Thursday, December 31, 2009

Flash Fiction 19 – An Average Life

Ok so I pushed the word count a bit with this one. I even know what sections I *should* cut – but I’m rather attached to them, so they’re staying :) I hope you’ll read and enjoy anyways!

For those who've been here before -- what do you think of the new template? Server where the old images were hosted disappeared so I had to start over. Lesson learned!

Wishing you and your loved ones a fresh year of magic and miracles!


An Average Life

It was New Year’s Eve. I was 25 years old and the world was mine for the taking. And I was alone.

The snow fell softly outside my window, lit by the vibrant lights of a town that was not mine. I was here to study history. Learning about a time that fascinated me, in the culture that arose out of it. I was an ok student, eager to learn and with grades strong enough to get into grad school. Barely. I’d been in the second round of acceptances and I knew it. Somebody else had had to decline in order for me to have a spot. Maybe several sombodies. But I was in – the hard part was over. And while I rarely had anything brilliant to say, I knew enough to keep my mouth shut and avoid revealing my ignorance. Through that, I came to be known as the quiet girl, but one who was worth listening to when she spoke. Yeah, I was surprised at that too; happy, but surprised.

I was afraid to leave the academic world. For while I was merely average here, I was afraid of being far less out there. My abilities were no match for my dreams. So when the opportunity to do post-grad work in France arose, I took it. I would never have gotten in had my peers applied; fortunately for me, the medieval studies department is run by academics, not marketing whizzes and nobody else knew about it.

So this is how I came to be alone, far from home, on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t have any friends – only acquaintances of the smile and nod variety. Theoretically we were working together; realistically all hoping to be the first to find and publish. Publish or perish – rule one of the academic world. Publish documents nobody outside would ever read or care less about, yet it all seemed critically important to those on the inside. And the few of us who saw it for the game it was? Well it was a game we chose to play, so we too followed the rules. After all, being average here was still pretty good – and there was never any shortage of intelligent conversation to eavesdrop on.

I sat up till midnight – even though it was just another night – watching the snow fall and contemplating life as it was, as it had been, and as it would be. Or could be. Maybe. The clock struck twelve, and I heard a knock at the door. I stared at it in disbelief – as though puzzling about it would reveal who was on the other side.

Convincing myself I had misheard, nonetheless I went and opened it. And was surprised at the crushing level of disappointment when there was nobody there. A knock at midnight. Right. Not in my world. Blinking back the tears of heartache that threatened to come, I almost missed the little package resting off to the side. Almost.

I picked up the wrapped box – although the wrapping was unlike any paper I’d ever seen. Almost metallic, it reflected the light in ways that made the paper appear to be made of liquid. There was a card attached and I opened it as I stepped back into my apartment.

“A lost soul,” I translated as I read, for it was written in a dialect of old French that few would be able to comprehend today, “sometimes, cannot find its place until its place is ready to be found.” Ok so that was weird.

I started to open the package, and as I did the strange wrapping fell away and disappeared. No, that’s not quite right – it’s more like it soaked into the carpet, much like spilt water. I could see where it went, but I couldn’t pick it up again, and after a few moments it faded, until all that could be seen was my ratty old carpet.

I looked at the box a little apprehensively after the mysterious vanishing paper trick, but excitement won out over caution and I opened it to reveal a necklace. A pendant, beautiful in its simplicity, appeared to be of Celtic origin. The chain it was on looked like silver but was so fine it felt like a piece of tinsel.

I picked the pendant up gently. It felt warm in my hands, and though it appeared tarnished, it was highly reflective, presenting a distorted view of my apartment. Ever so carefully, I tested the weight of it on the chain it came with. It seemed to hold. I did it up around my neck to find it fit just right.

I wandered to look in the mirror, tracing the unusual shape with my baby finger, as one might caress the scars of a loved one. The heat of the pendant on my chest warmed me straight through and the sensual tracing became hypnotic as the reflection in the mirror changed.

My apartment slowly disappeared from the mirror while I watched. It showed my walls becoming forests; my dying plants took on new life; my couch became a lake and the coffee table its beach. It was nighttime and my overhead light transformed into a moon. High above, yes, and yet so much closer and larger than I had ever seen it.

Gradually my reflection faded too – replaced by what, I couldn’t tell. The reflection was dulled until all that remained was the vision of the pendant. And with a blink, it was gone.

I looked around to find myself in a world that I almost knew. The colours were straight out of my dreams; close to normal but far more vibrant and alive.

I looked into the lake my couch had become and saw the moonlight reflected. A lightening bug danced out in front of me. There seemed to be a pattern to his movements, but at first I could not discern what it was; eventually I recognized the same script that was on the card.

“What do you want to see?” the little creature spelled out. My hand reached of its own accord toward the moonlit water while I pondered the question.

In a flash I was taken back to the time when the language of the lightening bug was the common tongue. The times I’d read and dreamed about became real, and I quickly learned that nothing I’d read or dreamed had come close.

I sat for months watching the years go by. I lived the lives of kings and peasants. I loved and I lost. I found disturbing similarities between their lives and ours, and differences so vast it astonished me that one culture sprang from the other.

But then, one day, something triggered a thought of home and the vision on the lake changed dramatically. I saw my own life, from the outside. I saw what had been, what was, and what could be. And I no longer felt so lost.

My eyes were scratchy, as though I’d left my contacts in too long. I was back in my apartment and my baby finger was still tracing the pattern of the necklace, which was no longer there.

I’d learned enough about the culture I’d come to study to write papers that would send the academic world spinning, and might even interest the outside world. And write them I did – but it would take several years to find enough proof so that I could publish. Suddenly my studies had focus and passion and no longer seemed like a game. And once out there, my papers held up to all peer reviews. Of course I couldn’t exactly reveal my sources, but by then I had others to back me up.

From this I found the life I’d been looking for. Making history come alive for others as it had for me. And while I never did leave the academic world, within it I found friends, family and a home. An average life, perhaps, but one worth living.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Flash Fiction 18: The Christmas Gift

For those of you interested in the horse side of things, a good Christmas story (not mine :) on the GRS Blog.

Merry Christmas all - and an amazing new year!

Thanks for reading!


The Christmas Gift:

I watched as my brother, this year's Santa, handed her the gift I had chosen; I'd been looking forward to this moment since I'd found it in June. She was my best friend, and keeping it a secret so long had been incredibly difficult -- I'd had to force myself to forget all about it so that I wouldn't slip up. Fortunately I'd remembered in time to wrap it; if only I could apply that skill to exams!

But I’d have to be patient a while longer yet. My mother put the gift aside. She had a small pile growing, since she preferred to watch us unwrap our gifts to opening her own. And she had no idea that that box contained something special. I waited, feigning excitement over my own gifts while watching her open the others. A scarf, some books, jewelry. Nothing like what I'd found.

Finally she had my gift in hand. She unwrapped it mindlessly, far more interested in my brother's reaction to his new skis. He'd been so disappointed when they hadn't appeared under the tree, but accepted that they just couldn't afford them; it made it all the more wonderful when he opened the little box that told him where he could find his real gift in the basement. I could understand why she wanted to see that; I wanted to see it too.

But now he had his skis and Dad was bouncing for the opportunity to play with his new gadget. And finally she opened the box in front of her. The last gift of the day. She pulled it out and there was a moment's hesitation before she realized what it was.

She looked at me. The room was chaos, but between us there was silence. She had tears in her eyes, which was not the reaction I'd anticipated. I'd thought I'd found the perfect music box; just the style she'd seemed to prefer. Her collection was extensive, but they were similar -- this one combined the best traits of all of them. Or so I'd thought.

"Where did you find this?" she asked. Her whispered voice inaudible in the noisy room, but her eyes making the question clear. I went and sat next to her on the couch rapidly explaining about the little flee market I'd found in Port Elgin and how it was buried at the bottom of a box in a random corner of an antiques booth. And I knew it wasn't really antique but I thought it would go so well with her collection. And I really thought she'd like it. And did she notice the detail in the silver? and what did she think of... Well I was speaking way too fast and in circles, but I was confused and worried that my perfect gift that I'd kept secret for so long had somehow upset her.

"Come with me,” she said, rising. I followed, curious. "Girl moment," she told my dad with a smile when he questioned our departure.

She led me up to the master bathroom and opened the jewelry box I'd seen a million times growing up. From it she retrieved a tiny key; the type you'd see on a young girl's diary. She sat down on the edge of the tub and I went beside her, a million questions on the tip of my tongue and somehow enough strength not to ask them. She opened the lid of the music box and winding the knob on the base caused the dancers to swirl around to the sound of Haydn’s Cello Concerto. She watched it, mesmerized. And somehow I refrained from interrupting.

She held the box up, with two fingers of each hand supporting the base and her middle fingers running along the detailing on the side, as though she were feeling for something. Suddenly the music stopped and the dancers froze. Her right hand had moved but the left had not. She fiddled for a moment and with a click the left side gave. She smiled and gave me a look that reminded me of an excited young girl about to share a secret. Nothing appeared to have changed on the box, but clearly a latch had been released as she was able to slide the front face off. Behind that was a keyhole. To which my mother held the key.

I looked to her for an explanation, but none was to be had. I had the feeling my presence had been forgotten. I peered over her shoulder excitedly as she opened the little drawer. There was a penny, what looked like a felt four-leaf clover, a pair of children's earrings, some beads, and a little card. She picked up the card gingerly and held it to her heart with her eyes closed and memories written on her face.

Returning to the moment she gave me a smile and a one-armed hug and then showed me the card that meant so much to her. Written in a distinctive scrawl I recognized as having belonged to my grandmother who had passed so many years ago, I read:

A penny for wealth,
A clover for luck,
And all my love for always.
-- Mum

Friday, December 18, 2009

Flash Fiction 17: A Christmas Tradition

Cutting it close on timing tonight! Hope you enjoy this one. Let me know your thoughts!



A Christmas Tradition

Resigned, she looked at the big white flakes obscuring the view out the airport window. It was Christmas-eve and the blizzard had delayed all flights. Indefinitely. It was starting to sound as though Santa might be the only one flying that night. Amanda half listened to the conversations around her. All people excited about reaching their destinations.

Amanda, conversely, couldn't care less where she ended up, she just wanted to get away. It was hard, too hard, to be home at Christmas.

Her parents and siblings tried their best, but their eyes conveyed the worry their forced smiles couldn't hide. And her nieces and nephews picked up on the tension, despite the best efforts of the adults. The eldest child had been only three when Alicia and Jeremy died; none of them remembered their bubbly older cousin or the uncle who always told the best jokes. And Amanda remembered them all too well.

She shook her head, physically drawing herself from the memories of her daughter and husband that even five years later had the power to devastate her. Palm trees and pina coladas. That's where her thoughts should be focused. She envisioned herself lying on the beach, soaking up the sun, and having lascivious thoughts about the cabana boy. It didn't even make her feel guilty, since she would've done the same even were Jeremy with her.

"Hi, I'm Jake," the little boy introduced himself, interrupting her wandering thoughts, "and this is my iPet, Monster," he announced quickly flashing his handheld video game towards Amanda.

"Really?" she asked, "What kind of pet is Monster?"

Jake rolled his eyes dramatically, "he's a t-rex," he informed her with the tone of an exasperated teacher. "He's only the most ferocious dinosaur ever!"

"Ferocious?" Amanda asked, "How old are you?" she questioned the precocious child, no longer having to feign interest.

"I'm five and a half," he announced importantly, "but Grandma says I'm really an adult in a little body. She won't let me go to the store by myself though. If I were really an adult I could." He gave her a look clearly requesting a reasonable explanation to that.

"Yes you're right, but I don't think you get to do adult things until you're an adult in an adult body," she tried to appeal to his logic and was rewarded with a brilliant smile. "So Mr. Adult Jake, why do you have a ferocious pet? Wouldn't you rather have one you can play with? This one could eat you!"

"No he can't, he's just a game." Jake told her, the child's literalness making her smile, "and besides, he has to help me take over the world -- you just can't do that with a chihuahua."

Laughing, Amanda questioned him: "Have you ever met a chihuahua? Little but nasty creatures. Could absolutely take on the world and win," she attempted to defend the breed she felt Darwin should take care of.

"Yes, but Monster can just step on one, and that's it. Not even hard to beat."

"Jake!" An adult voice with mixed tones of anger and fear interrupted, "You were supposed to stay put, what are you doing?" and directed at Amanda, "I'm so sorry, I had to take his sister in the washroom and he ran out while I was with her," he explained with a look at the boy that was supposed to be a glare but had too much love in it to be intimidating. A young girl stood slightly behind him, one hand in his, the other thumb in her mouth.

"It's no problem," Amanda assured him, a little surprised to realize she meant it. "He was just explaining the relative merits of a pet t-rex over a chihuahua."

"Yeah Uncle Matt, she needed to meet Monster. And I didn't go far - I could still see the washroom -- that's close enough. Besides there was nobody for me to talk to in there and girls always take so long," he said making both adults laugh as he stuck out his tongue at his little sister.

"Jake," the boy's uncle started seriously, kneeling down in front of him, "it's very important that you stay with me, even when it's boring. Ok?" Jake nodded. "Promise me?" the little boy rolled his eyes for Amanda's sake, but agreed.

"Now to settle this other issue," he started and Jake looked at him expectantly, "everybody knows a chihuahua will win out over a t-rex any day." This was greeted with instant groans and protestations, while he introduced himself in an aside to Amanda. "Jake you've met, and this is my niece Alexa. Lexi." Lexi took her thumb out of her mouth and shyly offered her hand to Amanda, never letting go of her uncle. Amanda shook it solemnly, introducing herself at the same time. "My sister's kids; I'm taking them to their grandparents for the holiday. She has to work and didn't want them to miss out."

"So where are you off to?" Matt asked conversationally.

"Warmth and pina coladas." Amanda answered with a look that suggested that topic be dropped. He seemed willing to let it go, and she was grateful for it.

Somehow Christmas-eve in the airport was not so hard when spent with the captivating family. The storm became impressive rather than a frustration as Matt kept them entertained with somewhat exaggerated, she hoped!, stories of storms past. As evening rolled into night and the airport patrons resigned themselves to the fact that they'd be spending Christmas Eve in the airport, even the most excited children fell asleep.

They spent the night quietly chatting while the children slept. Somehow Matt got her to speak of Alicia and Jeremy, even though she never told anybody about them. And somehow he directed her to the positive; she found herself telling him stories that made her laugh, and reliving memories that left her feeling truly happy for the first time since the accident.

Christmas day dawned white but clear, and sure enough flights were rescheduled and passengers ushered on as quickly as the airlines could manage. Matt and kids entreated Amanda to join them for Christmas, but still overwhelmed by the night before, Amanda retreated rapidly, claiming a tradition of beach Christmases that could not be broken.

Several hours later, Amanda was lying on the beach, listening to the waves roll up towards her feet, sipping occasionally on her pina colada, and amusing herself with the fanciful idea that Matt was her Santa Clause, giving her the ability to live again. She was even considering that just possibly next year, she'd spend the holiday with her family when she heard the voice.

"I'd really rather not have Christmas dinner alone tonight; would you be willing to join me?" And as Matt settled into the beach chair next to hers, a new Christmas tradition was born.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Flash Fiction 16: An Exhausting Night

hahaha so a bit of a deviation from my usual style. I'd be curious to know what you think!

As always - thanks for reading :) Enjoy!

An Exhausting Night:

Dinner was late. Again. And the stupid pet kept trying to steal my food, one paw swoop @ a time. Really. Civilized creatures shouldn't have to put up with such behavior.

The door to the outside was shut again -- a suggestion that I should stay in for the night. But that's something pets do, and I am not a pet. So I jumped up and hung off the door handle and it opened easily. I left it open behind me so I'd be able to get back in later.

I darted out into the shadows between the house and the bushes and paused there, deciding what to do next. First drink, then food. There's a mini-human in the house next door who left perfectly good milk out on the porch. I got up and helped myself to a drink, but had to leave quickly when the mini-human opened her door. The first time I was so absorbed in the sweet milk I let her come outside. That was a mistake I'll never make again. Spent the night trapped in that prison of a house being chased by not only her but three other mini-humans who if they caught me would squash me, or pull on my tail, or carry me around -- sometimes even upside-down! How undignified. And their door had one of those round handles not meant for paws. I couldn't get out. Had to hide until morning and dart out with the big human. Never again. So now I drink what milk I can and leave.

After my thirst was satisfied I warmed up with a quick dart up the tree. I wasn’t really trying to catch those birds of course – if I wanted to, obviously I would’ve. I just wanted to make sure they didn’t get too comfortable in my tree.

I hopped out of the tree, landing lightly and stalked across my yard. A simple leap landed me on top of the fence, which I paraded along to the complete frustration of the pathetic dog that lived in the other yard. Outside all the time and could never figure out how to open the gate. I vanished into the next yard just as I heard his owner open the door to yell at him and force him back inside. Mission accomplished. You’d think one of these days he’d be smart enough to keep his mouth closed. But then, we’ve already established he’s not the smartest critter on four legs. With him gone I was free to enter the yard and eat the remains of his dinner. Way better than mine. And I wasn’t forced to share.

I left his yard and began the long hike across town. Had to stop to avoid the obnoxious drivers who clearly didn’t understand that I had right-of-way. Was not amused at that. Chased a mouse, but it let it go when it turned off my route – after all, I had more important things to do.

And then, I was finally there. But the door was closed – no way in. I prowled around. A leaf blew in front of me so I pounced on it in frustration. And then I backed off and crouched down waiting for it to move again. When it did, I was ready. Caught it mid-air and batted it all around. The wind caught it and carried it up, but I was ready for that escape attempt and quickly climbed up the tree to catch it on the top branch. But as I did that, I saw it. The open window, not even five feet away. There wasn’t even a screen to claw through. An easy leap. I crouched down and wiggled my hind muscles in preparation for the jump, but then I paused. Was the window really open enough for me to fit through? It would be really undignified to hit the window and fall. That would be stupid pet behavior. And I am not a pet. But I wanted to be inside. I lowered myself, prepared, and leapt!

And of course I made it in no problem. An easy jump for an expert such as myself. I casually licked the sap off my front paws and made my face presentable before heading into the depths of the house. I listened carefully; if the people heard me, they’d throw me out. But they had long since gone to bed, so I was free to explore.

I was silent as I searched the house, and finally I found her. All curled up, asleep, on the softest of furs. I huddled down and pounced. A rude awakening perhaps, but she rebounded quickly. The two of us chased each other around the house with no thought of the noise we were making till one of the people yelled. Quickly we crouched backwards in separate directions. She paraded out where she could be seen, tail high and fluffed, and the human realized his mistake. Who was he to yell at one as brilliant as she? The human slunk back into his room, clearly ashamed at his behavior. She came back and rubbed her scent against mine. And really, the rest is absolutely none of your business.

Far too soon it was time for me to leave. Going out the window was far easier than coming in had been. I was feeling pretty proud of myself as I hiked home. And was glad that this time the car understood that it had to get out of my way, although I was rather puzzled that it chose to go up the curb to do so. Such a loud and unnecessary noise. Foolish driver. I avoided the dog’s home; the food was gone and he’s no challenge to my intellect, so why bother? Besides, it’d been a long night and I was tired.

Finally get home to see they’d closed the door. The door that I’d purposely left open. I was not amused. I howled my frustration but they failed to respond in a timely manner. Stupid humans. I was forced to lurk around my own home until one of them left in the morning. I stalked by, refusing to acknowledge them, making my annoyance known. They sometimes have to be reminded to show me the proper respect. At least she remembered to give me my gourmet snacks. I have her well trained to feed me every time I deign to return.

I climbed up to my room and was pleased to discover they had done a decent job of preparing my bed for me. The blanket was nice and flat, all stretched out and ready to be kneaded into the perfect position. It took me a moment or two to get it exactly perfect, and I was finally able to relax. Leave me alone now; it was an exhausting night.

Sherlock, after an exhausting night.
The photo that inspired the story.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Flash Fiction 15: Please Don't Tell

So the challenge this week was to take somebody else’s first line and write a story off of it. This was by ReyOLight on the Editor’s Unleashed forum. Rey’s Blog here if anybody’s interested :)

My fairy godmother was neither a fairy nor a god. In fact, she was a rather cranky old hag. Just don't tell her I said so.

You'd think helping people out would be part of her job description -- or so I always did anyways! But every time I'd call her, all I'd get is a lecture. "Do you think wands grow on trees?!?! I'm a busy woman, what makes you think I have time for this? There are starving children in Africa!" I never understood what starving children would've had to do with my dream date for the prom, but even as a teen I knew better than to question. Wouldn't want to be turned into a pumpkin!

My fairy godmother (or FG as I secretly referred to her) appeared at the strangest times in my life, always when I felt no need for her and never when I wanted her. That dream date? Never happened. My wedding? I begged for her assistance, but she was far too busy. She had time to show up for the open-bar though! And let me tell you, a drunk FG is a scary FG. But don't tell her I said so.

But on the birth of my first child when I was exhausted and completely astonished and happier than I could imagine, she was there. And truth be told, not entirely welcome. But don't tell her I said so.

One day after hitting rock bottom in the business world and being told, yet again, that she wouldn't help me, I lost it as I never had when I was a teen. FG seemed just as ready to explode. "You think this is an easy job???" she demanded.

"Well yeah,” I rolled my eyes, behaving as childishly as I sounded, “You get to travel the world making people's dreams come true. How is that bad?"

"And how about when to make people truly happy, you have to leave their wish unfulfilled. The ONE thing they want, that you know they are better off without. What do you do then? How do you do your job without being a cranky old hag?" I blushed. I couldn't help it. Instantly utterly appalled at all the horrid things I'd ever thought of her. And I thought back over my unrealized dreams. The date I never had with the guy who ended up cheating on his wife; the wedding that brought me back together with my mother when I had nobody else to turn to; the company I started when I couldn't find anybody to hire me... None of which would've happened if FG had granted what I'd begged.

I’d like to say that I smartened up and began to behave like the adult I was, but really, I’m human. I still asked for things and got huffy when FG couldn’t bother to help me, or was snarky in her response. But as time went on, she annoyed me less and less, until one day FG didn't seemed either old or so cranky. But please don't tell her I said so.