Tiers on Campus

“Tier One achieved,” sent via text recurred on his Facebook Messenger and every other account like a fun-house echo.

“No!” Tito shrieked, slipping his hand from beneath his iPhone OS 32. Clattering to the floor, the screen cracked.

“You have twenty-four hours to select a sense to give up,” a clinical voice soothed from the undamaged phone speaker.

“F-you!” With balled fists and his face turning fire-engine red, Tito stamped on the offensive device as if there were a Goliath bird-eating tarantula clinging to his pant leg.

Racing through the dorm hallway, Tito shouted at the sightless to clear the way. He shoved past the deaf and knocked down a damn Humanoid Life Form, AI’s with newly installed senses. They are as clumsy as first-time ice skaters. Slamming through the door to the outside, Tito ran. “If you do not reply to this message within the next twenty-three hours and fifty-eight minutes,” the voice came from his wristband.

With wild eyes and a triple-time heartbeat, Tito clawed at it, “a selection will be made for you according to the Articles of Pact 571.” Tearing the band away, he flung it.

At his car, Tito leaned on his knees while catching his breath. He considered making a run for Mexico. He’d heard they had distant relatives there. As soon as the thought hatched, Tito extinguished it. Mexico had installed vaporizing shields along its border, eliminating the illegal American problem in plumes of acerbic steam.

He’d done OK with the Tiers till now. By using antiquated devices, he maintained below average web connect times. If students weren’t diligent, their implant chips automatically connected, skyrocketing their plug-in times, putting them in danger of Tier violations.

Tito’s pestering of Abby in Chem class accrued no cost. But to transition her from gal pal to girlfriend, he needed to use message flirting.

Online communications from his siblings increased when their mother’s bone cancer condition progressed from stage three to four. They had smartphones but refused to use the phone feature, even after reminders that they were adding to his Tier count.

Carmila: Remember your visit with Mama this week.
Vasola: She’s hanging on to watch you walk, Toto! You’re making us all proud.
Dean: Me and the girls have you covered till you graduate, Teets. Don’t worry about the loan on mom’s house.  You’ll pay us back once you have a good job.
Paula: I know it’s hard to see her this way, Tito. You’ll have regrets if you keep avoiding her.

Unlike his siblings, Mama had Tito fitted with a paper-thin implant chip when he was four; it would be the family’s entrance ticket to the world of affluence.

“I’ve got this!” Tito assured himself. “Tier One is minor; no one has to know.”

When a Tier status was claimed, nine out of ten times smell was the first to go. Classmates fearless enough to admit it claimed its absence was a simple way to trim tonnage.

Three years had passed since Pact 571 went into effect: it became a formula for societal success. Mother-borns were to focus on cultural interactions while AI’s would concentrate on data analysis and efficient system-wide management. Last year, Mother-born gray areas of gaming and messaging had been resolved. Because AI’s monitored and controlled the net, overuse of web services was deemed a trespass.

AI’s insatiable curiosity of all things Mother-born was to be curbed too. They were banned from making copulation simulations and restricted from hacking communications. Tiered trespass consequences were installed for encroachments on both sides.

If AI’s broke it, Mother-borns would gain disassembly or programming rights. Depending on the AI model, this could equate to several year’s salaries. If Mother-borns broke the Pact, AI’s were entitled to harvest senses.

photo credit: Steve Jurvetson flickr

Tito had seen a set of six-foot-tall robot dogs marching onto campus with a course set for Randy Packard. Students scattered like cockroaches exposed to light at their approach.  Already bereft of taste, smell, and sight, Randy’s terrified screams filled the quad when the dogs collected Tier Four.

Tito had yet to meet Mother-born with benefits from a Pact trespass.

20:19

Tito arrived at Mama’s empty house; its silence pressed upon him like a bloodless Reaper hand seeking his heart. When he imagined his mother’s cinnamon rolls tasting like egg cartons, Tito made a face. A text message from Paula appeared on the refrigerator, ‘At Dr.s’. Hm. Soon. She can’t wait to see you.’

Tito rummaged through the ample selection of casserole dishes in cold storage. Mounding a plate with various forms of neighborly support, Tito binged. He was finishing his last morsel when Paula arrived, pushing Mama in a wheelchair. This was new. Tito’s stomach clenched around the food glob, threatening to flip it like an omelet.

Mama’s over bright, medicated gaze locked onto her youngest. A gaping mouth was now her smile, spittle glistening at the corners. Tito noticed another missing tooth.  He had difficulty reconciling the strong mother of his youth with this fragile remnant of a woman, reaching for a hug. Holding his breath, Tito stepped into her embrace. His touch was as gentle as if she were spun of glass filaments.

She’d done everything for him, but in this, Mama failed. As her resistance to the forces eating her insides gave way, Mama’s attention collapsed upon itself. A fleeting hug was all she could manage.

Tito’s problems lay squarely upon his own shoulders, he’d already lost his sounding board and most empathetic supporter.

22:02

Tito lay on his bed watching Abby’s texts roll up the wall.

Hey Tit, where U been?
Y so quiet?
Starting to worry.
Want to play Forza 2nite?
Don’t make me wait too long. 😉

“Stop,” Tito responded. His word bubble appeared below hers. A dull ache settled over him as he calculated how long it would take to reach Tier Two. “On my way,” he said.

The common room in Abby’s dorm was decorated in cheerful blues and oranges. Plush carpet resembled grass and real pine trees in planter boxes lent the space a fresh, outdoorsy fragrance. Tito’s chest expanded as Abby approached. She flashed a forty-kilowatt smile and held her arms wide, “Tito!”

Crushing her against him, Tito lifted her off her feet, spinning them around. Setting her down, their eyes locked. Tito’s need to kiss her was tangible. He was a boulder, falling from a cliff, about to explode on impact. He resisted the urge.

“I made popcorn,” Abby covered his blunder with a peck on his cheek.

Tito followed her to the kitchen, he was a satellite caught in her magnetic orbit. While Abby’s back was to him, he tugged at a piece of her loose, shoulder-length hair. This was how they first met. When she didn’t respond, he tugged again, using more force.  Tito frowned. “Abby?”

Abby’s hair remained twined in his fingers. Her eyes darted to his hand, then back to his face. Her skin drained of color. Being in the Tiers was tantamount to social leprosy. “I gave up touch,” her strained whisper confirmed.

Tito gulped. Reaching around Abby, he plucked a popcorn kernel from the bowl. Placing it in his mouth, he closed his eyes, savoring the buttery, salty flavors as it melted. When it disappeared, he leaned in to kiss the luscious lips that would never know the texture of his.

23:10

Pulling away, Tito addressed a cabinet. “Pact 571,” a text box appeared, typing as he spoke, “Tier One selection; taste.”

Tito wondered if the dogs would show up exactly at the 24th hour and if the Humanoid Life Form receiving his Tier One would develop cravings for cinnamon rolls.

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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 Zelda speaks 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; he 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, he 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. “My Jhady is beautiful again!” Tears coursed down his faces. 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 to a vine-choked path. The going was slow. He grunted as he pulled at the stalks, making room for our burros to 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.

My friend 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.

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

Another jolt – her voice!

Overjoyed, the three of us cried and hugged.

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 a statement rather 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 the burros and 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 taking up more 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 tell 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 are 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 bear 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 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 indescribable, Giles, understanding 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 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 bassinet, covered Elisa, then went to cool my feet at the river bank. My mind was churning with things only aquatic life can experience.

Iggy emerged with 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 as 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 other times alone.

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. 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 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 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.

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.

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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.

 

 

Quaker Ladies Rubble; What Might Have Been for Phineas Gage

 

Estimated reading time 4 minutes.

Excerpt from Phases of Gage; After the Accident Years, a novella based on the life of Phineas Gage.
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1852

Phineas is aboard the Witch of the Wave with his parents and sister, Phoebe. The ship is beginning to move through Boston Harbor.  It will be traveling down the eastern seacoast to Chagres. From there, the family will cross the isthmus to Panama City and board a steamer bound for San Francisco.

As familiar territory fades from view, Phineas is feeling queasy. He reminisces about what he’s left behind.
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Everything changed that day, four years ago, when I became a freak, The Man with his Brains Blown Out.

When I think about Caroline, my insides get agitated. In happier times, we dreamed of our children. I hadn’t realized how fortunate I was when I was just a man, with a girl, working for our future.

Longing and loss shoot through my heart, searing me. I blink back tears. Viewing undulating ocean swells through distorted vision doesn’t help my mood or my wily guts!

I remember a Sunday afternoon like it is perfectly preserved in an unblemished piece of golden-tinged amber. We wandered off by ourselves, walking over the hill to a peaceful meadow, out of sight of the picnic and games. Caroline discovered a patch of Quaker Ladies flowers, tiny things with four white petals and a sunny center. We set to work picking some when she asks me how many children I think we’ll have.

“Coming from a large family,” I said, “I think I’d like not so many that the middle ones are forgotten in the pack.”

She giggled saying she agreed. I chose a flower, twirling it by its stem, sniffing its delicate perfume, “What would you name our first born?” I wanted to know. I reached over, plucking the pins from her hair, watching it tumble over her shoulders. She looks like she used to when she was a girl. Her smile sets my heart a flutter.

Her eyes sparkle, “I think I should like to name her, Susan.”

“Susan!” I was surprised. “You are wishing for a girl first?”

“Yes, silly, girls are a great help around the home. She will watch the other little ones when I am laboring with the next.”

“Come here,” I said. She leaned toward me. I embed the flower stem in her loose hair so it stays in place. “Here’s to the first,” I said, kissing her. For every child we named, I added a flower, following it with a kiss. We’d be breeding like rabbits if the Quaker Ladies were a prediction of our fate!

Before we started back, a gnat flew into my eye— the left one. The hurt that the tiny bug caused was out of proportion to its size. Caroline sat me down. While pulling my lower lid away, she dabbed with a corner of her handkerchief.

“For such a big, handsome man you yowl and complain like a baby,” she observed with good humor.

When she’d gotten the critter out, she wiped at the tears running down my face, kissing the injured eye, then the other one for good measure. I had to thank her for her kind and gentle services… It was difficult to stop thanking her! But a gentleman doesn’t keep pestering a lady once she’s called a halt.

Having Caroline to myself for that space of time, I was itching to finish saving for our farm and for us to be married! The need for money was what had sent me up Cavendish way to work on the railroad.

A chilly wind crawling beneath my jacket brings me back to my place and time. Looking over the Atlantic waters, my mind conjures up my beloved. She stands beside me, her elbows on the deck rail. She leans into the wind. Her eyes are closed but she is wearing a broad smile. “Every day is a new adventure!” she exclaims.

Turning toward me, her long, loose hair, behaves like fine autumn grass overcome by a dust devil. The Quaker Lady blossoms that I placed there come away, pelting my face with such force that they sting like blasting rubble.

My stomach is tight and sour, jumpy. Saliva, like hot water condensing along the sides of a glass pot, seeps into my mouth, filling the crevices below my tongue.

It occurs to me, with finality, that I will never be a father, now. That dream is as dead as my relationship with Caroline.

I hug the rail, opening my mouth, letting my guts erupt.

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One of the ‘great’ medical curiosities of all time.

At twenty-five, Phineas’s life changed the instant an iron rod
(like a crowbar, but without the hooked end)
shot through his head.