up day after day.

When my daughter is home, the dishes get done. Every last one. And the counters are wiped down. There’s someone to watch the other children, someone to be here when school gets out.

When my daughter is home, the house is full again, if only for a little while.

Friday, May 15, 2015

#176 Shipwreck

Splinters. Fragments of wood, fresh, sharp, red as cedar, litter the damp sand. Strangers among the tiny stranded jellyfish and crab holes. Bent, tortured, one has a hard, white paint fragment clinging to its face.

Farther down the beach the splinters begin to line up, long lacy arcs of them, raked in by the water. And now the larger pieces appear; a chunk of deck, black with tar; a pointed piece of prow; could that have been the mast stand

The sea, indifferent, roars and surges. Blind, it cannot see the wreckage still in its arms, the dead weight still floating in the surf, making its way to shore.

Weathered colors of paint on a shattered board speak of broken beauty. Sodden clothing dragged up on the point of a broken beam splays across the sand. Nails stab upward through a face-down board.

Someone has tried to clean up already. A metal first-aid kit sits near the top of a plastic bucket of debris. Some of the pieces have been dragged into piles.

The eye of Ra stares, huge, black and wet, from a jagged-edged panel. Did it see the reef that would wreck it, in the dark and high surf of the night?

Strange shapes, a puzzle, some pieces too large to move, others too small to find, strewn over a mile of beach. All together, it had been a boat. I am standing in the midst of a boat, on the beach, beside the eternal sea.