Five Equals One

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I am mute…
too much screaming deafens love.
I am blind…
angry eyes bring down darkness.
I can’t taste…
foul bitterness coats my tongue.
I can’t smell…
decaying lives occlude my nostrils.
I can’t feel…
sadness surrounds my desolate heart.
I am empty…
a lonely vessel, yearning to be filled.

Photo from Morguefile

You Are What You Read–part 2

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Part 1 here

She came down hard on her butt.

The ship listed to one side. A dream, Jane thought as she slid along the planking. This is just a dream. But that knowledge didn’t stop her from being scared out of her wits, and it sure didn’t stop the all-too-real pain of splinters gouging her palms as she scrabbled for a handhold.

Her fingers brushed—what? She turned her head to the right, and there was The Book and her fingers were gone, swallowed between its open cover. Then her arm was gone, and oh sweet Jesus, it was sucking her up, pulling her inside itself, pulling her into its yellow mouth.

Again, falling, tumbling. And again being deposited. Somewhere.

Jane opened her scrunched-tight eyes. Back resting against the wall, she was sitting on the floor of the closet inside the Liberty Public Library, the feather duster on the varnished boards beside her. And The Book.

She giggled. Silly of her, she’d sat down in the closet to look at The Book, and had fallen asleep. Good thing it was Saturday and she had the place all to herself. It wouldn’t have done for sour-faced Miss Maples to have caught her napping on the job.

Yes, that’s what had happened: she’d fallen asleep and dreamed. And oh, what a lovely dream it had been. Until its end. Continue reading

You Are What You Read–part 1

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Jane Hitchcock twitched the feather duster over the shelf of old books, stirring up years of dust that had settled upon their frayed tops. Wonder why they’re hidden away in here where no one can see them, she thought. A treasure they are, so old. And worth a lot of money, I’ll bet.

Her nose tickled. She sneezed, the sound as loud as a thunderclap inside the small closet. The flailing duster snagged one of the books, knocking it to the floor where it lay open, its fragile insides exposed.

Jane bent over—no easy task for her two-hundred-pound-plus frame—and reached for the book. But then she noticed something. Strange. The lines upon the yellowed pages squiggled, wiggled, jiggled.

What in the world…

With a pained grunt, she dropped to her arthritic knees. She pushed back wisps of graying brown hair that had escaped its tight bun and peered at the dancing letters. Something was there, on the page beneath the words. She leaned forward for a closer look.

Her belly shoved up against her ribs, demanding room for itself, almost cutting off her supply of air and causing her to breathe in fast little pants. “What…is…that?” Her chubby fingers splayed over the brittle paper.

And she was falling. Continue reading

Words

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sleek and slimy, your words slither through my mind
looking for the perfect spot to bury their rotten fruit…
dark and deceitful, they search out doubtful soil
the most fertile place to plant seeds of backdoor guilt

black and blue, the almost-hidden quagmire of blameless soil
cries out as holes are punched in its belly of insecurities…
willful and wicked, the tainted words are dropped in
where they burst open and sink their greedy, guileful roots

and the cycle begins again…

Image from Pixabay

It’s A Job–part 3

Gloomy misty country road in autumn forest. Shallow depth of field

Part 1 here       Part 2 here

Propped up on the pliant, leather sofa, iced coffee and a bag of Dove chocolates near at hand, I tried to concentrate on the open textbook braced against my raised thighs. Meta-ethics, normative ethics, applied ethics…

Why did I need to study philosophy to be a molecular biologist? What did philosophy have to do with genetics? I sure as hell didn’t know, but the counselor had said if I wanted to supervise research projects in vector construction, I’d need to hold a Doctor of Philosophy, along with a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology.

I had to agree with Daddy on one thing: you can’t fight city hall. So I hadn’t argued, just signed up for the required classes because…

Because someday I wanted to fiddle around inside the human DNA, discover which gene did what, which ones produced murderers, rapists, child molesters. I wanted to ferret out the genetic factor that made people turn out like my Daddy: mean to the bone. And I wanted to turn them off. For good. Better yet, introduce an improvement, something like the spider-silk goat milk.

My mind swam with possibilities, the changes and enhancements that could be made to the human race, creating a society where fear of your fellow humans didn’t exist. Utopia. Well, almost. There’d still be—

A soft thump broke the silence. Continue reading

It’s a Job–part 2

Gloomy misty country road in autumn forest. Shallow depth of field

Part 1 here          Part 3 here

“Ania, my baby sister has died.” The professor’s voice pulled me back into the present. “I have to go home for a few weeks.”

“Of course,” I said. “Where’s home?”

“Krakow. I have booked a flight out for tonight. Tessa, I hate to ask this of you, but I have no one else I trust.”

“Anything, Professor.” I took a sip of coffee, looked up into Cass’s curious eyes. “Anything at all.”

“Can you drive me to the airport, then pick me up when I return?”

“Of course.”

“And there is another thing…it’s about the spraying you have been doing for me.”

“Don’t give it a second thought. I’ll do it every evening like always.”

“There is more I need to tell you, Tessa…to keep you safe. There are things you do not know.”

I looked up. Cass had moved away, but was still within earshot. Whatever the professor had meant about keeping me safe, I didn’t want her to pick up on. My love was such a worrywart. “You can tell me on the way to the airport.” Continue reading

It’s A Job–part 1

Gloomy misty country road in autumn forest. Shallow depth of field

Part 2 here           Part 3 here

My job was to walk the perimeter of Professor Dembowski’s property late every evening and spray down a foot-wide swath of bluish-green foam to contain It when he let It out to feed at night. As far as jobs went, this was an easy one, taking little of my time. And it paid well. A lot more than cashiering at Walmart or waiting tables.

I had no idea what “It” was and didn’t care. All that concerned me was the crisp, hundred-dollar bills the professor counted out onto my palm every Friday after I returned the emptied sprayer to the shed in back of his sprawling, log home in the country.

“Thank you, Tessa,” he invariably said in that funny accent I couldn’t quite place. “You are such a good girl.”

We engaged in a bit of small talk, then I was on my way.

Seated on his motorized scooter at the bottom of a wooden ramp leading up to the head-high back porch, he watched me walk away. I always turned and gave him a little wave when I reached the side of the house, then picked my way along an overgrown rock path that meandered through wild grasses, weeds, and trees, to my dusty, red Thunderbird parked out front.

That was the way it had always gone, and that was the way it went this evening.

After pulling off my muddy boots and wet socks and pitching them in the trunk, I slid behind the wheel and twisted the key. The engine whined but didn’t catch. I turned it off, waited a bit, tried again, got the same result. And again. “Start, you ole sumbitch…” I muttered, falling back into the hill-country dialect that was always on the tip of my tongue, stuck there like glue, just waiting for an unguarded moment to slip out.

Mama’s pride-and-joy that she had given me to make the long trip north finally caught, sputtered, then came to life with an oily roar. Guess hearing Daddy’s words coming out of my mouth scared it like they had everyone else back home. Even me. Until I had gotten bigger and tougher and could take the beatings, both verbal and physical, without making a sound.

I steered the Thunderbird around the circle drive, then along a lengthy straightaway before the concrete gave way to packed dirt. I took a sharp left, following a set of tracks plowing through knee-high grass. A few hundred yards more and the road ended at the highway. I stopped, glanced into the rearview mirror at the encroaching darkness. Nothing but trees and vines and brush. No sign at all that a million-dollar-plus house lurked behind the gnarled thicket. Why, even his mailbox was a rusty, listing thing.

And not for the first time, I wondered: why the camouflage?

But it was just a passing thought. The thousands of dollars growing in my bank account earmarked for a decent car rested in the forefront of my mind. Soon, there would be enough. And after the car, I would be able to send money home to Mama. I just had to come up with a way to keep it out of Daddy’s hands.

I flipped on the headlights, rolled through the strip of aquamarine foam, and pulled onto the highway. Continue reading

Editing Angst

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I’m in the final stage of editing my manuscript for publication, which means I’ve been residing for a while in that special place in hell reserved for writers. See me over there? I’m tucked away behind the third brimstone pit on your left, smoldering notes scattered about me, and laptop clutched in my sweaty hands.

I need a break. I need inspiration. So it’s time to pause for a moment and remember why, of my own free will, I chose to be in Writers Hell.

 

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No truer words have ever been spoken. Any writer who thinks her/his first draft is ready to make its grand appearance before the reading public is delusional. Maybe the twentieth draft. Maybe.

 

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I butchered my story, cutting out description, exposition, dialogue, and backstory until I stripped its skeleton of all flesh. Lord, it looks so damned bare now. Does anyone have a spare jacket?

 

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I argued with myself–did I take out too much? Did I leave enough to give the reader a sense of time and place? Did I adequately reach inside the minds’ of my characters, and lay on the table for all to see their thoughts, emotions, and internal conflicts? Should I include this paragraph? Should I throw out that one? On and on.

 

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I ruthlessly “killed my babies” (more commonly referred to as killing your darlings), and the more I killed, the easier it became to spill red ink. I learned to derive a perverse kind of joy as I dispatched words, sentences, and paragraphs without regard to their beauty and innocence. Mary Cathleen Clark became a monster, an unabashed killer of words.

 

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Through editing, I know I have become a stronger writer, one who won’t shy away from doing what is necessary to turn out a good story, even if it involves what feels close to self-mutilation at times.

 

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When all is said and done, if we don’t edit, the smoke hides the flames we’re hoping to kindle with our words. And if we fail to do that, if we fail to set fire to our readers’ imaginations, we have failed as writers.

 

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I can do this.

 

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Now, I’ll take my glass of sweet tea and go back to work.

A House is Not a Home

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Bessie wanted to leave. More than anything she wanted to walk right out the front door and never come back. But she knew He would kill her if she tried. Why, He didn’t even like it when she so much as looked out a window. He’d jerk the heavy drapes shut, bellowing that there was nothing outside for her, that everything she needed was within these walls. She didn’t know why He got so excited. Nothing out there, anyway. Smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, they were.

A three-mile, washboard of a lane snaked down the wooded hillside, its end the overgrown front yard of the house where’s she’d been born–and would most likely die. It’d been months since anyone had ventured down the rocky slope, and even longer since she’d made the trip up it.

Reckon the whole world has forgotten about me.

She moved listlessly around the dark-paneled living room, straightening the doilies on the sofa arms, smoothing the crocheted table runner on the sideboard, fluffing the embroidered throw pillows. She fussed with the tiny family of pink ceramic elephants that lumbered across the top of the Bombay chest, moving each piece a fraction of an inch, then moving it back.

She wandered to the cold fireplace. On top of the mantle, her mother smiled out of an ornate silver frame. The picture had been taken a few years before Mother had gone crazy, when she had still been able to smile.

That sweet smile had disappeared a few weeks after Father passed away. Mother’s face had become pinched, her eyes fearful, and she’d started talking about “Him”, telling Bessie that He wouldn’t let her leave the house. Continue reading

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

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“There’s something in Mrs. Treadway’s root cellar,” I said to Mama’s back. “Something gruntin’ and groanin’ like an old hog.”

The paring knife stopped circling the tater in Mama’s hand. She turned around and stared at me, frown lines gouging furrows between her eyes. “April May Lollis, didn’t I tell you to stay away from there and not be bothering that poor woman?” She waved the shiny blade in my direction. “She’s got enough on her shoulders without you snooping around, asking silly questions. What with her husband up and dying and Jesse joining the Army right after, I don’t know how she runs that place by herself. Course, truth be told, Jesse wasn’t much help to begin with.”

“I ain’t said nothing to her.” I bit into the pear I’d picked from the scrawny tree out behind Mrs. Treadway’s outhouse. Juice ran down my chin, and I wiped it off with the back of my hand. “She didn’t even see me.”

Mama pointed the knife at the half-eaten pear in my hand. “Where’d you get that then?”

I sighed great big. “Off her tree, but she didn’t see me. I didn’t go nowhere near her house. But you know that old root cellar way out behind her garden . . . something’s in there. I heard it. And there’s a new lock on the door and—”

“April May, how many times have I got to tell you to quit making stuff up?”

“I ain’t making it up, Mama.” Continue reading