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Monday, December 15, 2014

Camera Obscura



The box arrived slightly battered, engulfed in tape and stickers that proclaimed its fragility to a world that obviously hadn't cared.

Hannah stared at it for a few seconds before she dropped her keys in the bowl she'd picked out when she and Brian had bought the house.  It was the first thing she'd bought specifically for their new home, and she'd decided it was a home warming gift to herself.

They'd been married fifteen years, bought the house seven years in. She'd selected every piece of furniture in the house with her flair for color and composition.  Flair that had helped her become a  successful photographer in the Chicago area.  Anyone looking for a unique portrait wouldn't have long to wait before someone suggested Hannah York.

Hannah York - her married name.

Brian had once accused her of marrying him just to get out from under her father's name. She'd been supremely pissed, not the least because he'd been right. At least, he'd been partially right.

She'd married Brian because she loved him; being able to change her name had been a bonus.  Like a double exposure that hadn't been planned, but turned out to be exactly what the client wanted.

Her reflection in the beveled mirror above the bowl reminded her that she was Hannah York, and ghosts from the past had no power over her.  She took a breath and turned back to the waiting box.

It was bigger than she'd expected, although she really couldn't say why.  When her father's solicitor had called to say he was shipping something from her father's estate, she hadn't asked any questions.  The details of her father's death had been splashed all over the tabloids, and she really didn't want to know any more.

"Famous Photographer Alastair Neville Found Dead With Model"

Her mother had called to warn her, but it had been too late.  Her newsfeed had been full of the story almost as soon as it had happened. Then the solicitor had called, and Hannah had just wanted to get off the phone as soon as possible.

She pushed the box through the doorway to the living room and over to the overstuffed chair she liked to read in.  It was a huge, bright orange chair with electric blue trim, but the box was several inches higher than the arms on the chair, and wide and deep enough that it wouldn't have fit if she'd been able to pick it up to put it there.

Climbing over the arm of the chair and sinking into the cushions with legs crossed, she reached for the letter opener on the table beside her and started slicing the tape away.  The London address wasn't familiar, but knowing her father she was sure it was expensive and exclusive.  She let the blade slice across the numbers before opening the flaps of the box.

Bubble wrap.  A lot of it.  Random bundles of bubble wrap, all sizes and shapes, carefully packed into the box with no room left over.

Frowning, Hannah lifted the first bundle out and carefully unwrapped the protective covering.

A tiny Browning camera - just like the first one he'd ever bought her.  He'd promised to show her how to use it, but then hadn't been home enough to keep that promise.  She'd figured it out.  Eventually.

Leaning over the arm of the chair, she put the camera on the floor and reached for another bundle. As she worked her way through the box the collection of cameras on the floor grew until she started having trouble finding a place to put them down.  Holding a Nikon that her father had used to photograph Machu Picchu instead of attending her ninth birthday party, she pushed the much lighter box away from the chair and slid to the floor.

The Nikon joined the growing circle of cameras as she reached back into the box for the next camera.

By the time Brian walked through the front door, the box was empty and laying on its side outside the circle of cameras, and Hannah was sitting with the Browning in her lap.

"Hannah?"

She opened her eyes and turned to look at him, her face blank.

"You OK?" He took a step into the room, but stayed well back from the cameras on the floor.

Hannah took a deep breath and let it out again before she nodded.

Brian took a step closer and looked at his wife's calm face, trying to gauge the emotion - or lack of it - he saw there.

"I don't know how I'm supposed to feel.  I don't know what he wanted me to feel." She looked at him and waved her hand over the cameras.  "Do you know what these are?"

He hesitated, "Cameras?"

She shook her head.

"His life.  He sent me his fucking life.  What am I supposed to do with that?" Her voice rose until she was nearly shouting the last question.  "These damn cameras, and the pictures he took with them, were always more important than our family.  More important than me. Now he's dead, and his last act is to send me the fucking cameras? Jesus!"

She fell back against the chair and closed her eyes, working to get herself back under control.

Brian crossed to a bright green chair and sat down.  He considered the collection spread on the floor, and quickly calculated its worth at somewhere above a couple million dollars.  The cache of his father-in-law's name would push it even higher.

"Hannah," he hesitated, not wanting to make things worse.  "Hannah, look at me.  Please."

Her eyes opened and gazed at the ceiling for a beat or two before she lifted her head from the seat of the chair to meet his steady gaze.  He could see tears in her eyes, and knew she'd make sure they didn't fall.  Not for her father.

"I can't tell you what he was thinking." Honestly, Brian was pretty sure Alastair hadn't been thinking at all, if the rumors of his drug use were true.  "I can't tell you that, but I can tell you this:  he didn't know you.  I don't think he sent these to you to hurt you, I think he sent them because the one thing he knew about you...the only thing he knew about you...was that you were a photographer.

"I don't think he..." Brian stopped for a second, then plowed in.  "He wasn't thinking of you, of how you'd feel.  He was thinking of himself, and what he'd like to inherit if some guy he knew died. So he sent you the cameras."

Absolute silence followed, and her eyes stayed locked on his without blinking.

When she finally spoke, the words were slow and quiet.  "You're right.  You're absolutely right."

She didn't say anything else, and he couldn't make himself leave it alone.  "I am?"

"You are.  I'm making this personal because I loved him, but it wasn't personal for him.  It was never personal for him, unless it was happening through that little black box in his hands."  She looked down at the Browning in her lap.  "I loved him because he was my father, but he didn't love me and it wasn't personal.  It really wasn't."

Hannah laid the camera on the floor and rose to her feet so quickly that Brian sat back in surprise.  She stepped carefully through the cameras and slid into her husband's lap, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and pressing her face into his neck.

He wound his arms around her, pulling her in close.  "I love you."

She leaned back and smiled, "I love you back.  And that is personal.  Let's go to that Italian place downtown for dinner, I'm starved."

Brian looked over to the cameras and back.

"What about..." he nodded his head at the silent circle on the floor.

"I'll order a case for them. A lot of them are practically antiques now, vintage at the least.  They'll be an interesting display."  She stood and took his hand.  "It'll wait.  Let's eat."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Capturing Christmas



A pink slip of paper the size of a postcard, fluttered out of the mailbox when Leanne opened the little door.  She caught it in her hand before it made it too far and added it to the small stack of junk mail and greeting cards that had been with it.  The artificial breeze from the air conditioning felt wonderful after the sticky heat outside, but it wanted to grab at the papers she was trying to hold on to.

The lobby of their building was empty and being glad for it made her feel like a Grinch, but it meant that she could get into the elevator and up to their apartment without answering any questions about Gage.

That quick trip in the mirrored box up nine floors was the only time she was able to relax these days and she'd really started to look forward to it.

Inside her apartment, she dropped the cards and mail on the table next to the door and made sure her keys stayed on top of it all.  Crossing to the phone, she dialed the apartment manager's number.

"Bradley Apartments."

"Hey Mr. Nomen, this is Leanne Pond.  I got your note in my box - is now a good time?" She knew what he was going to say but she couldn't stop herself from asking.  Good manners drilled into her as a child trumped exhaustion, or she would have just stopped by without checking while she was on the ground floor.

"Ms. Pond!  No prob, come on down!  I got 'em waiting for you."

The trip down to the lobby gave her a chance to check her phone for messages and sigh heavily when there were none.

Mr. Nomen's door popped open as she crossed the lobby.  She was never sure if he watched people through the Judas hole so he'd know when to do that, or if he just had the trip timed after close to thirty years on the job.

"I've got 'em all right here, in bags so you can carry 'em easier.  You headin' over now?"  The lines on his face folded and refolded like origami when he spoke; Leanne always thought he should have one of those Shar Pei dogs so they'd match.  Gage had laughed all the way to the apartment when she'd told him that in the elevator one day.

"Yes. I had to work late so I'm a little behind tonight."

The lines folded themselves into a sculpture of concern as the apartment manager handed her the three large bags pull of packages.

"Ms. Pond, you take care of yourself now.  Gage don't need you gettin' sick!"

She forced herself to smile and wrapped her fingers around the bag handles.  "I will, Mr. Nomen.  Thanks for bagging these for me."  With the bags in one hand and her keys in the other, she backed into the lobby before he could ask about Gage.

***

Why do elevators have mirrors? she wondered as the car rose silently.  Her reflection offered no answers, but it did give her the chance to inject some cheer into her expression before the doors opened.

"Hey Leanne!  Three bags today?  Nice!" The nurse at the desk smiled and Leanne wished she could siphon off some of her energy.

"Yep.  Go Facebook, right?"

"Absolutely!  It might as well be good for something other than gossip, stories about alien abduction, and political arguments.  You need any help?"

Leanne smiled and shook her head.  "No, I've got it.  Thanks!"

Standing at the door halfway up the hall, she took a few deep breaths and gave herself a little pep talk about staying positive before she pushed the door open.

And walked into Christmas.

A carol she couldn't quite identify played softly and sparkling lights covered everything that didn't move.  A small tree on a bedside table glittered in the corner as it turned slowly.

"Mom! I got to have eggnog today!"

The bags were dropped on the foot of the bed, covering the Santa Claus blanket folded there, and she moved in to wrap her arms around the shoulders of the teenage boy grinning at her.

"Eggnog?  Where did they find eggnog in July?"

He shrugged and held up a glass filled with creamy white and flecks of brown; the strong scent of nutmeg confirmed that it was real eggnog.

The quick visual study was a habit she couldn't break, any more than her reflexive good manners. She took stock while she tasted the holiday drink.  Hair that couldn't decide if it was brown or blond, in curls that any woman would kill for, deep brown eyes and thick eyelashes, and a finely chiseled face that leaned more toward pretty than handsome.

Gage looked more like his father every day, and that broke her heart a little.  The thought of her ex-husband made her want to check her phone again, but she didn't want Gage to ask about him, and if he saw her look he would.

"You ready to open the presents?" she asked, acknowledging that she was hoping to distract herself as much as her son.

"I got more?  Is that what's in the bag?" He reached past her for the first bag.

"Nah, the bags are underwear.  I figured you needed some new pairs."

His laugh filled the room and he shook his head.  "You wouldn't do that to me, you love me too much!"

She slid her hand through the soft curls of his hair and pulled him forward to kiss his cheek.

"You know me entirely too well, munchkin."

His hand swiped over the spot she'd kissed and he put the palm of his hand on her forehead to push her away.

"Geez Mom, watch the PDA!"

Leanne settled back in the chair next to her son's bed to watch him sort through the boxes she'd brought.  Each box was carefully inspected to see where it had come from - it occurred to her that he enjoyed seeing the different cities, states, even countries, even more than what the boxes contained.

Gage wasn't going to make it to Christmas and he knew it,  The doctors and nurses didn't like to hear that sort of thing - keep it positive, was their mantra.  She was a realist, and she'd raised her son the same way whether she liked it or not.  He wasn't willing to ignore the reality of his disease so neither would she, but he was determined to make something positive happen.

He'd wanted to celebrate Christmas early and she'd made that happen. His idea to make Christmas happen early for all the other kids was an impulse she'd happily encouraged.  Anything to distract the both of them was a good idea, as far as she was concerned.

Gage's post on Facebook asking for toys had gone viral.  What she'd brought with her was just the tip of the iceberg - most of the packages were sent directly to the hospital, and her son wrapped those during the day.  The ones that came to their apartment they did together.

Each box was opened and what was inside and studied closely before sorting it into the piles on his bed.  Dolls, teddy bears, electronic games with extra batteries, and everything in between joined the designated pile.

They chatted about her day and then about his day while he sorted, and she carefully put the emptied boxes back in the bags.  When she was back home she'd record the names and addresses of the senders for the thank-you notes her sister sent out for her.  Soon enough the boxes were tucked away and the bed was covered in colorful toys.

"Time to wrap this up!" He laughed every time she said it, which was why she kept saying it.

A bedside table was pulled over and a plastic tub of wrapping paper and bows came out from the small closet.

Leanne had to admit that Gage was far better at wrapping than she was, so her job was to stick the label with the age the toy was appropriate for on the bottom.  The wrapped toys went onto a cart by the door.

Too quickly the bed was empty of toys, the cart piled high with colorful packages, and the plastic tub of supplies put back where it belonged.

It was time to go.

"You sleep tight, baby boy." She leaned in and held his face between her hands, giving him a smacking kiss on the forehead before he could squirm away.

"Not a baby!"

"My baby!"  The ritual made them both smile as she pushed the cart out into the hallway. Her heart felt lighter when she got to the desk; it always did after their wrapping sessions.

"Lots of packages today, Emily," she told the nurse.

The nurse came around the desk and pushed the cart the rest of the way into the room behind it.  "They look amazing, Leanne.  Gage does such a good job with the wrapping.  You should see my presents - half of them come open on their own!"

She laughed and nodded.  "Mine are just as bad.  I think he learned how to wrap presents just so the Christmas tree wouldn't look so sad!"

"Well, I can tell you the kids really get a kick out of this. Gage is a great kid, to think of this."

Leanne looked down and busied herself with her purse until she was sure the tears that wanted to fall were under control.

"It was his idea to put it on Facebook.  I never thought it would be this successful, though.  Well, I've got to get home, I'll see you tomorrow night!"

She was humming, "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" as she got on the elevator.

The woman she joined raised her eyebrows and laughed.  "It's only June - a little early for Christmas, don't you think?"

Leanne grinned at her.

"It's never too early for Christmas!"





***


What says Christmas to you?  The presents?  The food?  The smell of a pine tree in your living room?  If you had to capture Christmas one last time, what would you absolutely HAVE to have?  Comment below!





Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Writer By Birth, A Redhead By Choice, And An Outcast Of Colorado By Temporary Necessity

Guest Post by:

AmyBeth Inverness


I have a silly tagline. That’s fine, because many of my stories are at least a little silly. Those that aren’t silly are weird, in the very best sense of the word. My very best stories are both weird and silly.

There is a meaning behind the words, though. I am a writer, and have been for many, many years, even though I only became serious about making writing my career a few years ago. I once thought that, in order to call myself a writer, I had to be multi-published. This isn’t true at all. There are many writers out there who never see their work published, either by choice or because the right publishing situation never happened for them. Being a writer is a state of mind. If you write, if you consider your writing to be an important part of your life, you’re a writer.

I had no choice about being a writer. I would write even if I knew that I’d never be published. I do, however, have a choice regarding my hair color. I’m 43, and my hair started going gray long ago. In 2000, my hubby suggested I dye my hair just for fun, and I discovered that I really like being a redhead. Since I dye my hair myself, the particular shade of red varies wildly, but I’ve been a redhead for fourteen years now. In 2005, we brought home our oldest daughter for the first time. She’s a redhead, and she gets a kick out of the fact that Mommy dyes her hair to match.

As far as being an outcast of Colorado, that is sadly true. I grew up in Longmont (north of Denver) but my parents moved to Vermont during my first year of college. I never really got to go ‘home’ again. A couple years of college in Wyoming, a couple years as a nanny in Connecticut, then back to Wyoming as a working woman. I met and married my hubby, then we moved to Vermont to be closer to my parents.

We intended to move back west after finishing our college degrees, but eighteen years later we both have our degrees but we haven’t been able to move back. In an ironic twist of fate, my parents retired south shortly after my youngest daughter was born, so we no longer have any family locally. I miss Colorado. We’re still hoping to return someday, but a lot of things have to fall into place for that to happen.

If it ever does happen, I’ll have to change my tagline.

But I’m not changing the red hair.

~*~


A writer by birth, a redhead by choice, and an outcast of Colorado by temporary necessity, AmyBeth Inverness is a creator of Speculative Fiction and Romance.   She can usually be found tapping away at her laptop, writing the next novel or procrastinating by posting a SciFi Question of the Day on Facebook and Google Plus. When she’s not writing, she’s kept very busy making aluminum foil hats and raising two energetic kids and many pets with her husband in their New England home.
You can find her on Facebook, Google Plus, Ello @USNessie, and Twitter @USNessie or check out her Amazon Author Page.

The Cities of Luna is a series of short stories about everyday life on the Moon in the near future. Collection One contains twelve stories, and a new story comes out with every full moon. Moon Dragons came out November 6, and Sheepless in Seattle will come out on January 5.

The latest story, One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor came out on December 6 and is now available at Amazon.

Varen knows better than to trust his big sister, Usra, who has gotten him in trouble more times than he can count. But of all the shenanigans she’s perpetrated, getting them stuck outside their city of Mordor, in surface suits on the lunar regolith, takes the cake.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cancelling Christmas



The nativity was getting on her nerves.

Her Bible study group had been discussing the Christmas story with their pastor, and now everything about the little scene rubbed her wrong.

Joseph and Mary and the baby were white, for one thing. Laine hadn't really thought about that the previous thirty-seven times she'd set the nativity up in her living room, but now she couldn't stop thinking about it.

There'd been a documentary on Nazareth and the people who lived there when Jesus did.  It had been really interesting to see how people lived back then, and how they lived now. Something had been bothering her the entire time she'd been watching it, though, and it wasn't until the program was nearly over that she figured out what it was.

There were no blonde people.  No blue eyes.  No peaches-and-cream skin.  The people she saw on the screen were dark skinned, with the kind of deep brown eyes that seemed bottomless, and they all had curly brown hair.

It didn't seem like Jesus and his parents would be different, but Laine read her Bible over and over trying to find some kind of a description.

There wasn't one, but Laine was almost certain they couldn't have had blonde hair and blue eyes if they were from that part of the world.

Then there were the three wise men, or Magi, or whatever.  Her nativity had them right there when little baby Jesus was, well, a baby.  Except the pastor and her study group talked about how they didn't show up until the baby was old enough to walk.

That was a problem.  Plus, they were all white just like Mary and Joseph and the baby.  And now that she thought of it, the frickin' shepherds were white, too.  Even the sheep were fluffy white.

Laine's breath came a little quicker as the anger over the revisionist history blatantly on display in her nativity swelled.

"Mom, do you think dinner is going to be ready soon?  The kids are getting antsy." Her daughter's voice jolted her out of her preoccupation with the false nativity.

"Oh, we're just waiting on the turkey.  It shouldn't be much longer." Laine struggled to keep her voice even and her expression neutral until her daughter went back to the family room.

Leaving the irritation of the dissonant nativity behind, she hurried into the kitchen to check the thermometer on the turkey.  She'd only tried one of the birds that had the little pop-up thermometer in them once and it had been a disaster.  The digital thermometer never failed, and it had the added bonus of an audible alarm that would let her know when the turkey was ready to be pulled out of the oven.

The stubborn bird had taken a while, and unless a Christmas miracle occurred the family would be eating an hour later than she'd planned.  Great.

She peeked into the family room.  All four of her grandchildren were in the room, along with her daughter and her husband, and her son and his wife.

The only sound in the room was the television, which was blaring an animated Christmas special of some kind.  No one was watching it.

Every face was lit by the screen of whatever electronic device they were holding in their hands.  Eight technological zombies, completely disengaged from the other people in the room.  She couldn't tell if the kids were "antsy" or not, but since they'd neither moved nor blinked in the few moments she'd been watching them, she doubted it.

The nativity flashed into her peripheral vision as she turned back into the kitchen, and the anger she'd forgotten came rushing back.  Her steps took her toward the living room instead of the dining room and she crossed back to stand in front of the fragile display, her fists clenched at her waist.

"Hey Mom, some kind of buzzer is going off in the kitchen, can't you hear it?" Her daughter was back in the doorway, irritation plain on her face.

The sound of the thermometer's alarm penetrated the haze of anger that had enveloped her, and she shook her head to clear it.

"How long has it been going off?" she asked as she rushed into the kitchen and grabbed her oven mitts.

"I don't know.  I didn't hear it until the TV went quiet for a minute.  Does this mean dinner is finally ready?"

Laine checked the thermometer and then slid the heavy roasting pan out of the oven and onto the quilted pads she'd put on the counter.

"It needs to rest a bit while I warm up the rolls and the green bean casserole."

Her daughter sighed heavily.  "So it's not ready yet."

Laine gripped the handles of the roaster tightly inside the oven mitts and took a couple of deep breaths.

She was lucky to have her family with her at Christmas, she reminded herself.  Lucky and happy, dammit.

"Only about fifteen more minutes, hon.  Why don't you have the kids wash their hands and get drinks poured?"

A shrug and eye roll reminded Laine of Christmas's past, and not in a good way.  She'd thought Brittany had grown out of the habit after her teens.  Apparently not.

"Scott, come help me carry everything to the table!" She raised her voice to be heard over the television.

"Yeah, Mom.  I'll be there in a sec!"

That was just as familiar as Brittany's shrug and eye roll.

Laine finished covering the turkey so it could rest and grabbed the potatoes and stuffing. She admired the poinsettias she'd embroidered on the white table cloth before she put the dishes down.  It had taken a little over six months - it wasn't a skill she used often - but she was thrilled with how it turned out.

Two more trips into the kitchen and back, and the glasses on the table were still empty and her son was still in the family room.

"Brittany, dinner's about ready.  Are the kids going to pour the drinks?" The television had been turned off, so at least she didn't have to yell her question over its noise.

"Hang on Mom, they're getting to it."

Laine took a page out of her daughter's book and rolled her eyes.  It wasn't as satisfying as she thought it would be. Maybe it required an audience.

"Scott, I've got the food on the table, can you get the turkey?"

The long silence after her question almost had her asking again, but as she took a breath her son answered.

"Just a sec, Mom!"

She rolled her eyes again and added in an irritated mutter.  "Just a sec, getting to it. 'When is dinner, we're hungry!'  But not hungry enough to help get it on the table, obviously!"

Laine took the aluminum foil off the turkey and slid the large meat forks under the bird to transfer it to the silver serving tray she had waiting.  Her husband had loved carving the turkey at the table; when he'd passed five years ago, her son had taken over that job.  He preferred carving it in the kitchen with an electric knife, so she plugged it into the outlet next to the sink.

"Scott, the turkey's ready to carve," she called out, deliberately injecting holiday cheer into her voice.

His voice drifted back from the family room.  "Be right there, Mom."

She started loading the dirty dishes that had accumulated through the afternoon into the dishwasher. Since her son still hadn't come in to carve the turkey when she was finished, she wiped down the counters and the fronts of the cupboards.

Twenty minutes of cleaning later and her family was still in the family room, held captive by technology.

Laine walked into the living room to stare at the chubby, blue-eyed baby in the little manger. Visions of smashing those porcelain cheeks against the fireplace hearth danced through her mind.

Enough.

She turned slowly, her mind suddenly as clear as the empty crystal glasses twinkling on the dining room table.

The heavily burdened table was cleared of food, and the bowls and plates and platters carefully covered and put on the counter.  The golden turkey was re-dressed in its coat of silver, and the electric knife unplugged.

She heated some water in the electric kettle and fixed a hot cup of tea with plenty of sugar to go with a little plate of Christmas cookies. Leaving the kitchen with her cup and plate, she reached out and turned off the lights.  The light switch in the dining room was next, dulling the shine of crystal and china still on the table.

In the living room, Laine turned off all of the lights except the ones illuminating the Christmas tree and sat in her favorite chair.  Pressing a few buttons on the remote had her favorite Christmas album playing as she enjoyed the way the twinkling lights lit up the holy family and their visitors.

It was a beautiful nativity.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Full Disclosure

The table was a long oval, with tall chairs evenly spaced around and a gap at one end so everyone seated could see the flat screen mounted to the wall at the end of the room.  A wall of windows showcased an enviable view of the city far below, and a modern skyline.

Jessica scanned the table and smiled.  Every business meeting was the same, regardless of the business being discussed.

Satisfied that everything was ready, she moved to the sideboard and checked the carafe and water pitcher. Nothing would be served until the meeting was well underway, but she liked to be sure that the coffee was strong and hot, and the water ice cold.

Voices in the hallway alerted her just before the door opened.  Mr. Bracken was the first through the door, shooting her a tight smile and a barely perceptible wink before he moved to the seat at the head of the table and waved the other men through.

The three men who followed were dressed in nearly identical suits.  The only variation was in the ties they wore, and even those were similar enough that they'd probably been bought at the same store.

"Gentlemen, please have a seat."  Mr. Bracken waved the men to three seats facing the windows.  Jessica knew it was deliberate; in the next thirty minutes the sun would be setting, and that light would come through at an angle that would have them squinting through the rest of the meeting.  Her boss, and the owner of the multi-billion dollar company he'd founded, was a canny operator.

The men - Jessica had named them the Three Little Pigs in her mind - sat at the table and leaned back, confidence in every line of their careful body language.

"Mr. Bracken, let's get down to business." The first to speak, and the clear leader of the little group, she'd named Straw for his blond hair.

"By all means, Mr. Lane."

"Our company is a valuable property, one we believe will provide an essential service to your corporation..."

Straw continued, but Jessica tuned him out to focus on what wasn't being said.

             "...need this deal..."

                                                                                        "...gotta get out from under..."

      "...wrongful death..."

                                                                 "...critical repairs..."

Between the three of them, Jessica pieced together a fairly clear picture of the business they were hoping sell.  A clearer picture than they'd have painted themselves, certainly.  The men ignored her; they'd taken her for a secretary or assistant of some sort: barely step up from furniture and not worth noticing.

Even if someone happened to glance her way, the invisibility of the virtual keyboard ensured that their suspicions wouldn't be raised.  With a final tap, she sent the information she'd gleaned to the smart watch on her boss's wrist.

As the sales pitch wound down, Mr. Bracken leaned forward .  She didn't need her ability to read minds to know that there was going to be blood in the water, and very soon.

"Gentlemen, let's be honest here; your company is in trouble.  Big, expensive trouble."  His flat statement had an immediate effect, as did the details of their troubles he followed up with.

"Sir, I'm not sure where you've received your information from..."  The second of the three, Twig for his long thin arms, sat forward with a concerned frown as Straw voiced his objections.

Jessica didn't bother sorting through the maelstrom of thought her boss had created.  It wouldn't be useful anyway, not with the three of them panicked...

Wait, not all three of them had panicked.  She looked around at the table.

Sitting quietly, arms crossed, was Brick.  Solid, steady, and completely unconcerned.

Well, wasn't that interesting? Jessica thought.

She concentrated on the big man, focusing on him and blocking the others.  When she hit a mental wall she had to smile - she had named him Brick, after all.

"We weren't aware that you employed a sensitive, Mr. Bracken."  His voice was as solid as he was, and it stilled the other two instantly.

And that's why he is the one in charge, Jessica realized.  Not Straw, even if he is the CEO.  Brick is the power behind the throne.

When she turned back to her boss, she saw that he'd realized the same thing.

"I employ a great number of people, Mr. Craft.  Would you care to specify?"  His voice was smooth and unperturbed.  Jessica didn't feel quite so calm - in three years, she'd never been detected - but she took her cue from him.

"Ms. Jessica Winter, standing so attentively behind you.  Waiting to serve coffee, I believe."  His eyes met hers, and she felt a jolt of recognition.  Of the three, Brick had been the only one who hadn't made eye contact with her at some point.  Now she knew why.

"I'm not the only sensitive in the room, Mr. Craft.  Shall we have full disclosure then?"

She smiled and moved to bring the serving tray to the table as the other two turned to their business partner in shock and disbelief.  A little chaos and distrust served with a cup of strong coffee always moved a business deal along quickly, she'd found.



This post is a response to a writing prompt from The Daily Post -  "A mad scientist friend offers you a chip that would allow you to know what the people you’re talking to are thinking. The catch: you can’t turn it off. Do you accept the chip?"  I tossed the mad scientist (they're so hard to write dialogue for!), but kept the mind reading.  

Let me know what you think in the comments, and be sure to follow the link to The Daily Post to read the other responses!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Leap of Faith


Mark had to admit the view from this spot was great.  He could see the entire valley below him: all the little creases and wrinkles carved out by ice and water and time.  There was a nice little breeze as well that kept the summer air from being too stifling for comfort.

Of course, after nine hours stuck halfway up a mountain, with night coming on quickly, it was starting to lose its appeal.



Another gust brushed past him, giving his clothes teasing tugs as it went. 

The ledge supporting him wasn’t getting any narrower, he knew that on an intellectual level.  On a purely emotional level he was absolutely certain that it was half as wide as it had been in the beginning, and reducing every moment he stood balanced on it.

Mark pulled his cell phone out and glanced at the screen again.

The battery was going dead.

Worse, there was no reception.  No bars.  Not even a blip.

“What the hell is blocking the signal?” he muttered, “I’m on the side of a damn mountain, for God’s sake!”

He shoved the worthless thing back in his pocket and zipped it closed.

His eyes tracked upward, searching out the small indention he’d seen almost nine hours ago.

The perfect handhold.

The answer to his problems.

Too far away to reach.

His stomach shivered and he was kind of glad he’d already gotten rid of the small breakfast he’d eaten that morning. 

“OK, choices.  What are my choices?” 

He looked down.  “No, definitely not.” The urge to close his eyes was strong, but he was pretty sure a long drop would follow giving in to that urge, with an abrupt stop at the end.

He’d already ruled out going to either side. The rock was completely smooth in both directions with no handholds, no footholds, no port in the very quiet storm he’d put himself in.

Up. 

That was the only way, and it was out of reach.

Up.

Mark leaned back against the stone and watched the sun sink behind the rolling hills on the other side of the valley.  Any other time he’d have appreciated the brilliant red and orange glow cast on the clouds skipping overhead, but his preoccupation with gravity was monopolizing his attention.

Up.

Moving carefully, he turned to face the wall that had been cradling him all day.

“One good jump, that’s all I need.  One good jump.”

He crouched as much as he could and measured the distance in his mind.  His muscles, stiff from so many hours of standing virtually immobile, protested.  He’d really only get one chance; if he missed, he’d be keeping that date with gravity.

“Right.”  He took a deep breath and steadied himself.

“One…two…”




This is my response to a prompt from Tipsy Lit - the prompt was to write a story about taking a big risk.  As a person who is terribly afraid of heights, and yet has gone climbing, nothing is riskier to me than making that leap for a handhold that's just out of reach.  Let me know what you think in the comments, and be sure to follow the link below to read the other responses!



Saturday, June 21, 2014

...And The Horse You Rode In On

I have a blogger I follow - Jim Wright.  He writes amazing, funny, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking pieces for his blog, Stonekettle Station.

I can't remember when my husband and I started reading his blog, but I was instantly addicted. I went back and read everything (and I do mean everything) that he'd posted on that blog prior to our discovery.  It was easy to see the progression of his writing and the way he honed his skill and developed his own voice in following those early posts through to the most current ones. He has a great voice.

He has made us laugh out loud. He has made us cry.  He has made us angry.  He has made us think.

One of the things I appreciate the most about Mr. Wright is his habit of stopping to think himself.  When something big happens - like the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy - he doesn't leap to the keyboard to spew out his in-the-moment thoughts.  Several days go by, sometimes more than several, while he considers the situation and what he wants to say about it.  What he should say about it.

The result is not always calm, but it is always reasoned.  Always.

I don't always agree with everything he has to say, but I respect what he says and how he says it.  It is rare these days to find someone who thinks before they post on the internet, and who can explain their position without sounding like a grade-school bully doing it.

I have eagerly anticipated each new post, and my husband and I always race to ask, "Have you read the new Stonekettle?"  We read them to each other, and we share links to them without reservation.

And now, he's going dark.

Not because he doesn't have anything to say - I don't believe that will ever happen.

He's going dark because people suck. 

And I'm really, really angry.

No.  Please understand. 

I'm so angry that my fingers shake on the keyboard.  I'm so angry that I'm having some difficulty wrangling the words in my head into some kind of order.

Jim Wright wrote a post called, "Absolutely Nothing."  It was awesome, and it went viral.  That, in and of itself, wasn't all that remarkable.  He's had other posts that have done the same - his writing speaks to people and for people and they are compelled to share that. 

Then something happened that was remarkable, and not in a good way.

I don't know the exact order of what happened when, and honestly I don't care, so I'll just lay out what I know without regard to a specific timeline.

Someone took his face (available on his blog and his Facebook page), and a particularly wonderful quote from the piece, and turned it into a meme.  I say it was a particularly wonderful quote because I used it as the comment when I shared the link to his website and the full post on my Facebook page.

Apparently that's happened before, although I haven't seen it.  I can see how someone would do that, thinking there's no harm in it.  But having seen the meme now, I can honestly say it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  It makes a big deal out of Jim Wright's veteran status, and absolutely fails to link to his website.  It feels a lot like it's using him for someone else's agenda, and whether or not that agenda is in line with his, I can see how that would rankle.  I know that I wouldn't like it much.

But the real shit came from two people I'd never heard of: Mike Malloy and Stephanie Miller.

They are, apparently, talk radio hosts.  Which is probably why I'd never heard of them.  I detest talk radio of any ilk, and political talk radio worst of all. 

These two are purported to be "progressive" shows.  In looking at their websites, and the general information available on the internet, I would judge them to be the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh or any of the other denizens of this murky pursuit.  Specifically - eager to express the most extreme point of view on their end of the spectrum with the sole apparent goal being to stir up the audience.  Truth is optional, entertainment is king.

These two really liked Jim Wright's post.  In fact, they liked it so much they decided to read it on air.  Then entire thing.  Not a quote.  Not a line or two.  Not a few tidbits with a recommendation that listeners (who pay to subscribe to their shows, by the way), head on over to Mr. Wright's website to read the rest for themselves.


The
         Whole
                      Damn
                                  Thing


Now, there's a concept that most people who create are aware of called "Fair Use."

Basically (really, really basically), it means that there are rules for using what someone else has created.  It protects the work that goes into writing, painting, composing, and all sorts of other creative endeavors.

But here's the thing, Fair Use is not cut and dried.  Here's a quote from the U.S. Copyright Office:
The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission. US Copyright Office
So yeah, they recognize that it's going to be hard to know what someone can use under Fair Use, and what they can't.  And what do they recommend?  Asking permission.

Well, hell.  That's kindergarten stuff right there! These people are professionals, they know this stuff backward and forward, so of course they asked for permission first, right?

No, actually they didn't.

And when they were called on it, Mike Malloy - to use the local vernacular - showed his ass.

This was Mike Malloy's professional response:
Well, I'll be goddamned! I read your piece on the air because it appealed to me. I decided it might appeal to others. Big fucking mistake. I had no idea you are such a mercenary, greedy type. Wow. I had no idea you are such an amateur as to bitch when someone (me) gives you publicity. Make money off what you wrote? You have to be kidding. This is where your amateurishness is so apparent. In the first place, reading a piece on the air is considered "fair use." And, um, how would I "make money?" As far as your web site and what it says there about "using" your "stuff", sorry, but I've never been  to your site.  A friend emailed a link from Australia. Now, take your ugly, mercenary words and go back to wherever you came from. And, strong suggestion: Back off with your threats, especially on social media. You are leaving a very public and incriminating trail. Sue me? For reading  something you wrote on the air? Un-fucking-believable! Sorry I rattled your cage, JIm. My mistake. Big time. Trust me on this: you just disappeared. - MM
Guess what? Reading the entire blog post on air, to paying subscribers?  That's not fair use.  In fact, that's just about as far from fair use as you can get, with or without acknowledging the source you got it from, and you could probably argue that since Mike Malloy didn't bother giving anyone the link to the blog, he didn't even do that much.

To make matters worse, there were whole drafts of people suggesting the Jim Wright should be grateful.

After all, it attracted attention to his blog, right?  On my blog, this one right here, that might matter a bit.  I don't get a lot of page views as a rule.  But Stonekettle?  Stonekettle draws over 20k visits.  A day.  My blog has been up since 2011, and I have just over 20k page views total. Besides, I'm going to point out again that they didn't actually direct anyone to the blog!  No link, remember?

And then there's the whole mercenary thing.

OK, that one goes right up my nose.  Right. Up. My. Nose.

First of all, this is coming from people who are being paid, as far as I can tell, to do what they do.  And yet they have a problem with someone else wanting to get paid for doing what they do.  Double standard, anyone?

But beyond that, all they had to do was ask.

It's possible they would have been told no.  It's possible they would have been told yes.  But the bottom line is that it should have been the author's choice. They took that choice away.  They took someone else's work and profited from it, without asking.  Without offering any compensation. 

There's a word for that, and it's not pretty.

So yeah, I'm mad.  I'm mad because this great writer that I love reading is going dark because this was the last straw.

But I'm also mad because this could be me.

I write. 

Not as much as I'd like, but I do write.  I publish some of my short stories and other writings here on this blog.  I've also taken a swim in the questionable waters of self-publishing, and sent a novel out onto the internet to be purchased by strangers and, I hope, enjoyed.  I put a price on that novel, and by association, on my writing.

Some day I could get a call or e-mail or Facebook message from someone congratulating me on getting my short story published in the online magazine they subscribe to.  To which I would respond, "WTF?!"  having not submitted that short story to any publication, much less the one that published it, and not having received any request for permission to publish it.

Or maybe someone will happen on my blog and really like personal story I wrote - one of the more or less non-fiction ones - and decide to forward it to a friend of theirs, who forwards it to a friend of theirs...and so on until it reaches a religious nutjob televangelist who reads it on air, with my name, in support of some asinine point they're trying to make.

Maybe I don't like the sketchy publication that randomly decided to pick my story.  Maybe I'm appalled at the idea that my name and story are now associated with some slimy televangelist.

But according to an awful lot of people, I'm supposed to shut up about it.  I'm supposed to be thankful that I was noticed. 

I'm not supposed to want to get paid for the work I do.

Writing is work.  Even a piece of flash fiction, written in mere minutes, carries the weight of years of writing with it.  Years of viciously critiquing your work.  Years of picking apart sentence structure and word usage.  Years of trial and error while you find your stride.  Years of learning the rule of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting.

Not everyone can do it.  Trust me, I spent some very long years working for a small publisher.  You know those horrible auditions for "American Idol" that they love showing?  Now imagine that in writing form. That's what I read, day in and day out, with only the very occasional ray of light from a truly talented writer.  And honestly?  Those usually turned out to be plagiarized.

How do you get your characters to talk?  Are you going to use straight quotes or "smart" quotes?  It makes a difference when you're submitting to publishers, and when you're trying to format your book for e-publishing.  And how do you go about telling readers who is saying what?  You can't just tack on "he said, knowingly"  (or whatever adverb you pick), to every single sentence.  That's boring.  And really hard to read.

How do you describe the world your characters live in, without actually describing it.  Some authors can get away with huge tracts of land devoted to nothing but description (I'm look at you, J.R.R. Tolkein), but those are the exceptions rather than the norm.  But you have to give characters a place to stand.

Likewise, how do you explain your characters' background and motivations, without having them just puke up tons of info for no apparent reason?

Creating anything, really creating it, is hard.

These days, it's also massively under-appreciated.

I crochet, knit, sew, quilt, and do any number of other things that people like to call "crafty." I'm good at what I choose to do, mostly because I choose to work at being good at it.  I put the time in to learn the tricks and develop the specialized skills it takes to make an afghan that's square instead of a trapezoid, for example.

And it used to be that those skills were valued.

People held on to heirloom quilts, kept them in cedar chests to protect them and hand them on saying, "Your great-great-grandmother made this for her wedding."  Mothers sought out women who could knit or crochet or sew to make those special baby items like christening gowns.  And they paid for them.

Not now.  I stopped selling the things I made.  People didn't appreciate the time and effort it took to make that beautiful afghan, or those tiny baby shoes, or that delicate beaded necklace, and they certainly weren't worth paying for. 

"I can get that at Wal Mart for six dollars."  Great, then get your redneck self right down there, I'm sure they're waiting for you!

"That doesn't look that hard, I bet I could make that myself."  Except you won't.  Because you don't have the patience to learn the skills required, much less sit for hours on end to actually make it.

But wanting to be paid - for my writing, my afghans, whatever - makes me mercenary.

Wanting to be asked, wanting a choice in where my name and my work goes, makes me ungrateful.

That's the lesson I'm taking away from Jim Wright's experience.

There are people who don't get that, who don't understand why Mr. Wright is so pissed off.  And I think I know why.

Because those people don't create.  They don't create, out of their own skill and imagination, a product they actually believe in.

They're not standing on the same ground, because they haven't done or created anything that they believe, really believe, is worth anything.  You're not going to worry about someone stealing something that's worthless, are you?

Jim Wright creates something that is valuable every time he writes, and Mike Malloy and the rest decided to steal it.  He was assaulted and robbed, and then told to be thankful for it.


My response to that, and to Mike Malloy and Stephanie Miller?

FUCK YOU AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON

I'm not interested in Jim Wright sitting down and shutting up.  I'd rather he take a stand and go dark than to quietly acquiesce to this kind of bullying.  Because next time it might be me.  Or my friend AmyBeth.  Or the guy I know who designs quilts.  Or the young girl I know who aspires to be a great writer someday.

So yeah, AND the horse you rode in on.