Category Archives: Writing

The street

Inspired by a strange road near my house. Content warning: suicidal actions.

The man waited, fidgeting with the frayed edge of his Northface jacket. Whenever a car hissed wetly by, he looked up, gauging its speed and trajectory. None of them had satisfied his sense of perfection. He had waited too long to do this wrong.

Then he saw it: a Lincoln, one of the big ones, with grill enough to do the job. The man huffed out the breath he’d been holding towards the lone streetlight, so he could see it – a great cloud of the moisture of his life.

He jumped.

The driver of the Lincoln tried to swerve, but the man had calculated his leap well, and the vehicle hit him with a sickening series of wet crunches. Someone screamed, maybe on the sidewalk or maybe from the apartments across the street, but the man couldn’t tell. He was dying. He was dying. He was dead.

He was alive. He was on the other side of the street.

There was someone at the bus stop, hunched against the schedule pole. They lifted their head when the man rolled over and touched the sidewalk with a wondering smile.

The person’s hood fell back, revealing an elderly woman with half a set of teeth and a shocked stare.

“You came in through the front door!” she cried. “We don’t let anyone through the front door.”

The man’s smile faded, and he pushed to his feet, brushing tiny rocks off his Northface.

“I earned it,” he snarled. “I made the sacrifice.”

“We don’t let anyone,” the old woman quavered, trailing off, then again: “We don’t.”

A throaty honk announced the arrival of the bus going west. Throwing the man a hateful look, the woman waddled to the vehicle’s door and said something inaudible to the driver. The bus groaned with great dignity and lowered itself like a trained horse so the woman could climb the stairs.

The man grunted, lingering on the sidewalk to catch one last glimpse of the woman’s dirty coat as she vanished into the bus. He had expected some sort of guardian to challenge his passage, but this old woman’s vague mutterings hardly qualified.

The bus groaned again and the man looked up, expecting to see the staircase rising and the vehicle lumbering away.

Instead, the bus’s body was elongating to three times its original size, its tires stretching to become rubber-tipped limbs. It opened a giant maw where the grill had been, revealing six rows of gear-like fangs.

There it is,” the man growled and ducked into a roll as the bus-beast took a swipe at him.

The twin moons

I flicker the weak beam against the corn
to find the moons, floating together.
I call, and the twin moons come.

The moons sail in to the ring of light
from the porch, a dock on a rustling sea.
When I see rolling tongue and happy smile
I call, “Good boy.”

Sprout

Gary wasn’t forthcoming with an explanation. I could hear him shrugging over the phone. “I mean…I guess we just wore out our welcome with each other. Y’know?”

I didn’t know. But I said I did. Gary waited a few seconds, said he hoped I got some sun this summer, and hung up.

I went outside and laid in the pile of potting soil on the front lawn, a seed waiting to sprout into something beautiful. I stared at the sky and I wished I was colorblind or that I heard flavors or anything more interesting than the boring, predictable human bean I was.

Caged tigers had more diverting routines than I did. I knew why Gary had called me instead of breaking up with me in person. He was sick of Rhodes’ Café, tired of the orange chicken at Egg Foo Yum, and probably never wanted to see a Saturn Coffee Company cup ever again.

I turned my head each way to look at my hands. I wasn’t sprouting yet.

Sighing, I rolled my head just in time to see Rufus and Yanna saunter up. As usual, a perfect leash-length separated them. Yanna yipped and scurried over to sniff the bottom of my shoes.

“Hi,” I said, barely raising my head.

Rufus stayed on the sidewalk. “What’s the matter? Your mom die or something?”

“Two years ago. And no. My boyfriend just broke up with me.”

I snuck a peek at Rufus’s long face. It actually fell a little. “Aww. Sorry to hear that. Yanna, get away from there.” Yanna’s snuffly pug nose was coming dangerously close to my mouth.

“It’s OK,” I said. “Gary was only alright. Dating him was like…sucking on an ice popsicle.”

Rufus chuckled. “Kinda thrilling, kinda boring.”

“Exactly.” I sat up on my elbows. “See, you get it! He wouldn’t have laughed at that. He probably would have looked down his tiny nose at me and said something like, ‘Nice one, wise guy.’ ”

“He was the, ah, muscley one, yeah?” Rufus gestured towards the driveway and Gary’s imaginary Mustang.

“Muscley. Yes. Apt description, if generous. Gary was the Crossfit bro who occasionally showed up in my driveway in a bus-yellow metal turd. Let’s not talk about him anymore.”

“OK,” Rufus said. “What do you wanna talk about instead?”

I rolled onto my knees and rubbed Yanna between her stubby ears before getting to my feet and facing Rufus with my hands on my hips.

“Cannibals,” I said. “Specifically, the presence of cannibals in our neighborhood.”

When a Dog Howls

Amy and I flipped through Black Cats & Evil Eyes to find headers that inspired us, along with my Story Cubes. This came out of a 5-minute sprint that combined the prompt, “When a dog howls, death is near,” and the image I rolled, “speech.”

Teddy is the worst.

I actually have the statistics to prove it. In the last year, I’ve dog-sat every canine within four blocks of my parents’ house, and I’ve kept a detailed journal for every obsessive, control-freak owner. For my own part, I’ve gotten ten stitches, about $3,000 in mad money, and a lot of data on the neighborhood dogs.

And, as it turns out, Teddy is the worst.

Today I’m keeping an eye on him because his owner Sarge is out of town, seeing his sister. I check the tracking app I created for my dog-sitting business. So far, I’ve suffered through one sneezing fit, three attempts to charge me out the back door, and two howl-fests.

Sarge claims Teddy hates being bossed around by anyone other than Sarge; I’m sure that what Teddy really hates is me.

He starts howling again, which I take to mean he doesn’t like me sitting in Sarge’s armchair. “Shut up, Teddy,” I snap without taking my eyes off the Cardinals game.

“Sarge may not be here, but Death will not simply skip his house,” Teddy shrieks back.

My finger is frozen on the Volume Up button. The announcers start to roar.

I manage to push my jaw closed and wrestle the volume back down. I turn to stare at the Chow-huahua in disbelief.

“Did you just…speak?”

“Death is near,” he intones.

Oasis Orchards Pinot Gris

I challenged Amy to some really goofy writing prompts the other night, and this came out of the prompt, “Write a snooty, nonsensical wine description.”

Step into the tantalizing, arid desert with this titillating blend of tart chords and chevron harmonies. Catch a note of aged wild rebellion, twined perfectly with daring hints of mammoth proportions – all complimented by a variable symphony of brown.

Leisure of the miiquils

Today on Twitter, I posted this “Promptly”:

Promptly: Setting Saturday. In the world of your current work, describe leisure culture. Freewrite for 10 minutes, or 2 sprints of 5 minutes.

Since I’m trying to provide examples in the same breath, I wrote a brief response about my miiquil species (from the world of Portent)… and ended up thinking about it all day. (I blame one of my art & writing inspirations, whom I’ll call TVWT, for inspiring me to expand on this kind of public worldbuilding as a way of motivating myself to explore my world further!)

Leisure of the miiquils

Miiquils are very social creatures, and generally prefer to spend their leisure time with friends and family. Since leaving Miiqua, the colony has become even more close-knit and insular, making their culture’s emphasis on feasts, festivals, and group worship even more prominent.

Feasts

Food plays a major role in miiquil culture, due to their origins as a gatherer society, constantly on the move to escape the predatory species that chased them. When they have excess, they consume it quickly together, enjoying the time spent over a delicious meal. When times are leaner, or they’re on the move and can’t afford to carry much extra sustenance, they focus on flavor subtleties and the inherent enjoyment of the eating experience.

Families, extended families, neighbor groups, and even entire clans will eat together; any occasion is just an excuse to pull extra food and drink from storage and indulge in gluttony.

Some of their favorite foods include:

  • Daari-stuffed pastries
  • A hearty yet light bean soup called cardil, made with chickpeas and onions
  • Boppan (lentil “meatballs”)
  • Lightly-grilled fish and other sea life (though most miiqs are actually vegetarians for most of the year)

Their favorite spices include bay leaves, parsley, black pepper, cumin, and a variety of chili peppers, all of which they call by very different names.

Festivals

Miiquils are festival-happy: about half of their festivals are ritualistic preparations for the other half. Since the celebrations and traditions are all tied to the seasons and their planet’s rotation around its sun, they can be adapted to whatever world the miiquils are currently inhabiting. In the case of Kihata (their word for Earth), the years are shorter than on Miiqua, and so there is a festival nearly every other (human) week.

During any festival, miiqs will throw large parties, spend a lot of time eating and drinking, and pray en masse.

Rain-season festivals are about renewal, fresh starts, new love, and births. Feasts are modest, as there is less fresh food early in the year, before the heat has had time to coax new plants out of the earth. But those who survived hard winters are often feeling quite delighted about surviving — and are in the mood to perpetuate the species, right as the roughly year-long gestation period comes to an end for young-bearers and the new generation is born.

Heat-season festivals center around abundance, success, coming-of-age, and fertility. When miiqs can safely settle in one place for a while, the heat-season is a time of harvest and plenty, a time when bellies are full and heads are clear enough to give older adolescents their welcome to adulthood.

Cold-season festivals celebrate ancestors, survival, togetherness, and family. Even a humid rainforest-heavy planet like Miiqua saw its colder season, when food plants died off or stopped producing, and predators grew hungry and extra nasty. Cold-season is a time to be thankful for being alive and with loved ones, and is also the time when communities get together to create large communal art projects, which they trade for other community art at other seasonal festivals.

Temples and religion

The miiquils worship a quadrant of forces, the most powerful forces of the planet on which they reside. On Miiqua, these were Wind, Skyfire (lightning), Sea, and Moon (theirs was very large and had a significant pull on the tides). On Kihata, these are Wind, Sea, Stone, and Green (Miiqua’s plant life was rarely green). Collectively, the forces are referred to as “cherann,” or “life-givers and life-takers” (the literal English translation).

In miiquil tradition, cherann are not actual personified beings, but rather the underlying fabric of the worlds and therefore to be heeded, respected, and consulted. Followers of cherann are not generally superstitious, but rather practical and logic-driven, yet able to both see and sense how all things are connected and influenced by one another. This even allows some of them, through intense training begun early in a miiq’s life, to become “seercasters” — that is, combining knowledge of the laws of physics with the power of cherann to create such intense illusions that they may be acted upon as real by living beings who encounter them.

Most miiqs believe in cherann, or at least live their life by its natural rhythms. At the four corners of any miiquil settlement — including Naushena, the island on which the miiqs live in “Portent” — a temple is placed for each cherann. This is dictated by tradition.

Not dictated by tradition, however, is the placement of these temples; this is eclectic, left up to the individual city planners to decide. On Naushena, Sea is at the north, Wind is at the east, Green at the south, and Stone at the west. (There are probably reasons for this, but nobody is sure of them.)

Miiqs often go right after their labors are over to pray and meditate at one of the four temples. Though all miiqs can and do worship at any temple, most gravitate towards a particular one, often (but not always) associated with where Kihata was in its revolution around the sun when they were born.

Micro-magic

The roots of his teeth were magic. He could feel the storms in them, knew the names of the winds before they blew through his woods.

Her fingernails were magic. They glimmered when a child lied in her presence.

Their loom was magic. They wove stories into the blankets they made, stories whispered nightly in a sleeper’s ear to soothe or disturb.

The tuft of hair that always fled her ponytail was magic. It pointed the way she ought to go when her cursed sense of direction led her astray.

His snores were magic, putting yappy dogs and fussy babies to sleep without objection.

The spiderwebs across their front door were magic. They kept Death from entering for nearly 70 years.

Her wedding ring was magic. She could find anything lost in the house, but only when she wore it.

Overwrite

Weird fiction fragments spilling out of my notebook tonight…

He’d given her the headset as a joke — well, at least she’d thought it was a joke when he’d done it. She’d laughed and agreed to maybe try it out, understand him a little better.

She tried it on the guest profile first, assuming she wouldn’t care to save her place. But when she put it over her eyes, and the lights went down and the music came up, she found herself cheering for the unlikely troop of hero-friends parading around in ways that accentuated their attributes and character traits.

When she realized they were waiting for her to clamber on the back of the fifth giant cat, she was hooked.

She played through the trial level in two hours, and with the headset still on the upsell animation on a gentle loop, she bit her lip and gave in. Two hundred dollars and a menu screen later, she tossed the set gently onto her throw pillows and flopped onto the couch with her ‘sonal.

Hai. OK. I apologize for all the times I called you a dork for liking this game

His response was almost instantaneous: That good, eh? 😜

I didn’t say you *weren’t* a dork. Just not because you like this game. This game is awesome!!!!!!!!!

She messaged him again, just a few seconds later: Can’t wait to play it for real. Can we co-op?

She could feel the loving pride oozing out of his message. I’ve been waiting for two years to hear those words, babe.

LOL. Yes well. You win 😍

The headset ran through the theme music again, starting with those spirit-stirring horns. They sounded tinny and funny coming out of the tiny in-ear speakers, like they were made by miniature instruments. She focused on that funny little idea for long enough to chase away the butterflies in her stomach, and gripped her ‘sonal.

Now for the real question.

Since there’s only room for two profiles on this thing, can I overwrite Carina?

His response wasn’t instant, like the last two had been. She found herself swallowing panic, trying to tamp it down with logical self-reassurances: He’s probably gaming this time of night, and going through an intense combat sequence. Or he’s cooking late, like he always does on Thursdays. Or —

Her ‘sonal buzzed. The cat raised his head from where he’d been sleeping soundlessly the entire evening and stared right at the device.

She turned herself and the unread message bodily from the cat’s judgmental gaze, and opened the note with trembling fingers.

Please don’t, was all the first message said.

The other arrived just then: Erase the other one instead.

She started to respond, But *your* profile… when she remembered him saying his character’s name sort of casually over dinner once, and when she’d pressed him for details, he’d asked her politely but firmly if they could talk about something else.

She’d remembered how odd it was at the time, because he never wanted to talk about something else.

He certainly never wanted to talk about Carina. In fact, she only knew the name because she’d spotted it on some of his housing documents, and he’d explained that she was his ex-wife of several years now. That was it. That was as much as she knew about Carina.

That, and he had a profile under her name on his headset.

The cat stood up, delicately flicking the sleep from his paws. He walked purposefully across the back of the couch and perched, staring at the ‘sonal right as it lit up.

Please. It’s all that’s left of her.

Bonneville

I saw a video of a doggo on the internet today. Since there’s never been a doggo video on the internet before, I’ll wait here while you watch it.

Anyway, I was struck by a very visceral memory of being exactly where those dogs are, on the Bonneville salt flats (where they test land speed records and film car commercials).

I remembered the washed-out, dried-up grey earth that crumbled into footprints and smeared into dust. A harsh sea tang to the dry desert air and salt-crusted tires to match. My father, taking Dutch angle photographs of the family’s hair whipped wild by the wind.

We camped there for one night, alone on the flats. I was probably 13. I woke up to relieve myself and slipped out under a clear sky blooming with stars. The half-moon made it feel like half-day, like God had left the light on in Heaven’s hallway.

As I walked as far from the tent as I dared, I could tell things were watching me, sand spirits and desert beings, beady-eyed lizards and bugs.

The silvery soil sported a jagged network of lines across the entire flat, like flattened lightning. The cracks were deep enough to slide my fingers in as I tried to anchor myself to the world, lest I float away with the ghosts.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

crows

crows
laughing
and bouncing
and sharpening their beaks

crows
rustling their feathers
lost in their own shadows

crows in a jagged line
on a telephone wire

crows
dipping in a rosy puddle

crows
gathered round the fallen

crows
streaming towards the sunset
weighing down the boughs
allopreening,
lost in a private moment

crows
swooping in front of cars
and stooping on the gas station roof
and rooting through the trash

crows foraging in trios, loosely bonded
or crows gliding in pairs, trading who leads

or crows alone, mourning.