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


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! 

Blame Nature; Blame the Can

Blame Nature; Blame the Can

The road ended in a blockade of trees. A layer of dried leaves paved the ground, leaving only the occasional green flare of pine needles among the dark trunks. The forest smelled pungent like old jack-o-lanterns with smiles collapsed into snarls.

Fern parked the car.

Murphy opened the door and looked around, “Where’s the cabin? You said we’d be staying at a cabin.”

“Don’t freak out. It’s just a short walk.” Fern tossed Murphy a backpack from the trunk.

Murphy threw the bag over one shoulder and her mustard scarf over the other. Wind jostled her hair, knotting the bleached threads into snarls. She tried to fix her hair in the reflection of the car window.

“Come on, Murphy,” Fern called moving towards the trail head.

Murphy followed swatting mosquitoes. “Did you bring bug spray?”

“They’re not bothering me. Maybe you’re jinxed because of that can you threw out the window on the way here.”

“Oh, shut up.”

After they had walked for a few minutes, they could hear the trickle of a stream and river flies reinforced the mosquitoes. Murphy smashed a fly, flicked the carcass off her palm, and grabbed the hand-sanitizer hanging off her backpack covering up the smudge with the scent of fresh linen. “How far away is this cabin?” Murphy said.

“Just a little farther,” Fern said. “It’ll be cozy and relaxing, I promise. Just what we need after those killer mid-terms.”

Murphy sighed, “Don’t remind me. I don’t even want to know my scores for chemistry and biology.”

“I’m sure you did fine. I helped you study,” Fern winked and ambled ahead.

The clouds darkened and several droplets hit the ground. “Of course, it’s going to rain,” Murphy said.

“It’s just a little drizzle,” Fern said. But seconds later, the rain pelted them in sheets mingled with tiny bits of ice. They covered their heads and ran dripping into the cabin as the wind tore after them.

Murphy threw down her backpack and went to the bathroom while Fern started up the fireplace. Cobwebs strung every inch of the bathroom, and when a spider skittered across the floor, Murphy stomped on it with so much force the floorboard cracked.

“Are you alright in there?” Fern called from the kitchen.

Murphy came out drying her hair with a towel and slumped into the chair closest the fire. “I only came because you like this sort of thing.”

Fern poured two cups of tea from the screaming kettle as wind rattled the windows and thunder rumbled overhead. The electric lights flickered and went out. Fern smirked and threw another log on the fire.

Murphy stared at the writhing flames, her knees drawn up to her chest, a scratchy wool blanket clutched around her. She rung a twig from the wood pile with her fingers scraping off the bark and leaving gashes in the grain. Fern handed her the tea, and Murphy set aside the mutilated twig.

“Have your parents found a new house yet?” Fern asked.

Murphy kept an eye on the writhing flames. “No. They’re still in an apartment. They’re thinking of moving to a different town since Kendelville was completely wiped out by the fire.”

Fern sipped her tea.

“It’s not fair. I’d lived there my whole life, and I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye to the house. And all of my stuff—besides what I had in the dorm—it’s all gone.” Murphy put her feet down, and a mouse scampered out from under her chair sending her screaming out of the chair. “I swear nature has it out for me.”

Fern laughed, “It’s just a mouse. Think of it like a little brother teasing you. My brother’s always trying to annoy me.”

Murphy sat in a different chair. “It’s not just the mouse. It’s that fire, the flooding, the earthquakes. It’s like James Henry who took a gun to school in St. Bern and shot everyone for no good reason.”

Tea spilled over the edge of Fern’s cup as she set it down. “That’s too far.”

They locked eyes, and then Murphy looked down into her cup, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” A leak in the roof dripped onto Murphy’s head, and she stood to move seats yet again.

Fern patted the couch, and Murphy sat beside her. The cabin groaned. Fern glanced at water streaming over the panes and wrapped an arm around Murphy’s shoulders, “You really shouldn’t have thrown that can out the window.” They sat together as trees thrashed against the walls and cracks of lightning threatened the roof over their heads.

Cover Image by Imaginings


Groveling at the Feet of the Shadow

Groveling at the Feet of the Shadow

“I wish you would stay out of my life.” I wanted my voice to rip apart the shadow in front of me, but all I could do was whimper.

I floated on a mirror of sunset orange hues, but the joy, warmth, and encouragement of the sky was lost to me as I grovelled at the feet of the shadow.

The shadow stood with a hand on its hip and said, “I am your life.”

How could I deny it?

I had always been surrounded by dancing colors and vibrant people, but all I brought was darkness. Even here—on a calm lake in the wilderness—here, I was a aphotic zone, an empty void where nothing can survive.

I used to reach for the sky, but I knew now that I could never touch it. All I could have was the feigned image on the surface of the water, and once I broke it, there was no sunset warmth, only icy depths. How many false images had I created? How many beautiful images had I shattered?

Storm clouds billowed over the mountains. The shadow rocked our boat and smiled at the clouds.

The watery mark on the horizon concerned me. I withdrew myself from the painting and breathed. I needed a break. My body felt drenched; my lungs full of ice.

The calm before the storm, they say. They also said painting was meditative, a way to explore your inner demons and express them. I looked at the painting. The shadow stood in the center of the painting, consuming the spot where a sun should be.

“Why do you have to be at the center of everything I do?” The brush in my hand threatened to snap between my fingers; I threw it down splattering paint on the floor. Outside the studio windows a wind was building up under a moonless night. I slammed the door as I escaped into the hall.

Nisa sat beside the door sketching smiles. She drew people she had met, and she remembered every detail about them—she knew their names, their stories, their struggles and joys. Her drawings pulsed with life down to the shading of scars and folds of wrinkles. I refused to let her draw me.

“I told you to go home,” I said and choked. My voice was too loud, too harsh.

“I said I’d wait,” Nisa smiled. “Did you finish it?”

I shrugged. I was done with that painting; it wasn’t worth anymore time since nothing was going to change. All of my pieces looked the same: two dark figures stark in the center of the world. No matter what I did, I couldn’t change my perspective.

Nisa rose on her tip-toes and pecked my cheek. I withdrew from her warmth. No matter what her friends and family said about me, she kept coming back to my side. I told her they were right: I was dangerous. If she got too close to me, she would…

“Can I see it?” she asked.

I waved to the door, and she entered the studio.

She studied my painting and hummed. “I love the contrast! The colors really illuminate and bring focus to the shadows, and the shadows make the sunset look that much brighter.”

Nisa always looked for the good; she was blind to the evil that lurked beneath the surface. She was beautiful, graceful, fragile. As I reached for her, my hand trembled.

The shadow echoed out of the painting into the room, “I will consume her. I will smother all of her light like the storm that darkens the sun.” I staggered back and tripped over a stool.

“Are you okay?” Nisa leaned over me and offered a hand. Branches thrashed against the window, and any moment, the clouds would burst open.

“Would you leave already?!” I cried.

“Zach.” She stood back but didn’t leave. Concern and sorrow that pulled on her face.

“I will end up hurting you, just like everyone else.” I turned away.

“We all have a past. You have to forgive yourself and move forward just trying your best. I know you don’t believe it, but I can see good in you. I love you despite your past.”

“SHUT UP!” Suddenly, that paintbrush was in between my fingers again, and then, it was flying through the air at Nisa’s head. Black and red paint smeared her face as she fell backwards.

Outside lightning crashed. The lights flickered and went out; everything always ends up in darkness, swallowed by the void. There is no escape, only a transient calm before the storm.

Image by bluemoonjools at Pixabay 


InFinite Time

InFinite Time

Time is fluid, yet linear, like a ribbon adrift on the wind. It extends and restricts, even at moments folding in on itself. The most turbulent times occur around the equinoxes when daylight ripples and the seasons change. It is during these mystical hours that certain worlds that usually live in different times may be able to touch if only for a moment. Perhaps you have experienced this when you take an evening walk in the woods and as the light tilts, suddenly you find yourself lost among trees and trails that should be familiar. Or when you pass a stranger on the street and swear you know them, but from where? From when?

Usually, these encounters pass quickly and are forgotten. A mere moment of déjà vu. A chill up your spine. The sensation of something brushing past you. But for some, these passing moments become the most important ones.

 

The scent of cherry blossoms filled the car as Mo and her mother drove down the boulevard towards Granny’s cottage, The Golden Equinox.

Eddies of pink petals kissed Mo’s finger tips. 

“The cherry blossoms are beautiful this year,” her mother said.

“I wish they would last longer,” Mo sighed and tapped her fingers against the outside of the car.

“The brief moments just make us treasure them that much more,” her mother said as they meandered down the drive.

“Do you think Dad and Sammy and Aunt Jewel are here yet?”

“They don’t usually appear until closer to dusk you know.”

Mo unfastened her seat belt as her mother parked the car. She grabbed her bag and ran up onto the porch. “Are they here yet?” she asked Granny who was sitting by Auntie Em on the bench swing.

“Mo! Happy birthday! My, you’re growing up,” Granny said.

“I love that hat,” Auntie Em said.

“You know, I have some clothes in the attic you might like, Mo. It’s so funny how fashions come back,” Granny smiled.

“Anything’s better than that hot pink hair you had last year,” Auntie Em said. “What was it your cousin Sammy called you? Flamingo Mo? Flaming Mo?” Sammy was the closest to Mo’s age even in the extended family. 

Mo glanced through the windows and around the yard. “Sammy’s not here yet?”

“Your Uncle Jo and the cousins are out back.”

Uncle Smith never came to the reunion anymore. Seeing Sammy and Aunt Jewel was too hard on him. He spent most of his days alone, and Mo couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to see the ones he loved the most.

“The Manns haven’t appeared yet,” Auntie Em said. 

Granny whispered to Mo’s mother who was opening the door, “The little pea is sleeping in the crib, so don’t wake her up.” 

 

The scent of garlic asparagus warmed the cabin. Mo went to the bathroom. The sun was beginning to slant through the yellow glass making the yellow and orange floral wallpaper look mottled and strange. Her mother was humming to the baby in the bedroom. Her cousins drank and laughed in the backyard. The bench on the porch creaked. But all Mo could hear was the ticking of the grandfather clock as she stared into the mirror. 

After the rest of the family had eaten and laughed and gone to bed, Mo stood on the porch alone. She watched the stars spinning above, the trees swaying in the wind, the whole world tilting too quickly.

“Mo? Mo?!”

“I’m here, Mom.”

Her mother flew out the door and embraced her. “Mo,” she cried. “Mo, don’t leave the house tonight. I don’t want to lose you.” 

Mo stayed on the porch despite her mother’s tugging. “They’re coming aren’t they?”

“Maybe they can’t make it this year. Come inside.” Her mother dragged her into the house.

“But they always come. Every year.”

 

Mo lay awake in the dark wiggling her toes under the quilt. The clock chimed and twelve hours pounded in her head. She squeezed her eyes shut.

“FlamingMo? You’re not asleep are you?”

“Sam the Mann?!” she shot up and hugged her cousin.

He wasn’t a shadow or ghost or some fantasy; he was here, flesh and blood. She could no longer hear the clock. Even if he would scatter like petals with the first rays of morning, she knew he would return as soon as the snow melted again next year, and they would continue to share their birthdays throughout eternity. 

 

Photo by Imaginings