What Path Lies Ahead

“I don’t want to.”  Rejali started to fold her arms, but realized that gesture might come across as bratty rather than just hesitation to negotiate.

The left corner of Cormac’s mouth curled up.  “Since when has not wanting to ever stopped you?”

Blazes, they’d met each other only a few days ago, and he was already taking advantage of her sense of duty.  They hadn’t agreed to accepting this marital arrangement – yet – but she suspected Cormac had already made up his mind.  In all likelihood they were only waiting on her decision.

He flicked a finger toward a nearby maintenance pod, one of the various vessels scattered through the holding bay.  “If you get a feel for what it’s like to navigate a spacecraft, you can better determine if you’ll ever want to do it again.”

He had a point, which counted both in his favor and against.  His approach to problems relied primarily on logic, which was good.  But it was possible he relied too heavily on his own judgment.

She glanced toward Father Garfin, a somewhat elderly gentleman about twenty paces behind them and visiting with some random stranger working in the bay.  “What if he doesn’t want to go off-world on a lark?”

“There’s no ship called a lark.”  Cormac shrugged as he began walking toward the priest and motioned for her to follow.  “But we can ask him.”

Was that a joke?  She did appreciate his sense of humor, but pondered just how dry it got sometimes as she fell into step beside him.  The levity counted as a positive trait, especially for someone who for all the under two decades of his life had been hunted for something he’d never done.

And now, because of her training in a particular branch of defensive arts – and the other parameters she met – she’d been tossed into his trajectory.  Since they were going about the business of getting to know each other, a chaperone always accompanied them.  This time Father Garfin was stuck with that duty.

Cormac did wait for the priest to wrap up his chat with the stranger before asking, “How about we go for a celestial spin, Father?  Rej agreed she ought to try piloting a spacecraft, considering it’s something she might need to know later.”

She could take umbrage with Cormac’s choice of words, but the light frown that crossed the priest’s face stirred hope he would decline.  If he didn’t go, they couldn’t go.

Garfin’s voice was deep and smooth.  “Fly a ship?  You aren’t a registered pilot.”

“Ah … hah.”  Cormac’s gaze darted to her and back to the priest.  “I’ve been known to take off in the nearest vehicle that facilitated an escape.”

“I see.”  Garfin studied him with a deadpan expression.  “You might tell me more about that later.  But if this knowledge plays a role in your survival, then perhaps Disciple Rejali should try it out.”

Although hearing her recently acquired title still seemed anomalous, that wasn’t what caused the tremor in the pit of her stomach.  Until a little over a week ago she’d never traveled off the planet of Hin where she’d grown up.  Hurtling through space was still … extremely disconcerting.

So Garfin dashed her hopes by making the arrangements to borrow a shuttle, a basic passenger and cargo ship used for commuting between the planet and larger spacecraft.  The cylindrical, ivory vessel fit three in the operating cab, which might have been one of the reasons the priest chose it.

Rejali sat on the far left where most of the control panel was mounted.  As Cormac took the seat beside her, she frowned at all the switches, buttons, and display screens before her.

“I don’t even know where the On button is,” she grumbled.

Cormac smirked again as Father Garfin settled on their right.  “There’s not just one button to start it.  And first of all, you have to put it through a systems check.  You can’t even take off until you do.”

He talked her through that process, and all the readouts and lights confirmed the systems were ready for takeoff.  And then he instructed her on the motions to actually start the shuttle.

The roar of the thrust engines beneath them caused her heartbeat to quicken, but as the vessel lifted from the ground, only the knowledge they were headed for space nagged at her apprehension.  She was no stranger to flight itself, and always enjoyed gazing upon the expanse of creation.

Rejali tried to hold on to that satisfaction as they sailed through the air.  This, she could take a liking to.  It wasn’t heights that distressed her.

But as they rose ever higher, the sky ahead growing darker, she contemplated that perhaps she knew too much about space.  If only she didn’t understand that exposure to its vacuum would force the water in skin and blood to vaporize and the body to expand like a balloon filling with air.  Since there was no air, however, the lungs would collapse, not to mention the person would freeze within ten seconds.

There were few good ways to die, but that one seemed too unnatural.

Because they were on the side of the planet facing the sun, no stars emerged in the dark distance.  Her stomach fluttered again as Rejali reminded herself that even in this vast desolation, they really weren’t totally alone.

Cormac’s tone was warm and approving.  “You’re a natural.”

“Can we go back now?”  There might have been some tension in her voice.

“Glide along the curve of the horizon for a few minutes.  You’ll find—”

Their craft shuddered, and a red light started flashing on the panel.

Her heart pounded against her chest as she snapped, “What happened?”

Garfin leaned forward to study the panel.  “Fuel cell?”

“No big deal.”  Cormac still sounded completely calm.  “It’s just a minor clog, probably some grit that managed to suck in.”

Rejali frowned at him.  “Why didn’t the systems check find that before we took off?”

He shrugged.  “Because it didn’t happen until after we took off.  We’re not in any danger.  A clogged fuel cell just makes the ride a little bumpier.”

He might also be a liar.  She was pretty sure she’d heard of explosions brought about by fuel cell malfunctions.

“I’m taking us back.”  Rejali tapped the instrument panel in the method she hoped she remembered to turn them around.

The craft shuddered again.

She glared at Cormac as Garfin asked, “Was that another fuel cell or the same one?”

“Looks like the same one.”  Her companion’s tone was more pensive.  “But yeah, I agree, we might as well head back.”

“So much for inspiring my confidence in space,” Rejali muttered.

A few seconds passed before Cormac responded, “Nothing like a crisis to build confidence.  You’re still operating the controls correctly.  Very commendable for a first outing.”

“Very likely my last outing.”

The vessel rattled several more times as it made its descent, each time renewing a quickening of her heart.  The reentry into atmosphere shook them around more than when she first arrived at this planet, but Rejali wasn’t sure if that was because the first craft had been larger.  She was in no mood to ask.

The engines shifted to a high whine as they approached the landing pad, and the shuttle bumped considerably as it touched down.

“Hit that row of switches to shut it off.”  Cormac’s tone was calm again.  “See, we made it back just fine.”

A realization struck her as she followed his instructions.  The engines hummed into silence while she locked her gaze on him.

“Why didn’t you take over navigation when the fuel cell failed?”

He smiled as he placed his palm against the back of her hand.  Its warmth and steadiness made her aware that she was cold and trembling.

“You were handling it perfectly.  And the cell never failed.  We were in no danger.”  He glanced toward the priest who’d remained silent once they started entering atmosphere.  “Right, Father?”

“Not now.”  Garfin’s voice was lower than ever.  “I’m in the middle of the Confiteor.”

“Aha, see?”  As the words left her lips, Rejali’s conscience cringed with the fact their chaperone had reflexively prayed, but she had not.  She’d been far too focused on operating the craft in order to return alive.

If only Cormac had taken over the controls, she wouldn’t have been so distracted.  Her glare deepened as she continued speaking.

“He knows we were in danger.  The last thing I need is a bunch of sweet talk when it’s time to confront the grittiness of reality.  And as the experienced pilot, you should have taken over.”

Cormac watched her for a few seconds, his lips slightly clamped.  He shrugged.

“You may be right.  I just thought that if you did it all yourself, it would help you overcome your anxiety.  But maybe I should’ve stepped in, helped you even more than I did.  It’s just … you really did do an excellent job.”

“Don’t put too much faith in my abilities.”

He nodded, and a smile touched his lips again.  “It wasn’t just your abilities I had faith in.  I sorta figured that since I was sitting between a priest and a disciple, whatever happened could only be for the best.”

Rejali stared at him.  For the first time since they’d met, he’d confessed belief in something beyond facts and data.  He’d alluded to part of what had brought her into the Discipline.  Maybe … maybe she was beginning to see there was more to him than she first noticed.

Perhaps she should continue to think about this arrangement for a while longer.


Here is this month’s submission to #BlogBattle, and the prompt word this time is Navigate.  Give yourself a treat for the holidays and check out the other contributions.  Merry Christmas!

Problems with Irregularity?

The teacher was working on grammar with her class.  “If I say that I have went, is that correct or incorrect?”

“Incorrect!” the children responded.

“And why is it incorrect?” the teacher asked.

Little Timmy replied, “Because you haven’t went yet!”

Pity any person learning English as a second language.  Even we native speakers get tripped up by all the exceptions to the rules.  When not every past tense of a verb ends in some derivative of ed, it can take a few years during childhood to get the irregulars nailed down.

Such tots are often depicted as using words like bited or drawed, but a few usages do continue to plague some folks into adulthood.  Lay and lie are probably the biggest culprits.  There are people who still wonder “Do I lay down when I go to bed?”  Well, that depends.  Are you going to lie down now?  Or did you lay down last night?

Set and sit are their relatives, but less troublesome.  At least sit doesn’t have set as a past tense.

Since we’re in the holiday season, the most hilarious line in that song about the Grinch (the cartoon version) claims the three words that best describe him are stinkstankstunk.  But don’t get any ideas it’s correct to say thinkthankthunk.

Using the word hang in the past tense is also dependent on whether its subject is animate or inanimate.  Somebody hung that picture last century, but after he was caught horse thieving, he got hanged … which made him inanimate.

It seems fitting to wrap this up with another joke:

Father was disappointed after looking over his son’s report card.  “If you had a little more spunk, your grades would be better.  Do you know what spunk means?”

“Sure, Dad, it’s the past participle of spank.”

I’ve got a million of them, although quantity doesn’t mean quality….


Talking Turkey

“You sure you saw that turkey run into the garden?”  Groover glanced at his companion as he tugged on the leather sling he grasped.

That seemed like a fair question considering that Squinto, a boy around Groover’s age, was probably the most nearsighted Wampanoag in his tribe.  They’d known each other for enough months to pick up on each other’s languages and communicate satisfactorily.

Squinto nodded as he pointed, rock in hand, toward the outer garden where Groover and the other pilgrims first learned how to plant corn, beans, and pumpkins in this new land.  “He must have gone there to hide.”

Hiding wouldn’t be too difficult.  The harvest was generous enough that Governor Bradford called for a feast to be shared with the local natives who taught the colonists how to foster the growth of those crops.  Many dry cornstalks were still veiled with bean vines, and remains of squash plants snaked over the grounds.

But feasts also needed plenty of meat.  Groover and Squinto weren’t quite big enough to go hunting with the men, but when they spied a turkey scampering along the edge of the woods this morning, they decided to make a contribution to the upcoming celebration.

“Let’s look for him.”  Groover stepped toward the garden.

Squinto accompanied him into the tattered crops that crackled as they pushed into the plot.  Sometimes they stopped to listen for their quarry moving about, but the turkey must have found a darn good hiding place that it refused to leave.

Then Squinto tripped.

Colorful feathers and leaves swirled in the air as the large bird leaped up from below him.  Groover was too close to sling a rock at it, but he was also close enough to snatch it by one leg.  He raised his other arm to protect himself from being bludgeoned by the flapping wings.

Squinto jumped toward them and grabbed the turkey’s wings to pin them down to its sides.

“No!  No!  You don’t want to gobble me up, you little nincompoops!”

The two lads stared at each other as they maintained their grips.  The turkey could talk?

Squinto blurted, “He speaks my language!”

“No.”  Groover frowned.  “He spoke my language.”

“Neither!”  The bird squawked again.  “I speak Fowl Language, which everybody understands.”

Squinto’s eyes widened, which he didn’t do very often.  “We might have caught the chief turkey!”

“Which means you must let me go!”  The feathered captive struggled and kicked, prompting Groover to grab its other leg as Squinto wrapped an arm around it.  “If you do not release me, I will cause blight upon your crops!”

“Too late.”  Although Groover was no longer inclined to eat it, there was no way he would give up showing a prize like this to everybody else.  “We’ve already harvested them.”

“I mean next year, you dolt!”

Squinto’s eyes narrowed again.  “Maybe we should heed him.  Offending the animal spirits can bring calamity.”

“Animal spirits?”  Groover stared at him with more intensity.  “Like a poultrygeist?”

“I haven’t heard of this one specifically, but he might lead all the turkeys and have special powers, like affecting the gardens.”

Groover appreciated the friendship he’d been able to cultivate with Squinto, but that explanation only made keeping their prisoner more desirable.  “We’ve got to take him back.  We could, I dunno, have the other kids give us candy to see him or something like that.”

The turkey craned its neck to glare back at him.  “Hey, dingbat, I’d tell you to stuff it if I didn’t think that would give you the wrong idea.”

Squinto tilted his head.  “Do you really want to keep this jerk around?”

The bird’s attention shot to him.  “I’ll give you a jerk you’ll never forget.”

Hmm, Squinto might have a point.  But if they released the turkey, it seemed they should be rewarded with more than simply not getting the crops blighted.

“We’ll make a deal with you.”  Groover grasped its legs more firmly.  “Grant each of us a wish, and we’ll let you go.”

“What do I look like?” their captive screeched.  “A bloody genie in a bottle?  Of all the imbeciles in the world, I had to end up with the two that have the most wind blowing between their ears.”

“Then what are you willing to trade for your freedom?”

“Oh, for the love of – fine, I just want to get your grubby hands off me.  Let me go, and I’ll tell you the secret of how we turkeys can help double your crop production.”

Squinto shook his head.  “If we let you go first, you will fly away without showing us.”

“Are you calling me a liar, lamebrain?”

Squinto shrugged before he replied, “Yes.”

“That so?  Then what reason do I have to believe the two of you will let me go after I tell you?”

“Because I don’t want to keep a scoundrel like you around.”

Their prisoner’s head twitched back and forth for a few seconds and then he said, “Okie-doke, I can actually see some logic there.  In that case, the first thing you have to do is get lots of turkeys to gather around your garden.”

This encounter was only getting stranger.  “And how are we supposed to do that?”

“Turkeys are curious.  You have to offer them something that they haven’t seen before.”

Squinto frowned.  “Like what?”

“A new dance.”

Groover resisted the temptation to squeeze his legs harder.  “You’re putting us on.”

“No, I’m trying to get you off me.  Turkeys are always on the lookout for new moves.  Put me down so you can show me if you’ve got the steps that will make them flock in.”

Squinto pursed his lips.  “Not unless you can promise to not fly away before we show you.”

“I promise.  If I take off before you show me your new turkey trot, may all my feathers fall out.”

“That would really happen?”  Groover squinted this time.

“You’re not from around these parts, are you?  I put a taboo on myself, hayseed, so if my feathers fall off, I’ll be one cold turkey.”

“It could be a potent taboo.”  Squinto nodded.  “He also doesn’t want us to see his dressing, because that would make him blush.”

Neither of them was making much sense, but since Groover had never met a magic turkey before, he was just going to have to follow along.  “Okay, then, we’ll set him down.”

They squatted slightly as Groover set its feet on the ground and Squinto removed his arm from its silvery body.  As the turkey shook itself, its golden tail feathers spread out.

“That’s funny.”  Groover glanced at his friend.  “Now that I’ve got a good look at him, I can see he’s not exactly like the other turkeys.”

Squinto leaned a little closer to the bird.  “He’s a Narragansett.”

“That’s better.”  The turkey looked up at them.  “Now, since I’ve got the drumsticks, do you want me to keep rhythm while you show me your dance?  Or will you just wing it?”

Groover didn’t know much about native dancing.  He looked at Squinto, who pursed his lips before responding.

“Your tribe has probably never seen how Groover’s people dance.  Let’s try that first.”  He looked at his companion.  “You can show me how.”

Well, that might help him feel a little more comfortable, but they still needed some kind of music.  A tune sprang to mind, and Groover started humming Turkey in the Straw.  He started to skip around the bird, and Squinto followed him.

The turkey bobbed its head.  “Hey, I think you’re on to something there.  Those kinds of moves should work.  But after you’ve drawn them in, you have to keep them in suspense so they’ll stay around.  Do you know how to keep turkeys in suspense?”

The lads shook their heads as they pranced around him.

“I’ll tell you later!”  He hopped into the air, flopped over, and then flapped away into the sky.

“Hey!”  Groover tried to grab for him, but wasn’t close enough this time to succeed.  As he watched it veer to the side and disappear into the woods, he glared at Squinto.  “I thought you said his feathers would fall out if he took off!”

Squinto shook his head.  “He stayed just long enough to watch our dance.”

“Great, not only is he gone, we’ve got no proof we saw a talking turkey.”

“At least he shouldn’t curse the crops.  But what was that he did before he flew off?  It looked like he rolled over.”

Groover contemplated that execution, and there seemed to be only one conclusion.

“I think he just flipped us the bird.”


Here is my contribution to this month’s #BlogBattle, and the prompt word this time is Cultivate.  Every now and then I have to go a little off the wall … but be sure to check out all the other submissions!

New and Improved?

Sometimes, understanding what makes a good story is almost visceral, an experience that can’t be wholly explained, but you know it when you read it.  Others make it a point to dissect the phenomenon and break it down into something comprehensible.

Let’s pretend there are writers out there who gazed at their own navels for so long that they decided the experience would render into great stories.  When the first novel hit the bookshelves, most readers were critical of it.  After all, it lacked plot and character development.

A few readers did relate to it, though, and other navel novels began surfacing.  While the majority still pointed out they were poorly written, others insisted it was just an alternative style.  Why be bound to the traditions of writing stories with tension and follow grammar rules?  This new genre simply threw off those constraints and claimed to be free and unfettered.

Those writers then insisted their genre shouldn’t just be a subcategory.  The hallmarks of navel novels should be adopted into all branches of fiction.

Many writers argued the tradition of storytelling had established that conflict and development were essential to a compelling narrative.  But anybody who resisted the new changes was labeled unimaginative.  And some writers went along with tearing down the old rules because they figured they should keep up with what was declared as the wave of the future, or because they were afraid of being called unimaginative.

As more books took on the elements of a navel novel, other stories that followed the established norms came under increasing attack.  Even the great novels in history were declared to be unenlightened, and book burnings were resurrected.

So did navel novels make the craft of writing better, or worse?  Some might argue that’s a matter of perception, but it seems that when guidelines have been established over the generations, they shouldn’t be readily dismissed.

It’s the novel idea that must shoulder the responsibility of arguing why the rule of thumb should change, considering the body of evidence….


Conflict of Interests

Tira glanced up from the ceramic bowl that she used to rub in dough as her fourteen-year-old son bounded into the kitchen.  Rhys usually bounded wherever he went.

“I had a dream last night about being a tracer.”  He stopped beside her and peered into the container.

Oh, knickers, not that rubbish again.  She had to look up slightly because he was already getting taller than her.  He’d just returned from morning chores and still hadn’t combed his hair, so the brown follicles were sticking in every direction.

“Where’s your tad?”

“You’re trying to change the subject.”  Rhys smirked.  “Or are you calling in reinforcements?”

“I don’t need reinforcements to keep you in line.”

His smirk deepened, much like how his father would smile when up to mischief.  “Tad wanted to scout the edge of the woods for chanterelles.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t go with him.”

“Still trying to change the subject.”  Rhys stepped to her other side and scanned the counter, probably hoping to discover a hapless ingredient he could toss into that bottomless pit masquerading as his stomach.  “You know, you can’t ultimately stop me from being a tracer.”

Tira grasped the edge of the bowl, the flour on her fingers providing extra grip, and locked her gaze on him.  “But the council can, which your tad and I are members of.  You know good and well why you can’t be a tracer, and your skills can be put to good use in other ways.”

“But I have unique skills.”  He bounced to the icebox and opened it.

A tremor rose from the pit of her own stomach.  “Which is exactly how they’ll figure out who you are.”

She could have added another statement, but the words were too sour to permit past her lips.

“I can keep the Legion from discovering whose son I am,” he said to the inside of the box.

“You just underestimated your enemy.”  Her fingers dipped back into the dough and curled into it with higher fervor.  “One good reason of many not to be a tracer.”

“You’re grasping for excuses.”

He closed the icebox and returned to her side in one long stride and a short step, half-full milk bottle clasped in one hand.  When he twisted off the lid and proceeded to drink from it, Tira didn’t scold him.  Rhys would easily finish it off.

She pulled her hands from the dough and rubbed its remnants off her fingers and into the bowl.  “Facts are not excuses.”

“There’s no fact they’ll discover who I am.  The Legion wants to kill all of us anyway, Mam, so how does my becoming a tracer really change anything?”

Ach, he’d gone and done it.  He’d practically said what she despised to utter.  Tira drew a deep breath to calm her increasing tremor because now she was going to have to speak those words.

She delivered her statement slowly and deliberately.  “If they find out who you are, they will kill you, and they will … take their time.  Never forget they nearly killed your tad years ago, and his power is greater than yours.”

“They were specifically looking for him.  One advantage of growing up in an underground society is we’re good at keeping secrets.  What if I promise that if I even suspect they’re figuring me out, I’ll withdraw from the tracer program?”

His proposal was surreal.  Rhys had mentioned interest in this vocation a handful of times over the past year, and he already knew why his parents were against it.

“Why you are trying to convince me?”  Tira picked up a hand towel on the end of the counter and wrung it as she wiped off her hands.  “Have you mentioned it to Tad this morning?”

“No, I thought I’d talk it over with you, first.”

“Trying to soften me up?  You should know that won’t work.”

He took another swig from the bottle, almost draining it, and studied her as he lowered it.  “My dream about being a tracer isn’t just some nocturnal vision.  I know I’d be good at this, and I like to travel and I like solving riddles and I like – using weapons.”

“And do you like having diabolical beings try to kill you?”

“Well,” he shrugged, and that impertinent smirk curled his lips again.  “Every job does have its drawbacks.”

“You’re refusing to take into account –”

From the mudroom that connected to the kitchen, the rattle of the back door opening interrupted her.  Rhys drained the bottle, set it on the counter, and flashed a grin at her.

“We’ll have to finish this later.  I’ll wash up for breakfast.”  And he romped across the kitchen to the stairs that he clamored up.

Tira stared after him, debating if she should call him back down and have his father settle the issue.  Settle?  Rhys knew why they were against his taking up such a dangerous occupation, especially one all the more dangerous for him.  Yet he wouldn’t let the matter drop.

To make it worse, he did have a point.  He would be good at being a tracer, tracking down and neutralizing creatures seeking the destruction of humanity.  He was, after all, his father’s son.

The fact his strength and his weakness were the same only muddled the matter … perhaps more than she’d been willing to admit earlier.  When his dream was her nightmare, was that all it took to prove she and his father were right?  Tira cast a glance toward her husband as he entered the kitchen.

No, Rhys should have to be the one to tell him about still wanting to be a tracer.


Here’s my story this month for #BlogBattle, and this time the word is Dream.  You’ll want to be sure to check out all the other contributions!

Wait Until After the Chickens Explode

Fall is a busy season around here.  Some crops in the garden are basically done, but some keep going until the first frost.  The other day we were warned such an event might happen, so I picked all the tomatoes.  Between the different varieties and levels of ripeness, the harvest turned out quite colorful:


Peanuts take the whole growing season, but frost meant it was time to harvest them, also.  Peanuts are weird.  Their tops bend to the soil so their seeds can grow underground.  This is what they look like when you pull them up:


Speaking of nuts (although peanuts are actually legumes), this is also the time of year those begin falling from the trees and bushes.  We’ve got black walnut, hickory, and hazelnuts growing around here, and trying to encourage pecans to take up residence.  You can see them here:


But summer has to end before fall advances, and one sign that we’ve reached that time of year is the chickens begin molting.  Their old feathers fall out as new feathers grow in.  And who knows, maybe that layer of feathers on the chicken coop floor helps them stay warm through the winter.  Regardless, it looks like they’ve been exploding:


So what’s the point of this ramble?  Maybe it’s a gentle reminder that sticking to a schedule helps us to accomplish things … like posting a blog … yeah, that sounds good….

Under the Sun – Part 2

Yanaba sat on wooden porch steps as she stared upon the rugged, rouge landscape stretching before her.  She knew what it looked like because home used to be in this area.  But her home was no more, and she gazed at the Arizona desert without seeing it.

Nor did she acknowledge the young woman who approached, the owner of this ramshackle house that was pockmarked with bullet holes.  Some of the windows were boarded up.  Mere weeks ago the building had been in better shape, but that was before the world ended.

The house Yanaba used to live in, a couple of miles from here, was now a pile of ash.

Her hostess leaned over slightly and said her name.

Yanaba didn’t reply.  There was nothing left to reply to.

“Yanaba.”  The woman actually tapped her shoulder, an assertive move for a traditional member of the Diné.  “There’s a couple here to see you.  The fellow says he traveled with you for a couple of weeks after the disaster.”

She understood the words, but they meant nothing.

The woman turned away from her and toward the man and woman that Yanaba barely noticed stroll from around the corner of the house and toward the porch.  “Like I told you, she’s not speaking.”

She did recognize the man’s voice, but it signified nothing.  “That’s quite all right if she only wants to listen.”

Odd, hearing him did a stir a question from the depths of her despair.  What was Fritz doing here?  The last time she saw him was when they parted ways in Colorado … was that a week ago?  How many weeks had it been since the solar storm took down the electrical grid?

Her hostess shrugged and walked away.  Fritz and his companion approached, and each sat on the bottom step, below the one where her feet rested.

Yanaba had never seen this woman before, but another question stirred before it drowned beneath her despair.  Was this the fiancée he told her about while they traveled together?  Like him, his companion appeared to be in her mid-twenties.  Svelte and dressed in a beige tee shirt and olive shorts, her raven tresses were pinned up.

Fritz clasped his hands together, between his knees.  Also dressed in tee shirt and shorts, his blond hair was in the same disarray it seemed to prefer, although he appeared to have recently trimmed the beard that started growing … was it nearly a month ago when the sun took out the grid?

“Hello, Yanaba.  We … heard about your loss.  I’m so sorry.  Words can’t express how terrible I feel about your husband and sons.”

Others had offered their condolences and had also needed consoling.  In the beginning of her end, she’d been able to mourn with them.  But now she was empty.  Ah, it had taken three weeks for her to travel across three-quarters of the country to get back to her family and confirm their safety.  But it had all been in vain.

If only she’d gotten here a few days earlier, she would have found them alive.  She might have been able to help them all escape the looters.  And if not, at least she could have died with them.

After about ten seconds of silence, Fritz continued.  “It’s the same story everywhere we go.  The cities are hellscapes.  Setting curfews doesn’t change human nature.  It’s like all the gangs think the electricity will come back on eventually and by then they’ll have reaped their profit.  I think too many people don’t realize how long a haul we’re in for.”

The world wasn’t going to end in a day.  When Fritz had traveled with her, each trying to get back to their families, they agreed that after the riots and looting, starvation would set in.  Disease would grow rampant.  This eschaton would be prolonged and painful.

“It’s a mixed bag out here, in the countryside.”  Fritz, who proved his determination the first day she met him, didn’t acquiesce to her silence.  “I truly wish your area hadn’t been one of the pockets for raiders.  When Meg and I decided to track you down, I expected to find you back with your family.”

He looked at his companion before returned his attention to Yanaba.  “By the way, I’d like you to meet my wife.”

Something flickered in her darkness.

Wife?  So they’d managed to find a minister and completed their commitment to each other?  Yes, deep down she was glad Fritz was successful with his quest, even though her own attempt had been totally fruitless….

“Meg, I’d like you meet Yanaba … the toughest U.S. house representative I’ve ever met.”

The blonde woman smiled, and her tone was warm and gentle.  “I know you’re the only representative he’s ever met, and I’m also sorry for your loss, especially when … it’s thanks to you that Fritz was able to get back to Colorado.”

“Meg and I still haven’t been able to track down our own parents, which is part of why I suggested we look you up.  I figured you’d be going back to Washington, and there’re some things you need to know.”

Maybe that flicker was because their marriage was a glimmer of hope in the gloom of destruction.  A dozen or so years ago, Yanaba had been as young as them, and as ideological and foolish.  Fritz was usually more perceptive about reality, but he was smitten by this young woman … they needed to understand that any attempts at normalcy were all vanity.

Her voice was raspy from a day of disuse.  “I’m not going back.”

The couple glanced at each other, and then Fritz sat straighter.  “You have to.”

His impertinence didn’t surprise her, but for the first time she found it annoying.  “No.  All any of us have left to do is die.”

They glanced at each other again, and Fritz shook his head before leaning toward Yanaba.  “I understand you’ve been knocked down after putting forth valiant effort.  I understand it gets hard to keep pulling yourself up.  But this is no time to give in.  You said you dove into the swamp to wrestle those slimy creatures.  Yanaba, the fight is just beginning.”

Meg took advantage of the fact she didn’t respond.  “We all know what happens during a crisis.  The authorities will overstep their bounds.  They’ll make things worse.  Fritz told me that you’re a warrior, and that’s exactly what we need to help keep them in check.”

Yanaba could see why he liked this girl.  “You expect too much of me.  I can’t stop them.”

Fritz replied, “You certainly can’t by yourself.  That’s why we’re offering to help, and to find others who will stand with us.”

“Don’t you see?” Yanaba actually looked at him, their preposterous proposal dragging her from the suffocating folds she’d surrendered to.  “There’s nothing left to fight for.  There’s nothing left.  Everybody who isn’t killed outright will die of starvation or disease.  Nobody can do a thing to change that.”

Fritz and his wife studied each other for a few seconds.  They’d been married for mere days, yet the way they regarded each other reminded Yanaba how she and Martial would share a look whenever the children presented them with life’s complications.  How could this couple already express similar familiarity?

She could suppose that deep down inside, they knew she was right.  They had little time left together, so would have to be quick about cultivating their relationship.

His gaze locked on Yanaba’s face.  “I’m sorry, but we’re not going to let you give up.”

She didn’t anticipate the growl that crept into her voice.  “It’s my right to give up.”

“That may be, but we weren’t put on this earth to surrender.  We really were put here to fight.”

“It will only be a fight to the death,” she replied.  “And nothing will be accomplished.”

“That’s not true.”  Meg’s voice betrayed determination.  “If we fight the good fight, then there’s everything to be gained.”

Yanaba stared at Fritz’s wife.  Wife.  Even though the world was ending, even though they knew there was no future, they just had to shake their fists at adversity by living as though they could possibly survive.

“Fight if you want.”  Yanaba turned her gaze back to the desert.  “You’re not dragging me into it.”

Fritz spoke bluntly.  “I may just have been a security officer, but I do know one of the arts of war is to gather allies.  You are a powerful ally, Yanaba, even if you don’t believe it.  And there’s another thing you’re wrong about.  You do have something left to fight for.”

This persistent Bilagáana was starting to get on her nerves.  With any luck, her return to silence would encourage these two to give up.

“An apocalypse hangs over us every day,” he continued.  “Global, national, personal.  The end always comes.  Sometimes we aren’t fully prepared for it.  But in one way or another, there’s always a new world to look forward to.  The road there is usually hard, but we believe it’s worth it.”

She refused to speak.  So he kept talking.

“And so do you.  You struggled, you braved hardships, to make it back to your home after this crash.”

Heat surged through her and entered her voice.  “I came back to ash.”

“And everything and everyone that stands against you is counting on your tragedy to make you surrender.  Then they win.  Do you want to hand victory over to them, or would you rather become an obstacle to them?”

Who were them?  The raiders that murdered her family?  The bureaucrats that would secure their own comfort at the expense of the populace?  The unseen entities of conquest, violence, famine and death?  Who was she to stand against them?

Then again, they drew first blood.  The heat within her subsided, but it only shifted from a raging conflagration threatening to consume everything to a robust blaze crackling on a hearth.  They were still out there.  They were guaranteed to come after her in any of their incarnations to lay claim to her life.

 Her family wouldn’t have surrendered to them.  Her husband would have fought to defend their children, even to the bitter end.  And now she was going to give up?

Would that dishonor her family’s memory?

Yanaba sat straighter as her gaze swung to Fritz.  “I knew you were trouble from the day I met you.  But … I’m willing to consider you might have a point.”

A smile touched his lips.  “Don’t consider this the beginning of the end.  We might just be facing the beginning after the end … and I’ll admit, that will be even harder.”


Here’s my contribution for this month’s #BlogBattle, and the word for this round is Eschaton.  Yep, it concludes the story from last month.  With a word this fun you don’t want to miss out on the other submissions!

Elephants Falling from the Sky

There’s a saying around our household that we use in reference to something that’s (extremely) unlikely to happen, and it’s when an elephant falls from the sky.

For example:  You should wear a helmet while working in the garden, so when an elephant falls from the sky you’ll be protected.

Sometimes getting plot points to flow together can challenge writers.  Many years ago I read about a serialization in a publication from even more years ago that ended with a cliffhanger each week.  One week the story left off with the hero trapped in the bottom of a very deep pit and no way to climb up the sides.

Next week, the story began with something like “With a mighty leap, Horatio escaped from the pit.”

Well, that was disappointing – not so much that Horatio escaped, but because the readers were presented an unsatisfactory solution to the problem.  An elephant might as well have fallen from the sky and missed our hero when it landed in the pit, and then Horatio could have climbed on top of it to get out.

Unless the hero had been established as somebody with superhuman jumping powers, such a solution only creates an elephant in the room.  Everybody knows the author set up a scenario for suspense, but then all the tension got lost in an out that was too easy and (extremely) unlikely.

Confronting such challenges can actually be a good way to get the creative juices flowing.  Should Horatio have wound up somewhere other than a pit?  Or does he find a secret door leading to a subterranean lair while trying to scale its walls?  These changes can tweak what the author originally intended, but they’ll also strengthen the story’s spirit.

Always remember, if there’s a loaded elephant gun in chapter one, it needs to be fired by chapter three.  Hmm, maybe that’s what makes those elephants fall from the sky….


Under the Sun – Part 1

Yanaba spied the stranger’s approach from the corner of her eye, and her alertness ascended to the next level.

“Maybe we can help each other out,” he murmured as he stepped to her side.

She shifted half a step away from him while sizing him up.  He was a young man, maybe mid-twenties.  Only a few inches taller than her, he had a lean build worthy of a track runner.  His blonde hair was a bit tousled, and there was stubble on his face.  His navy blazer, light blue shirt, and khakis were rumpled.  Although after what happened last week, most people looked rather frumpy these days.

“How so?”  She figured it was a good idea to determine his motivation.

Unless he was a complete loon, he surely wouldn’t try anything now.  About twenty National Guard personnel – a small fraction of their usual entirety – were milling about the school parking lot as they secured the dragged-out-of-retirement vehicles to deploy from the city of Paducah in Kentucky.

He slipped a blue knapsack off his shoulder and deposited it beside him on the pavement.  “I heard you get to hitch a ride with this caravan since you’re a congresswoman.  But peasants like me aren’t allowed.  Take me along as one of your staff, and I’ll see to it you get to your destination safely.”

How did he find out about her arrangement with the unit?  And did a threat lurk within that offer?

“I’m already surrounded by military.”

“Mm-hmm.”  He glanced at the soldiers and their equipment before returning his attention to her.  “But do you really trust every single one of them one hundred percent?  And riots have broken out in some places.  What if some gang gets cocky about raiding this convoy?”

“Does half a dozen dirty trucks pulled out of mothballs qualify as a convoy?”  As soon as the question escaped her lips, she regretted it.  What if he was a scout for some such gang, trying to mole his way in so he could compromise their defenses?

The left corner of his lip curled, and he stepped slightly in front of her.  His left hand tugged aside the front panel of his blazer, revealing a shoulder holster and the pistol it contained.

“All the more reason to carry extra protection.”  He slipped back to her side.

Although Yanaba’s glimpse of the weapon was fleeting, it appeared to be small caliber, perhaps only a .25.  Her husband would call it a lady’s gun.  This guy had taken a risk showing her that.  How could he assume she wouldn’t alert the nearby soldiers?

He quickly followed up.  “You know how to shoot a semi-automatic?”

She studied his face.  “Why do you ask?”

“Because this is the deal I’ll make with you:  get me on that caravan, and you get to carry the pistol.”

“You’d surrender it to me?”

“Only while we’re traveling together.”  He smirked.  “As soon as we part ways, I get it back.”

That seemed like another risk on his part, and maybe she could use that to dampen his enthusiasm.  “You trust me to give it back?”

“Fair enough, isn’t it?  We’ll have to trust each other.”

She wanted to concentrate on getting home, not on figuring out this guy’s angle.  For nearly a week now, ever since a solar storm of unprecedented magnitude leveled the electric grid and everything dependent upon it, she’d been trying to get back to her husband and two sons.

US representatives – especially freshmen – weren’t high enough on the food chain to commandeer any military transportation that was already stretched thin.  And fully cognizant that congress was impotent in addressing a coronal mass ejection, Yanaba had no qualms about joining the thousands, or probably hundreds of thousands, attempting to get home.

With what little influence she had, she’d managed to hop from unit to unit, helping to pack and unload supplies.  She was still only about a third of the way to her destination, but she’d managed to get this far without the aid of any staff.

“Where’d you get that, anyway?”  Maybe she could punch a hole in his story if it was cockamamie enough.

“Gift from my parents.  Years ago.”  He shrugged.  “I’m trying to get back to Colorado.  I was unfortunate enough to be attending a security conference in Lexington when all the lights went out.  It took me this long to walk this far.”

His right foot rose slightly as he twisted the sole toward her.  The leather sneakers were scuffed and tattered.

He lowered the foot.  “So I’d like to get home before spring turns into summer and I wind up barefoot.”

His reference to the conference smelled too convenient.  “What kind of security are you in?”

“Oh, right now I’m just a peon who helps make sure drugs don’t get smuggled out of the hospital.  The conference was supposed to upgrade my training, give me a nudge toward consultant or analyst work.”

Belittling himself seemed to be a habit, but it didn’t give her any real clue about what kind of person he was.  A conman would know some people might find the trait endearing.  And a conman could possess certain other skills….

“How did you find out about me hitching a ride with this unit?”

“When technology is kaput, the grapevine flourishes.”  The left corner of his mouth curled again.  “Sorting the truths from the lies was a formidable challenge, but I heard that skeleton military units were addressing the riots in the bigger cities, and occasional convoys would resupply them.

“I also heard they refuse to take civilian passengers because there are too darn many stranded folks like me trying to get home.  But if you have a clout, you know, like a politician, they’d make exceptions.  I overheard you making arrangements with them.”

Yanaba frowned.  “I don’t recall seeing you around here.”

“I was under a truck, fixing a leak, trying to ingratiate myself before using some fast talk on the friendliest-looking person I could find.”

She studied his disheveled clothes.  Yeah, he looked like he could have been crawling under trucks….

He asked, “What do you think of divine intervention?”

The question caught Yanaba off guard, causing her gaze to lock on his face for a few seconds.  As a woman of the Diné, more commonly known as Navajo, she harbored a hesitation for prolonged eye contact.  But sometimes, especially around any Bilagáana, she had to overcome that instinct.

The sentiment he’d just expressed was the sort of reference she rarely heard from others.  When she did, it usually meant she was among friends.

“Why do you ask?”

“Our meeting when we did, at the right place and the right time, can’t just be coincidence.  We can help each other get home.”  Soft intensity crept into his voice.  “I want to find my family and know that they’re safe.  I’m sure that’s what you’re trying to do.  We increase our odds if we join forces.”

No red flags were becoming apparent, but his suggestion of divine intervention had momentarily distracted her from some of the details in his story.  Had that been on purpose?

“If I decline your offer, will you resort to fast-talking the friendliest-looking soldier?”

His lips pursed and his brow furrowed.  “That depends … are you determined enough to get rid of me that you’d make sure I fail?”

She didn’t like playing hardball like this, but these were peculiar times.  The world was more dangerous now.  She had to assume everybody would have an ulterior motive of stealing whatever they could, with whatever devious plan they could come up with.

“Maybe you should just be grateful I don’t report what you’re packing to those soldiers.  Fair enough?”

He continued to study her, and she forced herself to keep her gaze locked with his.  This was no time to show any weakness.

His tone was slightly lower when he replied.  “Then I thank you for upholding my Second Amendment right, congresswoman.  I don’t suppose you can give me any tips for trying to catch a ride with anybody else?”

Maybe it was the disappointment in his voice, maybe it was the fact he remained polite with her, but something spurred that twist in the pit of her stomach.  She had no tips … and wished that she did.

“I’m sorry.”  A touch of regret managed to sneak into her voice.  “I’m barely able to keep up with these units as it is.  I don’t know about any other options.”

“Can’t blame you, of course, and can’t blame me for trying.  I knew it was a longshot.”  He picked up the knapsack.  “Hope your path stays safe.”

He slung the bag over his right shoulder and sauntered away from her.  Yanaba’s stomach wrenched again as he departed, never looking back, each step steady and deliberate.

He’d be all right.  He was young and fit – and resourceful.  Those shoes could hold up for many more miles.

No … this was wrong.

There was nothing new about living in peculiar times.  Suspicion and distrust reigned throughout history.  The world had earned its reputation for being cold and cruel.  But when people stood together, united in a common good, they persevered against iniquity.

He offered her the gun, for crying out loud.

Sometimes divine intervention had to be delivered with a smack.

“Wait a minute.”  She didn’t want to speak too loudly and draw attention from the soldiers.  But despite his leisurely pace, the fellow didn’t seem to hear her.

Yanaba broke into long strides to catch up to him.  “I just thought of something.”

He hesitated this time, and turned to face her.  “You have a suggestion?”

“Maybe we should introduce ourselves.”  She held out her hand.  “I’m Yanaba Todacheene.”

The shadow of a smile touched his lips before he grasped her hand.  “You’re right.  My apologies.  I’m Fritz, Fritz Kaufmann.”

“Well, Mr. Kaufmann, now that we’re no longer strangers, shall we discuss your idea in more detail?”

His smile broadened as he released her hand.  The ache in her stomach faded as he nodded.

“Please, just call me Fritz.  And thank you for such a wonderful suggestion.”


Here my contribution this month to #BlogBattle, and the prompt word used here is Peculiar.  Speaking of peculiar, you might have noticed the Part One designation, which means next month’s story will actually be related instead of the usual wildcard.

And don’t miss out on checking into what other writers submitted this month!

Words Mean Things

One of the many characteristics that separates humanity from the animals is our rich vocabulary.  Critters can get certain points across with a variety of calls and gestures, ranging from “I’m ready to reproduce” to “Get the #@%$ outta my territory.”

We have the ability to discuss deep and abstract topics because our language is so complex.  When our ancestors starting developing language, I’m sure the critters played a crucial role.  Hunters out in the forest needed to communicate quickly before their quarry got wind of them.  “There’s a bull on the hill” is more concise than “There’s an elk with antlers on that rise of land.”

Likewise, when a hunter brought a chunk of meat home to his wife, telling her “We got a bull” probably helped her decide how to cook it.  She might be more likely to throw it into a stew pot, whereas “We got a cow” could make her inclined to roast it on a spit.

When some wild critters were developed into livestock, farmers took their descriptive names to a whole new level.  You need a boar in order for the sow to farrow a litter of piglets.  Calling those young pigs “shoats” means they’ve been weaned, and the gilts are the females that are still under a year old.  What about the males?  Only a few grow up to be boars, while the rest are converted into barrows for the purpose of becoming pork.

(In the middle of that process, the opportunity for preparing a dish called “mountain oysters” arises, but we might save that for the topic of euphemisms.)

Writing – and communication in general – benefits from the precise meaning of words.  Being able to understand each other fosters good relations.

For instance, imagine a friend invited you over for a steak dinner.  You offer to bring some wine as your contribution.  When you arrive and hand a bottle of merlot to your host, he shrugs and mutters “I guess this will work.”

You sit down at the table and see a pork chop on your plate.  You squint at your friend.

“I thought you said we were having steak.”

“Yes,” he replies.  “This is white steak instead of red steak.”

His tepid acceptance of your bottle suddenly makes sense.  “Well, if you told me we were having pork chops instead of steaks, I would have brought a white wine instead of a red wine.”

And you might also be sorely tempted to invite him over one evening for a mess of mountain oysters….