Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Deeply Felt

Pregnancy is possibly the most intimate encounter you can have with another person short of sexual relations. And even those aren’t always a metaphysical experience. I have experienced sex that was not intimate at all. Giving birth to my children, however, was a deeply connected, wonderful experience. Finally meeting the people who had been growing inside me for nine months was awe inspiring.

My first child was delivered after almost 24 hours of labor in my own home. I was so tired, and must have been in pain, although I mostly remember being weary and deeply uncomfortable. The pressure of delivering her head was abruptly terminated by a slippery, wiggly feeling of the rest of her body sliding out of me.

My elation at the birth of my child, I didn’t know yet whether a boy or a girl, was abruptly dampened. Instead of placing my wet, new baby on my belly as had been promised, they took her down onto the bed, where I couldn’t see her. I couldn’t sit up to see what was happening, but pieced it together later from my father’s photos.

She had been born blue, kind of a blue-gray mottled color that indicated she needed oxygen in her blood. From a portable bottle the midwife administered the needed air, and my new daughter pinked right up. She was then placed in my arms. I remember laughing and crying all at once, completely and utterly overwhelmed in this first meeting with her.

All babies are beautiful in their mother’s eyes. This one was no exception. I still think she’s beautiful, and amazing, fourteen years later. Our relationship will last beyond a lifetime, and even though it will never be as intimate as it was in that first moment, we are joined by an invisible cord.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bear Kicker

Bear Kicking

Bears have a curiosity bump. I went for a walk early one morning, and took the camera with me to take pictures of dewy cobwebs. All the way at the back of the pasture I found a patch of lovely ones, and was bent over taking pictures when I heard a rustling in the brush. I immediately thought “Oh, Dad’s moose!”
See, Dad had been sleeping out in his tent for a week, and the day before this had awakened to a moose crashing through the brush in the ravine below his tent. He’d crept to the edge and watched the south end of the moose proceeding north up the creek. So it was a natural assumption on my part to think that this large crashing in the brush was also a moose.
I swung the camera up and took a shot from the hip, flash and all. The flash was my undoing. I might have gotten away with it, but Mr. Bruin saw that light and stood up to see what the light was over the brush. At this point I realized that he was bigger than I, and although not known to attack humans often, I am not going to trust a bear further than I could throw it. Dad got away with kicking one in Well, you know. But that one was a yearling, a lot smaller than he, not a big ol’ bruin looking at little ol’ me.
So I went. Toward the house, wishing that I were a sprinter, not an endurance runner (and that a decade ago!) I am pretty sure he went in the other direction, but I wasn’t really looking. All I know is that he didn’t follow me home!
Talk about adrenaline to start your morning - that was a little too much. Coming back to Dad’s bear, the yearling, I just have to tell that story along with mine. Dad keeps bees, and even with an electric fence, the bears just can’t resist all those delicious grubs and sweet honey. One warm summer night, Dad heard a ruckus through his open window.
He knew just what that noise was. I was awakened by the sound of his feet thundering down the stairs. I ran out of my room to see my mother in her nightgown, carrying a pistol and a handful of cartridges. Dad told us later what had happened.
Once he got out to the garden and could see by the moonlight that there was indeed a bear in his hives, he’d stopped briefly. Unarmed, wearing only his briefs and wellingtons, he then charged at the bear. He’d decided, in that split moment, that if he could be bigger than the yearling who was plundering his hives, he could scare it off.
The bear, oblivious, his head as far in a hive box as it would go up to his shoulders, munched on. Dad kept coming. The bear’s first clue was a size 12 foot, encased in rubber garden boot, making violent contact with his north end. He pulled his head out and ran, squalling like a baby, toward the edge of the garden. After a few jumps he stopped and looked back to see what had hit him.
Dad told us later: “he just had this look, like ‘What did I do?” All injured innocence aside, Dad raised his hands up over his head and roared like a bull. This did the trick, and the bear made for the woods, possibly leaving behind what bears are said to do in the woods.
My mother and I arrived in time to see the bear high-tailing it in the moonlight. Mom had grabbed the wrong cartridges, and was feeding .357’s into a .44 and wondering why they were falling out as fast as she put them into the revolver. So the bear escaped with only his dignity injured, and Dad earned the nickname Bear Kicker, which he will never live down.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Snow Angel Snippet 3

“You're hypothermic.” Sarah informed her. “Your core temperature is so low all the blood has left your extremities, that is why you have no dexterity.” 

She gently moved the child's hands away and finished unbuttoning the coat. It was oilskin over what seemed to be a down lining, and her torso was dry. That must be what had saved her, lying in the snow. Her boots had kept her slender feet dry, too. Sarah decided to leave the dry inner layers, but the jeans had to come off, they were wet from calf to thigh.

“Josh.” She looked at him, standing there with a pile of blankets up to his eyes. His gray eyes, so like her husband's, were solemn and she suddenly saw the man he would be, so like his father. Her heart throbbed. “Get my big orange kit.”

“The one I'm not allowed to touch?” His eyes were wide.

“Yes, honey. Right now, please.” She knew he'd needed to know it was ok, but she could still feel how fast this life was slipping away.

Sarah lifted the slight body away from the clothing. The duster was cut oddly, with slits for the wings, but it still took a little work to get it off her. By the time Sarah had the girl off the floor out of her wet things and onto the couch, Josh was standing next to them with the kit. Sarah quickly flipped it open and pulled out the trauma shears. By this time the angel was slowly becoming aware, and she tried to push Sarah away.

“You cannot stay in the jeans, and wet jeans are almost impossible to pull off.” Sarah told her firmly. The girl shook her head weakly.

The older woman sighed. “All right. I'll try it.”

She undid the jeans and started to peel them off inside out. The angel wriggled a little, but couldn't help. 

“You know, if you wore looser jeans this would be easier. Why does an angel need to look sexy, anyway?”

She grabbed the shear and was half way up one leg before the girl could protest. The angel went limp, which Sarah took as consent.

“Josh, go run a bath, honey.” The little boy had been crouched by the couch, having taken one of the angel's hand in both of his. Now he nodded silently and trotted off.

“I don't know how I'm going to get you in the tub with those wings...” Sarah sighed. “Wet feathers are part of your problem.”

The angel's deep brown eyes had closed again. Sarah felt for her pulse, which might be a little faster, but not a lot. Her top was tied on, it turned out, almost a corset with lacing up the sides. Sarah cut those, too, whispering an apology to the non-responsive girl. She'd done enough of this as a medic over the years that skin was skin, but this still seemed invasive every time.

Once the girl was down to her underwear and pale skin that was almost blue with the cold, Sarah lifted her off the couch and into a fireman's carry. The angel's wings were hanging limply, and Sarah bit back a curse as she tangled in them and stumbled. She really did try not to curse in front of Josh. Bad habits from years of working with rough men. Fortunately, that had also taught her to persist and endure. Which got her into the bathroom with her awkward burden.

Josh was sitting on the closed toilet, his feet dangling. The water was still running into the tub. Sarah slowly lowered the girl into the tub.

“Hold this wing.” She told her son. She didn't want to get the feathers any wetter. It was a weird situation. Normally, with a case of hypothermia this bad, she would have immediately called 911. Not with this girl, though. The lukewarm water would bring her core temperature up slowly.

The wingsoff to one side, Sarah crouched below them, holding the angel's face out of the water. With the girl on her side like this, drowning was the new danger. Now, arms trembling with fatigue, she finally had time to think. She'd never read anything about angels dying. Falling, yes, as in fallen angels from heaven. This one didn't strike her as that sort, though. So how had a very young looking angel wound up lying in her backyard?

Josh was patiently holding one wingtip, so Sarah risked letting go of part of her burden momentarily. The girl's pulse was much stronger.

“Hey... Hello, angel.” She felt awkward addressing the being. Was there a proper form of address for one? She'd read and giggled her way through Emily Post as a girl with her sister, but this situation wasn't covered.
She was rewarded for her efforts with a flutter of eyelids. She tried again. “What happened to you? What's your name?”

The girl jerked suddenly, and Sarah got a face full of wet feathers. Spluttering, she maintained her hold on the girl's face so she didn't submerge. Josh let go and retreated to the doorway.

“Hey! Calm down, it's ok...” Sarah couldn't see, but as the girl was thrashing now, she felt it would be safe to let go, and did so. She leaned back out of the way and wound up with her butt on the floor, looking at the angel. The being had managed to sit up, and her wings made an umbrella over both of them as she held them out of the water.

Her eyes were ice blue, and wide with what Sarah read as consternation. She clutched her arms over her chest and her knees were drawn up. Sarah held out her hands, palms up.

“Can you understand me?” the older woman asked softly.

Sarah glanced over at Josh, still standing poised in the doorway. His eyes were wide again. The angel looked at him as well, then back at Sarah. Slowly, she nodded.

Sarah left out the breath she didn't know she had been holding. “All right. You're safe. You had hypothermia, and I was helping you get warm. You understand?”

The angel nodded again. She looked at Josh. “I... remember you.” She whispered.

The little boy smiled, like the sun coming out from behind clouds. He ventured back into the room, putting his hands behind him shyly.

Sarah watched him. “This is my son, Joshua.” She looked at the being. “My name is Sarah.”

“You can call me... Sera.” the other whispered back.  

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Snow Angel Snippet 2

Lying on her back in the snow was a young woman. Already, she was dusted over with snow, which is why Sarah had missed her clothes. Dressed in a long duster jacket, jeans, and cowboy boots, she was motionless. Her face was pale... Sarah leaned closer over her, pushing Josh toward the house.

“Go home...” she told him distractedly. He didn't need to know death, just yet.

The girl's lashes fluttered, and then her eyes opened. Sarah gasped. “You're alive!”

Then her practical side kicked in. The child must be freezing. “Come on, are you hurt anywhere?” She held out her hands and the other slowly raised hers, eyes slightly unfocused.

“No...” she whispered. “So cold...”

Sarah took her forearms. They were like ice. “We need to get you in the house, right now.” She pulled and was surprised at the weight for a second, then almost dropped the girl as she registered the wings that were coming up off the ground with her. They hung slack off her back, and she could almost believe they weren't real, until the girl shuddered and they retracted up into a neat fold behind her, wrapping partly around her shoulders.

“Oh, my.” Sarah breathed. On the next breath she was back in charge of herself. “Up to the house, now.”

The young angel let herself be half carried, Josh romping around them like an excited puppy. Sarah got her up the two steps onto the porch with difficulty, the poor thing seemed to be slipping away. Josh pulled open the slider, and the two women half fell into the house.

“Joshie, go get us blankets.” His mother ordered. She was feeling for a pulse, and it was impossibly slow under her cold fingertips. She really wasn't sure an angel could die, but all her training was kicking in now. She started pulling off the wet clothing that was making puddles on her clean floor. The angel, girl, whatever she was, was trying to help but not able to move much.  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Winter Story

A snippet of my work in progress, which I think will be a Christmas gift to my children.


Snow Angel 
Sarah was standing at the sink with her hands in hot soapy dishwater when her son came in the sliding glass door in a small swirl of frosty air and rapidly melting snow. She turned around to see him bouncing up and down on the mat. He knew he wasn't allowed to bring his wet boots any further inside. 

 “Mama, Mama!”

Sarah felt the smile starting. Josh always made her happy, no matter how the day had been going. “What, Little Man?”

She walked over to him, drying her hands on the dishtowel that had been hanging over her shoulder.

“There's a snow angel in the backyard!” he announced.

“Do you want me to come see?” She knew he did, that's why he had come inside. He nodded vigorously, pulling open the door and plunging back out into the snowy yard. There had been close to a foot of snow the night before, and it was still coming down, although lightly, now.

Sarah put her feet into her husband's boots. Oversized on her, they were easy to just pull on and go. He teased her that she wore them more than he, some winters. She stepped out the door without a jacket. It wasn't that cold, and she would only be out for a moment. Josh's little foot prints disappeared beneath hers as she followed them around the corner and into the backyard.

She was puzzled as they led down toward the pasture. Their backyard wasn't well defined, as it merged into the forty-acre hayfield that gently rolled away toward the creek a quarter of a mile from the house. Josh usually played close to home, though. He was out of sight, his little woodland camo jacket helping as his footsteps led her toward a patch of hedgerow that she kept for the blackberries. Rounding that, she found him standing still and looking at the ground. The snow was lumpy, but unmarred.

“Did you make a snow angel?” Sarah prompted.

He looked up at her, his face angelic, a snowflake clinging to one of his lashes for a second. “No, Mama, I found her here.” He pointed, and Sarah stepped closer to see what he was looking at.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hay Day

It's been a long time since I last posted, so to anyone still reading this, I apologize. I've been busy! Full-time student now. The novel, Vulcan's Kittens, I am hoping to have polished and ready to go by the end of November, and I have sold a couple of stories (happy dance!). I am taking a College Comp class, which is... interesting. I have to, no way out of it, so I might as well let you all read what I'm writing for that... Next week, snippets of work in progress, I promise. I will be back on track because I need to be. Tonight, you get an essay on a memory of when I was about seven years old.

Hay Day

When you are young, it seems all of life is a waiting game. I stood in the pasture waiting, for my father, for my dog to finish hunting mice, for my sister to join me. My father has been gone for months, TDY to the arctic and there are days I think I can't remember his face. Murphy is enjoying the hay day, the shepherd mix will hunt all day, until her belly is round from her feast of rodents. The new mown hay has only been down for a day, but already it is half-dry and the air is so thickly scented with the sweet smell I can taste it. My little sister is probably still asleep in bed, I was up early to help my mother with the milking, and now I am standing in the sunshine slowly warming up. The house doesn't have heat in it, yet.
Murphy gives a little yip, her black and brown body poised, tail low and steady. Then she pounces, both front feet together, jumping into the rolled windrow of hay and trapping the mouse. With a click of her jaws she has her prey, and she flips her head back sharply, tossing the mouse high into the air before catching it again and eating it with an audible crunch and a gulp. Mission accomplished, she trots over to me and flops her butt on the ground, pink tongue lolling out. I scratch her silky ears and head, surveying the length of our long, narrow pasture, looking toward Billy Joe’s house, and past it, the high road where I can see but not hear cars, the tractor drowns them out. It doesn’t drown out the high bleat of baby goats, though, and I turn toward our house.
As I walk, the dry stubble is sharp under my bare feet, but with my calluses from running around barefoot all the time, it doesn’t slow me down much. I am in no hurry, Murph has gone back to hunting mice as we move toward the half-built house. The garden with it’s rows of tall sweet corn block me from seeing our little road directly, but I can see a plume of dust that means someone is driving past our place. Our neighbor’s Brahma bull, trained to do tricks in rodeos, is leaning against the fence between our place and his, eyeing the corn with his mournful eyes.
Our animals are penned up today, while we hay, in the corral my father and “Uncle” Jim built to break mustangs in. I’m headed there. Salsa and Snakedancer are watching, heads over the corral fence and ears pricked toward me. Salsa’s still shaggy, she needs the last of her winter coat brushed out. My mother has been busy with the house construction and my sisters, so my guess is that Jim will do it when he comes to check on the horses. I’m too little to reach her back yet. Snakedancer’s off-center star is half-hidden under his black forelock, but his bay coat is shiny. He’s only a half hand too tall to be a pony, so I can reach all of him, at least when he lets me. I pick up a handful of hay off the windrow to feed them. It’s not crunchy brittle like it will be in a day or two when we bale it.
Salsa lips her hay delicately off my flat palm, and I pat her nose. It’s the softest spot on a horse, velvety compared to the coarse horse hair on the rest of her. Snake doesn’t like his face touched, and he lets most of his hay fall to the ground inside the corral after taking it politely from my hand. The baby goats have bounced over and gathered by the horses’ knees, and now they try out the hay. They are still bottle-fed, but they are starting to nibble on everything and anything. Snake puts his head back over the fence, and lets me lean my face against his cheek. I inhale his smell and close my eyes in pleasure at the combination of horse, fresh hay, and sunshine. Murphy comes and leans against my leg and I am safe and happy in the company of my horse and dog. The throb of the tractor and the bleats of the goats are good background music for my childhood hay day. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Zombie Maggots

A little story I put together after attending a panel at LibertyCon entitled "The Messiest Ways to Kill Zombies." I don't know about anything else, this has to be the grossest! Much thanks to Lin Wicklund, for the title and inspiration, Jonny Iffland for encouragement, and as always, Sanford Begley for his unswerving honesty. Enjoy!

Zombie Maggots

The original zombies were not the shambling undead monsters of film and fiction, but hapless victims of a bioengineered virus. Just where the first outbreak occurred is still hotly debated amongst those who care, not that there's a lot of those left anymore. Most of us are just worried about staying alive, inside, with all the windows sealed tightly. Why aren't we worried about running away from zombies?

Well, the answer to that question lies in the well-intentioned mistake of a genetic engineer who was trying to cure or kill the zombies. Fly larvae have been used to clean wounds since medieval times, as maggots will eat the decayed flesh, but not the living. His plan was to create fly larvae that would eat the zombies, essentially biological warfare against the former humans who had once lived amongst us, and now, did their level best to feed off us all.

Bad enough that our erstwhile friends, neighbors and family had become ravening beasts, the existence of zombie maggots was enough to spend the entire world into a tailspin. See, the zombie virus only infected perhaps one out of 10. Antivirals could even catch it if it were early enough in the onset. The flies, though…

But I'm ahead of myself. Even during the a zombie apocalypse. It's nice to get to get out and have a little fun sometimes. Although, had I known the apocalypse was coming. I probably would have stayed home instead of flying through Atlanta, and grabbing a shuttle up to Chattanooga. You see, I'm usually a devoted husband and father, and when the news of the zombie outbreak broke, I was attending a science fiction convention, a thousand miles away from home.

We were all sitting in the con suite, I was listening to the guys tell stories and wondering exactly how high they would pile the shit before they gave it up and admitted they were telling tall tales. Really, half the fans are writers themselves and the amateurs can rival the pros when it comes to fiction, especially when they are talking about their daily lives. I was laughing my head off, I always have such a good time at this convention. It's nice to get away from home and not be a mundane for a while. But when the Hobbit came through the doors hollering “The zombie apocalypse is coming!” We all laughed at him. Zombies are pretty popular fiction these days, and they all figured he just had a little too much at the bar. I knew he didn't drink, but I also know his penchant for odd humor.

"No, really.” He babbled excitedly. "Remember last year, when John Ringo wrote about bioengineered viruses? Well, there's reports coming out of China that someone made real zombies."

He waved his phone in the air. Seconds later, every 'Fly in the room was on their own phone, laptop, tablet, or leaning over someone's shoulder as articles and even video of the zombies were pulled up. A Presidential press release with no questions answered broke the news moments later that all air traffic, and indeed all means of transportation, were being embargoed. The room was quiet, almost unheard of with this crowd. But this massive level of quarantine and the speed of the reaction shocked us all into the reality that the apocalypse had indeed arrived.

The first thing I felt the need to do was call home to my wife and kids… Well, I tried to dial. All I could get was “all circuits are busy, please try again later."

I must have shown my feelings on my face, because Jones, ever the quick one to see how any of us were feeling, came by to squeeze my shoulder. “It'll be ok, man.”

I knew better, oh sure, I couldn't know it for a certainty, but not letting anyone travel at all meant that the virus was already here on the continental US. My hometown is a little place out in the sticks. But it's only two hours travel from a big international airport. Not that we were any safer here.

It took less than an hour for the first meeting of the newly dubbed zombie patrol to happen. You see, the group I hang out with isn't your typical mix of gamers and geeks that attend a con. There's a heavy influence of military and hard science people. It's probably the only group of people I've been a part of that made me feel like I was not the smartest person in the room. There's a few bright intellects amongst us that make me feel downright stupid. Not that they ever mean to, and they're the nicest folks you could ever chat with. Our first concern was to try and get more facts. The consensus was that the the news had been suppressed for some time, and had only been released when it could no longer be suppressed and the quarantine had to be put into effect.

None of us like operating in a vacuum, fortunately there were people like Piotr who had government contacts. It took a few hours to get answers, and even then they would be incomplete. In the meantime, the party restarted. Human nature being what it was, we could smile and even laugh while the world lay in ruins around us. The booze helped too. I wasn't drinking, I rarely do, and I have a need for situational awareness, and tonight it was heightened to the point of complete paranoia. I was downright twitchy.

It wasn't just the news, though. I'd had a gut feeling all day that something was going to go wrong. I had attributed it to not liking crowds, but now I knew it was related to this. Something was happening, and it was coming fast. I did notice that not all of us were partying. Several, who had been pulled aside earlier by the two guys who were rapidly taking charge, seem to be standing sentry. Others came and went quietly, stopping to talk with the organizers of the zombie patrol. I had grabbed a notebook, a regular paper one, and now I slid into the chair next to the guy in charge. Tall and slender, his blonde hair was rumpled, despite its short length, from the wig he'd been wearing earlier.

"Want me to keep inventory?" I asked Zane quietly. He looked at me, obviously thinking for a moment. Then he shook his head. He looked around a minute. “Sam...” He called across the room to a nondescript guy with silver hair I hadn't really noticed before. The older man looked alert and concerned and now that I saw him, I could see he was standing guard over a young woman who had her head down on the table next to him. “Send Thuja over here, will you?”

Sam gave him a crooked smile and a nod, then bent over her to talk to her. Shane continued to me in a low voice. “She's got four kids at home in New England, and I know her, she'll be better off if she's busy.”

I understood. I felt the same way. Something to do to keep my mind off the uncertainty, and the nagging feeling that my place was at home defending my family against the great unknown. She showed up at the table with calm face, a little damp around the eyes, but eager enough to take my notebook and start writing down lists.

I'd known that the guys coming in and telling him exactly what weapons were available, and how much ammo everybody had for them. We had been to the range, early that morning, but there was still a lot left. If it got really bad, we need it. I also knew even before it had been stated in the meeting earlier, that the primary danger would be from rioting and looting, not from zombies. People behave badly in crises, and I knew I was lucky to be with this group.

Our ad-hoc secretary kept more than inventory, making notes of ideas as people drifted to and from the table. Some of the zombie killing ideas were pretty far-fetched, where on earth would we find an airport snowblower in southern Tennessee? We weren't entirely sure we would even ever see zombies, but it was better to plan and prepare for the worst case, and I am always planning.

Also, keeping busy kept me from thinking too much about my family. I had taken the time during the evening to get my laptop and e-mail home. The Internet seem to be at least partially functional, and the parts that were down were probably from overload as the whole world tried to figure out what was going on. Rumors abounded, but our unspoken consensus was that we would take none of our information from the Internet.

After a while, all of the ideas were far-fetched. Setting zombies on fire, using them as fuel, or (God forbid) eating them, all seemed to be flights of fantasy. No one seemed to want to leave, although it was getting late. Around 2 AM, her boyfriend came and got Thuja. To be more accurate, he gently lifted her up from where she was resting her head on the table. "I'm not asleep." she mumbled at him. "Just resting my eyes."

I stood and stretched. I'd stayed put when she crashed to keep an eye on her, while Sam had been in on the planning session taking place at a lower table. I'd heard the gentle rumble of the Behemoth's voice, along with several others I knew well. The core group was coming together in crisis as I'd expected. Too many of us have training not to make this happen.

I nodded at him and asked “Sentry duty?”

"It's not really sentry duty, too many open spaces around here, more just keeping an eye on things, sounding out the feeling of the hotel. Speaking of which, per government order were staying here for free. We're refugees."

I stopped suddenly. "My laptop. I need to check my e-mails."

He nodded and called across the room, "Hey, Ted, you still have Thuja's things? And this guy wants his laptop."

The skinny balding man who rarely spoke nodded at him. He was sitting next to a table full of laptops, purses and sundry items, including my laptop, which I picked up now. "Thanks, Ted."

He surprised me by taking my hand and gave it a little squeeze. "We'll get you home somehow." Suddenly choked up, I nodded at him and headed out the door towards my room.

"There's more to this than some virus," Don caught up to me, and as we walked together to the other building he went on gravely. The big man had family out there, too. "There's no way they could get the authorization to shut down the US like this. There's something else, something worse."

I remembered the next words I uttered for very long time. "What could possibly be worse than zombies?”

The next morning the women cooked pancakes and I helped with the breakfast crew. As I carried things around the BFC I heard snippets of conversation. Others were concerned about their families as well, and there was a lot of hugging as we all reassured one another. The general mood of the mundanes seemed to be confusion and a sense that it was somehow all a drill and life would go back to normal any moment now. Piotr just shook his head when he heard that one. We knew he had more information, but we didn't press yet. He'd tell when he could, and if he knew we had to know, we'd know.

Feeding people felt good. When I sat still and had time to think… well, I kept myself pretty busy all day. Thuja made me eat once, and Jones brought me a bottle of water late in the afternoon and made me sit down and drink it with him.

"You need to start taking care of yourself.” He told me gently. “We need you, your kids need you to make it home. And we don't have the time to worry about you. There's rumors that there is some infected landed at the Atlanta airport."

I nodded at him. "I know I need to do better, I'll try to eat and drink. I heard the rumors too, and honestly I'm not sure what to do about... Against an epidemic under the circumstances. Quarantine…" I sighed deeply and put my hands over my eyes. “I'm sure there's people here somewhere that have studied epidemiology."

He nodded. "Yes, but the more brains we have on it, the better our solutions can be." He squeezed my arm as he stood up and I looked up at him. He was a gentle giant who spent most of his time behind a desk, and the rest of it at the shooting range. He was also lucky, his kid was with him on this trip.

"Thanks, Jones." He nodded and walked away and I looked around the room. There was still a lot of aimless people, but it was easy to see that the core group of sheepdogs had shaken out. We still weren't entirely sure what we were up against, but we were ready for something. There was a tension in the air. I still had that feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach.

The roads had been quiet all day. We'd sent out a couple of scouting parties in local vehicles with people who knew the back ways. They brought back people and supplies as it had been decided we'd hole up at the hotel rather than run to another location. The mundanes hadn't asked for protection... didn't seem to even know they needed it yet... but we'd decided to provide it. Our group grew slightly as a few outside our group were invited into the meetings, but even some of our group faded out of active planning for various reasons.

Now, though, I could hear a siren come screaming up the road. I started to run for the door, and could hear Zane behind me barking out orders to the sentries. He could have outrun me easily, but chose to lope easily at my side as I headed toward the main road. There was a small group of mundanes in front of the lobby when we arrived and he shoved through them easily, the force of his presence making itself known.

He thrust out a hand to the policeman standing there. I hung back a step, watching the crowd and looking at the officer with his nervous eyes. I saw another of our group show up, but he stayed on the periphery. I nodded to him and relaxed a little. It wasn't just me watching for trouble. The police officer looked pale and sweaty, his hands shaking as he spoke loudly.

“Infected people... Um,” He gulped once. “Zombies, are approaching the city. We recommend everyone go inside and avoid any contact with them. They are considered very violent, and will attack without warning. Also, any contact may be considered dangerous.” He shivered and my gaze on him sharpened.

“Zane, he's in shock.” I muttered.

As if on cue, the officer's eyes rolled into his head and he started to collapse. Zane and I caught him and got him safely to the ground. “Call Schimmer.” Zane clipped out, unbuttoning the man's shirt and taking his pulse.

We'd been given some of the radios the security staff used, so I lifted it to my lips and started to talk... then stopped as I saw my first zombie. Later, they tell me I said “Send in the Zombie Patrol, now!” But honestly I don't remember speaking, just reacting to that... thing.

It wasn't human anymore. Oh, sure, it still had two arms, legs, and a head, but the person was gone and only the shell was left, running towards us awkwardly. It was bent nearly double, one leg wasn't working right so it wasn't exactly fast, and I could see dark drool and bubbles of froth coming from its mouth as it appeared around the Brewhouse almost on top of us. Only one, but a whole group of people around us who were now panicking and doing their best to run away.

Zane was still on the ground with the cop. I stood over them and Mazzie, who'd been the perimeter guard, bellowed for the innocent bystanders to follow him. He led them toward the big double doors of the grand lobby. I'd been given a sword out of his collection of sharp pointy things, and now I drew it from the improvised belt and held it one handed, a hammer I'd swiped from maintenance in the other. I didn't know what it would take to kill this thing, and we'd decided to save ammo, so I left the gun holstered on the other hip.

Zane was up next to me now, scanning the area for more of them while I watched the zombie approach. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the Patrol arriving, and Mazzie giving them directions before taking up a position in front of the door, steel bared and ready. By the time the foul thing was less than 50 feet from me I'd decided to try something, so I took a step toward it, spreading my arms, and bellowing a shout as I did so. It flinched, whatever was left of the brain seeing me as a threat, but then the hunger took over and with a shrill whine it scurried toward me, almost knuckle-walking in the urgency to reach me.

Turns out killing them isn't hard. Lopping at their necks like taking a tree down works. So does smashing their brain pan once they're down. I'm not a trained swordsman, but I've chopped a few trees in my time. It lay on the ground twitching and bleeding black blood with me panting over it.

Zane swatted me on the back. “Only the one, so far. Good work.”

I gulped a deep breath and then regretted that. “Ugh.” I backed up rapidly. “Dayum, that's a stink.”

Schimmer looked up from kneeling beside the policeman. “I'll take a look at it in a minute. Our first casualty.” He finished mournfully, laying the man's shirt over his face.

“What happened?”

“Heart attack, would be my guess.”

“Ok, we have two bodies on our hands, what next?”

Behemoth lumbered up, with Don in tow. The two of them could hire out as an ablative meat wall, the biggest guys I know. I always feel like a shrimp next to them. Don was carrying sheets. “One of the security guys is coming with a golf cart and trailer. We'll get them off the street at least and see if we can reach the authorities.”

Don gently laid a sheet over the cop. Schimmer crossed himself and stood up, shaking his head. “I want to take a look at the zombie. Where's Thuja? I know she's got some medical training. Who else?”

Mazzie walked up, still scanning the area, and heard the question. “One of Taz's boys is in pre-med. See if you can find him, too.”

I nodded and used the radio to put out the call. Shortly it was just Schimmer and I standing near the body of the creature, trying not to breathe to deeply. Schim's reaction to the stench was unprintable. Neither of us really wanted to get closer to it, but when the trailer showed up we'd wrapped it in sheets and lifted it in. I was shocked at how light the body was.

The three of them did a sort of autopsy. I heard the Taz kid saying it was more of a hack job, and the only one who didn't lose her breakfast was Thuja. Without a lab, they couldn't tell much about it besides the blood was thicker than it ought to have been, the brains were basically black jello (don't ask me how they got at the brains, some things are better left unimagined) and the body was decaying from the inside out. They also said that an ear and two fingers were found in the stomach. Then I felt like losing my last meal.

The lovely ladies of BFC somehow managed a good spread for dinner. We'd been there longer than we'd planned, now, and food supplies from our own stores were running low. We'd need to do something about that, but tonight even the sentries were rotated in to eat well. I asked Laura how the women felt about playing house while the men were out on patrol and she shrugged. “Someone has to make sure your bellies are full and brains sharp. We'll fight if they get this far, all of us are armed, but we'd distract you if we were on patrol with you.”

I nodded. The discussion about women in combat had been going on for a long time on the Bar, and she was right, men are wired to think first about the female, then themselves. We couldn't afford to lose anyone to stupidity. The Dwarf, a complete misnomer as he was taller than I, came to sit down heavily next to me. “Whew, it's hot out there.”

“I haven't seen you all day. How's it going?”

“Well, we had a batch come up the railroad tracks. Musta been fourteen or so, they bunch up and it's hard to count when you're trying to kill them fast.”

Ginger handed him a beer. “Bless you my lady.” He intoned and drained it. “Ah... Yeah, they aren't real coordinated but some of them are fast.”

“We can't stay here.” Piotr sat down on my other side.

“I think we'd better have a meeting.”

He shook his head. “I need to make an announcement, then we'll have that.”

I turned and saw the Behemoth. “Joe, we need to get everybody quiet a minute.” He nodded, then stood.

“Listen up!” He bellowed. Instant silence fell, and Piotr stood up. Every eye in the place was on him.
“The zombies aren't the worst thing out there. A scientist working on either a cure or a bioweapon against them fu...” he looked at Linnet, who was giving him the evil eye. “Er, goofed up. He genetically manipulated the blow fly, trying to create larvae that would target the zombies. Instead, we've got an airborne vector that spreads the virus. Eggs are laid on the skin, they are cemented on so there's no way to remove them except cutting them off. When they hatch, they burrow in, and spread the virus through their saliva if the parent was exposed to zombies. Which they will have been by the time we see them.”

He stopped to take a breath and rubbed his hand over his head. “They are spreading as fast as the zombies at this point. We are going to need to find someplace where we can get inside and stay in as much as possible.”

He sat down, and the leaders of the Patrol showed up as if by magic. I stood and nodded to Zane as I walked outside to take the section he'd been watching. I looked up into the sky and wondered how we were going to fight against flies. Swords and guns weren't going to hack it.

The zombies were becoming more numerous that day, and I was out in the thick of it for most of the day while the planning was happening. While not too difficult to evade, it was still hot and tiring work. We had one casualty, he slipped in zombie blood and fell, breaking his arm.

All around us for two days the evacuation had been going on. Our second supply run had been stopped and we'd been warned that unauthorized vehicles would be targeted and destroyed. We'd begun to feel like an island, forgotten, when the cavalry showed up. National Guard APC's with three buses in tow. The soldiers looked tense, and I tipped my hat to them as they pulled up. One young man looked startled at that. Guess he's never seen a guy covered in zombie blood and wearing a cowboy hat with torn t-shirt shirt, utilikilt, and sandals. I'd needed the hat from my costume, though, the sun had been getting to me.

There wasn't room for everyone. I'd known that when I saw the buses. We helped get the mundanes loaded, which was mostly arguing with them about having to leave their stuff behind. As they were trickling in, I wandered close to where Zane was talking to the lieutenant in charge.

“We have new intel,” He was saying. “There's an insect vector. You need to have your men checking for eggs on their skin and clothing, and if you find any, get them off. It spreads the virus.”

The lieutenant shook his head. “I haven't heard about this, sir. Are you sure?”

Zane sighed. “We have a reliable source. I understand there are a lot of rumors flying. This isn't one of them. Understood?”

That last came out in a command bark, and the young officer paled slightly and nodded. Zane turned away and gestured at me. “Let's gather in BFC again. Time to make a bug out plan.”

It was a much reduced group that met at the long bar. The families had sent wives with children on the buses and any of ours who weren't in something resembling fighting shape had been sent too. After the normal people were loaded we'd added those. So there wasn't room for all, but even those who couldn't fight could think, and now we needed to get out of town before the flies found us. We'd been given permission to caravan out in personal vehicles, but warned that most gas stations were closed as the civilian population had been largely evacuated.

There were probably thirty or forty of us, people kept moving so it was difficult to count. Four to a vehicle for comfort and room for stuff, and that mean at least ten vehicles. As most of us had flown in, we had a few personal vehicles still, and some rentals. Evacuees had left keys for a couple more. It was doable, barely. The next question was where to go. Most of us had family, and those who didn't had critters that needed taking care of. However, splitting up seemed like a bad idea.

We might still be sitting there debating if we hadn't heard the shouts from the sentries. We all spilled out into the dusk and could see them coming in a wave, down the train tracks to the heart of the hotel. I could hear the heavy cracks of someone's gun, hard to tell which one as several others opened up. We wanted to stop them before they got too close. We were all tired, but I felt my body shift into overdrive as I drew and fired.

It was dark by the time we'd finished them. I drooped against a post, my empty pistol hanging in my hand. Don came by and casually swung the sword he was carrying to smash the head of the zombie at my feet. We didn't know if they needed to be brainless, it just felt right. “C'mon.” He grunted and I followed him into the parking lot. There was a small group standing around a heap of zombies, shining lights onto it.

I got close enough to see what they were looking at. What had been the man's chest was seething with fat white worms. If they were the maggots they were huge, fully the size of my pinky finger. Mindlessly consuming their prey, they posed no immediate threat to us, but I shuddered at the thought of one of those things under my skin. I could hear the slurping noise of them eating, and I turned away to dry heave. I wasn't the only one.

“Load it up.” Zane called. “We're going right now. There don't seem to be flies in the dark, but they'll be here in the morning.”

I wound up in a van with Sam, Thuja, and the Dwarf. I hadn't seen Thuja since the day before. The Dwarf and I had fought shoulder-to-shoulder at some point earlier in the evening. It seemed like a week. I could see the car in front of us, and twisting around, the line of headlights behind us.

“Where are we going?” I asked Sam, who was driving. Thuja answered. “Short run, John's place. Long run... well, we don't know. We can't split up, and I'd never make it home on my own.” She sounded sad and tired. Sam reached over and took her hand without speaking. She went on, “my kids and family are on their way to Canada. I got an email.”

“Mine are going to my wife's parents in Colorado.” I told her. “Piotr said the flies react badly to cold, they're too big to keep flying in the cold. So I told my wife to get everyone as high as they can.”

She nodded without looking back and I guessed she'd said something like that to her Dad as well. I leaned back and closed my eyes, letting the exhaustion pour over me. I stank, I was tired and hungry, and I didn't know where we were going or when I'd see my family again. All I could do was trust that this band of gun geeks had what it took to get us all home and maybe we could figure out how to solve the apocalypse on the way.

It was going to be a long road. I slept.  

Friday, June 15, 2012

Plant Life

So the snippeted novella, Plant Life, is published! If you liked the tease, be sure to get the whole thing, and the author would be tickled if you'd leave an honest review for her!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Plant Life Snippet

I thought I would put up a snippet of my work in progress, a space opera novella that will be published soon. Enjoy!

Rick Shaley swung open the door of the ship and looked around, puzzled. Behind him, the rest of the crew of the "Ranger" stood at the ready, weapons in hand. After a year of hearing only native animals and the local equivalent of bugs, the sudden knocking at the door a few minutes ago came as quite a shock. But now, as he directed the powerful flashlight beam around the clearing they had created around the ship, he could see nothing, not even one of the larger denizens of the planet they called Verdant.

"Anything?" Trixie asked from behind him.

"No - not even any eyes." Rick answered her laughingly.

Bond groaned. That had been a poke at him.

Once, I see an eye, and you all can't let it go.”

It had been three months since he had shouted for them, to tell them he had seen an eye, a human eye, blinking up at him from the surface of a leaf. When they had reached him, there was only a large leaf with exceptionally large stomata on its surface. Trixie, as the crew's medic, had diagnosed heat exhaustion, and had sent him to rest in the ship. In the time since the leaf incident, Bond had become the butt of many jokes.

"Hey, Rick, can we get back to dinner now?" the fourth member of the crew, Melina, asked. Melina Lavoie was the Captain, and the most laid back of the foursome. When the scout ships were crewed, there were generally either couples, or all men. There weren't enough female volunteers to ever form an all female crew. The sociological dynamics worked better that way, according to the Planetary Exploration Committee. This crew was unusual in that the four of them had not automatically paired off. Although Bond and Trixie were happily married, the other two found themselves more comfortable as friends than lovers.

"Yeah..." he switched off the light and started to close the door. "Hey! Look at this!"

On the ground in front of the door there were regular patches of phosphorescence, leading away from the door into the jungle. Rick hopped down and crouched beside the first one. He broke off a sprig of the moss-like plant and held it up for the others, who were now leaning out of the door to see. It glowed brightly, casting a greenish light on Rick's fingers.

"That wasn't there earlier." Bond stated. "It was almost dark when I came in, and there was bare earth where the ramp lets down."

"Well, you know how fast the plants here grow..." Trixie tilted her head to one side in her thinking position, as Rick thought of it.

Melina jumped down beside him, carefully avoiding the patch of plants, as he had done. "It looks almost like tracks."

"Or a trail." Rick added, his mind busy. "What do you suppose banged on the door?"

"Bond," Melina asked "Could you follow these little plants in the daylight?"

"Um, yes, I suppose. That is, if they stay the same." After almost a year, all of them were very familiar with the ever changing plants of Verdant. The growth here was not only lush and green, giving the planet its name, but fast. Faster than any Earth plant, even some of the vines that he had watched as a boy literally growing before his eyes.

"Well, I'm not letting you wander around in the dark.” Melina looked Rick in the eye. "Any of you."

"Yes ma'am." He said meekly. "I'll wait until morning."

"Ok, everyone in then." She shooed them in briskly to their forgotten dinner, going in last herself and shutting the door behind her. The Scouts were theoretically under her command, but they were selected and trained for independence of thinking, and keeping them safe was a lot like herding cats.
In the morning, contrary to their fears, there was no problem finding the little plants. They had not grown, but they had burst into bloom, a vibrant electric blue with long, cerise stamens.

"Oh, how lovely!" Trixie exclaimed, kneeling beside them and bending her face over them. "And they smell wonderful!"

Bond leaned over, picked one and stuffed it into his little gas chromatograph. The quick scent of smoke, and then it beeped at him. "Hmmm... no alkaloids or signs of other toxins." He picked another one and crushed a petal and tasted it gingerly. "Sweet", he said, putting the rest of the flower in his mouth.

Melina, standing in the doorway, laughed. "How many times have I asked you not to put everything in your mouth?" she scolded playfully.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Farm Wife

Earth's grand eruption of life
blossoms and grows anew
green shoots, pink petals promise fruit. 
Farm wife tends lavish gardens
Back bent painfully
Rewards reaped for hoeing long. 
Earthy woman all day through
Vital lover’s kiss
greets night’s darkness with passion.
Sleep comes suddenly to her
His shoulder under cheek
Her lashes flutter down softly. 
Season to season life runs
Hot and cold in turn
Love continues without cease. 

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Allyson challenged me with "Write a narrative constructed out of a series of haiku." and I challenged Bran macFeabhail with "Write a pivotal moment in a personal history that swings on the most trivial occurrence. "

Monday, March 26, 2012

Snow White's Dilemma Part 2

Snow White went to bed a happy girl. The little house was tidy, and she had discovered that a clean house was peaceful. Even Grumpy wasn't as grumpy as usual, sitting by the fire and enjoying his pipe. Her little room had been fairly good, as she had no possessions of her own, other than a spare gown Happy and Doc had surprised her with the month before. She slept deeply and peacefully.

In the morning she stood in the door of the cottage and waved as the cheerful crew of Dwarves marched off to the mines. When she went back in to take care of the messy leftovers of breakfast time, she too was humming their little tune. She scrubbed the dishes clean and made them disappear, amusing herself for a time with arranging flowers on the tables in vases she didn't know the dwarves had had.

She was discovering that when she called for something she only had to think about where she wanted it. Then it would show up there. Sometimes it was dirty, or upside-down, and she guessed that was the way it had been when Mrs. Beauchamp vanished it. She made the house look clean, smell good, and filled with pretties, then she went outdoors to play.

For all that she looked grown-up, Snow White was very much a child at heart. She hadn't had a proper childhood, in the palace. She'd often looked out the tall, mullioned windows in envy at the peasant children playing games in the dirt below. Here in the forest there were no children to play with, but the woodland creatures responded to her gentle heart and played silly games like hide and seek with her.

When her stomach rumbled she decided it was about time to not only get herself a little lunch, but to begin dinner preparations for the dwarves. She was still learning to cook, and although Sneezy had been giving her lessons, she really was only comfortable making bread and roasts. Tonight she was going to try making a pie with the leftover meat and potatoes from the night before.

Back in the house she held out her hand. “Sneezy's cookbook, please.”

A book fell into her hand and she stared at it in confusion. It wasn't his cookbook, in fact, she had never seen it before. She set it aside and said firmly “Sneezy's cookbook!”

Six books later, Snow White sat on the floor with her head in her hands. Something had gone wrong. She was getting books, just not the one she wanted. She didn't know what to do. She sniffled, wiped her nose, and stood up, resolute. Her father had always told her magic came with a price, and now she was beginning to understand what he meant. She carried the books to the empty bookshelf and put them on it. She held out her hand and called for another one.
She didn't know how much time had passed when she finally got the book she needed, but she was tired, hot, and dusty. She took it into the kitchen and started making the pies.

Dinner was late that night, and she put the dishes in the cupboards when they were washed, instead of disappearing them. The dwarves went to bed, but Snow White sat on her bed and thought hard. In the morning, she pulled Doc and Happy aside after breakfast. They heard her out and nodded. Happy hugged her and she smiled. Sometimes that was all it took to make her feel better about herself.

While they were gone that day she stayed inside all day, pulling things out of midair and putting them away carefully after cleaning them. She knew she didn't have everything, but that would have to wait for the dwarves help, as they knew what they had. That evening at the table she explained what she was doing, and that she was going to need their help.

“We need more room, or less things.” she told them. “I asked Doc and Happy about building an addition on the house, and they say it can be done. But I don't even know if I have everything back yet. Can you help me?”

The dwarves, who had been collecting odds and ends for more years than most humans had to live, and who expected to live at least that many more years, looked at each other thoughtfully. She had a point. It was nice to live in a house where you weren't tripping over things whenever you moved. Having books neatly on shelves meant they could find one when they wanted it, instead of being surprised when they discovered a title in a stack they wanted to read.

Grumpy slowly said “I'd like my pipe, so I can think about it. Too much change is risky...”

Snow White held out her hand and summoned it. A blob or sticky red stuff appeared. “Oh, dear. Strawberry jam?”

She tried again and got it, to her immense relief. She went to wash the jam off her hand. This was getting bad, she really had to get everything out of storage as soon as possible. They all stayed up late, reminding her of what they owned and making plans for an addition.

In the morning, Snow White waved as they went to work, then rubbed her tired eyes. The house was piled again, but it was temporary and much more organized, at least. She looked at herself in the mirror, seeing dark shadows under her eyes. She jumped as Mrs. Beauchamp materialized at her shoulder.

“Hello.” She managed. “I had to take it all back out of wherever you put it.”

“I see that. What happened?”

“Well, it wasn't coming when I called, or the wrong things came.” The girl explained plaintively.

“Oh, dear. You have a very disorganized mind.” The old lady tsked and flew over to the shelves and ran a finger along them.

“I was trying to keep track. And I've cleaned....” Snow White pointed out as the sprite rubbed her fingers together.

“I see that, at least.” The senior sprite reached out and made a circle with her hands, then slowly pulled it bigger, spreading her arms apart. Snow White could see a faint glow coming through it. “Hold onto my foot, my dear. I may never come back out if I get lost in there.”
The girl obligingly took the bony ankle of the old woman and held tight as she dove into the hole. She pulled Snow's arm in with her, and the girl felt her arm tingle as it passed through the glowing circle. The sprite's voice echoed back hollowly.

“Ah, here's the problem. Don't let go, dear.”

Snow White wasn't sure what she was doing in there, but she seemed to be flying in every direction. The girl held on determinedly, but her arm was being jerked about rapidly.

“Do, please come out, Mrs. Beauchamp. I don't need it, really. I'm going to take care of it myself.” She finally called, holding onto a chair with her free hand to keep herself from being pulled bodily through the hole.

“Almost done, dear. Really, this is the secret to properly done housework!”

Then with a violent twitch that twisted her arm painfully, the little old woman twisted out of Snow White's grasp. There was a burst of violet light and a sprinkle of glitter, or perhaps stars, and the girl was thrown backwards as the hole closed with a sound like a clap of thunder.

Snow White sat on the floor with her ears ringing and rubbing her arm for a few moments, waiting to see if the sprite would reappear. There was a profound silence in the house. Tenatively, she held up her good hand and called “Mrs. Beauchamp?”

Nothing at all happened. She tried again, and then asked for something else. She might as well have been speaking to empty air. The portal to whatever it was had closed off entirely, it seemed.

Snow White stood up, rubbing herself where she had landed hard enough to bruise, and went outside to call the old woman's name. After a while she gave it up and simply stood in the sunshine, feeling tears roll down her cheeks. Evidently, housework done correctly could kill you.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Snow White's Dilemma

In a little house, deep in the great dark woods, there lived a lovely girl and seven dwarves. The story of how the girl came to live with these dwarves is a well-known one. The part of the story most often skipped over is the middle, where she learned to live as a housekeeper. It wasn't easy, she had spent most of her life in privileged luxury. It came to pass, that her deepest, darkest, secret was that she was a slob. The dwarves, also slobs, really didn't care.

By now you will have guessed that Snow White was her name. One day as she sat staring at the dirty dishes on the table, she made a resolution to learn how properly clean house. This was a bit of a challenge, as the dwarves would be no help at all, having never learned themselves. There were no other people in the woods, and the woodland animals neither kept house nor seemed to mind her dirty house.

Rummaging through the little library in the little house she found a book on housekeeping. Rather old, she had to handle it carefully lest it fall apart her. And the dubious stains on the cover made her wrinkle her nose, as she gingerly opened it and laid it flat on the table. The very first page declared it to be “The Compleat Housekeeper's Guide to Immaculate Living" by Mrs. Beauchamp. Snow White cautiously turned over the next page in the book, and stared down at the first words on it.

The book was instructing her to be certain that there were not too many objects in each room, in other words, to reduce the clutter before she attempted to keep a clean house. Snow White lifted her head and looked around her in despair at the piles of books, clothing, dishes, and other detritus on every single flat surface in the room. There was simply no place to put all of that, she had been moving those piles around, since the very first day she came here. Snow White put her head in her hands and sniffled a little bit.

Suddenly she was aware that she was not alone in the room. She lifted her head, and looked around. To her surprise, she saw a tiny, wizened old woman hovering in midair at her shoulder. Iridescent fairy wings sprouted from the old woman's shoulders enabling her to hover at Snow White's head level.

"Who are you?" Snow White gasped.

The little woman, who could not have been more more than 8 inches tall, smiled and spoke softly. "I am Mrs. Beauchamp. My spirit dwells in this book, and when called upon, I help those who are in need."

"But I didn't call you." Snow White said plaintively.

"You are in need though, dear." The little pixie woman looked around and flew about the room for a moment, poking with her wand that she pulled out of her waist belt at various piles.

Snow White felt shame that this obviously very efficient and organized woman was seeing the condition of her home. She did need help, she realized. And she wasn't going to look a gift horse… Err, fairy, in the mouth. She still didn't know where they were going to put all the stuff.

"What can I do though, with all these things? There simply isn't any place to put it all."

"Well I suppose, that we could open an interdimensional portal."

Snow White stared at the little pixie. "I'll have what?"

"Nevermind dear, it's too much trouble to explain anyway."

Mrs. Beauchamp poked one particularly tall tower with her wand, and as it slowly cascaded to one side, she fluttered quickly out of the way. Snow White heard herself whimper a little. The whole thing was hopeless.

"Well my dear, how long do we have?"

"What do you mean?” Space Snow White asked, lifting her head. "How long to clean the house?"

“Yes, until the menfolk arrive.” Mrs. Beauchamp flew straight up to the ceiling and looked around in every direction. Snow White knew what she was seeing, piles everywhere and no place to put everything. With a flick of her wand, the little pixie made everything vanish.

Snowflake leapt to her feet. ""What have you done? Where did it all go? The dwarves will be angry, and I will be in so much trouble."

"Not at all, child. Whenever you want something, merely, not its name and reach out your hand, and it will appear where you want it."

"Oh, Mrs. Beauchamp! However can I thank you,? It looks so much better already, now all I have to do is scrub and sweep." Snow White danced around the room a little, enjoying all the space she had to move in. The wizened old woman swooped in and kissed her cheek.

“Now, my dear, I am leaving for a much-needed holiday. I will check in with you when I return.”

Snow White spent the rest of her afternoon happily cleaning. She scrubbed, swept, mopped, and finally, the house was sparkling. When the dwarves arrived home that evening, she had the table set and dinner cooking. They crowded in looking around and murmuring and wonder.

"What have you done with all of our things?" Sleepy murmured finally.

Snow White smiled. "What would you like?"

"How about my blanket?"

"Of course, sleepy." Snow White held out her hand in midair, and simply asked "Sleepy's blanket, please."

Sleepy's well-worn, light blue fuzzy blanket appeared in her hand immediately. She held it out to him, and all the other dwarfs laughed and applauded.

"That's a neat trick." Grumpy remarked. "But can you do it again?"

"And what is it that you want, Grumpy?"

"I want my pipe." He growled.

"Grumpy's pipe." Snow White chirped, holding out her hand again.

The grubby object in question appeared in her palm, and she handed it to Grumpy. "Here you are. Is everyone ready for dinner?"

They all were and once she had them seated at the table, she served out the roast and bread fresh bread that she had made that day. After dinner, she asked two of the dwarves to help her with the dishes. She explained to the rest that this would be an nightly ritual from now on. As the dishes were washed and dried, she held out her hand for it each one, and said put it away as she took them. They vanished from sight and Snow White smiled, knowing that when she needed them they would be ready for her. There were definite advantages, she decided, to living in a world with magic. Imagine if there were no magic, what a mess this would be, she would still be sitting there trying to decide what to do with it all.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Diane challenged me with "Pick your favorite fairy tale or well-known children's story and rewrite it with the hero/lead character having a not-so-good secret." and I challenged Kirsten Doyle with "She sips the cloudy colloid. "