Haylee: Period of Change – 1st Place Short Story Winner

 

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1982

 

Most of the girls Haylee’s age started getting their periods at thirteen. Haylee was well aware of this because those who were, “on the rag” didn’t have to shower in gym class. It was almost an honor, and a sign that a girl had moved into womanhood.

When Haylee turned fourteen and was practically the last girl not to have gotten her period, her schoolmates started talking about it.

At fifteen, still periodless, and showing no signs of physical maturation, the gym teacher called Haylee into her office and started asking embarrassing questions. Mortified, Haylee quietly informed the teacher that the women in her family had always been very late bloomers — she was grasping at straws — and that she was sure that it would happen any day.

The teacher, who was quite fond of the quiet, intelligent girl, looked doubtful. She empathized with Haylee’s discomfort, and she knew that with Haylee’s mother gone, the girl probably had no one to confide in. “Haylee, I’m not trying to embarrass you. It may be true that you are a late bloomer, but it could also be that something’s wrong, like a hormone imbalance. I’ve discussed it with the school nurse and —”

“How could you talk about this with someone else? It’s none of your business!” Haylee shouted. She felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“It is my business, Haylee,” the teacher replied sadly. “Teachers have a responsibility to look after the welfare of their students. If it appears that a parent is neglecting —”

“What? You’re saying my father is doing something wrong because I’m not…” her brow furrowed.  Haylee searched for the right words,“…growing up?”

“This is important, Haylee. You are not progressing normally; I have to call your father to make sure you see a doctor.”

“No! Just leave me alone and stay away from my father!” Haylee yelled as she practically jumped for the door. She felt trapped and needed air.

~ ~ ~ ~

Even before her talk with her gym teacher, Haylee had wondered if there was something wrong. At first, she was convinced that she had cancer eating away her insides, keeping her from growing. As she got older, she worried that she had a congenital disorder that stunted her growth.

Not long after what Haylee thought of as “The Big Period Incident,” she ordered herself a bra through a catalog and started stuffing herself. She also became an expert at avoiding gym class.

Despite her worries, Haylee stayed bal­anced. She enjoyed learning and took pleasure in her classes, easily outshining the other students.

When all of her chores on the farm were done for the day and she’d fixed her father dinner, Haylee would go outside and climb up on the old tractor. It sat rusting behind the barn. From there, she’d watch the sun set.

The cool, evening air, as it caressed her face, had her smiling. She thought about how much she loved caring for their pigs, chickens and horses. The pictures and thoughts that they shared with her made her feel accepted as part of them. They saw her…really saw her. This was something that Haylee desperately needed.

~ ~ ~ ~

Seventeen-year-old Haylee was sure that she had a migraine, even though she’d never had one before. The excruciating pain started at her temples and radiated out like pinpoint pricks of burning sparks that crackled through her bloodstream. With eyes squinted into slits, Haylee, had to draw in deep breaths to keep her stomach contents where they belonged. Haylee gently managed the half-mile walk from the bus stop to her house.

The cool interior darkness that enveloped her as she crossed the threshold offered a fleeting sense of relief. Within moments, she was clammy and trembling again.

She held onto the walls to make her way to the bathroom. Once there, she let her book bag drop and crawled like a suffering supplicant toward the porcelain deity. After twenty minutes of dry heaves, she thankfully welcomed its cool countenance along the side of her face as she crouched there, embracing it for another ten minutes.

When it appeared that her world had ceased its sickening gyrations, Haylee gingerly moved a few inches to test her theory. I think it’s getting better, she thought. Although the agony persisted, the nausea had lessened.

Stooping carefully to retrieve her bag, Haylee didn’t bother to glance in the mirror as she shuffled toward her bedroom. Returning shortly in her bathrobe, she reached into the shower to turn on the hot water. If she had not been so preoccupied, she would have been shocked by what the mirror revealed. Dark hair hung limply around an ashen face. Her lips were gray. Her straight, angular body had become more rounded.

Shakily, she stepped over the edge of the tub. The cascading water soothed her, but only temporarily. Lost in a dull haze, but not knowing what else to do, Haylee stood there, eyes closed, remaining as still as possible.

At some point, her father started knocking on the bathroom door.  Feebly, she responded. She was relieved when he finally left. Long after the water had turned cold and the house had become silent, she stepped out of the shower.

Laboriously, she slipped on her robe. The mirror reflected even more startling changes. Her hands and arms had begun to take on pronounced lines. Her neck, shoulders, hips, and legs had developed a graceful quality. The hurt she experienced blinded her to all else, but somewhere in the back of her mind, it registered that her robe was too small.

Without turning on the lights, Haylee went to her room. Feeling for the electric blanket controls, she cranked the heat up to high. Crawling under the covers, she curled into a ball.

~ ~ ~ ~

Frequently, with only the hum of appliances and the ticking of the clock for company, Haylee wished that her dad would linger for breakfast ─ but not today. She was grateful that he had left at first light. Rushing to put on baggy sweats, she raced to the kitchen driven by fierce cravings.  She was ravenous!

Barely able to contain her desires, she opened the refrigerator and grabbed the first thing her hand landed on — milk. After a half dozen lusty swallows, the empty carton landed with a dull thud in the middle of the kitchen floor. Empty cheese wrappers followed by cold cut wrappers, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup bottles, an empty pickle jar, Tupperware containers that had held Tuna Helper leftovers, a tray from what was left of a pineapple upside-down cake and an empty egg carton were added to the pile.

Haylee paused to survey the bare refrigerator shelves for anything else of interest. A deep burp, that tasted like mustard and tuna, bubbled up her throat. Not a bad combination… Haylee rejected the horseradish and jalapeno condiments.  Resting one hand on her stomach while wiping goo from her face with the back of the other, Haylee thought.  I don’t feel like puking after eating all of that! Another belch erupted, followed by more hungry gurgles.

Haylee began riffling through the cupboards next. Soon the plinking of empty tin cans sounded as they hit the floor. With a glassy look in her eyes, she licked food remnants from the dirty dishes in the sink. Consciously, she had stopped herself from tossing the Corel plates and bowls into her heap. Although the advertisements claimed that they were unbreakable, Haylee knew this was not true. Everything even remotely edible that could be gleaned from the trashcan was added to the increasing refuse pile in the middle of the room.

Haylee took a deep breath and sighed. She wandered over to the couch. What a relief not to feel starved! Her head barely landed on the cushion before she fell fast asleep.

~ ~ ~ ~

Something roused her from her nap shortly before her dad was due to come in for lunch. Yawning, Haylee sat up, arched her back and stretched. She opened and closed her mouth, testing it’s parched, cottony texture. Cupping a hand over it, she expelled hot breath while taking a whiff to see if it smelled. The scent of fish, sour milk and onions made her frown. Thinking that she needed to brush her teeth, Haylee stood up. It was then that she noticed the state of the kitchen. “Did I do ALL that?”

It looked like a cyclone had gone through and pulled everything out of the shelves except for the plates, glasses, and silverware. A tingling underneath her skin had Haylee absently scratching her extremities. Something else felt funny. Reaching up to her chest, Haylee found sensitive mounds that filled her hands. She pulled the neckline of her sweatshirt away so she could look inside, “Holy!….” Her heart pounded as she explored that rest of her new contours. With a sense of wonder and delight, Haylee let out a sigh. So I was right!

Her eyes darted back to the mess in the kitchen. Dad’s going to be here soon! Leaping into action, she pulled out a roll of garbage bags. Haylee began shoving loose items into them. In under thirty minutes, she’d filled five! After hauling the trash bags outside, she returned to mop and wipe down the counters. At least, it smells fresh, Haylee thought as she surveyed her handy-work.

~ ~ ~ ~

The slam of the screen door announced her father’s arrival. He was greasy from crawling around under the walnut shaker. Not saying ‘hello,’ he paused at her side, took a quick sniff, raised his eyebrows, then continued striding toward the kitchen. Hesitating, he turned back, “Aren’t you supposed to be in school today?”

Knotting her fists in the fabric of her sweatshirt, Haylee hid most of the stains from her recent activity  ─ as well as a few other developments ─ “Ahhh….. I wasn’t feeling good, so I stayed home.”

“Huh,” Eugene muttered before turning around to continue.  Haylee held her breath as he reached for the refrigerator door.

“Aw, crap!” his voice sounded hollow coming from inside the appliance. “I don’t have time to go shopping today.” He straightened and looked at Haylee. “How can we be completely out of food?”

She smiled sheepishly, “A couple of friends from school stopped by to bring my missed assignments. They were hungry, so I told them that they could raid the kitchen.”

Nodding, he sighed. “They did. Going to have to wait till tonight before I can run into town. Make a shopping list?”

“Sure.” Haylee wondered how he could so easily accept her made-up story.

“I’ve got some beef jerky in the truck. Want me to bring you some?” he asked as he breezed past. The screen door slammed again before she had a chance to reply.

“I’m feeling better, Dad. Thank you so much for asking.”

~ ~ ~ ~

That night, Haylee slept fitfully. A headache had started again. By midnight, she was curled into a ball, feeling nauseous and dizzy. What’s wrong with me? her mind screamed.

After spending more than three hours in agony and terror, Haylee’s body suddenly jerked as a piercing, sharp pain ripped through her abdominal area. With swelling eyes, she opened her mouth to scream and found that she couldn’t breathe. Her heart was pounding so hard and fast, she thought it would burst. She panicked and clawed at her throat, leaving angry red marks. Her eyes rolled back in her head.

Some time later, she roused. The pain was still with her, but she was able to move. She noticed that her legs felt warm and slippery. She reached over to turn on her bedside lamp. Looking down, she was horrified to find that she was lying in a pool of blood. Inhaling a shaky, ragged breath, her throat constricted. Daddy, …please help me, I’m so scared.

After a struggle, Haylee managed to get herself onto her feet. She could see thick ribbons of dark red snaking their way down her legs. “Daddy,” she croaked, starting to weep. Holding onto the furniture and swaying, Haylee slowly inched her way to the bathroom. Once there, she collapsed unceremoniously into the bathtub. Sinking into a blessed darkness where the pain didn’t follow, Haylee felt sure that she would never wake up.

~ ~ ~ ~

Usually a heavy sleeper, Eugene woke with a start. A glance at the clock on his nightstand told him the time was 4:00 a.m. Fuzzily, he wondered what roused him. A strong smell of gardenias brought him fully awake. He wondered if it was left over from a dream he’d been having about his late wife, Doris.

He fumbled for the switch on his bedside lamp. Temporarily blinded by the illumination, Gene’s eyes squeezed shut. He scrambled to put on his clothes.

Flipping on the hallway light, he immediately spotted the dark pools of liquid and what looked like dragging footprints on the floor. When it dawned on him what he was seeing, Gene’s heart thudded. “Jesus in Heaven!” he muttered as he ran down the hall. Bursting into Haylee’s bathroom, Gene took in the scene.

His daughter lay in a heap in the tub, looking as white as a corpse. The bottom half of her nightshirt was soaked with blood, and her legs were smeared with it. “Haylee!” he cried. A fresh, steady stream was pooling and dripping down the drain.

Falling to his knees, he grabbed her shoulders. “Haylee! Haylee! Can you hear me?”

She was limp. He felt for a pulse. It was there, but it was fast and weak. Reaching for a towel, he stuffed it tightly between her thighs to stanch the flow. Gently gathering her up in his arms, Eugene ran to his truck, saying all the way, “Dear God, I beg you, please don’t take my girl away from me too!”

Stretching Haylee out on the bench seat, Gene cradled her head in his lap. With unsteady hands, he struggled to put his key in the ignition. He looked at them and saw them covered with blood. It was almost his undoing. Closing his eyes, he told himself that he had to stay calm.

Arriving at the hospital, he raced around the truck to scoop her up. The towel he had used to staunch her bleeding was soaked through. “Argh!” he exclaimed. Hastily, he ripped off his shirt to replace the sodden towel. When they burst through the emergency room door, Gene’s eyes were wild.

Immediately, Haylee was whisked away. Gene made a move to follow, but a nurse blocked his way. He would have fought to get past her but stopped when she told him that if he wanted to help, he would have to stay out of the doctor’s way.

Looking down, he saw a petite, redhead with intense blue eyes regarding him. In a firm but hushed tone, she said, “She’s in good hands.”

He nodded, “She has to be alright.”  His voice was strained.

The nurse directed him into a quiet, empty treatment room where she had him sit on a table. Coming back from closing the door, she brought tissues, rubber gloves, and moist towels to clean him up. As she reached out to hand him a tissue, she found herself caught in his grasp. He pulled her close and laid his head on her chest. His large body shook with deep soul-shattering sobs.

Gene realized his tears were more than just fear of the danger that Haylee was in. They were self-loathing for ignoring Haylee after her mother’s death, and dread that he would never have a chance to tell her he was sorry.

~ ~ ~ ~

Feeling euphoric, Haylee noticed a light, floating sensation. Hearing muted voices, she struggled to become fully conscious.

Her dad’s face came into view. She wondered why he looked so tired. There were deep lines on his forehead and around his eyes.

He reached out to brush the hair off of her forehead. Seeing her eyes focus on him, he turned to speak to someone. “I think she’s coming around.”

A woman’s face appeared. A bright light was di­rected in one eye and then the other. The woman spoke to Gene. “She’s stronger.”

Haylee could hear muted voices from a distance. Then her father was back. His hand felt warm and strong when held hers. “Haylee, do you know where you are?”

Frowning, she moved her head slightly. “You’re in the hospital. I brought you in early this morning.”

Closing her eyes, Haylee nodded.

“You are going to be just fine.” He rubbed her hand. “You need to rest. Go back to sleep. I’ll be right here.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Sitting in a chair next to her, Gene watched his daughter. For the first time, he noticed that she was looking a lot like her mother. Now, instead of cringing, that thought brought on a resigned smile.

Gene could tell that the doctor felt uncomfortable informing him that, “The only thing we can determine at this point in time is that she was having an unusually heavy menses.”

Dr. Lester was a tall, dark-haired woman in her fifties. “Her bleeding has stopped on its own. She appears to be out of danger, but I’d like to keep her for observation.”

Gene pushed the doctor for answers. With a few short, icy words, she told him that they would do everything they could.

Feeling unsettled but relieved to have made it through the crisis, Gene returned to Haylee’s bedside.

~ ~ ~ ~

When Haylee woke the next morning, that insatiable hunger had returned. Confined in a situation where she wouldn’t be able to satisfy it, she began to panic. She had to get out of there!

Between nursing shifts, Haylee asked her dad to go buy her a magazine. As soon as he was out the door, Haylee was out of bed and buttoning his jacket up over her hospital gown. Peeking into the corridor, she waited until it was clear. Spotting a laundry cart, she grabbed it and wheeled it away while searching for a sign that would direct her to the staff locker room.

In street clothes, it was easy to exit the building. Once free, Haylee ran, and ran, and ran. She made one stop, in a dumpster behind a grocery store. Hunger satisfied, for now, she burped forcefully. Her hands hurt ─ they ached deep down in the joints and had begun to feel hot. Making the decision not to worry over, yet, more weirdness, Haylee resumed her run.

In her front yard, Haylee stretched, feeling abundantly strong and powerful. There was another sensation there also, something strange and different. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was. Just then, a bug landed on her arm. When she moved to swipe it away, she heard a —thwap. She stared in astonishment. There was web­bing between her fingers!  She wiggled them noticing the increased resistance. She flicked the other hand—thwap! Now this hand had the webs too! They glistened and sparkled. When the webs were out, she felt a potent energy humming just below the surface of her skin, as if it were waiting to burst forth.

She flicked both hands at the same time—thwap! The webs were gone! She practiced making them appear and disappear until her fingers grew sore.

~ ~ ~ ~

Her dad had let her wear some of her mother’s clothes since none of her own fit anymore. Wearing a halter dress and sandals instead of jeans, cowboy boots, and snap-up shirts, Haylee’s classmates didn’t recognize her when she returned to school.

Speaking to no one in the corridor, Haylee shyly met many of the eyes trained on her. She saw interest in the boys’ faces and looks of scorn on the girls.

When she answered, “Here,” to roll call in homeroom, silence fell as everyone turned in her direction. Scrunching down as far as she could, Haylee shut her eyes and willed everyone to stop gawking.

Regaining his own composure, the teacher cleared his throat, “Well, Haylee…you are looking well.  I mean…did you have one of those glamor make-overs?”

The highlight of Haylee’s day had been Curtis ─ a boy she’d loved since fifth grade. He’d never looked twice at her. Recently broken up with his latest in a long list of girlfriends, he’d sought her out. “I heard that you suddenly turned ‘hot.’ I had to come to see for myself.”

Thirty minutes later, he’d asked Haylee out for her first date.

~ ~ ~ ~

 The night was clear and the stars twinkled brightly as Curtis drove his Ford pick-up. Haylee sat close to him on the bench seat. She willed herself to relax. When he turned the truck onto a deserted levee and parked about a quarter mile off of the main road, Haylee’s heart began to beat quickly. She could feel herself starting to perspire.

“This is my ‘get away’ place. I’ve never brought a girl here before,” he said as he hopped out of his door.

“Oh,” Haylee responded, feeling pleased.

Holding hands, they walked a little way. Turning a corner, they came upon a train track that went out over a trestle with the river flowing below. Helping her onto the railroad ties, they sat down on a rail. Curtis fished a couple of pennies out of his pocket showing her that the two coins had the current year. “I thought we could put them on the tracks to have the train fuse them together so we could remember our first date,” he explained as he put them in place.

Haylee was touched. “How nice!”

He leaned toward her to plant a soft kiss on her lips. It was over before she realized what he had done.

“We’ll have that memento before too long,” he whispered. He returned to kiss her again. This time lingering and gently coaxed a response.

Small rumbles began then, in Haylee’s core and the ones on the tracks.

Haylee was so absorbed, that it was a few moments before she realized that Curtis’s hand was on her breast. Shocked, she moved so she could push him away. Tearing his mouth from hers, Curtis whispered, “Don’t!”

Wedging her arms between them, Haylee complained, “Let go!”

Curtis held her tightly, “Relax. I won’t hurt you.”

Haylee could hear annoyance and frustration in his tone.

“I said stop!” she yelled. On its heels, another wave of quivering radiated through her middle, stronger this time.

“What the….?” Curtis said.

The train lights appeared a few miles out. Curtis jumped to his feet, pulling Haylee with him as he started walking quickly toward the river.

“Where are you going?” Haylee asked. Her voice was several octaves higher than before.

“Kick off your shoes,” he directed as he kept tugging her onward. The ground beneath them dropped away as they started across the trestle.

Bending over to grab a shoe in each hand, Haylee could feel herself trembling. Glints of moonlight undulated on the surface of the water.

Jumping from railroad tie to tie, they jogged between the iron tracks. Curtis urged her to hurry. Looking behind them, she saw the train approaching ─ fast!

“Curtis!” she shrieked.

Run!” He clutched her wrist and squeezed. He smiled with a wicked gleam in his eye.

Haylee’s heart hammered wildly. The tracks shook. She pulled her arm away from him, so she could focus on running.

The sound of the high, plaintive whistle was ear shattering. Curtis laughed, but Haylee couldn’t hear it.

They were about twenty yards from the far edge of the bridge when the train rolled onto the trestle. Running for her life, Haylee screamed. Adrenalin effectively masked the tremors that had her quaking from the inside out. The heavy rumble from the massive amount of iron and steel breathing down their necks had Haylee thinking about how her dad would feel when he found out how she had been killed. Haylee was preparing for the impact when she was roughly yanked at a right angle. She went flying, before tumbling down a grassy embankment.

It took a few moments to realize that she was still alive, that she had stopped moving, and that the engine and its cars were rolling past them. Nothing appeared to be broken. A white-hot anger flared up. Locating Curtis, she crawled toward him. He was laying on his back, laughing and shouting about how great that was!

Cursing, Haylee hit him with balled fists.

While holding her hands, he dragged her over to him and began kissing her. She struggled. He rolled on top of her. Between wet kisses, he kept repeating, “You are so awesome!” Curtis held her in place while grinding his hips into her pelvis. Haylee could feel his excitement.

The vibrations within Haylee intensified. Something shifted in her mind.

She ceased to be afraid. A foreign desire had taken over. It was something that didn’t care about boys with busy hands and dangerous senses of humor. It didn’t care about the physical act of intimacy. It wanted something much deeper than that.

Haylee lay beneath him, unnaturally still.

Curtis noticed that the fight had gone out of her and paused to look. Alarmed at what he saw, he rolled off her.

She sat up abruptly, considering him with a steely gaze.

Unnerved, Curtis scrambled to back away, he looked all around as if searching for an escape route.

Haylee stood up, still holding his eyes with hers. She unfastened her belt, letting it drop. In one simple movement, she removed her dress. Clad only in her underwear, Haylee wasn’t shy or embarrassed. “Is this what you want?” she asked in a slow, sultry tone.

Curtis couldn’t take his eyes off her now. He inhaled deeply, nodding. His breath caught in his throat, he reached out, bringing her to a kneeling position. He began kissing her again. Haylee did not resist. She made encouraging sounds. She did not want to frighten him again.

His hands roamed in places that would have had her fighting against him if she’d still been in her right mind. Greedily, Curtis clawed at her clothing. When Haylee felt the hooks of her bra let loose, she violently flipped him over.

An ‘oof’ escaped him as he slammed against the ground with a thud. With a detached point of view, like she was watching someone else, Haylee observed as her fingers, the webbing, in particular, molded themselves perfectly around the contours of his face.

Struggling furiously, Curtis tried to peel it away. His eyes bulged as he battled using every ounce of strength to save his life. The more he thrashed the tighter the webs adhered.

Witnessing the gruesome process was fascinating. As was the fact that it barely took any effort to hold him down. At the moment that Curtis accepted his fate, Haylee closed her eyes.

A feeling of indescribably sweet euphoria filled her. Infused with a glowing liquid light, all tension dissipated. With sparkling eyes, Haylee raised her weightless gaze to the stars. The webbed hand that had been bonded to Curtis’s mouth and nose released. Slowly and delicately, she lifted it away. She took a deep breath and stood—stretching languidly. In a daze, Haylee stood up and walked around to get used to this new sensation. Her lungs filled and expanded with breaths that drew in more air than she ever thought possible. Her thoughts came as swift as lightning. This is what all the strange things were leading up to!

After a while, Haylee wandered back to where Curtis lay, pale and trembling. Her eyes grew wide as she realized that she now knew a lot of things about him.

A surprise — since he always seemed so cool and confident — were the many nights he’d spent alone and afraid in an empty house when he was too young to fend for himself. His parents drank too much and fought too viciously. A distasteful look crossed her face when she learned that he planned to have sex with her and then describe it in graphic detail to his buddies at school.

Haylee dressed slowly. When she finished, she stood over him, watching. His pink skin glowed against the dark grass. He squirmed weakly reminding her of a maggot removed from its food source.  How did I ever think that I loved him? she wondered.  Haylee picked up his clothes and threw them in a heap near his feet. “Get dressed!” she demanded. When there was no response, she squatted next to him, shaking his shoulder. “Put your clothes on!”

He turned toward her. Haylee was startled to see the look on his face — or rather, the lack of a look on his face. It was as if he were asleep with his eyes open. In that instant, she understood that he was a shell emptied of its contents. Those…were now inside of her.

Haylee realized that he was not capable of putting his clothes on without help. Muddling through that awkward task, Haylee got him to his feet and tugged on his hand. His mechanical actions smoothed out and began to look almost normal once they got going. She led him back across the trestle.

On the other side, Haylee relived those awful moments running across the bridge and the shock of what she’d done to him.

Reaching the spot where he’d placed the pennies, her eyes scanned the area. Not far away, they lay on the track, blended together into one. Haylee picked up the fused metal. Her first thought was to put it in his pocket, but then she changed her mind.

______________

Story Prompt:  January-February 2016 Short Story Contest

SFF world

Theme: My Sweetest Downfall

Word Count Limit: 5000

Inspiration: This short story is an adapted excerpt from Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone.

Resources:

Haylee: Period of Change PDF download

Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone free (6+hr) audiobook download

Haylee web page

 

 

 

Water: Element of Life

A colorful photo essay about the water cycle and environmental issues. 

Essential for organic sentience, this element possesses no emotions, opinions or thoughts.

It is constantly moving.

All life on Earth is born from it.

Water nurtures.

Historically, its greatest value has been its service as a tool for growth, enterprise and harnessing energy.

We cannot function without it. Yet it is given little consideration.

Air currents, temperature, gravity, explosion and evaporation move it.

Behaviors: magnifies, reflects, refracts, filters, carves, sculpts, moves, floats, collects, replenishes, hydrates, irrigates, delivers, incubates, oxygenates, stores, and stagnates.

Thinkers call it: sparkling, clear, clean, refreshing, quenching, baptizing, muddied, polluted, and toxic.

Its Forms: snow, ice, vapor, gas, mist, fog, cloud, drop, rain, downpour, waterfall, flood, puddle, stream, river, lake, delta, estuary, bay, channel, cesspool, sea, waves, and tsunami.

Encapsulated in a solar system biosphere, this element doesn’t care if it’s solid or liquid, clear, cloudy or if is contaminated, and lethal.

The delicate planetary water balance of Earth has shifted.

Humans are responsible.

We MUST care for or world-home.

Sloppy housekeepers get evicted.

“You are not a drop in the ocean, but the ocean in a drop.” – Rumi

 

Story Prompt: #7/200Challenge – Twitter @GHowellWhite1

Choose a topic from writing prompts given during a seven-day period and write a two-hundred word story.

Topic:  Point of view of a raindrop.

Inspiration:  A single raindrop is only a small part of a greater whole – water. This idea stirred my inner environmentalist and the result is a photo essay that conveys the beauty and fragility of a substance that is essential for life.

Check out my Redfern Studio blog for research notes and plastic pollution reduction resources, water facts and discussion about human behavior.

 

Single Step Adventure

single step adventure T“I think I see it!” Chelsea ran ahead keeping a watchful eye on her smartphone compass. Seti, the families Irish Setter, sprinted beside the young woman barking with unrestrained joy.

Lexi and Ed paused to tighten drawstrings on their windbreakers. A brisk, grit-filled wind scoured their exposed skin. “You’ve got everything?” she asked.

“I do,” Ed nodded. Reaching into his pocket, he removed three small silver objects. He dropped two of them into the palm of her hand. Lexi thought that the high bluffs of Dover were an ideal location for today’s activities.

“This is it!” Chelsea squealed as her parents gathered around.  From a small box that had been hidden in the rocks, Chelsea removed a strange oblong object. It was identical to the ones concealed in Lexi and Ed’s pockets. She read the paper it came wrapped in. “It says that if I, Chelsea, hold this and step over the edge of the cliff, I will be transported to another place.” Her eyes sparkled.  When she turned her gaze to take in the open expanse, the challenge morphed into to uncertainty.

Her father stood behind Lexi gripping her shoulders. “Are you entirely certain about this, Chelsea?”

She bit her lip. Chelsea almost changed her mind. But the hard look on her mother’s face wiped that away. They’d had many arguments over Chelsea’s obsession to prove the existence of Time Travelers. In fact, she was sure that she was on the trail of one such person now. For years, she’d been getting personalized clues in every single geocache she’d located.

Chelsea approached the edge of the precipice. Without even a look back, she firmly gripped the thing in her hand and took that step.

The man, woman, and dog watched Chelsea wink out of sight. Holding their breath, they leaned over the edge of the cliff and peered down at the sharp rocks below. Not seeing a twisted and broken figure, they relaxed.

Reveling in a feeling of completion, Lexi thought of her partner. She yearned to his skin instead of his fur. Twenty-three years of parenting and observation had taken a considerable toll.  She turned to Ed. Placing a hand on his shoulder; she lifted up onto her toes so that their eyes were level. Winking, she gave him a salute. Squatting down, she opened her arms to Seti. Burying her face in his coat, she whispered, “I’ve missed you!”

His immediate, silent response, And I you, Mistress, appeared in her mind.

Before she rose, Lexi slipped one of the silver ovals into the dog’s mouth. The three of them stood together, taking a moment to regard France across the English Channel. At Lexi’s nod, they winked out of sight and stepped onto the Constellation.

Lexi felt a large warm hand slip into hers and squeeze, before releasing. A voice she had not heard spoken aloud in twenty-three years inquired, “Shall I set the coordinates for home?”

——

Story Prompt: WriteOn weekend challenge – Bluff

Inspiration: Preliminary research for a ‘someday’ travel possibility.

United Kingdom – Dover Cliff’s Travel Information:

traveltips.usatoday.com/white-cliffs-dover-england-3316.html

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-cliffs-dover/

www.visitkent.co.uk/attractions/the-white-cliffs-of-dover/9002

Marooned

I held you as you grew in inside my life-giving waters. I dreamed for you before you could dream. Every new sound, smile, and movement was recorded upon the tender organ beating within my breast. I am the keeper of your origins and the name on your tongue when your last breath has been taken.Marooned Short Story cover

***

The Brilliant One. He was named thus for the persona he elected. Black wool dress pants with creases so mean they could cut through turbulent air. A long overcoat, crafted from the same materials, scratched and abraded at his neckline and cuffs. These micro irritations served as constant reminders of a fact that very few people knew. He was not the only one.

A Teacher. The best and brightest minds were sent to him for training. He was the man with wild, wiry hair that reached toward his shoulders. He joked that when the brain worked at full capacity, it would produce so much heat that the follicles at the top of one’s head would burn away.

A Mind Like No Other. He had the tools of technology at his disposal but preferred, instead, the scrape and scuff of chalk on board and the compact binder that fit in the palm of his hand. Upon the page of every fresh notebook, he taped a photo of her. The binder and chalkboard went with the persona and recorded information that others raced to comprehend.

He Agreed. When the choice among billions came down to one, he nodded. He understood.  He would represent them all. A holdout. For the blink of a cosmic eye, he would continue recording his thoughts and equations.

Beauty and Beast. It was a surprise to observe what the mind does when deprived of human contact. Guilt clutched at him with cold, bony, claw-like talons.  Every day, he stared, as if mesmerized, at that thing of massive beauty that revolved beneath his window. Illuminated and glowing against her blanket of dark emptiness, her silent cries reached him, causing the talons to tighten.

Eyes Closed. The reoccurring dream was a further surprise. When all the thoughts of humanity and the universe were open to him, it was his sister to whom they ever returned. Алина. His  twin. They’d lost her when she was ten. Chernobyl had been their childhood home. He knew, without a doubt, that her mind had been greater than his.

Musings. Perhaps the expiration of humanity had occurred on the day of Chernobyl’s disaster. He’d helped put off the inevitable. He was a temporary patch on the dam with fatal cracks that ran too deep. No one but him was left to wonder if she might have been the key that could have changed the outcome.

***

“Mama.”

——-

Story Prompt: WriteOn weekend challenge – in 500 words or less – Marooned

Inspiration: Pink Floyd song, Marooned

Night Vision

Every Sunday night, they shared vision training.  One partner had hollow bones, was aerodynamic and silent. The other, a girl, sat cross-legged, with eyes closed while she modulated her breathing and focused on maintaining the mental connection. When successful, she could see through predator eyes that only needed moon and starlight for illumination.

Flying over the forest, infinitesimal movements below drew that gaze like a heat seeking missile.  Calloused feet with razor-sharp talons swung into forward position. Claws at the ready to clutch and puncture.Night Vision

Sarie took a steadying breath as she dive-bombed, plummeting at alarming speeds. She pulled back her mental bonds knowing that the mouthful of salty warm plasma and sticky fur would turn her stomach. She would gag and cough when the sharp bones scraped against the inside of her throat. A sudden reaction like that would sever the tenuous mental bond.

Once the temperate meal was consumed, Sarie rejoined her partner fully. Growing impatient, she sent urgings to resume flight.  The huntress stretched her powerful wings and dug through the air so that she was again soaring. With her hunger sated and plenty to spare for her young, the mother owl enjoyed the brief moment of freedom.

This was the time that Sarie waited for. Pushing her thoughts stronger into the bird’s mind, they turned east. The fires that had burned there were mostly out. The owl scanned the scene observing everything.

Hordes of people dressed in tribal garb shouted as they pushed timbers aside. From opposite ends of the make-shift arena, opposing teams entered.

A pack of sleek, black cats padded in on massive pillow-like pads. Dangerous yellow eyes regarded  details of the playing field. Flexuous tails moved like cobras seeking targets to strike.

Next entered a herd of commanding steeds. Manes flying, hooves pounded the ground like rolling thunder. The forerunners reared up on hind legs and reached heavenward like Pegasus preparing to leap.

In response to the challenge, the felines lowered on haunches, bared fangs and struck out, hooked claws extended. Hissing and snarling.

The crowd of onlookers hushed in veneration.

As the battle commenced, the owl landed in a tree. Sarie’s attention receded. She didn’t’ care to see the massacre. She only needed to know the location of one man.

When it was done, the owl took to wing to witness the carnage. A man with glowing hands worked over a fallen stallion. Spotting him, she screeched and rocketed toward him.

Hearing it, he immediately rose to his feet. Reaching into a pocket, he pulled out a shiny object and held it high overhead.

The bird snatched it effortlessly. She spanned the distance to the girl in record time.

Sarie stood still, her arm outstretched and steady. The owl glided onto the perch bearing her prize. She dropped the object into the girl’s hand. Sarie spoke for the first time, “That was superb, little Mama.”

“Who whooo,” came the response before the mother flew off to feed her famished fuzz balls.owl-644482

_________

Story Prompt: WriteOn weekend challenge – in 500 words or less – Superb Owl [aka Suber Bowl]

Inspiration: Owls! and tongue-in-cheek description of a football game

Now and Then

They pulled back at the same time. Lips puckered, hearts racing and eyes wide with surprise and desire.

He was the first to speak as he picked up a dreadlock that had fallen over her face. Rolling the dense length of hair between his fingers, he gently tucked it back into the nest that surrounded her head, “Lulu,” he laughed uneasily, “I’m sorry — I wasn’t planning that.”now & then

When Mark made a move to step away, Lulu held him in place. Humor sparkled in her deep brown eyes, “I’m surprised Mark. I thought we were just friends…but now…” She reached up to trace the red, fern-like pattern that marked his pale skin from his ear down his neck.

As he leaned back in to capture her mouth, Lulu pulled him to her forcefully. A flash of passion flared between them. Their hands clutched at one another. She moaned wordlessly.

As an inner voice of constraint grew more insistent, Mark squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself pull away. They took a moment to let their labored breathing return to normal.

Lulu placed a hand on his cheek imploring him to look into her eyes, “I have missed you so much! I won’t let you go, Mark! I can’t ever let you go….”

Mark’s eyebrows shot up. A shiver traveled down the length of his spine. “Why did you say that?”

“I don’t know.” Lulu smiled.

Three hundred and sixteen years earlier…

Rain pelted him as he ran through the night. Mud sucked at his leather boots. He ran down the narrow path. “Mary! Mary where are you?” he screamed.

Luke knew that she’d gone down to the river to wash clothes with some of the other women from town. lulu lukeLightening that lit up the dark sky was followed by a deafening crack and roll of thunder. The brief illumination revealed no signs of life, movement, or of his new wife.

They’d been married only three days earlier. Blissful days of joyful lovemaking filled his mind and heart. He couldn’t believe that she was finally his and he could love her whenever he wanted. He wished they were in their warm bed right now rather than sloshing through the wet. He would scold her for scaring him …once he found her. “Mary Darling! Can you hear me?” Another flash of light and rumble of thunder. The river finally came into view.

When he first went searching for her, asking about her here and there—her friends had told him how happy she was to be washing his clothes. Even as it started to rain, Mary had wanted to remain at the river so that she could finish her task.

“Mary!” he called out in relief as he spotted her struggling with a heavy basket. Another flash of light revealed her smile when she spotted him running toward her.

“Oh good! You can help me carry this,” her voice reached him faintly.

Luke released his breath in relief as he closed the distance between them. With a blinding flash of light that came and went faster than the human eye could track, his life path took a sharp, unexpected turn.

Mary stood frozen in place. “No!” he screamed with panic at the edges of his voice. Smoke or steam, he didn’t know which, rose up from around her hair.

Her eyes locked onto his as she began to topple.

“Noooo!” he yelled catching her in is arms, sinking down into the mud on his knees. Frantically he ran his hands over her, “Mary! Mary! Are you alright?”

A faint, raspy whisper escaped, “Lu….” before her body went limp.

“No! no ..no…no..no. This can’t be happening.” Mark repeated as he held her to him rocking back and forth.

She grew cold and stiff in his arms before he released her. Another flash of light illuminated his dead wife, her head rolled back, in his arms. An angry red, fern-like burn mark spread from her ear down her neck. “I won’t let you go Mary! I can’t ever let you go….”

__________________

Story Prompt:  reddit writing prompt – a birthmark on your body is a result of you dying violently in a previous life. How did you die?

Messenger

Isobel’s youngest, and most beloved child, Agatha, had been chosen by the Order of Mystics to learn their ways at the tender age of four. When the girl had turned twelve, she’d been chosen again—this time, to receive the highest honor bestowed upon a member of their tribe; to deliver messages from their people to the Gods. Isobel wondered if the distinction was given because of a childhood rivalry between herself and the sister of the tribal leader.Messinger

For one year prior to Agatha’s Messenger Ceremony, Isobel’s family would receive tributes of food and service by every member of the community.  As the time for the sacrifice grew near, Isobel became increasingly anxious. She felt the eyes of her people on her every move. At night, she’d whisper desperately to her husband that they must do something to stop this.

Angry with her, he’d grown tired of repeating the same responses, “It is the will of the people. The Gods punishment would be severe. It is blasphemy to speak those words,” he turned away.

The thought of leaving her home and all that she knew frightened Isobel. But it terrified her even more to consider what would become of her if she continued to live among the tribe after they had killed the most beautiful thing that she had created—Agatha.

Isobel had constructed a plan. It began with a fire. Even the most devoted can be bribed for the right price.

“The Gods may not smite you,” the masked female said in a gravelly voice. It came to Isobel through a heavy cloud of cloying, sweet smoke. “However, the people will take their vengeance upon every member of your bloodline,” the oracle continued. “Their screams will echo into the heavens and their tortured deaths will be a blight upon your soul.”

Tilting her chin down, and holding mask away from her face the oracle spat into a bowl of liquid that contained several strands of Isobel’s hair. She tossed it into the fire pit between them. Another cloud of scented smoke stung Isobel’s eyes. She coughed and gagged while crawling out of the sacred, dark, womb-like space.

Isobel hurried back to her modest dwelling without uttering a single word.

Inside the smoky hut, Agatha removed her mask. It was forbidden to make personal statements when seekers came for visions and soothsaying. In this instance, she had broken her oath.

The heavy thrum of drum beats filled the air as Isobel and her family, dressed and decorated in their finest, walked the path that led to the steps of the altar. They stood together as the priest addressed the gathering. Agatha slipped a trembling hand into her mother’s as they stood, proud, shoulder to shoulder.

Shouts from the far end of the village reached the assemblage. For a moment all fell into a confused silence. As panic began to clutch the crowd, Isobel’s hand tightened on Agatha’s. Their eyes met and held. “Run!” yelled the mother to her daughter.

——
Story Prompt – WriteOn weekend challenge – in 500 words or less write a story about a messenger.

All Done Key Key

He followed, ’Key Key’ up the little dirt hill. Key Key was what he called the family pet whose real name the toddler would not be able to pronounce for years.

Jordy Meow
Jordy Meow

Wearing nothing but the wide, padded diaper that securely fastened around his hips—a diaper that sagged heavily at its lowest point—and a pair of shoes, Noah scrambled through the loose soil. It quickly filled every available space inside his sneakers.

Key Key, much quicker and more nimble than the boy on short, pudgy legs, daintily waited near the top for Noah to catch up. Once she was sure that he was paying attention, she began to deepen the hole that she’d started that morning. Bracing herself on her hind legs she leaned her upper body on her forepaws and made a scrambling motion that sent rooster tails of dirt shooting up in the air behind her.

Reaching the same vantage point as the cat, Noah got down on all fours to peer down into the hole. “What doin’ Key Key?”

Pausing, Key Key purred loudly and wove herself in and out of Noah’s arms and legs.

“What in Key Key?” he asked as he plopped down on his bottom and inched his feet down into the open space. Making his way to the bottom, some of the dirt around the edges fell back in. Once there, Noah mimicked Key Key, scooping out more earth. Something felt funny in there, something hard and cold. Noah stopped as he noticed a new smell. Not the rich, loamy dirt smell he loved…but something else.

Carefully, and slowly, Noah excavated more earth. He could see a little bit more of the thing they’d uncovered. He stopped and then he looked up at Key Key.

She sat there at the edge purring and whipping her tail from side to side.

Noah extended a finger and poked it. Then he frowned and looked back up at Key Key. Shaking his head from side to side, “No, no, Key Key!”

Noah climbed out of the hole and turned around to push the loose soil back into the hole.

It was unusual that a boy so young could stay focused on a task like this, but Noah stuck with it until all the dirt was back in place. He stood up on his little legs and stamped his feet on the spot. “Fixed. All done!” he said as he smacked his hands together to knock off the dirt that still clung to them.

He trundled back to his house with Key Key trotting along beside him.

As he walked in the door, his mother said, “Hey, No, what’cha been doing?”

“Dirt. Key Key.”

“I see that,” she said, “let’s go get  you cleaned up and change that dirty diaper shall we?”

———————————————————

Story Prompt: WriteOn writing challenge – 500 words or less – repair a hole.

Inspiration: A rediscovery of some old family videos. My son was two. It was a hot summer day. He was exploring the yard wearing only his sandals and a diaper.

Still Water Muse

still water muse**Classic hits filmmaking competition information (2017) is at the end.

“Tell me what you think about before you write a Grammy Award winning song.”

Bernie looked out the window. “I’ll have to tell a story first.”

Maxine pressed the red button on her voice recorder.

Bernie’s eyes moved back to rest on Maxine. “My adoptive parents got me when I was fourteen. I was a dark haired Crow boy suddenly mixed in with a bunch of white, blue-eyed farmers.”

“My mother knew that I was lonely and floundering. She bought me my first guitar and sent me to music lessons. The teacher wasn’t much help. But I’d take that old guitar out in back of our place through the corn fields to a big  oak tree where I’d sit and practice.”

“One day there was a woman there. She was beautiful; blonde, full-figured with long legs and huge….” Bernie grinned sheepishly.

“She was sexy but I still didn’t want her there. She stood, at least, a head and shoulders taller than me.”

“’What’s your name kid?” Her voice sounded like a frog with sandpaper caught in its throat. “Bernie doesn’t sound like a Cherokee name,” she commented after I’d told her.'”

“I shrugged my shoulders flippantly. ‘You don’t know squat about Cherokee…or C-R-O-W.'”

“She kicked at the dirt. She said that her nickname was Tiny and that it was a bad family joke. She also said that she’d heard me mutilating my guitar. She’d come to help… and to wait for the words. She looked at the tree strangely while patting its trunk.”

“We met every day for the rest of summer. She showed me things that my guitar teacher never did. I learned that she’d been a music teacher and that she came back to the tree because ‘she got lost sometimes.’”

“When I asked if my parents could hire her to teach me, her eyes blazed and she spoke harshly, ‘If you say anything about me, they’ll never let you out of the house.’”

“As the weeks passed, Tiny taught me to say what I was feeling with music. Then I reached a block. By this time, I was in full-blown lust  – or in love with her. One afternoon when we were getting nowhere she yelled, ‘What do you want?’”

“When I didn’t answer, she stepped closer and asked the same thing again, quieter this time.”

“Before I realized what I was doing, I blurted, ’I want to hold you.’”

“I would have curled up and died on the spot if she hadn’t been smiling. She told me to close my eyes and follow her directions. So I did.”

“She told me to imagine that the guitar was her –  to run my hands over its surface, to feel its curves and to let my fingers stoke the strings. ‘Hold me closer,’ she’d say, ‘Then let the music sing softly and slowly.’”

“She broke through my wall. After that, she’d bring her guitar and we’d make music together  – until fall came.”

“I remember the last time I saw Tiny. A cold breeze was blowing at sunset. I heard melody she played through my open window. It sounded crazed. When it stopped suddenly, I knew that I had to go find her. As I ran through the dry stalks of corn. I saw her guitar lying on the ground. I jumped over it, running faster. When I found her, she was barefoot, shivering and unresponsive.  I was terrified. Eventually, I screamed, ‘Tiny! What do you want?’”

“At this, she paused, turning toward me. ‘I just want to go home.’”

“Suddenly, we were both crying.  I said, ‘Me too!’”

“She reached out a hand to cover my heart. ‘The difference between us, Bernie, is that I am yearning for home, but you are already there.’ Then she kissed me.”

Bernie reached up to trace a finger where Tiny’s lips had left an invisible mark.

A sad expression settled on his face. “A full moon rose up behind the bare branches of the oak tree. I didn’t realize, until later, that all its leaves had been there the day before. When she reached it, Tiny started running her hands all over around the trunk.”

“’What are you doing?’”

“’I’m looking for the words. They have to be here!’”

“’Tiny, stop!’ I cried. She didn’t answer but kept frantically searching. ’There it is!’ she sighed, ‘I knew you’d show me the doorway sooner or later.’ She leaned into the tree hugging it like a lover.”

“‘You won’t be seeing me again,” she said over her shoulder.”But I’ll always hear you….” she paused, waiting for me to fill in the space.

“I couldn’t get anything out around the lump in my throat. I knew that she was waiting for me to tell her my Indian name.”

The unexpected silence that followed Bernie’s last statement was stifling.

Maxine blinked. “That’s it!  What happened to her?”

Bernie shook his head while reaching for his guitar, “That wasn’t part of the question.”

Maxine watched as he traced the contours of the tool that had millions of fans singing and humming his haunting tunes.

With eyes closed, he began to play and speak, “My Crow name is, Still Water Dancer.”

A soft, lilting melody filled the room. “My guitar is named after my muse, Tiny.”

Maxine leaned toward him, waiting for THE scoop of her career.

“Before I write one word or play one note, I say to myself, ‘Hold me closer Tiny Dancer.’

Bernie winked playfully.
__________________________________________

This short story was written for a 24 hour Writer’s Weekly writing contest. All or part of the prompt (listed below) could be used. The background and history of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer classic was woven into the story theme.

Story Prompt: The barren, tan corn stalks behind her snapped in the cold evening breeze, the only sound louder than the dry, fiery red leaves swirling around her tiny, shivering bare feet. She’d lost her bearings again and she hoped the dinner bell would ring soon. A gray tree with endless arms and fingers, devoid of any remaining foliage, loomed before her. She gazed at the odd markings on the trunk, which appeared to outline a hand-cut door of sorts. And, as she stared, it opened…

2017 – 50th Anniversary  Celebration of Elton John & Bernie Taupin partnership – Directors & filmmakers – compete to win a chance to make the official music video for Tiny Dancer, Bennie and the Jets, or Rocket Man. Learn more here: https://thecut.eltonjohn.com/

 

Elton John | Tiny Dancer music and karaoke tunes on Amazon

The Thing on my Head

It was the doctor who pulled creature out of the 150-gallon aquarium in his office. He was wearing thick gloves that went all the way up to his elbows. His clothing did not look like a doctor—jeans and a t-shirt. He reminded me of Mike Rowe in many ways, especially when he laughed. With a quick movement and a flourish of water drops, he settled the heavy thing onto the bike helmet that was strapped securely on top of my head. It made clackety noises as it settled into place; tightening down with a fearsome grip.

Extremely nervous, I tried not to think about the water that dripped  and soaked into the material along my shoulders. I was scared, but as long as it didn’t touch me, I’d be alright.

As it clung there, my task was to transport it from cubicle to cubicle so everyone had a chance to see what was hidden deep in its pulsing recesses. I watched the looks of repulsion on the faces as I came near.

Lowering myself into a squat or kneeling down, the only thing I could see was the lower half of their body as they moved this way and that to get a better look.  Expressions of, “Oh! That’s cool!” or something similar came from everyone. They thanked me when I moved on.

Not quite half way through the office tour, it started to move. I could feel it shifting its weight — stretching out one boney arm and then another. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see it beginning to explore.

A shiver traveled through me. Cold fear instantly replaced the blood in my veins. I moved faster, barely slowing down to let people look.  My breath caught in my throat as I felt more movements.

A squishy part of the creature that was right over my forehead began to ooze through the holes in the helmet. Its warm softness expanded and probed as it made contact with my scalp. Panicked, I screamed, “Get it off! I can’t stand it anymore! I don’t want it touching me!”drs office cover

The doctor hurried over, making assurances that everything was perfectly fine. But I saw the worried look he tried to hide as he rushed us back toward the tank.  I was hyperventilating by the time he got the long gloves back on and began reaching for it.

With a hasty scoop, the weight was lifted from my head. I tried to push from my mind the sounds it made as its many arms scrabbled against the hard plastic. With a splash, it was back in its tank where it scuttled, spider-like into a dark corner—disappearing from sight.

I never knew what it was that the office workers had seen.

_________

Story Inspiration: a colorful, graphic and stress-inducing dream..Something ‘crabby’ on my mind?

 

crab-298346_640

snow-crab-968565_640