Introspection (December 2016)

This is based in the world of a larger work that I’ve been writing, focusing on one of its side characters. 

_ _ _ _ _

            Servants had rushed to tell him Frank had run away.

Had it not been for the lion-shaped hole in the wall, on top of the glaring absence of a giant star-speckled cat in his palace, Damien would’ve refused to believe it. Not after Frank’s several decades of nosing into Damien’s side for scratches under his chin or clambering heavily into his lap to sleep.

Betrayal pricked at Damien’s gut as his emerald gaze moved to the trail of stardust his pet had left behind as it streaked out across the grounds, blurred and urgent. He traced a finger over the jagged edges Frank had made in the marble, the claw marks that dragged through the floor. Without an explanation for why Frank had left, Damien grew lost in the emotions that lingered in the room. The adrenaline that thrummed through the lion’s undead veins crackled in the air. Frank’s fear seeped into Damien’s stomach like a slowly melting ice cube. Need to leave. Don’t leave. Can’t stay. Go. Trapped-

Twin whines at his side brought Damien back to attention, realizing only after he stared down at his dogs that his eyes had been scrunched closed. The pair rose to attention as he stood; the shadows making up their physical forms rippled with tension. They saw through him as easily as a reflection – one he hardly wanted to confront. He huffed and turned away from them, though his voice was gentle when he commanded them to stay in the palace.

Determined to catch up to Frank, Damien ducked through the lion hole. The stardust that had flaked off of Frank’s fur stuck to Damien’s feet, glowing bright in the darkness of his world. He wove through the grounds, kicking up ashen dirt as he ran faster in the direction Frank had bounded through. There was not much space left for the lion to flee before he would reach the edge of the crater, where rocky walls surrounded the palace and the most populated cities of Ceness. Its smooth, vertical face rose so far into the black sky that Damien could not see where it sloped off at its peak.

Frank had stopped before reaching the end. The lion lay in one of the palace gardens, on a bed of bioluminescent flowers with jewels inset in their centers. Their bluish glow reflected off of his constellation-marked fur. His head rested between his paws as he chewed at a nearby petal. Damien allowed his approaching steps to be heard as he coaxed his pet closer with a whistle. Frank’s claws made long, nervous slashes through the ground. Damien held the small distance between them, noticing his lion’s tensed jaw. Glowing silver eyes refused to meet his.

Damien sighed. “What’s gotten into you, huh?”

The whimper he received as an answer was untranslatable. Damien moved closer, pressing past a wary growl to reach his fingers around and scratch behind his ears. Frank held still as Damien tried to calm him and sorted through disjointed and abstract animal thoughts. Fear. Longing. Disobeyed, in trouble. Miss home. Miss home.

“We can go back-” Damien cut himself off, jerking away when a familiar face appeared in Frank’s mind’s eye. Golden hair and golden eyes, a delicate circlet banded around his brown forehead. Aiden.

“I thought you liked it here – w-with me.” Damien’s fingers curled into Frank’s fur. Aiden had given Frank to him. Frank was his. “You love him more, don’t you?” His voice sharpened for a split second, and he regretted it instantly, his arm dropping to his side. “Just like everyone else. And I’ve kept you away.”

A familiar shiver raked down his spine. The reminder that he would never step out of his Divine brother’s shadow left him raw. Fate had written Aiden to be superior to him – to be God, where Damien was just a god. To be perfect. Adored. Missed.

He caught the nervous flicks of Frank’s tail as his nails dug into his palms.

“Name him whatever you’d like. He’s yours,” his Brother had insisted, even if it’d been He who had created Frank with his energy and fallen stars. Aiden’s smile had glinted along with the light that specked his skin like cosmic freckles as He led Frank to him. Frank had moved with Aiden as if they were one. Aiden’s voice did not rise above a murmur, a lullaby that drifted and wrapped around Damien. “He’s a piece of me that can always be with you.”

Though the memory faded, Damien’s heart pounded out a breakneck rhythm. Was Aiden really somewhere inside his lion? Was he watching him through those silver eyes? A bitter taste settled on the edge of his tongue when he realized how much he wanted that to be true. How could he fault everyone else for loving Aiden more? He loved Aiden more than anyone else.

Damien jumped when Frank nosed against his side, his rough tongue pressing to his skin. Frank’s thoughts flurried back to him. Home. Home. It split in two. Aiden’s side remained but then shifted to Damien’s – moments where Damien had stroked through his fur and hummed to him as he rested. Moments where he had prowled through the palace in search of Damien and bounded to him the moment he was in sight. Both he and his Brother cycled through an endless loop in the lion’s mind.

Damien’s mouth opened and closed. A pause before he found words. “You just trying to cheer me up? I know you want to go back.”

Frank pawed at him before circling around and lying at his feet. Aiden. Damien. Aiden. Damien. The God who’d given him an existence, whose love was as implicit as the passing of time. The god who’d given him everything else, who would go to any length for him. He wanted both. Damien wondered if that was even possible – for a lion.

He watched the smoky tendrils of Frank’s mane billow idly. “I could… take you to Him.” Damien knelt beside Frank, reaching his hand to run over a stream of stars down the bridge of his pet’s nose. “I’m sure He misses you too.”

Damien bit his lip. How long had it been since he had been at Aiden’s side? When he had blinked into existence and Aiden was the first thing his eyes ever saw. When Aiden had taken his hands and sang and danced with him around a blank universe. When Aiden had made the perfect world for just the two of them before anyone else had even been a thought. When he had left to be something more than Aiden’s little brother.

Was he?

Damien touched his forehead to Frank’s, breathing in tune with him. “I need him too.”

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Distraction (October 2016)

Lena crouches down and brushes back spiraling leaves to uncover a tiny pumpkin sitting in the dirt. She cups it in just one hand, dusting off flecks of dirt with the other. There are so many pumpkins that surround it that are fuller, more evenly shaped and vibrantly colored. She stares at the one cradled in Joanne’s arms, with its perfect curved stem and skin so orange that it pops against the dim, overcast sky. But there’s something that draws her back to the one she’s holding – she can feel a strand of life humming inside it. It hadn’t been given much chance to become something, but it held on.

“I don’t think you’ll be able to carve much onto that one,” Joanne points out as Lena rises to her feet, and she shrugs. It seems better to leave it unscathed and whole.

When it begins to rain, Joanne steps in closer to her and warms her. Lena tucks her pumpkin into the folds of her jacket, sheltering it away from raindrops and the mud that splatters up her shins as they cross the length of the pumpkin patch. Joanne pays for their pumpkins – Lena’s is worth only a handful of change. They head home and Lena watches the pumpkin rattle in her lap as the car coasts along the road.

She goes to place it on the coffee table as soon as they get inside and keeps it steady by balancing it against an almost empty glass of water. She hears the squeaking of their shower handles as Joanne turns them, and remembers that her clothes are heavy and soaked against her skin. She washes the cold away, embraced by steam and kisses.

When they return to the living room, Lena has a blanket draped around her shoulders that her fingers stroke and clench around. She goes to rest on the couch by the fireplace as Joanne sets up her pumpkin to carve on the table and begins to dot around it with puncture holes. She listens to the thuds on the table as pieces of the pumpkin give way under Joanne’s tools, and the crackling of the fire. She wiggles her toes as they’re enveloped with comforting heat and starts to trace around the bumps and ridges on her tiny pumpkin.

“You look comfy.” Joanne startles her out of her patterned movements as she comes to join her on the couch, her large, full pumpkin now inset with two curved eyes and an arc for a mouth. It glows with the small candle tucked inside, and she watches the light waver as the flame flickers. Lena hums in affirmation, bouncing a little when Joanne plunks down next to her.

Her gaze drifts back to the pumpkin in her lap. It’ll last a while longer. It’ll hold up through the nights to come, kept safe from trick-or-treaters stomping around the porch, and the cold loneliness that will sweep through the ending of fall.

It should have a face too.

Lena disturbs their position on the couch as she moves to the kitchen to grab a sharpie out of one of the drawers. She uncaps it and holds the pumpkin steady as she draws a smiley face on it. It deserves to be happy for making it this far.

She returns to her spot. Joanne yawns beside her and Lena is pulled into her drowsiness. Her eyes lower into slivers, her tiny pumpkin growing blurry. Its black smile remains in her mind.

 

Amaryllis Picotee (December 2012)

This was originally published in the Wolfpack Press (Woodcreek High School) newspaper.

_ _ _ _ _ _

In the days leading up to winter, frigidness had settled over the park. Strollers would clutch their coats tighter around them or sip hot chocolate out of small, paper cups. Their breath was visible in the air as the temperatures dropped lower and lower. Children anticipated the upcoming snowfall. They gravitated towards the windows of their heated and cozy homes and peered out of them, waiting for what would truly signify the arrival of winter and the holidays that lay ahead of them. The park itself was ready for the change, as the leaves of the trees were absent. The grass lay still, stiff under the feet of the children that ran across it with merriment while their mothers chided them whenever they dropped a mitten or their hat in the hype of their games.

As the first snowflake drifted down, it happened to land on the elongated petal of a single white flower with delicate crimson tips. Only one person stood on the pathway that would be blanketed with snow in a mere hour or so. The man was tall, with a wool scarf wrapped around his neck and covering most of his face. His hair was ruffled and his shoes were only partially tied. As snow continued to drift onto the flower, the individual flakes began to swirl around almost like a twister. As the snow amassed, the swirling only intensified. While any other bystander may have gawked at the sight, the man kept his hands stuffed into his pockets casually. Memories of standing in almost the exact same spot and watching the same mystical occurrence came to the surface, and the nostalgia caused a smile to spread across his thin lips. As a small child, he had tried to explaining the happening to only get strange looks and odd whispers. As the years passed, he realized to keep the experience his own, special secret.

Shaken out of his reverie, a girl appeared as the twister settled and the snow fell to the floor gingerly. She was frail and her pallor was a very pale white. With flowing hair the color of wine and a thin, white dress, the girl’s eyes lit up upon seeing the man standing only a feet away. What was surely the happiest moment of his year to that point, the male’s arms outstretched welcomingly and the girl ran into them. She nuzzled into his familiar warmth and cooed, expressing how much she had missed him over the many, many months.

 

The Trail (February 2015)

The moon is impossible to see above me. Trees barricade nearly every move I make, and I grow disoriented each time I weave through their towering trunks. Somehow I’m even more lost than before. I’m scared to death.

Everything had started off so well; once the tents were pitched, we had all gathered around the warmth of the fire some of the others built. While they launched into rapid conversation, I just watched the flames dance about the logs, and let the crackling noises they made fill my ears. The only thing that stole my attention away was a hot dog, freshly toasted, tossed my way by Elijah.

Not too long after the sky was filled with hundreds of twinkling stars, the chatter cut to near silence as everyone scampered off to bed. I joined Elijah’s tent, and he left plenty of room for me beside him. Practically the moment he slipped into his sleeping bag, he conked out like a light. I was prepared to do the same.

I heard a noise coming from outside the tent. Leaning ever-so-carefully closer to the opening flap, I listened for whatever had alerted me to start up again. The heavy, dull thuds that shook the ground paralyzed me in my spot. Whatever was outside had to be big – much bigger than Uncle Ted, and he was the largest thing I could think of.

As fear skittered up and down my back, I looked over to Elijah sleeping peacefully and I shook my terror off. My jaw set. No intruder was going to harm my family.

My bravado didn’t last long.

I bounded out of the tent, ready to take on whatever threat loomed in the darkness. My head whipped from one direction to the next in search of my foe and … he wasn’t too hard to spot. The bear scratching up the bark of a tree in a desperate attempt to reach the food stored in its higher branches was nearly enough to make me wet myself. Had he turned around and seen me, I’m certain I would’ve.

Without thinking, I bolted off at the sight of him, my legs carrying me into the woods while my brain panicked.

       A bear!?

I had only ever seen one of the stuffed variety, but the living and breathing ones were not cuddly or harmless. As much as I wanted to protect my family, if I stuck around and the bear was that determined for a snack, I would’ve easily been his next meal.

That brings us back around to right now. Me wandering through the woods aimlessly. Following the trail back to camp doesn’t sound too hard, but the possibility that the bear may still be there is all too real. I want to stop and rest – it would probably be much easier to wait for the sun to return – but everywhere I go I know that I’m not alone. The moment I try to lie down, I hear the crunching of leaves and pine needles, and the mustiness of the forest is so foreign and unnerving to me that I can’t close my eyes.

I pant as I continue along the path that I found traced in the dirt. It’s faint in the darkness but I hope that it will lead me to somewhere with people. A few birds take off from their perches, the sudden flapping of their wings startling me as I cry out. I yell at them a few times for good measure.

Calming from my sudden outburst, I whimper and think back to Elijah. He had left the flap open for me if I had to relieve myself out in the woods – I could never zip up the thing even if I tried – so could the bear have reached in and grabbed him? The image unsettles me enough to where I feel sick enough to vomit.

Just when all hope is lost, several people carrying flashlights rush in my direction, but then pass me. I follow after them, hoping that maybe they knew that a bear had crossed into our campsite.

As luck would have it, that is exactly what happens. I return to the campsite to find the shredded remains of our food supply, scattered all over the ground. The bear must have gotten too it after all, but when I search for him this time, I come up with nothing.

Distracted as I wonder where the bear may have vanished to, the strangers I chased after approach my family for a word with them. Everyone is outside of their tents in their pajamas, holding their arms over their chests. It must be cold for them out here.

Elijah finds me hovering at my place and runs over to me in an instant. Before I could get a good look at the tears in his eyes, he scoops me off the ground and squeezes me close to him. I’m sure he is wondering where I’ve been – I must have worried him. No words need to tell me that, nor are any needed for him to know how relieved I am to have made it back. I merely follow after him as we head off back to sleep.

 

Break Away (December 2015)

The plot of Break Away centers around Stephanie and Layla, two young women that become each other’s support as they enter into new stages of their lives. Stephanie is forced to come to grips with her sexuality when she and Layla begin dating and finds both the pressures and gifts that come with accepting her identity. Layla, meanwhile, has recently graduated college and is now finally breaking into her career. The responsibilities that comes with independence and being out in the “real world” weigh on her shoulders as she tries to adapt. 

Break Away, Act I

 

Spirited Away (October 2o16)

A bird’s song echoes from tree to tree, its notes catching the attention of a little girl wandering along the forest’s path. She whistles with it; the tune drifts through her thoughts as she meanders along.

Moonlight slips through the cracks of heavy tree branches just enough for her to step over the gnarled roots that spill around the forest floor in a pattern she has nearly memorized. Her sister had always liked to sneak out to the pond curtained by wisteria vines and wade into the water. It’s her magical spot. Alice would find her floating on its surface, one hand brushing through the lavender flowers that hung down and tickled her forehead. Alice would join her and listen to the beating of dragonfly wings and think about how she never saw Dalia look so peaceful anywhere else. Alice is sure that is where she would find Dalia – she had been missing from her bed.

Twigs snap beneath Alice’s toes, damp and sticky and scratchy. She could faintly smell the thousands of wisteria flowers further ahead and runs faster. Even as her footsteps kick up fragments of leaves and dirt and ash, the forest around her seems to be asleep. The trees and the bushes are still, not even rustled by a breeze let alone an animal. The only sign of life is the bird singing its longing melody.

Alice draws nearer to the wisteria flower smell, anticipating the pond’s edge to come into focus, to see the silver shadow of the moon reflecting in its clear depths, but comes up short. It is almost as if Alice is standing in a wisteria graveyard, their scent becoming overpowering, even as there is not a trace of them, or the pond, or Dalia.

All that Alice finds instead is a bird with inky black feathers and blue, marble eyes. Its song begins again, and Alice joins in, stepping closer. She screams when she suddenly drops down, a splash accompanying the rush of water around her. She thrashes as she begins to sink, but all she sees is the bird as it ruffles its wings and stares back at her. She has no idea where the pond begins or where it will end, but she knows it’s there. The taste that rushes into her mouth as she splutters and tries to breathe is distinct.

In its invisible depths, Alice feels something float past her. Wisps of what feels like hair brush by her, and when she reaches out for anything to hold onto, she wraps around what feels like a wrist.

She wonders if Dalia looks as peaceful in their magical spot as she always did.

 

Meta (October 2016)

You stare at a blinking line on your computer – into the face of writing constipation. The words don’t want to come out of you – at least, not the good ones. Ideas flee from you as if your page is on fire. If anything, your paper would be more useful as kindling than a story. It’s riddled with green, grammatical error squiggles under all of the sentences you started, but never got around to finishing. You want to drag it to the trashcan on your screen and never look at it again. Right with the piece that you started writing for this, but ended up having to run away from when it got too tear-stained and turned into the equivalent of serving up your twisted psyche to a group of people you want to impress – not discomfort.

You crank up the white noise in your ear buds in an effort to concentrate.

That’s better. I could almost start to see a story coming together – a disgruntled artist struggling with her medium. No, too pretentious. Just a writer trying to riddle out a difficult prompt. How is this fiction again? Right. Because we’re going to name this character Alyssa instead of Carissa. It changes everything, I promise.

Alyssa slumps over her laptop, taking a frustrated sip of coffee (note that Carissa would never drink coffee, so this really is a definitively different person). She types out a sentence only to huff and jam on the backspace key.

You know you shouldn’t be here,” she writes and likes its ambiguity enough to continue.

You know you shouldn’t be here.

Thomas’s survival instincts flare to life with every creak in the old, wooden floorboards, but he ignores them. There’s something that called him back to his childhood house, standing abandoned for years. It’s now covered with graffiti tags and wreckage. He wonders why no one ever moved into it after they left.

He walks past the staircase, now punctured with holes and missing its banister. He can see himself bounding down the stairs with Anne close behind, jumping when they reached the third to last step to the ground. He can hear their giggling still echo off the walls and it teases up the hairs along his arms.

You shouldn’t have come. But you don’t want to leave.

The more he explores, the more he is pulled back to his sister. She lingers in the glass of an empty, chipped fish bowl, pushing her finger gently against the glass as Goldie wades closer to her. He knows she’s there when he goes past the piano and hears out of tune piano keys tinkling like raindrops.

She’s gone. I know she’s gone –

Alyssa pauses at that line and shifts uncomfortably. She can’t seem to strike the right pitch to get Thomas to an “I.” Perhaps it’s because she suffers with first person pieces. She prefers a level of distance; giving words to your own emotions could be so hard. Sometimes you need a narrator to describe what you’re feeling for you. Sometimes you need a narrator to give you the right words.

She highlights her last sentence and replaces it with a new one.

Something cold lances through Thomas’s stomach and makes him nauseous. Coming back was supposed to bring him closure. But I don’t (he didn’t) feel any at all.

Distress Signal (October 2016)

The phone in his hand is like an anchor – something to hold onto to keep from being thrashed by the crowd pushing against him. His stomach twists with every stranger that grazes him, claustrophobic in the open air. His gaze doesn’t leave his screen if it doesn’t have to. He knows anyone can see him fidgeting and he has to stop, but he can’t. He needs every distraction he can take to pull him out of his surroundings as his nerves fray and spark like live wires.

He taps the phone, checking for a message before the screen goes dark and repeats the process until he gets what he’s waiting for. He hasn’t gotten it yet. As he stands at the curb and prays for a certain car to pull into view, he watches each that pulls forward. He takes a few steps back to count each car in line, reading license plates, taking note of the different paint jobs. None are the right one, but he keeps waiting.

He plays out the conservation he’ll have when he ducks through the passenger side door, his attention still on the shifting cars as he rattles on about how scattered he’s been today, how one comment was enough to splinter through his entire nervous system and left him feeling like an idiot whose mistakes compounded and compounded with every breath he took. “I’m not like this all the time,” he’d defend himself, because he doesn’t want to be a nuisance. If he were in any better mood, he wouldn’t be huddled into himself, wishing he could jump out of his own skin and run away from everyone else.

But when he gets the text he was waiting for and the car rolls up, he gets in and is not able to say anything at all. All his explanations die out on his tongue and he’s left completely helpless. That is, until his brother squeezes his hand and turns on the radio, music pouring out in a calming hum. He relaxes. With his brother, no words or over-calculating is needed.

Call of the Sea (September 2016)

Laurel’s feet inched closer to the edge of the dock, bare skin scraping against rough wooden planks. She was pulled in by the rhythm of the tide brushing the shore, the night’s breeze ruffling her hair and long skirt, but most of all, the woman in the midst of dark blue waves. The stranger’s hand rose out from the surface, reaching for her, fingers curling to say, Join me. Laurel quickened with each step as her gaze grew lost in the way the moon reflected off of the swimmer’s wet skin – it begged her, Touch me, kiss me…

When she reached the end, Laurel did not hesitate to fling herself out toward the waves. Her clothes rippled around her as she dropped down. She anticipated a cold slap when she hit the water, but was caught and wrapped up in steady arms. Laurel wrapped her legs around the other woman’s torso, lightheaded as bubbles swirled around them, breathless as the beauty’s mouth pressed to her collarbone. Her heart thudded against her ears, drowned out only by the melody that hummed against her skin. Laurel stilled, aware only of the hands and lips that roamed her body as she drifted, carried away by a song.