Thursday, December 01, 2011

Battle's Aftermath

Bes opened his eyes and looked up. “Aduro.” he whispered unseeing, then closed his eyes again. Linn started to cry. He was terribly wounded, his gut open to the moonlight. She didn’t know what an immortal could take, and his power... she focussed. Instead of a flare she could barely stand to look at, he was flickering faintly with white.

Linn held her hands over the worst wound and bit her lips. Blackie lowered his nose to touch her crossed hands. A flare of pink mixed with blue erupted from them and arced into Bes’ body. Linn whimpered. Even with Blackie, that had hurt.

Bes opened his eyes again. This time he was focussing. He stared up at them for a minute. Linn realized it was too dark for him to see her face. She slid Lambent out of her sheath and into her lap. The glow reflected off her face and she leaned over him, trying to smile.


His eyes widened. “What the hell...” He bit out. Linn flinched.

“It’s me.” She told him hesitantly. Blackie licked his cheek, which was uncharacteristically stubbly. “And Blackie.”

“How did you two get here?” Bes whispered.

Linn could see the pain on his face. She wondered if she could do the power transfer thing again. She wasn’t sure what it did, but it seemed to have been helpful.

“Blackie brought me. I think it was the high path.”

“You ran the high path.” he repeated, looking stunned. He tried to lift a hand. Linn took it in hers. He was cold. She bit her lips.

“Blackie...” She looked at her companion. “Can we do it again?”

“Do what again?” Bes asked. She ignored him for the moment. Blackie moved around to the other side and extended his head over Bes’ body. Linn leaned over from the other side. They touched foreheads.

This time the glow of their power lasted a full minute. Twisting strands of blue and pink extended down into Bes and Linn could see his skin move and the wound closing. Then she started to pass out. Throwing herself to the side so she wouldn’t fall onto Bes, her world dissolved into gray sparkling nothingness, and then to black.

She woke staring up at the moon, Blackie licking her face. She tried to sit up and fell back, too dizzy to manage. she turned her head and could see that she was inches from Bes. He was looking at her with a funny expression on his face. Still flat on his back, but the pain and tension had eased. She grayed out again. Bes was saying something, but she couldn’t make it out.

After a minute... or more, Linn couldn’t tell, she started to feel again. She hadn’t been completely out that time. It was more like she’d stepped away from her body for a minute. She took a deep breath, feeling her head spinning. She gagged. The smell on the battlefield was bad and getting worse.

“Linn! Linn...” Bes’ urgent whisper got through to her. She opened her eyes and saw him trying to sit up.

“No!” She pushed herself up. He slumped back.

“Look...” He tried to point, his hand shaking.

She looked across his body at Blackie, who was standing, his face contorted into a silent snarl, and his back hair standing on end. Linn staggered to her feet, Lambent in hand. Advancing toward them were three beings, black power boiling off them like a fog.

She faced them, Lambent in hand, feeling a snarl on her face as well. As they came closer she could see they walked on all fours, with a curious, limping gait. They stopped as they saw her, whining a little like dogs. One of them lifted his heavy head and sniffed the air.

He laughed, a long, high pitched chattering howl that set Linn’s teeth on edge.

“How... Delicious.” He said in that high voice. “Look, my dears, a halfling and a kitten stand to protect our greatest enemy.”

All three of the hyenas started to laugh as they walked toward Linn and Blackie. Bes was still helpless on the ground. Linn cried out in fear. The miasma that surrounded stank like long-dead flesh.

“Stop!” she screamed at them. “Go away from here!”

They stopped and whined, slinking low to the ground. “Hehe...the child wants us to be gone.” one said.

“Wants us to let her be...” Another hissed.

“But we are so hungry...” the leader whimpered. “We want their juicy flesh.”

“Come closer and I’ll kill you.” Linn stated grimly, her jaw set.

“Oh, oooh...” Moaned one, sinking to the ground and covering his face with his paws. Then he looked up, laughing. Linn could see the flash of his teeth in his open jaws.

“We are already dead...” He choked out. Next to her, Blackie snarled a warning. The other two were trying to flank them.

“Zombie hyenas. What next?” Linn muttered. “At least I can hurt you.” she lunged, slashing with Lambent like she was swinging an axe. The glowing sword bit into the back of the leader’s neck with a meaty thunk. He screamed a howl, hurling himself backward.

Linn, who had twisted the sword out as she struck, rocked back on the balls or her feet, seeing the other leap at her, but Blackie leapt and bit deep in his throat, rolling him across the bloody plain. She let them go and pivoted toward the third hyena. He was slinking toward her. She shrieked and ran at him, swinging Lambent high over her head and then down at his skull. He tried to roll out of the way, and she slashed his throat open and one of his forelegs off entirely.

His high scream was almost human, and then he turned tail and ran across the plain. Linn didn’t chase him, spinning instead to see the hyena Blackie had bitten break free and run away, too. The leader was nowhere in sight. Linn held lambent high, flaring bright with power, and walked around Bes’ prone body, making sure they were really gone. The sword, covered in blood and bone bits, crackled and hissed.

Satisfied, she knelt and wiped the blade as clean as she could with a tuft of dry grass. She didn’t want that nasty stuff on her sword. Breathing deeply and trying to let the rage that had been coursing through her flow out again, she went to Bes.

Bending over him, she touched his forehead. His eyes were closed again. They fluttered open at her touch. He was warmer. She pulled her trembling hand back.

He gave her a little smile. “You are magnificent.”

Linn raised an eyebrow. “You’re delusional.”

He chuffed out a breath that might have been a laugh. “They won’t come back. Much easier prey than us out there tonight.”

Linn felt her shoulders relax. She had been so tense it hurt. “All right.”

She pulled off her jacket, shivering a little in the wind. She hadn’t brought her pack. She made a mental not to never leave it again. Twice, now, she had been caught without it. Spreading the thin windbreaker over Bes’ torso, she patted her pockets.

Back in Hawaii... however far away that was, now... she’d put a mylar wrap in her cargo pocket, in case it got cold enough that night to need it against the damp conditions. She’d been hypothermic once and that was enough. She stretched it out, now, knowing the thin layer of plastic would help keep him from losing anymore body heat, at least.

She tucked it around him, ignoring his murmured protestations. Blackie reappeared and stretched out next to Bes, his tongue lolling out. She nodded at him.

“You ok?” she asked.

He nodded., then put his big head on Bes’ shoulder. Linn realized that he was as long as the short man, stretched out like this. She stood up and looked around again. The moon was high overhead now, thin clouds racing across the surface. She could see dark shapes huddled on the ground here and there.

There was no sign of the hyenas. She refocussed, drawing upon her Sight. She sucked in a quick breath. Off to one side, far enough away she couldn’t make out details, there was a flare of golden power. She drew Lambent again and stood over Bes, remembering not to lock her knees.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Just... a lot of power.”

Now there was another flare, near where the first one had been, but this one was a pale blue. Linn swore, tensing. Bes, below her, chuckled hoarsely.

“Better not let anyone else hear you say things like that.”

She glanced down at him, seeing the smile on his face. “Glad you’re feeling better.”

The flares happened again, closer. Linn could see people walking, now, and... she squinted. A horse-drawn wagon?

“Bes?” she asked quietly, not looking at him. She didn’t dare look away from the approaching group.

“Yes, Linn?” He had an odd note to his voice.

“Who is the enemy here, and how do I tell?”

“Ah...” he sighed. “There is a question I could spend years on.”

“A quick answer would be good.” She shot back drily.

“Try shouting Aduro when they draw near.” He sounded better, she noted absently. Whatever she and Blackie had done, it must have worked. Blackie...

Linn looked down. Blackie was asleep, his paws twitching in a dream. Fat lot of help he was. “Blackie!” she hissed urgently at him. He sat up, yawning. His ears twitched toward the approaching group of people. They stopped, and there was another flare of golden power.

Blackie jumped to his feet and took off.

“Dammit, Cat!” Linn shouted hoarsely after him. She looked back down at Bes, torn. Did she leave him, who still couldn’t move, or go after the idiot kitten?

She stayed where she was. The group bunched up when Blackie bounded into them, and then started to move toward her, fast. In the moonlight she still couldn’t make out details. There were, she thought, six of them coming toward her. The rest were staying with the wagon, which had stopped.

She had been holding Lambent loosely at her side, and now she swung her up, power flaring off the tip as she did so. Bracing herself over Bes, she screamed defiantly.


Bes shouted weakly beneath her. Linn bared her teeth and prepared to die. She had no illusions about her chances against immortals. They had started to run, now, and suddenly they shouted back to her.

“Aduro! Aduro!”

The power flared from all of them... Red, green, gold, blue, iridescent, and the pure yellow that was Sekhmet. Sobbing, Linn dropped Lambent and ran to meet them. She cried out as she recognized the golden woman.

“Mama! Mama...” She fell into Theta’s arms. Sobbing wildly, she couldn’t have stopped trying if she had wanted to. Burying her face in her mother’s embrace, Linn clung to her for a second.

Her face wet with tears, she looked up at her mother. “Bes... Bes is hurt.”

Her mother was crying too, Linn realized. She just nodded and let Linn go, hurrying toward Bes. Her Grandfather caught hold of her now, kissing her forehead.

“How the hell did you get here?!”

Linn gurgled a little laugh. “Bes asked me that, too.”

Sekhmet squeezed her shoulder. “You looked ready for trouble there. Anything we should know.”

Linn shook her head, suddenly very tired. “There were zombie hyenas. I think they are gone, now.”

Quetzalcoatl kissed her cheek tenderly and she felt a jump of power from him. “Brave little girl.” Was all he said.

Coyote strolled up to her. He hugged her and led her to meet the member of the party she hadn’t met. The blue lady was a tall, dark-haired woman with a prominent nose and a broad smile.

“I am Panacea.” She held out her hands and Linn took them, feeling warm, soft skin.

“The Greek goddess of healing.” Linn said softly, wondering why she was with Grandpa Heff.

Panacea nodded. “After battles, I roam the field helping the fallen ones recover.”

“Bes is hurt.” Linn told her, looking over to where he mother was kneeling at Bes’ side. She walked over and knelt on the other side of him. They had stopped talking when she came near. “What?” She asked.

“Bes was just telling me how you and Blackie were trying to heal him.” her mother had a little quiver in her voice.

Linn looked at her numbly. “Did I do it wrong? She asked, alarmed.

“No, no...” Theta bit her lip. Linn recognized that. She did it herself when worried.

“What is wrong?” her voice squeaked a little.

“Hey, there.” Bes spoke, lifting a hand to her. She took it automatically, squeezing it a little.

“It’s just that it was very dangerous for you to do.” her mother told her. “Healing is a huge power drain. I’m tapping into all the power I’ve drained from volcanoes over the course of months, Panacea has been charging herself for years...”

“Oh.” Linn looked down at Bes. He had that look on his face again. “I didn’t think about it, Mom. I just...” She fluttered her hands, trying to put into words the way she’d felt when she looked down and saw him lying there broken and split open.

Bes grunted and tried to push himself up. Both Linn and Theta grabbed him by the shoulders. Theta looked at Linn. “Do. Not. Try. To. Help.” She snapped. Then she flared.

Linn felt like she was wrapped in golden flames. Warmth slid through her skin, into her bones. She looked into Bes’ face, seeing his eyes closed and a tear sliding down his cheek. The world slowed to a crawl and the expression on his face was of agony and joy all at once. The flames snapped out and he sat up, wrapping his arms around her.

Linn was crying again, into Bes’ solid shoulder. She was sitting awry on the cold, hard ground, her arms wrapped around him. He was petting her hair. “Shhh. shhh... let it out now.”

She hiccuped and he chuckled. “Can we get up now?”

She scrambled to her feet, sniffing and looking for her handkerchief. That, at least, she hadn’t left behind. Her grandfather, smiling, extended a hand to Bes. They clasped forearms and the burly smith pulled the shorter immortal to his feet. Bes stretched and groaned.

“Thank you, Theta.” He hugged her briefly.

Coyote handed Lambent to Linn. She smiled at him. Her face felt stiff with fatigue and tears dried onto it. She was covered in blood and mud from the run throughout the field and her fight. But everything was all right. Blackie bumped her hand with his head.She cupped his skull in her fingers.

“Can we go home now?” She asked softly.

“Yes, you can. Where do you want to go?” her mother asked her very gently.

Linn blinked at her. She realized this was a choice... the apartment in Seattle, or the Sanctuary. Suddenly she knew that if she chose the apartment she wouldn’t remember all this. She could go back to the shallow girl she had been on the plane that summer, just killing time waiting for life to go back to normal. None of this would seem real, just a bad dream she’d awakened from.

Linn drew a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “I left the Coblyns at the bunker in Hawaii. I need to get back there and help them get home.”

Theta blinked at her, then slowly smiled. She looked at Heff without speaking. He grinned broadly. Then he looked at Bes.

“Feel up to taking her?”

“Not baby-sitting this time.” The Egyptian growled.

“No, not any more.” Heff agreed with a chuckle.

Bes looked at Linn, his eyes clear and dark. No power shone there to conceal his soul. “Want me to come along?” He asked her.

“Of course.” she replied. “I have no idea how to get back there.”

He laughed, that full belly laugh she hadn’t heard in too long.

“Right then. Ready?”

“Just a minute.” She told him tranquilly. Then she hugged everyone, ending with her mother.

“Will you come to Sanctuary? Bring Grampa?” she whispered.

“Of course.” Her mother whispered back in her ear. “Couldn’t keep me away, love.”

Linn sniffed and stepped away. “Ok, now I’m ready.”

Bes took her hand and Blackie flanked her. They started to run and the moonlit land tunneled out and away. They were back on the high path. Bes didn’t move as fast as Blackie had done, before. Linn thought Blackie must have known Bes was in trouble, before. Maybe he’d been coming here every time he disappeared into the fog.

They landed much more smoothly, as Bes had talked her through how to do it as they jogged along on the tunnel. She’d told him where they were going, and he told her how to land with bended knees for more bounce.

The fog was still laying over the landscape like a wet blanket. Linn sucked in a lungful of warm, wet air, catching the exotic scents and sea air. She pulled her compass out and consulted it, looking at the ground. She figured if she found the cattle path she could get back to camp.

Bes swept her a little bow. “Lead on!”

She nodded wanly. All the activity was catching up with her. She really wanted a nap and food, not necessarily in that order. By the time she got them into camp she was shaking a little.

Bes sat her down and put her jacket over her. It seemed odd to Linn that nothing had changed here since she left. He pack was all put together and leaning against the pole of the lean-to. The little green fire was still flickering merrily. She held her hands out to it, and then snatched them back, not wanting Bes to see how they were trembling.

He pulled open the small pouch on her back pack and handed her a protein bar and then the spout of her camelbak. “Eat and drink. You put a lot of yourself into me...” his eyes softened. “Using that much power means you need to refuel. This will help.”

Linn just nodded, too tired to speak. She chewed slowly. It tasted delicious, which probably meant she was pretty bad off. He stood up.

“I’m going to go check in with the Coblyns. I will be right back, Ok?”

“I’ll be here.” Which was true, Linn reflected, because she didn’t have the energy to go with him. Once they had gotten safely back, it was like someone had opened a tap and emptied her out. She took another bite.

She was half asleep when he came back. She was aware that he was there, but too tired to speak to him. He talked to her anyway.

“They are almost done. It’s ready to launch when Heff sends word. Daffyd wants me to take you straight back to the Sanctuary.”

“How...?” she managed.

“They want to stay here until launch to make sure it goes well. I’m going to send Coyote to them.”

Linn closed her eyes. She didn’t want to go anywhere, she was too tired to move. Bes shook her shoulder. “Come on, Linn. Let’s go home.”

“There’s an offer I can’t refuse...” She muttered. She still didn’t move.

Bes scooped her up. Linn squeaked. “You can’t carry me!”

“I can and you aren’t moving...” He started to walk, and she knew without opening her eyes they were back on the high path. She relaxed and let herself drift into sleep. She felt safe again.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Michael challenged me with "An offer I can't refuse" and I challenged Lilu with "Babysitting kittens".

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Emerald Forest

Beryl knelt in the kitchen-garden of Seahold, humming to herself. All was well in her wold. At breakfast her mother had announced that Acer was showing certain signs.
“Get out your pipe and leather tools, old dwarf.” she had cheerfully and irreverently addressed the chief of his clan, Beryl’s father. “Time to start making a pair of baby boots.”
After breakfast Beryl, who was very fond of her sister-in-law, had set out to gather certain herbs. Some could be found here, in the safe kitchen garden, gathered in the sun with the company of drowsy bees. Others she would range farther afield for. The sound of a cleared throat caught her attention. She looked up to see a groomsman at the gate, holding her fat pony. Beryl rose to her feet, dusting off her hands.
“Thank you, Bas.”
“No worries, Berry. There’s lunch and what-not in your pannier.”
And her pack-basket lashed behind the saddle on Fat Boy’s haunches, Beryl saw with pleasure. “You are too good to me, Basalt.” she complimented her father’s life-long retainer.
“Tis a pleasure, child.” he smiled up at her. With her half-human blood she loomed a full head taller than he. She mounted and waved cheerfully as her pony ambled reluctantly away from home.
Fat Boy did pick up his pace once he was resigned to not going home until all her errands were done. Beryl slouched in her saddle and mentally ran through the plants she planned to harvest today. Her trips to the deep forest were infrequent for several reasons. One was that Beryl was a homebody who preferred to stay close to her Clan. Of more importance was that few plants grew in the deep shade of the enormous trees. And there were others... She kicked Fat Boy into a reluctant trot.
She found the plant she was seeking near the heart of the forest, where sunbeams were pale golden lances falling silently on the silver-pink blossoms of the wood sorrel. Ground-tying Fat Boy, who was as faithful as a dog in his own way, she set to work with trowel and clippers.
Lost in thought, she almost missed the slight rustling. She looked up and around, cocking her head to one side to better catch the elusive noises. The birds were still singing, undisturbed by her presence as she had been almost still for so long. This other presence, and she was certain someone was there, bothered them not at all. Beryl sighed. She knew what that meant.
In a low, calm voice she commanded, “Show yourself.”
For a moment she thought she’d heard a chuckle, but quickly changed her mind when her stalker stepped out from behind the tree. The tall, icy blond elf in front of her probably never smiled, much less allowed anything as crass as a laugh to cross his lips. Dressed in greens and browns that were never muddy, his long hair hung to his waist, bound back with a gold filet. In his hands he held a bow, drawn, but pointed at the ground in a manner she assumed he meant as non-threatening. Beryl rocked back on her heels and dusted her hands off.
“Merry Meet, kind sir.” she addressed him cordially, hoping he was as she termed him. Elves were not her favorite people. Culturally they tended toward an aloof hauteur that precluded anyone knowing them well, and Beryl herself liked to know the people around her, to see what they needed and provide it if it were in her power. Elves never needed anything.
He took a couple more steps toward her, releasing the bowstring and peering down at her. Beryl suddenly felt very grubby and small. She stood up, her head only reaching to his shoulder.
“What do ye in our wood, human woman?” he demanded abruptly.
Beryl tipped her chin up defiantly. “Simply gathering herbs for a tisane.”
“An whose permission gained you access here?”
“Merely mine own.” She shot back, her eyes flashing. She fell into his speech pattern without realizing she had done so until after she had spoken.
He frowned, his finely sculpted brows lowering over huge green eyes. “No one can enter Ellyndyl’s borders without a permission granted them.”
“Can they not, now?” Beryl decided this one was too stupid for words and bent to pick up her basket.
She concealed her tiny, sharp root knife in one hand as she did so. Aggravated at her indifference to him, the elf raised his bow again, pulling it taut. Beryl set her jaw and took a step toward him, so that the arrow was almost touching her chest.
The second elf appeared almost magically beside her. “Gently, now, cousin. She will unman you before you can let go that arrow.”
Startled, Beryl looked up at him. She knew that richly mocking voice with it’s undercurrent of laughter.
“And besides,” he went on. “‘T’would be very bad form indeed to harm the daughter of Seahold.”
The blond elf showed the first expression Beryl had seen on his face, a fleeting look of consternation, and hastily lowered and released the bow. He was forgotten as she turned and faced her rescuer. Without thinking, she reached up and stroked his cheek.
“Thou hast grown.” she blurted.
He captured her hand and grinned down at her. “As thou hast. Where art thy pigtails and freckles, my friend?”
“It has been ten summers. Thou at least wert old enough to have reached your full size, or at least so I thought.”
He laughed aloud. Beryl was delighted. Perhaps only one percent of all elves even had a sense of humor, but this was one of them, and her friend. He squeezed her hand and she felt a little flutter. More than friend, then. She admitted it to herself and read it in his sea-green eyes as he smiled down at her.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Chaos Mandy challenged me with "1% of Elves" and I challenged Kat with "A chance encounter with the Egyptian god Bes".

Monday, November 07, 2011

Teaching Time

In the morning, Linn milked the goats and fed the kittens, then her grandfather called her into the yard. 
“Ever built a fire from scratch?” Heff asked. He stood there with his hands in his jeans pocket, looking relaxed and casual. Linn looked at him, puzzled. He was different today. 
“I’ve made fires while out camping with Mom and Dad, they wanted to teach me how to take care of myself.”
“Show me.” He didn’t move. 
She looked at him for a minute and then realized he wouldn’t help. She shrugged and trotted into the house. The things she wanted were easy to find. Back outside, she glanced around to pick a spot. Close by, there was really only one option. She knelt on the driveway and crumpled up paper, then grabbed some dead flower stalks from the border, and a few small pieces of kindling from the woodpile. She struck the match on the box she’d brought out, shielding it from the wind with her hand, and ignited the paper. 
“Good. Do it again. House and woodpile off limits.”
Heff dumped a bucket of water over her kindling blaze, and Linn hopped back, spluttering indignantly. He took the matches from her. 
“But, but!” 
“Nope. You can do it.”
“I carry a match safe in the woods.”
“How many matches in it?”
“Um, about a dozen?”
“What happens if you’re out there,” He indicated the looming mountains with a sweep of his arm. “More than a week?”
She sighed. She knew in theory how to do this. Looking grumpily back at him, she set off for the woods. This collection took a little longer. She was vaguely aware that Grampa Heff was in the woods nearby, but he was very quiet, and she didn’t really want to talk to him, and wasn’t about to ask for help.
The first thing she looked for was a paper birch. The bark was highly flammable and could be lit even wet. She had a handful of it in her survival kit, but Grampa had set the parameters, and her pack was indoors. All she had was her belt pouch and knife. This turned a difficult task into a time-consuming one. With her knife she cut dry twigs down and tied them into a neat bundle with braided grass and hung this from one of her belt loops. The birch bark went into her pocket along with a handful of dry grass. She found some dry, fallen wood. She didn’t bother to break them, long pieces could be arranged radially and pushed in as they burned down. 
When she walked out of the woods with her hands full, Heff was hunkered down by the long driveway. He nodded at her. 
“Come t’ house.”
Linn followed him to the yard, where the fire ring he used for barbecuing had been cleaned out. He had a platter of food on the table. Linn laughed at that, and built the fire carefully. Bark first, shredded and cocooned with the dried grass. The twigs on that, then the tree limbs, arranged to give the kernel of the fire air. Pulling out her knife and flint striker, she rested the striker on the bark, pushing down firmly and creating a stream of sparks that jetted into the tinder. A couple of tries and she could see glowing spots that she blew on to feed the fire. Flames flicked up, and she rearranged the twigs to be in better contact with the tinder. Rocking back on her heels, she smiled up at her grandfather. 
“Very good. I’ll cook lunch while you check on the kittens.”
Linn could feel her cheeks warm at his praise. Grampa Heff didn’t do it much, and she knew she’d passed his first test. She wondered what the next one would be. The kittens were waiting for her at the gate, ready for their bottles. She felt guilty for having left them most of the morning, but then thought of a mother cat. The kittens would be alone while she was out hunting. Linn cuddled them and washed them after their bottles, until they were ready to fall asleep again. They slept a lot. 
Her own stomach grumbled, and she sniffed. Grampa's cooking smelled good. She sniffed again. Smelled like bacon. Linn scrambled down the ladder and Grampa Heff handed her a plate full of bacon and eggs. He’d pulled and washed a handful of sorrel and lightly wilted it in the bacon grease. It was delicious, and she had seconds. 
Her stomach full, she sighed and smiled up at him. 
“Did I pass?”
“Yep. Figured your Mom did ok with you. But I needed to be sure.”
“We used to go camping a lot.” Linn looked at the little fire dying into embers. Grampa had pulled it apart so it would go out. She felt happy. Her Dad would have liked what Grampa had done today. He’d taught her as much as her mother had. They had gone camping in all seasons, and she’d loved every trip. 
“You miss him.”
“Yeah, but it’s ok. This... He would have liked this.”
Heff nodded. “He was a good man.”
“Did he know... about you, and Mom?”
Heff shook his head. “No, he didn’t. But then, most mortals never know. We’re safer that way, both mortal and immortal.”
She nodded. “I won’t tell.”
“I know you won’t. Now, I need to get some work done in the smithy today.”
“I’ll make dinner.”
Heff laughed. “I’ll take you up on that, as long as it’s one of your Dad’s recipes.”
Linn laughed along with him, feeling something in her heart ease a little. If she couldn’t have her father, she at least had the goodness that was her memories of him in her mind. Her mother really couldn’t cook. Everything was burned or raw, with her. Linn had been her father’s “little chef” since she could stand on a stool at his elbow, and she liked to cook. Tonight she’d have fun. 
“Well, if you’re going to cook it, go out and get it.”
“Kill it, clean it, and then cook it, girl. You won’t always have a supermarket and a refrigerator at your beck and call.”
“I don’t know how.”
“You shoot pretty good with your .22, your Mom tells me.”
“I didn’t bring it.”
“Well, here.” Heff reached behind the woodpile and handed her a .22 rifle. Plain and worn, she could see immediately it was old. 
“I’ve had it for a long spell. Time you got to take care of her.”
He handed her a leather pouch which had six cartridges in it. “You can’t get game with that many, we go hungry. Time will come you’ll get two... one for each of us.”
Linn nodded. She wasn’t sure they wouldn’t go hungry tonight. Her parents hadn’t taught her how to hunt. 
Heff smiled. “Don’t look so stricken. Go find a couple of rabbits, bring ‘em home and I’ll teach you how to clean them.”
Linn put the pouch on her belt and picked up her day pack. She knew she needed to learn this, but this was challenging. Then she grinned. “All right, Grampa. I’ll be home soon!”
Heff chuckled as she walked away. She was feisty. She had a chance in this messy world of theirs. He stretched a hand out over the fire, feeling the warmth of it, and then closed his fingers. The fire went out, and he could feel the energy he’d just absorbed racing through his body. Time to get to work. 

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Bewildered Bug challenged me with "She Was Feisty" and I challenged Head Ant with "Stop the world, I want to get off for a while".

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Honor's Price

Leona knelt at the watering hole to lap at the tepid, scummy water. She saw herself reflected in it, coat scruffy and eyes dull. This hadn’t been what she’d thought would happen, months ago, when she’d met a mouse and accepted his help in return for the relief of having the festering thorn drawn from her pad. She’d agreed at the time to spare his life, and those of his kind in return for the blessed relief from pain. 
Now, half way through the dry season, with all the larger game fled to more prosperous ground, her pride was starving. She hadn’t thought, at the time, how much the tender little morsels of mouse, so fun to hunt and bounce on with both paws, were important to their diet. The cubs hunted a little already, mice mostly, and she felt guilty for allowing it, but she herself didn’t take part. And if the cubs didn’t hunt, they would have been dead already. 
The last gazelle she’d felled had disappeared into the maw of her male, who lolled in the shade and gnawed a bone even now. If only she could hunt the mice, she would survive this season. But she couldn’t, and with her death the pride would dissolve. Her lion would chose another mate, and the first thing they would do together would be to snap the necks of the babies Leona had borne. Three roly poly balls of fluff. 
She lifted her head from the waterhole and looked around. Nothing moving but dust on the wind. There seemed to be more dust and less vegetation than even last dry season. Every year it was worse. She was six now, a matronly lioness. This dry season would be her last. She sighed and panted in the heat. 
She began her patrol, on sore pads. The thorn removed, her wound had healed, but now she was ranging so far for game that her pads were worn thin. She was a mile from the home acacia tree when a strange delegation barred her path. Five mice, all seemingly gray at the muzzle. She sniffed deeply. They smelled old, too. They flinched at her breath but didn’t run. 
“What would you ask of me, now?” She growled. 
“We want to ask you to hunt mice again.”
“What?” Leona sat abruptly, her rump hitting the ground with a thump. “I swore I would not eat another mouse.”
“We know.” the oldest was white to the eyes. “The mousling who assisted you was not a thoughtful being.”
“And? I gave my word, you know.”
“We will release you from that vow. Out population has swelled so that we are unable to find food for our children. Mouse families breed unchecked, and disease is on the rise. You will have noticed that there are less plants and more dust?”
“Yes, I thought that seemed to be so this season.”
“Our people are turning this veldt into desert. Without you hunting and keeping them in check, we all die. So, lioness, we ask you to begin hunting mice again. Will you do this?”
Leona looked down at them, so still and serious, waiting for her answer. Suddenly she understood why they were all grey-beards. She reached down and delicately seized one in her jaws. The others scattered, but didn’t get far. Her belly was full when she reached the spreading acacia tree in the warmth of dawn. She collapsed next to her sleeping cubs and fell deeply asleep, hope warming her as she digested many, many mice. 

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Tobie,, thewritegirl challenged me with "Write about the mouse and the lion from the perspective of the lion." and I challenged Jurgen Nation (Anastacia),, jurgen_nation with "Walking in the woods and surprising a mythical creature".

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ignorance is Bliss

We were sitting in my room, he on the edge of the bed, me in the computer chair. It's not the biggest room to begin with, and it's a shared office/bed space. So we were knee-to-knee and he had to have known what was coming. It wasn't the first time he'd lied to me, nor was it the largest. But it was the last time he would.

I asked him a question that I already knew the answer to, and his lip started to quiver. He knew I knew, and he thought I'd forgive him and try again, as I had just a few short months earlier. After all, our wedding was only weeks away. He pleaded desperately that he had been bringing me and the children money. From his mother. I swallowed my rage and coolly asked him to leave. It wasn't about the money. It had never been about the money, or the home, or the job.

After he drove away finally, avowing his love, devotion, and desire to get it all back together and win me back, I returned to sit on the bed and stare into space. I felt numb. I'd told him at the end of the conversation I didn't have anything else to say. I did, but he wasn't worth losing my temper over. It was my own fault for not looking harder, for not seeing through his web of lies earlier. I wanted the happy times to be the truth, not the lies and laziness that he hid so well.

My weekly Indie Ink Challenge piece. I was challenged by Sadie with "I don't want to see the truth, I was happy with ignorance" and I challenged Hannah, and her response was brilliant!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mirror, Mirror...

“How do I choose what I will do with my life? How do I know what consequences those choices will have for me ten, twenty years down the road?”
The slender, brown-eyed girl frowned at the reflection in the mirror. She had received three acceptance letters from college in the mail that afternoon, and had opened them all and pored over the descriptions of each school and majors yet again. She still couldn’t decide. One had the advantage of being close to home - but it would be nice to get away from her family and try her wings out. Another was a prestigious school, but it would be expensive. The third hadn’t really been an option at first, but was where her boyfriend planned to attend. 
She closed her eyes. “Mirror, mirror, on the wall...” she muttered. Magic would be nice, of course - a fairy god mother to wave a wand and tell her what to do to find her happily ever after. She opened her eyes and did a double take. 
The girl spun around in shock at the plump, short-haired woman who stood behind her in the mirror reflection. She was alone in her bedroom. She looked back at the mirror. There was still a woman standing just behind her left shoulder. She was grinning at her. 
“Wha - Who!” she stammered. The woman chuckled. “Are you my fairy godmother?”
Now the woman laughed. “No, I’m your older and wiser self. Hello young lady.”
The younger shook her head in bemusement. “How?”
“Oh, that will become clear later, but I won’t tempt paradox.”
“Getting quite journalistic in your questions, good girl. I am here to offer a tiny bit of guidance.”
“You’re going to tell me where to go to college.”
The older version looked quite shocked. “Not at all, that would bring a paradox right down on us. Merely a hint, is all. How many acceptances so far?”
“Five. The last three came in today.”
“Lay them out on your bed.”
The younger turned and collected the pile of letters and laid them out edge to edge along her pink comforter. She looked back at the mirror, where the older woman was leaning forward as if to see. 
“The third one from the foot of the bed. Start there, and count off the ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe ryhme.”
Obediently she bent over the letters, touching each one in turn, cycling back around as she counted. When she finally picked up the letter that was it, she turned to look back at the mirror. The apparition was gone. She looked down at the letter she held. The college was one she hadn’t considered in her top three. It specialized in maths and science. The young woman looked back at the still-empty mirror and realized that the counting rhyme had a set sequence. Her elder self had chosen the school for her as surely as if she had pointed to it and stated “That’s the one.”
Sweeping the other letters onto the floor, the young woman flopped onto her bed and wondered about the possibility of quantum time travel. She fell asleep dreaming of a laughing pair of eyes that were her own. 

Writing for the Indie Ink writing challenge! I was challenged this week by Tara R with "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" and I challenged with "Part-Time Husband". 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Fork in the Road

Joe slouched in a hard chair, his phone dangling from one limp hand. He almost let go and let it all fall down, down to the floor. He wanted to just stop the world and get off now. Everything was gone, it was all laid to waste and his life might as well be over. The world was his oyster, not that long before. How had he let it come to this? 
He picked up his hand and stared at the text on it. 
“I know what you did. Don’t bother coming home. I changed the locks already.”
So she knew what he’d done to keep his family together, to keep his home and give his children someplace to sleep at night. When the last business he’d tried to start he had gone to his father-in-law. The ruddy, balding man, his white beard neatly trimmed, had looked down at him from over his wobbling chins. 
“Not a penny.” He had said before his son-in-law had even opened his mouth. The man had felt his face flush. “I’ll get it from someone else, then.”  The older man, Arthur, had sniffed contemptuously. “Not likely. But you won’t get another penny from me. My daughter is always welcome, of course, but not while she’s married to you.”
Joe had left, head held high, although his heart was sinking. His credit was shot, of course. Coming to Art had been a desperate last ploy. His carpet cleaning business was going down the tubes and the last loan he’d scraped up had all gone to pay his vendors.  Now what was he going to do? 
Joe drove into town, following the truck ahead of him without paying much attention to where he was going. The rain and dusk didn’t really exist for him, he blindly followed the taillights ahead, tears making them look like stars. He almost followed them right off the edge of the road. 
Stomping on the brakes, he fishtailed to a stop. His heart in his throat, he ran to the edge of the blacktop and looked down into the ravine. The armored truck lay on its back in the ravine, one headlight still shining. The undercarriage was steaming in the cold rain. 
Joe scrambled down to the truck, grabbing branches and slipping the last few feet. He could hear a man groaning from the wreck. He looked into the gaping hole where the passenger window had been. The guard was obviously dead, his head hanging at a strange angle. The driver was half conscious, covered in blood. Joe couldn’t see well enough to tell what was wrong with the man, and he couldn’t reach him from this side of the truck. 
He backed out and started to go around the back of the truck. He didn’t want to go near the engine. The back door was buckled open, and Joe stopped and stared. Bags of money lay half inside the truck, one was torn open and twenties had spilled out into the mud. The driver moaned and Joe started. He looked up at the road. Only his headlights showed. He hesitated a minute. This road wasn’t busy, but it was likely someone would be along very soon. 
He made his decision. 
Now, four months later, he sat in a hotel room wondering bitterly why he had chosen as he had. Would she still care? Was this the end of everything he’d ever wanted? He lifted the phone and dialed a number from memory. Time to find out the answer. 

This is my Indie Ink challenge piece for the week. I was challenged by Dirk, with "the world's his oyster", And I challenged SuperMaren. 

Thursday, September 01, 2011

I'd written a lovely story about the USO in Vietnam, and my computer crashed and I hadn't saved it… bad Cedar! I just got home from Civil Air Patrol meeting with my daughter and found it gone. With only an hour to deadline, I'm not going to be able to finish writing it, now. I was thinking of the cadence challenge tonight, as I was watching my daughter drill with the other cadets. They were marching and calling cadence, and it made me think of all the young men and women who serve our country in uniform, not so much older than these children. They go out whole and hearty, and come back on those choppers, damaged sometimes beyond repair.

One of the biggest regrets in my life was giving up my opportunity to serve. All I can do now is support those who wear the uniform now, and raise up the next generation to be patriots. Perhaps one of my children will one day serve their country, and I shall send them off with tears and pride.

My challenge this week, which I failed miserably, was
"I hear the choppers coming 
They’re hovering overhead 
They’ve come to get the wounded
 They’ve come to get the dead"

From: KSyrah

My challenge to Sarah Cass was "Hey Y'all, watch this!"

Thursday, August 25, 2011


My Indie Ink writing challege - "The betrayal that wasn't."

"It is done." she whispered, head bowed and silken hair falling down around her face to hide it.
He might have looked back, but she would never know, with her eyes tightly shut and hands over her face.
She had just sent her child off into the unknown in the arms of a stranger. Would he understand, in the years to come, that she had to do it if he was to grow up happy and normal? Or would he consider himself betrayed by his mother who had sent him off to a new world without her own presence?

She sighed and stood, stretching. The terminal chairs were hard and uncomfortable. She checked her watch. The time she had made in her tightly monitored schedule for this detour and hopefully rescue of her child was quickly coming to a close. She was due back at the compound in an hour. Traffic would no doubt turn the forty minute drive into at least that.

The short, well dressed woman reached into her purse and pressed a button. As she began to walk toward the doors, a child of about four with curly auburn hair like hers shimmered into being next to her. His steps mirrored her exactly as he was indeed, a projection of her. This would not last long, her deception, but it was the third stop of the day, each time she had taken her son into shops with her and commanded the driver to stay with the groundcar.

She climbed into the rear seat gracefully, the child following her every movement. Leaning back she closed her eyes, hoping the man in the front seat would leave her alone and take her grief for weariness. Very soon she knew she would suffer for what she had done, but the peace of knowing her boy was safe consoled her and she cradled the thought in her mind like a gleaming pearl.

She opened her eyes as they pulled up in front of the pillared house - just a little too small to be called a mansion - that was her personal prison. She murmured a thank you to the driver and stepped out, the image of the child in lock-step with her. They walked up the stairs, the mother and ghost of her son. Her mind whirled. How long a deception could she play out? Each passing moment brought safety for him.

In the nursery she dismissed the nanny for the day, telling her that she would take care of her son. Then the woman switched off the transmitter and her child vanished. She stood alone in the bright room and cried for her loss, finally.

I was challenged this week by Ixy and I challenged Indie Adams with "Know when to walk away."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Becoming Light

While I'm reflecting on life changes and going though old files, I came across this one. I can remember feeling this way, but this last year, away from the crushing depression and failed marriage, I didn't feel this way in February. I still hate shoveling snow and battling slush, but I'm not feeling like this. In spite of everything that is going on in my life, with a major down following almost two years of up, I still am confident that I am strong enough to weather this storm. I've come out of my chrysalis and my wings are ready to take me up and away. 

February can often seem to me like climbing up out of the abyss. The narrow crumbling steps seem to go on forever. Sometimes you fall. Sometimes you give up and sleep in a heap, your fingernails digging into the soft rock walls. Some days are wet, and treacherous, with a cold that seeps into your bones until you think it will never get warm again. A whirlpool of worries and thought sucks at your mind. There is sunshine up there, you are sure, but you no longer remember what it looks like. Just that it was warm, and good. For months you have been down here, the walls closing in on you, the tasks that seem so light to others an insurmountable effort for you. You never give up, for to do so would be to lie down to die. Just keep climbing, one step at a time. Baby-steps, painful and slow, over and over and over.... Spring is coming, you chant under your breath, and hold your temper, for to rage against the darkness in your mind is to rage out at those around you, who cannot see it. Spring is coming. The world will open out for you again, like a blossom in the sun, and sweetness will fill your nostrils and you will grow wings as you leap upwards and out of your despair...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Motherhood, and reflections.

I wrote something a while back. A long while, given that my youngest child is now six, and he wasn't even born when I wrote this thought down. It still rings true, now, and it's a good reminder to me as my eldest will be a teenager in less than six months. I still need to keep these moments in my heart, as they grow up and away from me. Like the toad in this picture, my children deign to be held for a time, but for them to be truly happy I will have to let them go free. After touching their warts and saying "ewww!" of course.

There are many signs of motherhood. Today I wore, for a while, a badge on my shoulder and reflected about other badges like it that I have worn and will wear through my life. My youngest banged her head, and as I held her in my arms and murmured to her, she buried her face in my shoulder and sobbed. A few minutes later, after I had put her down and she was playing happily, I realized she had left a patch of tears and snot on my shoulder. One more in a succession of such spots. They started with the spit-up from my babies, and will progress to lower marks of banged knees and elbows, from cuddles at an age where they are usually past such comforts. Hopefully, when my daughters are teens I will be mother enough to shoulder their tears over every little heartbreak in a way my mother never did. And when our lives have come full circle it will be spit-up again, from their babies. All my life I will be proud of my badges of motherhood, but I prefer to wear them invisibly. Pardon me while I change my shirt. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

I've lost a week…

And I don't know where it went.

Saturday my fiance twisted his knee, and Sunday morning I took him to the ER. It develops that he may have torn his ACL, and on top of previous injuries he is laid up. I am suddenly doing the work of two people, and I have gone from little time, to no time. So I apologize to my II challenger… I had a story in my head, but it never made it out. I'll be back eventually, maybe after the kids go back to school.


I'm late, I'm late! *white rabbit vanishes*

Monday, August 01, 2011

WIP Snippet

Duty was neither to be entered upon lightly, nor to be worn as a badge of honor. Yet even in her short life, Liatris had seen both. Had done the first, as a matter of fact. Which was arguably what had led her to this forgotten backwater. She liked backwaters. Had grown up in one, chosen another to spend most of her adult life in. But this one... this one gave her the shudders. She squared her shoulders yet again, heaven forbid a Voyageur of the HBC show ought less than a bold countenance. Lifting a clenched fist, she prepared to knock at the door, only to be surprised as it swung open. 
Liatris put a hand on the holster at her hip, fingering the worn leather, but not yet pulling her weapon. "Hello?" she called, pitching her voice to carry without too great a volume.
"Anyone home?"
No answer came from within, and from the scents swirling about her on the air from the house, she though no-one had lived her for quite some time. Duty bound, she stepped into the tenement hall.  The stillness in the air was almost complete, although Lia thought she saw and felt the ghostly movement of rodents feeling in each room as she wound her way through the rooms in a circle ending back at the door. 
None within. Dusty furniture and littered floors spoke of residents at some lost date. Duty had not driven Lia to inspect the food chiller. She was unwilling to inflict that on her nose. She hesitated at the threshold weighing duty. Was her long journey balanced by this empty place where her quarry ought to have been? She sighed and pulled the door closed behind her. Overhead, rain drummed on the dome and green lightning tore through the mineral-laced atmosphere that had brought humans to this planet. A whole planet, and all the men on it packed into this squalid place. Her nose wrinkled as she looked around. Narrow streets dominated with towering tenements, each floor an apartment unto itself, accessed by grav elevators. Many of them, she had been told, could only be accessed by the previous owner's DNA, a design flaw that had left landlords gnashing their teeth when renters refused to leave or to pay rent. 
Lia pulled her toque back onto her head, affixing that badge of her status and livelihood firmly. Even in this misbegotten place, the voyageur's cap would be recognized and respected. She set out for the nearest bar. She knew it wouldn't be far. Every settlement on every planet in the known galaxy had at least one bar, and her rule of thumb was that the more poor and miserable the place, the more bars there would be. Her only criteria was, where would the widow of a spaceman hang out? 


When i was nine, I was as insouciant a saucy wench as you can imagine. I had no idea I was a child - I almost never thought of myself as any age at all. This was mostly due to the fact that I was home schooled and had little contact that year with any other child but my sister. Actually, I was in my twenties before I realized that I was young, so perhaps it had nothing to do with being home schooled. But I digress - and I will probably do so frequently, so please bear with me. 
As I was saying, when I was nine we lived far out on a dirt driveway in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, where they raise grass seed for all you compulsive lawn-keeping types. Great, waving fields of grass, let go until they come to ripeness, then harvested for seed. 
We lived on a leased acre of land bordered on two sides by great, rampant hedges of blackberry vines, too thick for anything but a mouse to squeeze through. There was a small gap in the hedge near our mobile home, where you could walk through into what had once been either a road or a railway bed, and if you took a left turn and went off down it at an angle away from the house, you would come to the railroad itself, and at 8:30 every night, and 11 in the morning, a freight train would rumble its way past our house. 
On the other sides, the house was open to the great grass fields, stretching off to the highway on one side, to the distant tree-lined river on the other, and the woods bordering the wildlife sanctuary on the other. From the beginning it was the sanctuary that drew me. It had been, once upon a distant time, homesteads, and there were still thickly scattered the fruit trees and flowers that bore evidence to those intrepid people. More recently (although still forty years in the past) it had been a military training camp, so across the land were neatly laid a pattern of straight, paved roads, and a man-made lake. Also there were foundations for the long gone Quonset huts that I think must have been there, and one open basement to some grander building.
This was my playground. I was out there all the time in the spring, summer, and fall. The weather was mild enough, I had not yet heard of giardia, so I drank the clear stream water with impunity, and I ate whatever I could find, for already I knew what was good, and what was not, thanks to the tutelage of my Grandmother Kemnow and Euell Gibbons. There were cherries, in the spring, lovely yellow Queen Anne’s first, and later, dark almost black Bings. Also, in the spring, the whole place blossomed with daffodils and narcissi of every descriptions, naturalized for who knew how many years. 
I loved the beauty of it, and the freedom to roam without fear of meeting people, companioned by my dog, and sometimes a baby goat. Later, when it was summer, my sister would come with me on occasion, but she was not as happy as I to be entirely away from people, and although we had many adventures together, the sanctuary was my domain.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Challenging Finality

In life there are so many chances to say goodbye. Sometimes we don’t mean it, not really. English is a little imprecise that way. Goodbye might mean see you later, see you tomorrow. It might mean see you next week. Rarely, in our globe-trotting, fast moving world, does it actually mean “I will never see you again”. 
Death is the exception. But death moves silently through the interstices of time, rarely waiting long enough for us to have a chance to say goodbye properly, while the soul still rests in the body and hears through the ears. Goodbyes for those of us left behind are a solace for our own selves, not for those passing through to the other side. 
Why a goodbye for the passing spirit, when their soul is released from the frailty of human flesh? Even after the clay body lies breathless the spirit yet hears. The goodbyes of loved ones are perhaps better phrased as “see you later!” There are, then, no more goodbyes, for the immortal soul stretches onward to infinity. The attenuation of time brings us all to that separation point of body and soul, a shared moment common to all men. 

This Week's Indie Ink challenge was made by the Womanist and I challenged Stefan. I was certainly very challenged by this week's "no more goodbyes"! I'm not entirely happy with it, but this is what tumbled out of my tired brain. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sharon’s Song

Here, at the end of all time and reason
In the limitless fog of life
I can stand at last and say
I loved this man. It is finished.
With mist lapping at my ankles 
Like the swirling of a skirt
All the times we fought and loved
Raced onward to the end of everything.
All lies in ruins at my feet.
Below me - light dawns before me -
For all that is below me, beneath!
My outstretched arms to embrace
Life anew, as mists ebb away 
And reveal a beginning, 
A new day and reason to live anew. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

It Was Never Enough

There are moments I have wished I were stupid. Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'm a genius. I know I'm not, as a matter of fact. I have some pretty major flaws in my intelligence (we aren't talking about my character, here!). But I know I'm pretty smart. Smarter than average and smarter than most of the people around me. And no, I don't suffer fools well.

If I were stupid, I could have lived with my marriage. My first major relationship, it consisted of me trying to please my husband with everything I had. My body, my efforts, my intelligence. But it was never enough for him. He had to be smarter than I, stronger than I was. The physical abuse ended when I'd finally had enough and lashed back. The emotional abuse only got worse.

If I were stupid, I would have been able to subsume my self enough to give him what he wanted, complete and utter control. But I am not stupid, and I saw that it was never enough, that he would keep taking until I was utterly gone, and I could not give that much.

It was never enough, and that is good. I was able to walk away with enough of my self left to rebuild. I am able to give of myself to my children, now. I will teach them that giving with no return is never good enough. Breaking down another person's self is destructive to both of them. I will teach them to live with eyes open to the damage another can do to them with words alone. And I will teach them that when it is never enough, it is time to walk away.

Response to Indie Ink Writing Challenge from Ixy. My challengee this week was Dili with "Here, at the end of all time and reason…"

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Errand is Always the Same

This is written in response to the below challenge at part of the Indie Ink Writing Challenge. You can check that out here: My challenger this week was Amy Labonte, and my challengee was Tobie.

“The Errand is always the same: each presses on toward the nothingness into which the divided are drawn.” Pablo Neruda
Every week, Tiffany ran the same errands. She tried to remember, today, while clenching the wheel of her old Suburban too tightly and avoiding insane traffic, just when this had started. It had to have been after Jamie was born, she didn’t remember this feeling of frustration and loneliness before that. 

Her husband, David, traveled so much these days, leaving her with the kids and the house, and above all, the errands to deal with. The groceries, the mail, the pet food and the cleaning supplies. Her world had shrunk to the four wall of the house and the circuit of errands. She wondered how much more it would shrink. Would her world become so small it would be a black hole, the gravity of her responsibilities pulling her down until she was nothing at all?

She pulled into the parking lot at Shop-Mart and climbed wearily out, clutching her purse. The kids were with the sitter for two hours, leaving her with just enough time to do everything. 

“Divided, we conquer.” she muttered as she walked into the store. The greeter looked at her funny while delivering the same upbeat speech she’d stopped listening to - how many years ago? Tiffany took the offered cart and sped through her routine, knowing exactly how to circumnavigate the store to get what she needed without wasting time or money. 
At the checkout, Betty greeted her cheerfully. They saw each other practically every week. “You look peaked.” The older woman observed. 

“I feel like I see more of you than I do David. And too much of the kids.”

“It will be better when they are all in school.” The grandmother assured her. 

“You keep saying that.” Tiffany returned ruefully, but with a smile. 

Energized by the exchange, Tiffany wheeled her purchases back to the big vehicle. Loaded in the capacious rear cargo area, she climbed into the drivers seat and started the engine. She blinked. 


Horns blared and she jerked the wheel to avoid the neon blue Prius bearing down on her. Heart pounding, she stared in horror at the road ahead. She was driving down the road toward Shop-Mart. Why had she turned around, when had she pulled out of the parking lot? She risked a glance over her shoulder at the stoplight, no groceries in the back. Hadn’t she just been here? On auto pilot in her shock, she pulled into Shop-Mart. Had she really lost a whole week in that blink of an eye? 

She grabbed her purse and started into the store again. The same greeter pushed a cart at her and said something in a cheerful voice. Tiffany couldn’t understand it. The words were garbled. She tried to smile back, but it felt like a rictus. She pushed the cart deeper into the store. 

She knew she was in trouble when she met herself in the dairy aisle. The other self didn’t look up from her PDA, checking her list. Reminded, Tiffany pulled out hers and looked at the list. Same as earlier... today? last week? Disoriented, she looked up and saw herself again. Just in front of her cart, bending to grab a case of yogurt. Tiffany blinked. 

“What’s going on?”

The other her didn’t hear, moving off around the corner pushing her cart. Tiffany followed and found herself back at the beginning of the Dairy aisle. Suddenly she though she understood. Her life was collapsing onto itself, the weight of it all pulling her so far down that the orbiting errands of her life had become small enough to see her both coming and going. 

She stood stock still in the aisle, afraid of what would happen with another step. Where was the event horizon? Had she already reached it, that plane where the black hole of her life had sucked her in too far to climb back out? 
Tiffany stood there shaking. Would one more step take her into the nothingness of red-shift and oblivion?
Local Police were called today when a woman started to scream uncontrollably while shopping at the Shop-Mart. Emergency services had to remove her in restraints after she refused to let go of the cart and her purse. Child Services has taken temporary custody of the woman’s three children while her husband is reached as he travels out of the country. Reporters who talked to store clerks learned that she was a frequent shopper, and one speculated that post-partum depression might be the cause of the woman’s breakdown.