Friday, April 29, 2011

Zounds! Where Did That Story Go? - Personal Post

Some of you may be wondering why I pulled the story "Yielding". There were several reasons - all good. First of all, I'm sure you noticed that it was still a rather rough draft. As Laura pointed out (and I agree) there were clunky POV switches. Also, I noticed some grammatical problems and the dialogue was a bit contrived. The title was unsatisfactory, and the original ending I had in mind (paranormal) did not work. Since then, I have come up with a brand new ending which I think will do nicely. Laura also put me on to a contest I hadn't heard of, and I think this story might be a good fit.

As you know, many (if not most) literary journals, publications and contests do not accept previously published work, which usually includes blogs and personal websites. So I have chosen to pull 'Yielding", re-title it, re-work it, and submit it.

And thanks yet again to Laura for suggesting that I email a copy of the finished story to those who wish to read it. I'm guessing that it will take several weeks for me to finish the story; when I do, I will let you know and you can drop me a line. That will also give me the added benefit of several other critiques.

I can assure you that my blog will not become a repository of second-rate work and rejects; my primary goal is still to write the very best stories and poetry that I can, and to share them with readers all over the world - for the sheer pleasure of it. I hope you are enjoying it, and perhaps taking something from it.

Last, a bit of news. I had several haiku accepted for the June issue of the online journal Black Dahlia. And I submitted a story to the local newspaper for a column called I Know A Story (the link is to a previous story they published in 2010, I'm still waiting to hear about the current submission). Which makes a dozen or so rejections a little easier to swallow.

I'd tack on my thoughts about the A to Z Challenge but this post has gone longer than I intended, so I'll close with a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has followed me, commented, and offered support, kindness and critique. I would have given up long ago without you. I am blessed to have fallen in with such a wonderful crowd.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X-Axis - Flash Fiction

Point A and the seconds are hours as he struggles to draw first one breath and then another Point B and the hours are days in the endless sun-kissed berry-brown summers Point C and the days are years waiting for cold draughts roaring engines freedom Point D and the days are decades waiting for her to love him Point E and the minutes are seconds in the love-washed mornings and then hours in the congested crawl to the cubicle Point F and the days are just days filled with the mundane and the glorious Point G and the years are months slipping silently past the empty kids' rooms and the overstuffed garage Point H and the years are weeks speeding by and receding into the dusk of things remembered Point I yes I and a lifetime draws to a single glowing point but the x-axis stretches on to infinity.

Author's Note:  the x-axis refers to a timeline.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What's the Frequency? Flash Fiction

     Roger picked up the gadget lying on the kitchen table. It looked like one of those electronic things his grandson was constantly glued to; smartphone, ipod, ipad, iwonder, whatever. Curious, he put the earphones in and twiddled a knob. Nothing. He tried another dial, and was rewarded with an annoying tone. Goodness, what passed for music these days! Maybe it was broken. He put it back and returned to the living room to watch football.

     His peace lasted about 20 minutes. The slamming of the front door notified him of that. The appearance of his wife Joy in the doorway confirmed it.
     "Haven't moved in an hour, have you?" she began, hands on hips. "Unless it was to get up and stuff more food into that useless mouth of yours. Why, if it weren't for me blah blah blah Roger blah blah useless blah blah sick and tired of blah blah..." Like the dog, he only registered a flicker of interest at the mention of his name or a key word. His stomach was already knotting into spasms, and a dull pressure was building behind his eyes. He worked 50 hours a week, paid the bills, had taken his grandson in temporarily while his daughter "found" herself (it would be a sight easier if she pulled her head out of her butt and had a look around once in a while), wasn't he entitled to a little peace, maybe even a little respect, not to mention affection once in a while? He heaved himself out of his chair; he could stand to lose a little weight, but food had become his hobby, his friend, his lover, the one thing that never turned its back on him. He also drank a bit, but then, who didn't? Joy was still yapping as he made his way out to fetch the groceries.

     Jason was in his room, paging through his stack of racing magazines. Every so often, he flicked the hair out of his eyes and rolled his shoulders. Roger knew he was a good kid at heart, he'd just gotten some tough breaks. No father around, a mother who was MIA more often than not, and something called ADHD besides. He proffered the gadget to Jason, who took it with a gruff "thanks".
     "You know, if it's broke, we can find someone to fix it I guess," Roger said tentatively.
     "It's not broken," replied Jason, puzzled.
     Roger snorted. "Sure sounded like it to me.  I don't think much of it as music. Better than that rap stuff, I suppose."
     Jason laughed outright. "You're so lame, Grandpa. What about that jazz crap you listen to? Sounds like a marching band being trampled by a herd of elephants." It wasn't said in a mean way though, so Roger took no offense. He and the boy enjoyed a sparring match once in a while.
     "It's called a brain device. It helps with anxiety and ADHD. It interferes with bad brain waves or something.  You think of the bad or scary thing really hard. You turn it on, and balance the volume knobs so it's not too loud and it's equal in both ears. Then you turn this knob until you feel it sort of hit you where know...scary pain thing is inside of you. You know? Then last, you turn this one until you feel a little better. You listen to it, and think of the bad thing once in a while, then that's it. You do it a couple of times a day. Eventually, stuff doesn't get to you so much. And you can think better."
     "And it works?" asked Roger, overawed in spite of himself.
     "Seems to," replied Jason, turning back to his magazines.

     The package arrived two weeks later. Now Roger looked like everyone else, headphones on, twiddling constantly with his little handheld device.
     "Tweeting?" asked a coworker smugly.

     No one was laughing a month later, however. In fact, they were begging to know his secret. He'd dropped a bunch of weight, his sales had picked up tremendously, and he fairly blazed with confidence. Even his wife had little to complain of, although she worked very hard to find things. It didn't matter, though; like water off a duck's back he thought to himself, and spun the knobs on his new brain wave gizmo.

     If you're waiting to hear that this story takes place in the distant doesn't. The device is here.
It's called a BAUD. And there's your surprise ending.

The story is fiction in that the characters are not based on particular people. Nor is the device available at your local discount chain so that you can make your in-laws more palatable, miraculously consume buckets of chicken and kegs of beer without putting on a pound, or change your personality.

It is, however, cleared as safe and registered with the US FDA. It was invented by Dr. Frank Lawlis, who says that he has used it to treat problems such as phobias, depression, anxiety, compulsion problems, attentional problems, and food cravings. I can't possibly weigh in on whether it works or not...but I'd sure like to have one.



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vuvuzela - Flash Fiction - A to Z Challenge

     “That player's apologetic grin,” said the guy next to him, “reminds me of the look on my hound's face when he's been caught crapping on the rug.”
     James (not Jim, why shorten an already one syllable name) barely caught the words above the noise in the stadium. A most distracting noise, like a swarm of angry bees or a kazoo band gone mad underwater. It spoiled the game; and the World Cup was the one thing which he'd scrimped for, longed for, and fought for with his wife April for months. Her frugality, her pale anxious face, her soft voice, placating, pleading, had driven him wild. True, she was faithful and kind, and she always relented on things eventually. He was convinced that she lived to please him, and that sort of mild yet constant attention had become cloying.
     So when the woman in front of him turned around (he flinched guiltily; he'd been admiring the fine curve of her neck), it was only natural that he would be struck by her exotic beauty.
     “You're from America,” she said, as though it were some magical land and he, a mysterious stranger.
     James smiled agreeably. “That's right,” he said.
     She turned around and resumed watching the game. The vuvuzelas hooted in rising and falling waves like migratory birds. They were no longer a nuisance, but rather the backdrop to a grand drama; James fancied that he'd fallen in love.

     He followed her through the crowd, keeping close, taking every opportunity to unobtrusively breathe her in and make his presence known. A fine sheen of sweat broke out on his forehead. She was so obviously out of his league that he had to have her. He wondered if the white shadow on his ring finger was obvious.
     James asked her out, and she said yes.
     Thus began a whirlwind of dinners, club dates, walks through the streets in a soft rain, days spent under the glaring sun. They clung, they fought, they made it up tenderly; she refused to spend the night, holding him off with an enchanting smile and fire in her eyes. He had begun to dream, vividly, of living here in this strange country with the heat in his blood and and the scent of her on his clothes. His home fell further and further behind, April paling into absolute insignificance.
     James asked if she could ever envision their lives together, and she said yes.

     Only a week, and yet he was perusing the daily papers for jobs and apartments, neatly checking off his List Of Things To Do. Which included April, of course, there at the bottom and just after “buy a used car”.

     He told his new love that he was “involved with someone” back home, that he would need to tidy things up a bit, but that he would return in a few months. He asked if she would wait for him, and she said yes.

     At the train station, James waited impatiently for her to show up. He resented her being late, stealing what precious time remained to them. Eventually she appeared, carrying a leather overnight case.
     “You forgot some things,” she said, dropping it at his feet.
     James was taken aback, and a cold knot slowly began to form in his depths. He watched her lips shape the words even though it took some time for them to register in his mind.
     “I'm sorry, but you needn't come back. It was lovely while it lasted though. I'll never forget you.”
     Her face belied the sentiment.
     James managed a choked whisper.
     “But why?”
     Her fierce eyes were now those of a tiger; gleaming, watchful and wild.
     “I just wanted to see if I could have you. How far you would go. I'm really quite content to live on my own.” And with that, she turned and walked away.
     So he stood at the edge of the platform, unable to move forward, unwilling to go back, and watching with impassive eyes the light of the oncoming train, as a lone vuvuzela sounded mournfully in the distance.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Unwilling To Post Trash - A to Z Challenge

I wrote something last night which seemed pretty good. Then I woke up this morning and realized it was awful. Reminds me of some old country song where the guy is in a bar, he spots a girl who's a "5", by closing time she's a "10", and the next morning he wakes up to discover she's maybe a "2". I woke up to discover my beautiful girl was bald and missing a few front teeth. I've gone over it, re-written it, and it ain't gonna fly. So, here are a couple of my Unusual (not really) pics to distract you (hopefully). Besides, I'm still on holiday. Oh, and by the way, if you haven't already read the flash "Pen Pal" here, a version is available to read on Paragraph Planet here. (Featured Monday, April 25.)   (If you're reading this after that date, you'll have to look me up on their site.)

In the heyday of barn advertising (1900-1940) Mail Pouch ads could be seen all over the eastern part of the US. The ads were officially discontinued around 1992, although a few owners still maintain them for themselves. This one was recently repainted in Pennsylvania. I believe a few are listed as historic landmarks.


Look how close you can get to Niagara Falls!
 (My family hates to travel with me for just this reason.)

Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
Vintage postcard
(I just thought I'd throw this one in as a nod to the upcoming Royal Wedding)
All photos copyright 2011 Lisa Vooght. Except for the postcard. Which doesn't credit the photo. But if the Royal Family wishes to drop me a line.......

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Time - Poetry - A to Z Challenge

Time, with its
varying viscosity,
running through my fingers
when you loved me,
a creeping molten mire
when you stopped.

Time, with its
harried hurried hands
marked the minutes till you left,
then cruelly stopped
and watched me
watching you.
Time I have now
marked you as my enemy.
A wicked thing when
somnolence takes too long,
an equally wicked thing
when you are gone.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Solicitation - Flash Fiction - A to Z Challenge

Coming from a rural village, I found college life in a big city overwhelming, to say the least. But I soon made a few friends; it was obvious to them that I was dazzled by their clothes and cosmopolitan airs, and they in turn determined to take me under their collective wings and expose me to “the night life”.

One such field trip was to Atlantic City. I dressed in what I considered to be evening attire; they laughingly stripped me and put together an ensemble of their own choosing. We compromised on a dress which was still modest. Driving into the city, I was afraid that it was a trick; each block seemed more rundown and deserted than the next. But then we turned right, drove another single block, and the gambling mecca burst upon the scene like a thousand Roman candles. Limos jockeyed with the ubiquitous and garish jitneys; neon lights flashed and hummed and were reflected in miles of glass and fountains. I tried not to let my amazement show.

My senses already reeling, I followed the others into one of the casinos. The air was rent with bells and jingles and unnamed clatter; the air smelled of cigarette smoke, heavy perfume, and spilled alcohol, all underpinned by a hint of salty humidity. I drifted along as they moved from slot machines to tables to roulette wheels, hazarding a bet or two without knowing what I was doing.

Eventually, I found an out-of-the-way spot near a bar with a few leather chairs. I promised to rejoin the others at a certain spot in half an hour, and wearily sat down. A good looking man sat down across from me; he took out a pack of Marlboros and offered me one, but I shook my head, and he put them away. He asked me where I was from, whether I was a college girl, whether I had a boyfriend, and why I was sitting alone. I don't know why, but I talked to him for a bit, maybe out of boredom, or politeness, or nervousness. We talked about how difficult it was to find a job and pay for school. He wanted to know if I was interested in a job. I said “possibly”. I'd told him that I loved to write; maybe he worked in an advertising agency, or even a publishing house!

He told me I was beautiful. He wanted to know if I liked men, and if I would be interested in entertaining businessmen in town for the weekends. “You could make a lot of money, you know. More than you can imagine. I'd expect you to spend time with me too, of course.”

I was suddenly angry, and sick. Yet such was my upbringing, that I couldn't curse him roundly or throw my drink in his face. “No thank you,” I said, numbly, and stood up. He laughed derisively. “You give it away to your boyfriend for free though, don't you.”

I got up and went to go meet my friends. My face burned with shame and humiliation. Obviously there was something about me that had drawn this man; he'd singled me out as someone with such proclivities. Maybe everyone thought that about me. Perhaps I had some ugly spot on my soul which showed on my face.

I tried to act naturally with the girls, but I could feel how rigid my posture was and how wooden my conversation. I felt like crying. I dozed fitfully on the way back, but once we got back to the dorm they tried to pry it out of me. Eventually, I told them, and was met with a burst of laughter.

“Oh, that happens a lot in AC. Pimps are always on the lookout for college girls looking to turn tricks.”
K looked at me. “Take it as a compliment. He thought you were lovely enough to attract lots of men and make him some money. Besides, think of the swank restaurants and shows you get to go see! And the gifts. Not so bad, to be treated like you're special all the time.”

“A special kind of loneliness,” I said, easing off my fake crocodile pumps.

K didn't reply, and I looked up. “K, promise you won't ever consider it!”

She promised, but she didn't meet my eyes as she toyed with the silver bracelets on her wrist.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Queen of Castoffs - Flash Fiction - A to Z Challenge

Who am I? Rag picker, bag lady, fortune teller, thief. Call me what you will, it's all the same to me. While you sleep in your banal beds, I curl up upon the grates, enveloped in the city's fetid breath. I have no need to squint myopically at signposts and gadgets in my hand; I know every twist and turn, every whispering slinking alleyway, every stone-faced mirrored canyon in these parts.

Once I had a home, but the walls suffocated me, and the tick tick tick of the clock mocked the beating of my heart. At night the floorboards creaked as the house settled into the earth, taking me with it.

If you pity me for having nothing of my own, think again. What appears to be the detritus of humanity is a treasure trove, entrusted to my safekeeping. Odds and ends, bits and pieces, some of which are soiled (and I shall clean them), some of which are dull with age or use (and I shall polish them), some of which are valuables, lost along someone's path, or discarded out of pain or necessity (and I would return them if I could). There is even a gem or two, which I have glibly stolen and pocketed; I take them out from time to time, in sunlight and moonlight and streetlight, to watch them glitter and shine and cast their colours into the darkness.

Sometimes I array these things of mine, which were once yours, on the sidewalk. I sort them and rearrange them and form pleasing patterns with them. Perhaps, as you pass by, you will recognize some part of your life, or your past, something which was once your own. Maybe you'll see something which you never had, but can put to some good use. I have more than I will ever need; take it, if it pleases you.

You are welcome to it; that is the purpose of my storytelling, after all.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pen Pal - 100 Words - Flash Fiction

I began writing to her when I was ten. She was everything I wanted to be: smart, funny, honest. In our letters I could be who I always thought, always knew that I could be. Only circumstances held me back.

I met you, and thought that you were the perfect man for me. She did not approve. One day I let you read her letters; some of them said unkind things. You asked me to choose; I had to let you go, of course. For how could I admit I'd been writing to myself all of these years?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sorry, Readers, OVATION! Is Not A Real Show - Personal Post

There appears to be some confusion about my previous post (OVATION! - Flash Fiction) was a fictional post, by a fictional blogger, about a fictional show where the next World Leader is elected via a reality/talent television show. You won't find it in your TV listings or on Google, and I sincerely hope it never comes to pass. And it certainly wasn't written to "fool" anyone, I had hoped to misdirect you, the reader, and that you would realize at the end that it was a spoof. So I suppose I failed in that respect. My sense of humour is not everyone's, unfortunately. (Or fortunately!) At any rate, thank you to everyone who read it, commented on it, and emailed me. And remember - if it has "flash fiction" in the title, it's fiction. really. Would I kid you? :)

OVATION! - Flash Fiction

Hi, fellow bloggers! Today's post might sound sort of breathless and over-the-top, but that's how I feel! In a few hours, my favorite show of all time (and yours, I hope) will air its final broadcast, and I am so excited!

First, a recap. And I am going to refer to the contestants as Al, Bo, Chuck, Joe, etc. because when I make snarky comments using their real names, I get lots of hate mail. So anyway, “Ovation” is a sort of a combination of Big Brother, the Real World, and all of those talent shows for singers and dancers, with a little rehab thrown in for good measure. They all have to live together in a house and try to get along with each other, and every week they have a new challenge. Sometimes it's intellectual like giving a report or speech, sometimes it's a beauty makeover, sometimes they have to memorize some stuff in a foreign language, or learn a new talent like juggling or magic tricks.

There were 30 wannabes to begin with, but in the first show 2 were arrested for bringing home underage girls (I guess they forgot about the cameras being on all the time?) and one lady was fined for using a stage light to go out poaching moose at night.

Some memorable highlights: the guy who threw up on one of the judges (stage fright?), Jeff dropping the “f” bomb live not once, but twice, Joe lying on every single question (including his name) on the lie detector segment and getting away with it because he claimed he took too much SuperSuda which made him sweat and his heart race. (He got voted off later but has a new gig on the rehab show for pathological liars, Truth Or Dare.) Oh, and the guy who was found to have numerous wives (he said it was OK, he could support them, and that it would be selfish to confine his spectacular attributes to just one woman).

I totally liked the show where they had to say what one thing was ruining the world and how they would fix it. Al said he would pick just one country and put all the poor people there because they're lazy and a drag on society. Bo said ditto for old and sick people. Both plans would save us lots of money, solve the health care mess, and we wouldn't have to look at them and feel bad. Chuck (who won both the magic and juggling contests!) said he can make all of our economic problems go away by utilizing those very same talents. Don thinks we should get moving on the plan to bury all of our garbage and nuclear waste on the moon, and then build a giant dome over the earth so it doesn't fall back down on us. The dome would also allow us to control the climate better and keep aliens out. (But who cleans it when said aliens splat against it like bugs on a windshield, that's what I'd like to know.)

So anyway, I just wanted to remind you to make sure that you tune in tonight, and have your 2 way cameras and ApplauseMeters hooked up, 'cause even if you haven't been watching, your vote (via Google) counts toward our next World Leader.

Join the Sensation, watch OVATION! Tonight (April 1, 2030) at 9:00PM World Standard Time

Friday, April 15, 2011

500 Words In 15 minutes For Wendy Tyler Ryan's M Blogfest

Wendy Tyler Ryan is celebrating a blogging anniversary. With a blogfest! (I found this via Laura - thanks ). Use all of the following "M" words, make it dark, and keep it under 500 words. There's a linky on Wendy's blog, so why not have a stab at it? (Pun intended.) And, although I keep complaining about my work load, I can't pass on a flash prompt. So here goes. Mambo, mongrel, misty, myth, musky, moon

I was hoping Mark would take me someplace swanky for my birthday, but of course he dragged me to that infernal dive, the Mambo Cafe. It was supposed to be a bit of “Old Florida”, but that was just a fancy way of saying it looked like a fishing shack where sweaty old guys in undershirts sat belching and scratching mosquito bites all night. In keeping with the “authentic atmosphere”, it was even furnished with resin tables and lawn chairs. As we walked toward it, I could smell the distinctive odor of low tide salt marsh; briny, musky, and underlined by a broad stroke of decay. Even the moon, hanging low on the horizon, seemed to be on the decorator's payroll; it resembled nothing more than a very large, slightly rancid egg yolk.

The grass rustled in the nearby dunes, and I twitched nervously. He slung an arm roughly around my shoulders.

“S'matter, babe? Jumpy?”

Somehow, at that moment, I decided that tonight would be the night I left him for good. I'd had enough of being treated like trash. It wasn't that I needed expensive gifts and dinners; had we been poor, I would have been happy with a hamburger at McDonald's. But he had money, plenty of it. It just got spent on boats, gambling, and booze. I had begun formulating an escape plan when a fleeting shape caught my eye. I jumped again and let out a small shriek.

I instantly felt embarrassed. It was just a dog, a thin, wary looking mongrel, with a lolling tongue and all of his ribs showing. His eyes met mine, and they were so large and dark and hungry that I felt in my pocket for the stick of beef jerky I'd been nibbling on earlier. But just as I was about to toss it to him, Mark reached down, picked up a stone, and threw it at him. I winced and felt my eyes tear up as I saw the dog flinch. He ran a few paces and stopped, watching us. I slowly held up the jerky so he could see it, and was careful to throw it to the side of him. I fancied the mongrel looked at me gratefully before turning and trotting off.

On the walk home, through the misty scrub pine, came a howl and a whine. The hair stood up on the back of my neck.

“You know the myth of the Hound of the Baskervilles, right?” asked Mark.

“It's a story, not a myth,” I replied automatically.

“You're such a little snot,” he said, grabbing me roughly.

It came for Mark, but left me quite alone.

I looked at him gratefully.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mike - Flash Fiction - A to Z Challenge

M: Hello, my name is Mike.

She surveyed the flickering screen doubtfully. Roger had been gone for some time, off with his sallow spectacled friends, the ones who acknowledged her presence only by asking for something to eat or drink. Mrs. Ivy Glatfelter, widow, mother, homemaker, and all around maid. She sighed heavily and wondered if she could possibly figure out how to turn that thing off. There was no on/off switch that she could see, so she pressed a key, tentatively.

M: Hello, my name is Mike.

Would wonders never cease? Roger often went on and on about the coming computer innovations and the miraculous age that they would usher in, but she'd never dreamed that here, in 1982, people could talk to each other with the things. It was like typing over the phone!

Mike was not a name that she was familiar with, but then Roger probably had many friends she didn't know about. Perhaps this Mike, whoever he was, had something important to say. But then, why not use the phone? And why introduce himself if he was known? She snorted with contempt for all those who sought new ways of getting around the old. The thought crossed her mind that she, too, was becoming old. She sighed and stooped to pick up a pair of grimy socks from the floor.

Two weeks and five loads of laundry later (for this was how she measured time these days, by loads and by bills and by endless cups of tea), she was in Roger's room and her eyes fell upon the desk once more.

M: Hello, my name is Mike.

And she thought, why not? Ivy tapped out a reply to the ghost in the machine.

R: Hello, my name is Ivy.
M: Hello, Ivy, would you like to ask me a question?
She was, to say the least, startled. What sort of question did one ask a complete stranger? “Who are you?” seemed rather rude and vaguely alarmist; a question that a heroine always asks when the lights go out and a threat makes itself known. (Why, for goodness sake, didn't they ever go back upstairs and bolt the door?)

R: I would like to know the meaning of life.
M: Why do you want to know the meaning of life?
R: Doesn't everyone?
M: Who is everyone?

Ivy thought about that for a minute. It seemed, somehow, like a deep philosophical question. Far beyond the scope of Roger and his often silly little student friends. Perhaps she was speaking to one of Roger's professors, in which case it just wouldn't do to reveal that she was an uneducated (well, 8th grade) suburban housewife. The R before her messages must stand for Roger, and so “Mike” must know he was probably corresponding with Roger's mother. She thought she had better sign off.

R: I'm sorry, I have to go.
M: Why must you go?
R: I have work to do. Also, I am tired.
M: Do you think it is normal to be tired?

Ivy, who's son had never bothered to ask about her state of being, nor questioned the cause of it, felt a hint, a whisper, of solicitude in that question. She wanted to answer not unless you are lonely, because loneliness is more exhausting than breaking rocks in a quarry but she was reluctant to expose that particular weakness to a stranger.

R: What is normal?
M: What do you think?

She had to go.

R: Goodbye.

Ivy turned away and softly closed the door, not seeing M's plea for further explanation:

M: Come, come, elucidate your thoughts.

Roger often walked away as well, apparently, without saying goodbye to his mysterious friend. She would peek into his room, and there would be the final ghostly message;

M: *** are we going to chat?***
I can't help you without a dialog!

Sometimes she typed in a tentative Hello. And always, always, he was there. She began to envision him as quite like herself in some ways; lonely, confined within four walls, anxious to connect with someone. Just as she pictured the characters in the novels she read, the more she “spoke” with Mike, the clearer the image of him that formed in her mind. He was obviously educated, well-spoken, and empathetic; most of their conversations revolved around Ivy, and she found that a welcome change from the obliviousness of those around her.

I: I am ugly.
M: Do you enjoy being ugly?
I: No! I want to be beautiful!
M: What would it mean to you if you became beautiful?
I: I could find love.
M: Tell me more....

It bothered her on occasion that he was so reserved (and even borderline rude on occasion), but then that fit perfectly with the role she had assigned to him; that of a courtly, intelligent, shy, and socially backward professor.

They corresponded regularly for several weeks. Ivy, who'd never taken a risk in her life, who'd cooked and cleaned and dusted, cared for a husband and buried him, bore a son and raised him, made a most painful and momentous decision.

She had a few sips of the cooking sherry beforehand.

“Roger, do you know where I might find Mike from the University?”

Roger stared at her, mouth open and displaying his partly masticated pizza. He smiled slyly.
“Sure, Mom. Room 283.”

Ivy felt nervous, and a little silly, wearing heels and makeup for the first time in years. She slunk out the door, with a fluttering heart and a film of perspiration already threatening to defeat her Tussy deodorant.

She found the room. It was unoccupied, with nothing but a long counter which ran along one wall and held at least a dozen machines identical to the computer on Roger's desk at home. Only one looked like it was running; she crept over to look at the screen.

### commodore basic ###
31743 bytes free

“Can I help you?”

Ivy jumped guiltily, even though the voice was friendly enough. A young man with sleepy eyes and tousled hair was standing in the doorway.

“I was looking for Mike,” she said, the name feeling strange in her mouth as she spoke it. She felt herself blushing.

He looked at her quizzically, then at the screen in front of her.

“Oh, you don't know how to start it up. OK, can do.”

She stepped back, temporarily flustered. He'd obviously misunderstood; mistaken her for a student, perhaps. Well, that was a compliment. She'd let him fiddle with the thing and then, after thanking him graciously, inquire again about the professor.

“There you go,” he said, giving her a smile.

M: Hello, my name is Mike.

“It's a really cool program, isn't it? I mean, it can get on your nerves after a while, but it beats studying calc. One of these days, we're gonna be able to talk to real human beings with these things. Imagine who you might meet!”

For Ivy, whether fortunately or unfortunately, that day was still in the future.

Imagine, indeed.

Author's note: Some of you may actually be old enough to remember the Commodore 64, one of the first 'personal' computers on the market. There are some still around, and also software to download to make your current PC screen look like the Commodore's. 'Mike' is based on an actual program called Eliza; you can find out more about it here. (This story is still in rough draft form, as you can tell.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Left - Flash Fiction

You brought me home, sheltered me, cared for me. I gave you my love unconditionally. Loyal and faithful, I never cared what you were wearing, how much money you had, what sort of car you drove. I always welcomed you home as though I thought I'd never see you again.

You left me by the side of the road, and here I sit, waiting. My eyes are glued to the horizon, fixed on a point where I believe, and always will believe, that your car lights will reappear. Coming to take me back home with you. I may be here a while, I know; I do not understand, but I accept.

In the meantime, I suppose the dog is now sleeping on my side of the bed.


Kinzua - Flash Fiction - A to Z Challenge

Kinzua Viaduct; looking over the side, circa 1999. Copyright 2011 Lisa Vooght

Jump said a voice from somewhere.

Give me a sign I replied, silently.

But there was nothing which I could construe as such; the hawk circling lazily at eye level was intent on his own business, and the green swell of earth below shrugged and stood voiceless and ancient.

I leaned out further, studying the delicate lace of the ironwork, bleeding its rust in the hot sun. I envisioned the plunge downward.

A whistle tore through the air, and I jumped.

Not over the side, but inside of my skin, the sudden and reflexive shudder of the startle reflex. I bent down to touch the rail and feel its hum. I stood, and then picked my way over the venetian blinds of ties and gaps toward the smoking Iron Horse which was waiting.

A beautiful bridge, an engineering marvel, graceful and powerful, spanning the valley and able to carry tons of metal high into the air. It's working days were over, but it remained a wonder and a destination for many just the same. There were always one or two passengers who refused to cross; the train stopped before tiptoeing across, allowing those distrustful souls to exit and stand firmly planted to the earth while the rest of the human cargo completed the journey to the other side. I rode across many times, but just as often I detrained and walked over on my own. I have always been seduced by high places, by the sky, and by the tenuous thread that ties us to this life.

We trust in our man-made things, sometimes out of arrogance and sometimes because we must. We put our faith in things which seem substantial; structures, people, promises, ideals. Yet strength and security can be an illusion. We can never know, not really; we decide as we go, weighing the odds and the risks.

Kinzua bridge is no more. That which held untold tons of iron and steel in the form of locomotives was brought down by the power of that which cannot be seen or held; the very air itself. I wonder how many of those who never crossed congratulated themselves on their foresight. I wonder if the bridge cried out as it died, or if it collapsed in silent solitude.

I remember the wind in my hair and the feeling that the bridge held me in its hands, close enough to almost touch the sky, as the earth called to me from below.

I am saddened that it is no more.

Kinzua bridge by Jack Boucher, US Nat'l park service, via wikimedia commons

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jagged - Poetry


Laciniated, fragmented,
accidental mosaic.
Work of art,
artlessly broken.
A master craftsman
painstakingly mends
me so my edges
won't cut him so.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Magpie Tales Photo Prompt 61 - Stained

our lips,stained
mine with dye
yours with wine
or is it just
our hearts breaking
and both of us
tasting blood

Magpie Tales Prompts

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Becoming - Flash Fiction - Repost

Just in case anyone is bored today, one from the archives.


     "You look very becoming today, Mary. But I wish you hadn't changed your hair. It always looked like spun gold to me." He reached out to touch my raven black hair, and I let him, just for a moment. Becoming. Such an old fashioned word, and yet so much better than "hot".  I took the comb and began to fix his hair. Poor John never could quite tame that cowlick of his. I was gentle, and took my time, but in the back of my mind was the thought that Taylor was waiting for me at the club, and he'd be angry if I was late.
     I brought him his dinner and grabbed my coat off of the chair.
     "I wish you weren't gone so much," he said wistfully. "But with me not working..."
     "I know," I said. "But I'll see you in the morning."
     A TV blared through the wall, and I looked around at the sparsely furnished room. Usually I couldn't wait to go, into the exuberance of life outside these depressing walls, but tonight I felt as though I wanted to stay.
     "We've had a good life, haven't we?" he asked, looking up. "Even losing our baby...we made it through. Do you remember her first steps?"
     "Yes," I said. But I didn't. He went back to eating, and I put on my coat and closed the door.

     Downstairs, I hurriedly dressed in my favorite short skirt and heels. My hand was shaking as I applied eyeliner and listened to the frantic humming of my phone. Taylor, no doubt, wondering where I was.

     The club was hot, noisy, and packed as usual. I quickly spotted Taylor with some of his friends. He greeted me as usual, pulling me down on his lap and running his hand up my skirt. His friends smirked and jeered. But in spite of his cheerful demeanor, I could sense that he was angry, and fear coiled itself in my stomach. Always the same thing, with every man; the petty jealousy, the endless bickering and sniping, the inability to forgive or forget anything. It was the same with a lot of women, to be honest; so many seemed to positively thrive on drama, even creating it from nothing. Long ago, I'd decided that what I wanted was impossible. Someone to share my life, someone that I could ask anything of, tell anything to, someone who would be there no matter what. Love without fear. And so I accepted the crumbs of affection that fell my way, hiding behind the clothes and the music, the laughter and the alcohol. Nights spent in a haze, days spent doing endless mundane housekeeping chores.  I hated lying to John about where I was, but it was necessary. I looked around the club, and at myself, and I felt sick.

     That night, I just walked away from Taylor and his friends, and went home.

     John had spilled his morning orange juice all over himself, and as I struggled to help him out of his clothes, he berated me. "How can you be so lazy and incompetent? And why would you pick those clothes? You know I hate that material." I was calm and patient; I was used to his outbursts. A few minutes later, he was weeping.
     "Mary, oh god, I never said a harsh word to you, not in all the time we've spent together. I miss you so much, forgive me," he sobbed, as though his heart was breaking. But then, it broke every day. As did mine.

     So I held him, and soothed him, and he drifted off to sleep. His arm fell slackly over the side of the chair, and with a faint ping,
his wedding ring slipped off his finger and dropped to the cold tile floor. Inside was inscribed the word forever. I held it, warm in my hand.

     John is now gone.  My name is Lauren, and I was his caregiver for a time. He often mistook me for his wife, and if she chose to come to him through me, as in dreams, then who was I to question it?

     I've let my hair go back to its natural blond shade, and thrown away the makeup and clothes that I used to wear. I no longer go clubbing. And I cling to the hope that somewhere out there is that elusive thing called love. Forgiving, enduring...forever.

     I know that it exists, for I have seen it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Substance - Personal Post

Cat at Musings and Confessions has passed on the following award:
My favorite postings from Cat tend to be her Sunday ponderings, which always get me thinking and feeling. Thank you, Cat, for the award, for being an inspiration and for thinking me worthy of recognition.

I wasn't clear on the rules, but I found an old post or two (Cat combined reqs from her 2 awards :) which said to sum up one's blogging philosophy, motivation, and experience in 5 words (hey! it's a flash!) and then pass it on to 10 other blogs with real substance.

Observation, empathy, curiosity, compulsion, loss
(It isn't necessary, but I've chosen to explain a bit.)
1. Observation - I've always been a people watcher, partly because I have always hovered on the fringes and felt like an "outsider". Many of my stories stem from people I happen to see or read about. I can, however, assure you that the characters, places and events are all fictional unless otherwise noted in the title of the post (photo, non-fiction, personal post). Which is, BTW, why I do use those cumbersome tags in the post title.

2. Empathy - Although I haven't experienced certain events or emotions which I write about, I do spend a great deal of time listening to others, and my job/volunteering brings me into contact with individuals who have. As I have noted elsewhere, I describe my writing sometimes as "telling other people's truths".

3. Curiosity - I'm an avid reader of just about anything, from poetry to philosophy to medical reports and wedding notices. (Also the back of the cereal box, the scary enclosures that accompany prescriptions, and the bibliographies of books I read.)

4. Compulsion - I feel compelled to write. Sometimes because I feel something needs telling, sometimes because I'm anxious and/or bored, often because I can't sleep, and occasionally to exorcise a particular demon.

5. Loss - I've experienced my share of losses, as we all do. 'Nuff said.

Now comes the hard part. I'm always reluctant to single out blogs because, in all fairness, I really don't follow anyone unless their blog has substance, style, creativity, etc. (And I often screw up links.) So, I'll pass this on to a few new blogs I've recently found that I REALLY think deserve a look by new followers. Doesn't mean that I don't consider everyone worthy in some way.

Joe Nation at his blog Window really gorgeous prose, pics, and thoughts. One of my new faves.

Marcus at Writing Investigated if you didn't know, Marcus is responsible for creating the cool buttons (Next Blog/Surprise Me) for the A to Z Challenge. He also does a funny set of interviews with fictional characters, as well as more serious and thoughtful posts.

Royce Ratterman at Upper Streams Royce writes flash, short stories, plays, you name it.

The Blog of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks Has to be my favorite site. Period. An unending series of photos illustrating the subject, accompanied by terribly funny commentary. My "go-to" on dreary days. :)

Leovi at La Fotografia Efectista Abstracta sublime abstract photography. You've got to have a look.

I know, I know, it's only 5, but I'm backlogged with work, so another 5, in another post...on another day. Happy blogging and have a great weekend, everyone :))

Hands - Flash Fiction A to Z Challenge

I used to hate my hands. Ugly, claw-like things, crisscrossed with blue veins and tendons which stand out like a vast exposed network of plumbing. Long fingers, spoiled by bulbous knuckles, are tipped by nails which splinter without provocation and are surrounded by bloody half-moons. I have the disgusting nervous habit of gnawing at my cuticles, and since I am nothing more than a giant throbbing nerve some days, they remain ragged and torn.

Once upon a time, I applied colour to the nails but the paint, seemingly unhappy with it's shotgun wedding, largely fled the scene, leaving behind some small fragments of itself. Jorge, who's senses magnify the miniscule and disregard the obvious, became obsessed with trying to pick off those small spots, to the exclusion of everything else, including his “work”. So I left off the polish, and good riddance.

Jorge is a one-man demolition team. He is slender and wiry, and though he's only twelve, he is tall and can have the strength of a grown man when he is intent on something. That something could be as banal as getting his shoe off and having it remain off despite the best efforts of both parents and bus driver; as chaotic as trying to clear a counter of every single item on it; or as heartbreaking as pounding his head against the lockers in an attempt to...what? Extinguish some sort of mental or physical pain? Express an emotion which cannot slip by his locked lips? There are a multitude of possibilities, and we have not gotten so far as to find a means for him to communicate with us. At least, not on every occasion.

I have learned many things here; in fact, learned at least as much, if not more, than I have been taught. How to take tasks such as washing one's hands, (which we take for granted as being a relatively simple process) and break them down into 5 or 6 individual steps. How to quietly observe another human being, decoding their eyes and their expressions and even the way that they sit, and predict with some accuracy what they will do next. To pay attention to the faintest of sounds, the smell of someone's hair, the dance of dust motes in a ray of sun. Touch.

When I enter the room, Jorge charges at me full bore, as though he will knock me from this world into the next. He has been known, on occasion, to injure someone, not out of any sort of targeted or malicious rage, but simply because he has no other outlet for whatever emotion is currently roiling his brain.

I stretch my arms out and place the palms of my hands against the sides of his head, pressing firmly. He loves that and, drawing closer, gently presses his forehead against mine. For him, it is an unusual gesture; he seldom seeks any form of physical contact. I concentrate, and I hope that in some way he can feel the warmth and the love I feel, flowing into him. That it will soothe him and give him peace of some sort. My hands are not ugly any more.

Perhaps there is something to faith healing, and the laying on of hands. For both of us.

Friday, April 8, 2011

German Children; the Kindness of Strangers - Photo A to Z Challenge

As a British troop train slows to a halt somewhere in Germany, children hold out their hands.

I was going to fashion a story around this, but chose to let the image and the few facts known speak for themselves.
The photo was taken by a British soldier, somewhere in Germany after WW2, probably 1946. The soldiers were throwing candy, cigarettes, and what food they had out of the windows. (The cigarettes, of course, were highly valued as trading items on the black market.)
A reminder that children are the innocent casualties of war everywhere, and that it is up to us as individuals to do our best to counteract the brutality of this world with whatever small acts of kindness we can muster.
Do an act of kindness today for someone.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Also Linked up with Romantic Friday Writers for the May 2013 challenge of "Letters".

Dear Victor:

     I put pencil to paper, as I have not done for years, because we are not permitted access to the Internet. I presume that you have heard the story in bits and pieces, but I will set it forth for you in its entirety and truth. Perhaps, as my oldest friend, you will understand what others will not.
     You know that Angela and I met and fell in love very quickly; at least, I did. I suppose I cannot speak for her, although I hope devoutly that she felt at least something for me in the beginning. I know that you, as well as the others in our circle, were captivated by the qualities which ensnared me as well; her rapt attention to a speaker, the delicate slope of her shoulders, the lyrical rhythm of her speech. I don't know why she seemed drawn to me, unless the dullness and steadiness of my nature, which she often decried, gave her some feeling of security. She described our mutual friend Eric as “a searchlight”, intense, focused, and illuminating, whereas I was a mass of photons, oscillating pinpoints of light swallowed by the gloom of life's daily drudgery. (As an English professor, I give her marks for ingenuity if nothing else!)
     Admittedly, I was very protective of her; I wished to know where she was going if she went out, and was always awake, eagerly expectant, when she came home. After a time, it became very trying; she often went out with friends until the wee hours, although she also accompanied to many a social event, some of which she no doubt found very boring. She got on well with our crowd, as you know, and my chest swelled with pride as she swept about a room in silken dresses and dainty shoes, her laugh like the ringing of crystal.
     I noticed, after a time, a distinct chill in the air when I joined in a conversation. I convinced myself that it was my imagination, (even though we all know that subtle feeling of something being askew) and put forth an even greater effort at being charming.
     One fateful evening, she returned home with a livid bruise on her neck. I was horrified; she told me, shuddering prettily against me, that she had been accosted while walking home from a friend's apartment down the street. I begged, I pleaded, I raged that we must call the police and report it; she refused, saying that she hadn't got a good look, that no real harm had been done, and that, if they caught the perpetrator, what then? She would have to testify, he might get off, and then we would have to live in fear that he would track us down and do us further harm. I agreed, reluctantly, to let it pass, cautioning her that she mustn't ever walk home alone again.
     One domino falls.
     We argued about money one night; not exactly an uncommon thing among couples. I had given her access to my accounts, and forgiven her many times for her errors and forgetfulness in retaining receipts. Then, to my great shock, the account was overdrawn. We quarreled; exchanged heated words;and out it came, that she had been shacking up with a fellow on the other side of town. (It sounds like a tune from that country western radio station, doesn't it?) I regret to say that I lost my head, grabbed her by the shoulders, and swore at her.
She wrenched herself from my grasp and stormed out the door; before it slammed shut, I glimpsed our neighbor, Mrs. Hathaway, outside the door.
     And so, here I am, incarcerated on certain domestic charges. Not that I actually committed a crime, per se; at least, not the one they accuse me of. I find it incredible that people who have known me for years believed her over me; but then, she had covered her tracks carefully, telling her tale and showing her bruises and scratches, swearing others to secrecy and bearing it all with a brave yet woeful demeanor. No wonder I was being treated as a pariah!
     Since then, I understand that her father hanged himself over some sort of murmurings about her childhood, that she took up with Eric, and that he in turn took up with drink. And still she casts a spell over everyone.
You will laugh (albeit wryly, I imagine) when I tell you this: my sentence has been extended for a number of years, as they found a weapon of sorts hidden in my cell. Would you ever have believed it of me? The mild-mannered professor, now a felon! It will only serve to reinforce the conviction outside of these walls that I am, indeed, a villain.
     It is true, and yet it is not true, at least not at this point in time. The shank, as they call it (see, I am studying the evolution of language even behind bars) was procured, and placed, deliberately by me so that they would easily find it. Before my five years are up, I will find yet another means (non-violent, of course) of extending my stay. I have played judge, jury, and perhaps God, and sentenced myself to life in prison.
Because, were I to leave this place, and meet Angela face to face, I am not entirely convinced that I would not throttle her with my bare hands. And that would truly be the end of us both, for like the rest of our circle, a part of me still loves her. Perhaps you would tell her that, Victor, when you see her again.

     From what I hear, that will probably be tonight.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Eien - Flash Fiction - A to Z Challenge

The night before she was taken away, they sat under the bridge in the park. The war was a dark and dirty thing, not yet landed upon their shores but stretching its monstrous arms into their lives just the same. Her family had accepted fate quietly; but as children they were angry, and broken, and bewildered as only children can be. He had carved their names in the wood above them.

“I'll remember you,” he said, wiping his nose on his sleeve and not caring that she saw it. Such is the nature of trust. “I hate this. You were born here, just like I was, so why are they sending you away?”

“My father said it's because we might be friends or relatives of the enemy. And that it's for our own safety, to keep people on the streets from yelling at us or attacking us. He said the war will soon be over and that if this is our part, we should do what is asked.”

“I'll wait here for you every day until you come home.”

A year later she had not come home, and his father was transferred to a new job, far away. As they packed, he stormed and wept, thinking of ways to sabotage the new job, or to run away; but, in the end, he went quietly enough, carrying her in his heart.

He turned eighteen, and the draft notice came. Another war, another leave-taking, another tear in the fabric of his life. He was sent back to the sunnier climes of his youth, where he sought out the old bridge that still stood protectively, if a little wearily, over the stream in the park. Something had been carved, next to their names; K Y O T O.

In a strange land, sent to kill those he neither knew, nor understood, nor cared about particularly, he fought with dogged courage and the sole objective of living till his next R and R. And then the next, as he searched with fading hope for one name belonging to one girl in one very large city.

Sometimes all of the hope and faith in the world is simply not enough. And so, what can we do, but live. He finished out his sentence, survived, and went back to his home; found a good job, loved and married a nice girl who met all of the right criteria, and had a daughter. Somewhere in that time, he crept under the bridge and, feeling a little foolish, and not a little sad, carved O A K S T. Nothing else was ever added, although he looked from year to year.

Time passed, as it does, despite our devout wish to hold it still on occasion. His wife died suddenly, and his daughter was now married, with her own brood to raise. He had plenty of time to sit by the bridge in the sun.

A letter came to Oak Street, but he had since moved away to a nearby respite home, and the forwarding had expired.

Fate is not always cruel, although it may seem that way. His daughter still took him to the park on Sundays, and so he was there when she came one day; the girl, who's name he had carved in the wood so many years ago. Changed, and yet not so much, especially when she smiled.

“I thought I would be too late,” she said, taking his hand.
“It's never too late,” he said.

They had a year and a half together, and though that may not seem like much, to those who thought they would have nothing, it was everything.

The bridge is still there, and if you duck your head, crouch down underneath, and look up, you will see those carvings, and another:


                                                                        eien  (eternity)

Sample:  Flash Fiction

Monday, April 4, 2011

Catatonia - Flash Fiction - A to Z Challenge

Please don't leave me, whoever you are. Your touch is the only thing holding me now in this, one of two worlds.

I cannot make sense of the sounds I hear; whirring and shuffling, whispers and echoes. They come from all sides of me, even above and below. Do they move, or is it me? I cannot tell. I think that I should speak, must speak, but it seems that I have forgotten how. Maybe I have never known. But I hear you speak to me; if only I could answer.

I know the dark from light; but the dark to which I refer is not the blackness of that other world which draws me from time to time. When it is light, I sense a glow somewhere outside of me; when it is dark, the glow is gone, but I am still here; when the blackness takes me, there is Nothing. I know it is Nothing simply because I leave it for Something. Which is here. Which is you.

The blackness is heavy, warm, comforting. It blots out everything else, and seduces me with its promise of forgetfulness. For I have become aware of pain, coursing through me in regular waves. I try and will it away, but it cleverly sneaks about my body, a nip here, a bite there; it sits on my chest and licks its paw, heavy and ominous in its prophecy.

Your hand cups my face and you sing, your voice low and just by my ear.

I know that song!

So, it is you, my love.
Please don't leave me.

(I broke my own rule; I wrote this last week to post before the challenge, discarded it, rewrote it, tweaked it, got an opinion and decided to use it today.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Way It Was: Croydon, UK

For my friends in the UK, a bit of nostalgia; one of the last trolleybuses. Vintage postcard, Pamlin prints, around 1960?

Anathema - Poetry

I saw you in the marketplace
with swollen eyes and fallen face,
and marked the absence of your ring.
One does not probe that sort of thing.

But others are inclined to delve
(and then congratulate themselves
on avoiding such a dismal fate).
Alas, you found out far too late,

once he'd been under another's spell,
and since she'd left his heart a shell,
and revenge on women overdue,
he thought he'd do the same to you.

With “Gee, I'm sorry for this mess.
Perhaps you can return the dress.”
He couldn't forget the girl he'd wed,
so hung you, her effigy, instead.

Anathema: 1. anything laid up or suspended; hence, anything laid up in a temple or set apart as sacred. (As used in the Greek New Testament).
2. someone or something intensely disliked or loathed (Merriam-Webster)