Saturday, December 20, 2014

And Then Weasels Invaded Via The Bathroom Window

Christmas is coming up--it's this Thursday. (not panicking. Wrapping. Really.) What happened to November?

I seem to remember lots and lots of text scrolling across pages and pages of a Word document. There may have been plot involved. I'm pretty sure the plot was mixed in with the text, although I can't swear to that, now. All of that text has been safely extracted and placed in a black binder. It whines at me occasionally from the chair that has become an extension of my desk and which I am currently using as a footrest so that I can type on my lap rather than on the desk. This way, I can keep my eyes on the stacks of drafts and half-read books that are becoming restive in their stacks.

Paper taming takes patience (and a tolerance for sliced fingers) but I believe in keeping my drafts in a half-wild state, gnawing at my ankles while I draft blog posts.

Consequent to Nano devouring my November like a wild coyote, there are lots of incidental holiday tasks that have yet to be completed. Shopping. Wrapping. Cooking. At least the Texas weather and I are on the same last minute schedule. Today was the first day in weeks that it was cool enough to wear jeans and a sweater as we were running around. Yesterday it rained from before dawn to early afternoon and it's still grey. If I was capable of making cocoa on the stove, I would be having cocoa while making excuses for not having blogged or done much of anything in weeks. Instead, I am enjoying a Platonic cocoa in my imagination. With whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. Yum. Fun fact--we discovered over Thanksgiving that if you use a microplane zester to grate an entire bar of chocolate for pie, the fine chocolate shavings will become statically charged and stick to your skin and float over the pan as you are melting them. Chocowizard pie!!

And the weasels? Once they invaded, we stuffed them in Santa hats and incorporated them in the décor because Nano teaches us to use whatever comes up as part of the art itself...

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Today's post suffers from a distinct lack of inspiration. With NaNoWriMo coming up, I'm trying to organize my thoughts--which characters do I want to spend November obsessing about? Which projects can I finish before November?

Right now, I think NaNo will belong to Cupid. Cupid the maniacal, power-hungry, multi-chromatic winged bringing of insanity Spenser introduced me to in The Faerie Queene. Cupid who would like to rule Olympus, perhaps who has waited in the shadows until he's the only one left still be celebrated...every Valentine's Day getting a sugary jolt of power, like a crazy soda burst of energy.

Meanwhile, there are a few additional drafts that need work. A short story that needs expanding into a short YA novella--I had been struggling for a while to make Bastian Creek into a good magical realist setting and between the spiders, the Arcade, and the trees vying for control, I think it's finally there. Almost.

I had always wanted Bastian Creek to become the setting for several of my stories and yet I find that finishing this story to some extent drains some of the impetus away from it. I'm not sure how writers manage with serials.

Next week, Halloween posts!!

Deep & restful reading!

Monday, October 13, 2014


(image courtesy of Magpie Tales)

I planned the shot like a billiard run
Where a flash of white finds each side.
We thought it just another angle.
Then the shards of myself were struck
By light itself, unfelt, into the silver.
In a small bathroom, I became shards
Sealing myself in without privacy
As we do now, in bathrooms or at table;
Lives bright as curated toy shelves.
I am easy to see, skim, select, apprehend,
Banked through random links to you.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


(Image courtesy Magpie Tales)

Wind comes like the heat, drawing the tide
Beating against her chest. Hollow land breathes,
Invisible air tangible as a touch on her neck.
She runs.

The spin beneath her feet drives her
Like the chaff of clouds racing above.
It tangles the winds; it jumbles thought.
It shoves.

Every sigh speeds its roll. Tumbling on
Until the drover and the driven, blind,
Run as if the rocky land chased them.
It does.

The wind speeds it behind her. Wire
Nets the empty land, catches her up
Like a dolphin in the sea that came

Run! Until it plucks the skin from your
Hands, the cotton from your back, the
Blood from beneath your flesh. And, then.
Then, run.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Working the Ghost Town

They built it from below, we watched.
They bricked the entrance red, a throat groaning
Below their hill that swelled among the trunks.
Their offices grew there, fading, a ghost town
From the very beginning. Someone got a deal
On someone else’s old town, used buildings.
An old Texas outpost, ahistorical, unremembered.
They bought the roofs and walls and stilts,
Painted the doors and boards and screens
Hung the signs warning of armed fairies
Floating up from the darkness.

We answered the ads, some of us ate
Cookies they’d left out, bread filled with fruit
None of us had tasted before. Baked afternoons lay
Stale across the couches stuffed with horse hair.
Bitter coffee hints kept us on edge, drowsing
Beneath pictures that creep above our hair,
Colors flickering. Have another bite, drink
This sweet darkness we’ve brewed just
Behind the door.

They say horses are turned loose at night,
Riderless hooves burning tracks around town.
We don't see them, although we sit on their hair
Or shiver as if they whicker beneath our soles.
No one steals our parking spaces; our cars
Slide through the wood, turn by the thick trunk
And fill the spoke. Orange leaves fall; frames rust,
Tires pop. Yellow leaves pile around us.
We’re paid in fairy gold, but we shed it all
When we leave, just before the night falls
Ahead of the horses.

Image courtesy of Magpie Tales.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

High and Low

Lift your foot, drag the world away; break it into echoes
Trembling away from your boots.
If you stand, that vision forms again, the sky and you
Hanging from your ankles.

March away, pull the dreams thick and drowned
Shivering in your wake.
Drop a boot into your tides; your pull, your drag
Pressing our steps.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Petals on the Tracks

The following is the prompt for the 9/17/2014 WordCrafters meeting and my flash fiction response.

“You’d think she’d just let it go. Maybe write a tell-all about making mac-n-cheese dinners for her husband the villain or whatever.” Bethany stepped onto the railroad tracks, bent over, and picked up one of the daisies lying on the tie. The hot afternoon seemed to drag on her as she lifted herself upright.

Margo kept well away from the tracks, left hip cocked to one side and arms crossed. She shifted to rub her ankles together, glancing back at the tall grass they’d just walked through. Something whined and a fleet of heavy insects lifted up above the seedheads. Even in this light, with the sun catching Bethany’s hair, she was sure she was the blonder of the two. She was the only one dressed as if she preferred highways to railways, in the shorts and tank top from cheer practice. “They met at the tracks, Beth. Like, she finds it romantic?” Margo tried the other hip, canting her head for balance.

“Dinah, Margo. When we’re not at home, it’s Dinah.”

“She has daisies and you have a nickname. What’s the difference?” Margo watched Bethany twirl the flower, her dress hanging in a silent bell shape around her ankles. Margo sighed at the lack of a breeze.

Bethany glanced around, but didn’t step off the tracks. She twirled the daisy for a minute and then tucked it behind her ear. “The difference is that that’s my name. My dad gave me that name. He tied her to the tracks like some mustache-twirler from an old cartoon.”

“He let her go.” Margo stepped back until she could feel the weeds at the back of her calves. Bethany…Dinah…looked like something from an old catalog herself. “Why do you let her make you wear that?”

“He would have liked you. Your chem and biochem and spending skip day hiding in the high school.” Bethany sighed and shrugged. “If she can’t redeem him, at least she’s got me.” Bethany pressed her palms against the dress. “Every day.”

Sweat beaded beneath their hair. The Texas heat shimmered between them. Margo felt every inch of the exposed skin on her legs and arms and neck, as if the field were looking at her. Bethany just kept her eyes above Margo’s shoulder. “You want to go get a soda, cruise by the library?” Bethany’s mom would ask where they’d been.

“Do you think madness is like spandex of the mind?” Bethany asked. A whistle shrieked in the distance. Fear, Margo thought, was pretty much as a good a cool gel pack. “Wake up so early in the morn…can’t hear the whistle calling…” Bethany crooned to herself. Then she stomped on the daisies, her laughter shrieking a reply to the whistle. “Sure, let’s get a soda. Tell me again how we’ll find him, once we get to the city.”

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mermaid Memories

I roll my neck, click the morning’s trending video.
Turtle feet stretch back and push against the water
Kicking the jade glass ripples.
A pool ghost, pale-faced, rises to balance below me.
I remember awkwardness, learning the yaw of the body
In soaking, chilly darkness.
Until he made us open our eyes underwater, watching
From just below as we struggled to hold our breath
While raising our eyelids.
Stretch your arms, kick like frogs in the backyard
Flood. He swims in t-shirt shirt and shorts beneath;
Calm against our thrashing.
Now I see blue instead of milky, moss-green water,
Beyond the embroidered leaves, blue fathoms high,
Air deep but thinning.
I am half-mermaid memories, half green-woman grown
Thick with a forest of days, a flood at my feet
Sun tangling in my crown.
I stretch my body long, drawing air into its crevices
Until I have learned to balance again. Then, I
Drift away, kicking.

This is my first attempt at blogging with poetry prompts, although not my first time using prompts to spur my writing. For me, the poem owes perhaps too little to the image, especially as I've reached an age when images of younger people tend to provoke nostalgia, which is the high road to sentimentality. Whee, poem and critique in one! Otherwise, I see this and am immediately put in mind of avoiding something--maybe avoiding the day altogether--and what better way to do so than to go swimming or just let your imagination drift?

Thanks to Magpie Tales for providing the image!

Friday, September 12, 2014


There, in the vacuum of the said,
The pause, the breath that comes
Beyond the waves just fled,
That space, the hollow of the voice
Is shaped that the soul
May shred or smooth
Lose the track or follow close
Along the wind-walled shore.


So...I've been thinking about a novel that is slowly disintegrating under that ceaseless, wearing, constant thought and I have come to fixate upon voice, which would give me a path through or a shape to the various grains of plot and theme and setting. Who is speaking?

In tandem with this bit of confusion, Carrie, one of the leaders of our local library writer's group, announced that she'd be holding a workshop on blogging. This seemed the perfect oblique way to find the voice that my novel is lacking. After all, my favorite bloggers have a terrific sense of voice. Typically, those voices are quite unlike what I would describe as my own half-lecturing tone. Blech. I mean, who goes in for voluntary lectures?

Carrie's work has a distinct voice and she encourages participation in a community of writers. This exchange helps, I think, strengthen the writing toward something that takes place in this exchange of idea and image. Other voices help you define your own. Maybe?

My own voice has become thin through repeating things until the ideas become worn away rather than refined. There are no walls from which to hear strange echoes.
Chatter becomes noise, eventually.

Therefore, I'm going to try and take this blog in a new direction: more flash fiction/prompt writing, less drifty blah blah blah (see above). We'll see if that helps.


Once upon a time, it rained. Rain fell on grass, on wide concrete roads, thin concrete paths, and short oaks; rain fell on dogs curled up beside warm bricks, on roofs, on narrow gutters that made streams beside the eaves at the edges of those roofs. Rainwater and thin rivulets from the yards pooled beside the rounded curbs until brown puddles lay on the edges of the streets.

Stories fell with the water and bubbled up in great domes floating across these rain puddles, an entire story in each great breath beneath the rainbow-thin water. They drifted across the stillness, across the reflections of sky and house, stark as photos on the ground.

As they pop, the rainbow remnant of the water that fell through frost and electricity and torrent, that flowed past leaves and grass and brick, stains my skin. Narratives evaporate. A quick chill of drops thump against my skin. More rain falls. The street lamp catches some and they roll around, hanging suspended from the insect-eyed glass, and fall into the calmness of the puddle, creating a lake of the curve of the street and the curb's cliff.

Damp, warm concrete presses its cuneiform into my stomach and arms. Someone launches a craft on the waves, a green and flat boat that carries me from the edge into the middle of the road, where the summer heat inhales all the stories back into itself. Even me, gone into the haze.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Peter Elbow Gives Me Writer's Guilt, Which (as it turns out) is Awesome

My brain is still living in the Scantron(r) Era. There is a Correct Answer for every evaluation opportunity and it is important to me to puzzle out what that is.

This has been interfering with my participation in my writing groups lately because I find that when I listen to others' writing or prepare to give comments, I'm searching for those elusive right answers. Am I finding all the points? Marking all the right sections? Missing some grammar/plot/POV challenges that I shouldn't?

Just a bit of personal weirdness, right? Lately it's extended into my skipping working on my own drafts to read--obsessively--books on writing. There are correct answers in those books. I know this, because they mention techniques, have exercises, emphasize outlines. I dislike outlines. I have always disliked outlines. One of the books that I acquired was Peter Elbow's Writing with Power and I have been reading it in between others for several days. Chapters don't fly by and I've starting reading with a pencil tucked close by so that I can bracket passages. He mentions outlines. He suggests techniques for drafting and planning and revising.

I read it out loud to the dogs while they are napping on the couch.

Suddenly, I find myself thinking about blue books and college essays. I encountered a stack of them last year when we were finally cleaning out boxes we'd packed just after we were married, years ago when we moved out of that first apartment. I remembered being a good student, but the marks on the essays and exams didn't bear that out. The grades were okay, but the comments were telling. Points I didn't think through, wording that shocks me with its sloppiness. Grades were important to me; the subjects, not so much.

The realization that this was still the case, that I still relied on the idea of objective, "right" responses rather than paying direct attention to the stories and ideas in front of me, struck me several chapters in, as Mr. Elbow discussed outlining from what you know and what you want to say. The idea that there should have been something that I wanted to say, that I should have been interested in my subjects rather than my grades, is kind of one of those how-did-I-get-this-far-this-clueless moments. I had been feeling guilty that I didn't apply this technique to those college essays when it occurred to me that I should focus on the writing I have before me now.

There may be good ways, better ways, and poor ways to express yourself (see above, blog draft on the fly); however, it's not about correct answers, it's about reader response. It's not about being correct and sitting up straight for your "A;" it's about telling a story that brings your reader alive in the same way that a match brings a lantern to light--suddenly an internal change casts a finer awareness into the world. Or brings a little relief from the darkness. Either way.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Her Alien Phase

[I'm in the middle of revising a novel draft regarding another native daughter of Bastian Creek. In that story, several people fall victim to The Ladies Upstairs and their belief in the efficacy of stealing Fate to make the world that is more like the Will Have Been and, of course, to give themselves more of the good things that add savor to the everyday. Since that draft has stalled, shifted course, and generally behaved like a creek unaware of its proper banks, I've discovered some pieces of the initial draft, like the rocket slide, that no longer fit into Slay Me a Love Song. The rocket slide, in particular, I was sorry to lose. It appears here in a story fragment set somewhat before the events of SMLS , when Bastian Creek is threatened by Hurricane Beverly and a denizen of the Will Have Been rediscovers a childhood friend.

"Jenny, Jenny, moss is soft and pineapple sweet...NOT! It (Spanish moss) is related to pineapples." Here there was a drawing of a grinning pineapple. "According to Mrs. Lyle. Missed you at lunch. You are most definitely pineapple sweet!" Rhonda pressed her feet further along the curve of the metal capsule and twisted herself around so that more light fell on the page. Which Jenny? There were a million back in junior high. Cheerleaders and student council the entire blonde lot of them. It was just possible that she had known this Jenny; Rhonda remembered Mrs. Lyle's class and the pineapple/Spanish moss thing, something about flowers, maybe? Back when crawling up inside the rocket slide wouldn't make her feel like Alice outgrowing herself. She took another sip from her water bottle. She didn't shrink.

A breeze lifted the air around her and shifted the thin metal rocket skin. Four porthole windows quartered the upper capsule of the slide and let in just enough light to make out the various steps and rails leading down to the slide opening from this upper section. Rhonda's tennis shoes were wedged in between the wall and the railing and, as she waited out the rocket's slight shift, she noticed that her knees were pressed against that same railing, shadows patterning her skin. With her waist twisted in a curve to keep her balanced and able to hold the book up to the light, her lower body was losing sensation, becoming chill against the metal. A slight creak alerted her to another shift. She could see a bit of the ring of caution tape that had surrounded the slide. It's just a boundary marker for the fake rubber shavings. They didn't cordon off the slide or the ladder. Hurricane Beverly would probably push the slide all the way into the ditch.

Thick morning air wrapped book musk and the taste of stale cookie close to her nose, as if her breath were part of the salt and water sighing of the Texas coast, defacing memories and metals with every whisper. Light flickered with another breeze and more clouds. The frozen coffee she'd had for breakfast was burning its way back up her throat. Her stomach clenched. A memory surfaced; one of the Jennies had drowned in Bastian Creek. Just before graduation. Rhonda tried to crane her neck so that she could see the ditch. There was already water in it, even though the rain bands weren't yet moving along the coast. Had it been in this park?

The breeze and creaking stilled, leaving Rhonda's skin flushed. Sunlight returned and Rhonda settled back into the book. Her had brushed the pocket of her shorts, but her phone was locked in the car so that she couldn't be reached while she was reading. She'd rescued the book from the clearance shelves at the last remaining bookstore in Bastian Creek, certain that the old hardcover stamped with "Property of Bastian Creek Intermediate" was lost without its library brethren. Rocket Summer told the story of a group of high school students--a science genius, his two best friends and his blonde girlfriend--who discovered that actual aliens were landing in his town's playground, possibly because it contained a brand new, silver rocket slide. The picture on the title page had brought Rhonda here instead of to the lines at Wal-Mart. There might not be any water or plastic containers left at this point. Her parents, her brother Tim, and his fiancé Beth would just have to use the suitcases and boxes they'd all had for decades. The story wasn't holding her attention, it was just reminding her of growing up with Tim and previous evacuations. She put one hand against her stomach, feeling the chill settle against her stomach.

"Hurricanes cause cheap nostalgia," Rhonda said to the squirrels on the ground below. "I'm trying to grab just one memory before the storm, something to wrap all the other ones in." Immediately, she felt sorry for the squirrels. Previous flood memories of little drowned bodies and floating mats of red ants flickered into an image of a little blonde girl standing by the water at the edge of the creek, holding her arms out to mark "base" at the bottom of the yard. Run to the water for safety. "Run, anyway."

The breezes had stirred up leaves and dust from outside and rust and spiderwebs inside the capsule. Rhonda had cleared most of the webs up here with a stick. There weren't enough to worry her. People had been up here before her. The spider had hidden in beside a streak of rust. As another cloud blotted the light, it climbed down Rhonda's ponytail and rested several legs on her neck.

Rhonda slammed the water bottle into her neck, elbowing the metal enclosure. Her book slide over the treads and flopped down to the slide opening. The floor beneath her groaned and popped as Rhonda kicked the wall and yelled. She leaned over and tugged at her t-shirt until the body of the spider, legs folded, landed on a metal stair beneath her. She closed her eyes and shuddered. It was time to climb down.

She reached down, scooping up the book. Taking a few breaths, Rhonda ran her fingers along the velvet edges of the pages and then flipped the book open, looking for illustrations. A scrawl on one of the pages caught her attention. The blue ink was pressed deep into the margin, "Jenny, Jenny, green and growing, catch my hand and pull me free." Rhonda read the words aloud and traced the impression they left on that page and the ones below it. The words stood out from the back of the page like spines.

A low rumble shook the slide. Thunder? Construction equipment? Imminent containment failure? Rhonda looked outside. The squirrels had stopped moving.

Rhonda didn't want to become one of Beth's pre-wedding horror stories. A thud sounded against the metal.

"Hey, there's someone in here!" Rhonda pounded against the wall. There was another thump. She couldn't unwind herself fast enough. It had taken some maneuvering to draw herself up. She didn't think she could fit through the opening of the slide, but she was twisting around to try when the entire rocket lurched.

Rhonda pressed her face to the window and kept yelling. "Hey! I'm in here! Stop!" She could feel the entire structure twist and tilt. The sky lit up. She grabbed the railing and pulled her legs away from the stairs. The upper capsule fell, hitting against metal. Rhonda closed her eyes as the world dropped away. The capsule raced down.

There was a slight bump and the entire capsule rolled and then Rhonda felt it drop again. She bent tight against the railing, then a shock to her knees and her ribs opened her eyes. She groaned and let go. She sat down in a shallow puddle of water.

The capsule had landed in the ditch, one window facing up to the sky, one pressed into the mud, and the other two showing Rhonda the sides of the ditch. Her ears were ringing and her body ached. Pushing herself up, she saw that dark clouds had rolled in. Lightning flashed and a loud crack split the air above her. The slide had been hit by lightning.

She panicked. There was metal all around her and she was crouching in water with no way to get out.

[End of Section One]

Friday, June 20, 2014

Between the Words and the Weeds

It's hard to start a post about shutting up. There are words that are hurling themselves to the front of my brain with "hey-I-haven't-gotten-my-screentime" steaming off of them colliding with that force field of solid shame that comes from acknowledging that something you wanted isn't within your reach. This is the wince before the Band-Aid comes off.

I've decided to let go of the idea of being a published writer.

I'm not an ethical revisionist. It takes time and discernment and attention to bring a voice to life and I bring instead the kind of impatience that I recognize from school projects: how quickly can I finish this and go on the next idea? And I can do that if the only person who reads my stuff is me. If weedy, obscure drafts remain private.

The End.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

French 75

“That one. He came up to me on the first day and told me he didn’t know whether I was a girl or a boy because the ponytail on my nametag had torn off.” Genny pointed to a blonde boy on the back row of the class in the photo. “Why did you keep this?” She pressed her chin to the side, popping her neck, and shook out her shoulders. She'd been clinging to the steering wheel while navigating the deluge that marked the border. She'd abandoned the car as soon as the rain stopped. “I hadn’t thought about Gage in years.” Muscles along her back tightened as her mother tugged at her hair. “What are you doing?”

“You used to talk about him all the time. We would show this picture to the rest of the family to prove that we had slipped you in, right under the noses of the nuns.” Genny’s mother laughed like the teenager she resembled, high and clear and slightly cruel. “We thought you would entrance him. Give us children to exchange."

Genny dug her bare toes into the cool sand just beyond the patio stones. She and her mother where sitting in the small stone gazebo, facing out into the sandy field that led to the creek, visible only as a line of trees. “I don’t remember if they were nuns. Especially since it was just a summer thing.”

Her mother sat back, her white summer dress falling around her knees and pooling over her tiny waist and stomach. Genny couldn’t remember the last time she’d looked like that, if she ever had. Her mother’s hands were blue with sand from the field beyond, the Dusk her family had mined and shipped for the past few generations along the Texas coast. “Your hair was so beautiful—auburn, brown, and those sky blue curls. They were the lightest thing about you. Solid enough for living mortal, your dad said.”

Genny rolled her shoulders and stretched them up to her ears. She already missed her car and the block where she'd grown up. Dusk coated everything around her and she’d felt it seeping in, felt the hunger that it gave the people—the humans. She rubbed her arms. Showers and swimming in the creek hadn’t removed the feel of it from her skin. She wanted to feel the kick of hunger in her gut, see the halogen shimmer of something precious and dusty under glass.

She pushed her toes further into the sand, watching the wrinkles in her jean shorts relax as she slid her legs straight, catching the back of her knees against the irregular lip of stone. The picture, labelled “French, ‘75” in her mother’s elegant ink letters lay between them. She tried to relax into the same posture as her mother. She glanced to her other side, where the dress her mother had given her on her return was crumpled by her hip. It looked like a child's costume. “How long until I can, until I am back to normal?” Genny asked.

“It takes so long now to understand them. Years of school. And the boxes of stuff that you sent back, obsolete and out of date. We had to send a child out again before you returned. I don’t know how long he’ll stay out there.”

Genny frowned. “A boy? I thought…girls were preferred.”

“Boys keep up the trade and mark the nascent blood. Entire lines run along the edges. Girls are good for that. You always kept a foot in our door. We don’t need girls for that. Girls open other doors.”

“You brought me back.”

“What more could you learn? All of your information was old. You were getting old.” Her mother stared up at the gazebo roof, where a morning glory vine blooming to match the Dusk wove itself among a dome of pipes that reminded Genny of a climbing gym on the old playground at her elementary school.

“I needed to come home. I was starting to get nervous at every rainstorm, starting to overspend…” Genny had been imagining a kind of fairy-tale spa. Slimming down, drying out. Her family had been horrified to discover that she could smell Dusk and that she liked the way it smelled. Not to mention that she was hungry for food full of grease and salt and savor. Grapes exploding like musk in her mouth drizzled with the sharp sweetness of honeysuckle had been good, but she’d eaten three times as much as the rest of the family. Genny felt a burn race along the surface of her skin as she remembered her mother’s expression. The next morning, her mother had taken Genny to the beach, pulled her into the rolling waves and scrubbed her skin with the salt water until both of them were bleeding.

“I’m having a fire built among the aloes,” her mother murmured. “You need to remember how to breathe here. We’ll burn some of the water from the sea. There are still things you can do.” Genny shuddered.

“You know we came from the water, didn’t you? Not the sea, but the clear water that fell through the lightning.” Genny’s mother lifted an arm and swirled her fingers through the air. A charge shimmered in the air and a flash stabbed Genny’s arm.


“Opposite charges—we are drawn to them and they are drawn to us. Energy in the difference and the discharge.” Her mother glanced at Genny. “We’ll need more aloes for the fire. You should be the one to pick the rest.”

The aloes grew throughout the field before them, so Genny pushed herself away from the cool stone and glanced around. There were knives and baskets just to one side of the gazebo. She took one, trying to remember the proper method to selecting aloe limbs.

“Pick the ones with the sharpest spines. There is much to scour away.” Genny’s mother gestured toward the line of the creek. “Try the ones closer to the water. Change first.”

Genny changed right there, slipping out of shorts, underwear, t-shirt, and bra while her mother watched. She put on the dress, which was more of a shirt. I’m still Fae, Genny reminded herself. Still part of her flesh. Once I shrink and my skin grows thicker, it will be fine.

She walked into the Dusk barefoot, watching the blue for signs of insect life. There were things that bit hidden in the twilight of the sand. She made it more than halfway across the Dusk, when she felt the dress beginning to pinch across her chest. Her shoulders were burning. Hunger flared and she forgot herself, stamping the sand. It was dark and the soft. And trembling.

Genny looked up. The trees lining the creek shivered and parted. A house appeared—the empty green house from the block where she’d grown up on the mortal side of the highway. She froze as it lurched forward and stopped breathing as it rose on two chicken legs that gleamed a poisonous orange against the indigo Dusk.

She turned and ran, but the Dusk was too soft. Like running in a dream, she couldn’t force speed into her legs. Her muscles ached.

She dropped her shoulders and bent them forward, straining until her chest popped and then wings exploded from her back. A breeze caught them and blew her up and back.

The house loomed up, claws grasping the Dusk and bounding forward. Genny yelled, wings spread pale and loose in the night. She was reaching for the road, for the car she’d abandoned on the other side of the border when the house leapt up and ripped the wings from her back. A bolt of lightning hit the metal lattice of the gazebo and the entire structure hummed.

Her mother licked a charge from her fingers and watched as Genny fell to the ground, dead before she fell into the Dusk, wingless, no longer identifiable as Fae.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

R/W Brain

After the project that was entering all my To Be Read books in a database (because I was starting to acquire duplicates--yikes--and finding that the TBR stack took up an entire bookshelf) and deciding that I needed to read all the books acquired at Apollocon last year before this year's convention (next week), I assumed all my 'writer' time would be taken up finding excuses to keep reading. Forced march, read, read read!

To a certain extent, the delay in reading was due my distrust of but interest in the self-published books you find at a smaller convention like Apollocon: husband and wife writer teams working on multi-book fantasy series, independent writers with blog story compilations, small press authors with fantasy books unavailable in my local B&N. So far, the stories have been interesting and not what I expected--many of them have scratched the reader's itch that I've had since I was first allowed into the tiny B. Dalton F/SF section with cash of my own. Something of the writer's enthusiasm comes through and, for the most part, the books avoid the excessive length that I've noticed creeping into the bookstore.

Semi-polished and lean, these stories have also connected with my writing brain. When you read about writing (which I do, sometimes obsessively), you encounter the dichotomy of writer brain/editor brain. References to an "inner editor" who can be either a strict structural sentence engineer or some variation on "this is stupid, go back to playing ESO" are frequent. What I rarely encounter is the idea of a triple division -- an inner writer, reader, and editor. I came to writing because I am a reader. It will always be primary; I would rather read good fiction than write my own. [Maybe this disqualifies me from being a "True(TM) Writer." It's possible that I don't love it/want it enough. I can live with that.]

It's easy for me to forget, however, that reader brain is there when I'm drafting and trying not to edit as I go or revising and trying not to lose patience with the entire NOT InstaPerfect project and just start another draft. Reader brain would remind me that there is something that I'm interested in within the words and that I want that enthusiasm to come through. That the words exist solely to convey that enthusiasm. That enthusiasm--which is not a synonym for fun-all-the-time, merely a statement of ongoing, more-than-baseline interest--is how projects are completed. It is motivation and concern for the experience of others. It is finishing what you start.

This is probably something that you already know. I had forgotten. This is my blog-as-fridge magnet to remember.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Gen twisted her phone so that the map faced her palm. “We’re pretty close. Just a turn or two away.”

“Shut up, Gen. That was thunder. You should have put the entire address on your phone.” Brad twisted the steering wheel and the Nissan ran up into the tiny parking lot in front of Jim’s blank-and-Go. “We’re right at the bottom of the bowl down here. The streets’ll flood fast.” He pulled into a spot that faced the street.

Gen opened her door. “There was, like, a twenty percent chance of crap weather. I checked.” It was still hot, squinty, insta-headache weather, despite the freeways interlacing themselves in the air above the parking lot. Houston’s grid of downtown streets was just behind them to the left. “Don’t you remember? We came here for that thing when I was taking that art class.”

“I don’t remember coming down here with you. Ever. You didn’t go to places you had to find. Give me your phone.” Gen handed it over, stepping out of the car so that the breeze could shake out her shorts and tank top. Humidity shrink-wrapped the day to her pale skin, clammy from the a/c. She knew they’d been here because she’d been on the Cougar Gallery mailing list ever since, five years of not wanting to overlay the memory of that day with Brad.

He was still scrolling through her messages. “Why the hell are you on the mailing list for all these job sites? You just got a new freaking job. What was the exhibit called?”

“Dive. Everything relates to pools.” Gen leaned against the car. The wind picked up and trash blew across the parking lot. She thought she recognized the shape of one of the houses that backed up on the next street. The gallery was an ex-fraternity house, reclaimed by the university after an ear-biting incident Gen’s freshman year. Her one art class—a blurry year of slides and coffee orders for the grad student graders—had required they attend at least four shows and write about their experiences. Pretty much the entire class had come to the opening show at the ex-frat.

“I think it’s just over there. I’m going to run over before it rains and take a look. Then you can move the car.” Gen hurried across the street, forgetting to grab her phone.

The neighborhood around them was a mix of businesses and houses. It was hard to tell them apart, unless the buildings were just basic brick and glass. Gen crossed the street, cut up to the left to circle the block and felt a few spatters of rain on her neck. The unexpected touch caused her to jump and spin around.

A woman was waiting at the edge of the curb opposite her. Gen hurried forward, following a cracked sidewalk up in front of the buildings under the tangle of elevated roadways. Sharp shadows dissolved as the clouds lowered and the breeze tossed several foil and paper scraps against her legs. Gen skittered forward, trying to guess which house was the gallery. The one she’d thought it to be was boarded up, although the door was partway open. Her stomach turned cold. There were tags on the windows and the walls. Not art. Maybe gang art?
Thunder rolled above her, vibrating through the concrete and along her shivering skin. Something nearby growled back at it. A pile of blue black kittens squirmed against the fence—Gen looked twice to verify they weren’t rats. She hesitated. Art or cat?

Gen murmured at the pile and squatted beside them. You can’t really pick. It’s kinder to let them pick. She clicked her tongue and held out one hand. The middle one stood up so quickly two others flopped out of the pile. Gen continued to click and it came to her.

“You don’t wanna do that,” said a woman behind Gen. Gen glanced over her shoulder and saw the middle-aged woman from the curb, shaking her head. “Ain’t no kitten. Just leave ‘er be.”

A tiny nose bumped against Gen’s fingers and she scooped the kitten up without looking at it. “It’s hungry. And it’s going to rain.”

“Won’t hurt her. Too late, now, I guess.” The woman shuffled close, her left shoulder twitching as her shirt slid off it. A shadow flickered along her neck. Thunder boomed and the rain fell.

She hurried forward, pulling Gen along to the fence and then underneath the temporary protection of a freeway underpass. “It’s gonna steam. Ketz should have known better’n to mess with that phoenix.”

Gen balanced the kitten on one arm and fished for her phone. It was still with Brad. The rain was pouring down like a curtain, and Gen tried to watch the woman behind her, the kitten, and the water at the same time. “I should have grabbed the rest of them.” The kitten suddenly dug her back claws into Gen’s shirt and reached out to bat the rain. Curls of steam rose from its paws, the sluice of water spread out like a screen and Gen saw a sunny neighborhood beyond. She blinked. The kitten slapped at her arm with a burning paw.

Gen looked down and saw a ruff of feathers rise around the creature’s neck and along her back. “Half phoenix. Half Quetzcoatl. No part cat. Better take yourself off to Ben after the heavy stuff passes.” The woman fished in her top and pulled out a card for the Fahill Apartments. “Long A. We call it the Concrete Mushroom. Two blocks down this street, turn left, another block. Go to the third floor, ask for Ben.” The woman looked Gen up and down. “Smoky Ben. Best one for you.” With that, the woman adjusted her top so that both shoulders were exposed, rolled her neck, cracked her spine and drifted off into the rain, wings like dandelion fluff peeking from the back of her shirt.

A hot paw fell on her arm and “Ben” flared in Gen’s retina. She shook her head, smoothing the ruff of feathers that had flared around the creature's neck and along it's spine. "Art today," she said and plunged into the rain.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The View from My Cave

Summer must have snuck in behind last week's rain. I returned from LJ with a sunburn and a case of lethargy that's given me time to dig into the pile of books waiting to be read on the folding table (there may be some people in the household who are under the impression those books comprise a too-be-shelved pile). Pink-orange ribbons were on sale today, so I've restocked my favorite summer shade and am prepared for a mermaid-themed summer panorama for the shelves beside the fire place.

My brother (the working artist)--henceforward MBTWA, which makes him sound like bank--and I had begun discussing work habits and then meandered into the idea of how one uses art last weekend that reminded me that I've been looking forward to bringing out my soft-sculpture mermaids and associated sea-themed bits & pieces since last year. MBTWA is always good at reminding me that I need be more serious about writing and that I should have a goal and a purpose. He's better than the thousand books on writing piled on the table because he is a vocal advocate of doing the work and a present example of what doing the work actually looks like.

It looks exhausting.

It even sounds exhausting. Sometimes it sounds like ego. Sometimes it looks like self-centeredness. I wonder where he found the self-regard to make those choices--to not give in to the random demands of media and yard work and this-is-how-normal-people-live and just do the freaking work. To assume that you are good enough and let the work come.

There have been times that I've been there. Recently, however, I missed a deadline because I had a draft but never revised it. Instead, I fought with myself about whether I had anything to say, whether what I was saying was relevant, different, needed, kind enough, smart enough, clear enough. In the end, the part of me that decided it was crap won. Much energy went into convincing myself to shut up, but very little went into trying to give the short story any kind of form after that first blob of a draft.

MBTWA believes that there is a novel hiding in my brain. He believes that I'm not going to devour it like an ogre in a cave, digesting the dead remains of the story for years instead of writing it.

I believe that I could easily become the ogre. I'll be hiding behind the pink-orange ribbons, down beside the mermaids.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Just Another Five Minutes...

The rain froze along the length of the wisteria pod, casting the one remaining seed in ice. More rain fell, rounding the transparent seed like a pearl, until the morning came and the temperature rose and the casting slipped from its base and fell against a lower branch.

There, the cast of the seed lingered.

Across the driveway, a small stone pine in a large ceramic pot wore the ice along its needles like the kind of jewelry that makes you droop and swan through the room. One of the branches ended in a rounded point now smooth and reflecting the shifting the clouds. The reflection darkened along the length of the branch, and it trembled.

Water slid around the circumference of the seed and was suddenly absorbed into the ice. The seed grew more transparent, the surface less visible.

A breeze pushed through the yard, waving the stiff ice wand formed at the peak of the pine’s outermost branch. A chill sizzled through the air and the seed popped. A rill of ice cracked through the air, as a cold, an external cold, flowed into the yard.

Iced branches that had been bowed to the ground grew flexible in the rain and the new chill and twirled upward, catching each other and braiding themselves into a stiff wattle fence. The wisteria wasn’t large enough to enclose the entire yard, but the rose bush that the homeowner had been too lazy to arbor began to weave itself together as well.

Breath sighed from the crack as the binding the ice seed had held twined up and joined the rose and the wisteria into a thick wall that ran around the house. Low laughter issued from just beside the front bumper of a car now covered in a thick layer of ice. “Sleep. My favorite poison.”

Friday, February 28, 2014

Workday in Abstraction

Crouched back on my heels, black dress folded over me and black jacket bunched and flaring behind me, I felt like a Corvid. Slipped from a roost, watchful. Bent almost to the ground beside the vending machine, the wide lunch atrium expands above me; the brilliant white ceiling makes me want to dig my stilettos into the ground and launch my body to the light.

Away from the dark recess from which I’m scavenging a water bottle.

Today, however, the universe has dropped a bag over my head and is working me with the jess. Empty spaces are only so big. The dress only sways because my ankles are restrained. A long, serviceable black that recreates me in a block of shadow. The old-fashioned sounding “serviceable” brings to mind children’s stories--long black dresses lead inevitably to witches. Waiting for a knock on the door.

Last weekend, my brother told me how he was now saying an uninterrupted “yes” to the Universe. Everything was lining up, working out. He stated this after we discovered the unexpected curbside parking space he’d just scored was right in front of the place were going. His myths begin to sound like they come from the front of an auditorium. The Universe offers you something, you take it. Managers fail upward. All of which makes me think of fat cartoon men in suits floating like balloons between a flat green grass ground and a flat blue line of sky. Tie a string around an ankle and run your manager balloon down the field.

Be open to the possibility of mediocrity, that you will never fail upward far enough.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Morning After the Night Before

Walking in the fog makes me aware of air as a volume. Unlike a breeze or the solid humidity of summer, fog is loosely tangible and, especially when I’m navigating half by sidelong glances and half through the screen of my camera, it can be a disorienting sensation to feel your movement through the air and the accumulation of it on your skin. My ankles lift as my skin wishes the air were thick enough to allow me to float.

The camellias and magnolias are blooming, along with something that was less showy but highly scented. Between the tangible air, the heavy perfume, and the tumbled camellia blossoms, it was like walking through the remnants of a ballroom that had popped like a bubble the night before.
It is Sunday morning, so silent that I discard the ballroom image for one of an open Cathedral, bounded by the visibility of the air itself and full of tired, blowsy worshippers who are weeping their prayers into the morning. Despite the heavy drops that fall from the taller trees, poking my shoulder like people jostling in a crowd—the air itself is crowded, today—despite this, webs are invisible and I have walked through several.
Between the webs and the mist, I am constantly aware of the tops of my socks, the edges of my shorts, and my bare arms. Everything is muted except for the sensation of moving through this space, placing my feet carefully on the slick brick paths. I brush at the webs, but another one wraps around me and I begin to imagine legs in my hair, at the edge of my neckline.

Briefly, the idea of a spider peering out from the edge of my shirt at the park seems companionable; it is very still this morning. Then I think of eyes piled on eyes and I shudder. My fingers begin brushing at my arms again.

Just before I leave, still thinking about the silence, I come upon the remnants of a celebration. Tiny, shiny confetti “congratulations” litter a small area by a bench. Yesterday, my brother had mentioned that he took pictures of things that reminded him that other people had been on the path before him—a coke can left at the side of the path, a smear of orange paint left by the park staff as they marked off areas for change. I’m not enough like him to be grateful for this splash of trash, to incorporate it into the exploded dance I imagined. As the fog lifts, leaving the heaviness of my body for my knees and ankles, I let the image fall away, detritus in the imagination.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reverie On Wheels

I took the school-heavy route to work yesterday, not really intending to spend so much time staring at the sidewalks, waiting out the lines. A sunny spring morning is a good time to see families trooping to elementary school, particularly in the suburban neighborhoods near the office.

Most of the parents trailing along with their children were on foot or bicycle, except for one dad. He was traveling away from campus on a small neon green skateboard, hips shifting, body relaxed. He was in jeans and demin shirt, casual enough for working from home—but he was skimming over the concrete as if he could daydream his way home without looking down. Maybe he was a little heavy or had a tonsure more monk than dude. Perhaps there isn’t much difference in the absorption of the moment.

Skateboard Dad made me think of my brother and my nephew, both of whom enjoy longboards and long concrete paths. Although I don’t have the balance the required, watching the grace-in-balance of someone on a skateboard lifts me up. My entire Thursday ran on the parallel tracks of pushing pixels into place and slipping under tree shadows, relaxed into the board.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sleet and Teeth

The paw tracks appear on the coldest February mornings, just as Brad is leaving for work. We replaced the carpet and painted when we moved in, but a cold track appears just the same. A thin edge of ice reveals the print of a Labrador-sized dog. Just the one set of prints, from the edge of the tile in the kitchen to the middle of the great room carpet. Brad ignores them. He doesn’t want to be tied down by pets or be one of those families who resort to externalizing their problems—his words, said while talking me down from an anxiety attack. No ghosts. No brain tumors hallucinations. Ill-fitting seals. Breathe.

Brad doesn’t know, but I put a bowl of water down in the morning before I plug in the phone and log in to work. Sometimes a chill comes to settle against my legs while I’m talking or typing, and it reassures me.

I had just filled the bowl when the wind started. A gust shuddered the back door, which doesn’t extend all the way to the jam. It was just below freezing and the thump of the door was followed by a rattle. My first thought was bones banging against the door, dead clouds dropping their bird-bone knuckles on us. Panic swung me around. I saw the sleet hitting the window.

Something squeaked. I thought it was me, strangling my own yell. There wasn’t anyone here to talk me down. A chill folded around my ankles and another burst of sleet shattered against the window. Something grey rose up in the window and before I could think “Brad’s grill cover” a thick grey mouth hit the glass.

A frozen shark attacked the window. Another burst of wind, another glimpse of icicle teeth, a frozen white underbelly and a tiny black eye. This time, the teeth scratched the window and broke. My ankles warmed up as a shadow coalesced by the back door, barking. The water bowl fell, shattering against the tile.

Stormlight filled the kitchen with cold grey and I saw the shark drawn back into the yard by a heavy gust. The grill was naked and covered with ice but the grey form was no longer a cover. The leak under the door was like a riptide, pulling me closer to the monster in my backyard, tugging me over the slick, gritty remnants of the water bowl. The thin rug in front of the door ruched up and the wind dropped. My feet were bleeding.

A grey hunger slammed the window again. A loud crack webbed the window. Over the sound of the wind and the heavy sounds of the creature inflating in each gust, I heard a sharp bark and then something slapped the door; something heavy.

The shark hesitated, some of the ice cracking from its skin. The door thumped again and I took a breath. “Get ‘im, boy.” I grabbed the knob, flipped the lock, and opened the back door.

Ice teeth bared, the grey form surged forward. Before it reached the door sill, the nose crumpled and the frozen skin cracked. It snapped at me, unfolding a jaw that was lined with glassy teeth. It was larger than I was and my feet were still bleeding across the tile. It writhed, straining just to the sill, close enough that I could feel the massive cold swelling into the house.

An impact dented its side and it turned, snapping onto something I couldn’t see. Then it was dragged down on the concrete, skin shattering, teeth breaking, and the great black eye—a frozen leave, I saw now, rolling off the edge of the porch.

I was so cold. Sleet hammered against the tile. “Come here, come on, come back in,” I said. Over and over, trying to call something back into the house. My legs were too cold to feel anything subtle. The soles of my feet burned against the cold grit. I stared at the uncovered grill, the crushed cover, and the sleet covering the lawn. It had turned to snow. A track of prints dashed around the yard.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A New Path

He pulled a thin stem ending a tight bud from the small star magnolia tree as we followed the trail through a grey February morning in which the trees mullioned the sky in a crazy leading of dark branches. I was cold and moving through the public gardens as if they were a jogging trail, walking too fast to do much more than frown at the man who snapped the branch as I passed.

I thought he might have waited until I had come close enough to see his fingers on the branch before he tugged it away from the bare mass of other branches, most ending in those little flares of grey green buds. They were still pulled tight and I pulled my jacket closer to my neck as I passed.

The gardens are usually mostly empty, and few of the people wandering the grounds speak to you; however, when he fell into step beside me, he didn’t seem to take up enough space for his joining me to feel invasive. We walked for a few steps before he stopped at another tree and said, “If you’ll wait a bit, I’ll open the gate by the fairy pond and show you how the creek strand below that hollow.”

My feet stopped at the sound of his voice and I glanced over to verify park insignia on his jacket. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, just a pair of skinny, forest-green jeans and what looked like a faded camouflage sweatshirt. He looked official. Even his hair was pulled tight to his skull; silver-brown as a squirrel’s and now that I’d stopped and he turned back to the tree, I saw that it was braided tightly and hung down to just below his belt. He was thinner than I’d thought at first—his shirt puffed out as he reached among the branches of another magnolia.

The camo print was different from most of the one’s I’d seen before. This one seemed to be printed with subtle diamonds of silver, green, and tan maple bark; a design for a woodland Harlequin. I looked around and saw a few people wandering in the gardens, closer to the formal sections. Watching them, I rolled my head around once, relaxing my shoulders.

After he’d checked the branches, we walked together to the section where a fairy pond had been created. There were two ponds, one shallow enough to show the bottom year round and the other just deep enough for the leaves to tan the water to opacity. There was a bench overlooking the larger pond and a tiny Japanese maple, barely visible amongst the other bare stems arching over the water. There was bench beside the smaller pond, on a raised path beside another magnolia tree. We were taking the path that led by the railing around the larger pond.

I stopped to curl my hands around the iron railings, but my companion kept going to the gate on the other side of the path. Here, the pond drained down a slope into Cypress Creek. It wasn’t always locked, but you weren’t supposed to leave the paths. He opened the gate and waved a hand over the opening. “Watch your feet and hold on to the railing until I get a light.”

The gate opened onto a six-inch drop onto uneven ground beside a trickle of water that left the ground soft and friable. I swung myself around, balancing on the ground and clinging to the railing. Snakes lived in the pond, I’d seen them. It was cold, but that probably would just make them cranky.
As I tried to avoid sinking up to my ankles in mud and giving the snakes a chance, my companion jumped lightly down and closed the gate. He then took the magnolia bud and struck it against the edge of the brick and concrete path.

The flower opened with a snap and burst of light, as if he’d struck a match instead of a flowerbud. Light sloshed out of the blossom, running down his arm like wax. The narrow drainage area was suddenly greener; although not much brighter.

I glanced at the gate, but it seemed that the railing no longer had an opening and, as the light diffused to where I was standing, the iron I was holding seemed to burn my hand like acid. I let go of the bars, shaking my hands and looking at my palms.

“It’s not a permanent injury,” he said. Lifting the flower up, he showed me a sandy footpath. “My name’s Robin. Let’s continue our walk along here.”

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Things I Don't Want to Forget

I had to run down to my old stomping grounds this afternoon and ended up eating at the Schlotzsky's not far from what used to be my old office building. Maybe this isn't how you handle running up against reminders of what could have been the "last good thing"--relationship, job, whatever--but I tend to poke at it; drive around, visit landmarks, wax nostalgic, the whole nine yards. So after spending a few tense moments sort of mooning out the window at the old office building...I mean, being in Westchase just trips all kinds of triggers...I ended up driving around and finding out the old office building now houses some other company. There are designer apartments accreting all around the area. And the Supercuts where The Pumpkin King used to get his hair cut is still there, even if few other familiar businesses are. Of course, when I drove by the green glass building, the one with the glass pyramid above the lobby that I remember when it was just an architect's rendering, it looked tired, reflecting the grey afternoon as if it was hollow.

The old comic book store is gone, as is the Cajun restaurant on the corner. Shopping centers are huge and anchored by all the familiar suspects, although they aren't the same ones that were here ten years ago. Driving out toward West Oaks is the nostalgia equivalent of playing a chord: I remember driving out this way in college, when the Pumpkin King and I were ensconced in that first house, and just before we moved, after several months of dealing with unemployment and living in an apartment after selling the house. Something tells me it would be a minor chord.

And driving. I forget the way that we used to spend so much time in the car; both of us to & from work and then out in the evenings and on the weekends. Roads like rivers; push your car into the flow and negotiate the width of the moving traffic. I forget the way I used to be in love with my car.

Out of this, out on the northern edge of the county, it's easy to forget the weight of four lanes each way and twenty stories of glass and concrete on every corner.

Remembering it gives dimension to the present. It wakes me up from the desire to huddle in the house. I remember that I used to know how to swim. I can learn again.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hawk Season

Zakassis woke in the mould feeling as if he was perfectly balanced between hunger and satiation. It was too early to be awake; it felt like a neutral kind of hawk season. His skin was loose along his joints and his snout, but not yet along his belly. He pulled himself up and began to climb, orienting himself toward the light and pulling up the open tower that was now beside the dead stalk that had been a geranium before the last hard freeze.

Clumps of fur and grey dust clung to his feet as he came to the upper platform and looked out at the sky. There was a huge fall of it visible, obscured by something too fine to be distinguished. Zak couldn’t feel the movement of anything but a steady gentleness along his back and tail. If that was the sky, it moved somehow without touching this place.

Throle had refused to sleep in the shallow bowls of mould around which she and Zakassis hunted in the warm season. She had risked the sharp grass and the cats to dig herself deep beneath the bushes. She had worried about death but as Zakassis tasted this still air, he realized that she should have worried about who filled pots of dirt. Both Zakassis and Throle had tasted the dragon bait earlier; neither wanted to fall victim to another’s transformation.

They had smelled the smoke for days before they parted to hibernate. Zakassis had made her promise that she would return with coals if…if the worst happened. The worst would be death, he reminded himself. It would not be so bad to swallow fire.

He could taste smoke in this air. Thin, sweet smoke.

Zakassis slid one pupil toward his tail and saw a spark of light, then another, and another. They were some distance away but he was thinking of Throle, thinking of how they could chase hawks together if they were willing to swallow a story’s worth of fire and fable.

As he looked away from the sky and tasted the air again, noises began behind him. Not barking, probably not cats, either. Zak stilled as the noise grew louder. He was close to the edge of the platform, behind a transparent wall. Hidden by height and close to the edge. He tightened the muscles of his knees and elbows, drawing his lids mostly closed to protect his eyes.

Something thunked on top of the platform and the entire structure wobbled. The noise drifted away into silence. He opened one eye. Just beyond the glass wall was another glass structure, this one containing a single flame. Zakassis waited. No lizards crawled from the flames, no red throats belled an ascension. The flame was unguarded.

He had promised Throle spring. Promised her that the mould was safe, safer than the expanse beyond the sharp grass, beneath the bushes. Sleeping in it had brought him across this threshold, brought him to an open flame. He waited until the light dimmed and the fire grew brighter. He could feel the heat. His body pulsed, his skin tight.
He ran to the glass and up the side, leaping down and swallowing the flame, just as the stories said.

It should have been a painful death.

Instead, Zakassis uncurled from his meal, pulling wings from his body instead of forelegs. His jaws were now balanced on teeth, his jaws aching from the new angle, his tongue pierced and sore from the sharpness and the heat he had swallowed earlier. There was nothing left for Throle, but Zak could see the other flames now. His brain was sharper and he relaxed into the soft wax. Hawk season would come soon.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Winter's Game

The pressure of last night’s crits and Monday’s potential changes pushed me out of the door this morning despite a broken night’s whispers of sleeping in. I ended up at Mercer at half past nine. The arboretum was emptier than I’d expected and so I ended up taking my draft and its attendant comments for a brisk mental walk until the open blue sky and the chill finally lowered my internal pressure enough to allow it all to evaporate.

Walking by the frost-crisped azaleas, just a few days past blooming, I began to hear knocking in the trees roundabout. I couldn’t identify the source of the sounds, so I paused by the azalea embankment, deep in a pool of shade, and listened. Most of the camellias are blooming, but the dogwoods and magnolias are just in bud. Tender plants are folded over in stiff bunches after a few nights just below freezing, despite the afternoons well into the 70’s. The park is both asleep and awake, with winter blossoms looking out upon neighbors curled tight in stiff brown and yellow. The knocking, therefore, makes me think of something hesitating at a familiar door. Are you there yet? Are you ready?

Spring in this part of Texas, just north of the coastal plains, is a twin season—a mild winter twin in long sleeves and shorts playing hide and seek with winter and a warm summer twin in a ponytail and short sleeves shading herself briefly against the coming heat. Perhaps winter is knocking among the pines, reminding the mild twin that she’ll be soon be found and it will be winter’s game for a few more days.

The high knocking and the rustling of birds in the underbrush around me sets my brain whirling. This trail leads to the pond just down a path in the open woodland just before me and I decide to keep going. Perhaps part of me is encouraged by the sight of a family taking up the path that leads to one of the formal gardens and the pathway to the parking lot. A young boy howls a no! as his mother tries to pose him for another photo. The picture of her bending towards him and his face pulled up in a shout as he runs, head to the sky and arms flailing would have been a great shot—the boy pulled to action by the day and the park like a kite to the sky.

The path to the pond lies at the back of the bushes that frame the family of photographers and I listen to them arranging poses as I follow it. A few steps in, I discover that they have removed underbrush and trees from a large section of this side of the park. It looks as if the forest had been scooped out and, as I look at it, my year—the plans, the habits—is hollowed out. I should be shocked, but I am lightened. The brush is gone, the trunks that ended in jagged points, the bushes and vines that made one the forest seem to tangle in upon itself, and I can see the chain link fence that marks the edge of arboretum property.

A few trees remain in the open and some kind of clearing equipment is parked on the far edge. There isn’t any indication of new paths or what is planned for this section of parkland. It is all potential, empty of overgrowth. Looking out at it, I feel as if I’m holding January like a bowl in my hand, scoured and ready to be dipped into the year. I am caught and pulled forward.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

And this is what I saw / Open for so long

Driving home this morning, I was once again worrying about writing. Intimidated by a story that isn't going well, shrinking into something that barely holds together, and needing a break from all that internal yammering, I stopped at Mercer.

It's a Sunday morning, early. There are just a few other cars in the narrow parking lot and the sound is the sweep and pop of rubber on Aldine Westfield, the wake of engines and speed sloshing the quiet of the empty parking spaces. It smells like gas. I am reminded of pulling into Port Arthur, the dense smell of hydrocarbons pressed against the flatness, the sky seeming higher because of the thick air. Port Arthur is good, the right angle into the past as I worry at the story.

The cold has been sharp and rare, but the entrance shows me that many of the plants have succumbed, bare branches and wilted leaves. I hesitate, but I need to keep moving, keep the clog in my head loose enough to keep moving. The first color that strikes me are the tiny pansies, catching the rising sun in a corona of dew. Sunrise is clear and bright coming through the tiny windows of the purple and lilac flowers. It brings me down to my knees, close as I can get to the light running down from the trees, across the grass.

Birds flit across the paths and I follow the main path toward the cottage garden section. There aren't any birds in the feeder and the bushes and trees around here are line drawings of themselves, with no cover. Water echoes from the fountains and I find one of them drained of its usual water but still running. The stone tank echoes with the fall, a hollowness that seems to indicate further, hidden open areas. The main fountain is full of pale blue water, edged with bubbles. Perhaps an algae treatment? It blinds the pool milky.

Following the path around the pool and toward the shallow pond, I pass the outer edge of the Yew maze and encounter a thousand fuzzy seed heads rising from a plant that is labeled as smelling sweet. I lean into the stiff fuzz, but they have no smell now. The sky is deep blue and the entire plant seems caught in a moment of fizzing away into it.

Continuing along this back edge of the arboretum, I take the path that curves away from the trees beside Cypress Creek and instead follow the lines along the inside edge. Where the path encounters a crossroad, I lean against the curved iron rail and watch the oak leaf hydrangea. Quatrefoil flowers look as if they've been cut out of craft paper and stuck to brown wire brushes above sharply-cut leaves bent gently into red and pink skirts. These are beautiful in summer green and white and remain so as the leaves deepen into red and the flowers follow the leaves into a winter tan.

Not far from here is a magnolia tree, branches curving up to soft catkin points. Standing beneath it on a Sunday morning, I'm reminded of a Christmas eve service, pews full of people with small white candles, as yet unlit, waiting for the pastor to take the Christ candle down and spread a soft light throughout the church. A soft wind lifts the catkins, but it will be weeks before the sun tips enough warmth through the park to open them into thick white bowls.

Plants that have shriveled with the cold seem to point to camellias and magnolias, blooming and preparing to bloom, the entire arboretum waking and falling asleep in the cool quiet of this Sunday morning.