Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bradbury's 52: Week One.

Week one has passed, but here finally is my effort, begun then, and finished as I can stand to make it tonight.The prompt for the week was-- Ghost, breakfast, school. I had an immediate idea, due to my personal past, and I used that idea for this story. It is in fact not pure fiction; rather a slightly fictionalized version of a true story, with no names changed to protect the innocent. As you read, I think you'll see that the innocent were hardly protected then, so why bother now? Enjoy.

Living your stories

My grandmother used to tell this story about a ghost. Well, a poltergeist, of sorts. The tale went that a man moved into his new house, spent a few days unpacking and ordering his cupboards, only to find a plate and cup on the table one morning, as if set for his breakfast. He washed them and put them in the dish rack, thinking maybe he had left them out after eating a morsel. Or maybe he pulled them from a box, set them down while overtired, and had not remembered to deal with them.


The next morning, there were the same plate and cup, set in place at the same seat at the table. The man began to worry for his memory, but he put the clean dishes back in the cupboard and forgot about the incident during his workday.


The next morning, the dishes were back. The man was furious now, sure someone was sneaking into his home to play this low prank— perhaps a schoolboy, or a mischievous neighbor. He rinsed the dishes quickly and set them in the rack to dry, then went to the stove to make his coffee— when behind him, he heard a light clinking sound. He turned just in time to see the cup settle back in place, the plate already set. They had moved of their own accord! The man ran out of the kitchen, and didn’t return till evening. The plate and cup were back in the dish rack, and he wondered if he’d imagined the movement. Still, he didn’t bother to put them away this time.


The next morning, the usual change had taken place, and the man was shaken, not knowing what to believe, or to do— it seemed certain he should do something, but what that should be, he couldn’t fathom. As he sat across from the empty cup and plate, drinking his coffee, there came a knock on the side door. It was an older lady from down the street, with a plate of freshly baked muffins for him. He asked her in, and they sat at the table with coffee, chatting a little.


The woman noticed the empty place set, and asked if his wife would be joining them soon, but the man explained that he was a bachelor.


“Just like the man who used to live here!” she exclaimed. “He always sat there in the mornings, having breakfast. He’d make coffee, and I’d bring him muffins too, sometimes.” She sighed, and motioned towards the empty plate, “I do miss him. With that place set it’s like he’s still with us.”


 The man tried to hide his dismay at the thought, while the old lady reminisced about her dead friend.


After she left, he thought about the situation for a while. The next morning, instead of putting the cup and plate away angrily, he poured some coffee in the cup, and buttered half a muffin to put on the plate. He drank his coffee and ate his own muffin, and chatted out loud, to himself, or whoever might be there. He talked about the nice weather that week, and his business prospects in this new area, and his sadness because his cat had run away the week before he moved. And after breakfast, he cleaned all of the dishes, and left.


 The next morning, the dishes were still in the dish rack. They never set themselves a place again, either.


This, said my grandmother, was because the man had soothed the ghost’s spirit, a spirit that had perhaps passed away a little too suddenly, and had needed just one more normal day to accept it. Once the ghost’s former morning ritual had been played out, it could move on. This showed two things— that ghosts were real, and the value of a kind & understanding approach to people.


I accepted this story as true, or provisionally true, till well into my teens. After that, it moldered in the backrooms of my thought, sitting uneasily amidst my growing skepticism. But my Grandmother believed it, always. I am sure she never thought that she would end up as a ghost, herself. And from my godless and rational perspective, she couldn’t have— yet after her death, there were strange moments that I still cannot explain.


You see, she lived with us from the time I was about four, until she died. I was seventeen then, and no longer in high school, having quit the year before. Being between shit jobs, I tended to sleep late after staying up all night watching kung-fu movies and writing, or going out with my boyfriend. So I was the only one at home that morning, and when I woke, I noticed that Gram had not yet emerged from her room— odd for her, as she usually woke fairly early. She had been sick with some bronchial issue recently, and I began to worry. I knocked on her bedroom door, and it was too quiet.


 Before I could steel myself to intrude on her privacy (we never opened her room without her permission) my mother called from work— she was worried too, as Gram had felt worse again the night before, and now I had my orders to check on her. I knocked very loudly, and went in. Gram was lying in bed under the blankets, with a pinched, pained look on her face. I called to her, nothing. I tried to rouse her, but she was stiff, hard, cold. Marble cold. She was absolutely motionless. I knew she was gone.


 My heart sank, as I did a double check to be sure. Then I called my mother back at work, told her to sit down, and broke the news to her that her mother was dead. That was the worst thing I have ever had to do. It was a sad day all round, made worse by the fact that Gram’s crumpled, stiff body did go through the bedroom door easily, and they had to break a leg to get her out. It was also clear from her face that she had had at least one big pain at the end, and that is where the weirdness began.


I have always been very impressionable— I couldn’t watch the bloodier horror movies as a teen, although I loved horror, fantasy & sci-fi from childhood. There were books I couldn’t read straight through, needing time to absorb strong images. And so it was that that first sight of Gram’s pained, dead face haunted me night after night in dreams, and in waking, for days. I couldn’t get it out of my head, until the day she was buried; that night, I dreamed of her, telling me she knew that I loved her, and it was okay. Then the awful vision left me, and never returned, in dream or waking.


 This part, I understand rationally. Some of my family had sort of blamed me for a day or two, that I hadn’t heard her call for help because I was lazy and sleeping, etc. No matter that my room was at the other end of the house from hers, or that I might not have heard her from outside her door, if she called out. She had been dead for some time when I found her, perhaps while there were others in the house; but only my mother blamed herself, for not forcing Gram to go to a doctor (she always refused, and the one doctor that used to make house calls just for her had retired and moved away some years back).


My mind clearly needed to salve itself, to clear away the lingering guilt laid on me. And my grandmother & I had had arguments recently— age versus youth, our usual misunderstanding of each other’s thoughts— nothing serious, but I was very glad that since the last sparring match, I had hugged her and told her I loved her.


“Do you?” she’d asked in her quavery voice. “I didn’t know that.”  Of course, I had assured her, my disagreeing with her didn’t mean I hated her. But she was old school, and loving children didn’t disagree. They didn’t argue with you and make you feel unneeded.

They didn’t quit the church, and school, and have boyfriends that weren’t of the same race, and so many other things I did do.  


When she told me in my dream of her, that she understood all of that finally, it was surely wish fulfillment on my part, the wish of having an adult understand my position clearly—and more important that it be my sweet Gram, who loved us wonderfully, if in an old-fashioned way. I never wanted her to feel unloved by me.


But the weirdness of that dream, and its instant effect of banishing the constant horrible memory of her death mask, was added to in pieces. First, when my younger sister also dreamed of Gram one night, a few months after the funeral. 


Carole was sick with a fever for two and a half days, and on the last night of it, she dreamed Gram sat at her bedside and slid a cool hand over her forehead, smiling at her. When she woke, her fever was gone. She told me about it, and we discussed our two dreams and what they might mean.


We began to notice that one of our cats had taken to sitting in an odd way, beneath the kitchen table, looking up at the empty chair where Gram used to sit. He did this only in the middle of the day, just around noon— the time when Gram would eat her luncheon sandwich and drink her single cup of hot tea, with two of her homemade cookies. It was hard not to think he was waiting for her, as if he had seen her recently at her routine, and was expecting a scrap of lunchmeat to get slipped down to him.


The scarier strange part came over a year later, and requires some explanation.

My grandmother lived through the Great Depression, and she retained a strong sense of frugality. Thus, when she was older and moving in and out of the tub was not so easy, she “saved water” by bathing only once a week. “I don’t get dirty walking around the house,” she’d say, and she was right, she never looked dirty or unkempt. Her hair was always done, her housedress neatly ironed, her face washed, her teeth white into her advanced 80’s. She did, however, have a certain highly specific odor, due to some unaddressed women’s ailment that caused her a lasting problem of some kind of discharge. My own theory is that it wasn’t truly a women’s ailment, but an STD given her by my grandfather before he left her for good once their four kids were all grown. That scent-- it wasn’t strong enough to reach across the room, but the day or two before her bath, you knew it. Yet she would not accept help getting in and out of the bath. Her views on nudity, sex, and exposure were a mix of puritan and extreme Catholic— you didn’t let your relatives see you undressed, period. Her bath remained a weekly event we all looked forward to, and were grateful for afterwards.


We had long since gotten used to this funk, as you do to any indoor smells with time. It had been two years since her death when Carole & I, sitting one afternoon at the same round wooden kitchen table, suddenly looked at each other in surprise as a wave of Gram smell washed over us. A faint breeze through the screen brought it stronger, rather than blowing it away. Instinctively, our heads turned to look through the bedroom door, that was open behind me— nothing but my mother’s bed and dresser, her having taken over Gram’s old room so that Carole and I could have separate bedrooms for the first time in our lives. Not a thing moved, the window was closed; the smell didn’t seem to be coming from in there…


We talked about it later, wondering if maybe some scent still clung to the carpet (despite Mom’s use of scented rug freshener) and maybe we hadn’t noticed it before, and it got picked up by the moving air, etc. We agreed that it must be some natural occurrence like that. We kept agreeing every time it happened again, which added up to at least three more times.


Nowadays, I’m certain Carole thinks that Gram was somehow watching over us. I know this can’t be true. My Grandmother lived a long life, with some heavy events and bad stuff, but also lots of love, and her family always around her. It is sad to me that she spent the last twenty years of her life marking time, waiting to die, with her daily routine as her strongest anchor, instead of forging a more active, interesting second stage for herself; but I cannot believe she would, even if souls did exist, hang about to bother the living. If there was a heaven, she had friends there she’d want to see. She loved us and would never do anything to scare us, in life or death. She had wanted to rest, she wanted to be at peace, freed from her pains. That doesn’t make for good poltergeist material, and anyway, I don’t believe in spirits.


 I just don’t know how to explain the feeling of her presence that came along with her scent, the overwhelming press of the smell of her small, barrel-shaped, house-coated body, next to me, as I sat in her chair drinking a cup of hot tea.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Bradbury's 52-- the beginning.

 This week I began an adventure-- writing a short story (with a given prompt as a starting point) each week for 52 weeks in a row. It came about through Ray Bradbury's suggestion to new writers that no one is capable of writing 52 bad stories in a row-- so if you write one per week, you're bound to get something good eventually.

 Always a fan of writing challenges. I jumped on board pretty damn quick. Whether or not I've completed a challenge, I find each one I undertake useful, and fun-- NaNoWriMo may be painful fun, but still fun.

I'll likely post the stories here, with the prompts at the end.


Monday, February 10, 2014

FAWM-a-licious things to think about.

 It is once again February Album Writing Month, a challenge I have been unable to resist since the moment I came across a link to, the January after my first NaNoWriMo-- or

 As this is my blog, my own personal ongoing writing experiment, I though I'd jump in late and use this space to throw out ideas, titles for, and snippets of songs-in-progress.

 To see full songs, try this link: or this one: I keep my various personalities there, on display, year round.

Now, for some possible titles--

Scatter Me (Wide)


Kittah Glittah


Wrestling Your Inner Shark


The Rosebush Dies


Sparkle Moles Doin' It


I Danced with Your Brother, too


Haven't tried one of these yet.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Oktober Sky: Changes in the Air, Part Two

here the boys moved in their uniforms, moving inside them, if you could see close enough, moving inside their cold-clogged minds and hot tiny young bodies under the shoulder pads, moving through meaningless drumbeat yells into the field, burrowing into their white pants and cups towards a hope of safety...

 She saw the warrior through a gluey patch of mucus that covered both aged eyes. Her instinct was to wait, but her desire told her to fly, now, fly above the danger and away. She acted on desire, and was hit with a missile twice her size.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Oktober Sky: Changes in the Air

 Walking beside the water just before sunrise, her soft shoes barely disturbed the sand. Her footprints were subtle and hard to read, for she had learnt a pattern of stepping that caused little sound and less imprint. It worked with sand, with dirt, with grass, even in the underbrush of a forest, and her muscles were long since trained to the peculiarity of those movements. The slight ache she might feel after a day of travel meant less than travelling free of followers.

 Though she avoided being tracked routinely, today it was a conscious choice. Her plans if known could call up trouble of a serious nature, and she had built towards this day, this working, for several months in order to avoid notice. The gathering of materials, the choice of a meeting place, the precise wording of the envisioned spell had been pieced together with a seeming randomness, a delicate embroidery of many hands moving at scattered times. No loose ends had been left, she was assured repeatedly, and she'd verified each assurance. Now, on the day itself, a sense of watchfulness filled her like an omen of pain.

 She had been very careful indeed, was still approaching her point most carefully, and yet the sky had filled with ominous clouds, grey edged with yellow; the wind had died to a damp stillness; the normal, gentle sounds of the sea and shore ceased; all the world seemed to wait with indrawn breath.

 Her actions, and perhaps intent, had been noted, and she paused to let that knowledge settle in. To carry on might mean death, or worse... to stop meant the end of her mind's peace, perhaps insanity.

She breathed deep the dank air around her slowly, tasting the clammy tang of her own indecision, then gathered her skirts and ran full out, unmindful of the clear path left on the sand behind.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Oktober Sky: Changes in the Water

 To work strong magicks effectively, the practitioner must prepare in many ways-- she must cleanse herself of dirt, and of cares, clearing mind and body to be a proper conduit of the energies she will use. She must prepare the area wherein she will cast her spells-- this may require cleaning, adding objects to an altar, oiling candles or other special preparations; the practitioner must, in every case, be aware of each mote of dust, each dim corner, each sunlit leaf, each crawling ant that lies within the space where her spell will be built. In this way, she retains as much control of the spell's result as possible.

 Total control is not possible. To keep your spell tight, you must work hardest before the moment you conduct the pure flow of energy, then let it go freely, with a calm and clear mind. Some will say this isn't so, wanting to save themselves time in the beginning of a spell, but all such haphazardly approached enchantments end up weak in effect, or worse-- they may turn against the spellworker. The clearest, strongest, best magick is made by strong and deliberate actions taken by careful, patient spellcasters. A lazy individual, a careless magician or one who seeks haste in the working, will get little good from their indifferent attempts.

 A good spellcaster takes her time in all things. A good spellcaster watches her tea even as it steeps, noting the changes in the water. Thus informed, all her deeds are well done, and life tastes sweet.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Oktober Ski: A Night at the Overlook

 The reflection in her eyes tipped him off-- the man behind him, as he lifted his arm to hit Mack, showed as a blurry glitter of movement-- Mack slid aside, kicking out as he went, dropping the surprised attacker onto the floor. In a flash, the edge of Mack's hand came down on his throat, and he was out of the game. The girl didn't stick around to see the results; she turned and made for the door as fast as she could, scattering her scarf and cheap bag in her hurry, and Mack let her go.

 He could have caught up at the elevators, maybe, but it didn't seem important. He knew who'd sent the pair, and he knew why. It was the ring, again, always that damn ring. Sitting in a safe ten floors below, it had managed to call trouble to him, for the third time. A cursed sapphire, not technically the legal property of anyone for over two centuries, although Mack's employer claimed hereditary ownership. His own short guardianship made Mack wonder why possession of this weirdly cut stone in its old-fashioned setting was so hot on everybody's list. Each day since he'd acquired it had brought some new problem, and he had five days left till delivery-- a meeting he'd begun to wish was happening a lot sooner, despite the luxurious accommodations he'd been paid to enjoy.