{write or die} heat wave

It is deep night. The hair sticks to the back of my neck. The fan stands in the corner, whirring and sputtering. It complains of the heat as much as I do. I cannot sleep. A black curtain of summer drapes itself over my shoulders and the rest of the room, daring me to move. A single bead of sweat trickles its way down my spine to sit in the pool at my tailbone. The street outside is empty. Not even the strays are out patrolling. It is disappointing to be alone tonight. The moon has risen, half full and deadly orange. The sun, on its lumbering journey to the other side of the world, won’t even let the moon be silver tonight. Fire red and orange waits to blast the morning sky. I hate heat waves. I would take a snow storm over a heat wave any day but if you asked me mid-stride I would tell you the opposite. I am contrary that way. It does not one lick of good to be naked in the dark even. My skin prickles each time the wind of the fan passes over me. Please, my skin begs, stay and cool us. Then the fan is gone. The heat wafts in and settles. Whimpering its companion.

This is not what I meant to write. I wrote earlier. Not properly just wrote what was on my mind. I don’t like writing that way. Restrained, unable to write freely. I do that to myself. Take the small screen. Take the smaller screen. Write. Pour thought into the abyss and pray that in some way the babble makes sense. it occurs to me now – how do you make sense of babble? Is it like making sense of a brook running through the woods, babbling, as it were? We just let the brook do its brooky thing and babble away. What of the sleep deprived? Do we let them sit in the dark, while the mercury pushes 37C at 1am and wonder if it is best to just let them sit, get out whatever it is that is stuck in the eyelids, prying them open…. wait, why am I writing this? What is the point? I have derailed myself. Spilled water from the bottle at my feet. It really is only water. I could call on someone to turn it into wine. No.. actually I can’t. not any more. Jesus is off doing other things.

I don’t like the sound of the whirr. Or the pounding in my head. I should sleep. Lay my feet across the pillow and stick my head off the end of the bed to watch the stars and moon move slowly together. Watch the streetlights from above, and the orange circles they throw up across the asphalt. Avoid all together the true reason I am sleepless tonight. Oh hush you red tormentor. Let me think a moment while I am sitting here. My forehead is slick against the back of my hand. Hair sticks everywhere. I won’t cut it though. It is not time. Push it away, like every other thought. Sit, you silly cow, and just listen. Not to the fan, or the hum of the other fans upstairs or in windows. Listen to the beat. Not the throbbing unrelenting head gripped by an invisible vice. Feel. You are allowed to. Feel.

The timer, I just noticed, is counting down. I am almost done. No elation. Being done means moving, and climbing and falling, and thinking while staring unseeing at the ceiling. The glow in the dark stars are faded now and it is too late to turn lights on and recharge them. The same summer sky stares down at me above the roof. I should not settle for the recreated one I made thirteen years ago. I wish I could lay out tonight. Lie down in the garden and watch the sky. It would not help me to sleep, but would be beautiful all the same. The light, like a breath through the cosmos, tricks my eyes into believing it is moving. Twinkling and winking at nothing. Sometimes, I am too cautious. Now I am more so. Waiting to see the stars dancing. Sitting alone in the dark, fans whirring. What lies waiting in the shadows now? I wonder. For a few more seconds any way. Is it time yet to end this? I wonder about that too.

{love & grief} the barn

love

The doors stood wide open. I could see the long rays of afternoon sunlight reaching through from the space between the barn boards. Queen Anne’s lace and sunflowers dotted the unused paddock. The weather vane, an old heron, dipped its head towards the east, waiting for sunrise already. The rich crimson red walls wrapped themselves around the heavy timber frame. I touched the wood along the south wall. It was rough in places and worn smooth in others. Swallows swooped and dove from unseen openings above my head. Their twittering voices fell over me like drops of water from a waterfall. Their pale bellies flashed as they darted by then disappeared into the soft darkness. I followed the overgrown path around to the back of the barn. The slope of the tin roof touched the clear blue sky gently before dropping off into the long wild grass that grew behind the barn. I pulled a small door open. A old rusted horseshoe hung still above it, putting upwards for luck. Inside the barn, the granary was empty. The floorboards sighed with each step I took. Dust motes floated lazily across the rafters above. Doves spoke in hushed voices to the shadows, singing softly as the summer night stretched and climbed through the walls to dance with the sunset. I found a switch by the door and turned it on. Fairy lights filled the corners with tiny white lights like stars. Sweet hay in mounds sprawled out across the centre aisle. A carefully woven blanket tossed along the side of one stall, slipped down when the breeze through the open doors came up. The barn sat waiting. The silence, as though the bard, the land outside, the universe was holding its breath, slipped around like a kiss hello after a long day in the fields.
~

grief

Dark green moss dripped from the fallen rafters and broken shingles at the corner of the barn. Rusted farm equipment, broken boards littered the neglected barnyard – torn down and thrown aside by the past. Left behind, the holes stared back at me like wide gaping wounds in the walls. A warning. The locked doors were a dare. A shattered mirror in a worn white wooden frame hung low by the barn doors. The yard and world behind me reflected by a million shards of silvered glass. I refused to look for my reflection in the chaos. Instead, I pushed a loose board aside, ignoring the lock and chained door. I took a deep breath and squeezed through the opening. A bent nail caught the sleeve of my coat, tugging at it like the tiny fingers of a lost child.

I stood under the old rafters. They spread out over my head like arms in prayer. I was the intruder. Unwanted, uninvited. The barn roof sagged in places, barely able to hold the weight of the rafters. Tin and wood balanced precariously over the empty stalls and storage rooms. Faint traces of the day lingered in corners. Light, like a stifled cry pushed past me and fell along the floorboards, interrupted by the cracks. Fading, it drew lines in the dust before disappearing below. Thunder rumbled deeply in the distance. The barn moaned in response. I stood alone with its shadows one last time.
~

{summer pages} excerpt – Stay here Gracie

Waiting for your voice to reach me,
I lay in darkness and hold my breath
To slow the pounding beat of my heart

~
Gracie perched on the wooden window sill with one leg dangling from the second floor. She stretched her bare foot and rubbed her heel on the rough brick. The maple tree shivered with the cool evening wind. Goosebumps rose up on Gracie’s skin. She leaned out and looked up the lane. Gracie saw only empty road. The sun threw long lines of gold across the fields. Jack had been out haying all day. The dust still hung in the air. A song came on the radio inside the room. Gracie looked down the slope of the porch roof below her feet to the yard below. The peonies had finished blooming a few weeks ago. The blooms were fading and the ants that helped long gone. Gracie pushed the window up as far as it would go. She bent forward and maneuvered herself onto the other side of the glass, holding onto the sill with one arm so she wouldn’t fall.
The farmhouse was surrounded on four sides by fields. Clusters of trees interrupted the fence lines, forcing them to zigzag around roots and trunks. An old barn, black with age, squatted behind the house and the dilapidated hen house beside it. They moved to the farm when Gracie was a year old. Gracie heard noise downstairs. She sat still. Seconds later, Lucifer, her Siamese came barreling through the door. She heard him crash into the corner and watched him jump onto the bed as though nothing had happened. The sky slowly shifted into the purple and blues of dusk. Small brown bats darted from the chimneys to the trees and back again, eating mosquitos and moths. Gracie eyed the peaked roof above her. She wanted to climb but she didn’t dare. The shingles were old and cracked in places. She could see places where moss had started to grow. Gracie saw the first star peek through the inkwell of sky. She closed her eyes tightly and made a wish. A sudden gust of wind came up and made Gracie sway. She gripped the bottom of the window, digging her fingers into the brittle old paint. She kept her eyes closed and wondered if anyone would notice if she fell.

~

lotus and the moon

The wind had whispered for a long time that this day would arrive, though I will admit that I refused to believe that it could happen. It was not that I did not want to believe, but doubt had wound its way through my branches and roots and I could not let the truth drop; not even when it was clearly ripe and ready to. As a result, this morning was a terrible shock.
The day began as any other day had. I stood alone watching the sun rise slowly over the edge of the meadow. Long arms of light stretched and reached over the sleeping blanket of columbine and white marguerite blooms. The doves still nestled together in the crook of one of my branches stirred with the light’s passing. They spoke quietly as they did every morning. Their soft cooing my companion while I breakfasted on dew. The pond was still at my feet. I heard the reeds moving in the early morning breezes, and waited for the sparrows and red-wing blackbirds to wake up and join the conversation. To my surprise, the butterflies spoke first. They spread their iridescent wings in that early morning winds, lifting themselves up out of the leaves and grasses to share the night’s story; the song that had been sung while I slept.
“Did you hear what happened?” one asked as it flew past. I almost missed what he said because the spring breeze flipped him upside down  and it took a thunderous push of the butterfly’s wing to fly upright again.
“Hear what?” I said. Despite the warmth from the sun, I shivered. The rustling startled the doves. Another butterfly arrived, flitting around in front of me.
“She’s left the pond.” It said bluntly; that was the only way butterflies knew how to speak.
“Who’s left the pond?” I asked alarmed. I looked down through the maze of bark and leaves, trying to get a clear view of the pond below.  Before the butterfly could reply I knew. I saw that she was gone. My heart was suddenly heavy.
“Oh.” I said. It was all that I could manage. The lotus that had lived in the pond had gone. I did not know where. I called after the butterflies.
“Where did she go?” I asked, suddenly afraid for her. She was so fragile sitting there. She would talk to me during the day, telling me of her life there in the pond. I was a good listener, she told me once. I was.
“The moon came.” A voice said. I shivered again, sending the doves flying out of the branches to find a quieter place to rest. I realized that a white falcon had joined me. He sat on the high branch with his face to the east, watching.
“The moon?” I asked. Again, I could not contain my surprise. The lotus had cried many tears over the moon. She waited for him to climb down from the silver chair he sat in each night, to sit with her while the stars danced lazily over their heads. Her love for the moon was as wide as the sky, she told me many times, but she could never be with the moon. He could not, for whatever reason, join her, nor could she join him. But today, I find out, the moon came.
“Tell me how this happened.” I asked the falcon. He tilted his head down slightly and stared through me. I waited patiently to hear. Somewhere out across the meadow, I heard the wind whispering again.
“You know the story – the Lotus’ story at least. “ he said. I nodded, barely.  The Moon and the Lotus were lovers from the beginning. They met by accident, when the moon had not slipped into slumber and the sun had risen enough that they both shared the sky together. The first time the moon saw the lotus, he fell in love with her.  He called to the lotus, asking to know her name. The lotus, shy but sweet, spoke with the moon that first day, and every day following. She loved him too from that first moment. Sadly, they could not be together. The moon had to stay in the sky, the lotus in her pond in order to survive. The day after they met, I met Lotus for the first time. She needed a friend, someone to talk to while she waited for the night to arrive again and bring her closer to her dearest love. I sighed.
“Yes, I know this.” I said. Their story was so bittersweet. It always made me sad to hear. What could I or anyone do for them, except listen? They lived in different worlds, so far from each other. They loved each other deeply, and yet could never be together. It was beyond sad.
“They believed in the impossible.” the falcon said, cutting through my thoughts. He spread his wings out and flapped them in the wind as he stretched before sitting down on the branch again. I waited impatiently for him to explain.
“What do you mean?” I asked. The wild grasses danced and bent to the will of the breeze. Even on the pond, the water rippled. I saw for the first time that not even her leaves were left to bow to the wind as it passed.
“I mean, they never gave up hope that they would be together. Last night was the night.” said the falcon.
“How can that be?” I asked. I shook, stunned. Leaves flew everywhere. The sudden motion made the falcon stand up and grip my branch harder.
“Steady” he said.
“But, we spoke yesterday, Lotus and I.” I exclaimed. “She told me nothing of this.” I asked. I felt stupid for saying it out loud. She did not need to tell me. I was her friend. I loved her as the meadow did, the sky did. Love her enough to let her go.
“It was not planned, if you are asking that. The moon was given a gift from the universe. He was given permission to climb down from the sky, to meet her here, at your feet last night. Just for one night, he knelt, bathed in silver light, beside her and asked her to come with him.” He said. I could feel that the sun had risen higher and higher to mark the day as it continued on. In spite of myself, I spread my leaves, drinking the light in. I thought about Lotus. She was the bloom that rose up in spite of everything, through the mud and debris. She deserved that pure love. The chance to be with the moon. The moon loved her, and with the one thing that kept him from her gone… he chose to come for her. Her greatest wish was granted last night while I slept. She was happy and with her true love. The shock of her leaving suddenly dissolved.
I listened to the meadow and the pond that was once her home. The sparrows sang among the wildflowers, the doves cooed in the shade of the cat tail reeds and my long branches. The butterflies danced in the distance, along the horizon where the sun would set soon enough. The falcon spoke once more, echoing my thoughts.
“All is how it is meant to be, dear Tree. She has moved to her new home, but I am certain that she will not forget you friend. “ he said, spreading his wings to catch the next breeze. I watched him rise high into the blue and disappear into the small white clotted clouds. The day continued on. I stood, digging my roots into the deep earth and reaching my branches high into the sky to follow the falcon’s words. All was how it is meant to be, I thought to myself. Just how it is meant to be.
~

marrying the whole girl

I tipped the red coffee mug up towards me and looked in. The last remnants of breakfast lay sprinkled across the table. If I had been a fortune teller, I could have read the crumbs like tea leaves. I drank the last mouthful of coffee and set the mug to the side and leaned forward. I took his hand, holding it tightly. The coffee was ice cold. We had been sitting in silence for what felt like hours. Long enough to spoil a perfectly good cup of fair trade organic coffee. Not that I truly cared. I drank whatever was put in front of me. Poison even, at that very moment.

Neither of us spoke.

The silence was broken only by the rain falling against the window and the clock ticking on the desk. I glared at the clock. I didn’t know why I bought it. It was an oversized version of an old fashion alarm clock. Everything worked. The silver metal bells at the top especially worked well. Flowers in muted tones were splashed across the clock face; crimson, gold, indigo blue. I was sure at the time I first saw it, I thought it was cute and interesting. Now, sitting with Daniel while we both on the verge drowning, the tick tocking seemed a cruel mockery of what we were living through. Or it reminded me how difficult it was to breathe from one second to the next. Either way, I hated the clock and the time it kept.

The clock’s hands strained to reach noon. My stomach protested. We had been sitting for a solid hour, not looking at each other, but touching still. When Daniel spoke, his words fell like stones onto the table, rolling and clunking through my heart. He held my hand still, gripping it tightly as though letting go would mean falling off the table into nothing. I held on too.

“I should go.” He said.

“Ok.” I said. My mouth made the shape to speak but the words were caught like sawdust in my throat. I held onto his hand still.

“I will call you later.” He said. Daniel slipped his hand from under mine and laid it on top. I could feel the heat from his palm penetrate through my skin. Then he was gone.

There was a black scar on the table top. It ran from the center of the table, across to the far side. The wood had been reclaimed from an old farm and converted to fit the legs. I ran my finger nail through to the one end, regretting it as I pulled my hand away. Bits of dirt and dust that had previously been trapped there fell away. I made a face but didn’t look up. I listened for the front door to close and waited until his footsteps had faded on the worn grey steps to the yard before standing again. I took the empty mug to the kitchen and set it in the stainless steel sink. The rain fell harder, blurring the glass in a steady streaming curtain, leaving me paralyzed and unforgiven.

~

excerpt: Cora’s birthday

Cora opened the side door of the house and stood on the grey concrete porch. The steps were wet from the rain overnight and the street was quiet. She closed the door behind her, listened for the click of the lock before stepping down. Signs of spring sprinkled down with the rain. Somewhere up in the branches, sparrows were singing to each other and the snow had melted completely off the driveway. Cora’s midnight blue car sat in the driveway. She walked around it to stand in the front yard. Cora looked up at the windows facing the street. Each one was dark. She nodded to herself. She had not forgotten to turn off the lights up in the girls’ rooms after all. She pulled her cell phone out of the pack. Just past 7:30am. They were still asleep at their father’s apartment. The house was empty. Cora knelt down to retie one shoe; purple and white Sauconys that she bought two weeks ago and broke in. They were comfortable. Her pack shifted on her back when she bent forward. The top of it nudged her in the back of the head. Cora tied her shoe and straightened. The pack weighed exactly 18 lbs. Some food, supplies, cameras, extra batteries and minimal clothing; she didn’t need more. The streetlights flickered and turned off. The sun was rising.

Cora looked down the street to the roundabout at the end. No one was awake yet. She fell asleep the night before with the question that niggled its way under her skin, boring its way through her brain like a worm: “What if one day, I just started walking…” Cora woke up with it dancing in her mind. She dreamed in the night that she was walking down an empty highway. The asphalt was black and the dividing lines startlingly yellow. Farmers’ fields on either side, Cora walked alone, never seeing a single soul. When she woke up in the morning, Cora showered and got dressed. She made coffee, ate breakfast, washed the dishes. She turned on her laptop and checked for email. Nothing interesting; a handful of other notices. No personal mail. Five requests for help. Cora deleted everything and turned off the laptop. She straightened the pile of books her oldest daughter had left on the coffee table. She wrote a note to them both and left it tucked underneath the pile. She checked the front door to make sure it was locked. The deadbolt rattled when Cora shook the door. She avoided looking at the collage of family photos on the wall. It had been a year but she still could not bear to take it down. Smiling faces. How she could not have known what was really going on behind those dark brown eyes? It stabbed her through the heart each time.

Cora climbed the stairs to her bedroom again and rummaged in the closet. She found the black backpack wedged between the water fountain her mother gave her two summers ago and the dress that Cora’s grandmother wore at her 50th anniversary party twenty years ago. Cora frowned as she checked the pack out. It would do. She filled the backpack. Cora checked her phone again for the time. The battery was full. Her daughters would call her later. They were with him for the week. She set the phone down beside her on the bed, face down, then she changed her mind and slipped it into the front pocket of the pack. It was the first week in sixteen years that she had been away from them at all. Her heart ached. When the pack was full, Cora put it on her back and stepped on the scales to check the weight. She put her shoes on and tied them. She checked the locks on the doors once more and then left through the side door.

It smelled like spring; that raw, earthy, pungent smell of the soil after rain. In another few weeks the daffodils and tulips would show up. Cora pulled the straps on the pack tighter under her arms so it hugged her back. The sparrows flitted over her head, swooping down and around the corner of the house. Cora watched them disappear into the back yard as she stepped out into the street. Puddles lined the gutters. Cora saw her reflection in one that faced north. She turned and walked in the opposite direction.
~

note: this was a story that almost wasn’t. It’s still being written… this is just a short excerpt.

Sparta Line

Sparta Line

[my entry for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2011 – heat 8 round 1]

“Are you sure you know where we are supposed to turn?” I asked Leonard. I suppressed the urge to take out my Beretta and press it to his temple. We had been driving for 9 hours, and Leonard had not stopped talking once. Leonard looked up from the map. I looked at him sideways. His glasses sat so far down his nose, I wondered how they were still on his face at all. He unfolded a portion the map on his lap while I steered the car down the middle of the snow covered dirt road. Black tree trunks hovered in awkward lines that spilled backward into the empty fields behind them. I looked for signs of a side road, a laneway, a gate, anything. All I saw were trees.

“The map says that it’s right here.” Leonard stabbed his finger into the map. I couldn’t see where the hell he was pointing. White, grey landscape flew by us at alarming speeds. I pushed the gas pedal down further. The car vibrated in the effort.

“Is there a reason why you are not using a GPS?” I asked. My guess was Leonard was twenty something, greener than spit and should have some tech sense. Hell even I had a GPS on my phone, not that I could get to it. The damn thing was in the bottom of the bag that I had thrown in the back seat. Something thumped loudly in the trunk. I looked in the rearview. The road behind us was empty. I ignored the barrage of muffled shouting and kicking that was going on in the trunk. Leonard shrugged. His round, peach-fuzz cheeks wrinkled into what I took as a grin. Leonard jerked his head over his shoulder and shrugged again. I thought I heard him giggle.

“Don’t have one Ty. Don’t even have a cell phone.” He said smugly. I knew he was lying about the cell. I had seen him on it when we hit the highway service station. I filled up with gas and saw him through the window stabbing the screen with one finger, sending a text. I wasn’t stupid. Leonard was a turd. Knew it the minute I saw him standing beside the Buick at the warehouse. What could I do? The message from Woodlawn was to take the car and whatever was inside it; including the tag along to navigate. In twenty years, I had never once been asked to take someone along, but it was a big job. I did what I was told. Woodlawn counted on it. Why he had to pick someone so incredibly boring, I didn’t know? I wouldn’t ask it, even though I did regret every second having to listen to the asshole wax poetic about world politics and explain his theory on why the Toronto Maple Leafs would never win another Stanley Cup. I really didn’t give a flying fuck about it. I let him know. Leonard continued to prattle on.

“Can’t rely on those damn electronic gadgets, Ty. Gotta go old school when it’s an important job…” he said. I shrugged. It was probably true. I never bothered with a map or a GPS but I wasn’t going to tell Leonard that. His voice in my ears was like chewing glass.

“Old school? You can’t be more than 23 Leonard. What the hell do you know about old school” I said. Leonard elbowed me knowingly in the ribs. He leaned over like he was going to tell me a secret. If I wasn’t trying not avoid sliding into the ditch, I would have shoved my finger in his eye.

“I once heard of a guy who was told by his GPS to turn right, but get this there was no road, it was a bridge under constructions. ‘Turn right and continue on the motorway’ imagine.” Leonard said with a terrible fake British accent. Before I could tell him to shut up, he kept talking.

“Damn fool drove right off it and into the river; drowned before anyone could get to him. Never trust a machine to do your work for you.” Leonard said. His face drew itself up into a smug smile. He continued to tell me other urban myths he had heard. Bits of useless trivia fell from his mouth like puke. I sincerely wanted to turn the car sharply so he would slide and smash into the door, but I couldn’t risk ending up in a ditch. It didn’t hurt to fantasize a bit. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I had no idea where Woodlawn had dug him up, but I had no doubt he was with me as a favour to someone else. I concentrated on the road. If Leonard didn’t shut up, I was going to shoot him right in the face for being stupid. The road was like a skating rink. I leaned forward over the dash and looked at the sky. It was heavy. Probably was going to snow. I could feel it. I glanced at my watch. We had been on the road for seven hours. Woodlawn had sent a message, according to Leonard, that we were to meet him on Sparta Line at 10pm. I looked at my watch. 5pm. That was another five hours from now. We could afford to be lost for an hour before the sunset. I didn’t want to be driving around on these goddamn roads in the dark.

“Turn down this road.” He said suddenly. I slowed the Buick and made the turn. The sign said John Wise Line. I pointed it out to Leonard.

“Yeah don’t worry. John Wise seems to meet up with Sparta down here.” He said. I could hear the shifting of paper and a sudden tearing. I gripped the wheel. The road was paved but almost completely covered in snow. The sky was daring us. I could feel it. Leonard groaned.

“Shit, ripped it. It’s ok, just the part with Lake Erie in it. ” Leonard said with a nervous laugh

“We don’t need that!” He balled up the ripped piece and threw it behind him. I said nothing. There was another thump in the trunk. Leonard looked back over his shoulder.

“Do you think we should stop?” he asked. I shook my head. I wasn’t stopping until we got to Woodlawn. That was the deal and then I was done. Leonard eyed me. I gestured to him with my chin.

“Naw it will be fine. Not going anywhere. What does the map say about how far down we go on this road until we hit Sparta Line?” I asked. Leonard shrugged.

“It’s as long as my thumb. We should see it soon.” He said. The muscles in my jaw revolted and screamed into my teeth. I said a hail what the fuck in my head and kept driving. My tongue stood up and fought its way through the silence.

“As long as your thumb? Do you even know how to read a goddamn map?” I snapped. Leonard went red.

“Well, I… sure I do. Look” He pointed again to the map like I could see what he was showing me.” It’s about five miles. Tops ten minutes. We’ll just keep an eye for it. Don’t worry. We’ve got lots of time.” Leonard said quickly.

“Tell me again what Woodlawn said in his message to you. Word for word. We are supposed to meet him at 10pm with whoever the hell it is in the back, at what farm?” I said. Leonard recited the message again verbatim. I glowered at the dashboard. The fuel tank was half empty. The road suddenly gave way to a steep hill.

“Whoa.” I said. The fresh snow made the road slippery. The back of the Buick fishtailed. I corrected quickly and slowed down.

“Hold on.” I said to Leonard. We slid again, this time dangerously close to the ditch at the bottom of the hill. A narrow steel bridge appeared out of nowhere. The road jack knifed straight up on the other side.

“Shit.” We said together. The car skidded onto the steel bridge.

“Leonard, are you sure this is the right way?” I shouted. I didn’t hear him. The Buick bounced off one side rail and the bridge rumbled underneath the tires. My jaw ached from grinding my teeth. I never questioned when a new assignment came to me. Woodlawn always took care of me, whatever the job was. Ten years he made sure it was right. I had proven myself, loyal to him, to the family. Today was the first day, doubt snuck in. This mealy faced sewer rat, Leonard… What I did to deserve him I had no idea. Seven hours in the car with him though, with no radio, and his constant folding and unfolding the map was enough to drive anyone to murder. I seriously considered driving the over the edge of the bridge just to show up Leonard for forgetting to bring his GPS. Leonard unfolded the map again. He held it up close to his face. I wondered briefly if he heard my thoughts. I cleared my throat.

“It’s just up over this hill. I swear it.” Leonard said. His voice quivered.

“Fine.” I said. The Buick protested as we climbed. The tires gripped the gravel and ice. The engine groaned and bitched but several minutes later we reached the crest of the hill. I didn’t let on to Leonard that I had been holding my breath. Leonard pointed excitedly. Trees gave way to black plank fences and open fields.

“Look, there it is. Turn down that one.” He said. Leonard wadded the map up in to a large ball and tossed it into the back seat. He leaned back and stretched his arms in victory. I rolled my eyes.

“Are you sure that’s the right farm?”

“See there, the gate!” Leonard said. His voice bubbled with excitement. I considered my gun again.

“Yeah man, go. Look there are cars at the house, beside the barn. See?” Leonard said. I looked. There were two vehicles. A truck and a van. Looked promising. Leonard clapped me on the shoulder and laughed. I gripped the wheel tighter. I could feel the vein in my forehead start to throb. I tried to keep the tires in the ruts left in the snow, but the Buick had other ideas. I eased off the gas when we hit a patch of ice and the back of the car fish tailed again. There was a loud thump from the trunk. I frowned.

“The kid’s moving around a lot back there. Are you sure you tied him properly?” I asked. Leonard nodded.

“Oh yeah, don’t worry he’s not going anywhere.” Leonard said. His head bounced off his shoulders. It reminded me of that blow up punching clown. I stored that one away in my head for later.

“When we stop I’ll check.” He continued. I nodded. I saw the massive man standing in the middle of the lane at the last moment. I slammed on the brakes. Everything in the car was thrown forward. Snow plumed around the car. Leonard hit his head. Divine Providence. I breathed evenly. The hulking shoulders of the man filled the window beside me. I rolled it down to let him talk.

“What?” he said. I didn’t recognize him. His breath smelled of tuna.

“Hello. We’re looking for Woodlawn.” I said politely. Leonard sniffled beside me. Blood trickled down his nose. He had smashed his face on the dashboard when I stopped the car.

“This ain’t it.” The man said. He let his jacket fall open to show us we were in in the wrong place.

“What you boys doing out here?” he asked again. I casually dropped my hand to the gear shift.

“Looking for Woodlawn.” I repeated. The man leaned in further. I wondered if he would get stuck, which would present a whole different host of problems. He looked around and into the back seat.

“Get lost.” He said finally. Leonard gurgled in agreement.

“Sure thing” I said. I threw the car into reverse and spun the car around. I left the giant standing covered in huge plumes of snow. Leonard bounced around in the seat as the car dug into the ruts again. I punched him sidelong in the jaw.

“You are a fucking idiot.” I said evenly. Leonard cowered on the corner of the passenger seat. I noticed he had lost his glasses. Leonard searched for them on the floor. I felt the car slide to the left.

“Shit.” I said. The thumping in the trunk grew louder. I looked back and saw that no one was following. I pumped the brakes, but the car kept sliding into the ditch. Eventually it stopped and settled into the snow bank. I slammed my hands down on the wheel and swore until I ran out of breath.

“Get out.” I growled at Leonard. He said nothing. He pushed the door open and climbed out. I climbed over the over the passenger side and stood in the knee deep snow.

“You should check the trunk.” Leonard said. His voice was muffled. He was hunched over, holding his face still. I leaned back into the car and popped the trunk. I smashed my elbow trying to get back out. Leonard stood with his back turned. I ignored him. He was probably crying. I marched to the back of the car and heaved on the trunk lid. I looked in. Woodlawn’s bruised and bleeding face stared back at me. The gag on his mouth was dirty and soaked. I could see his wrists and ankles were tied. There was nothing else in the trunk except the spare tire. I noticed the tire iron was missing. It suddenly hit me what was going on, and then so did Leonard.
~

conversations with the crit ick {part 1b}

….. part 1b
me: Did you know that up until today I have been referring to what you do rather than to you directly?
crit ick: huh?
me: sorry let me use small words so I don’t confuse you.
crit ick: ….
me: Instead of calling you by your proper name, I have been focused on what you do instead.
crit ick:….. huh?
me: I have been calling you crit eek always.
crit ick: so?
me: nevermind.
crit ick: well I have been thinking about your whole stupid idea to give up YOUR story.
me: it’s not a stupid idea
crit ick: yes, it is. I thought at first that you meant you were going to give up writing period again. You know, like you thought you might at the beginning of the year…
me: no, I didn’t say I was going to give up writing.
crit ick: you kinda did.
me: no, just am going to give up my story. you do know what story I am talking about right?
crit ick: well d’uh yes, I get it now. so you’re over the “oh what’s the point of writing” woe is me crap?
me: ah… yeah. for now.
crit ick: I told you not to worry.
me: no you didn’t. you were the one who told me there was no point writing, especially when it was like chewing old pennies.
crit ick: I think I used the term “chewing glass”
me: you mean stole the term
crit ick: stole, borrowed whatever. It’s a good way to explain how it felt to hear your constant belly aching about it.
me: my belly aching??
crit ick: yeah. *shakes head*
me: anyway, explain to me what you think giving up my story involves.
crit ick: that’s easy. you are just going to make up a new story.
me: uh no. that WOULD be pointless.
crit ick: then what?
me: I am giving up the story, my story, my idea of what my story is…and the story of who I am, my past, everything that came before right now.
crit ick: you mean like now now right now, this very second?
me: you are a bit stupid aren’t you…
crit ick: shut up. I am not stupid. if you do that, then that means you are going to give up everything??
me: uh yah.
crit ick: everything everything????
me: ah yeah. I have to in order to start an entirely new story.
crit ick: but you just said…
me: well it’s going to be more like a non-story.
crit ick: that doesn’t make any sense.
me: sure it does. most of what my story consists of now – the one that I have been living and reliving – was based in fear.
crit ick: well fear is good. it movtivates.
me: sure, but it also is like carrying around 100 lb weights on either leg, arm, and around my neck too. I can carry it around but it doesn’t have to be like that.
crit ick: some would consider that sexy.
me: ah no they wouldn’t.
crit ick: sure…. makes you strong, whatever.
me: no. you’re an idiot.
crit ick: hey there is no reason to call me names.
me: yeah you have NEVER called me a name or ten in all the years you’ve been hanging around…
crit ick: oh c’mon it’s all been constructive criticism.
me: sure, the kind that destroys, breaks me down so you can rebuild on sand?
crit ick: oh god, more belly aching.
me: yeah no. you are off topic. I am giving up the story because YOU are a pain in the ass and I am tired of hearing you natter in my ear.
crit ick: but who is going to be the cautionary yin to your wild I’m going for it yang?? You need to have balance.
me: I do already. it doesn’t come from you, in case you are wondering. I don’t rely on you to do the things that I do… so why should I let you decide anything?
crit ick: oh my god you are boring. I don’t want to talk to you any more today.
me: okee dokee.

conversations with the crit ick {part 1}

 

I didn’t intend to have a conversation with the crit ick today, but after this morning’s outburst, I thought it was best if we sat down and hashed a few things out. This is an excerpt from our conversation. It will seem a little one sided at times, but, please bear with me. There was a lot that needed to be brought out into the open, not the least of which the asking of one very important question. I have been warned that I have not heard the last from the crit ick, but I am sure, after reading this, you will understand that I am more than prepared to have another conversation, or perhaps a third or fourth, depending on what is necessary.
crit ick: You do know that time is ticking?
me: well, yes, that is usually how time goes now doesn’t it. After 60 seconds, one minute moves onto the next. What’s your point?
crit ick: You have less than 72 hours to get the story finished and formatted so you can send it in.
me: * rolls eyes * .. yes I know.
crit ick: But you are just sitting there, not doing anything.
me: I am not just sitting here doing nothing. I am working. You know the whole 9 to 5 thing that you always seem to forget that I do.
crit ick: you work 8 to 4.
me: not the point. I am working. I have work to do.
crit ick: but the story….
me: is done already.
crit ick: what do you mean it’s done. I haven’t seen it.
me: of course you have.
crit ick: no I haven’t. I have only seen the unfinished story. you know with all the mistakes in it, and the boring descriptions, the lame conversations…
me: you saw the finished one but then you went to sleep and I kept working on it.
crit ick: when?
me: remember when you lay down on the sofa?
crit ick: no I didn’t.I’m not that lazy.
me: pfffft
crit ick: what was that?
me: nothing, just extra air in my mouth.
crit ick: why didn’t you let me see the final draft?
me: you didn’t need to see it.
crit ick: oh yes I did. what if it was total crap and you sent it out – what are people going to think?
me: I don’t care.
crit ick: bullsh*t.
me: it’s ok you know, you can say shit without leaving the i off. People don’t care.
crit ick: I care.
me: whatever.
crit ick: ok so … you sent it off, what now?
me: what do you mean?
crit ick: well what are you going to do next?
me: nothing
crit ick: bullshit.
me: *laughs* no no it’s not. I am going to do nothing. I am giving up.
crit ick: *stares*… giving up ?
me: yep.
crit ick: what do you mean, giving up? you can’t give up. you have so much shit stored up in that head of yours, you have to keep writing and get rid of it. So much from the past is weighing you down, making you sick, making you sad, making you angry, making you suffer. giving up. That’s the coward’s out.
me: nah.
crit ick: what do you mean ‘nah’? what does that mean?
me: relax.
crit ick: don’t tell me to relax little missy. you give me an answer right now or I ….
me: or you’ll what?
crit ick: I don’t know but I will think of something!
me: look, before you get yourself tied in a knot this is what I am doing… I am giving up my story.
crit ick: whahhh? you CAN’T do that!
me: why not? who says I can’t?
crit ick: ME for one. You can’t just give up your story. It’s YOUR story! you know the one that people need to hear… it’s who you are, your story defines you, makes you who you are, holds you….  it’s a story that you need to share,  that you need to let go of … oh shit.
me: AH HA! – so you DO understand.

crit ick: shut up.

~

stay tuned… more to come.

excerpt ~ not the only experiment

The massive white owl painted on the underpass surprised Nika as she drove on her way to the studio. The graffiti had not been there the week before. She would have noticed. The painting covered the entire piling from the sidewalk to the concrete cloverleaf it supported. The owl’s yellow piercing eyes nearly forced her into the guard rail. Nika slammed on the brakes. Her coffee spilled over the console. She looked around to make sure no one was behind her. The street was empty except for her small blue car. Nika leaned forward over the steering wheel and looked at the owl again.
“Where the hell did you come from?” she asked out loud. She looked around to see if anyone was around her. Then she realized half of her coffee had spilled onto the plastic and leather.
“Shit” she said leaning back to grab the tissue box on the floor of the back seat. Nika plucked the tissues and began mopping up the mess. Then, she rummaged around in her bag on the passenger seat for her camera. She found it and pulled out her red Nikon. Nika checked the street again before opening her door. It was strange for a Monday that there was no traffic. She shrugged and hurried around the back of the car to stand in front of the owl. He seemed to look straight through her. Nika shivered. She began taking photographs of the painting, trying to take in the details as she watched it through the lens. The owl sat on a white tree branch and an indigo blue background crept up around his shoulders. The owl’s head was slightly tilted to one side, watching.
Nika saw the artist’s tag in the bottom corner and focused in on it. She couldn’t make out the name. She frowned looking at it with her own eyes. She doubted that it was a name at all, but more a symbol that the artist used as their own stamp on their work. Nika sighed. Urban behavior fascinated Nika. She wished that she could find the body connected to the voice on the stone pillar but it was unlikely. They would be hard to track down, if she could find them at all.
Nika marveled at the curves and layers of colour. The owl’s wings were covered in a cape in turquoise and cherry. She noticed there was an intricate design on the cape. Nika photographed it. She had no idea how long it had taken them to paint it.  This kind of painting, she knew, could be done in a flash, sometimes had to be to avoid being caught by the police. Graffiti was still illegal in the city, even though it was everywhere. Somehow, especially the very talented ones, managed to find a way to create masterpieces. Nika’s skin tingled. She touched the paint. It was dry. They had to have painted it yesterday, she thought. It was not there on Friday when she came to work. Maybe they had started Friday night, Nika didn’t know. It didn’t matter to her either way. The painting was a gem. She took a dozen more photos and then stood in front of it for a minute longer, soaking it all in. A truck rumbled overhead on its way to the highway. The traffic lights flipped on their cycle from red, green and orange. The sun was firmly hidden behind heavy grey clouds. A cold wind came up through the chain link fence. Nika shivered again.
“What do you tell me, Owl?” she asked quietly. The owl was silent. NIka looked at her watch. The shop was meant to open in fifteen minutes. If she didn’t leave now she would be late.
“I’ll be back to talk to you.” She said to the owl as she climbed back into her car. She hoped that they would leave the painting up at least for another day before the workers were called to cover it with dull grey paint. Nika tucked her camera back into her bag and started her car. At least she had photos, she thought. Something had triggered in her head while she took the photos. Something she couldn’t put words to, at least not yet.

~

 

excerpt – A Thousand Paper Swans

I managed to reach the 50,000 word count for NaNoWriMo in the evening of November 13th. The story is no where near completion, but I thought I would share a couple of excerpts from it. Keep in mind, this is raw, unedited word vomit here. It was an intense thirteen days – my third year of November novel writing escapades. Last year I finished in 16 days, and my first year I finished in 10 days. It feels good to have the bulk of the novel written now – and as usual, I am surprised by what came out (since I always go in with no plan in mind). We’ll see how it all unfolds now that the ‘crunch’ is over. I do really enjoy the process of free fall and running after the story… wherever it goes!

xo
la

A Thousand Paper Swans
©Leigh-Anne Fraser-Tyson 2010

excerpts:

The First Day
Gathering Clouds

The room tipped to one side. Danielle closed her eyes, willing the floor and walls to right themselves. The living room was empty except for the worn black sofa and a battered leather Captain’s chair she had found in an antique shop. The sun was rising. The soft pale light threw strange shadows around the room when she tried to open her eyes once more. Danielle didn’t know what had come over her. She woke from a dead sleep covered in beads of cold sweat and feeling like she was going to vomit. She threw up twice in the small bathroom off her bedroom, kneeling on the cold ceramic tile, clutching the bowl with both hands. Her stomach empty, she struggled to steady herself. The kitchen was too far away. Danielle sank into the chair and waited for the dizziness to pass.

She heard the radio in her bedroom click on. The voice of the announcer droned in low monotone. She couldn’t hear what he was saying. The sound was just loud enough to be heard not understood. The television clicked on in front of her. Danielle held her forehead with one hand, leaning heavily on the arm of the chair, looking around for the remote. She thought she had sat on it, accidently turning the television on. The red kettle on the stove chirped loudly. Danielle looked up startled. She had not turned on the stove to heat the water. Steam burped and bellowed from the narrow spout and then the chirp turned into a scream as the water boiled.

“What the hell?” Danielle said, stumbling out of the chair to the kitchen to turn the stove off. She reached the doorway before the next wave of nausea hit her. Danielle doubled over in pain and desperately reached for the wastebasket before she threw up on the floor. Her cell phone jumped to life in a vibrating dance on the wooden kitchen table. Danielle looked at it, confused. Books started falling off the bookshelf behind her. The bowl of river stones she kept on the highest shelf suddenly crashed to the floor. Danielle struggled to her feet, and turned off the gas stove. The blue flame disappeared in an instant. She pulled the kettle off and the whistling scream stopped. The house plunged into silence.

Danielle searched the cupboard for some medicine and started to make some tea. When the phone rang again, Danielle’s heart stopped. She leaned on the counter and waited. The phone rang again and again. She lifted the receiver carefully as though it might burst into flame and put it to her ear.

“Hello?” she said. Danielle tried to listen. Her brother’s voice was frantic. Danielle’s heart thundered in her ears. The room tipped and Danielle spilled to the floor. She couldn’t answer her brother on the other end of the line. The blackness swallowed her before she could tell him she was alright.
~

Maddie watched Lola through the window. Lola sniffed at the wind, looking up at the sky then turned indifferently to inspect the far corner of the yard. Maddie resisted the urge to tap on the glass to get her attention. She would come to the door when she was ready to come in again. Maddie sighed. She knew better than to rush her tenacious pug. Lola was particular and would not be rushed into doing anything, especially not when there was an entire yard to patrol. The leaves had long turned, except for the tree in the front yard. The leaves were still bright yellow and clinging to the branches even in the strong November wind that was blowing. Maddie could see the limbs of the tree flailing through the living room window. She looked back into the garden for Lola, but she couldn’t see her.
Maddie rested her forehead on the glass of the window. That little ball of fur had changed Maddie’s life when Stella had convinced her to adopt Lola from the local shelter.

“People need to care for something if they are going to live. And by people, I mean you.” Stella said when we brought Lola home. After Marc died, there had been some very dark moments. Maddie knew that Lola gave her a reason to get up out of bed each morning. Lola never gave her the option of giving up. Damn dog.

The electric kettle clicked off. Maddie pulled herself away from the window and went to the kitchen. She had developed the habit of pouring two cups of tea. Every Saturday morning, two teas had become the ritual. She fixed the teas differently: one spoonful of sugar and a drop of milk in one; two spoonfuls of sugar for the other and a healthy splash of milk and left one on the counter for later. The first time she caught herself doing it, she cried for hours. There are few tears left after four years.

Lola scratched at the back door. Maddie opened it and she hustled in, shaking her rump as she walked. Maddie balanced her mug of tea in one hand and bent down to rub the top of Lola’s head. Lola licked her hand. They wandered off together into the living room. Maddie set the mug down on the coffee table and sunk heavily into the sofa. She had piles of work waiting to be, but it could wait until the afternoon. Lola jumped up onto the sofa and snuggled in beside her. Maddie picked up the newspaper, and worked the elastic band down the rolled newsprint. The elastic snapped in half, biting her finger halfway down. Maddie swore and shook her hand. Then she began unrolling the newsprint. The face that stared back at her from the front page made her gasp.

Maddie scanned the article quickly. She reached for the phone when it rang beside her. She answered it, tucking the receiver under her ear so she could flip through the pages to the rest of the article. Maddie tried to talk and read at the same time.

“Hello?” Maddie said. Part of the section of newspaper fell to the ground as she looked for page eight. Maddie swore when she realized the page she wanted was cover her feet.

“Have you seen the paper yet today?” Stella’s voice was edged with concern. Maddie sighed and tossed the paper on the sofa beside Lola. Lola opened one eye lid and grunted before rolling onto her back. Madde frowned in frustration and scratched Lola’s belly absently.

“Yes, just saw it. Did they say when they were going to call me about it?” Maddie snapped. She immediately regretted barking at Stella. It wasn’t Stella’s fault. She was just following procedure.

“They are sending me to pick you up in an hour. We have a flight to Halifax in the morning. We have to do this quietly. Can Tom take care of Lola?” Stella spoke quickly. Maddie rubbed her temple with her free hand. Tom was her next door neighbour. He would look after Lola. He never said no. Maddie looked down at her sweet little fur ball. Lola’s tongue dangled out of the side of her mouth. She grunted in her sleep. It sounded like she was snoring. Maybe she was.

“I will ask Tom. I am sure it won’t be a problem. “ Maddie said. She pressed her palm to her head, creating a mental list of what she needed to do in the next hour before Stella arrived.

“What are they saying about the body? Did they say how it happened?” Maddie asked. She didn’t want to know. The department only brought her in when there were still too many unanswered questions. Stella knew that Maddie was just asking for the sake of asking and said nothing. Five years before, Maddie had been called to the banks of the LaHave River to help search for a missing girl. They found a girl’s body three weeks after she’d gone missing. The family swore she had run away, but she turned up bloated and rotting in the rocks just outside of Bridgewater. The mother confessed. She had killed her daughter because the boyfriend had shown an interest. Maddie knew that it had been more than interest. They never released all of the details to protect the younger sister. The girl had been pregnant. The mother found out and instead of killing the boyfriend for raping her daughter, she killed the competition. Maddie felt the knot forming in her stomach. This new body had a story to tell too. A very different one. Maddie knew it.

“There aren’t a lot of details coming out. Listen, we can’t talk about it now. Get packed and get Lola settled.” Stella said. The line went dead. Stella had hung up. Maddie shrugged and set the phone down. Stella was like that. No goodbyes. Maddie stood up. Lola looked at her with one eye.

“Ok Lola time to go.” Maddie said. She rubbed Lola’s belly once more and then started putting her kit together. An hour later, Stella stood on the porch chatting with Tom, while Maddie loaded her bags into the back of Stella’s beige SUV.

“We’ll be back in a few days.” Stella said to Tom. Maddie slammed the trunk door down and turned at Tom.

“Thanks for looking after her.” I said. “I’ll call in a couple of days and see how she’s doing.” Tom nodded. He picked up Lola around the middle, and balanced her on his hip. She looked like a sausage with legs. Maddie went to him and cupped Lola’s face in both of her hands.

“See you later furball” She whispered into Lola’s ear. The engine roared to life behind Maddie. She turned and climbed in. Maddie waved to Tom and Lola through the glass, as Stella backed out of the narrow driveway and eased the truck onto the road. Maddie continued to stare out the window, watching the fields and clumps of trees flash by.

“We’ve got 45 minutes before we get to the airport. You are going to tell me how bad it is and what they’ve done already to cover it up. I am not walking into this one blind.” Maddie said. She leaned back into the leather seat and took out her iPad out of the sleeve. Maddie listened to Stella, and began making notes.

~

Saturation
One small step

Avia sat on the park bench staring down the alleyway. She memorized the cobblestones, how they were placed, the shape of each one, the numbers used to making the street. The dimensions tumbled through her mind. She was numb. She wondered what else could go wrong. Her bad day had started a week ago and was not showing any promise of getting better. Avia thought it was funny in a “poke your eyes out kind of way” how when one thing goes wrong in a day, many wrong things seemed to follow. She had received a letter from the landlord that her rent was tripling. It was not legal for him to do that, but by the time she fought it in the court, she would have to pay even more. She had to make a choice to either stay where she was or find somewhere new to live. Her job at the shop was being threatened, because of the time that the owner had given her off during the last few months of her mother’s illness. Avia hadn’t asked for it. She used a couple of sick days to take her mother to some doctor appointments, and left early a few times to be with her during the most difficult times, but never without permission, and never without making the time up or getting the work done that needed to be done. The confrontation with her boss a few days ago still weighed heavily on her. She was still hurt and frustrated.

The air was heavy around Avia. The sky threatened rain. She didn’t care. She didn’t want to move. The rain could come, pour down over her and wash her away into the gutter. Avia didn’t see the point.

“It’s going to rain.” A small voice said. Avia looked around. She didn’t see the old woman at first. She was standing at the side of one of the buildings. She moved and took a few steps toward Avia. The woman was closer than Avia realized.

“Yes, it is going to rain.” Avia said. She dug into her pocket for some change to give the woman but the woman stopped her.

“I don’t want anything from you. It’s ok. I’ve got plenty.” The woman said. Avia looked at her. She doubted that the woman had much money at all. The dress that she wore was dirty and worn to threads at the hem. The woman’s hair was unkept. Out of respect, Avia stopped digging into her wallet and sat with her hands folded across her bag.

“My name is Marie.” The woman said, extending her hand. Avia looked at it and then up into the woman’s face. Silver grey eyes stared back at her. Avia shook her hand. Marie’s skin was calloused and cool.
“Avia.” She said.

“You should take better care of yourself.” Marie said. “You look like you are ready to jump of the next building.” Avia looked at Marie, startled. Marie pet her hand. Avia noticed how black her fingernails were. Bits of dried blood clung to Marie’s index finger. Avia couldn’t see the cut, but guessed it had been a nasty one.

“I know. I have felt what I see on your face.” Marie said. She smiled. Avia could not see a trace of sadness in Marie’s eyes. Her face was weathered and sun tanned. Avia knew that the lines carved into Marie’s face made her look much older than she probably was, and told a tale of her life on the street. Marie tapped the back of Avia’s hand.

“It’s going to get better.” She said with a confidence that Avia did not feel at all. Marie struggled to stand up again. She turned and looked down at Avia and smiled at her.

“Don’t give up.” Marie said. She slowly walked off back down the side of the building she had come from. Avia didn’t speak or move. She stared at Marie’s back until she had disappeared into the shadows again.

Avia couldn’t move when she was alone again. She felt frozen in place, and wasn’t sure what had just happened to her. It felt like a dream. She looked down and saw that Marie had dropped a broach on the bench when she got up to leave. Avia snatched it up and hurried after the woman. Avia ran down the side of the building and out onto the sidewalk. The street was empty. Avia looked up and down but could not see Marie anywhere. Confused, Avia looked at the broach. It was round and covered with blue enamel with a silver etching of a woman dancing in the center. She turned it over to look at the back. The clasp of the pin was closed tightly. Avia looked closely at something that was engraved into the silver. The word Siam was stamped into the back. The first drops of rain hit the back of the brooch and Avia saw her reflection, tiny and upside down.

excerpt: Lola

Lola touched her tongue to the back of her teeth and ran the top along the ridges. She flicked her fingers at the flies as she walked down the curved driveway towards the house. The tree trunks that lined the laneway were thick with underbrush. Lola thought it looked like the trees were wearing socks. She would tell Milan but he would think she was stupid. Lola didn’t care. The trees stood indifferently as she walked past.

The windows of the house were dark. She had expected Ripley to leave at least one light on. The stonework was covered with old vines that ran wild over the windows. The fountain in the front garden had been drained for the winter. The rest of the garden was well kept. Lola walked to the side door and knocked. She could hear each knock echo inside the house.

“Fuck” she said. Lola cupped her hands around her eyes and peered in. The furniture was covered with white drop cloths. In the half light of dusk, they looked like ghosts. Lola frowned. She walked towards the back of the house hoping to find Ripley there, waiting for her. Her watch said it was nearly 7. He had told her to be there then. She went to the back door and slammed her fist down loudly on the wood.

Lola looked around. More vines spilled over the cement block walls that skirted one side of the garden and dripped through the arbour. Past the gap in the wall, she could see the forest stretch out behind. It was almost dark. Lola was ready to give up when she heard the crunch of gravel at the side of the house.

“Ripley?” she called out. She hurried to the corner and peered around it through the gloom. Lola could see someone moving toward her. The glow of their cigarette floated like a beacon before her eyes. Lola called his name again. The man was closer than Lola realized, and she yelped when he suddenly reached out and held her by the arm. He leaned in close and spoke into her ear.

“No, love, I’m not Ripley. You will see him soon.” He said. Lola did not have time to struggle against his grip. The sting of the needle slipping into her neck made her body go rigid. The man caught her around the waist as she slumped towards the ground. Lola heard him chuckling in the blackness. There wasn’t time to be afraid.
~