Trifecta

Every week, twice a week these days, I participate in a fiction writing meme put out by the editors at  Trifecta. Lisa Harvey and David Moore issue a weekly challenge based on the rule of three. They pick a word out of the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, then they ask us to use the third definition of that word to write a short story between 33 and 333 words. It’s my kind of challenge.  They also run the weekend Trifextra challenge, which is always a surprise instruction.

The strength of the writing community I have had access to since joining this group is mind boggling. I have always wanted this kind of writer’s group, and I’ve never had it face to face. Ever. I feel like I’ve stumbled upon a 21st century Bloomsbury group.

When in Rome

Last modified on 2012-08-02 03:31:02 GMT. 16 comments. Top.

Sometimes, I dream in normal. I dress myself in jeans and a feminine cut shirt above my trendy socks. Nobody looks my way. When I take my kids to school, I smile to the teachers in the carpool line. (And the children, of course, go to public school, where they get average grades.)  Nothing makes me cry. No strange impulses bubble up to subsume my intentions. When I mold myself of normal, my eyes know just where to linger and for how long. My gaze is never out of place. I go to the movies and I don’t twitch with the need to shout at the screen. Nothing makes me yell. My voice is perfectly modulated, even in anger. My words are never thumbtacks.

But normal, whatever its range, doesn’t extend to my waking life. I was born slantwise to the world, and I can’t step in time no matter who calls the tune. So instead I pretend like I meant it this way. I act like those combustions that just erupted from my mouth amount to ideas, and I go forward as if to act on them. And then I do act. I pretend to enjoy being unlike.

I don’t hate it. When I curse and rail, which is often, it is not against the things that make me. It is, rather, against the people who want to unmake me. It is against the candy-apple world that fears biting into us worms. But when I dream, when it isn’t the nightmares consuming me again, it is of an unremarkable life free from extraordinary needs. I want to let someone else be different for awhile.

Still, I know that when I get out of bed, as surely as if I had reached for it, my body will assume the mantle. My feet will wind me a new corkscrew path. As soon as I open my eyes, I will be myself once more, and as always, I will be anything but normal.

_____________________________________

We’re all acting a little normal over at Trifecta this week. I’m well aware that the second definition is “one that is normal”, and it always makes me antsy when I’ve got more than one definition in my piece, so I’ll draw attention to the overall idea here that there IS some kind of a standard to which we adhere, consciously  or not. And I’ll point out Merriam Webster’s third definition of standard, as well:: ”something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example.”

Flori’s New Pet

Last modified on 2012-07-26 15:03:31 GMT. 21 comments. Top.

I

 “How’d you get dry ice?”

Cal wiggled the fingers of one hand and smiled at Flori. He could have been suggesting theft or magic.

She kissed him. “Nice touch.”

Flori turned to the tables. She made sure she could see all of them from the stage, no matter where she stood. She flexed her fingers and all the chairs scooted out. She closed her fists and they returned to their places.

“Don’t test it again,” Cal advised. “They’re coming.”

“All right.” Flori moved both dry ice containers under the central table, forcing them well to the middle, lids and all. Then she put two barrels of beer down there as well. If anybody asked, she could show them the beer. There was room at this table for Urre and Kulta, Aurelia with her First, and one empty chair if Flori had to sit. If anything happened to Cal at this duel, she thought she would need more than a chair.

She stalked around the stage one more time.  It wasn’t enough that the furniture obeyed her will. She wanted insurance. She didn’t have time to find any. Aurelia strode in the front door, her hair bound in golden braids that twisted into a headpiece like a thousand snakes. Cal said, “Lady Medusa.”

Flori’s eyes were fixed on Aurelia’s First. She didn’t know the name, but she knew the man. She wondered if he recognized her. She didn’t much resemble the street thief who had stolen his wallet half a year ago. She stroked her hip where she still carried it. After he hunted her so hard, she went back and got the folded leather out of the trash. Now, she understood why he had chased her all over the city for its return. He was no little tourist. And the material still probably contained enough of his essence that Flori could use it to influence him if she had to. Insurance.  Suddenly, she smiled. “My lady,” she greeted Aurelia.

“Tell me,” said Aurelia, “why you volunteered to host.”

Cal intervened as he wove his way through the chairs to stand beside Flori.  He said, “My parents want to kill me anyway, and I have very little to lose. The drug is a cruel mistress, and I let her use me badly.  If I die here, my debt is paid. If you duel to compromise, the risk pays my debt, and I can appeal to the Goddess of Mercy to cure my addiction.”

Aurelia’s First said, “You don’t speak like an addict.”

“I took enough lartë to transform myself into a man for a little while.”

“Fascinating way around the addiction. Turn yourself into the animal you are supposed to be in the first place.”

Aurelia said, “And where are your parents? I am, I assure you, eager to begin.”

A thump from the back answered her question. Flori articulated what they had all realized. “I believe they are satisfied that we haven’t consorted with you to deceive them.”

“Do they think I would descend to conspire with you?”

“They think Cal would aspire to it. And as you’ve seen, he has a silver tongue.”

A moment later, Urre and Kulta emerged from the back room, Kulta pretending he hadn’t just dunked himself in a barrel of beer. He wasn’t succeeding. With some dignity, he shook his wet hair back from his face. He said, “Lady Medusa, you’ll want to send someone to collect your Second. I believe I landed on him. It set me off balance.”

Aurelia began, “If I have no Second…”

Kulta said, “My second was Jason Cartwright. I sacrifice the right to Second.”

Aurelia nodded once. She said, “I name my First Luster of the House Berkilau.”

Kulta nodded to his wife. “My first is Urre.”

Cal said, “The parties are present. The terms are agreed. Let us begin. Admit your warriors. Flori, bind me.”

The doors on either side of the hall opened now, and seven armed fighters from each gang entered. Aurelia and Kulta both said, “I’ll supervise.”

“Do it yourselves,” Flori said. “I’ll give you no cause to suspect me of having set him up to be freed.”

Cal’s eyes widened. He had not expected this. Flori smiled. She turned to the Firsts, Cal’s mother Urre and and the man who had come with Lady Aurelia, Luster Berkilau. “Madam Urre, Lord Medusa, while they tie the tribute to the wheel, you will kindly pay me for the use of my uncle’s hall.” She was handed two envelopes, which she took out into the alley and gave to a messenger.

When she returned, Cal was thoroughly affixed to the death wheel at center stage. She hopped up and kissed him.  She did not breathe reassurances. “Now.” She turned to the warring gangs. “Aurelia carries the complaint here, and so Urre and Kulta have supplied the tribute.” She chose her words carefully. “If they have betrayed you, Lady Medusa, then their son dies.”

She spread her fingers and the chairs skidded back. “Be seated. Send your first warriors.”

A behemoth of a man who nobody had seen entering the hall rose behind Aurelia. “I have no second,” she said, “And so I’ll send in my third.” Her smile suggested that the man Kulta had landed upon had never been her second.

Kulta narrowed his eyes and pointed to one of his own fighters.  Flori took the wheel by one hand and spun Cal in a nauseating circle. They all waited until the wheel stopped with his head pointed towards the axes.  As the men took the appointed weapons and mounted the stage, Flori stood back beside Cal. She reached out her mind and began loosening his ropes. She would let Aurelia’s mammoth kill Kulta’s first warrior before she pulled off the central binding, and she wouldn’t light that rope until the second death.  But after that, when the smoke smell had wafted from behind Cal’s wheel out into the hall, she would knock over the table where the gang heads sat together,  along with the barrels of dry ice. She would only release Cal when the combatants all attacked across the false smoke she hoped they would blame upon each other.

She smiled at the men and held up an arm. She said, “It begins here,” and snatched her hand out of the way as the blades attacked.

II

Kulta’s goon swiped wide and Aurelia’s mammoth dodged. Then, as one, they turned and ran for the wheel.

 

Flori screamed, “Cal!”

Cal fell, and Flori ran to him as the fighters jumped off the stage. There was no blood  “What’s going on?” he said.

“You’re…” But he was fine. They’d cut his ropes. Their axes stuck in the wheel in two different places. Flori didn’t speak further. Cal’s muscles were starting to quiver, a telltale sign that his lartë was wearing off and his addiction floating to the surface. She lay protectively on top of him, and they watched the room from the stage.

All fifteen fighters stood in a circle surrounding Urre and Kulta, weapons drawn. The mammoth had placed himself directly in front of Kulta, but warriors from both sides held weapons against the pair. It seemed Aurelia didn’t need to lower herself to consort with the tribute and hostess. She had already corrupted her rival’s guards. Aurelia stood. As soon as she moved, the swords all pulled up into a smart military stance and spun to face her.

“Did you really think I would duel you?” Her golden headpiece quivered. It didn’t just resemble snakes; it was a mass of serpents. A dozen tongues flicked around Lady Medusa’s head.  “Did you think that I would stoop to such strife?” Kulta tried to speak, but something held back his voice.”I didn’t come to duel you, I came  to erase you. I have never known a gang so foul that it showed no loyalty to its own family.”

Urre burst out, “Cal’s a thief.”

“Tsk.” Aurelia shook her head. All of the snakes wiggled gently atop her skull. “You try him for the selfsame crime you committed against me.” Aurelia’s tone suggested deep fascination with Urre’s words. Her smile suggested lasting amusement.

“We took nothing of yours!”

“My snakes tell me your voice rings true. But I know the falsehood. Let me correct you. You took nothing of mine. But your husband, I believe, has something still. Retrieve it.” Aurelia flicked her finger, and the mammoth man hoisted Kulta up and began stripping him, layer at a time, starting with his vest.

“It’s in my shirt pocket,” Kulta snarled. The giant ripped off the shirt. He handed it to Luster, who shook a vial of what looked like lartë out of the pocket.

Aurelia accepted it. “Pity you kept only its essence. You can’t give back the snake’s life. Otherwise, I’m in the habit of cancelling debts with small criminals.”

Urre gaped now at Kulta. “And I believed you. You’re no better than your son.”

“And you,” said Lady Aurelia, “are worse than both of them. What mother sacrifices her own child?”

Now Urre’s mouth gummed up as thoroughly as Kulta’s had before.

Aurelia laughed. “Never mind. It’s done.” She nodded to the giant. “End it.”

“No!” Cal threw Flori off and staggered from the stage. The shakes consumed him now, so that he quivered and twitched. He had used his last burst of strength, and he couldn’t keep his feet. He crawled towards Aurelia once he landed.

“Oh my, what a complicated family.  All the city knows that your parents have named your life forfeit. And you say ‘no’ when I substitute theirs instead. You can’t possibly be suffering from filial loyalty. Can you?”

Cal’s body jerked on the floor. He had thrown Flori against the weapons table, which collapsed, scattering blades. She couldn’t move fast without getting cut, but she did palm a dagger before she rose gingerly and began picking her way out of the mess. Nobody stopped her.

Aurelia motioned to her behemoth, who picked Kulta up by the ankles this time and started shaking him. Urre blurted, “There’s always some in my bag.” The man dropped Kulta and located the bag under the table. He handed it to Luster.

Flori said, “Have a care for the latch. Open it with your knife or you’ll get a poisoned cut.”

Luster did as Flori suggested and produced a vial of lartë. Before Aurelia let him give it to Cal, she took it herself and poured it together with the snake’s final essence. “Don’t do that to him!” Flori, clear of the weapons, made a rolling dive off the stage towards Luster as he stepped towards Cal. Her dagger sliced through his belt, and she snatched at the leather as she curled away from him, holding it in the opposite hand.

“Goddess Beyond!” said the First. But he poured the vial down Cal’s throat anyway.

“No!” Flori landed under a table. She flipped out into a crouch and moved to cast the belt aside. It hissed at her, and before she could let it go, it flash coiled around her arm. Immobilized by fear, she watched Cal’s herky movements slow, then cease.

Then, with a pop, he stopped twitching entirely. He got up on his elbows. “That was unfair. She thought you were turning me into a snake.”

Lady Aurelia turned to Flori. “Lartë is lartë, whatever serpent it comes from.”

“Oh.” Flori held out her arm and its newly resident snake.

Aurelia crouched beside the young thief and hissed softly. The snake didn’t move. Aurelia said, “It won’t come to me, dear.”

Then, the creature lost substance, became flat against Flori’s skin. It soaked into her, through her shirt where it lay on top of it, and transformed into a black tattoo that ran from somewhere in the middle of her back down to her wrist.

“What an enjoyable group you are.” Aurelia extended one long arm, and Flori had no choice but to allow the Lady Medusa to help her stand.  “We’ll sit now and let yon Cal try to persuade me his parents’ lives are worth saving. And then I will tell you why his plight interested me enough to come down from my den.” She resumed her seat.  “Come along now,” she said. “Don’t keep me waiting.”

The warriors added a chair at the table for Cal, and Urre and Kulta slowly sat again. Aurelia smiled. There was no question who owned the duel. The only real point of concern was who would leave the hall alive with her. Flori tightened the muscles of her newly tattooed arm and hoped fervently to be in that number.

 III

 

“Luster,” Aurelia nodded to her First, “Tells me that you are an amazing thief,  Flori.” Slowly, her hair relaxed until it was not a nest of snakes but an elegant coif of braids once again.

The man did recognize her. Flori jerked out her wallet and threw it on the table. “Here, take it!” She wished she had left it in the trash. Keeping souvenirs from a lift was never a good idea. It skidded and fell open to reveal a pouch Flori had never noticed. A head popped up, the compartments became wings, and instead of staring at her wallet, she was looking at a small dragon. It belched smoke. “It’s yours,” she told Luster.

“It was yours when it failed to poison you.”

The dragon gave a toothy yawn.

Luster said, “That is a venomous breed. It should have pricked you when you tried to steal it. When you got it out of my pocket, it should have killed you. And when you tied me up with the constabulary and went back to its trash can, the little monster should have pecked your eyes…”

“You were the one got the flic involved.”

“Of course I did. I’m a respected citizen, and it should have been the fastest way to catch you.”

Aurelia shook her braids at Luster, who fell silent. She said “Of course, it didn’t do that. Which makes you interesting to the Yilan.”

On Flori’s left, Cal hiccupped, popped, and turned into a bear.

“What just happened?”

“He changed,” said Luster.

“He already changed,” said Flori.  “It’s because you mixed the snake and dragon essence!”Aurelia didn’t answer. Cal popped again. The bear became a kitten, which hopped onto the table and then fell on its face. “He needs an antidote.”  Flori rose.

“Sit down.” Aurelia slammed her hand on the table, and the kitten, which had almost regained its feet, fell over again. Flori sat. The kitten picked up its face and found itself nose to nose with the small dragon.

Flori seized the dragon just before it bit. “No,” she told it. Then she stood up, balancing the dragon in front of her in one palm.

“Sit,” Aurelia repeated. Her hair twisted once more, threatening to return to its reptilian roots.

Flori aimed the dragon at Aurelia and pushed it. The reptile didn’t fly away. It dug sharp toenails into Flori’s palm and balanced where it stood. But it hissed at Aurelia, which was enough to both fully awaken the snakes and make their owner widen her eyes. Without looking away from Lady Medusa,  Flori walked to Urre’s open kit and lifted it from Luster’s side. She carried it to Urre, who reached in, then handed Flori a syringe. The dragon hopped up to Flori’s shoulder.

The kitten popped, and now a creature with a dog’s head and an alligator’s body sprawled in its place. Flori stabbed Cal where his alligator flesh met his dog fur.  He popped and lay as himself, quivering, splayed across the table. The little dragon flapped forward and sank its teeth into his neck.

Cal sat up. “That hurt”

Aurelia said, “I believe his addiction has given him tolerance for the poison. It’s undiluted lartë.”

Cal crawled off the table and back to his seat. But he didn’t shake. He was solid. Urre, however, was quaking. “You were bluffing,” Flori said. “You never meant to kill him. Even back above the warehouse.”

“He’s a damnable thief,” Urre snapped. Then her voice softened. “But he’s my son. We meant to put the fear of death in him and make him work for the family until the addiction was cured and the debt paid. When he volunteered to set up the meeting with Lady Medusa, I thought it was working. I didn’t know…”

“My patience runs thin.” All the snakesin Aurelia’s hair were hissing now, their fangs pointed towards Kulta, who had killed their kinsman to initiate the feud between the gangs. “You,” she indicated Urre and Kulta, “owe me for the death of one of my own. “You,” she pointed to Flori, who was holding the little dragon in her palm again, “owe me for the theft of two valuable pets.” Flori’s new tattoo, the snake which had been Luster’s belt, stung for a moment. “And you,” she said to Cal, “owe me your life. I have no idea why you couldn’t hold a form, but the snake lartë is a curative, and you were dying. Truth be told, I have no interest in this little gang. I needed to get close to a young woman who has not remained still long enough for me to catch her, even though I’ve known almost exactly where she was for the last six months.” Aurelia fixed Flori between her eyes. “If you will steal one thing for me, then I will cancel all these debts.”

Flori didn’t say anything.

Aurelia went on, “Someone has been poisoning the dragons. I know who, but only a few of the dragons trust in me. They know I run to snakes. You, on the other hand carry one them, and you are a thief besides, which is what they need. They would let you in. The killing must stop or there will be no lartë to trade in this city. You help your own business as much as mine by agreeing.”

“Doesn’t sound like you need a thief.”

“I need you to steal the poisoner.”

“Kidnap, you mean.”

“She is a gnome. Taking her will be more like an act of thievery.”

Flori tensed all her muscles and flexed her fingers. She applied gentle pressure, and the dragon folded back into a wallet. She put it in her pocket and closed her fist behind her back. She said, “I’ll consider it, and we’ll talk again on my terms.”

Luster said, “I do not think…”

Flori shouted, “Hi, Cal, now!”

That was the signal, the one they had agreed upon when the scheme was to rob Aurelia of her money and Urre and Kulta of their drugs. Flori opened her closed hand, and furniture and weaponry flew outward. The vats with the dry ice overturned..

Flori seized Cal’s hand. Together, they ran out back for the bikes. Flori jumped on her motorcycle and pulled her goggles down. She sped out of the alley, Cal behind her. She heard Urre and Kulta’s machines roar to life nearby. On a whim, Flori stopped, and Cal did the same. When his parents came up the street, the thief and her lover fell in behind them.

Kulta gunned his engine and turned sharply down a side street. Flori and Cal followed, and Flori felt a rush of familiarity. This was no different than running away from Luster when she stole his wallet in the first place. She took a sharp turn and wondered where the chase would end this time.

_________________

Ahh yes. Those poor people at Trifecta made the mistake of giving me more than 333 words again. And I seem to have fallen into the same story arc. This one should stand alone, but here are the prequels

Flori 1

Flori 2

Flori 3

Inviting water

Last modified on 2012-07-07 19:54:55 GMT. 12 comments. Top.

Anna said, “I’m sorry, Mom.” She looked out the kitchen window towards the traitorous pool, where she would not be swimming today, after all.

“I just wish you’d told me sooner.” Kaya drank her herbal tea slowly. She pushed a second cup towards Anna, who didn’t touch it.

Then Anna got up. She meant to leave, but instead, she grabbed her swim cover up off the back of her mother’s chair. She wasn’t cold, but she felt naked. The bikini had been ill advised.

Kaya set down her mug and rubbed her own temples. “There would have been more we could have done about it then.”

“You would have let me…?”

“Not my call. And not your father’s either.”

Anna rubbed her abdomen and counted off days on the calendar on the wall behind Kaya.

Her mother said, “Sweetie, the world won’t end in three days when he gets home.”

“It ended when you walked in the door.”

“I apologize for my fever.”

Anna looked down at the perfect little basketball that rode in front of her everywhere she went. She wished she looked more like her mother, whose body had turned lumpy and nondescript with pregnancy. She wished she had still been wearing her blousy pajama shirt when Kaya came back from work an hour after she left. She wished school was still in session and she was sitting in Algebra.

“Do we have to tell Daddy?”

Kaya reached across the table and captured one of Anna’s hands before her daughter could pull it out of the way. “Of course we do. You wouldn’t have been able to hide it much longer anyway. You need to see an OB-Gyn. I don’t suppose you’ve had any prenatal care at all?”

Anna shook her head.

“Come on sweetheart. We’ll get through this together.”

Anna snatched back her hand and stormed away from the table. She went out beside the pool to bake in the sun. She had never felt so alone in her life.

___________________

And this week’s challenge for Trifextra is “The world will end in three days”. My response? “No it won’t.”

Shaping the map (NSFW) Flash Fiction Month Challenge and Trifecta

Last modified on 2012-07-04 04:38:23 GMT. 27 comments. Top.

Diana shouted, “You’re a goddamned hand mucker.” But she took the razor Trent handed through the shower curtain.

He said, “Fair’s fair. You lost.”

She snarled, “You cheated.”

He didn’t answer.

She hit the pits first. They took ages, and she had to rinse the blade between strokes. Then she moved on to her legs.

After the first one she yelled, “I need a replacement.”

“You don’t have to shout.” He pushed it through the curtain.

She attacked the second leg with a little too much vigor and got a red running slice for her trouble. After that, she demanded a third razor. “God almighty don’t tiny cuts bleed a lot in water?”

She stood in the shower, letting the water thunder down her back.  Trent offered, “I could climb in and do it for you.”

“Fuck you.”

Diana hiked her left leg up into the soap dish and propped her ass against the wall. She started on the inner thigh, working across until she reached the middle. Then she took the left leg down and propped her right leg on the lip of the tub to attack the jungle from the other side. When she was done, the only hair left was on top of her head. She looked at the drain and said, “I can see why some people wax.”

When she turned off the water , celebratory explosions carried in from outside.

“Happy New Year,” said Trent.

Diana stepped out of the shower. Trent stood naked against the door with his arms splayed to either side of the frame. A rubber band affixed the ace and king of hearts to his left wrist. In his right hand, he held a can of shaving cream.

“You did cheat.” More bombs popped in the distance. In the bathroom, Diana said, “Now I’ll show you some goddamned fireworks.”

“Yes, I did.” And Trent reached up to the shelf beside the sink and handed her a fourth razor. “And I hope you will.”

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The folks running the flash fiction month challenge somehow neglected to give us a specific prompt today.  That’s okay. Trifecta gave us a great one: Fireworks. And in case you’re wondering about my personal position on the topic of ladyscaping, I think Amanda Fucking Palmer has the right attitude. (Yes, gasp, I’m embedding a video.)

Priorities

Last modified on 2012-06-28 04:36:59 GMT. 21 comments. Top.

At the eighth grade dance, Patty Ann Lawson kicked Tricia Smiley in the shin. Tricia caught Patty’s vest in her fist. “Anthony Gray’s bombed or he wouldn’t have tried kissing me.” She held Patty at arm’s length. “I try not to punch deserving assholes in public.”

“Is something the matter?” Mrs. Haverty descended.

“We’re dancing.” Tricia suddenly pulled the much smaller Patty in close.

Patty seized Tricia’s arms. “Dancing!” she echoed, and tried a couple of steps to Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake”.

“ I’d suggest you dance a little less roughly. I could year you ‘singing along’ over there.”

“Yes ma’am.”

The chaperone left, and the girls jumped apart. Patty dusted her vest where Tricia had been clutching it. “We broke up.”

“Then why are you coming after me? Seems like you already did yourself a favor.” Katy Perry changed to Justin Bieber. “God. I’m going to the bathroom. I can’t stand the shit they play at these things.” Tricia stalked away.

“Wait up.”

“What the hell?”

“ I don’t want you to think I’m following you when I go to the same place for the same reason.”

In the bathroom, Tricia climbed up on a sink and forced open a window. She lit a cigarette and blew smoke out into the night.

“That’s so gross.”

“I didn’t ask for your opinion.”

Patty swept Tricia’s pack off the counter and into the trash. She plucked the freshly lit butt out of Tricia’s fingers and rammed it down the uncovered sink drain all in a piece.

She hissed, “Wash your hands,” as Mrs. Haverty appeared in the doorway.

When the teacher left, Tricia said, “Thanks. I think.” She dug her smokes out of the garbage.

Patty shrugged. “I guess I figured out I owed you a favor.”

“Tricia said, “No you don’t. You don’t owe me anything.” But she held the door for Patty on the way back to the gym, and they sat together on the bleachers, mocking Justin Bieber and Anthony Gray.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The final Trifecta week 33 challenge asked us to respond to Smashing Pumpkins “Thirty-Three”. It’s a dark song that sounds to me like it’s about a guy whose marriage proposal has just been rejected, or maybe his girlfriend just killed herself. Anyway, because I never respond to a musical prompt the way I expect, I wound up at a high school dance with the heavy footfalls and that sense of imminent tragedy.  (Funny aside. When I was a kid, the words “tragedy” and “strategy” threw me. I always said “Stragedy” and “Trategy”.) Smashing Pumpkins are forever associated, for me, with being a pariah. Mellon Collie was released when I was 19. By then, I was 3/4 of the way to finishing my BA, but I was only four years into expunging high school from my system. My sister owned Siamese Dream, and I’m pretty sure Dad owned Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. None of this is very useful, but it may give you a sense of the frame of mind the song put me in.

Rent

Last modified on 2012-06-27 19:31:37 GMT. 19 comments. Top.

Lady Beatrice whispered, “Magda can’t find out.”

Lord Bertram pulled her thigh closer to his lips. “Never.”

Then the world rent open with a piercing scream and a jagged hole in the wall. Lord Bertram threw Lady Beatrice onto the bed. A crier shouted, “To arms! To his majesty’s chambers!”  Bertram scrambled into his breeches and a tunic and ran to answer that call.

And then he reappeared in the wall’s hole, but it wasn’t him at all. This man looked exactly like Bertram, but he wore a mud leather helmet and a strange mask. Instead of a tunic, he had a short coat and strange breeches.  He carried Magda’s body in his arms, and then he dropped her.

Forgetting her nakedness, Beatrice ran to her dead sister. Only just as the man was not really Bertram, the woman wasn’t really Magda. Her open, vacant eyes, were brown as the man’s muddy helmet, and her hair was dark instead of golden.

“Who are you?”

“I’m his majesty’s bombardier and gunner, and I am your lover, Lady Bea.”

“Where is my sister? “This isn’t Magda!”

“This Magda is the only one who matters to us.”

“ Why is she dead?”

The bombardier looked over at the bed Beatrice and Bertram had so recently vacated. “She stabbed her own Beatrice in vengeance, then took poison.”

“No!”

“Your sister  is coming now.”

“She would not kill me.”

“She is the paladin’s wife, and she will.  Death settles every score. None can ask reckoning of the dead.”

Then he reached for her. “But she need not find you. Where I come from, you are wholly mine now. Your living sister can have that Bertram forever. Will you return with me through the hole?

Beatrice understood his truth as she heard her sister near to  the bedchamber. “Oh Bea!” Magda’s voice was laden with despair.

Beatrice reached back to the bombardier. She took his hand and he pulled her close. Together, they stepped through the hole to forever.

__________________________________________

This is my second submission for Trifecta’s 33rd weekly prompt. This prompt is a bit more traditional. Well, as traditional as anything ‘Trifecta’ gets. We’re being asked to take off on the third definition of ‘score’.

Thrice Told

Last modified on 2012-06-27 14:13:25 GMT. 31 comments. Top.

This week, Trifecta celebrates its 33rd weekly challenge. It’s actually three challenges, and it ends at 8AM tomorrow. I’ve been travelling, so posting these has had to wait. That means you’ll be hearing from me three times today (and then I’ll be quiet on Thursday). The first challenge is to respond to the following quotation

“What I tell you three times is true.” — Lewis Carroll.

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Thrice Told

A young mother wore her baby through the airport and pulled two suitcases behind. She was alone.  “My husband died,” she said to the woman beside her in the boarding area.

Her husband quickly joined her then. “Don’t say that.”

They boarded the plane, and the flight attendant flipped the suitcases up overhead. “Do you need any of this to go under the seat?”

The mother adjusted her wrap to buckle her seat belt “No. Thank you for the help with the bags. My husband died.”

Her husband smiled and shook his head. He sat beside his wife. He brushed her ear with his lips and whispered, “Shhh.”

The baby fussed after takeoff, and the mother handed it her cell phone cover. While the baby twisted and bit the rubbery pink plastic, its mother leaned back and closed her eyes. She wept.

A woman asked, “What’s wrong?”

“My husband…”

“No,” said the husband. “Please stop saying that.” He touched his wife’s face with his fingertips. “Please don’t say it ever again.”

“… died”

His body broke into a thousand particles and scattered through the cabin. The passengers gaped at the spray of light that flooded down the aisle and raced from person to person, like a blindingly bright bird looking for escape. Finally, the pieces gathered and floated towards a window. They crossed through and out, vanishing into the clouds and sun.

The wife patted the warm spot in her husband’s now empty seat. She wiped her eyes with a napkin and settled the baby once more on her chest. Her face seemed more haggard now, more tired, and more wrinkled.  But her eyes were only a little red. The cart came and she took crackers. Her body seemed to grow as she ate them, to swell and fill the place formerly occupied by her spouse. It was as if he had been dead for a long time, and she had, in the rising plane, finally managed to let him go.

Blue

Last modified on 2012-06-19 15:21:17 GMT. 47 comments. Top.

Rachael crunched through the yard. A pinecone, crunch. Dead leaves, double crunch. Her feet on the ground sounded like her teeth when she bit into a ripe, crisp apple. When she tired of crunching, she decided to swing. Kick up, lean back; tuck feet, lean forward. It seemed backwards to her that she should lean back to move her body forward and lean forward to move her body back.  But her Daddy said life was backwards sometimes. She had tried to do it the other way, leaning forward to go up and back to go down, but she didn’t go much of anywhere.

Daddy had not called her for lunch yet, so Rachael went on swinging, and she sang a song.

I can’t get enough of this thing

My backwards-ackwards swing.

Daddy still had not called for lunch, so she dragged her feet until the swing stopped, then went inside without being asked. She went to the office and said, “Daddy, it’s time for lunch.”

“What? Oh. Sorry sweetie. I guess I lost track of the time.” Daddy came out looking sleepy and led them back to the kitchen.

Rachael climbed into her seat. “When will Mama and the baby be home?”

Daddy leaned against the fridge for a moment, then went on getting out the jelly. “Mama should be home tomorrow or the next day, sweetie.”

“Will she bring the baby with her?”

“No honey.” Daddy set the jelly on the counter and sat beside Rachel. “The baby died.”

“Ohh.” Rachael leaned into Daddy and put an arm around him. “Is that why you’re so blue?”

“Yes.”

“Is it one of those backwards things? Like my swing but not fun?”

“I guess so sweetie. I guess so.” Daddy hugged her back with with one arm, then both. They sat together at the table, holding onto each other,  holding back the blue.

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Come shed a tear with us at Trifecta this week, where all of us are blue. (Uh metaphorically. Not like, really. Or not all of us. That’s this week’s word, okay?)

On The Draw

Last modified on 2012-06-14 21:39:18 GMT. 19 comments. Top.

Brenda Cowden stepped out of the club’s back door and took a long draw.  She tried to stop her legs from shaking. When they wouldn’t, she finally sat in the alley beside two days of garbage and a leaky dumpster.  The cigarette  slipped from her fingers to smolder in a pile of refuse.

“Put that thing out.” Her roommate Annie left the club as well and crushed the smoke under her heel. “What went wrong in there?”

“I got fired.”

“Because you’ve got limits on lap dances?”

“No. Rob says I’m hiding tips.”

“Oh.” Annie screwed up her lips. “Well, let’s go down the street and put in at Shimmy-Shebang.”

“He didn’t fire you, Annie.”

“We’re a team.”

“Listen, when he puts down the word that I keep money, there’s no club gonna hire me.”

“He’s not…”

“He is.”

Annie leaned against the wall, then sank down beside Brenda. She said, “Ow.”

“Yeah,” Brenda said, “Ow.” But she patted Annie’s arm where the brick had scraped it.

Annie said, “I got another idea.”

And Brenda said, “Sheena Green.”

“Yeah. Sheena Greena.”

“It’d be a hell of a pay cut. Think she’d hire us?”

Annie pushed up to her feet. “Think you can handle teaching preppy college girls how to pole dance?”

“I guess I’ll learn. If she’ll hire us.”

“Come on. The busses are still running. I don’t want to walk home.” Annie held out her hand.

Brenda used Annie’s arm for leverage and dusted grit and other debris from her backside. She hooked a finger inside her waistband and produced four bills. “Anyway, here’s your part of the take.”

“That fat bald guy? He did not give you $200!”

“I might have kissed Rob before I left.”

“What?”

“Long, and sweet, with lots of hands. And he might have had some hidden cash of his own.”

“Damn,” said Annie, “Sheena Greena better watch her till with you on staff.” She took the money.

“Us,” said Brenda. “With us on staff.”

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And this is what happens in the back alley with Trifecta.

On the Draw is a 7 card poker game that encourages risk taking. Also, there’s quick on the draw and slow on the draw.

Spiderweb

Last modified on 2012-06-06 15:39:46 GMT. 32 comments. Top.

“Who’s the new lady friend?” Russ Simon’s officemate Joel nodded at the redhead who had just walked over to the Hors d’oeuvre table.

“That’s my sister Karen.”

“Ohhh.”  Russ waited out Joel’s pregnant pause. Finally,  Joel said, “She seeing anybody?”

“Married.” Russ wanted to punch the people who had asked that question, all four of them so far. He hated office parties. And he hadn’t expected the single men to circle his sister like a bunch of goddamned sharks. In fact, Joel’s red nose suggested he had been partaking a little too heavily of the cash bar.

Karen came back with two crackers coated in something pink that looked suspiciously fishy.  She offered one to Russ, who declined.

“Hey, Russ, glad you could join us!” The office administrator’s peppermint squeak preceded her arrival next to Joel.  “Who’s… OH! This is your sister, isn’t it?”

Russ nodded. “Maggie, meet Karen. Karen, this is…”

Maggie cut him off. “I recognize you from your wedding picture!” The woman spoke in exclamation points and question marks, every sentence ending in a register at the outer range of Russ’s hearing.

Karen crinkled her forehead, “I have to ask,” she said. “Where have you seen my wedding picture?”

“Russ has it up in his cube.”

“I’m touched,” said Karen. She leaned over and kissed Russ’s suddenly hot cheek.

Maggie chirped on. “Karen, you and your wife have the cutest little girls! I would just die for freckles like those.”

Beside Russ, Joel blew out a breath. He muttered,  “Damn. She doesn’t look a thing like the dyke on your wall.”

Russ turned slowly to face Joel. “What did you say?”

“It’s true. She’s got real long hair now, and…”

Russ punched Joel, then watched the blood blossom under his colleague’s nostrils. He wiped his knuckles on Joel’s shirt as Joel brought his hands up to his face. “You hit me!”

Russ shook his head. “I knew I should have never come to this damned party.”

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There’s a NEW word at Trifecta this week. And it’s somewhere in that story up there ;)

 

 

Know your place

Last modified on 2012-05-23 21:57:28 GMT. 20 comments. Top.

The day after the cats drove back the demon, Wizard Deen staggered home under an enormous mackerel, which he prepared and served himself. He also stopped complaining about the smell. “I thought it was a curse when you infected my demon box with your fur,” he earnestly told the mama cat. “I had no idea you were saving my life.”

Mama cat accepted the mackerel, but she did not purr for the wizard as she did for his apprentice Ehna and the girl Vee. The wizard went on. “The problem is that I need that demon.  I must find a way to control him without driving him back again.”

Behind him, Vee snickered.

“You have an idea?” he asked, turning with one arched eyebrow. The girl immediately clapped both hands over her mouth as if that could conceal her smile. “Please, tell me. I would remind you that my livelihood, possibly my life depends upon a good plan right now.”

And then thirty degrees of wild laughter erupted from Vee’s tiny frame.

****

Later that day, Deen, Ehna, and Vee all arrived at the palace, where they were ushered quickly through to the king’s chambers. “Goddess beyond, Deen! What is that smell?” demanded the queen. “Have you found the antidote?”

Deen said, “Perhaps.” Then he bowed his obeisance to the king, prone and pale on the bed.

Vee cleared a table of documents, and Ehna carefully placed the cats’ cage. Although it was a tight fit for Mama cat and all four kits, apprentice and child both insisted that the animals ride together. Then, Ehna presented her majesty with a lilac scented rag, and carried more smelling cloths around to the assembled courtiers.

A page whispered, “It smells like cat piss,” into the room’s heavy silence.

From under his urine soaked robes, Deen produced the pristine demon box. “And if it saves his majesty’s life, does it matter?”

The queen said, “No. Not at all. I pray you begin at once.”

 

Things are getting pretty wild this week at Trifecta. It’s the perfect chance for all you party animals to come play!

Walking

Last modified on 2012-05-20 02:46:59 GMT. 34 comments. Top.

Trouble came easy in those days. Cassandra remembered sitting on Tyree’s stoop when Stoney Hamilton sloshed down Scoville swearing and firing a handgun. “Goddamn, cunt, bitch, asshole, hoebag, fuck!” And at ‘fuck’, he pointed his gun straight in the air and staggered forward a few more steps.

“Listen at him.”  Tyree rose to watch. Cassandra joined him.

Cassandra said, “That’s not going to stand.”

Stoney swiveled until he found them. “Goddamn, cunt, bitch…”

“Yeah, I know, hoebag and all that dumb shit. Put down that gun before you hurt somebody.” As Cassandra resumed her seat, Stoney aimed at her and pulled the trigger. The roaring report set him off balance.

“Jesus Christ, what you doing?” Tyree screamed.

Stoney shot at him too, then stumbled around the corner to 59th.

“You OK?”

Cassandra ran her hand along her scalp. It came away red. “He grazed me!” she said.

Tyree looked behind her. Both bullets had passed through the siding and into the apartment. “I think you  need stitches.”

“Naw. Scalp wounds are just messy is all.” A double trickle of blood seeped down her forehead, just above her left eye. She wiped it away and looked out to the street. In the place where Stoney had been, she suddenly saw herself.  Her scalp burned, the blood was in her eye, and she looked down her years to a future defined by this one street, this one scar.

She got up off of Tyree’s stoop and headed out the gate. “Where you going?” Tyree shouted.

“It’s time for me to be somebody else.”

“Wait! “ Let me get you a towel!”

She did not wait. She turned onto Scoville and walked towards Shiloh Baptist, wiping blood from her face.  She looked back twice on her way up the street, half hoping to see Tyree behind her. But he did not come. Her feet propelled her away from him, away from the ghost of her future, away from the crossroads of Scoville and 59th.

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This week at Trifecta, we are being asked to use the 3rd definition of the word ‘trouble’. Come play with us if you have a moment.

Communication Gap

Last modified on 2012-05-20 02:52:38 GMT. 27 comments. Top.

Sam frozen in Carbonite becomes the model model“You are quite the enigma.” Jerilee’s new foster mother studied the smiling girl. This was the child’s third full day in the home. Mama Fernandez moved clean socks from a red to a yellow basket as she tucked pairs together. “It’s certainly pleasant to be in your company,” she continued. “Does the racket bother you here?”

Jerilee went on smiling and began kicking her feet against the bed. Mama Fernandez finished another pair of socks.“I talked to your teacher again today.  She said you got a 100 on the spelling test all three times you turned it in. But she wants you to remember you aren’t responsible for your classmates’ work.”

Possibly, Jerilee bobbed her head. Possibly, she just smiled more. “Anyway,” said Mama Fernandez, “I wondered if I could get your help with some of this folding?” With one foot, she nudged a blue basket of shirts across the floor.

Immediately, Jerilee scrambled backwards on the bed, stretched her legs long, reached out her hands until they wrapped under the soles of her feet, then buried her nose in between her knees.

“That’s very good dear!” Said Mama Fernandez. “But I meant I’d like you to help fold laundry, not yourself.”

Jerilee picked up her head and tilted it without letting go of her feet.

“Here. Can I have your hand?” Mama Fernandez put an unmatched sock back in the red basket.

Jerilee extended her left arm, still without changing her pose. Mama Fernandez put the blue basket on the bed, then gently sat the girl up and guided both of her hands. She moved Jerilee through the motions, then stepped back and smiled as the folding continued without her.

Just a few hours later, though, Mama Fernandez was on the phone to Jerilee’s social worker. “Maggie?” she said, “I know you told me Jerilee likes to do chores, but you forgot to tell me how to make her stop. We’re running out of shirts!”

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This is my submission for this week’s Trifecta competition, where the word of the week is enigma.

Jerilee is a composite of my daughter and several of her friends (on and off the spectrum), with the added quality that Jerilee is completely nonverbal and being shuttled around in foster care.  The story grew out of Caroline’s having to give blood a few weeks ago. The phlebotomist asked for Caroline’s arm, and pointed to the one she wanted.

Caroline gave her the other arm. I said, “You have to be really specific.”

The phlebotomist handed Caroline a red ball and said, “Now pump that fist for me.” Caroline gave her this quizzical look, because she knows ‘fist bump’ but not ‘fist pump’ and wasn’t sure if they were the same. So the phlebotomist demonstrated the motion. Caroline’s eyes lit up, and she pumped her opposite fist. After all, the fist the phlebotomist pumped didn’t have a ball in it.

The lady was actually really patient and she totally got everything on the first try, but Caroline’s efforts to do what was asked of her were running right up against her complete literal mindedness.

Take care you lie well

Last modified on 2012-05-06 02:18:18 GMT. 25 comments. Top.

 

Engine thunder preceded the motorcycles. One, two, three, the machines curved into the lot.  The first rider, a big man in a leather coat, unholstered a pistol as he jammed down his kickstand. He took a small glass vial out of his breast pocket.

 

“I warned him.”

 

“True.” The second rider took the vial, sniffed it, then sniffed the air.  “Go up the back. Watch out for Flori.”

 

Upstairs, a young woman not much larger than a child stepped out of a door.  Flori said, “Cal’s down here.” When none of the riders moved, she said to the group’s lone woman, “Leave the men to mind the hall. They’ll catch him if I’m lying. You look at me like I’m the one as stole your drug.”

 

The woman rider walked to the open door and looked in. “She’s speaks truth,” she called to the others.

 

Cal lay on a bed in the small room, his body trapped between human and feline, one giant hand sprouting from his warped body.  “Do you have antidote?” Flori asked. “Or will you murder a cat?”

 

“We don’t kill the helpless.” The woman thumped down a pack and removed a syringe. At her jab, the cat-man yowled, then popped, and Cal lay on the bed fully clothed, and screaming. Flori threw herself across him, but the first rider hauled her up, mindless of how she fumbled with Cal’s jacket as she was dragged off her lover.

 

“Shut up and speak your last.”

 

“But I am helpless,” Cal protested.

 

The rider forced his pistol into Cal’s hand by way of answer, and the woman rider drew another gun out of her pack. Then Flori’s body popped. Before the bikers could react to the enraged gryphon she had become, she flew up, knocking out half the ceiling with one wing.

 

She seized Cal, who snickered and twitched in her talons. “They should know I’m never helpless with you,” he sang as they flew, the animal easily dodging the humans’ gunfire.

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They’re playing three truths and a lie over at Trifecta this weekend. But I’m a terrible liar and a worse guesser, so I just wrote a story connected to this one in which everyone but Cal is telling the truth. If she continues in this direction, Flori’s little life is not liable to end well. But she refuses to behave.

For my part, my obsession with honesty stems as much from the fact that I can only rarely pull off a lie with any degree of plausibility as it does from personal integrity.

Anyway, I’m gullible, and nearly everyone I know lies better than I do. Scott LOVES to torment me by making some impossible statement in conjunction with say a news article and waiting for me to say “Really… now waaaiit.” It has never backfired on him, and I have only had revenge once that I can think of.

 

Sisterhood of the travelling 45

Last modified on 2012-04-27 13:53:15 GMT. 21 comments. Top.

For this week’s Trifecta challenge (this week’s word is confidence), I’m back in the nursing home with DoDo and Wilma. Take a second to read their previous (short) escapade. They have now returned from their shopping spree unscathed, as they have every week so far. It helps that Wilma’s great grandson helped them hack the garden gate code, but sooner or later, they’re going to get caught.

Here is the first of two nonfiction companion pieces to go with this little story.

And here is the other companion.

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“I know what you did.” Clara Jean Phillips peered at Wilma and DoDo from the hall, then waddled in and perched on  Wilma’s ladder back rocker.

Wilma scolded. “When the nurses see you, it’s back to the lockdown wing.” Even as she spoke, a klaxon blared.

DoDo slid her hand up the inside of her bed and pushed the nurse call button. She mused, “How to buy her silence.”

“Take me with you! And we won’t come back!”

“We’d get caught before we left the gate. No, it’s going to have to be something else.”

“Quickly, now,” Wilma added.

“You take it for me,” Clara finally said.

“Take what, dear?”

“This!” Clara Jean reached down her shirt and brandished something thin, black, and jagged.

“What is it? Did it cut you?”

Clara pushed it towards Wilma, “Take it to 754 Washington Street. Tell them I cracked the code.”

The speaker on DoDo’s bed came to life, the nurse answering her call. “Are you all right?” a male voice asked, “Is it an emergency?”

Clara continued to hold the item out to Wilma, who accepted it between pinched fingers.

DoDo said, “Turn off that racket. My hearing aids both have feedback. Clara Jean just popped over for a visit. She’s down in our room. All ready to go back home, now.”

“Right. Thanks,” said the man.

The speaker clicked off. “Oh, they’re coming now. Oh, hide it!” Clara wailed.

“There now.” Wilma tucked it into the foot of DoDo’s bed. “All taken care of. 754 Washington Street.”

Clara Jean left with the dark haired nurse muttering, “Mustn’t tell.”

When she had gone, DoDo asked, “And what confidence has she bestowed upon us?”

“It’s part of an old record,” said Wilma.

“A record? A vinyl record? What do we do with it?”

“Take it with us,” said Wilma. “ We’ll pitch it at the convenience store. She won’t know. And even if she tells, who would believe her?”

“Who indeed?” Dodo agreed. “Who indeed?”

Observe

Last modified on 2012-04-19 16:13:00 GMT. 48 comments. Top.

The murdered girl stared at her own reflection. As dead as she was, she still retained her most basic functions. She could see herself, smell the rank odor of her decay, hear memories that wept down from the fluorescent lights.

She heard the squeak of sneakers. “Can you change her?” her mother asked. Was that the smell, then? Just shit? Had she been upgraded from decomposing to merely falling out in clumps?

“Oh,” said the nurse. “Yes, I’ll get that right away.” The murdered girl heard the soft-soled retreat as the nurse went for supplies so she could pretend to observe yet another formality reserved for the living.

“How are you doing?” her mother asked in her softest voice. But under that quiet, the girl could still hear her mother screaming. What has he done to you? He’s murdered you, murdered you, baby!

Her mother kissed her forehead. “Can you squeeze my hand today?”

She wanted to seize great fistfuls of blanket like she had seized the air as she fell. She wanted to grab onto her mother’s face and shout that she had dying to get on with and didn’t have time for clumping waste and fingers that couldn’t even manipulate the remote control to change the fucking Price Is Right off the television.

“Well, the doctor says to keep working on it. Do you want me to read?” And underneath that, the doctor whispering to her mother, “Be patient, it’s early days.” The doctor could afford to say that. His early days were her late days. None of these people seemed to understand that she was dead.

She blinked one time. Yes.

Her mother said, “Chapter three”. The murdered girl barely heard the nurse’s return. She descended into the rhythm of her mother’s voice, following the tone more than the words. She rose up and sank down on hills of language that seemed to carry her outward, bearing her on to a world where even the dead could fly.

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Here is my Trifecta entry for this week.  This week’s word is in the title. Observe.

Gossip

Last modified on 2012-04-26 19:24:05 GMT. 28 comments. Top.

Skip to the backstory

“That girl’s got to find herself a man.” Doreen, DoDo to all but a few of the newest nurses, stabbed her finger at Jennifer Anniston.

“I think she’s got somebody, hasn’t she?” asked Wilma. The women maintained an easy friendship based on their shared love of celebrity gossip. They watched the all the shows about movie stars’ lives, and they collected magazines so they could compare nose jobs, boob jobs, and lovers.

DoDo said, “She needs one that’ll stick.”

The afternoon nurse, Audrey, swept into the room.“That rag’s a week old,” said Audrey after she administered the appropriate pills. “I can pick you up this week’s after work tonight.”

“No,” said DoDo. “Molly brings them to me on Saturdays.”

Audrey moved on, and the women waited while her cart retreated down the hall. Wilma said, “Molly indeed. Can you imagine Molly bringing you one of these?”

“No, she’s good enough on the large print books, though.”

Then Wilma pushed herself up out of her seat and got DoDo’s wheelchair from its spot in the corner. “Ready, dear?” she asked her older roommate.

“Of course I am,” said DoDo. She swung down out of bed and gingerly settled into the chair. “Audrey’s right about one thing. Our scandal sheet is a week old. It’s high time for a new one.”

Wilma pushed DoDo into the nursing home’s garden, two old women out for an innocent stroll. She said, “I’m glad we don’t live on the lockdown side.”

“No, we couldn’t run away like this,” DoDo agreed.  They set their eyes on the garden’s gate. When they were sure Audrey hadn’t come down from the nurse’s station to monitor them through the door as she sometimes did, they pushed out into the loading area, then maneuvered to the busy sidewalk beyond.

DoDo leaned back in the chair. “Maybe this week, Jennifer can get somebody to replace Brad,” she said.

Wilma said, “Maybe she doesn’t need a man at all.”

DoDo clucked. “Scandalous!”

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This is my entry for this week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge, where we have been tasked with the third definition of ‘scandal’. Note that ‘scandalous’ is NOT the usage; ‘scandal sheet’ is. I’m not trying to slip one by and change the word form, which is not allowed. The last word is just soooo obviously right.

The story is based on a bizarre dream I had last week about my best friend’s daughters. It was supposed to morph into my entry for Lance’s 100 word song last week, but these old birds flatly refused to be confined to 100 words. Flatly. Refused. Which is in character I suppose, but maddening for their author.

They were supposed to run away from the nursing home and leave it at that, since that’s what happened in my dream. But it wasn’t taking place that way, because my brain kept inserting reality checks. So then, I was left with wondering what they COULD do, and they had all KINDS of ideas. They wanted to go to the movies, ride public transit until the bus driver caught on and took them back to the home, take DoDo’s wheelchair joyriding through the Furniture gallery, and go try to get a test drive at the BMW dealership. Again. (Damned salesmen require a driver’s license and insurance papers, and Wilma hasn’t got her great-grandson on board with forging those or teaching her how to do so yet.) This seems fitting considering the girls the old ladies are based on.

Then Trifecta came along and saved me with ‘scandal’.

I will be long dead by the time the real DoDo and Wilma  (whose names are not Doreen and Wilma) are old enough to star in this story (so will Jennifer Anniston and Brangelina). But I do so enjoy imagining the young people I know as old folks. Because to see them that way means they have survived adolescence and adulthood. It’s a window into their lives as I will never know them.

And these kids would already have the cool and moxie to achieve a breakout like this, but you would have to convince DoDo that it was a good idea first.

The brain is down

Last modified on 2012-04-06 03:52:46 GMT. 44 comments. Top.

“What the hell is everybody doing in here?”

Mandy, the union representative, shifted comfortably in a break room chair. She studied her manager. There was an empty seat beside her. She gestured to it, inviting the manager to sit. He did not. “The brain is down,” she said. “Nobody can clock in.”

“So take a roll and we’ll clock everybody in manually when IT gets the brain back up.”

She shook her head. She articulated the ‘o’ in her, “No” with extra wide lips.

“What did you say to me?”

“The last time this happened, HR refused to validate the hand signed timesheets and it was an entire pay cycle before they got it straight. I told you, ‘No’”.

“Are you on strike?”

The union rep laughed. She had been voted into this position for her laid back attitude and sense of humor. Also, because she knew when to toe the line and when to draw it. “We’re all ready to clock in and work our full shifts from whenever that computer comes up until eight hours later.”

The manager stalked down to talk to IT. “Why wasn’t I called? How long has the brain been down?” he demanded. “And what is wrong with it this time.”

Nick, the IT department head, craned his neck to look up at the manager from his position inside the server closet. He said, “It seems to me the brain has got industrial disease.”

“What?!” The manager’s face wasn’t just red. It was chartreuse. “What the hell kind of cock and bull …” he began. Then he heard laughter and whipped around to see Mandy and half the packing department crowded behind him into Nick’s office.

“I demand to know what is happening!” he screamed.

“April Fool, boss,” said Mandy in that deadpan voice of hers. “April Fool.”

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This week at Trifecta, it’s all about the Braaaaiins. Or rather, the brain. More like the COMPUTER brain, if you want to get technical. Which of course, we do. I’m looking very forward to the Trifecta magazine. I think it’s a great next step for this meme!

Last time I riffed on a song, I discovered my lonely place in the universe. And so today, in honor of the fact that Nick’s big line is pretty well ripped out of Mark Knopfler’s mouth, I give you an embed. Not typically my style, but necessary to complete the picture here.  Enjoy, courtesy of YouTube, Dire Straits’ “Industrial Disease”.

Train Time

Last modified on 2012-03-29 13:13:27 GMT. 33 comments. Top.

TracksBack and forth the car swayed, and the couple in the sleeper argued on.

Ann said, “Amtrak never gets anyplace on time.”

For the fourth time, I’m sorry,” said Karl.

“Sorry!” Ann’s voice rose. “We’re in the middle of Nebraska, and the wedding starts in an hour. This is the worst gift you could have given me.” Karl didn’t answer, and Ann didn’t stop. “You’re so cheap!”

“What do you mean, cheap?” he protested. “This cost us twice as much as plane tickets.”

“And it’s taking four days instead of four hours! What a waste of money.” Ann pounded on the window. Gretchen is almost married. And I’m missing the whole thing because …”

“I said I was sorry!”

Ann wiped her eyes and blew her nose, then reached into her tissue packet only to find it empty. “I’m her matron of honor! You ruined my sister’s wedding.”

“I just thought we could do something special together. How was I supposed to know we would be running twenty hours behind schedule?”

“I should have been there yesterday morning. I should…” Ann broke off to answer her vibrating cell phone, glowering at her husband as he rummaged more tissues out of a suitcase. “How’s everything going?” she asked the caller.

“Annie!” Gretchen’s voice trilled. “It worked!”

“What worked?” Ann asked.

“Everybody’s being so great about it!” Gretchen bubbled on. “When you called  yesterday, I got Mom on the horn. We moved everything. As long as you’ll be here by six, it will all be fine.”

Karl found the tissues and held them out, a lonely peace offering. Ann accepted and held onto Karl’s hand. He clasped her fingers back, extending their shared hope.

“You postponed your wedding?”

“And at the eleventh hour, too!” Gretchen sounded positively thrilled.

“You’re not married?”

“Not without you sis. I just couldn’t.” And then the elation transformed into something else and both sisters cried the absent miles into their phones.
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For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Bran macFeabhail challenged me with “You’ve been given a gift. You aren’t supposed to question gifts…but maybe you should question this one. ” and I challenged femmefauxpas with “…and green was the grass in my valley”

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This is also my entry for this week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge, where the word of the week is “cheap”.

Ella’s Gun: Fiction

Last modified on 2012-03-22 02:43:32 GMT. 44 comments. Top.

In the first rehearsal with the real gun, Ella screamed and raced over to make sure Aaron Meddins, who played the Gestapo Kriminal Assistent, hadn’t really been hit. It didn’t matter that she fired blanks.

But she had to control that fear, because Demons at the Door’s success hinged on creating Sister Edmund as a plausibly faith conflicted nun. She disarmed Daniel and his pregnant wife Freda when they first begged for shelter, but at the climax herself shot the Nazi who stumbled onto the convent’s hidden Jews.

“I’m fine,” Aaron said, then offered, “I’ll wink when you cross left. The audience won’t see.”

On opening night, that  gun felt heavy when Ella’s Sister Edmund snuck to its hiding place, and heavier still after she exited, waiting backstage for her cue to return.

Then, onstage, Freda said, “Please, our baby will come any day,” and Ella stepped into the sanctuary. Everything was as it had been in rehearsals, and yet different. She didn’t see her friends Aaron, Kera, and James. She saw a villainous gray-dressed monster menacing the quaking, pregnant Freda and her helpless husband. She regretted terribly taking the gun from Daniel, who would surely aim true now. She hated that she must be damned for a murderer, when the monster himself was yet a child of God. But for Daniel, and Freda, and their baby, and all the children hidden in the orphanage, Sister Edmund fired. The explosion rocked her back a little on her feet, and as the gray man fell, the Sister ran to the young couple. “To the cellar now, quickly,” she said. “He will have a partner somewhere.”

“But Sister Edmund,” Daniel protested.

“Go,” she commanded him. “We are all but God’s vulgar servants, and if I have offended His eyes, then I will answer to Him.”

As Freda and Daniel scurried away, Aaron winked at Ella. And Sister Edmund, seeing that flutter of an eye, thought that the monster might just need some more killing.

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This week at Trifecta, the word is vulgar.

 

 

 

 

And over at Story Dam, the weekly Linkup asks for a story where a character takes a stand.

Studio Time

Last modified on 2012-02-29 05:13:34 GMT. 29 comments. Top.

Nick adjusted the mic. “Testing,” he said. The leader gave him a brief thumbs up. Two other session singers flanked him in the tiny recording cubicle, and they all patted their white headphones. Nick’s felt too tight around his skull, but he didn’t make adjustments.
The leader said, “OK, scratch vocals for ‘Life of Death’” then held up a hand to count down visually.

Nick sang “Death chanced upon me in the hall.”

The women on either side of him echoed “ha-a-ll”.

Just outside the cubicle, the leader kept unnecessary time with the same hand he had used for the countdown, and Nick sang, “But I refused to fall.” The headphones pinched.

The women sang, “fall”.

Nick watched the leader’s hand pumping the song’s rhythm, like drumming in the air. In the space between one empty tap and the next, Nick broke out into a sweat. He sang, “I said don’t call on me,” call on me, “I’m living can’t you see” oh can’t you see, “And living my life tall” So ta-all.

Perspiration flooded down Nick’s face. He tried to draw breath, but it caught in his chest, and instead of belting out the next lyric, he clawed at his throat. He tore off the wretched headphones and slammed himself against the cubicle.

“Nick what’s wrong?”

The session leader’s face loomed large outside the glass, and then it changed. Death had not passed Nick in the hall. It had come for him right here in the studio. It stepped through the leader and extended a single bony finger.

Unencumbered by the flesh mortals take for granted, it passed through the glass and straddled Nick. He clutched his soul, wanting the right song to dispel it, to cast it aside so he could go on breathing. But there were no more songs left. No more words. Death had come to call, and it left Nick voiceless.

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This week, the Trifecta editors assigned us the third definition of wretched. Typically, I let my writing stand on its own. If you have to ask me “huh?”, and I have to be all explanatory, then I haven’t done my job. Sometimes, I am deliberately unclear on certain points.

However. I think you can understand the story perfectly well from the words above, and a small primer will not hurt and may, indeed, enhance your reading.  If this becomes at any time a case of I-suffered-through-this-research-and-now-it’s-your-turn, then just stop reading.  As I say, if the piece doesn’t stand alone, I haven’t done my job.

In the recording industry (not so much with indie groups and labels), before a band lays down a track, the studio will often pay to have a scratch track made. This is sort of like pre-washing the dishes. It’s  a rough cut of the song, typically mostly vocals, to give the better known musicians something to listen to when they lay down the final parts. Scratch tracks are recorded by studio or session musicians, who are paid a flat union fee for their work. The session is guided by a session leader, typically someone who knows how to get the most out of three hours of studio time.

So. That’s who Nick and his colleagues are here. The research is actually something I did for my novel  Divorce: A Love Story, that came in handy here.

Dine In, Carry Out

Last modified on 2012-02-23 03:16:08 GMT. 15 comments. Top.

Algy jammed everything back onto the last tabletop after wiping it clean.

Edith said, “Easy now.”

“Rob sent me another letter,” Algy told her.

“Did he?”

“He wants me to send him my paycheck.”

“Ohh.” The sound was a cross between a groan and a sigh. Edith went to the cash drawer, counting the money twice over to be sure. Then she asked, “Did you write him back this time?”

Algy grunted.

“You did, didn’t you.”

Slowly Algy nodded.  “I said to ask me nicely.”

Edith counted out several stacks of bills, then went into the office for her deposit slips. Returning, she asked, “If he does, what then?”

“I’ll tell him it’s too late. That’s my college money.”

Edith smiled. “Good,” she said. She dropped the deposit in her purse and started for the door.

Algy didn’t follow her at once. “Do you really think Granddad will let me have this place when I’m older?”

Edith turned back. “What did that letter say?”

Algy drew a deep breath. “That you and Granddad would be throwing good money after bad to let the restaurant fall to a big headed fool like me.”

Edith shook her head and held a hand out to her grandson. “He’s the fool to say that.”

“That’s why I told him to ask nicely.” Algy joined his grandmother. He didn’t take her hand, but instead held the door. “It’s why I’m waiting for him to ask again to say no.”

“Good,” Edith repeated. She turned and locked the door .“He just wants to get your goat. He’s got a lot of nerve to ask, though.”

“It’s because he still thinks he’s my father,” Algy told her. “But he’s not anymore, is he?”

“No,” said Edith. “And he won’t ever be again.”

Algy opened the driver’s door for his grandmother before going around to his own side. “Then I don’t ever have to give him my money.”

“You don’t ever have to give him anything at all.”

“Good.”

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The fools over at  Trifecta have assigned us the third definition of fool. And I pity the fool who doesn’t rise to the challenge. {ahem. sometimes, the puns will out}

Surfing

Last modified on 2012-02-16 15:52:30 GMT. 23 comments. Top.

I’m not talking ballet here. I’m trying to explain the hedony. I throw myself forward lusting into the Dionysian spontaneity. The arena is carnality alive, and all of us are hungry sybarites while the music plays. We blare, and trumpet, and thunder. I do not fall into their arms expecting asylum.  And yet, there is a safe core where the rhythm is deep enough to hold me if I dive in, so long as I keep time with my body while I ride to the shore. This is not sanctuary but an entry point. The dance begins in the air.

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Linking up here with Trifecta, this week brought to you by the word “safe”.

This is also my submission for Lance’s 100 word song response. This week’s song is The Black Crows’ Hotel Illness. My response is as much to the group as this specific tune. I heart The Black Crows.

Shallow Grave

Last modified on 2012-02-07 05:47:55 GMT. 30 comments. Top.

“Pick your glass,” Miss Anna said. “There’s three, all alike.”

“Oh, no ma’am. We trust you,” Trevor said quickly.

Miss Anna laughed. No music in her voice, but no needles, either. “No you don’t” she said. “Nor would I in your shoes. Pick. But don’t drink. Not yet.”

“Did you really hex Mark for what he did to those cats?” asked Paul.

Miss Anna didn’t laugh this time. Just shook her head.

“But you could have,” Paul continued. It wasn’t a question.

Miss Anna nodded.

The choice in beverages suddenly seemed very important indeed. Trevor closed his eyes and picked blind, then Paul did the same. Then, Miss Anna said, “Now, which one of you saw it?”

And Trevor said, “Me,” without hesitation. They weren’t talking cats now.

“Shut up!” said Paul.

“It’s all right,” said Miss Anna. “I won’t call the police. We all know that stepfather of yours would have your mother dead before they’d finished digging up the grave, and he’d do it if she was at work and if work was a hundred miles away.”

Miss Anna had just repeated exactly what Randy said to Paul and Trevor’s mother after she and he came back to the trailer from burying the yellow haired man. Paul sucked in a breath and looked at Trevor. Miss Anna lived too far away to have overheard.

“Me,” Trevor repeated. “I saw. Do you need me to tell you?”

“No.” The old woman shook her head. “Now’s when we drink, by the way.” They did, and Miss Anna continued, “I saw it, too, but I don’t have any personal enmity in the matter. This must be done by someone who saw the thing, and who carries it with anger, and maybe a little bit of hatred in his heart. Is that you Trevor? Go deep now, before you answer me.”

Finally, Trevor said, “Yes’m.” Just the one word, but it satisfied the woman.

“Good,” she said. “Then we’ve something to discuss.”

___________________________________________________

Part two of this story is now up here.

We’re going deep this week over at Trifecta, where we’ve been tasked with using the third definition of ‘deep’ from the Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary in a story of between 33 and 333 words.

Fiction: Or Else

Last modified on 2012-02-02 20:19:12 GMT. 20 comments. Top.

Ogee Smith wasn’t trans; he just came back a girl. It happens all the time. Man in one life, woman in the next, somewhere in between in a third. Sometimes, the cosmic gears get all fuckowack and a body comes back wrong and spends a lifetime adjusting. But not Ogee. Ogee came back a girl, but he really hadn’t made the change yet.

And finding a shrink who understood? Ogee’s parents visited thirteen. When Ogee said, “I need to understand gender expectations because I used to be a boy,” the psychiatrists and psychologists started spouting codes.

So when she was eight, Ogee’s parents took her to a regression therapist. “The problem,” the regressionist said before putting Ogee under, “isn’t gender expectations. It’s that you don’t know who you were, so you can’t know who you are becoming.”

Ogee sat obediently still while the woman lit candles and began the hypnotic induction. But then, long after the child had been placed into what the regressionist called ‘the suggestible state’, Ogee suddenly giggled looked right through the woman. She said, “I’m not the one who’s most confused here. You are.” Then, Ogee turned to her parents and explained, “I am an image of an image of an image of myself, as we all are. This is her first life, poor thing. She’s doing this for others because she thinks she has something of her own back there to find. But there’s nothing really. Don’t worry dear,” Ogee hopped up and patted the therapist’s arm. “After a couple of go-rounds you’ll get a sense, as long as you leave yourself open.”

The little girl turned and walked out. “I think we’d better work this out ourselves,” she said to her parents. If I can remember how I shifted last time, I’m sure things will all start falling into place. Can we stop someplace with a toilet? I’ve got to piss like a racehorse before we get out of town.”

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This week at Trifecta:

Fiction: Weather

Last modified on 2012-01-26 20:46:06 GMT. 16 comments. Top.

Weather

 “You doing all right?” Al asked, indicating a bandage on his brother’s arm.

Jared grunted. He did not look at the white gauze that stretched from his wrist to his elbow. He said, “You’d never know we had any weather at all to look at your neighborhood.”

“Nope,” Al agreed.

Jared lifted his mug, then cradled it in both hands close to his chest.

“Are you OK?” Al asked again.

Jared leaned forward and set the coffee cup on the table. Finally, he said, “The worst was when the tub flipped. The wind screamed, and the house crashed, and I just laid there under the mattress. And then the tornado picked me up. I lost the mattress, but the tub moved so fast I was glued to the bottom, and I watched that wind snatch the floor right out of my house before it threw me back down on the slab underneath the tub. And then the house thundered down on top of me. I didn’t even notice the cuts until the fire crew dug me out.”

“Well, you came through the other side,” said Al.

“I came through lucky,” Jared agreed.

Outside, a low diesel rumble announced their younger brother’s arrival. Letting himself in the back door, Myron said. “Not much left out at your place.”

Jared said, “Not to speak of.” Then he rose from the table, leaving the coffee behind, and crossed to Myron. They clasped arms; then Al, too stood. He laid a hand on Jared’s shoulder. For that moment, they carried together the weight of the sky and the things men don’t say. Then they let go. Al and Jared returned to the table, and Myron walked over to get himself some coffee.

Myron said. “Cleanup’s going to be a regular beast.”

“That’s for sure,” said Jared, taking a drink from his mug. “A beast.”

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It’s tornado season in the South. And this week’s Trifecta challenge is beast.

Fiction: Waterlogged

Last modified on 2012-01-20 03:28:26 GMT. 47 comments. Top.

Sharon waited in her car until the last possible second, then hugged her jacket tightly and stepped into the deluge. Water sluiced over her hood, cascaded past her shoulders and rolled down her unprotected lower body. Within moments, she was soaked below the hips.

The wind jerked her first one way, then another. Every step forward was a fight, and the slick pavement made her movements pinched. Halfway to the courthouse stairs, she met a pair of wingtips exiting a dark car. Without looking at each other, Sharon and the man fell in step.

He brought up his umbrella, but a blast from behind snapped the bumbershoot’s fabric outward, breaking it cleanly in less time than it had taken the man to raise it.  He threw down its remains.

“Hold on to me,” said Sharon. She was unsure whether she meant to support him or the other way around. It didn’t matter. They hooked arms against the storm, and in so doing gained the stability to run. Pulling each other, they reached the stairs and then the door. The man handed Sharon his briefcase. As she took it, she realized this was Richard, whom she would divorce within the hour. How little he resembled himself as he braced one hand on the wall and pulled with the other against the monsoon.

A sliver of light as the old wood yielded, and Sharon jammed in her foot to force the door outward. Then, as with the umbrella, the wind changed, walloping Richard back. Sharon grabbed his arm again to keep him from falling.

He seized her, and for a moment they teetered on the threshold. Then he gained his balance and propelled them both inside, where the fickle wind slammed the door behind them. They staggered forward together, still connected in that instant, as they moved out of the world where water held sway and into another dominion entirely.

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This week’s word over at Trifecta:

Dare to Share at The Lightning Bug

The Lightning Bug.

And Write on Edge

Fiction: Weep

Last modified on 2012-01-13 23:20:00 GMT. 28 comments. Top.

Weep

No clouds at all. The soft waves masked a riptide, and there were no swimmers. Even the morning’s shell seekers had retreated from the midday heat,  and white sand ran into green ocean ran into blue sky in uninterrupted succession.

On the balcony, James sipped his iced tea. The ceiling fan whipped in circles without stirring the air down by the table.  “I haven’t seen it this tranquil in a long time.”

Melinda nodded, but she didn’t speak. She watched the condensation weep down the side of her glass.

“There will be others,” James said.

Again, she nodded without saying anything, still watching the droplets zigzag down to eventually collect in a puddle  around the base. In the distance, a white speck pierced the horizon, grew into the shape of a fishing boat, then drifted out of view, heading in the direction of the docks.

Melinda picked up her glass, but not to drink. She wiped the water off the table and put the tea back down untouched. She looked at the place where the ship had vanished, but nothing else emerged from the cove.

James looked there too, for a little while, but then returned his eyes to the tea. He used one finger to stir the ice around, and the clinking cubes cut into the balcony’s silence. He stopped stirring.

“I suppose everything ends, doesn’t it?” he said.

“I suppose so,” Melinda answered, and at last she took a drink from her glass.

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This is the first time I’ve put fiction on my blog, and I’m linking up with the folks over at Trifecta who use the rule of 3. Stories must be between 33 and 333 words and must be based on Merriam Webster’s third definition of a chosen word. Sound pretty obscure? That’s just exactly why I like it.

Anyway, when commenting on my fiction, please know that I welcome constructive criticism. I’ve got a thick skin. I like the chance to resolve things that aren’t working.


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