Friday, October 29, 2010

#fridayflash 54: The Photo Album

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Was feeling a little nostalgic today, so this story has more reality in it than many of mine. But then it also has a reasonable amount of the extraordinary to balance it out. Hope you enjoy it! Let me know what you think :)

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The Photo Album

She opened her late grandmother's photo album reverently; she'd found it in the house after the funeral, but at the time had been too devastated to look. "To my children," the inscription read. The album, painstakingly and lovingly crafted, carried a lifetime and a half of memories. Elizabeth flipped to the end first -- two family shots, professionally taken just last year. She smiled at the memory of the chaos having all twenty of them in the photographer's tiny studio.

She flipped slowly back through the pages, seeing herself at graduation, before and after the ceremony -- how proud she'd been that day. The world was hers for the taking -- even if she had no idea what she wanted to do with it. She grinned at the memory of her idealistic self. There were pictures of herself and all her cousins as teenagers, then as children, then infants. She found a page from the day she came home from the hospital with her happy but exhausted mother. The story at this point was not hers, but rather the continuation of her mother's. Sure enough, the page before showcased her parents' wedding.

They looked so happy. And her mum so beautiful. She rubbed at a smudge on the page, disproportionately upset to find a flaw in her grandmother's album. But when she rubbed it, it wouldn't come off. She rubbed at it again, a last futile effort.

And suddenly found herself outside the church from the photo, her mother and father, much younger versions of themselves, standing on the steps preparing to leave for their honeymoon. She rubbed her eyes and shook her head, trying to clear the vision in front of her. It didn't work. Her parents still stood, complete in 1970s wedding regalia, enjoying their moment while friends and family -- some of whom she recognized -- celebrated around them. Nobody seemed to notice her. She could feel panic rising. She reached out to get the attention of the person next to her... But her arm passed right through him causing no more reaction than a brief shiver. She was a ghost. Could she be a ghost in a time she'd never lived in? Puzzling over that little dilemma briefly averted the panic, but all too quickly it returned. She couldn't stay in 1975 -- they didn't even have cell phones yet!

As her eyes darted around frantically, she suddenly realized one person could see her. She met the eyes of her grandmother across the property. Gram smiled a knowing smile and winked briefly before returning her attention to her daughter -- the crazy gram she'd always loved, who was always up for an intelligent prank. Somehow, in some way, she'd managed one last stunt.

Elizabeth worked her way towards her grandmother, who every once in a while would look directly at her, encouraging. It was hard to navigate the crowd; since nobody else could see her, they weren't about to get out of her way. And she just couldn't bring herself to go through somebody. Her world had already gone so far beyond her grasp of reality, she couldn't let that final piece go...

She reached her grandmother and her heart lept to her throat when she picked up a hand and ran it along Elizabeth's face, tucking a piece of hair back just as she always had the whole time she'd been growing up. "Gram, what...?"

"Don't worry Lizzibet, you'll be home soon." The name she'd never thought to hear again, spoken by the woman she knew she'd never again see.

"What was that?" Her grandfather turned toward his wife, puzzled.

"Nothing Dear," she told him, "just thinking out loud." He looked worried for an instant, but it passed as his attention was drawn to his daughter as her new husband opened the door to drive her away. Elizabeth was stunned to see a tear in his eye. Her very formal, very strict, grandfather crying at his daughter's wedding? Nobody would ever have believed it. And indeed, he blinked the tear back before it could shed. But Elizabeth knew what she'd seen.

Elizabeth's 1970s father got in the driver's side and her mother leaned out the passenger side to wave -- a scene Elizabeth had seen before. And a heartbeat later she was sitting back in her living room, the photo album open in her lap, looking at the image of her parents driving away from their wedding, with her mother leaning out the passenger side waving.

Elizabeth jumped up, shoving the album away from her. Unable to sit still, she went to the fridge on the premise of getting some water. It couldn't be. Her mind spun with the possibilities -- holograms made from videos? Just because she hadn't heard of the technology didn't mean it didn't exist. But in her heart she knew what she had experienced. And she knew that crazy Gram hadn't had any top of the line super-technology to play with. She returned to the album and opened it again, paying closer attention this time. And she discovered that on most of the pages, if you looked hard enough, there was a mark of some sort next to the first photo on every page.

She held her breath briefly as she touched another of the marks. Her grandmother sitting on the beach, holding Elizabeth's toddler mother in her lap. Sure enough, she felt the burst of warmth and found herself in another time and another world.

"Hello Lizzibet," her very young, sepia-toned grandmother said.

"Gram what??? How???" Full sentences were beyond her, but fortunately unnecessary.

"You, my daughters, and any women to come of our blood will always be able to share in my story. I hope one day you'll choose to share yours as well. Know that I'll always love you."

"Anne stop nattering at that child and look over here!" the photographer, Elizabeth's great-grandfather, commanded. With a smile that was clearly meant solely for Elizabeth, Anne did as she was told. And Elizabeth once again found herself at home looking at the pair of photos of young-mom Anne with her first-born.

Friday, October 22, 2010

#FridayFlash: Life Skills

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Have to admit, for the first time ever I dug into the archives for this one. If you've seen this before, my apology for the repeat! If you haven't, I hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think!

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Life Skills

"What are you doing here?" Sarah looked up from her desk to see her old boss standing in her office doorway.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" she said, entirely ignoring the woman with him.

"Seriously Sarah, this is a waste of your considerable talent," Agent Dylan told her, "When are you going to let it go and come back?"

Sarah didn't even bother rolling her eyes at the oft-repeated question, merely turned her back on him. It was a petty dismissal but she felt it was necessary. He, of course, entirely ignored it.

“We need your help," he said, indicating the blonde beside him. Sarah wouldn't even look at her.

"I don't do ghost wannabes. You know that."

"This one's different."

"What's different? Did she, or did she not, try to kill herself?"

"She's a level 8 medium with no shields." Dylan told her, completely avoiding the question. The implications of that did give Sarah a slight pause but was insufficient to overcome her long-ingrained disrespect of suicidal people. "We've put her through every kind of training we could imagine and still nothing. Consider it a challenge."

"Carol couldn't help her?" Sarah asked, reluctantly curious. She never could resist a challenge.

"She tried. Alyssa ended up in a coma."

"Interesting." Sarah acknowledged clinically, keeping the surprise out of her voice. Carol was the one who had originally trained Sarah. "Why did you wake up?" she asked Alyssa directly, thinking sleeping forever was an easy way out for one who wanted to kill herself.

"Dylan." Alyssa stated, with no indication of how she felt about it. "The spirits were quiet, but so was everything else. It was like I was in a void and eventually Dylan showed up and shoved me out. Now everything's back as it was before." At Sarah's look Agent Dylan shrugged off what she knew must've been an extraordinary experience. To enter the mind of one who is not under control is to risk being lost there yourself, and she imagined adding in the visiting spirits would just make it that much worse. Much like exploring the mind of a schizophrenic.

"What do you expect me to do?" Sarah asked, knowing the answer but needing it stated.

"You're an emphatic telepath. Take a look, feel what she's feeling, then build her a shield."

Reluctantly Sarah lowered the shields of her own mind which she used to filter out the thoughts and feelings of others.

She allowed a moment to be overwhelmed by the flood of voices frivolously chattering before focusing her attention on the girl beside her. As soon as she did the sense of despair was almost overwhelming. It was a horrid combination of an inability to help, no way to avoid the pleas, and a feeling of complete failure. And worse, a resigned acceptance that this was how it would always be. Switching senses, Sarah opened herself to experiencing Alyssa's thoughts which were being monopolized by a child crying in the dark, a tall pale man asking where his wife was, and others who were there but appeared unaware of her.

“Interesting.” Sarah repeated as she brought her own shields back up and disconnected from the chaos that was Alyssa's mind. She grabbed her purse and followed Dylan out of the room, silently agreeing with him that this was not the appropriate place for what needed to be done. Alyssa followed the pair, unsure exactly what had been wordlessly decided, but knowing that something had.

Arriving at the Motel 6 Dylan had booked Sarah sat down with Alyssa. "I've never done this before," she told her, "and I can't guarantee it'll go any better than Carol's attempt, but I’m willing to try." Alyssa just nodded. "When Carol helped you, she had you hide yourself inside a diamond?" Sarah guessed. A diamond is the hardest stone on Earth -- and therefore a great way to shield yourself, and one of Carol's favourite training images. Alyssa nodded her assent.

"Ok close your eyes, and wait till I join you." Alyssa's haunted blue eyes closed, and Sarah once again lowered her own shields and allowed the chaos in, having no idea how she was actually going to solve this. She temporarily blocked her emphatic sense allowing her to focus only on Sarah's thoughts -- and through her, those of the spirits with her. Her eyes were open, but the scene she saw was entirely in Alyssa’s mind. She found Alyssa cowering by a tree as some people wandered aimlessly around while others converged on her.

Turning her back on Alyssa, her dimmed emphatic sense could feel her hurt and fear, but she had to allow that for a few minutes. She found the pieces of the diamond shield Carol had helped her create and used that to build far more than a shield. She built an entire castle, with windows and only one entrance. Then she went and fought her way through the spirits to get to Alyssa, and casting her own shield widely enough to cover both of them she got Alyssa into the diamond castle – but once there Alyssa was blank. There was no expression on her face, no acknowledgement of her surroundings. Nothing.

And Sarah suddenly new what to do. She quickly pulled Alyssa back out into the realm of chaos. "Alyssa!" the younger girl slowly focused on her. "Somewhere out here is your knowledge, your feelings, your thoughts, and your memories. We have to find these and put them inside for you." Alyssa nodded her understanding, her eyes lighting with the first glimmers of hope. Using her own unique senses, Sarah was quickly able to locate Alyssa's feelings and thoughts -- hidden in a chest and a rock respectively, presumably previous shield attempts. On her own, Alyssa located her knowledge. Then it was just a search for her memories, which the rather helpful spirit of her grandmother was holding on to. All critical items accounted for, Sarah and Alyssa returned to the diamond castle. Sarah pulled the door shut, keeping a close eye on Alyssa. This time, she appeared to still be under control. "You ok?" Sarah asked. Alyssa nodded. Sarah let all her shields down. "Now?" "I can still hear them, but they're quiet. Like someone has the volume just one step above mute." Sarah thought for a moment and then walked over to the one open window and shut it. "Now?" Alyssa looked stunned.

"Ok so this is how it works," Sarah started in her teacher voice, "while you're in the diamond castle they'll leave you alone. If you want to listen, open a window; if you want to communicate, open the door and let only the one you wish to speak to in. If you find yourself outside -- which you will when you’re tired or upset, come back here as quickly as you can and shut the door. And remember, no matter how bad it is out there you can always get back. Got it?" Alyssa nodded and Sarah could feel her doubt and her hope warring it out -- but at least hope was still there. Maybe there was actually a chance. "Ok, when you're talking to Dylan tell him to leave me alone for a few hours. Open your eyes."

When Alyssa opened her eyes it was to see Sarah, incredibly pale, unconscious on the couch w/ Dylan leaning over her taking her pulse. And for the first time ever, silence. "She says leave her alone for a few hours." Alyssa told him. Dylan smiled ruefully "Yeah that sounds like her. So?" he asked -- but didn't need the answer. Even without looking uninvited, he knew from peace on Alyssa’s face that Sarah had met the challenge.

Friday, October 15, 2010

#FridayFlash 53: Wedding Magic

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"When I look at you I remember a little girl who believed in magic," my aunt told me wistfully, "what happened to her?"

"She grew up." I told her bluntly. The hardness of my carefully crafted cynicism hiding the stab of pain at the memory of what once was. It was a facade that had been serving me well for years; she didn't see through it.

Leaving me to sulk, she returned to my mother's wedding. It was my mom's fifth. My sisters and I had a pool going -- I, on the realist end, had taken the 6 month to 1 year option. Gloria, ever the romantic had declared this one would last. The other girls were playing it safe somewhere in the middle -- after all, it had been an incredibly romantic ceremony. Suckers. It was all too easy to take their money. I'd yet to lose.

I was not a good enough actress to pull off happiness and excitement for the wedding, but I also had no wish to spoil my mother's night, so instead I a walk along the path away from the house, lit by an eerily vibrant moon. After only a few steps I kicked my feet out of the treacherous heels and continued, feeling moderately rebellious, without them.

The path I found myself on wound its way through the garden, but never far from the moon's rays; while part of me felt a primal instinct to fear the dark, a stronger part of me was so grateful to avoid the farce that it seemed a relief to escape to the shadows.

I sat on a decorative marble bench, my back to the lights of the party and looked out at play of light and shadow. As I watched I realized it wasn’t anger or cynicism or frustration that kept me from being able to enjoy the party; I was genuinely sad for my mom. Perhaps it was my aunt’s comment that did it, but somehow the piece of me that once believed in magic surfaced and I asked of the moonlight: “If love is real, why can’t my mother find it? Nobody tries as hard as she.”

“Because true love generally comes uninvited and unlooked for. Those who try too hard, accept a mere parody of the emotion and therefore, it cannot last.”

I jumped at the voice – at once both angry and embarrassed at having been overheard. Until I realized I was still alone. I looked all around and saw nothing. Called but no one answered. More than slightly freaked out, I turned and headed back quickly towards the lights of the party, moving as quickly as I could without appearing to be running from shadows.

“Why do you run from the truth?” I spun around. The voice was very different, but there was still nobody to be seen.

“What truth?” I demanded angrily. “How can you speak truth while hiding in shadow? Show yourself!” Brave on the outside, shaking within. All the time wondering if anybody would hear me if I shouted.

I heard a sigh, “I thought she could see us?” a younger voice asked, disappointment evident. And somehow I knew I was the ‘she’ in question.

“She used to be able to,” another answered.

And from the first, sadly, “she used to believe in magic.”

“Where are you?” I asked again, less frightened and more annoyed. As though everybody were laughing at a joke I didn’t get.

For a long moment there was no answer, and then somebody deigned to speak: “You look, but don’t see. Open your mind to the possibilities and then look closely at the moon’s beams.”

The moon’s beams my mind raced backwards as I was sucked into a memory. My mom’s second wedding – I was six, wearing the most beautiful princess dress I’d ever seen, and I’d just gotten a new dad and a new brother. And I was ecstatic. “Look at the moonbeam,” my mom said to me, crouching down to my level and showing me the unusual way the single beam shone through the trees. And I suddenly recalled my response.

“There are fairies dancing on it,” I whispered the phrase I had once uttered excitedly. And suddenly I could see.

“Welcome back,” the most regal of the fairies said with a smile and a slight nod. “For a while I thought we’d lost you.”

“So she can see us now?!?!” It was the younger voice again, and I attached it to a fairy who was zipping back and forth almost too quickly for the eye to register.

“Well she can if you sit still!” another responded, irritation evident in her tone.

I was too stunned to comment. I hadn’t had anything to drink, much less smoke, yet I was seeing fairies on the moonlight.

“Others accept us without ever seeing, so why is it so hard for you to accept what you can see in front of you?” one of the calmer voices asked curiously.

“You can’t be real,” I stated; knowing how ridiculous that statement was. If they weren’t real and I was talking to them, I had a serious problem. And if they were real, I was proving myself an idiot. Idiot or insane? I wasn’t sure which would be the worse fate.

“And yet we are,” the one I had deemed to be the leader spoke, “and so is Love.”
Even though I instantly wished I hadn’t, I rolled my eyes. But she didn’t seem to take offence, just smiled an eerily knowing smile, “you just have to open your eyes to it.”

A heavy cloud rolled in front of the moon, breaking the beam, “Gotta fly!!!” the young one zipped in front of me and exclaimed excitedly, “hope we get to see you again!!!!” she seemed to speak entirely in exclamation marks.

“And you,” I replied. But they were gone.

Lost in a world of memories and magic, I returned to the party with a much lighter heart, and open eyes.

Friday, October 8, 2010

#fridayflash 52: A new horse

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"So who's the new horse?"

"What new horse?" I questioned, giving my student a puzzled look.

"The grey out with Jasper."

"I don't have any grey horses and Jasper's turned out alone," I told her as I headed out to the paddocks to check. Sure enough when I got there, Jasper was grazing quite peacefully on his own -- no sign of any new horses in any of the paddocks. I looked at Kellie and raised an eyebrow.

"I *swear* there was another horse out here when I came to get Swizzle. Gorgeous grey -- and you know I don't usually like greys -- but this one's coat seemed actually white. Had its hindend turned to me, was grazing over in the corner," she pointed to where she'd seen the mystery horse.

"Ok," I didn't really know what to say. She wasn't prone to hallucinations and it was a gorgeous fall day -- too cool to be heat stroke. No signs of drugs or alcohol use. "Are you feeling ok?" She rolled her eyes in dismissal in typical teenage fashion. Ok no worries there. "Well, if you see the mystery horse again, take a pic for me." I told her, only half joking.

We dismissed the incident and moved on -- the whole thing turning into one of those jokes that decades from now would still hold meaning for us and no other. A week later I was turning out horses. The morning was a photographers dream -- our valley was shrouded in mist, and the sun had just crested the hill behind the paddocks, it's beams emphasizing the power of the mist as they failed to penetrate it. The first four horses were already out and I was walking out with the fifth, still half asleep and appreciating the quiet morning, I had the horse in the paddock and was taking off her halter before I realized we weren't alone. I looked in disbelief. There, hidden in the mist, a stunning grey horse was grazing at the end of the paddock. But none of the other horses had given any indication there was a stranger in their midsts. I quickly relocated my mare to another paddock, keeping my eye on the new horse the whole time.

That paddock had been empty, so the gate had been open -- I entered, closing it behind me out of habit. I approached from the side as I would any horse; the mist was playing mind tricks -- the horse seemed to waver in and out of my vision. At times seeming to disappear into the mist and otherwise being as solid as all the other horses around us. The geldings I had turned out first were watching me attentively, but seemed to be paying little attention to the new horse. While she had yet to acknowledge my presence by so much as a sideways glance. What horse didn't at least make note of a strange person in their vicinity?

What I saw next would challenge all I'd ever been taught. The horse lifted her head and looked over her shoulder at me, finally acknowledging my existence, and when she did, I froze. Protruding from her head was a long, thin, crystalline horn. She flipped her head, tossing her mane in a way that only ever happens in fiction, took two canter strides, cleared the paddock fence with perfect form, and was swallowed by the mist. All while my brain struggled to combine what I'd seen with what I knew. A unicorn? Unicorns didn't exist. They certainly didn't graze in my paddock. And yet, I had seen it.

A trick. It had to be a trick. Somebody glued something on the horse's forehead. But then, where had the horse come from and where had it gone? And how come none of my horses had been concerned about it? Cows were regarded as monsters plotting world domination, sheep -- well anything little and fluffy that bounces is clearly pure evil, and even ponies were not above suspicion -- but unicorns didn't get so much as a blink from any of them? How could that be possible?

Over the next few days I started carrying my camera everywhere. Each morning I awoke filled with excitement that I might see her again -- turnout was suddenly a chore I looked forward to. I contemplated leaving food for her, but knew that my horses would just eat it. But I never saw her. Beginning to doubt my sanity I became less careful about having the camera and chores returned to feeling like work until one morning, cameraless once more, she returned. I approached cautiously, stopping a few strides away. She looked at me and I felt as though I were being evaluated, although I had no idea the criteria. She flipped her head in the air, once more sending the mane flying, the rising sun reflecting off her horn. Head held high, she stood perfectly still and looked at me. I approached carefully, keeping my eyes down and moving slightly sideways as though she were a skittish horse. After only a few steps I heard the most musical laugher. I stopped and couldn't resist a glance. She was facing me head on, proud and tall. For all she might look like one, this was not a prey animal. She closed the distance between us, staring straight into my eyes the whole time. It was the most disconcerting feeling. Part of me was concerned -- it was a wild animal, I was alone, and I had no idea what she might do. Part of me was absolutely enthralled with awe. I couldn't have moved at that point for anything. And part of me was wondering if I'd actually lost it. Was I really seeing this? Was I dreaming? Hallucinating?

She bowed her head and her horn gently touched my shoulder as though she were knighting me. And then I knew. The myths were true. All of them. And I'd been chosen.

My life would never be the same.