Warped Pencil

Warped Pencil

“The Hail that Pounded like Chatting Frogs”

Zen couldn’t help but think of Gladriel Ferngully when he walked in this wood. Gladriel was a queen of fairies, a Mother Earth, an elvish woman, or what have you, it didn’t really matter.

Zen walked up the trail to a window pane hovering between trees and reflected on his backward surroundings. He always loved this trail if not for it’s mysteries even more so for it’s horrifying beauty. It was a place that encouraged imagination like nowhere else.

He saw something in the distance, or rather someone, walking toward him on the trail. She seemed to emerge out of the wood itself, her tall, slender limbs and long, flowing hair swaying in rhythm with the wind through the trees. Gladriel. It was too much. Sappy. But it approached all the same.

Zen gulped and glanced at his own reflection in the glass of the hovering window. He was a patient person, though he could be violent when he drank too much whiskey. His friends saw him as a skinny, squashed saint. Is that really how they saw him? What was up with these adjectives? Whatever. Let it pass for now as we see where this story leads. Once, Zen had even brought a husky baby bird back from the brink of death. But not even a patient person who had once brought a husky baby bird back from the brink of death was prepared for what Gladriel had in store today. WHAT?! LMAO! I’m so sorry. That cannot stay. It’s like a Mad Lib with random adjectives thrown in prepared spots. Who would ever call a baby bird “husky”? And the structure is so cliche! Nothing makes sense, but I cannot stop. Am I the one who’s mad to think that perhaps something worthwhile could come out of this nonsensical, dreamlike state?

The hail pounded like chatting frogs, calming Zen. He followed Gladriel up the trail where a piano stood in a ray of sun on the edge of the cliff. Dramatic. Cliche. She motioned to the piano and Zen massaged his fingers and began to play. As he played, Gladriel’s eyes gained an xanthocarpous glint. A what? “Xanthocarpous: the scientific name for what is commonly called a yellow berried nightshade. It is a prickly diffuse bright green perennial herb, woody at the base, found throughout India mostly in dry places as a weed on road sides and waste lands.” Well, that sounds most interesting. Maybe there’s something worth picking here, or maybe it’s just a weed.

Gladriel glared at Zen with the wrath of a thousand humming birds. She said in hushed tones, “I hate you…and I want a hug.” LMAO! What the heck is this?! But more importantly, how will Zen respond?

Zen looked back even more calm, his fingers still on the piano. “Gladriel, I admire your eyebrows,” he replied. Oh? Well, of course. How else would you respond to that?

They looked at each other with healthy feelings, like two bitter, bored bears sitting at a very intelligent wake, which had trance music playing in the background. Gladriel looked puzzled, her emotions blushing like a selfish, spitezabbling sandwich….

I can’t. I just can’t! They’re not even trying. They made up a pointless word! Can you even call this writing? Can you call this a story?

I should just go to sleep already. The muses obviously aren’t here, and I’m not getting anything out of this mess. Another wad of trash. Even if there’s a few gems in there, it’s not worth trying to pry them out and clean them off. I’ll wait for something better, something whole, something purely beautiful.

Inspired by Random Plot Generators

Photo by OC Gonzalez on Unsplash


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Shipwreck

Shipwreck

I’m not in the mood… I don’t care… Leave me alone…

I feel myself sinking, not drowning, I don’t fight it. The rational part of my mind is blubbering over every scenario of escaping this, but my body is heavy with chains. I refuse to move.

The water is freezing, bone-chilling, yet some part of it—a part well-past the pain of pneumonia and hypothermia—part of it is refreshing. Especially when compare to the blazing heat above the surface.

Let me stay submerged, unconscious, a little longer… hold my breath, a little longer.

Even though it hurts, it’s a numb pain. Surrounded by water, I don’t have to hold my head up. The chains pull me down, and I feel stretched as if I were as tall as a giraffe. The ocean seems endless, as if I could continue falling—no, sinking—forever. Then, I hit the bottom.

My body collapses on stale sand. The miles of water above press down on me.

People ask if I’ve hit a rut in the road. Does it feel like I’m stuck in the bottom of a pit? It’s so much worse. At least, in a pit you can still breathe, you can maybe see the sunlight. But here, there is no light except for the tantalizing dart of an angler fish or the electrical pulsing of jellies. Deadly beautiful creatures. Sirens of the dark sea.

At least, when you hit a rut, you can steer back onto the road. When you’re in a pit, sometimes all you need is the effort to reach up and grab the edge. Even if I swam back to the surface, what then? The ocean is as vast. By the time I swim to the surface, I won’t have the strength or energy to swim to shore. I’ll sink right back down. But honestly, part of me doesn’t want to return to the surface.

I know I shouldn’t be here, and it gives me a sense of superiority to be an alien in such an alien place. The floor is pale and pitted like the surface of the moon. It seems soft like cheese, yet it’s harder than any stone because there is no current, no motion. As I lay there unable to move, the pressure builds and the chains begin to snap apart into jagged edges that bite my flesh just to remind me that they’re there, that I’m still alive despite it all, just to be cruel. I don’t remember who put those chains on me, maybe it was myself. It doesn’t matter now. You can only breathe in water for so long.

Part of me feels a sense of peace in the dark, still, quiet. It’s an escape from the glaring, chaotic world of the surface. They say that freedom is making your own choices, moving how you wish, saying what you want. But here, there is a different freedom: here I am free from having to move or speak or think. Here I can lay and forget my worries, even as they snap my bones and push me further into the floor, because here, I have no control. I cannot do anything.

A muffled fog horn is just audible over the distant moaning of whales. It blares again and again as if searching for something that is lost, calling for it to return.

The blanket of the ocean is too heavy. I can’t move. Sleep fills my lungs. I can’t breathe. My body has no warmth left in it. I’m not returning to the surface. Let me just die, here on the ocean floor.

Photo by Shaun Low on Unsplash


Protesting Fireworks: A Violent Pride

Protesting Fireworks: A Violent Pride

Late June and early July is the peak of summer and American pride. The icons of fireworks, star-spangled flags, and burgers on the grill are everywhere. Even the flavors of your iced tea are red, white, and blue. What could be more American than consumerism?

But the Fourth of July still has an integral component of community which makes me proud. In regards to family and community participation, I’d say the Fourth of July is up there with Christmas and Thanksgiving. Even people who aren’t patriotic go to picnics with their family and friends. Hoards flood beaches, parks, and athletic fields where music blasts over the explosions of fireworks.

Laser light displays, musical light fountains, and other types of celebrations and shows are alternative to fireworks.

For me, the Fourth of July was always a day to celebrate fireworks. A day to sit in my grandpa’s backyard and “oooo” and “ahhh” at the bright colors painting the sky above cornfields.

One year, I was traveling with my parents in the wilderness of Michigan’s upper peninsula. It felt like any other day, but it was July 4th, and I realized that it would be my first year not seeing fireworks. It felt odd, like skipping church on Sunday (which we also missed while traveling), but this was a national holiday that only happens once a year, so if felt that much worse to miss it. At church, our pastor is part of the Air Force, so every year we’d sing the National Anthem and play a slideshow honoring all of the US service members in our congregation. Just like singing praise songs in church or taking communion, fireworks were my way of remembering the United States and my place as a member of it. How was I supposed to connect with my country if I couldn’t have my heart beat in unison with the fireworks?

The Macy’s show in New York City alone is estimated to have 3 million spectators and an additional 15 million people will watch the live broadcast. Even more people will watch smaller displays in local communities across the country or launch their own fireworks. Just like looking up at the stars at night, there’s a sense of metaphysical connection that overcomes any distance and unites people as one nation.

I felt like if I did not watch fireworks on the Fourth, I would miss out on that connection. The campground host and a few neighbors pulled out some lawn chairs on a hill to watch neighbor’s launch personal fireworks. My parents and I went out for a short time, but I don’t remember seeing any fireworks; they probably couldn’t make it above the trees and hills. Late into the night, I lay awake staring out at the stars as fireworks popped in the distance, or they could have been shotguns (some would say, which are just as patriotic).

It’s not ironic that fireworks are made with black powder and sound like gun shots; it’s symbolic.

As I got older, I still loved the way fireworks looked, but watching them always gave me the sensation of a vegan eating meat. I’m the type of person who cuts plastic bottle rings before throwing them away so that landfill birds and rats won’t get strangled by them. It’s hard watching the dark shadows of smoke behind the bright colors knowing the massive amount of pollution fireworks produce, from chemicals in the atmosphere to shrapnel and cinders littered in waterways and across miles of land. I’ve never launched my own fireworks beyond using sparklers, but even watching community displays felt like a guilty pleasure.

This year, I’m working in an Environmental Public Health office in the PNW. In September 2017, about a year ago, a teenager lit a firework illegally in the forests of the Columbia Gorge and the whole valley went up in uncontrollable flames (Eagle Creek Fire). Because of weather conditions, the fire spread rapidly and could not be put out. It burned 50,000 acres for three months before being contained. Local residents have immense pride in the Gorge and this thoughtless destruction enraged them. The teenager received a very serious convictions for the deed and restoration units and trail workers are still working on repairing the damages. Driving through the valley, dead trees paint swaths of brown scars among the towering evergreens, and it’s impossible to forget what caused it.

This year, personal fireworks are banned in the city of Vancouver, Washington, but I still hear them in my neighborhood at dusk. At work, I posted sources to firework rules and disposal procedures on social media and our blog, but I don’t know much of an impact it will have. Clark County Public Utilities organizes a firework display at the Fort Vancouver National Historical site right on the Columbia River in downtown Vancouver every year. I don’t even want to imagine how long it will take clean up crews afterwards and how much debris will end up being washed down the Columbia into the ocean. At least public displays have fire trucks on-site, but fireworks can travel miles after being launched and rain down hot debris as they go. A few years ago, I ranted about firework pollution and proposed a few alternatives that are less polluting and still spectacular (take a gander).

This year, it’s more than pollution that’s bothering me, it’s that so many people act in selfish, violent ways without regard to other people or the environment. The teenager who started the Eagle Creek Fire has an eerie echo of school shootings. A recent news report showed grotesque mutilations of children’s feet that were burned after running over illegal beach campfires that had been buried and not fully put out. When I was little and sang The Star Spangled Banner, I misheard the lyrics and sang, “The rocket’s red glare! The birds bursting in air!” Forevermore, I can only picture a flock of birds being hit by fireworks when I hear this song. It’s not ironic that fireworks are made with black powder and sound like gun shots; it’s symbolic. Fireworks: firearms. Fireworks are explosives and just as dangerous as guns, yet many parents care more about putting a gun in a child’s hand than a firework. It just seems wrong that we use such destructive items for amusement.

If we’re truly proud of our country, we should be celebrating it, not destroying it with pollution and violence.

The United States is a symbol of freedom rooted and founded in violence. I’m not saying that war and struggles aren’t necessary for gaining freedom, but are we really honoring the freedom or violence? Our national anthem is a song written in the middle of a gruesome war. You cannot deny the imagery of fireworks sequenced with the lyrics “bombs bursting in air.” How much longer are we going to gloss up violence with the iconography of national pride? These social constructs go far beyond fireworks.

My vote is for changing the national anthem to America the Beautiful and addressing the root causes of violence. Arguing over firearm isn’t enough. Uniting the nation for one day a year isn’t enough. If we’re truly proud of our country, we should be celebrating it, not destroying it with pollution and violence, but each individual must come to that realization themselves for there to be real change.

This year, I won’t be watching fireworks; I’ll be having a cookout with some church friends, just like any other summer day. I’d take the colors of a sunset or the twinkle of fireflies over fireworks any night.

Photo by Elti Meshau on Unsplash

Pinky Promise

Pinky Promise

That bridge was not the Pont des Arts, yet

You asked me to secure the lock.

Like a great magician about to descend in a sinking safe,

You asked me to secure the lock.

I told you mortals can’t travel on rainbow bridges, still

You asked me to secure the lock.

You promised our chains would never break;

You asked me to secure the lock.

The current coming back, coming back, coming back…

You asked me to secure the lock.

I know you’re never coming back.

You asked me to secure the lock,

but                                    I did not.


Photo Free from Pexels

Red Bikini

Red Bikini

The over-sized shirt clung to my bikini. My friends chased one another in the ocean, seagulls laughed, condensation dripped down a glass of lemonade as Dad’s voice crashed over me in torrents. I wilted under the glaring sun. (38 words)

YeahWrite MicroProse #377 Prompt: In exactly 38 words, incorporate heat without using the words: heat, hot, sweat, burn, swelter.

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

Loch

Loch

His actions all felt rather meaningless now. The brass door knob weighed in his hand like a dead heart: the metal cold and deaf. Even if he had not lost the key, the knob had been so corroded that it probably wouldn’t have worked. Henry had been determined to get into the estate before his sister. Gloria always got everything first. Got to breathe first, see the world first, get married first, have a kid first, read their father’s will first. Today, he was supposed to be the first for once.

He didn’t realize that he had lost the key until he was standing at the door of a mansion that their father had never mentioned, the mansion where he had locked away their mother for some unknown reason. Apparently, she had died years ago, but the mansion was still kept secret.

There was no time to go searching for the key. Gloria would be there in less than an hour. He had jammed a knife and then a paperclip into the lock, eventually getting the paperclip stuck in the door. He tried to trick the lock like they did in the movies with his driver’s license, but it broke in the crack of the door tearing his face in half. He got a crowbar from his car and tried to pry the door open, but he only succeeded in mutilating the door frame. After pounding on the door and the hinges to no avail, he resorted to using a screwdriver to remove the door knob. Now he had the knob, but he still couldn’t get into the building.

The sound of heavy rubber rolling over gravel made him cringe. The engine cut off and the door slammed. “What are you waiting for? Let’s get this over with,” Gloria said as she came up behind him. “What the hell is that?”

“The knob fell off,” he said slipping the screwdriver into his pocket.

“Really?” Gloria grunted and knelt beside the overgrown ivy. She reached for what appeared to be a stone, but when she pulled it out, it had four feet and a curly tail. The pig’s head had fallen off, leaving an area of white stone that looked like it had been mauled. Beneath the pig was a key broken in half. Gloria laughed and thrust the pig’s body through the window.

“Shit! What are you doing?!”

“We’re going to bulldoze it anyway.”

“We haven’t agreed to that yet.”

“The land is worth more than this death trap.”

They climbed carefully in through the window. Dust covered what little furniture dotted the vast rooms. Gloria scanned the room and moved quickly to the next, pulling open drawers and looking behind picture frames.

Henry paused to dust off the pictures. Ashy eyes and smiles reflected back at him. There they were: mom, dad, sister, brother. A complete family on vacation at the beach, or sitting around a Christmas tree, or opening birthday presents. They were things he had always dreamed of.

Gloria stomped down the stairs with a bag of clanking china. “Hardly anything in this place worth anything. Damn creepy keeping her out here and not saying nothing. What’s that you’re looking at? What the fuck?!” Gloria rubbed more dust off the pictures then rubbed her eyes. “What the fuck is this? That’s us.”

“They’re fake.”

“Well, yeah. We never had a Christmas tree, let alone a mother. Did Dad do this? Did she do this? What a creep!” Gloria ripped the pictures off the wall. The glass shattered on the floor distorting the smiles into broken fragments. “Let’s get out of here.” Gloria went through the kitchen to a back door.

Henry tucked the face of the mother he never knew into his pocket.

“I’ll tell them to doze it,” Gloria said before driving away.

Henry nodded and got in his car.

When he got home, he dug around in his pockets, but the picture was gone. He had lost his mother. His breathe caught in his throat as he tried to calm himself.

What did it matter? Those pictures weren’t real anyways. Lies locked in lies. Meaningless.

* “Loch” (meaning “hole”) is the Germanic origin of the English word “lock”.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


Earthen Story

Earthen Story

Historians excavate stone tablets of dead languages. Religious leaders preach creation stories. Biologists study evolution. Psychologist and sociologists look into the human mind… To the immortal, they all seem to belabor the same question but never reveal the whole truth.

Leaving this trail of inconclusive

trembling bits of some

momentous story.

Was it true, this time, the rumor?

The wherefore of our being here?

Does it come true in the retelling?

And truer in

the re-

presenting?

(“Prayer” by Jorie Graham)

The immortal finds a pail of moist clay—

Let that coolness envelop you for a moment. This clay has been dug out of the creek that you now hear trickling nearby. Can you feel it’s grains beneath your fingers? The ripple of fish, the rush of the current as the winter rains fall, the pecking of birds at stones? Let it’s life wash over you, let it guide you to its true form as we mold it under our hands.

Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes. It is not the sand of the Arabian Desert, not the mud of Welsh marshlands, not the flaky slate of the mountains, but a firm, rich, rooted sediment from years of glaciers and flows that rest beneath you feet. Yet, it is the same earth. The grains and water molecules continuously moving and cycling, taking new forms, falling back into the Earth, taken up and thrown back down endlessly. In this manner, it is the same soil; the same soil the immortal touched millennia ago, the same soul from the beginning of time, even if it has changed in appearance.

A book of poetry lay open, it’s words escaping into the air we breathe.

…Yes, the speaking subject in

me wants

to rip the veil. Thought ‘if I bring my pen to bear inside something

will rip.’ But what? We write.

(“The Taken-Down God” by Jorie Graham)

We continuously tended to the vase, smoothing, dampening where needed. Then, when the urn is ready; when you are ready…put impressions into the shaped clay.

The immortal writes their story; the clay’s story; our story; the story of the Earth throughout all time. Memories and tales spin around vase—

Let it consume you, let the present slip away as we dive into the past, dive into eternity.

By their crossing through the one great

inwardness of

mind, by the straining to be held (grasped) by my

meanings…

And yet how they want to see behind themselves

twisting on their stems to see behind—as if there were a

sun

back there they need, as if it’s a betrayal,

this single forward-facing

Backglancing stirrings,

wedged—in between unsaying and

forgetting—

(“Gulls” by Jorie Graham)

Fill the vase from top to bottom with a lacework of text: Cuneiform blending into Latin into Norse, Greek, Italian, …, English, Chinese… and back again through endless time and space.

He speaks of the long chain back

to the beginning of ‘the world’ (as he calls it) and then, at last,

to the great no

beginning. I feel the no begin.

(“Evolution” by Jorie Graham)

The story ends at the beginning and begins at the end, spiraling down into the past and up into the future. How else could you fit eternity in the finite space of an urn? How else do you end a story without end? The immortal leans back, smears dust across their face and looks around.

*Structure of poetry directly transcribed from Jorie Graham’s book, Never. Poem titles stated in text. 

Photo by Shane Albuquerque on Unsplash

This piece written for the Calvin College graduate’s fiction blog: Presticogitations. Visit there for other great pieces from my fellow alumni!