The April A-Z Blogging Challenge has come and gone. So has April. I thoroughly enjoyed following the blogs of all you bloggers out there who had the guts to commit and execute such a feat and blog every day in April from A to Z. My hat’s off to you. Your tenacity and creativity deserve a huge pat on the back.
Speaking of a pat on the back, you may have noticed that we, here at SLIW, recently had a first birthday. * Insert another pat on the back here * If I were to say things like “Wow, what a year!” or “Boy, have we learned a lot,” it would be terribly cliche (although I personally love cliches) and awfully boring.
So, in honor/honour (yes, I’m bilingual, too) of the A-Z challenge that we missed and the milestone that we just passed, here is an entire A-Z in one go; the A-Z of our first year. It blows my mind to think that a little over a year ago, we/I had no knowledge of most of these terms.
(Yes, I know this says 2012, but I preferred last year’s logo to this year’s and since we missed it anyway, what difference does a year make!)
N.B. The item in caps at the end of each list explains how we made it through . . .
A Authors, Absolute Write, Artists, Amazon, Acceptance, Accountants, ADVICE (taken!)
B Blogging, Blogs, Bloggers, Books, Business, Bluehost, BANTER
C Contests, Connections, Characters, Cover Art, Categories, Contracts, COFFEE
D Duotrope, Decisions, Domain, DBA, Digital, DONUTS
E Energy, Edit, E-book, Editors, ENTHUSIASM
F Facebook, Follows, Friends, #FF, Formatting, Focus, Favorited, FAMILY
G Google, Goodreads, Graphics, Guidelines, Genre, GRACE (of a deity perhaps)
H Hyperlink, Hashtag, HD, Handle, HUGS
I Interviews, Insomnia, ISBN, Indie, Images, Instagram, ICE-CREAM
J Journey, Joliet Small Business Center, JELLY BEANS
K Kindle, KDP, Kindle Fire, KINDNESS
L Likes, Links, LinkedIn, Legal, Lawyers, LOVE
M Marketing. Mail Chimp, M&Ms, MEDITATION
N Nook, Ninety-Nine Cents, Networking, NUTS (pun intended)
O Opinions, Omniscience, OREOS
P Publishing, Pricing, Promotions, Photographers, Proofread, Pinterest, PATIENCE
Q Quality, Questions, Query, Quicksand (just kidding), QUIET TIME
R Readers, Reviews, Royalties, Rejection, Rights, Retweets, Reblogs, ROCK ‘N ROLL
S Smashwords, Short Stories, Support, Strength, Schedule, Submissions, SLEEP
T Twitter, Tweets, Tweeps, Teens, Taxes, Teamwork, Trends, TEA & TAI CHI
U Underestimate, Underachievement, Up-and-coming, UNDERSTANDING
V Vonnegut, Voice, Victory, VACATION
W Website, Writers, WordPress, Words, WINE
X X-factor (that special je ne sais quoi!) EXCITEMENT
Y Yahoo, YA, Young Adult, YA Lit, YOGA
Z Zzzzzzz . . . time to get some!
If you have been on any part of this journey with us, we thank you! If you are just starting out, we thank you, too!
Have a great day!
Clare @ SLIW
Sex in YA is controversial. Because many YA readers are young, as a writer, you have to be incredibly careful in how you handle it.
There’s so much to consider: How old should characters be when they do it? Should they do it at all? If you write sex into your novel are you endorsing teen sexuality? Creating peer pressure that could encourage teens to have sex before they’re ready?
First off, we’d like to wish ourselves a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY! We are 1 today. Like any one-year-old we are still learning so many things and know that we have a long way to go. When we look back at the past year and see how far we’ve come, we are astonished and had we known all the bumps and curves that were ahead we probably wouldn’t have started in the first place. Just kidding. I think. So, have some cake with us. Cake makes everything better, doesn’t it?
You may have noticed that we have been on a bit of a break recently. Maybe you didn’t notice and that’s OK. Sometimes, as perhaps you all know, life gets in the way of even the best intentions. “Suddenly” has been and continues to be a business/hobby/dream/pastime for the three of us who also have other lives that include real jobs, families, aging parents, and all that those things entail. So, suffice it to say that we are back even though we have not really been away
Let’s catch up then. I have been in Scotland visiting my parents and celebrating my dad’s 85th birthday. I was there for almost a month doing all the things that a dutiful daughter does for her parents. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard work and rewarding. Here’s a picture of my lovely parents about to celebrate my dad’s 85th with a family lunch.
While I was away, my blog following took a nose dive, but I was able to enjoy several bloggers who took the April Alphabet Challenge blogging each day this month with a letter topic. I notice that today is “S” and had we been up for the challenge would have declared it a Suddenly Day. Perhaps an A-Z of our first year should be a blog topic. We’ll see. Oh, and we should have news of Volume 3 of Suddenly Lost In Words very soon.
Catch you later ..
Clare @ SLIW
Tags: Short Stories, Teen, YA, Young Adult
In today’s short story, the final in our Short Story Sunday Series, Nadia discovers that having a robot to do everything for you isn’t what it seems; there are things a robot can’t do. For that, she’ll need . . . another robot!
ZEB AND THE DIRTBAG
By Steven Mathes
Jonathan needs to get a grip.
“This is Jonathan,” Jonathan says to her, pinging a metal finger against his metal chest.
Jonathan’s teenager Nadia fondles another device, her Clever Companion. She looks up in condescension.
“If you were alive like Rufus, I’d almost care.”
Rufus is bio‑patent pending. It looks like a headless, fuzzy monkey. Or a fleshy, hairy, throbbing book bag. Here at this house Jonathan does the chores. Companion does nothing but eat feces and defecate food.
Jonathan is inorganic, but at least his designers took a stab at making him look human. His chrome and plastic face has all the correct human parts, and can show expression. He has a little pink apron painted on his body tube. He is programmed to act jealous, and does it quite well. He has plans for the furry fleshbag Rufus.
The breeders love the way the market for that fleshbag Clever Companion has grown. They have big budgets for development, with all sorts of newer, more stylish models just coming out. They never think about long‑term consequences.
“No Clever Companion at the table,” Jonathan says to Nadia. “Jonathan knows it’s not sanitary.”
“His name is Rufus,” she says.
Nadia pries Clever Companion’s tentacles off her shoulders, and it scuttles off to her room. She does not remove her music player. She listens to Zeb. She cycles over and over through his entire output of a dozen, nearly identical songs. Over and over. She’s reached the age where she mostly doesn’t speak unless she needs money, transportation, or permission.
Tonight she talks, so Jonathan wonders.
“Rufus understands you when you say mean stuff,” she says. “And he’s cleaner than you are. The zines and the wikis say that you’re toxic. I mean when you’re junked, right? You’ll be toxic waste!”
“Jonathan is zero‑bio,” Jonathan says, again jabbing a finger into his own steel chest. “His environmental impact is understood, and therefore managed at your local recycling center. He is not an invasive species.”
“You’re just jealous. I have Clever Companionship!”
Jonathan dishes out supper, but not before uploading the transcripts of this conversation to the parents.
He is programmed to cook all of Nadia’s favorites. This is allowed because her parents get home too late to eat her bland, fatty, teenager food. If her food were good for her, it would be one thing, but it forces Jonathan to supplement with countless additives. Her digestive flora are particularly sick.
Jonathan eats, also. He could put just about anything organic into his fuel cell, but greasy French fries and cultured burger “meat product” provide calories. What is bad for her is good for him. He could stuff all of it in at once, but his teenager has him programmed to break the food into dainty pieces, and swallow those individually.
“Jonathan noticed the kitty litter was gone again,” he says.
“What?” says Nadia.
“It ate the kitty litter. Your Rufus thing.”
Jonathan notes the wave of disgust that crosses her face. Her hand goes to her mouth, and she stops eating. While she deals with what she kissed all day, he adds his little conversation to today’s activity record. Rufus was originally developed as a waste recycler for astronauts in deep space. It is a toilet, as well as a pet. Her parents are big on sanitation, and care about what meets their daughter’s lips.
Nadia finally puts on a brave face, touched with a little anger.
“Well, Rufus’s kibbles are basically the same thing,” she says, sticking out her chin.
She gets up from the table, calls out softly, and the not‑so‑Clever hairy toilet bag scuttles back to her. She makes a show of cuddling and cooing. In an effort to curry favor, Jonathan bends over, and strokes the thing. It wheels around, hissing. It has no teeth, just a sucking tube.
Jonathan focuses on cleaning up, and notes that Nadia has left most of her supper. All the cooing in the world cannot hide the loss of her appetite. Safely out of sight in the kitchen, Jonathan scrapes the plates into his mouth. The garbage lands on top of the dainty bits he put in earlier. He activates his grinder, and the material goes into his fuel cell. He gives his exo‑structure a good polishing before going back out.
He brings her a brown éclair, covered with lumpy chocolate. A confectionery turd.
“Very funny,” she says.
The parents get home before she can decide whether to eat the turd. It’s early for them, and as soon as Jonathan sees them, he can tell something is up. Mother still wears her yoga outfit, and Father wears his rugby interface. They have cut their busy days of work and exercise short. Right now, the faces of the parents show classic indicators of parental panic. It is time to have a “discussion.” Jonathan knows his surveillance, the sum of the activity logs, is responsible. He has no programming for how to act when gloating, but he knows he is gloating. He almost dances.
“You look agitated, Mother and Father,” he says. “Jonathan is concerned.”
“Indeed?” Father says.
“Let’s go sit together around the table,” says Mother.
Nadia goes to put her Clever sewage treatment device back in its cage.
“No, no, Rufus should be with us,” says Father.
They sit. The chocolate turd sits uneaten, the centerpiece of the table. The phrase “Checkmate!” burbles up from Jonathan’s memory.
“Please take the buds out of your ears,” Mother says.
Nadia obeys. Mother nods, unsurprised, but now satisfied. Normally the tiny inserts are completely invisible to humans, but then again, the teenage mind is predictable enough.
“This isn’t going to be easy,” Mother adds.
“Jonathan has been giving us updates about you,” Father says.
Nadia’s face goes through many feelings, some of which Jonathan has difficulty analyzing. She inhales and blows out hard. Her parents wait until she has mastered herself.
“It’s about Rufus,” she says. “Jonathan and Rufus don’t like each other.”
“But you and Rufus are extremely attached,” Mother says.
Jonathan understands irony. Nadia’s attachment to Rufus is literal. She strokes one of the tentacles wrapped over her shoulder, starts to pry it off, but pats it back down.
“So?” she says. “I thought that was supposed to be healthy.”
The fear welling up in her eyes agitates Jonathan. She shifts her weight, and she averts her head. The caregiver software in him thrashes. He wishes to protect her. She begins to sway a little.
“So I have to make a choice, or something?” Nadia says.
“If this was your choice, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Father says. “The choice has already been made.”
Nadia goes still. Jonathan’s sensors tell him that she has paused breathing. Her eyes are hard.
“Well?” she says.
Father and Mother both have trouble controlling their mouths. Father actually smiles.
“We have a surprise for you,” Mother says. “An early birthday present.”
Mother gets up and opens the door to the apartment. The figure that enters is the too‑perfect replica of Zeb. Jonathan happens to know that the real Zeb is a computer construct, even his Nadia knows that, but this is a doll‑sized Zeb in the flesh. Jonathan knew they were out, but never predicted this.
“What?” Nadia says. “You bought me a Zeb?”
“You’ll be fourteen on Monday,” Father says. “The Zebs are selling out, and we couldn’t very well hide him.”
The Zeb just stands there grinning. He looks moony, stupid and obedient. The perfect boy. The perfect slave.
“My God, can he sing?” says Nadia. “Did you get the one that sings?”
“He has up to twenty phrases,” Father says. “He can sing all of his songs.”
Nadia was already weakened before the surprise, and now the tears stream freely. She removes the headless dirtbag Companion from her back, and sends it back to its crate. Now she has two organic pets. Jonathan’s thrashing thoughts run out of control.
“What should I name him?” Nadia asks.
“You can call me sweetheart!” says the sassy Zeb, batting his eyes.
Nadia pulls him into her arms. She kisses him on the lips. Then she pulls back enough to stroke his head.
“I’ll call you Zeb, of course.” she coos. “It’s not original, but it’s what I want. My sweetheart Zeb.”
The Zeb watches her face, and smiles a moony smile. It holds her hand, and they cuddle together like a more traditional couple. Jonathan understands the use of this pet. This is a distraction, a way to buy time. With the Zeb in the picture, the threat of having a real boy is delayed.
Jonathan wonders what the Zeb eats. Will Jonathan need to buy more kibbles, or will he have to provide more greasy cultured meat product?
“With every milestone comes responsibility,” Father says.
“Oh, I’ll take good care of him. I promise!”
“No, no. We know that. We’re talking about responsibility around the house.”
“Jonathan’s feedback confronted us with some of our failings,” says Mother.
“You don’t pick up after yourself, you expect him to fix every little snack when you ask for it, he washes your clothes, he makes your appointments for health and grooming . . .” Father says.
Father shrugs, struggling to come up with a list of the hundreds ‑ thousands ‑ of things Jonathan does for Nadia.
“We could go on,” Mother says.
Jonathan cannot continue suffering.
“What’s this about?” Jonathan says. “What’s happening?”
“Please be quiet, Jonathan,” Father says.
“And please stay seated,” says Mother.
When ordered to stay seated, any device with Jonathan’s programming is frozen by direct commands from his operating system. Many questions come up, but he has orders. Fortunately, his Nadia finally defends him, and asks the questions for him.
“What are you going to do?” she asks.
“We’ve decided you’re old enough to be left alone with your Clever Zeb,” Mother says.
“Just ‘Zeb,’” Nadia says.
“You can call me sweetheart!” Zeb chirps.
“Zeb can help, and Zeb can remind,” says Mother. “But you do the actual chores.”
“What’s happening to Jonathan?” Nadia repeats.
“For now, Jonathan will be kept in the closet,” Mother says.
“If we decide you’re still too young, we’ll turn him back on. But we hope that won’t be necessary,” says Father.
Nadia looks at Jonathan with something almost like affection. Her tears still flow, but she wipes at them with a sleeve. Jonathan must sit still, but he can watch. He watches every muscle twitch, watches the angle of her eyebrows, analyzes the pheromones, and even measures the electric potential of her skin.
He watches himself lose. She sorts her priorities, and does the inevitable. For his teenager, growing up takes precedence over love.
“Okay,” she says. “I can do it.”
“Do it, do it, oh, oh, baby, do it!” sings Zeb.
The silence after this little cheer drags on awkwardly, but finally ends.
“Jonathan, please step into the closet.”
Having no choice, he goes in, turns, and pushes his back against the wall. His servos power down. He waits. Nadia still dabs at her eyes with her sleeve. Mother and Father look at her with uncharacteristic concern.
“If there’s an emergency, you can turn him on,” says Father.
“We’ll wait until the school year is over before we recycle him.”
“I don’t know,” Nadia admits. “I mean, he’s just a machine, not like Zeb, but I don’t know.”
Her tears are back. She looks at Jonathan, looks him right in the eyes.
“If you don’t think you can do this . . .” says Mother.
Nadia gets out of her chair and approaches, eyes full of hard tears. Jonathan looks into them and sees the reflection of his apron. The reflection causes him to think about reflection in general. He knows he does not feel, and would not be allowed to do so even if he could, but his system thrashes. A software glitch?
“I’ll just shut him down,” Nadia says.
Her still‑shaky hand reaches toward his face, gently, toward the switch under his ear.
“Jonathan!” Jonathan says quietly, just loud enough for her. “He is!”
Her eyes harden, but she does not look back. She does not tell Mother or Father that Jonathan said something illegal.
“No,” she says. “I’ll turn him off.”
Jonathan stops now.
Meet Steven Mathes, the author of ZEB AND THE DIRTBAG . . .
W.C. Fields once said that anyone who hates kids and dogs can’t be all bad. Given that Steven Mathes has published numerous stories that feature both kids and dogs in a sympathetic way, he just might be as bad as they get.
THANKS FOR TUNING IN TO SHORT STORY SUNDAY!
HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND EVERYONE!
Welcome to week five of Short Story Sunday. There will be one more in the series making a grand total of, yup you guessed it, six. This Sunday, we are featuring a story written in Canada about growing up in India. The author, Ahmed Khan, takes us back with him to his childhood in India engaging all of our senses as if we were right there with him.
SMELL OF TIME
by Ahmed A. Khan
I grew up in Hyderabad in India.
In that place, the sixties were interesting times to grow up in.
I was an only child to my parents. One of my earliest memories is that of a feeling of loneliness. Not that I was actually alone. No. I had many people around me who loved me and cared for me. But I felt that other people didn’t understand me, my thoughts and feelings. It was much later I found out that almost no person is fully understood by any other person in this world.
When I look back on the days of my childhood, I find that in many things, I was luckier than most. I was lucky in the fact that I was an extremely sensitive boy. I thank God for my sensitivity in spite of all the hurt it caused me, because the alternative would have been insensitivity.
A big, yellow old‑fashioned house with tiled roofs was where I lived. The house sported a garden, too. There were numerous fruits and flowers in the garden. In the midst of the garden there was a small water reservoir around which lilies grew.
My grandfather ‑ who in his time had been a magistrate ‑ had the habit of getting up early in the morning. After his morning prayers, he would take a round of the garden, watering the trees. Tending the garden was one of his pleasures. After watering the trees and plants, he would change his dress, pick up his walking stick and take a long walk through the paddy fields. Sometimes, when I had risen earlier than usual, I would accompany grandfather on his walks.
The paddy fields ‑ no, they didn’t belong to us ‑ stretched for three or four acres in front of our house. To reach the fields, all you had to do was to cross the road. This road led to the railway station that was about two minutes walk from our house. Sitting in the house, we could easily hear the sounds of the coming and going trains. These trains were steam‑powered and I liked the smell of the coal smoke that the steam engines gave out. The railway tracks passed through the fields. I enjoyed seeing the trains passing through the paddy.
In the garden was a mango tree. This tree was one of my favorite haunts in times of leisure. On this tree, I had fixed a small wooden board and a tin can. On the board, I would place grains of rice, wheat or corn and in the tin can I would put some water. This was for the birds to eat and drink. On this tree would I sit silently for hours and hours, watching the birds. Sometimes, I would bring books with me and sit reading atop the tree. On this selfsame tree, stripping down to my shorts, I played Tarzan a number of times.
In the evening, all of us, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, would either take a walk or bring out chairs and sit in front of the house in the gathering coolness of the night, gossiping. It was pleasant.
Summer nights in our house were extra special. Some of us ‑ particularly my grandmother and myself ‑ would sleep in the open, on wooden cots covered with crisp, clean sheets. It was extremely pleasant lying there in the coolness of the night, staring up at the star‑studded sky and listening to the snores of the rest of the sleepers and the chirrupings of crickets, grasshoppers and other insects, while the fragrance of spring flowers filled my nostrils.
During holidays, my afternoons were usually spent in grandfather’s room. I would lie beside him on his bed and he would tell me stories of prophets, martyrs and great thinkers of the world ‑ and I would lie there assimilating it all, occasionally asking him a question, otherwise remaining silent.
After the story session, he would usually go to sleep and I would get up from his bed and go around prowling in his room, searching for any books he might have brought from the State Central Library. I would find the books and start reading them at once, sitting in his armchair. These books were usually quite old ones, their bindings torn, their pages termite eaten, and a strange sort of smell rising up from them ‑ a mysterious, magical smell. Have you ever noticed what books, particularly old books, smell of? They smell of sunny and cloudy days and dark and moonlit nights. They smell of battlefields and gardens, of open skies and dusty attics, of deserts and mountains, of destinies and purpose. They smell of time.
If I ever sit and try to analyze the components of my present personality, I am sure I will find therein several constituents comprising of strange elements like a mango tree, paddy fields, summer nights and smell of old books.
Meet the author of SMELL OF TIME , Ahmed A. Khan . . .
Ahmed A. Khan is a Canadian writer. His works have appeared in several venues including Interzone, Strange Horizons, Boston Literary Magazine, Queens Quarterly (Australia), Anotherealm, etc. He has also co-edited the anthology, “A Mosque Among the Stars.”
Thanks again for reading!
Enjoy your Sunday!
Thanks to the Internet gods (Comcast) for allowing this week’s short story to post on time, and thanks for checking out short story number 4. This week, meet George who takes his son on a traditional family fishing trip only to discover that there’s more to fishing in the wilderness than meets the eye, and ‘survival of the fittest’ may just have been replaced with ‘survival of the tech-savvy’.
BAIT AND SWITCH
By William Meikle
“Are we there yet?”
George Watkins sighed and turned to look downstream. His son Bobby was thirty yards behind, and dawdling.
I guess we’re just too far from the TV and the video games for his liking.
“Nearly,” George shouted. “It’s just round the next bend.”
“You said that ten minutes ago,” Bobby wailed.
This trip up the Monongahela was supposed to be character building, a chance for George to bond with a kid he was rapidly losing to the enticements of the internet and games machines. He’d thought that a fishing trip would bring them closer together.
So far it wasn’t going according to plan.
“Come on son,” he said. “There’s a big trout up there just waiting to be our supper.”
The boy kicked at some pebbles, sending them scuttling into the river. He never raised his head.
But at least he’s following.
When they turned the corner they saw the creek spread out before them, with the rock shelf and ruined cabins at the far end.
“Why did people live out this far?” Bobby asked.
George took this as an encouraging sign. At this stage even a simple question was progress.
“Well there’s mine workings all over these hills and . . . “
But the boy seemed to have lost interest already. He fished a cell phone from his pocket and put his head down again.
George sighed and set his sights on the rock shelf, their campsite for the night. Ten minutes later they pitched camp in the ruins of the Taylor and Nichols cabins. Rather, George got the tent up and started in on collecting firewood for later, while the boy moped around trying to get a signal on his phone. George resisted the urge to bawl the kid out, trusting that the lure of fishing would grab as quickly as it had taken hold of George himself at the same age.
Wait until we get that first nibble of the day, George thought. He’ll come round soon enough.
But even after they’d set up on the riverbank and George had caught a fine two pounder for supper, still Bobby remained resolutely unimpressed.
“If you don’t cheer up, I’ll feed you to the Ogua,” George said.
The boy’s head finally rose from where he’d been staring at the phone, even though it was currently switched off.
“What’s an Ogua?”
George smiled inwardly.
I’ve caught him.
“It lives hereabouts,” he said quietly. “The Iroquois say it’s as big as a bear, with a hard shell like a turtle and a thick tail that can break a man’s back. By day it stays under the water. But at night it comes out, looking for deer . . . or anything else it can drag away to its den.”
Bobby’s eye’s had gone big and wide open.
Time to reel him in.
George waved in the direction of the ruined cabins.
“That’s why the folks who built these here dwellings had to leave. The Ogua got all their cattle . . . and they were afeared it was coming for them next.”
George looked out over the still river, remembering how his own father had told him the story, in this same spot. He cast the line, sending the weighted lure over to the far bank where it landed with a soft plop.
He was remembering his own father’s story, and the insistence, the sincerity with which he’d told it. The Ogua might, or not be real, but one thing was for sure, George’s old man had believed it, and had made George believe it, for a time at least.
Now if I could only get through to Bobby. Maybe we could both believe.
“Its den is about there I reckon,” he said. “At least that’s where your Great‑Granddaddy saw it, back in Fifty Five. It gave him such a fright his hair went white. And do you know . . . ”
He never got a chance to finish. The boy’s cell phone rang, the blast of tinny music breaking any spell George had woven.
“Yay. I got a signal,” Bobby shouted, happier than George had seen him all day.
He was on the phone all the time while George got a fire going and cooked the trout. He only put it down to eat. George tried to interest him in the beauty of the sunset, but the boy sat there, head down, thumbs working frantically, lost in a world George would never understand.
He did get the lad to switch it off as they got into their sleeping bags. Bobby wanted to stay in the tent. George preferred to lie out in the open, like he had in his youth. When he woke to take a leak around midnight he saw a tell tale blue glow from the phone’s display just inside the tent. By then he was too dispirited to get into an argument about it.
First thing in the morning, we’re outa here. It’ll be best for both of us.
After that, sleep wouldn’t come. He lay on his back, staring up at the Milky Way and remembering nights such as this with his own father; the anticipation of the fishing to come the next day, the feeling of closeness with his old man he feared he’d never achieve with Bobby.
It was nearly two o’clock when he rolled onto his side. There was still a faint glow from the tent where the boy lay.
Enough is enough.
He moved to climb out of his bag.
And that’s when he heard it . . . a soft slump as something pulled itself out of the water, barely five yards from where he lay.
He rolled, still cocooned in the bag, ignoring the stones and twigs that poked and prodded even through the nylon, making for the boy’s tent.
“Bobby!” he said in a whisper that wanted to be a shout. “Get out of there.”
Something big moved across the ground towards him, twigs snapping and pebbles tumbling with small splashes into the river. Above that there was breathing, a liquid gurgle.
“Bobby!” he said, louder this time.
He shucked off the sleeping bag. It was grabbed from his grasp and whisked away. He heard the sound, very close now, as whatever had come out of the water tore the nylon with loud rips.
A bobbing blue light moved somewhere to his left, heading into the woods, but George had no time to think. He headed for the other tent and almost pulled it out of the pegs as he threw the flap open.
The tent was empty. The boy had indeed heard him and slipped away. George looked around, hoping to catch another glimpse of the bobbing blue light that would show him where to find the lad.
“Over here,” a small voice shouted from among the cabin ruins. George could indeed just make out the faint blue glow of the phone.
He felt the air move over his head and something large and heavy swished, just missing him. He tried not to remember the stories, of how the Ogua could break a man’s back with its tail. He headed in a stumbling run for Bobby’s location.
The Ogua followed him. It tore the tent to shreds, the ripping loud in the quiet night. The moist breathing got louder and there was a clicking noise that George realised could only be claws; claws scratching on stone. He made out a shape in the darkness. The thing that followed him across the campground was tall, almost as big as George himself and twice as broad. A long tail, eight feet of more, stretched out behind it, swishing from side to side, balancing the creature’s stumbling forward steps on its stubby rear legs. It closely resembled a dinosaur from the old movies, but its back was protected by a thick carapace, glimmering in the moonlight like oil on tortoiseshell. The eyes were the worst; almost perfect circles, like small saucers, and milky white like fine porcelain. They tracked George’s every movement as the Ogua came forward, hands bearing long knife‑like claws clenching and unclenching, anticipating the rending of flesh.
George reached the cabin ruins just ahead of the Ogua. There was no sign of the boy as he skipped across fallen timbers and rocks.
“Over here,” a voice called. The dim blue light showed at the edge of the forest.
“Stay there, I’m coming,” he called back and ran faster.
The Ogua followed, tossing timber aside as if it were matchsticks. George fled into the woods. The boy had already moved on, the blue glow bobbing as it moved further into the trees.
“This way,” Bobby called.
“Wait,” George replied, but all too soon the blue glow was lost in the thickets. He had no choice but to follow. And as he went after Bobby, so the Ogua pursued him. He ran, almost blind in the dark, branches and thorns tugging and tearing at clothes and skin. The Ogua crashed through everything, breathing louder now, panting like a hot dog. Something pulled at George’s ankle and he let out a yelp, but it was just a twig, He tore away from it, leaving the lower half of a pant leg behind.
“Over here,” he heard Bobby shout above the noise of the Ogua. “Quick. This way.”
He ran, ignoring the hot blood flowing from numerous small scrapes and tears. Finally he saw the faint blue glow ahead of him. It was still, unmoving.
“Jump,” Bobby shouted. “Jump now!”
He didn’t think. He leapt, aware of crossing a dark void, landing hard and toppling sideward. A small hand steadied him.
“Run,” George shouted, making a grab for the boy. “It’s nearly here.”
The Ogua crashed through the trees, white eyes shining almost silver in a thin wash of moonlight. George turned to run again, but Bobby put a hand on his shoulder.
The Ogua came on hard; then lost its footing and fell away, the liquid breathing turning to a screech as it tumbled into a dark hole, scrambling frantically. It kept trying to reach George, tail thrashing wildly, but all it managed to do was send timber and debris falling, hastening its descent.
It dropped away into darkness, the screech fading.
George leaned over slowly and looked down into an old mineshaft, the walls now only partially shored. Below there was only deep quiet blackness.
Bobby came and stood beside him, a big grin on his face.
“How did you do that?” George asked.
Bobby held up the phone.
“Research and GPS,” he said, smiling.
George looked at the phone, seeing it through the boy’s eyes for the first time.
“It looks like I need someone to bring me up to date with all this new‑fangled stuff. Want a job?”
Hand in hand, father and son headed back to what was left of their camp.
George realised something else.
“You used me as bait didn’t you?”
Bobby looked sheepish.
“I saw it in a game once. It worked that time as well.”
George ruffled the boy’s hair.
“Maybe fishing is your thing after all.”
Meet the author of BAIT AND SWITCH, William Meikle …
William Meikle is a Scottish writer with fifteen novels published in the genre press and over 250 short story credits in thirteen countries. His work appears in many professional anthologies and he has recent short story sales to NATURE Futures, Penumbra and Daily Science Fiction among others. His ebook THE INVASION has been as high as #2 in the Kindle SF charts. He now lives in a remote corner of Newfoundland with icebergs, whales and bald eagles for company.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, UK!
HAPPY DAYLIGHT SAVING DAY, USA!
HAVE GREAT SUNDAY, EVERYONE!
Well, it’s Monday night so this is hardly Short Story Sunday. No internet access all weekend is the reason, but the repair man has been and we’re back. So, we’d like you to meet Frank; a teenager with a homework assignment. As if homework itself wasn’t bad enough, Frank has been asked to boldly go where no teenager has gone before; into the future to look back on life. It’s quite a trip. Enjoy!
By Amanda Yskamp
“Given three days of limbo between death and beyond and the chance to live them in your happiest time, what would you choose?”
Develop your answer in 250 words or more.
Why did teachers always ask such crazy, impossible questions? As if his sixteen years had an endless wealth of times, plural, happy or otherwise, into which he could just dunk his dipper and have a drink. He just didn’t think that way. As far as he could tell, it was all one time, with ups and downs, but just one time that began on his birthday and just kept going until it didn’t anymore. And limbo? What the hell was that? Not to mention “beyond.” Was that meant to satisfy all the kids in his class from the devout to the devoid? To Frank these three days sounded more like the hour to gather what you could before the Gestapo marched in to get you. A measly three? And then what? What was he supposed to write? What was it with teachers’ endless quest to quantify and grade?
His essay was due tomorrow, and since he’d discovered no escape or loophole in their all‑powerful schedule, he sat in the screen’s glow and wrote:
So I’m dead now. Don’t ask me how it happened because that’s not part of the story, or how old I am, though I hope to hell that I make it past sixteen. For the purposes of this tale, let’s just say I died today and that it wasn’t too painful, and seconds after the old heart pump stopped and my last breath evaporated, a stopwatch started, tick tick ticking out three days of bliss or whatever before the next end, which I can only assume is the last and final terminality of ends called “beyond”, unless you happen to see that as a varied eternity opening outwards, which who knows might be true, though I kind of doubt it, not to be too pessimistic . . . only logical, but that’s not part of this story either.
He stopped there, looked it over for typos. He clicked on email, Facebook, Youtube, Hype Machine, several music blogs, and Facebook again. One hour had elapsed.
“Why didn’t I ask any questions in class?” He thought. But he hadn’t and almost never did. He felt that if he let out just one, a terrifying torrent of questions would spill from him and mark him as the freak he alone knew he was.
“I should have asked if we get to have lots of different moments or just one three‑day joy event. But what the hell would that be?”
He clicked on his Facebook photos. Skiing? That blast of white speed? The week at Karina and Paula’s bungalow on the beach in Mexico? He was so tan, and everyone was together still.
“I should have asked what she meant. Happy how?” He thought, clicked into an online Thesaurus and read through all the synonyms for happy, copied and pasted this list onto the page:
blessed, blissful, blithe, captivated, cheerful, chipper, chirpy, content, contented, convivial, delighted, ecstatic, elated, exultant, flying high, gay, glad, gleeful, gratified, intoxicated, jolly, joyful, joyous, jubilant, laughing, light, lively, merry, mirthful, on cloud nine, overjoyed, peaceful, peppy, perky, playful, pleasant, pleased, sparkling, sunny, thrilled, tickled pink, up beat, walking on air
The differences between these words, he thought were not just a matter of degree, but something else he couldn’t really say. Had he ever been on cloud nine or was the feeling as dated as the slang? He clicked on the links to follow the branches to etymological derivations and quotations. Sparkling? Probably never. Albert Einstein said, “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?” So simple, but was that true? If so, then why did old Albert need relativity? Frank thought. Maybe it didn’t make him happy to be brilliant, to be privy to the universe’s secrets. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Happy is the hearing man; unhappy the speaking man.” Well, that’s it, Frank thought. That’s the loophole. I can just put that in and be done with it. It would be an act against happiness to write this essay. He copied that and pasted it into his essay, attributed, of course. Ralph Waldo never ceased to wow teachers. Another hour was given to that.
“Come on,” he thought. “Write. Write anything.” He let his fingers hover over the keys.
When I got to Limbo it looked like, he typed, and then erased it.
Typed; Limbo is a kind of threshold. You enter it one way, but then erased that. It was pointless. He’d lost the whole idea. He changed the font of everything to 14 pt. That sometimes worked to fake out teachers. He started typing again,
You’re thinking, I don’t want to be dead, I want to be alive. Unless your life is miserable, and yeah, I know lots of people have that kind of life, but most people don’t want to die and leave everything and everyone they know and love. But then you find out there’s this consolation prize. You get three days of whatever was your happiest time. I guess somebody is standing there at the doorway and gives you a slip of paper when you come in, like from a fortune cookie
But with the words all big like that, what he wrote looked like a child’s writing, so Frank went back to 10 pt., cut some words and added others.
You’re thinking, I don’t want to be dead; I want to be alive, if you still have the power to want at all, being dead. There’s somebody standing there at the doorway with a slip of paper like from a fortune cookie, and it tells you that you have three days to return to your happiest time. But isn’t that a weird way to live and die? You’re kind of launched on a forward path, leaving your life, why would you want to go back to some other time?
Frank pushed away from the computer and stood up. What time was it? Where the hell was Leon? He said he would text by now. Frank took out his phone and keyed his message with his thumbs: “WHERE R U? I M N LIMBO”
He waited for the rumble of the vibration.
“3 DAYS KID 3 DAYS” Leon’s text said.
“I K R? HAVE U MADE IT OUT?” Frank texted back.
“Y. I M N HEVEN EATIN ICECEAM.”
“Dinner!” his mother shouted for the third time. Another hour had elapsed.
“Just a second!” Frank called back.
Attendance at dinner was non‑negotiable. The seven, no six of them, all sat down together at 6:00 to eat whatever had been cooked, and if you complained, it was your turn to cook dinner the next night. Frank erased the last two sentences, and before heading out to the dining room, typed,
This three‑day limbo will have to wait until I die, because it hasn’t been written yet, though I have hope for happy, happier, happiest times ahead. Give me the F already and let’s move on.
Meet the author of Frank’s Three, Amanda Yskamp . . .
Amanda Yskamp’s work has appeared in such magazines as Threepenny Review, Hayden Review, Caketrain, Redivider, and The Georgia Review. She lives with poet Doug Larsen and their two children on the 10-year flood plain of the Russian River, where she teaches writing to young people through Northwestern University’s distance education program and privately. She has never and would never assign such a preposterous writing prompt.
THANKS AGAIN FOR READING!!
THE LION WITHIN
by Abby Goldsmith
Cherise planned to become a ghost. She was halfway there already, unseen and unheard, just another kid in overcrowded Hollander Home. After she dumped her duffel bag in the attic bedroom they’d assigned her to, she grabbed a pair of scissors from the bathroom drawer, sought solitude, and found it on the back porch.
She sat on a rotting bench and angled the open scissors against her wrist. Rain whispered in the darkness. It sounded alien to her. In her mother’s trailer, rain would have pattered on the tin roof.
Blood welled in the cut. Cherise pressed the blade deeper, sawing quickly to stay ahead of the pain. She almost didn’t hear the porch door creak open.
Then she registered the sound for what it was. Furious at her own stupidity, she hid the scissors in her lap and tried to hide her blood‑slicked wrist. She’d never lived in foster care before. For all she knew, this house had hidden surveillance cameras. She wished she’d checked.
A little boy maneuvered his child‑sized wheelchair onto the porch with difficulty. He appeared to be alone. The door fell shut behind him, followed by the creaking screen door.
“Hi,” he said. “I’m your suicide watch.”
Someone had mentioned a child genius living in this house. Judging by the arrogant way he spoke, Cherise guessed this was him.
She stood. No one would bother her in the woods. By the time this kid alerted the household and they found her, she’d be dead.
“Everyone says you’re mute,” the boy said. “But you’re just afraid to talk. Afraid of what you’ll say.”
Cherise walked down the porch steps and into the rainy night.
“If you start speaking,” the boy said, “you’re afraid you’ll scream.”
No one had articulated her problem quite so accurately. Cherise wondered, just briefly, if he was genuinely sympathetic. That seemed impossible. Kids were never nice. Kids in foster care had a lot of problems. This handicapped genius kid probably meant to reel her in so he could slap her with a harsh joke. He was toying with the new girl.
“I’m not toying with you.” He spoke as if he could hear her thoughts. “I just want a little talk before you’re gone. I’m Thomas Hill.” He flipped open a small notebook on his lap, tore out a sheet, and began to fold it. “The resident genius, as you’ve guessed. You’re less blind than most people. There’s nothing wrong with you at all, other than your speech phobia, which is no big deal. You’d be surprised at how many seemingly ordinary people suffer from phobias and deeply buried psychoses. A good ninety‑five percent of the population. And you have far better reasons for yours than most people do.”
Walk away, Cherise urged herself. Her wrist throbbed sharply. She needed to finish the job before she lost her nerve.
Curiosity held her in place. Could Thomas Hill really hear her thoughts, or was he just prescient?
“Your mother punished you every time you spoke.” Thomas fluffed the paper, sculpting it. “For most of your life, you couldn’t speak without suffering for it. That’s why your throat closes up when you try to talk these days.”
Cherise had never considered her muteness in this light. She felt the pain of thirst and hunger, smelled the dirty gag in her mouth, heard flies buzzing around the trailer. Glitzy, the baby, her sister, had died crying.
It’s true, she realized. Ma Chavez hated complaints. The comprehension made her gasp, and tears came to her eyes, riding a wave of hate. She made me mute (and pathetic). She killed my baby sister. Her mother’s parole would come in ten years, way too soon. I hate her, hate her, hate her. I’ll kill her. Cherise clenched her bloody wrist. The pain of torn flesh was nothing compared to the agony inside her. If she’d seen her mother’s face at that moment, she would have ripped it to shreds.
“You’ve earned your anger,” Thomas said. “It’s not your fault. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It means you’re right.” He studied Cherise with the unabashed interest of a child, but his eyes, a vibrant purple color, didn’t match the rest of him. His eyes looked much older.
“You associate speaking with pain,” he said. “It’s so ingrained, even knowing the cause won’t help you much yet. But time will. You won’t be mute forever.”
Heart thudding, Cherise opened her mouth, wanting to ask how he knew these things. Her throat thickened with terror. Words stuck there, aching. Thomas was wrong. She would never speak.
“We’re having a conversation right now,” Thomas said.
The last of her uncertainty vanished when she met his gaze. He saw her. Not the mute girl, not a victim of abuse and neglect, not a tragic news story, but her. Cherise Chavez. It made no difference if he was psychic or just guessing; he saw the truth.
Crickets chirped blithely on, unaware of the miracle taking place. Cherise walked back onto the porch. Do you hear my thoughts? She directed that thought at Thomas. It felt strangely natural to speak this way.
“Yes.” He answered exactly as if she’d spoken out loud. “I’m a mind reader.”
Rainwater dripped down her hair, mingling with her blood‑soaked sleeve. Now she had another question. Why would a mind reader take notice of Cherise Chavez? She was doomed.
She supposed Thomas must be an altruist. With his ability, he probably rescued suicidal losers all the time. He would fail this time. Cherise knew she wasn’t worth his effort. She was defective, broken, incapable of having a bright future.
“You’re wrong about yourself.” Thomas faced her with a pained expression. “I don’t waste my time saving people. There are way too many problems in this world, and time is precious to me. But you’re worth my effort; you and what you survived.” He looked haunted. “Cherise, I know what your mother did to you. It’s usually easy for me to see the reasons behind what people do, but some people have a darkness that I can’t fathom. Some memories are bad enough to make me vomit. Or weep.” He made the latter sound worse. “Your mother’s behavior went beyond anything I can understand. And yet you still see beauty in this world. That makes you amazingly resilient. I’ve never met anybody like you.”
Cherise had never been so complimented in her life. “Why?” she began to say, and heard her own voice. It quavered like an old lady’s, yet she felt no fear of speaking in front of Thomas. None at all. There was no danger that he would misunderstand. He’d know what she meant, whether or not she messed up the words.
Why are you trying to help me? She finished in her mind.
“We’re both lonely,” Thomas said. “There’s no point treading around that issue.” He faced her squarely. “Let’s get something straight, Cherise. I’m not trying to buy a friendship. You’re the first person I’ve approached like this, and I’m only doing it because I want your mind nearby. But if you disagree, I’ll understand. If you decide you’re better off alone, I’ll stop bothering you. I promise. I’m not acting as an altruistic savior or anything like that. This is my own self interest. I absorb things from people. Memories take me minutes or weeks, depending on the person’s age and how much I want to absorb from them. Talents and inner strengths take longer. For those, I need to live with the person for at least a few months. You have phenomenal inner strength and other rare qualities. I’d rather not see your mind go to waste.”
Cherise had the impression that he was sincere. He meant every word. His honesty made her smile a little. The expression felt brittle and unfamiliar.
He indicated her bloody wrist. “I picked up your intent, so I packed a bandage. I can wrap up your wound. No one else would have to know. I’d check it periodically to make sure it doesn’t get infected.”
The more she studied Thomas, the more she realized how ancient he looked. His eyes belonged to someone who had lived hundreds of lifetimes.
“You see me,” Thomas said quietly. “Your perception is a little like mind reading. You understand everyone, but no one understands you.”
He handed her the folded paper, transformed into a perfect origami lion. “For you. Squeeze his mane ‑ here and here ‑ and he’ll roar.”
Cherise tried it. The lion roared silently, soaking up spots of her blood. She wondered what Thomas wanted with her.
“There’s a lion inside you,” Thomas told her. “Your words have potential to change history. When you rip your mother’s grip off your throat, everyone will listen.”
Abby Goldsmith is an animator by day, and a novelist by night. Her animation credits include Nickelodeon and Disney games for the Wii, Nintendo DS, and other platforms. Her short stories and articles have appeared in Escape Pod, Fantasy Magazine, and other online venues. She’s currently seeking a literary agent or publisher for her epic science fiction series of books.
Connect with Abby:
HAVE A GREAT SUNDAY!
This is the first in a series of short stories on a Sunday. What better way to spend a snippet of your Sunday, because really that’s all a short story takes . . . a snippet of your time. So, without further ado, and in keeping with the love theme of this past week, here is
LET’S PRETEND IT NEVER HAPPENED, IF ONLY FOR THE NIGHT
by Connor Thomas Cleary
I packed a toothbrush and a change of underclothes. Not sure I’ll need them, hope I will. New Jersey Transit hauls me toward the city, toward that big, loud, riot of a city. She’s the only reason I ever go there. The conductor hands me a yellow paper roundtrip with a few hanging chads. I stash it in my wallet behind a Metro Card with a logo worn away by the credit card sheath. Even though she broke up with me months ago, that face keeps fading.
The view from my window is beautiful in spite of the iron sky. Autumn blooms between the stations, surprisingly radiant in the muted light. Soon, I know, these washes of warm color will give way to the cold palette of a city pressing ever outward like greedy fog. I try to hold on to this warmth, to bring these colors with me. I shove a handful of Sugar Maple Red in my pocket, hide some Birch Yellow under my hat, and poke some Oak Orange into my sock.
Mid‑town bound, I’m going to see a show. She’s going to be great.
I told her to break a leg—how strange.
The Big Apple. Teeming, wormed with subways.
My train rumbles to a stop in the bowels of Penn Station. I step into a river of bodies. We flow upstairs. Popcorn and perfume. Fast food and stale air. I lower my head and charge for the A‑C‑E. I go with the flow. I weave. I press forward, desperate to escape this buzzing, subterranean hive.
My guts writhe. Anxiety saturates my nerves and I want to tear my skin off. There is too much. Energy, jostling, noise, pressure. Everything. The collected weight of the city presses down on me, compacting me into a tiny, shuddering caricature of myself. I don’t show it. Out of my way, city dwellers, I’ve got places to be.
The subway car is packed to the elbows. No one sees anyone. I never got the hang of avoiding eye contact. Too curious, I guess. So many people, so many stories; where are you all going? Backed into a corner near the doors, I try to remember to breathe.
You all look miserable. Stop it.
Up and out into the canyon streets, I try not to gawk like a tourist, but I gawk like a tourist. I imagine the slow ascent of the skyline over the centuries. It makes me feel small.
The streets and sidewalks are stampedes, stopping at red lights to gather strength like a dammed river. The clamor gets under my skin, it sneaks in when I breathe. Makes me feel neurotic. Closing my eyes and planting my feet, I imagine it breaking around me. I am the steadfast rock, affixed to the streambed. Thicker skin, that’s all I need.
People walk too slow.
The show is starting soon, can’t wait to see her. She’ll be in character when I do, but still. I choose a seat at random, wrestle my luggage between my legs, and pretend to peruse the playbill even after I’m done reading all the bios I care to. I know almost everyone in the show, so I eavesdrop the audience for comments about them.
She’s in the New York City Musical Theatre Festival this year. It’s kind of a big deal.
Over the years we spent together I, somewhat reluctantly, developed a sincere appreciation for musical theatre. Never thought I’d say that. Still wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I’ve learned to respect it.
The show erupts onto the stage. It’s all camp and bombast shot through with wildly impressive tap. The songs are catchy. I know I’ll be humming them to myself for days. Happens every time. And I know, no matter how much I fight it, the emotional climax will get me just a little misty.
The show is great. Best performance I’ve seen yet.
Afterward, she finds me on the outskirts of the sidewalk crowd. We hug for a very long moment. She whispers, “I miss you,” into my chest and the crowd disappears.
But then it’s back, and it’s time for pleasantries. I give brief, pat‑on‑the‑back hugs to other cast members and offer polite but sincere compliments. Good job. You were great. The show was great. Congratulations.
It’s good to see them, if a little awkward. It’s been a while.
She needs to be here. I know that. Most of her friends have already moved here, and her theatre group is starting to make a name for itself. Besides, she loves it. I wish I could too.
After milling about for a while, I’m invited to dinner and drinks with her and three other cast members. As we walk, we exchange secret smiles like new lovers. Each glance and grin erupts like butterfly sparks inside me.
On the subway with four theatre girls after a show, I don’t bother trying to keep up with the conversation. They chirp at each other like excitable birds, I have no idea what they’re talking about half the time. They’re still bubbling with adrenaline. I amuse myself by making up stories about the other passengers, or tracing specular highlights down silver rails, or pretending to read the back‑lit ads. I do anything to hide my discomfort. It makes her feel bad. Guilty, maybe? We wind our way toward a restaurant one of the girls knows. Live music tonight.
She takes my hand, tells me about city life and its many wonders. “It’s just so alive, isn’t it amazing?” Actually, it unnerves me. A group of men across the street shout and jeer and explode with laughter. She giggles. “Oh, New York.”
For her, I’ll try to enjoy it.
We move closer as glasses of wine and beer disappear. We touch each others’ legs and rub our hands together beneath the tablecloth. I try to keep up with the conversation, but the band is there to fall back on when the girls inevitably lose me again.
We’re the last to leave, we all lost track of time.
It’s too late to catch a train back to Jersey.
We say goodbye to her friends at the subway. They’re going uptown, and we’re going down. Then I’m alone with her. I fall into those blue eyes. We give in. We kiss. We grab handfuls of hair and grope at each others’ backs.
I’ve missed you so much.
Maybe we could be together again if I could just learn to love this place the way she does. Maybe I wouldn’t have let her get away so easily. But some part of me doesn’t want to be comfortable here, it goes against my nature. I like being on the ground, seeing stars at night, the taste of clean air, the susurrus of leaves. Nothing about this life appeals to me.
I try. I really try, but something won’t let me love it. It disturbs the otherwise calm waters of my being. Her soft, small hand is my anchor, she leads me to her apartment. We barely make it to the bed.
In the morning light, we embrace and say goodbye. I pull my bearded cheek across the silk of hers, and stop. Just shy of a kiss.
Everything aches as I lose her again.
Connor Thomas Cleary wrote a story about a town terrorized by dragons when he was nine. His writing has matured a bit since then and he now works as a professional writer, designer, and nerd journalist. He runs his own blog, The Blue Key, and his own business, Four Stair Multimedia and Design. His work has appeared in the Boxfire Press “Heroics Anthology,” on Feathertale.com, and Nerve.com.
ENJOY THE REST OF YOUR SUNDAY!!
By Kai Raine
A Story from Poland
In the years that followed, whenever anyone asked him about his first love, he would say, “It was the sea.” He never said anymore, and on one occasion when a particularly shrewd friend asked whether it was a girl like the sea, he simply smiled and took a sip of his drink. His statement was nearly always met by laughter, and sometimes disgruntlement, but eventually his answer was invariably accepted and the conversation moved on.
Miah met her the summer he turned twelve, on the beach near his stepmother’s parents’ house on the outskirts of Cape Town. She looked to be maybe eighteen or so, and her hair was exactly the same color as the sun‑kissed sea; her eyes were bluer than the water that washed onto the shore.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, because he had never seen anyone here at 5 o’clock in the morning before.
“I could ask you the same question,” said the girl.
“My grandparents’ house is down the road that way,” he said.
She raised her eyebrows. “And they let you walk around on your own?”
“Well,” he said, biting his lip, abruptly reminded that in fact he was only allowed these early morning walks because no one knew he took them.
She laughed out loud, her voice deep and carrying a hoarse, breathy overtone. Miah thought that laugh sounded like the waves themselves.
“You should go home,” she said. “It’s not safe to walk around on your own where no one’s around.”
“You are, too,” Miah pointed out.
“I’m an adult,” she said pointedly.
“I’m not a child,” said Miah, rather more forcefully than he had intended. “I can handle myself!”
She smiled wryly. “You certainly talk like a child.”
“What about you, then?” Miah retorted. “You think it’s safer for you than me, just because you’re a bit older? You’re a girl. Girls get raped and murdered in this country all the time!”
Miah wished he could take it back the moment he said it. The sun that had shown from the girl’s eyes set in an instant; now her face was tight and drawn, like he remembered his mother’s being just before the divorce.
“Yes,” said the girl, looking back out at the sea. “We do, don’t we?”
Miah wished and wished she would forget his words, or at least take them lightly. He cursed himself silently and dug for some form of apology—but what kind of apology would make her smile again? When Miah had apologized to his mother after his father had won custody, his mother’s tight, drawn expression had cracked and withered with unshed tears. He didn’t want to see that happen to this girl ‑ he wanted her to smile.
“I think your hair’s beautiful,” said Miah, feeling his face heat up at the adjective that he had never used aloud before outside of English class. “It’s the color of the sea on a sunny day.”
“Do you think so?” asked the girl. A smile spread across her face—and a tear rolled down her cheek. Miah froze and wondered what he ought to do. “I’m happy to hear that. It was exactly what I . . .what I . . .” Her voice was growing weaker, her shoulders trembling. Her lips were quivering in the smile.
All of a sudden Miah knew that expression, because he was positive that it had been his own when his mother lost the custody battle.
“It’s okay to cry,” said Miah. He reached out to pat her on the arm, and she jerked away. He quickly pulled his hand back and squatted in the sand near her. “I promise I won’t tell anyone. I promise I won’t look at you while you’re crying, either. But you should cry. It ‑ well, I think it helps.”
Miah turned his eyes to the ocean and watched the waves. Next to him, he heard her footsteps in the sand and the rustle of her clothing as she sat. True to his word, he kept his eyes on the water and did not look. He heard one sniffle, then another. Then the sniffles began tying together into uneven, heavy breathing that then dissolved into low, moaning sobs.
As he listened to her cry harder and more earnestly than he ever had, he found himself recalling that moment from two months ago more vividly than he would have liked. He remembered being so certain that he would get to stay with Mom—wanting to stay with her—only to learn that Dad had been awarded full custody for some reason that no one wanted to explain. He had some idea from small pieces of overheard conversations and his own growing understanding that most mothers didn’t have needles hidden in their underwear drawers. He said as much to Dad once, when a request to go see his mother had been met with a cold order to, “Stay out of what you don’t understand.” Dad seemed to think that if he understood that much, he should know that it was “for the best” that Miah not see Mom for “a little while.”
It had been three months, and he hadn’t so much as had a phone conversation with her. Instead, he was calling Michelle “Mom” and her parents “Grandma” and “Grandpa,” smiling as if this were only natural. Dad was on bad terms with his parents, and Mom’s parents had died before Miah was born, so he’d never had grandparents before. He supposed he ought to be grateful.
But now, listening to the sobs of the girl like the sea, he felt the past three months come crashing down over him. The wave came over him slowly, the memories coming, coming, coming ‑ and then they burst, flooding him with all the things he had felt, known he shouldn’t have and shoved away.
Tears began rolling down his cheeks, and he couldn’t stop them. He didn’t want to stop them anymore. He let himself go: let his eyes begin to stream followed by his nose; let the pain out of the locked cavity in his chest, emerging through his throat in chokes, coughs and sobs. The cries of the girl only drove him further over the edge, and together they engaged in a duet for their own ears alone.
He didn’t know how long it had been before they calmed down. A few attempts to stop had been thwarted by shared glances or a stray sniffle; the emotion they saw or heard in each other seemed their own, reflected through a living mirror, and the reminder would set both of them off crying again with renewed vigor. But eventually they calmed ‑ whether because they had run out of tears or energy, Miah didn’t know. For a time they sat in silence, and Miah contemplated the slap of the waves against the sand.
“I should go,” said Miah at last. “My‑ the people I’m staying with will wake up.”
He looked sideways at the girl and their eyes locked. Her eyes were red, her hair mussed and her cheeks stained, but the smile that was spreading across her face was vibrant.
“I should too,” she said. “But you look like you’ve been sobbing your eyes out.”
Miah furrowed his brows at her. “So do you.”
“I have a solution for that,” she said even as she scrambled to her feet. With a shriek like a child’s, she ran into the waves and threw herself at the water. She didn’t go very deep, but when she looked up and grinned at him, he thought that she looked even more like the sea now than when he had first seen her.
Miah laughed and kicked off his shoes. With a shriek to match the girl’s, he ran into the water after her. They rolled in the waves, splashed each other and laughed. Mere minutes later, they walked back out of the water, soaked and smiling.
“Thank you,” said the girl. “But you really should be more careful from now on.”
“I will,” said Miah. He didn’t think about how much Dad would worry if he learned about these morning walks—he would save the guilt for later. “You be careful, too.”
“I will,” said the girl, and waved at him with a wide smile as she headed back along the beach. She was still barefooted, and Miah looked around for her shoes, but didn’t see any. He watched her go until she disappeared around a corner of the coast; then he put his shoes back on and returned to Michelle’s parents’ home. He thought of the girl’s bare feet, and figured that if she lived nearby, he would be sure to see her again before they left.
He never saw her again.
Once they were back home in Boston, he went to the sea from time to time and imagined that if he waited by the water, he would see her again. He imagined that she was a mermaid, or the sea incarnate. He found himself scanning for blue, blond‑streaked hair on beaches for years afterwards. He held the memory close to his heart, a precious secret that he never voiced.
But whenever anyone asked about his first love, he would indulge himself with a moment to revel in that memory with the admission, “It was the sea.”
♥ ♥ ♥
Author Kai Raine is a graduate student of biology with a fondness for music, books, animals and science. Kai was born near Boston and has spent one birthday in Cape Town climbing Table Mountain and falling in love with the city.
Blue Blonde Sea is one of eight short stories in Suddenly Lost In Words, Volume 2.
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