Perfectly Poached – Micro Story

Perfectly Poached 

Stewed in mineral-rich liquid, surrounded by constant heat, the offspring moved. Connected to siblings, the mass swayed in time with subaquatic currents.

The male, possibly the father, spotted the motion. Straightening angled legs, he crept close, stalking, cautiously watching.

Uncomfortable in confinement, the young stretched.

Surging with lightning speed, the adult tasted satisfaction. He checked his surroundings. Distraction can be perilous. Taking the opportunity, he feasted.

When he left, a few offspring remained.

She registered the theft immediately. These things happen. Inspecting what remained, she knew she still had a job to do.

 

This tiny tale was written to go along with a recipe blog post about Mexican Tomatillo and Epazote Sauce & Herb Broth Poached Eggs.

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The Shape of Water Continued – short story

Zelda and I stood together on the canal bank watching as they dragged for bodies. We cried when they placed the one red shoe into her trembling hands.

We consoled each other after the investigative interviews.

We bonded when we cleaned out Elisa’s apartment. The princess didn’t own many valuable possessions. I kept her egg timer, and Zelda wasn’t parting with that shoe.

Elisa had some money saved. She left a note saying to split it between us.

Our conversations were stilted as we trundled through grief-stricken tasks.

“I think he healed her and took her away with him,” I’d say.

Zelda’s expression was melancholic, “If she were still alive, she would have let us know.”

“How could she? Too many people are still looking for him….for them.”

Our prospects for work dwindled. Zelda was spending nights on the sofa sleeper in my apartment. Though I enjoyed her company and her cooking, sharing a bathroom with her was nearly intolerable.

“Yolanda, from work, cleaned Colonel Strickland’s office.” Zelda offered as she turned hash browns one morning. “She overheard him talking about where he found it. She knew the place; she has cousins near there.”

“Did Yolanda say if her cousins ever heard of a River God?”

“She didn’t.” Zelda compressed her lips. Those words dropped off into a moment that was as deep and broad as the Grand Canyon. Zelda’s stern brown eyes bored into mine. My scalp tingled. I ran my fingers through the hair that hadn’t been there before Aqua Man.

A postcard arrived one day. Not in the mailbox but slipped under my door. There were only two things on it. My street address and a stamp from Peru.

Zelda and I became unencumbered adventurers. No strings kept us tied to any one place. We headed south making discrete inquiries. We were lucky that Zelda spoke some Spanish. She started teaching me too. A year, to the day, after we left, we stumbled on a lead. Iquitos is a hole-in-the-wall-town with a few services. Zelda found a job almost right away teaching English to school children in the afternoons. She dragged me along sometimes.

One of her students, Jhady, is a disfigured girl, the daughter of a local businessman who owns an ‘art gallery’ in the back of his grocery store. Zelda kept nagging me to show my portfolio to her father.

When I did it, he was only expressing lukewarm interest in my work when he came across a piece titled, Elisa and her Monster. Raimee’s eyes went buggy; be began talking so fast that I couldn’t track a single word. He seemed in danger of stroking out, so I rushed to bring Zelda in to translate.

We learned that Raimee had seen the River God, he said his name is Iglootoo. The River God receives pilgrims during harvest moons. Raimee pointed to my sketch, speaking two words I understood, “White Queen.”

“We found her!” Zelda screeched, her eyes filling with tears.

Listening to Raimee and nodding, she repeated, “A small pilgrimage is preparing to leave next week. He says he’ll arrange for us to join them if you will speak to the River God on behalf of his daughter.”

“Why me?”

She pointed to my sketch.

Waving his arm, Raimee encouraged Jhady to come out from behind the curtain where she’d been hiding. She hung her head, letting her long dark hair form a barrier. I could see enough of her face to observe tight, contorted skin around her nose and mouth.

As the date for departure approached, our nerves grew taught. We took it out on each other.

“What if it’s not them?” Zelda worried.

“It has to be! Raimee recognized Elisa in my sketch.”

“It doesn’t look that much like her! If it is her, what are we going to say after all this time?”

“Hello? I’ve missed you?” I suggested in a sarcastic, biting tone.

“Should we take something as an offering?”

“If we don’t, they might not let us go—” I smiled slowly. I knew what I was going to bring.

It would be a four-day trek into the unfathomable jungle. We bought burros to haul our gear. Neither one of us believed that the other could hike that distance, I hoped those burros could carry people.

We headed out at dawn with guides at the front wielding long, thick blades, doing battling plant life.  Zelda and I were the last stragglers in a group of twelve.

We stood at the edge of a small lake. Thick tropical foliage obscured the opposite shore.

An elaborate calling ceremony began with pounding drums and song. Zelda stood to my left. Raimee to my right, his daughter, pressed against his side like melted cheese on beans. Flower petals were cast over the glassy surface.

When bubbles appeared moving in our direction, all grew silent, even the birds and monkeys stopped chattering.

Zelda’s breath caught when a blue-grey be-gilled head rose from the water like a bioluminescent Atlantean prince.

Following the locals, we dropped to our knees, sinking into warm, soft mud. Supplicants displayed their offerings before them.

We could tell he recognized us when his purposeful footsteps halted; his head swiveled in our direction.

The party leader stood, calling the creature’s attention.

“He knows you!” Raimee stated clearly in English.

“Where’s Elisa?” Zelda whispered vehemently.

I didn’t know, but like her, I was searching. In my peripheral vision, I watched our scaly friend picking his way through the line, accepting gifts and laying his webbed hands on heads, feet, and other places the petitioners extended for inspection.

The expressions of those he skipped turned to masks of disappointment. I wondered at his choices, did he not care for their gifts?

As he got closer, he seemed distracted.

Jhady was next in line. The River God dismissed her. Raimee’s face crumbled, “Not again!” he cried.

“Wait!” I called, even though Zelda pounded on my arm.

I held out my basket. Mewling sounds came from inside.

Aqua Man’s gills flared. I think that’s as close as he gets to smirking.

“I remembered,” I said looking him full in the face. “I was going to ask for more hair, but I’d rather you heal this little girl.”

When he pointed to my basket, signing the word for, ‘funny,’ Zelda and I glanced at each other, grinning.

Aqua Man returned his attention to Raimee’s girl.

Peeling her away, Raimee thrust her forward, admonishing, “Sé quieto!”

Clawed, webbed hands cradled the girl’s face. The River God remained in that position longer than he had with any other pilgrim. The girl’s frightened utterings sounded like the kitten cries.  When he pulled away, A dropped to his knees, hanging his head.

‘Leave us,’ Aqua Man signed.

In the awkward moment when no one but Zelda and me knew what he wanted, Zelda took care of business. “He said you should all go now. “Va! Va!” she shooed.

Before the pilgrims departed, Raimee approached us. He grabbed Zelda’s hand kissing it. Thanking me profusely, bowing to the River God, he backed away.

When he could stand, Aqua Man led us over a vine-choked path. The going was slow. He grunted as he pulled at the stalks, so our burros could pass. I tried helping, but he waved me away. I had a waking nightmare that the jungle was a many-pointed sea star grasping and suffocating everything in its path.

He was breathing hard, stooped, and unsteady by the time we reached a clearing. Zelda was steadying him when we heard a, ‘Whoop!’

And there she was! The White Queen, our own dear Elisa. I stared in shock – her eyes and smile were the same, but the rest of her was drastically changed. She was a combination of Jane of the Jungle, a heavily endowed fertility goddess, and an Aqua Woman.

Lumbered toward us, tears streamed down her face, “You found me!”

Another jolt – her voice!

Overjoyed, the three of us were crying and hugging.

After a moment, Elisa pulled away. “Iggy,” she said, “Thank you. Please go now.”

He nodded, turning away. We watched him walk into the water. At thigh height, he dove.

Returning to one another, we replayed a muted version of our happy reunion.

“Let me look at you,” Zelda said while swiping a hand along her cheeks.

Elisa’s hair was hanging in a thick braid down her back. Across the top of her cheeks, along her collarbones and arms, were glittering, overlapping scales.

“How–?” I began, not knowing what else to say. I reached for her free hand. “I saw you shot.”

“It’s a long story,” Elisa replied, her voice lyrical and butter-soft.

Zelda erupted in tears again. “Your voice—it’s just like I always imagined.”

“Me too,” Elisa smiled, “Though I don’t use it as often as I’d like.” Shaking herself, she continued,” Come inside, out of the heat. You’re staying,” It was more of a statement than a question.

Zelda and I hadn’t talked about it, but we’d packed everything.

I situated our burros before following the women into the house. It was a single room building. Two, double beds were pushed up against the walls. A small kitchen counter took up another wall. A table surrounded by four stools stood in the middle.

“Zelda will share with me, and Giles will take the other bed.”

“But what about—?” Zelda asked.

“Iggy?”

“That’s his name?” I wanted to know.

“His name is Iglootoo. He told me that after I taught him how to spell in our language.”

Zelda nodded. “I never thought about him having a name, but I guess you’ve got to call him something.

“Iggy fits him,” I responded. “Did someone give it to him or did he choose it for himself?”

Chuckling, Elisa patted my shoulder. Leaning in to plant a kiss, she said, “I’ve missed you, Giles. We’ll have plenty of time for stories. Did you bring your art supplies?”

“I never leave home without them.”

“Good.”

Zelda joined Elisa in her small garden picking vegetables for our meal. I sat inside, observing. Sketchpad in hand, I let my pencil capture the scene.

Long shadows, two women wearing large straw hats, their heads together. I couldn’t draw the feminine laughter but wished I could capture it artistically. Their voices carried.

“How long till Iggy comes back?”

Elisa straightened, raising a hand to her brow, looking out over the water. “He’ll be gone for a while. Those ceremonies take a lot out of him. He needs to go down deep to feel restored. He’s worried about the baby and me,” she rubbed the base of her spine, “so he hasn’t gone as far as he should. With you here, he can take as long as he needs.”

“Honey,” Zelda came to stand beside her, “are you worried about—” she nodded at Elisa’s middle.

Elisa faced away from me, but I could see Zelda’s expression. In all honesty, I’m glad it wasn’t me out there voicing the questions that were on our minds.

They moved into the shade, sitting close. Zelda’s arm wrapped protectively around her dearest friend.

“My child— if it lives. If we both live, won’t have any friends,” Elisa cried.

“If it lives?” Of course, it’s going to live, and so are you! As for friends—that baby already has four people who love it.”

“It,” Elisa repeated, letting the word hang in the air.

Elisa leaned into Zelda; they huddled together. “I’m so glad you are here, Zeldy.”

“Me too baby girl!”

Our days became predictable; meals, naps, tending to the burros and to the garden. For the first time, in possibly decades, I was relaxed and at peace. I noticed, with pleasure, that I’d lost track of the days of the week.

One afternoon, Elisa and I were sitting at the table sipping tea. I’d just finished telling her about the inquiries, the search for bodies, and apologizing for getting rid of all her things. She patted my arm.

“Thank you for taking care of everything. That phase of my life is dead, you did the right thing.”

When Elisa noticed my eyes rapidly blinking, her mouth turned down. She used to read me like a book. I think her skills in that department had deteriorated.

“Take a good look at me, Giles.” She stretched out a leg. Hiking up her skirt, revealing a creamy thigh, and areas covered with translucent scales.

Across the room, Zelda stirred from a siesta, yawning. Swinging her feet to the floor, she hurried over.

Elisa slipped off her shoes spreading her toes. Holding up her hands, she held her fingers wide. Webbing filled all the spaces.

We couldn’t contain our surprise.

Elisa bit her lip; she looked as if she was holding back a smile. Making sure we were looking at her face, she blinked with a set of inner eyelids. They moved vertically from the corners of her eyes toward the bridge of her nose.

“Mary, Mother of Jesus!” Zelda exclaimed, placing a hand over her heart. She puffed up, “I get that gilly thing,” she waved a finger at Elisa’s neck. He had to give you those when he took you in the water and healed your gunshot wound. But he dragged you all the way out here to the middle of the jungle, and he knocked you up,” Zelda’s voice was gaining volume, her gestures gained air space. “Then he leaves you all alone when you’re about ready to drop that kid—” Zelda paused when Elisa started repeating her tirade in sign language. Like a statue, Zelda rotated ninety degrees on her toes.

Iglootoo stood in the doorway, dripping, a puddle forming at his feet. ‘I did not change her or heal her,’ he said in the silent language spoken with his flipper hands.

One of the kittens scampered in around his ankles. Lightning fast, he pounced. Zelda and I jumped. Striding across the room, handing the cat to me, he kneeled at my side, bowing his head. I patted him, remembering the first time he’d encountered a house cat.

That evening as the three of us ate our meal; Iggy reclined on one of the beds playing with the kittens.

‘Iggy’ eats while he’s in the water,’ Elisa explained.

“I like that,” Zelda commented, “a man that don’t need no cooking’s alright by me.”

When the dishes were cleared, Iggy stood, coming to the head of the table. ‘Elisa asked me to me to tell you our story,’ he signed.

He waited for her signal to start. She nodded.

‘Elisa is a lost cousin.’ Going to her side, he lifted her hair, touching her chin gently with a claw, he turned her face left and then to the right.

Her gill slits flared, displaying crimson filaments inside.

Zelda shivered, “I could have gone all day without seeing that!”

Iggy looked to me, I rolled my eyes, shaking my head.

He continued, ‘I was sent to find her, to bring her home. Elisa was designed to be my mate.’

I wasn’t sure if the word he’d used was ‘designed’ or ‘destined,’ but I was too engrossed to interrupt.

‘I was setting out on my journey when I was captured. I did not recognize Elisa when I first encountered her. My sense of smell is not good in the open air and my thoughts were muddled. When our kind enters courtship, we remain in constant companionship. I did not understand how Elisa could come and go. Her unusual behavior was a curiosity that I studied. When we traveled back here, in our liquid environment, we completed the bonding rituals.’ He paused, looking down at her, running a knuckle along her jaw.

Elisa covered his hand, smiling up at him.

‘I’m in you,’ he signed solemnly to her.

‘As I am in you,’ she replied, ‘and we are everywhere.’

Their moment of intense communication drew out.

I could see Zelda bursting with questions; she must have decided to keep quiet too.

As if reminding himself that he had an audience, Iggy continued, ‘When we arrived, we expected to be greeted by the family, but they were gone. All my people were gone. While we wait for the offspring, I tend to the city and search for the others.’

“City?” I questioned, glancing around.

Elisa sighed, “It’s underwater, and it’s beautiful, Giles! I wish you could see it—draw it.”

Just as my imagination was taking root, Iggy bent over, placing a hand on Elisa’s belly. ‘It is time,’ he signed. ‘We will return in three days.’ Scooping her up, he marched outside.

“Wait!” Zelda cried chasing after them, her voice on the edge of panic. I followed too watching Elisa’s crooked smile as she kept an eye on us over Iggy’s shoulder. She waved before they submerged.

While Zelda was unsettled with the latest changes in her friend’s life, I was revitalized. I would bare witness to a new, possibly one-of-a-kind, life form. I wished for gills and webs so I could join Elisa and Iggy in the sea.

And then there were three.

They arrived in the night when the temperature was low and the humidity was high. Elisa cried a little when she described Gemmalyn’s struggle to take her first breath of air. “If we didn’t make her use her lungs right away, they might never develop,” Elisa’s voice shook. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

The nipper is a delight. ‘Darling’ and ‘adorable’ are words Zelda uses when she holds her. ‘Little Monster’ are others she says when she’s sporting a wounded finger that got too close to baby’s sharp teeth.

On a sweltering afternoon when Zelda was in town, and Iggy was away fishing, I sketched Elisa with her baby. It would be another contribution to the baby book Elisa was making. Gemma, still attached to her mother’s breast, had a full belly and was resisting sleep. Elisa rocked, in no hurry to put her daughter down.

“He took me to the city for Gemmalyn’s birth,” Elisa began. “I’ve never had the stamina to make it without help. When we’ve gone in the past, he holds me around the waist; I help kick. This time he carried me, just like when we left. That position creates a lot more drag,” she laughed softly. “It was an effort, but he got us there. It was the first time I felt sad about the place being deserted.”

“He took me to the women’s hall, then, in his language, he gave me the sights and sounds of the city as he’d known it. In that way, I saw his female relatives, and the traditional birthing circle,” Elisa raised glassy eyes gleaming with unshed tears. “It’s almost indescribable, Giles, knowing how it was and watching Iggy trying to make it right.”

Behind the mother and child scene, I began filling in the background with structures. A bustling, underwater metropolis with lots of Iggies.

“He did the work of the women, helping me bring his daughter into the world. It hurt, there was blood, and the sharks circled above, just like buzzards, waiting for a chance.”

“Iggy kept us safe. We stayed in the royal’s suite in the grand palace. While I recovered, Iggy made sure Gemmalyn didn’t swim out of his sight.”

“And then we came home, to you and Zelda,” Elisa sighed, her eyelids growing too heavy to stay open.”

For a moment, I wondered how this mud brick structure compared to a Royal suite, what held such attraction to keep them coming back here.

I put the baby in her bassinette, covered Elisa, then went to cool my feet at the river bank. My mind was churning with things that only aquatic life could experience.

Iggy emerged with several fish on a kelp stringer. Wrapping it securely around a branch, he let our lunch enjoy a reprieve.  ‘What is on your mind, Giles?’ he signed, he sat next to me.

“I’m tired of sitting around,” I said, no longer bothering to sign back. Though he could not speak, he understood our language perfectly well. “I want to go with you, to help search.”

We started my endurance swimming and free diving lessons that afternoon.

I enjoyed my new quest, searching with Iggy sometimes, and on my own.

Nearly a year later, our little clan is still intact. We’ve added rooms onto to Elisa’s house. The Iglootoo family, as I now think of them, is in residence less and less.

Gemmalyn, the most beautiful creature on the face of the Earth, is the best of both her parents, as most children are. She is graceful in the water and out. She’s as curious as our cats and rambunctious as a monkey.

Though there’s been no sign of Iglootoo’s people, he remains hopeful. He is a devoted mate and father, and he’s a first-rate best friend. He’s accepted us as part of his tribe. Our association with him has elevated us as human beings.

Zelda helps Elisa chase after Gemma when she’s on land. She’s also become my art representative with Raimee, who’s been selling my Iglootoo sketches. (Elisa and Iggy have sworn us to secrecy about Gemmalyn!)

I suspect Raimee’s daughter has been playing matchmaker between Zelda and her father. Zelda nearly glows every time she returns from town.

Elisa has been pushing Zelda into talks with the National Parks system. Her goal is to make sure that their home remains protected and safe, that people like Colonel Strickland can never repeat what happened to Iggy.

Iggy restored nearly all my hair and gave me back the body of a forty-year-old.

I’d be remiss in ending our story without mentioning my fresh start with love…

Iggy believes that the merfolk are fairytales, he’s wrong.

Mermaid Book Links

(in order of appearance in the video)

Descending, Holly Kelly
http://amzn.to/2ofuQH3

Shearwater, D.S. Murphy
http://amzn.to/2Ct3ORG

Ingo, Helen Dunmore
http://amzn.to/2EAZKVb

Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale, Carolyn Turgeon
http://amzn.to/2FaLhMR

The Marked Ones, S.K. Munt
http://amzn.to/2EB3lmb

The Mermaid’s Sister, Carrie Anne Noble
http://amzn.to/2C63lsG

Underneath: a merfolk tale, M.N. Arzú
http://amzn.to/2C7neQj

Deep Blue, Jennifer Donnelly
http://amzn.to/2HsR9lA

Lost Voices, Sarah Porter
http://amzn.to/2BBbXGR

 

More Stuff

Click here to read Lisa’s movie review, film themes, a collection of trailers and a “Monsters are Living, Breathing, Metaphors” director discussion.

Underneath: a merfolk tale, by M.N. Arzú book review

Another movie Continued short story – Age of Adaline Continued

 

Your Thoughts

 

Did you enjoy the Shape of Water Continued? Did you feel that the story stayed true to the personalities of the characters in the movie?  If you were to write a Continued story, what would be similar or different in yours? Leave comments below.

Porg Planet Discovery

A 100 word Sci-Fi flash fiction short for Contrary Brin’s Blog – “What Happens to Starman and the Red Roadster?

Porg Planet Discovery

“Weeeee,” squealed diminutive Porglets slipping over bright red curves, bouncing onto the fresh-turned soil.

“Protected nesting benches…with padding,” females cooed, already squabbling over territory.

Gazing into a curved, black surface, males admired their stout feathered bodies and luminous eyes as they fluttered wings. “We can preen before mating,” they commented while relaxing their bowls on the squishy white perch.

An aggressive Porg chomped at five small twigs on the opposite branch. “Tastes like chicken,” he declared.

Three more crowded beneath the see-through wall warming webbed feet on the tight shelf.

“We claim this palace!” stated the murder.

 

 

 

 

 

Digging Up His Brother-In-Law in San Francisco’s Pioneer Cemetery

Humans are the only species that buries thier dead. 

After Phineas Gage died (1860), he was buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery in San Francisco. Six years later, his brother-in-law, David Shattuck, along with two physicians (past mayors) dug him up.

Gage’s traumatic brain injury (1848) made him famous in neuroscience and psychology fields.

Once he learned of his patient’s passing, Dr. Harlow (who treated Phineas) asked to have the body exhumed for the advancement of science. Phineas’s mother received this request and saw that it was carried out.

What is it like to unearth a member of your family?

Excerpt from Phases of Gage: After the Accident Years

David Shattuck (husband to Phoebe Gage / brother-in-law to Phineas Gage)
Lone Mountain Cemetery, San Francisco 1867

On a misty morning in November, I found myself in the Lone Mountain Cemetery looking down at my brother-in-law’s tombstone. Doctor Coon and Doctor J.B.D. Stillman stood at my side, each with a shovel in hand.

Guards stood at the closed entrance gates affording us privacy.

Coats came off as digging commenced. At first, I felt that I was committing an unforgivable sin. But as my back strained and my hands developed blisters, those feelings subsided, until my shovel made contact with something solid.

The other two paused, nodding to one another, then resumed. Once space was clear, the two doctors were about to lift the coffin lid when I interrupted. “Wait! Gentlemen, please bear with my squeamishness. Before you open it, would you prepare me for what I am about to see?”

Doctor Coon looked uncomfortable. He glanced at Doctor Stillman who replied, “Why, David, you need not see anything.”

“No,” I disagreed firmly. “I promised my wife that I would follow it through to the end.”

“She never needs to know,” Doctor Coon replied softly.

“I’ll know. Please, just tell me.”

“Very well,” the man sighed as he wiped his hands on his vest, “By now, all of the body fluids will have dissipated. The clothing will be intact. Likely, dry skin will still cover the skeletal remains. Hair will be present.” Coon paused to see how I was taking it. “Shall I describe what we’ll do next and the skull removal process?”

Squeezing my eyes shut, I nodded.

“Once the lid is off, the first thing I will do is hand you the iron bar. Next, I will test the skull to see if it separates from the spine. If not, Doctor Stillman has tools for that. I will remove any organic matter that freely separates. Doctor Stillman will take the skull and place it inside the box.” Coon paused, waiting for my response.

“Understood. Proceed,” I said gravely.

It took all three of us climbing inside the hole to pry the lid up and place it off to the side. I was surprised to see Phineas’s body exactly as Doctor Coon described.

Mummified-looking remains wore Phin’s clothes. But it no longer looked like the man I remembered. When I hopped out of the hole, Doctor Coon handed up the bar. It was ice-cold to the touch, heavier than I remembered.

Not wishing to watch more of the proceedings, I held it up, running a finger over the words etched on its surface.

This is the bar that was shot through the head of Mr. Phinehas P. Gage at Cavendish, Vermont, Sept. 14, 1848. He fully recovered from the injury & deposited this bar in the Museum of the Medical College of Harvard University. Phinehas P. Gage Lebanon Grafton Cy N-H Jan 6, 1850

I remembered Phin’s story about the engraver he hired to do the work, misspelling his name. I could hear Phineas saying, ‘When mistakes are made, it’s the good man who doesn’t get angry, but figures out how to move forward from there.’

I chose to focus on memories rather than listen to the doctors going on about their ghoulish activity.

“Mission accomplished,” Doctor Stillman proclaimed loudly, breaking into my thoughts. He and Doctor Coon replaced the coffin lid. “Let’s get that hole filled.”

When we finished, Doctor Stillman offered to take the skull with him to process it for travel.

I promised myself at that moment, that ‘the skull’ would remain inside its box until it was delivered to Doctor Harlow. I didn’t care to, ever, look at it, or have any member of my family see it.

Without my noticing, a murky fog had rolled in. The city beyond the cemetery walls had been engulfed in a chilly, dull, gray blankness of a November day. Seagulls could be heard high above in the blue sky that must be up there. Our boot steps sounded muffled.

Doctor Stillman cradled the box in front of him like a wise man on his way to deliver a gift to the baby Jesus. Doctor Coon carried shovels and a bag of tools. I kept pace with the others, Phineas’s bar grew heavier every minute.

A raven landed on a tombstone nearby. It shrieked, raising its wings like it expected a token in exchange for letting us pass.

When the guards opened the gates, the metal hinges let loose a high-pitched protest. I wondered if the flaming gates of hell would sound that way if this deed took me to that entrance.

Worse yet, would Phoebe ever forgive me for this?

The Gage family was one of many who were affected by grave removals in San Francisco.

With growing pressure to make efficient use of valuable real estate, the dead of San Francisco had to make way for the living.

By the end of 1948 bodies in several pioneer cemeteries were moved to a mass grave site forty miles south in Colma, California.

Thousands of tombstones were recycled. Civic uses included; the sea wall at Yacht Harbor, breakwaters at the Aquatic Park and Marina Green, construction of a Wave Organ, as fill bedding for the Great Highway, as paving stones in the storm drains at Buena Vista Park and erosion control at Ocean Beach.

Phineas Gage’s niece, Delia Presby (Shattuck) Oliver’s gravestone appears on Ocean Beach when heavy storms move sand out to sea. It was last uncovered on June 4, 2012. The lettering — still legible — reads; Delia Presby, wife of, F.B. Oliver, Died, April 9, 1890, Aged 26 yrs., 10 mos. 27 days, — Rest –

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Wave Organ in San Francisco - photo by Kārlis Dambrāns - https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/15174001514
Wave Organ in San Francisco – photo by
Kārlis Dambrāns – https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/15174001514

 

Background Research:

Encyclopedia of San Francisco – Removal of San Francisco Cemeteries
http://www.sfhistoryencyclopedia.com/articles/c/cemeteries.html

1950 Location, regulation, and removal of Cemeteries in the City of San Francisco by William A. Proctor
Department of City Planning
City and County of San Francisco
http://www.sfgenealogy.com/sf/history/hcmcpr.htm

oddfellows-1180x500

A Second Final Rest: The History of San Francisco’s Lost Cemeteries film by Trina Lopez
http://trinalopez.com/finalrest.html

KQED Radio Program: Why are all of San Francisco’s Dead People Buried in Colma?
https://soundcloud.com/kqed/bay-curious-has-colma-always-been-for-san-franciscos-dead

Transcript: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/12/16/why-are-so-many-dead-people-in-colma-and-so-few-in-san-francisco/

History of Erosion on Ocean Beach by Bill McLaughlin Surfrider Foundation, San Francisco Chapter
http://public.surfrider.org/files/a_history_of_coastal_erosion_at_ocean_beach_0412.pdf

 

Delia Presby (Shattuck) Oliver’s Gravestone:

91507663_133905039892

Ocean Beach Headstones – Weird San Francisco History

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Tombstones-from-long-ago-surfacing-on-S-F-beach-3618805.php

122 Year-old Gravestone Washes Up on Ocean Beach
http://www.missionmission.org/2012/06/04/122-year-old-gravestone-washes-up-on-ocean-beach/

Find a Grave

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=91507663

Other San Francisco Cemetery Information:

Still Rooms Slide Show by Photographer Richard Barnes – Bodies found during the construction of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor
http://www.richardbarnes.net/still-rooms/mtjfumzj50oowcnkvam1c2ewduv6l5

Additional Gage Resources

Lisa’s San Francisco History Research Sources on Pinterest:

 

 

Seat 14C – Thousands of Minds Concentrating on an Optimistic Future

It is said that many people joining in focused thought, meditation, or prayer can affect outcomes.

The folks at XPRIZE believe that imagination crowdsourcing could generate solutions for some of the planets most pressing problems.

Examples of their competitions include; a 10 million dollar prize for a palm-sized health monitoring device, a $1 million award for leveraging technology to ensure women’s safety, and a $1.75 million prize for harvesting fresh water from thin air.

The XPRIZE group recently demonstrated that they have no shortage of imagination within their ranks. In preparation for a writing competition, they set a stage;

an international flight from Tokyo to San Francisco gently bumps through a time wrinkle, landing passengers twenty years in the future.

XPRIZE released an Origin Story video and asked thirty-two well-known authors including Margaret Atwood, Hugh Howey, and Kevin J. Anderson to contribute short stories for individual passengers on the plane.

From June – August 2017, one seat was open for a writing competition, Seat 14C.  Aidan J.S. Menuge, a musician, composer, and writer, claimed that seat from the 1,400 entries (see links below).

As I was crafting my story, it was powerful knowing that other writers were working with the same ideas at the same time. Even more powerful is reading their stories!

The future I imagined involves a world health care system that supports people from the inside out. In this system, it is common knowledge that if someone feels balanced, loved, and connected they become positive contributors to their communities.

I’m glad that the competition brought my attention to the XPRIZE organization. I will be cheering on their progress and sharing the solutions they’re inspiring.

The Seat 14C contest criteria included;

  • A unique vision of the future
  • First person point-of-view
  • Optimistic tone that demonstrates exponential technology positively impacting the future
  • and the tale from when the passengers disembark at San Francisco International Airport in the year 2037.

Below is my entry, Renewal.

2,550 words. [*re-edited since entry]

Charlotte’s life was dead-ending. Surrounded by grieving passengers who’d lost twenty years, Sal, a Change Counselor, attempts to help Charlotte start over.

Clutching carry-on bags in white-knuckled fists, some passengers were openly crying. I was silent, my face, a stony mask of indifference.

A row of people dressed in white robes stood inside a blue, pulsating ‘environment’ receiving the occupants of ANA’s Boeing 777. One by one, the ‘waiters’ broke formation to pair up with traumatized time travelers.

Some hugged, some held hands. Most were led a distance away so conversations could be private. Big Bubba, my close companion for the last two days stepped ahead of me. Having grown used to him being as close as pea pod neighbors, it felt strange to see the distance between us growing. I heard the robed person say, “Michael, I am very sorry for your loss.”

Michael?

Shoulders shaking, Bubba blubbered, “Twenty years! My kids won’t know me anymore!”

We’d been sharing jewelry, matching carbon steel bracelets. This was the first I’d heard about him having kids.

“It’s going to be alright, Michael,” his greeter crooned in a soft voice, taking his hand. “Your sons are doing well. They can’t wait to see you.”

I could tell when my greeter spotted me. Direct eye contact, a slight nod and a bee-line gait. “Hello, Charlotte, my name is Sal. I will be your Change Counselor.”

What? I stepped back, staying out of touching range. Sal was completely bald. Broad cheekbones and olive skin didn’t fit with the vivid blue eyes and white eyebrows punctured by rows of tiny gold beads. One eye had long, enviable lashes, the other had almost none. Sal’s voice was soothing, it’s timber fell somewhere in the medium octaves. My insides twisted, making me feel off-kilter like I’d entered the Firefly galaxy.

“What is this place?” I asked, glancing around. The room was at least four times larger than the plane. It pulsed with a delicate blue ambiance. The junctions at the railings and floors glowed, but I couldn’t see fixtures or bulbs. Small groupings of puffy furniture were everywhere. Change Counselors sat with their charges, including the pilots and flight attendants. Large iconic images of San Francisco hovered at the outer edges; The Golden Gate Bridge, Alamo Square’s Painted Ladies, the Transamerica Building and Fisherman’s Wharf. I wondered if those recognizable settings were put there to soothe us.

“It’s a Red Cross Trauma Unit,” Sal said.

“Are we prisoners?”

“No,” came the sympathetic reply. Sal noticed my inability to make eye contact. “Is my appearance distressing you?”

“Well — “ my eyes dropped to the floor. “I don’t know if I should call you a he or a she.”

Smiling, Sal’s demeanor reminded me of my kindergarten teacher. “I am gender neutral. The pronoun to use is, ‘zie.’”

“Ahhh,” I nodded, studying my fingernails.

Sal held out a hand, palm up.

After a few uncertain moments, I bridged the gap. The warmth, strength, and kindness of Sal’s touch sent a shockwave through my system. I would have jerked away if zie had not had a firm grip. Sal noticed the raw skin on my wrist.

“This must be painful,” Sal said. “With your permission, we have a cream that will heal dermal abrasions.”

I nodded.

“No one here is in trouble, including you, Charlotte. Your activities in 2017 are not illegal now.” Sal winked.

Closing my eyes, I inhaled deeply. For most of my flight home, I’d been worrying about my mother’s reaction when she saw me handcuffed to Big Bubba —

“Can I show you something?” Sal interrupted. Leading me to a set of stairs, we started up. To no one I could see, Sal spoke. “One ounce of tissue repair and a tricorder to the observation deck.”

“Who are you talking to?”

“The walls have sensors.”

Waiting for us at the top of the steps was an insect-like creature hovering at eye level. It carried a clear square topped with a dollop of cream.

“Hold out your hand, Charlotte, so the medi-drone can deliver your ointment.”

Doing as instructed, I waited as the drone delivered its payload. It buzzed away.

“Apply the entire amount,” Sal said.

It melted into my skin like whipped cream on hot chocolate giving off a pleasing floral, citrus smell. The soreness and red marks disappeared instantly. The clear square that held the cream dissolved, making a crackling sound.

Stepping farther into the room, I saw that we were inside a dome. Catching myself before making an exclamation out loud, I walked to the wall placing my hand on the seamless glass. “It’s beautiful,” I whispered.

Stars twinkled above. A Robert D. Brown version of San Francisco spread out below. Layers of vehicles in flight circulated around towering, clean-lined skyscrapers like veins and arteries. The air was crystal clear, plant life on platforms and terraces made the city look like a living jungle. The landscape below receded as we gained altitude.

“I thought we were still on the tarmac,” I turned to Sal. “Where are we going?”

“This transport has been programmed to take us to the Barry Healing Center in Monterey Canyon.”

“Monterey Canyon! Are we going under water?”

The curves of Sal’s mouth uplifted at the edges. “It is the premier trauma center on the west coast. As soon as your plane appeared on the radar, ANA began negotiations to secure the facility.

A buzzing distracted me from the conversation. Another medi-drone approached. This one was twice as large as the first. About the size of a box turtle, it delivered something that looked like a TV remote control to Sal. “Thank you,” zie said accepting the device. “It is a tricorder,” Sal turned to face me, “It will give us your baseline state of health.”

Shaking my head, I held up a hand, “Whatever it is, I can’t afford it.”

“There’s no cost, Charlotte, maintaining optimal health is a universal right as decreed by the Global Living Counsel.” Raising eyebrows, Sal held up the device.

Reluctantly, I nodded. Zie waved it in my direction then glanced down at the screen. Sal frowned.

“What is it?”

“Nothing,” Sal replied quickly, smiling, “You are a perfectly healthy, twenty-eight-year-old woman.”

“Who should be forty-eight,” I quipped.

~~~

Other passengers and counselors began arriving on the observation deck.

“We’ll begin our descent soon,” Sal stated as zie returned the tricorder to the flying turtle. “When we transition from terrestrial to aquatic, it’s a lovely sight.”

“What happens when we get where we are going?”

“Individual healing plans are manifested.”

I noticed Bubba and his counselor not far away. I could hear snatches of their conversation. He was still talking about his kids.

Facing Sal, I asked, “What if we don’t want to contact family?”

“That would be included in your healing plan. Your wishes will be honored.”

A weight the size of the moon, lifted. My shoulders slumped, I wobbled unsteadily.

Ever observant of my reactions, Sal hurried to bring a chair that I gratefully collapsed into. I could have easily closed my eyes and let the world fade but we were approaching the water.

Without a pause, we dropped below the surface.  Tiny air bubbles passed the windows like spinning pearls. I sat up straighter, gazing at the pristine surroundings. Streaks of sunlight beamed through kelp flowing in the currents. A stunning variety of fish scattered.  Off in the distance, I made out a multi-storied structure, clear like our dome. People moving around inside. Several crab-like robots, arms, and legs plodding slowly, looked like they were harvesting crops along the seafloor.

~~~

My suite at the Barry Healing Center was lavish. The amenities were like a high-end resort. It was difficult to accept that my time here was a freebie granted by a society that valued the well-being of its citizens. Sal showed me a button to push if I needed him.

Eight days went by before I pushed it.

I slept, finished the novels that I packed, and became acquainted with the helper bots that came out of the closet whenever I voiced a need to the listening walls. They brought my meals, cleared the dishes, changed my linens, and provided instructions on how to use the COMM consul, a connection to the outside world and the source of all human knowledge. Located in the sitting room, the History channel filled me in on what I missed while I was wrinkled in time.

~~~

My period was late. Was it because of stress or the result of a hot and steamy Tokyo connection? Wondering if it could be the latter, my thoughts returned to Mom. During the flight, I wasn’t worried about going to jail, but about what she’d say when she saw me with Big Bubba. “What kind of mess have you gotten yourself into, you worthless piece of crap? You’ve been a pain in my ass since the day you were born,” was a common theme. Attempting to win her approval was idiotic, yet I never stopped trying.

I knew about her diagnosis before I left. The sand in the hourglass of her life was responding to gravity. Tokyo was going to be my best, and last shot at pleasing her.

My chest constricted when I imagined having a child. I couldn’t remember a time when my mother didn’t mow me down with poison words. Picturing an innocent, cringing from me made my lips tremble. I couldn’t catch my breath. I pushed the button.

Sal was there without delay. Like before, Sal’s touch soothed, but it didn’t stop the flow of emotions. Zie confirmed the tricorder confirmation of a pregnancy.

“I can’t have a kid!” I wailed, “I don’t have a job; I’ll mess it up. It will hate me.”

Smiling, Sal rubbed my back, “Charlotte, you won’t have to do it alone. Like this trauma center, on-going life coaching, and basic living wages are universal rights. When you leave here, you and your little boy will have a home and plenty of support to make your lives healthy.”

“A boy!” I put my hands on my belly. “You can tell that already?”

Sal nodded.

“I don’t know if I want to be a mother.”

~~~

Sal assured me that my restless and bored feelings were signs that I was growing strong enough to begin living on the outside. I still wasn’t sure that I wanted a tag-along, but the idea of keeping the baby wasn’t as horrific as it was weeks before.

From the COMM center, I learned that ocean cleanup efforts were still ongoing, that we’d rolled back pollution levels to 1970’s estimates. CO2 emissions were almost nothing and international borders were relaxing as a global government was proving itself capable and trustworthy.

The rock inside that kept me encapsulated in a shell of fear was beginning to soften. Hope, given enough space to grow, will emerge, making room for new ideas. I’d chosen Albuquerque for my home. One helper bot would be assigned to me. If I wanted more, I’d have to earn it.

~~~

A week before I was scheduled to leave, Sal called me into the medi-unit to meet with a doctor. “There is something we need to discuss,” zie said. “Your tricorder scan found a genetic problem with your baby’s heart.”

My glass house was crumbling into wicked shards. Feelings of hope were evaporating like steam, I didn’t deserve them anyway, I was still the same messed up girl that my mother cursed.

“Charlotte!” Sal was gripping my hands, “You’ve stopped listening.”

Zie was right. When they said that something was wrong with my baby, I knew, suddenly, that I wanted him!

“The procedure to repair it is minor,” the doctor was saying over Sal’s shoulder. “CRISPR will eradicate it within twenty-four hours.”

In the last five minutes, I’d taken a roller coaster ride back into my dark place — one I’d hoped I’d left behind — and become frozen in a sticky soup of something much bigger. “CRISPR?” my eyes were as wide as saucers. “Isn’t that….??”

Sal squeezed my hands, He nodded sadly. “Everyone alive today lost someone in the tragedy. That harsh lesson taught us to be much more careful. Its use is highly regulated. There are multiple levels of oversight. For something like this, Charlotte, CRISPR is a miracle.”

~~~

Ryo was born, without a heart defect. He takes after his father with stiff dark hair that stands on end. Four years into our journey together, I’ve stopped stressing about repeating my mother’s mistakes. We’re good, but I’m still working on it, and me, every day. I have a small, precious community of friends, a life coach I enjoy, and meaningful work.

~~~

As settled as my life had become, I worried about Ryo’s father. I knew as much as social media told me.

Returning from a hole in time is big news. As far as I know, every ANA passenger had to deal with some form of celebrity. I had declined all interviews and had no social media accounts in my real name. I had hoped to stay out of his radar.

~~~

“Overseas communication, private discourse requested,” announce LeeLu, my house bot. “Caller ID: Haru Ito.”

I’d been painting a still life. At the mention of that name, my brush dropped to the floor, splattering yellow paint over my canvas shoes.

“Where’s Ryo?” I inquired. Did my voice sound shrill?

“He’s at the park with Nanny Ron,” Leelu informed.

I rushed to a mirror.

“Shall I decline the connection?”

“No! I’ll be right there,” I said, raking a brush through my hair. I pinched my cheeks, a ridiculous habit. Employing calming techniques, I took deep breaths while turning off all the listening devices, bots, and tools in the house. Stepping in front of the COMM screen, I gazed into eyes that matched my son’s.

A veneer of maturity was superimposed over my memory of a youthful boy. Ito was still trim and handsome, but a no-nonsense, self-confidence had replaced shy enthusiasm.

“Charlotte, you look just the same,” he said, smiling warmly, sounding surprised.

The hard irony of his statement settled between us like an elephant attempting to sit on a footstool.

After a long silence, he said, “I know about the child. I wish you’d come to me as soon as you returned —“

And then he said the words I’d been dreading, “I’d like to meet him.”

~~~

I was familiar with his family and career. He was working on international negotiations on behalf of the global governance. He had a teenage daughter who was an accomplished musician and writer. His wife was on a team expedition to Jupiter. She’d been gone for three years; it was unlikely she’d ever return.

I could feel my old insecurities clamoring below the surface like cage-crazed chimpanzees. It was difficult to trust that someone I’d crossed paths with in my old life could have turned out to be someone I’d want to know in my new one — let alone give access to my son.

I remembered something Sal said at the healing center, “Don’t let fear rule you, Charlotte. Life gives more gifts to those with open hearts.”

~~~

The private transport reminded me of the one I’d been on when I got off ANA flight #008. To Ryo, it was no big deal, a playroom to explore while he waited to meet his father.


Check out all of the short stories from Seat 14C.

A

Anders, Charlie Jane – Trapped in the Bathroom!

Anderson, Kevin J. – Terminal

Asaro, Catherine – The Alder Tree

Atwood, Margaret & Ashby, Madeline – The Japanese Room

B

Bacigalupi, Paolo – A Passing Sickness

Barretta, Mike – Post-Temporal Stress Disorder

Benford Gregory – A Suprise Beginning 

C

Cambias, James L. – Treatment Option

Cooper, Brenda  –  Unforeseen Consequences

F

Finch, Sheila – Homecoming

G

Goonan, Kathleen Ann  –  The Dream of a Common Language

Grimwood, Jon Courtenay – The Trouble with Brothers

Gunn, Eileen – Transitions

H

Hill, Matt – Eighty-niner

Howey, Hugh – Full Unemployment

 K

Konstantinou, Lee – The Girl Who Almost Became a Zombie

Kress, Nancy – Collapse

M

Menuge, Aidan J.S. – Dido’s Lament – WINNING Entry

Mohanraj, Mary Anne – Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Morrow, James – Technofeelia

 Q

Qiufan, Chen – Oblivion Is A Crease Left By Memory

R

Rajaniemi, Hannu – NiceCoin 

Resnick, Mike – A New Reality

Robson, Justina – Gap Year

S

Schroeder, Karl – The Urge to Jump

Shunn, William – Last

Smythe, James – Catharsis

Sparhawk, Bud – Yesterday’s Solutions

Sterling, Bruce – It Feels So Exponential

  W

Watts, Peter – Incorruptible

Wilson, Daniel H. – Iterations

Y

Yu, Charles – Morning Glory

Z

Zhang, Hal Y. – The Noctilucent Paradox in E Minor


 

If you found a particular story(s) that resonated with you, leave a comment in the box below. Did any of the authors come close to your future vision?

 

Resources:

WIRED – XPrize is Now Backing Sci-fi Like it Backs IRL Science

XPRIZE Enlists Science Fiction Advisors to Dream Bigger

Thank you to the talented Wattpad author Amber K. Bryant for sending out the pointer to the XPrize writing competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside Out

I wear an invisible cloak. Sometimes it rests on top of my clothes, people could touch it if they bumped into me.

It covers me in the shower when I have no clothes on at all.

It is there when I crawl under the covers at night, especially there, where my husband senses its vague outline. He feels it when it settles over us.

We used to take such joy in loving each other when we were learning new intimate, landscapes. We had hope, then, that our actions would lead to a new life with ten fingers and ten toes to count and kiss. We made up stories about returning to the countryside on the weekends so our mothers and grandmothers could dote on the next generation.

But hope faded month after month with dripping blood and tears. It became difficult to smile, reach out, and try again.

The cloak clings to me, squeezing like a metal band around my chest whenever we are around parents with babies and small children.

When my monthly cycle stopped, we let down our guard, the cloak went askew. We kept our secret close, not letting anyone know that we were thinking about names.

Our bubble was fragile. It glowed like a bright sun glittering in raindrops sticking to bamboo leaves in spring. And it was oh-so-brief. The gynecologist popped the bubble with a single word, “tumor.”

After that, we couldn’t even fight about our problem, blaming it on drinking, smoking, or wearing tight fashion underwear instead of boxers that allow seed pouches to cool and swing freely.

The cloak was back, making it so that we faced opposite walls, whispering, ‘good night,’ into a dark, desolate emptiness.

By the 1990s, we learned who had manufactured the cloak.

An alternate definition of rape is a violation, plunder, or abuse. What is it called when a rapist is a system, an industry operating with full knowledge about the harm they cause?

I was recruited out of high school, off my family farm in Yongin. They bussed girls into the city, providing housing. I felt so important! My mother would finally be able to buy enough food to satisfy every apatite at our table.

They outfitted us in clean suits and gloves. We looked like surgeons. In air-conditioned rooms, they trained us to etch patterns into chips. But they forgot to mention that the EGE solutions we used would penetrate our gloves and soak into our skin.

Imagine how I felt when the oncologist reported that my blood tests showed EGE levels six-hundred times higher than normal. Poison was the father of my tumor baby.

“They stopped using those in the states years ago,” the doctor said, “when they learned about their effects on reproductive health.” Pity showed in his eyes before he looked away.

I still wear my cloak to bed, it absorbs the tears that used to be for the baby. It wraps grotesquely around me, cradling my growth.

 ______

This short story was inspired by the article, American Chip Makers Had a Problem. Then They Outsourced It.

It was written as a Wattpad entry for #MyHandMaidsTale contest.