Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Arsenal Girls - Flash Fiction

Friday, October 17, 1862

The war came to town, but not in the way we expected.

Late on an Autumn day, only a month ago, blast after blast struck our town, pouring thick smoke into the air, sending minie balls and bullets through helpless bodies, all the while our Townspeople rushed to throw water on workers who were afire. I remember thanking God that it was not me, and yet feeling guilty precisely because it was not me.

I also recall that it was payday.

News was trickling in that day about a bloody battle being fought some place down South called Antietam.  My Tom hadn't joined up yet, being 16, but we both knew it was just a matter of time; his older brother was already with the 123rd PA organized in August.  It didn't sit well with him that I was a newly employed cartridge choker at the Arsenal, either. But Father was newly passed with Consumption and Mother was struggling to make ends meet;  we girls at the Arsenal worked together in a room with an Officer and so what harm could come to us?  Simple work, putting lead balls in paper tubes with gunpowder, then tying off the ends.  Ten hours of repetitiveness, but good money, much gay chatting amongst ourselves, and far easier on the hands than taking in washing!  It was quite droll to see the smallest girls some 10 and 12, with heads bent, chattering together about the naughty boys who worked at other tasks. Sometimes I thought about the soldier who would bite off the end of one of My Cartridges and load it in his musket to tear a bloody hole in another man's chest; War is a Hideous Thing but I did my part to preserve the Union and our brave men's lives. 

I was not at work that Fateful Day owing to a complaint.  And so I was witness to the Horror and the Heroic Efforts of our townfolk.  It was Hell On Earth, and the first thought of many was that the Confederates had invaded.  At the first thunderclap people ran toward the smoke and noise to be met by girls streaming from the Arsenal, some blackened and bloodied, some with fire still licking at their clothes, begging for help to remove or smother them. A few Poor Souls jumped from windows to their deaths. I hesitate to add that there were limbs suspended from trees and bodies riddled with bullet holes so that they could not pass for Human anymore.

It is not known what caused the blast;  some say a spark from the shoe of a cart horse, others that a careless match may have been at fault.  There was gunpowder everywhere, and some of the barrels may have leaked.  Perhaps only God will ever know.

In the end the Dead numbered seventy-eight, and I was reminded of the Tributes Of Respect for our Soldiers Fallen In Battle.  Were these Arsenal Girls not soldiers as well?

My Mother and Tom both thanked God that I had been spared.  We have pledged our troth, Tom and I, for though we are Young it has been driven home that the War may well spare no one, and that we should therefore bind our Hearts and Souls and make use of the Time which remains to us.  I know that Tom will go, as he must, and that I will continue to contribute what I can, if not at the Arsenal than perhaps as a nurse or as a seamstress. 

Predictions of a Brief War having been proven wrong, I can only hope that it will be over before we need mark the Anniversary of that Dreadful Day here in Pittsburgh.

Author's note:  while this piece is based on a true event (and I have tried to make sure that details are correct), the narrator is a fictional composite and in no way is meant to represent any one person.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Unwrapping - Flash Fiction

I took a deep breath, and checked the master list against the pile once again.

1. 12 inch knife, newly sharpened
2. razor blade
3. bone shears from the kitchen knife block
4. knee protectors
5. bandages, including butterflies
6. safety goggles
7. heavy gloves
8. steel-toed boots

Everything seemed in order. I dressed slowly, carefully, trying to make sure that any tender spots of my body were protected from flying debris. Ready at last, I turned to the wall of expectant faces.

"All right then," I muttered, "who's first."

I tackled the first of many gifts: dolls and figures, manacled by wire and imprisoned in plastic strong enough to withstand a bunker-buster, and disassembled furniture in boxes strengthened by staples a foot long and bound by plastic straps which whistled by one's head when released. And except for the bruise on my posterior from slipping on the calling card of Gizmo the dog, I emerged triumphant and unscathed.

But maybe gift cards for the holidays isn't such a bad idea after all.

Wrap Rage:  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2008, an average of 6,000 people a year end up in the emergency department for packaging-related injuries. A poll of Pennsylvanians reported that about 17% had injured themselves opening gifts. Be safe this year - give blankets, socks and underwear.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Drop Dead Gorgeous - Flash Fiction

Eliza's story was one of a thousand; good family, prospective husband in the form of a neighboring farmer's son.  Along came a handsome soldier, with every intention of keeping her, whether as wife of mistress we will never know.  Having run off with him in the dead of night, and succumbed to his charm and his uniform, she soon found herself stranded in London lodgings when his regiment was posted overseas.

There were no positions anywhere. The city was overcrowded, filled with ex-soldiers, ex-shopgirls, ex-maidservants, subsisting on gin and what adulterated foodstuffs could be had for pennies.  The gaols were filled with "disorderly girls" awaiting Transportation To Parts Beyond the Seas or death for stealing the master's silver.

Eliza was determined not to join the ranks of the prostitutes, currently being driven like cattle by peace officers from the city into the outskirts and back again. To lift her skirts in a filthy alley - no, she would rather seek solace in the Thames with the others who washed up with unremarked regularity. With the little money remaining, Eliza determined to win her way back into the world by the one avenue which remained - turning the tables and compelling a man to succumb to her charms instead. A trip to the linendrapers produced enough goods (both bought and secreted beneath her petticoats) to fabricate an emerald-shaded gown worthy of looks, sighs - and with any luck, invitations.

The current craze for all things green (particularly Scheele's)* suited Eliza admirably, with her brilliant red hair swept high and a few loose ringlets fetchingly arranged so as to draw the eye to her bosom.  When she appeared at her cousin's birthday ball, every woman's tongue wagged and every man's gaze was fixed on her luminous eyes - or perhaps, a smidgen below.  All were willing to to dance, of course, but most attempted to take liberties with the fallen woman so happily appearing in their very dull midst. It appeared that the only invitations forthcoming would be in secret gardens rather than back alleyways. The dress was successful in one respect;  it worked its vengeance upon the male guests (although exacting its toll on the wearer as well) while they danced together in a poisonous cloud.  As Eliza swooned in the heat and disappointment, the men's eyes reddened and their heads pounded. An early departure was in order for most;  they wrapped up well, sealing in the arsenic particles for their families at home to enjoy. 

As for Eliza, she and the dress were welcomed and soothed to sleep by Father Thames, who gathers all of his children to him no matter what their station in life, and renders them all equal in the end.

* The colour green was a craze in Victorian England, and was used in clothing, wallpaper, paint, beauty compounds, toys, and other everyday objects. Scheele's Green contained arsenic, a highly toxic compound; painted on surfaces, or used to dye fabrics, it gave off dust particles that could be inhaled.

Sample flash fiction

Monday, December 5, 2011

All I Want For Christmas Is A New Tooth

Once upon a time, I went to bed feeling a slight twinge in a molar and woke up feeling as though someone had hit me in the face with a baseball bat. As there were no signs of forced entry and my priceless collection of reindeer figurines remained on display, I assumed that there might be something else amiss.

And so, dear readers, I am off to have a) a root canal or b) a tooth extraction, depending on the results of a microscopic exam of the offending molar. (However will they fit my head under a microscope?)

I will, presumably, be out of action for a few days. Hope you all have a great week and I'll see you later. :-)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Aircraft Identification - Test Your Knowledge #2 - Photos

 Once in a while I take time time off on the weekend and post a few pics instead.  The first post in this Aircraft ID series, Historic Aircraft seemed to go over well, so how about another crack at it?

Thank you to Jon Radlett (via Twitter) for the first two IDs.

Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon (experimental). It's a VTOL  (vertical take-off/landing), first official flight was in 1954 but the craft was cancelled in 1955. Copyright Lisa Vooght.

Convair F2Y Sea Dart. First flight 1953, retired/cancelled 1957. Copyright Lisa Vooght

Copyright Lisa Vooght

Copyright Lisa Vooght

Copyright Lisa Vooght

Copyright Lisa Vooght

Good luck! (There are no prizes, just the satisfaction of knowing that you're an ace aircraft spotter.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Journey's End - Friday Flash - Romantic Friday Writers

I was wearier than I'd ever been in my life. But warmth was finally seeping into me and I waited, time at a standstill. Memories came flooding back in a sweet tide and I savored them, watching as they played out in front me. I could have lain there forever, but there was more calling to me and I followed.

The woods sang and echoed with laughter; there was a whoop, and I knew it was my best friend Beth, lithe body flying through the snow on his Flexible Flyer sled. Smelling the pungent mix of pine sap and wood smoke, I crunched my way through the sugar drifts toward the light in the distance. A cardinal called purdy purdy purdy in the twilight.

I left the forest, and there it stood; my house. My commonplace, pedantic, cookie-cutter little house. I grew up there, I clutched my doll and cried there, I read about the mysteries of life and witnessed quite a few there. Grandpa was on the porch, idly leaning on the bannister and smoking his pipe, but before I could shout a greeting a 100 pound ball of fur hurtled out of nowhere.

“Bandit!” was all I got out before he knocked me to the ground and we rolled in a delicious cloud of steaming dog breath, fur and snow. I was sobbing now, unashamedly, as another little piece of my heart fell into place. It had been so long, and I had missed him so much, and yet the full scale of it only made itself known when he was back in my arms. He licked me energetically and raced around like a puppy, all the while licking me and barking joyfully in a paroxysm of doggy madness. I was laughing now, awash in delight, and I didn't think that I could ever be happier, until I saw another figure coming toward me.

My homecoming was complete. He folded me in his arms, and I breathed him in, reveling in the scent as though I had lain next to him every night of my life. Sighing, I relaxed and laid my head on his shoulder. Happy, relieved, content. Safe.

“I searched for you, everywhere, for so long.”

He held me tighter, rubbing his cheek against mine. “I know. But what is meant to be will always come to pass, if not in one lifetime than in another.”

The last of the pain fled my heart forever.

I am whispering this in your ear, Mum, I am showing it to you in your dreams, so you will know that I am OK and that my long journey is over. There is no other place I'd rather be. You will miss me, I know, but home and all that it contains awaits you too.

Do not grieve because I left life too soon. In the end, it is just another beginning.

Word Count: 482