Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I Won't Be Home for Christmas, continued.

So, a week or so ago (maybe longer: kids and holidays skew my sense of time), I posted the beginning to a Christmas themed story as part of a contest. After enjoying the gift-a-palooza this morning, it feels appropriate to continue it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Previously: Gillian was traveling to visit Grandma with her two sons, Steve (10) and Jack (6), when they got snowed in at their hotel . . . .
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Gillian stepped off the elevator into the most chaotic hotel lobby she had ever seen.  Looking at the huge crowd of hotel guests gathered around the desk, she changed her mind about seeking any advice there.

Instead, she slipped into the breakfast area, filled a paper cup with coffee and stepped outside the back door into the patio area overlooking the swimming pool.  She took a few more steps to peer inside. Snow rose nearly to the top of the five foot pool.  Gillian squatted down and cleared a small spot on the edge of the pool, then sat down and dangled her feet into the opening.

She and the boys had stayed at this same hotel on their way to visit Grandma last summer. That had been right after Phillip had accepted the job in New York, effectively turning Gillian into a single mother. She and the boys wouldn't be joining him. At least not at first. Maybe not at all. Phillip talked to the boys about how busy he was going to be and how he didn't want to pull them away from their friends and schools until he knew for sure that he'd be keeping the job, and Gillian had backed him up, but Steven's doubtful face showed that he had heard more of those late night arguments then Gillian would have hoped.

Still, that summer trip had been lovely.  They had arrived early enough that the boys got to swim for three hours.  Gillian had caved and just ordered pizza to eat poolside rather than struggle the unwilling boys into dry clothes and a restaurant.  She had watched the sun go down over the parking lot, feeling strong and capable, happy to be handling things on her own so well.

She didn't feel that way today. She had no idea how to make this work for her boys.  Sighing, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and called her mother. Her mom answered on the first ring and  started talking without even saying hello first. "Oh Thank God you're all right! We've been so worried! Where are you?"

A rush of warmth flooded Gillian as she reassured her mother that she and the boys were safely ensconced at a hotel. She had been so worried about the damage to their holiday plans that she had forgotten to be grateful for their warmth and safety.  Her mother always helped her see through to the important part.

Gillian pulled out her wallet and counted the dollars inside at her mother's insistence.  There was still about $200 of the travel money.  Her mom promised to call the front desk when she could get through and give her credit card information to cover the additional nights of hotel stay.  Gillian promised to call later in the day with the boys so she could talk to them, too.

Too soon the phone call was over and it was time to face the music. Gillian walked around to the front of the hotel and back into the lobby.  It was much emptier now, only a few older guests sitting on the lobby sofas and talking quietly.  Gillian approached the desk and stood waiting quietly for the woman behind the desk to notice her. It was taking a while for her to look up from her computer, and Gillian shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.

"Maxine!" One of the men on the sofas called out, causing the desk clerk to jump. "You've got a guest, honey."

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry!" The woman's southern accent was thick and very out of place in the Midwest.

Gillian smiled, "It's okay. You must be exhausted after all that." She gestured at the lobby and Maxine nodded ruefully.  The two women talked for a few minutes and Maxine made a phone call verifying that Gillian and her boys would be able to get breakfast at the diner on the other side of the parking lot. Maxine also said she'd let Gillian know when the credit card information came through to pay for the remainder of their stay. Gillian thanked the lady and turned to head back upstairs.

"Did I hear you say you're traveling with little ones?"

Gillian nodded. "Two boys. We were on our way to Grandma's house."

The man smiled. "We were on our way to see our grandkids." The man introduced himself and his wife. Henry and Louise Balfour, from Colorado, on the way to Tennessee. "We're thinking maybe we should have retired to Florida after all." Henry laughed as he spoke and Gillian couldn't help but laugh, too.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What if the World really did end in 2012, and this is hell?
2013 has not been our year. Warning: page-long kvetching impending.

I know we've been fortunate, when you look at the big picture. We haven't had any big tragedies. No matter how unlucky I feel in any given moment, I am one lucky girl. I try to remember that.

It's hard tonight, after five hours of cleaning up my garage because my washing machine flooded it, but I do try to remember how good I really have it.

2013 will be remembered in our household as the year of death by a thousand paper cuts. I've been a day late, a dollar short, and feeling the Charlie Browniest all damn year.
I'm a teacher in North Carolina. That's the beginning of tragedy by Theodore Dreiser right there. There are not a lot of external benefits in a teaching career, and North Carolina has been gutting all of them. This year especially. I've been a teacher in several other states. They weren't like this.

This was also the year that something was always broken. Cars. Lawnmower. Daughter's cellphone. Dishwasher. Cars again. Playstation. Glasses. Computer. Favorite Mug. Appointments. Fireplace. Getting a phone call back from a service or repair person, let alone actual reliable service, is as rare as finishing a sentence in a house with children.

Someone was always hurt or sick. Colds. Infections. Sprains. Cuts. Severe eczema breakouts. Dental surgery. Ridiculous medical procedures that make you question whether medicine can rightly be called a science.

Whatever I was looking for, I couldn't find it. It's a house that Jack built situation. Each thing I wished to do involved taking seven steps backwards to find a starting place to work my way towards the actual goal.

At some point, it occurred to me that maybe the world really did end in 2012.  It wasn't a spectacular, definite, splendid ending. Just a petering out.

And this is hell. It's not a tortuous hell, either. Not something I can build up a head of steam over and rally the other denizens to overthrow. 

Nope, it's a quiet and insidious hell, full of the promise that things will get better if you just hold on a little longer. Hope can be an instrument of torture, too. That seems far more evil to me than direct and easy to recognize hell with fire and brimstone.

So, here's to 2014. May it wash our papercuts clean and let them all finally heal.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Won't be Home for Christmas (1,000 Prompts Contest Entry)
Gillian first knew about the freak snowstorm when her boys jumped into the bed with her squealing excitedly. "There's so much snow, Mama! Come see! Come see!" 

Reluctantly, she allowed the children to pull her from under the comforter. She hadn't slept well. She never did when she was traveling. It didn't seem to matter how nice the hotel was, or how many of her home comforts she had carried with her. She just couldn't drop off to dreamland and stay there all night unless she was at home in her own bed.

She shook her sleepiness quickly once the boys had tugged her to the window, though. She could see what her children had been so excited about.  There was so much snow that she couldn't even see most of the cars in the parking lot. There were heaps of snow in orderly rows, like someone had made fifty or so large, roughly car-shaped snowballs and left them in a line, waiting for a fantastic snowball fight to begin.

Part of Gillian was as excited as the kids. There was something wonderful about so much snow. But that part was hard to hear over the part of her that realized what impact this was going to have on their travel plans. They weren't going to be able to make the rest of their journey by Christmas. No way.  And going back home wasn't going to be an option either. Her car didn't even have four-wheel-drive. They were in for the duration. 

There was no need to tell the boys about her worries just yet, though. "Who wants popcorn for breakfast?" she asked. She settled the boys with a Christmas movie and the ice bucket full of microwave popcorn and ducked into the bathroom to read the weather reports on her phone. 

It wasn't good news.  Work crews were rescuing stranded drivers, but it would take days to clear out the roads for safe transit.  The Department of Transportation warned holiday travelers to stay put.  Gillian considered her options. They were few. 

Peeking out the bathroom door, she saw the boys cuddled up on the bed she had slept in, still wearing their long-john style pajamas, and stuffing their faces with popcorn. Their uncombed hair stuck out all around their heads.  They were practically an advertisement for Christmas morning, maybe especially Jack, who had a huge gap where he had just lost both his top front teeth. 

And what kind of Christmas morning was she going to be able to provide, here in the hotel? One of the reasons they had been traveling was because she couldn't afford to do anything much this year. Her mother had sent them travel money and had Christmas stockings and gifts waiting for the boys at her house. What did she even have in the car? A few candybars? Certainly no gifts.  What would they even do for food? Popcorn wasn't going to keep them happy for two or three days. 

She decided it would be better to go downstairs and talk to the front desk people and see what they could suggest.  She carefully instructed ten year old Steven to watch out for six year old Jack and locked the boys in the room, tucking the key card into the front pocket of her jeans. She took the car keys with her, too, in case she could find a way to retrieve more of their things from the car . . .

To be continued :-)

This story came from a prompt

303. A giant snowstorm the week before X-Mas has stranded your family at a hotel in the middle of the country. With all the stores closed and all your relatives far, far away, how would the holiday change? Would you still be able to have some fun in such strange circumstances? Why or why not?

The prompt is part of this contest at Build Creative Writing Ideas.  Whether or not I win, I had fun writing this, and avoiding the rewrite on my novel for a little while :-)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Connect 4 Writers: Flash Fiction Challenge, Round 4

So, I'm writing stories with people I've never met this month, and boy is it fun!  So far, I've written about a wistful girl thinking of the boy she might have loved, a man having a very bad day involving a woman named Elise and a lot of blood, and a guy with a Mosquito Gun. After such tight focus for a month on my NaNoWriMo project all of November,  it's a relief to sort of splash around and play in the writing pool again.

All this comes from a Flash Fiction Challenge from +Chuck Wendig. We're in week 4 now, so that means the piece I'm picking up this week was begun by one writer, and continued by two others. With luck, one more writer will pick it up after me and finish it.

So, here's "The Forest Road", parts 1-4.

* * *

“Blades out lads it’ll be wet work with this lot, no doubt about that.” Some faces showed smiles, others grimaced but nowhere was fear to be seen. Eagerly they watched the carriage as it moved unsuspectingly into their ambush.

An arrow thunked into the throat of the coachman and the band flung themselves at the road with an animalistic scream. The horses, rearing in fright had their throats slashed – although they were valuable beasts, it would be too long before they could sell them and make a profit. Flintlocks poked through the windows and a few ineffective shots did little more than fill the carriage with smoke before they were torn from their owner’s hands. The door was wrenched from the hinges and the attackers leaned in, keen to ascertain the nature of their spoils.

“God’s teeth!” swore the leader, and he reeled back in shock, for one of the passengers was not human. Large yellow eyes nictitating wildly in the sudden clamour stared back at them from the being trussed up on the floor of the carriage. Green, scaly skin covered its hide, and the other passengers were torn between watching their charge and dealing with the bandits that now milled in confusion on the road.

* * * 

A blood-curdling screech filled the air.

The leader, Marin, rolled clear of the carriage an instant before a jet of flame engulfed two of his dumbfounded companions and set the carriage on fire. “They’re transporting a dragon!”
Two soldiers burst from the burning carriage, Flintlocks in hand, and opened fire at their scattering foes. Another bandit fell before the pair discarded their spent pistols and reached for the rapiers at their side.

Marin sprang into action, running the first soldier through before he could unsheathe his sword. “Stand your ground lads,” he said. “Surround the wagon.” The second soldier lunged at the bandit leader, who deftly parried the attack then plunged his blade through the soldier’s heart.

As the remaining bandits took up positions around their prize, the air shimmered and became deathly cold. When the flames vanished, the men shifted nervously, looking at Marin with wide eyes. He knew what securing a dragon would mean for his small band. He also knew that the spoils of battle weren’t worth having unless they could be enjoyed. But what he didn’t know was whether his rag tag company could survive a battle with the magician inside the smouldering carriage.

* * *

A petite red-head dressed in a green pelisse delicately stepped out of the carriage. Once she stood, she brushed down her jade satin skirts, settled her hands on her hips, and surveyed the band with bright yellow eyes. She grinned up at Marin. "Thanks much, mates. I was growing tired of the accommodations." 

Marin swallowed heavily. "Milday, you are now our prisoner. Come forth and we'll treat you with all respect. Otherwise, we'll cut you down where you stand."

"Really, heavy-handed threats? I expected more from a group of brigands such as yourselves. How on earth will you hold me? I could transform and wipe you out with a single breath." She picked her way forward around the bodies of the two dead guards. "However, I should be grateful. You freed me from the King's men. How best can I reward you?" She tapped her chin with a forefinger. "How best, indeed?"

His men looked at him and back at the magician, for a magician she had to be. No one had ever heard of a female magician, let alone one who could transform. Marin knew he needed to take control of the situation before he lost his men.

* * *
Part Four: By me :)

Quickly he sheathed his sword, and stepped towards the magician, one hand gliding into his pocket. She cocked her head at him curiously, in a gesture that was eerily like a bird of prey. Trying to look confident, he wrapped his hand around the small stone he had stolen from the old woman in the woods, praying that it was all it promised to be. The stone seemed to warm in the center of his palm, and he grinned lecherously at the woman. 

Pulling her into his arms, he kissed her. As he did, a pulse of energy shot from the stone up his arm and through his mouth into hers. She stiffened, pushing against him for a moment, then went soft. When he let her go, she stood there, looking dazed and fragile. Her eyes had turned brown. The stone had done its work. It wouldn't hold her forever, but it would give him the time he needed to come up with another plan. 

He turned back to the stunned circle of his men, all staring slack-jawed at the dragon-woman-magician who had seemingly been tamed by their captain's kiss. He tossed back his head and laughed.

"Yes, that will do nicely for my reward," said Marin. 

To be continued? Let's hope so!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge, Part 3

So as the holidays descend upon us in full force, I'm taking time to play some non-reindeer games. Writing fun with +Chuck Wendig!

So, here we go, with week 3 of Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge.  Each week for 5 weeks, a group of Chuck Wendig readers are adding on to stories begun by other followers.

For week one, I put out this starter, which I had left untitled. It was picked up by +Mildred Achoch and she continued it here, titling it "Alina and the Boy." I'm hoping someone continues it for week three.

Meanwhile, I continued a story by Wanderer that she had titled Easy Street.

That bring us to now.  I've chosen a whole new story to play with this week: The Mos-Gun by Levi Stribling, Paul Feeney, and me.

* * * 

Mosquitoes suck. Fact. I’m not just talking about their physical abilities, but more of how, well, how sucky they are. I cannot stand the little flying dicks. But I can’t be the only one who feels this way. In fact, I’m going to make sure that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Because as much as I hate mosquitoes, I hate large groups of people even more. That’s why the mosquito gun is the perfect invention, and I promise, the one I have in the basement is the only one around.

The concept is pretty simple. I’m using something I hate to piss off another something I hate. In this way I can have two things that I hate hating each other at the same time, thereby bringing me joy.

The process itself has taken me long enough – a few years at least; I don’t know, really. I lost count. But I’ve basically just collected a shit-ton of mosquitoes, frozen them and threw them all into this huge vat. Then I load them all up into these tubes, full, I mean chock full – almost like a European mosquito soccer match. They’re all pinned in there, trying to fly around. All they want is to get out. They’re pissed – just how I want them.

* * * 

So, I'm out on the street now, and I'm ready to start using my gun.
My first target wobbles into view. It's that fat obnoxious prick that manages the local supermarket. I've had more than a few run-ins with him. Payback time, now. I level my Mos-Gun and let rip. One fat mosquito squeezes out of the barrel and goes racing towards him. He bats it away at first, but it turns out that thing is pissed!
It zips up and down, darts in and out and pretty soon, blood is seeping from hundreds of little bites and the fat prick is screaming. I feel an excited tightness in my chest and squeeze off more rounds. They surround him in a cloud and soon, his body slumps to the ground.
Fuck me, it works! I wander down the street, indiscriminately loosing more and more mosquitoes at my enemies. People run screaming, banging into walls, cars, falling over in the's wonderful.
Then, on the horizon, a figure appears, the sun at his back. He pauses on the horizon, his fingers twitching over something at his side. My stomach drops as I realise it's a huge can of RAID.

* * * 
(Now part 3, by me)

It had to be Stuart. That fucking weasel is always trying to undermine my plans and schemes. Ever since the time with that girl at the corner pub. She hadn't gone home with me either, but somehow he was convinced that it was my fault she hadn't bought his "come and see my laboratory" schtick. I admit that I had taken some pleasure in watching her dump her beer into his lap, but I hadn't done anything to orchestrate that particular fiasco.

Seeing him standing there with the giant can of RAID that could ruin my carefully laid plans for mayhem and revenge, I boiled with rage. How could he even have known about my plans? I had told no one, posted no blogs, tweeted no hints. But somehow, he knew what I was making? And that today was the day I'd be trying it out?

The shithead had to be spying on me. My hand still on the trigger of my magnificent new creation, I stared down the street at Stuart. If he thought he could stop me this easily, though, he had another think coming, a stinging, itchy, biting think. Gripping the Mos-Gun with both hands, I began to run towards him. At first he stood his ground, trying to look confident, but the closer I got, the more uncertain he looked . . .

To be continued? Let's hope!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Post NaNo Blues: PPD for writers

Monday was rough. Exceptionally rough. I know, I know. It was Monday. What did I expect? This Monday was so rough that it's still rough on Tuesday, though. I'm beginning to suspect it might be a weeklong Monday.

So, at first I thought it was the post-holiday thing. After all, I really enjoying Thanksgivukkah. It took two of my favorite time-with-the-family holidays and melded them in an unprecedented way.  On Thursday, we had the big turkey dinner, followed in the evening by candles, gifts, and dreidel. What's not to love? Coming back after a holiday like that can make a girl a little bitter.

But I don't think that was it. Or at least not all of it.

Then I thought it was because we bought my husband a new car and I had a form of sticker shock, like PTSD of the checkbook. But looking at the pretty new car in our driveway doesn't make me anything but happy. It's so pretty! I'm relieved that the hubby is no longer managing the failing brakes in the old car on his commute.

So, it's probably not the car either.

I'm a teacher, so there's the my-students-are-nuts-on-holiday-candy-and-anticipation factor.  Some people probably got to ease back into their work life a little more gently than I did.  I'm sure some people got to sip coffee while they caught up on the backlog of email, then quietly returned some calls. Sounds dull. I ride the tidal wave of tween and teen manic-depression that we call middle school. Even on Monday, when I wasn't sure I wanted to be there, it was a good ride. When you learn to get atop that energy and surf it, it's a pretty amazing ride.

So, no I don't blame my students. 

But I definitely have some kind of PPD (post party depression). I think I figured out what it is.

NaNoWriMo ended. It was the equivalent of some tremendous athletic event, like a marathon. I trained for it by building a daily writing habit for months, inching it up fifty words at a time. I prepared for it with outline notes and research reading and lots of contemplation. I talked about it with my writing friends.

Then race day (or month in this case) came and I ran (wrote) my heart out. It was exhilarating! It was exciting! It was amazing!

And, it's over.

Just like that.

I'm glad in a way, because I know I couldn't have kept up that pace and my other life commitments for even a day longer. I feel good about the writing I did, and am excited about finishing it next year. But I've got this hungover feeling, sort of half burnt out and half still letting go the restless party energy. I'm having trouble getting focused on the next writing task. It probably doesn't help that the next task is rewriting/editing.  It's vital work, and will be the important stuff that makes my work sale-able, but it doesn't have the glamor of new words on blank screen. 

So, yeah. I think that's it. I've got post NaNoWriMo blues. But, hey---I should be getting my winner's tee-shirt soon. I can wear it to critique group :-)