House For Sale

My tongue was paralyzed.  I stared down at my glass of iced tea, only now becoming aware that my pants were soaked through with condensation.

As I came back to reality, I met Magda’s eye and said “Thank you so much Magda.  I cannot tell you how glad I am that you walked up to my door today and shared your story with me. “

Magda, her eyes soft and kind replied, “Honey, just promise me you will take the measures I told you about.”

“Oh, don’t you worry about that,” I said.

Magda shuffled toward the open door, her hand trembling as she clutched her cane.  “Bye dear.  You take care of yourself,” she said as she walked out of my life as quickly as she had come in.

I just couldn’t believe that thirty minutes ago my life was somewhat normal, and now I felt as though my brain was twisted in some ungodly yoga move.  Had Magda not come into my life, approaching my door at that moment, my family could have been dead or worse.

The story Magda told me was ghastly, making my skin crawl right off the bone.

She had grown up in this house.  The very house I sat in now, that I was raising my family in.

Here is her story as she told it to me:

When I was a fourteen and my sister Analese was seven, things took a tragic turn.  I was in charge of watching her in the evening while my father worked and my mother tended our baby brother.  Analese had been having nightmares, so she was fighting me about going to bed. I managed to get her to bed despite her tantrums, and told her in my most concerned sisterly voice that everything would be fine.

In the middle of the night, I heard Analese scream.  It was the type of scream that pierced through your soul and stopped your heart with fear.  I ran, my parents ran, we all joined in the hall.  We looked like pinballs, hurling ourselves in every direction to reach her room. One of us flung open the door and we all stumbled in.

Our little Analese was suspended in mid-air, hovering like a ghost.  Her white gown was spattered with blood, shimmering like the brightest red poinsettia.  There were no wounds except for two slight holes, placed with care on her neck.

Coroners determined her death to be murder, but we all knew better. 

Then the unspeakable happened.  On the day she was to be buried, there was no body. It had mysteriously disappeared.

My mind flashed suddenly to all of the nightmares my five year old daughter had been experiencing.  I spent countless hours telling her everything would be ok, bad dreams are normal, just close your eyes and go to sleep.

All I could think of now was my daughters face, turned pale, neck dripping blood.

God, I prayed, please let this house sell, and fast.

Creative Writing Challenge: 2am Photo

It’s 2AM and your phone has just buzzed you awake, filling the room in white-blue LED light. You have a message. It’s a photo. No words, no explanation. Just a photo. Tell us all about it. And what happens next:

I slept soundly. It was one of those nights where I did not wake fifteen times to stare at the ceiling, check the clock, take a sip of water, use the toilet, scratch my foot or adjust the covers.

I was out – until the phone next to my head on the nightstand buzzed and began an eerie glow.

My mind was slow to wake. The glow became part of my dream.  I was on a ship, desperately looking for land.  A lighthouse strobe flickered, pulsing in the distance, and I was delighted with the prospect of finding what I was searching for.

The buzzing in my ears persisted and threw my dream slowly off course.  I lost sight of the lighthouse as my subconscious tried to claw its way to the surface. I took a deep restorative breath, mumbled something incoherent and rolled over in the direction of the nuisance.

My phone was staring me in the face, glowing and buzzing, causing my heart to palpitate with the unknown.  Why in the world would someone text me at this appalling hour, I thought.

The phone read “media message, click to download.”  As I clicked the message, a picture flashed to the surface and blew my world apart.

It was a picture of my daughter, hands bound, face full of despair. Tears were streaming down her little face.

I ran, hunched over, to the bathroom and threw up.  A tingling wave raced up and down my body, and uncontrollable trembling seized my limbs. I couldn’t seem to make my mind work, confusion took over and my breathing was so rapid I thought I might faint.

Sometime later I felt cold tiles biting into my cheek.  I peeled myself off of the floor and went back to my phone.

I checked the time of the message, 2:00 AM.  I checked my watch now, 2:32 AM.  I then spent the next several minutes trying to figure out the origin of the message. My brain was still so fuzzy for some reason.

I did eventually find a number, but I couldn’t make my fingers dial.  Half of my brain was scared of the possibilities, the other half wanted answers and revenge.  After some deliberation, the latter won and my fingers began to punch numbers.

The phone clicked, as I heard the other party pick up. “So I guess you got my message?” droned a computerized voice, as creepy as the movies portray.

“Yes.” I hissed.

“Good, good,” said the voice.  “You may call me Gabriel.  Your daughter is OK and will remain that way as long as you do what I say.”

“Go on,” I replied. I was trying to appear tough, but my voice betrayed me, quivering.

Time passed, and I found myself running through a wood, dense with long-leaf and slash pine, brambles and bog.  I stumbled and fell, thorns digging into my palms.  My legs were so heavy.  The ground felt as though I was slogging through tree sap.  I couldn’t gain any momentum; I just kept falling.

Why could I not reach the cabin, the cabin where my daughter was bound, kidnapped and scared?  She’s only four years old, so sweet and innocent.  This is not fair, I thought.  Things will never be right again, life will never go on.

Suddenly a terrible song filled my ears.  Ugh, someone please make it stop, I thought.  I flexed my body, feeling tension in each muscle.  My mouth tasted like mothballs. My pasty eyes, burning with tiredness, flicked open.

I was immediately jubilant.

I was in bed, wonderful bed. My alarm was singing that god-awful Vanilla Ice song, “Ice, ice baby,” it thumped. It had never sounded so good.

It was all just a bad dream – I had to make sure.  I jumped out of bed and grabbed my phone, one message.  “Verizon wireless, payment due,” it said. Whew, I thought.

I raced up the stairs – never so excited to see my children first thing in the morning.

Quietly I turned the doorknob to my daughter’s room, peeked through the crack and saw her precious, curled body, covered quietly in fuzzy footies.

Oh, thank God, I thought.  Then I poked my head in my son’s room, just to be sure. All was perfect.

Perfect, I thought.  My life is perfect.

Wide Eyes

Panic was mounting an attack inside Penelope’s chest.  Where is everyone? She thought to herself. “Hey, guys, where are you?” Penelope yelled.  “Hello, anybody there?” But there was no answer.

Penelope could see nothing in the darkness.  It was like a silent pause just before death, everything gone black. She stuck out both arms in a mummy-like stance and spread her feet wide for balance, not trusting the ground that she knew was just there a moment ago. She teetered a little, trying to accustom herself to the blindness and the instability darkness brought.   Her eyes seemed to fight her brain, they continued to strain, trying to find something to grasp onto.

Her nose was alive though.  For the first time in her life she smelled everything.  She could smell the mildew and wet algae and the minerals as they penetrated her nostrils, bringing her into an animal-like trance.  She could smell her own body, sweat penetrating her clothes despite the cool air.  She could smell her own panic like a predator could smell its prey during pursuit.

Her ears seemed to perked up, wolf-like.  She could hear the pitter patter of tiny water droplets inching their way down stalactites, finding solace on the floor, plinking into a small pool of like-minded drops. She almost thought she could hear human snickering, barely perceptible, leagues away. Everything sounded hollow though and pinpointing direction was all but impossible as echoes abounded.

She could feel nothing, even though she groped and stretched.  She decided to take baby steps, just shuffling along. The fear of tripping or falling over the edge of a precipice was nearly insurmountable.  Each step was agony for her brain, and rightly so.  The panic of being blind after a lifetime of sight was almost too much for her system to bear, but her desire was pulling her along, driven by the natural instinct to live another day.

She seemed to go on like this forever, inching ever so slightly, probing her surroundings, senses screaming.  At last, her hand struck something hard.  She reached out hesitantly with both arms and found a cave wall, slick and moist from rivulets of water and microscopic plant growth.  Her hands explored all directions. Relying on the buzz of her instincts, she decided to move right.  Her feet shuffled sideways, bobbing along the uneven surface.  Her hands were spread-eagle on the wall, rubbing each smoothed indention along the way as if they were trying to read Braille.

Suddenly, her outside foot folded over a deep crease in the cave floor and Penelope fell, slamming down to the ground, every inch of her body battered by the jagged rocks.  Her ankle felt like a rubber band that had been stretched to its breaking point and her hip throbbed in protest.  Bruised and beaten, Penelope cried out for help.

This time her cries for help were answered.  Far off in the distance she heard a female voice scream, “Just hold on, we will be there in a second.” The sounds of clattering feet drawing near were a welcome noise.  Light suddenly beamed in Penelope’s face as flash lights encircled her.

“Geez Penelope, we were just messing around.  Why did you go freaking out and get yourself all bunged up?” said Robert.  Penelope was raging on the inside and wanted to jump up and punch Robert in the face but she was still smarting from the fall.

“Yeah, dumbass, we were just playing a joke!” added Veronica. 

Penelope just lay there unable to believe what she was hearing.  Suddenly she screamed, “What kind of F’IN joke do you think that is… when you disappear and leave someone alone in a cave without a flashlight!  I… I could have died or something.  I think you guys suck, that’s what I think! And if I didn’t need help right now I’d be outta here.”

“Sorry Penelope, you are right that was pretty crappy of us” admitted Tim.  “Let’s get you up and back to the car.”

Everyone chimed in with “sorry”, “our bad”, and other expressions of regret.  Penelope felt a little better; she could dole out her fair share of bad jokes sometimes too. 

“Alright guys, lift me up,” said Penelope. The group of friends grasped onto Penelope and hoisted her upright.  Tim and Robert got under each of her armpits and they all hobbled toward the exit. 

As they reached the mouth of the cave, sunlight streamed in every direction, birds were singing in their shrill voice and all was right with the world.  The friends chuckled together, laughing off the unease and breathing in the wide world.  Penelope sighed and her shoulders shuddered, releasing all of her tension.

Scene creation

I have not had much time for writing lately, but every other night I have been trying to alternate between reading about writing (how to books) and actually writing.  One good sight I have found for the fantasy genre (or just writing in general) is http://www.hollylisle.com. 

The piece below was generated by one of her writing exercises.

She specified that the writer do a short scene creation with only a place, a time frame, and a change that moves the story forward (but no characters):

On an icy, deep river, a faded orange life jacket meandered through the slush.  It was making its way slowly down river, clinging to each piece of ice it encountered until the current dislodged it, and it could continue on its journey.  The jacket was shaped in a U, an older style river PFD, with striped orange & black straps.  The straps were swinging rhythmically through the current, seemingly waving at the waxing moon above.  Further downriver were large, exposed tree roots, gripping the frigid depths like gnarled, old fingers, reaching & twisting their way into the water, getting thinner at the tips as if they were trying to withdraw from the frosty cold.

The jacket bobbed into a small section of rapids.  It plummeted over a short, two foot, frothy drop, was sucked under and promptly spit out, manipulated by the current into a swirling back eddy. It twirled and danced, one of the straps reaching toward the shore with an almost human desire.  As it continued its pirouette, the strap found purchase and wound itself tightly around the exposed tree roots.

Headlights shown in the distance as a Fish and Game vehicle pulled into the river’s take-out.  As the white pickup bumped over the rough snow and rock covered parking lot, the headlights bounced along the distant bank, suddenly illuminating a faint reflective glow.

After its long journey, the life jacket was finally discovered, full of horrifying secrets just waiting to be told.

Damn you writing exercises…

There is nothing quite like delving into one of your most embarrassing childhood memories, but I suppose anything that can help me learn to get detail into my writing is worthwhile:

I was scribbling with my pencil at a frenetic pace, working over the problems in my head, reaching deep into my brain to pull out the answers I had studied so hard last night. But my bladder was full, so full it was to the point of bursting, and I couldn’t concentrate.  I was sitting on the heel of my saddle oxford to try to dam the impending flood.

“This timed math test is torture! Why won’t the answers come quicker?” I thought to myself.  I knew that as soon as I finished I would be able to turn in the test and run to the restroom. I began chanting in my head, “I can do this, I can do this.”  With only three problems left to solve I was almost home free.

Suddenly it all went wrong, terribly wrong.  The flood gates opened and a puddle of warm yellow liquid was pooling in my wooden seat, soaking my hounds-tooth checked jumper and my triple rolled white sock. Shock, disbelief and embarrassment coursed through my body like a jolt of electricity.  My hands went numb and I began shaking.  Slow, choked sobs were clawing their way up my throat.  I tried to clamp my mouth shut with my hands, but my eyes betrayed me and tears began to well and dribble down my cheeks.   To my horror, one of my classmates belted out, “Hey, I think M just peed in her seat!”

The rest was a blur.  I registered only facial expressions but could hear nothing, like someone had pressed pause on the show that was my life.  The teacher quickly whisked me out of the classroom and to the nurse’s office.

I thought about feigning illness, anything to cover up the truth, the truth that I was seven years old and had actually had an accident AT SCHOOL.  I ended up just sitting silently, defeated, while the nurse pulled out a pair of frilly, white, “baby” panties that she had probably been saving for years just to torture me.  Once outfitted with my new “underthings” and a jumper that was entirely too long, marking me as a complete and utter dork, I was ready to go back to the classroom.

I felt as though I was walking to my execution.  Actually I was wishing it was an execution because I knew death would be much kinder.  Standing in front of the door, I was experiencing a child-sized version of a full-blown panic attack.  I was willing my hand to twist the knob and my arm to push ever so slightly inward.  Twenty or so faces stared right into my soul as my face turned infinite shades of crimson, a rainbow of embarrassment etched for all to see.  I took the walk of shame to my desk in the back right row and sat down rapidly, staring dutifully at the teacher, ready for class to commence.

At least I made it to my desk.  No one said a word, and there was not even a snicker of laughter.  It didn’t occur to me until years later, but I am sure the teacher had  threatened the other children with their lives if they so much as breathed.

It wasn’t until recess that I caught some sneers and snide comments out on the playground.  But surprisingly, I was mostly met with friends making sure I was still emotionally intact.  From what I can recall, I shrugged it all off pretty quickly but it did manage to leave an indelible mark in my brain.

Sounds of Insanity

I was reading a website about creative writing and was performing an exercise where the writer is supposed to describe all of the sounds surrounding them in as much detail as possible.  Because I am surrounded by two 3 year olds and plenty of interruption, this was the result (with the details filled in around the sounds) :

A three minute glimpse into the sounds in my house…

In the house on a hill, inside the living room, there are sounds of a preschooler whining, “MOMMA, I can’t find my blaaaaannket!”

Momma responds, “Honey, it’s right there in that laundry basket behind the wooden table.”

The whining is quickly replaced by squeals of joy. PreK #1 has found her fuzzy white blanket. She is now able to participate in a game of ghost with her twin brother, PreK #2.  Momma likes to call this game “walk around the house blind, whilst tripping precariously over thousands of scattered toys.”  It bears a striking resemblance to Russian roulette.

Laughter permeates the air, which means crying is not far behind. In the background, there is the dull hum of the aquarium, always present, breathing life into a sea of algae covered, and barely functioning fish.

Preschooler #2 has briefly abandoned his game of ghost & is rhythmically rubbing the coffee table with his red polka-dotted blanket while singing, “I Love YOUUU, YOUUU love MEEE…,” in his best Barney voice.  Five seconds later he is wandering away, turning back into a ghost under his blanket.  Out of nowhere Elmo is joining the scene as both PreK’s are chanting “Mister Muno, Mister Muno, where are you?”  The mother hears her own pitter patter of computer keys. She is back at her writing exercise since the children are thankfully away in their own world.

Suddenly, large wooden objects are being rolled across the floor. Momma doesn’t feel like turning around to see what it is, but the sound resembles logs plummeting from a second story balcony onto a wooden deck.  This “restful” noise is followed by screeching, screaming and the distinctive cry of a child in actual real pain.  Momma tries desperately to scrape herself off of the oh-so soft couch while simultaneously suppressing her guilt for not wanting to attend to the crying child. She shakes the cobwebs out of her brain from her 10 second lapse into “mommy time” and arrives at the scene.

There is a high pitched wail emanating from PreK #2’s gullet, trumpeting like a cow under extreme duress.  He is still hidden under the blanket, so now he truly does appear to be a ghost.  Momma wonders what sort of blood & gore is waiting under his shroud.  She quickly glances at his feet to make sure nothing red is dripping onto the floor. “Whew, thank goodness,” she thinks to herself when she sees nothing.  Upon peeling back the blanket, a golf ball size knot is revealed on PreK #2’s forehead.  It is already blooming shades of green and purple, and is splotched red with the patterned imprint of blanket fibers.  Momma is relieved, for she has seen this injury several times before and it generally bears no permanent scarring or brain damage. Nor does it require the ever dreaded trip to the hospital.

Hugs and kisses are quickly administered amid continued wailing and blubbered “cry-speak.”  PreK #1 suddenly begins to cry too. Momma assumes that this is meant to add to the general sense of panic and insanity permeating the room, but PreK #1 has a hidden agenda.  She begins to mumble something about being sorry and Momma deduces that PreK #1 actually pushed PreK #2 over, thereby causing the injury.  Momma, at a loss for what else to say, makes PreK #1 apologize (again) and then launches into a long spiel about how it’s not a good idea to walk around with a blanket on your head. Of course Momma is aware of the irony and futility of this spiel.

Shortly after the crying wanes to a manageable level, PreK #2 expresses his desire for an ice pack, and Momma begins digging in the freezer.  The first ice pack extracted is a nice fuzzy, blue number, soft to the touch on both sides.  This ice pack is met by screeches of “NO, NO… the BLLLUUEEE one!”  So mamma, still feeling bad for the wounded soldier, suppresses her desire to kill and digs once again into the freezer.  This time she produces a larger pack, fuzzy blue on one side and slick white on the other.  This effort is met with the same result, “NOOOOO, the BLUUUUEEE one.” Stumped, mama reaches once more into the freezer, choking on her own desire to throw someone or something through a window.  On a gamble she pulls the first ice pack out again.  PreK #2, exclaims “Yeeeeesss, THIS one!”  Momma is relieved and quickly whisks both children up the stairs for a much needed TV time, i.e. “Momma sanity break.”

With an ice pack on his head, cleverly wrapped and tied with a pair of fleece pants, MacGyver style, PreK #2 drifts off into the mind numbing dullness that is PBS, PreK #1 settles into her chair to join him and Momma drifts back downstairs to finish her story.

The beginnings…

So at some point last week I came up with a crazy idea.  I don’t exactly remember how it happened but I must have been going through some sort of ‘almost’ mid-life crisis. I was discussing with my hairdresser whether I wanted to learn how to upholster furniture or start an organizing business and I came home to research both on the greatest tool we have, the internet.  Well, in quick order the internet told me that I would despise both of these professions and I needed to start over at ground zero trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. And here I am, knee deep in a fiery obsession about writing a novel and it’s consuming my very being.  Still don’t remember exactly how I got here.

What I do know is that I am a 34, soon to be 35 year old, stay at home mother to twins age almost 4.   I need a hobby (and a job), BAD.  I don’t  so much need a job for money because thankfully my lovely husband does quite well with his businesses, but I do need a job for my inner self that is screaming to escape the mind numbing task of taking care of two soul sucking (yet lovable and wonderful) children.  Any mother can tell you exactly what I am talking about but that is another blog entirely.

Here is my problem:  I don’t know how to write, yet.  Oh sure, I can droll on and on in a blog or write the basics to get by in a school setting but REALLY write, that is a different beast altogether.  And I love to read though I know that does not translate at all into actually writing.  I have read every single night for at least 12 years without missing a single night.  It’s gotten so bad that I cannot sleep if I don’t read before bed.  I have read almost nothing but fantasy for those 12 years, which for my conservative appearance and upbringing is quite odd but none-the-less my passion.

So for 5 days now I have been spending hours searching the internet about writing, about how to get started, about chances for success, about getting published, etc.  I have also been reading creative writing prompts and seeing if I can wrest anything out of my dormant brain, anything at all creative.  I have come up with the basic shell for three different books. Shell but no real meat inside.  I have realized in quick order that writing, if I do continue to pursue it, will be one of the hardest things I have ever done.

First of all, only about 2% of books written ever get published.  The process of writing a book is grueling. From what I’ve gathered writing a first draft it is much like birthing a baby  and usually takes a year or more.  Then comes the editing and re-editing and polishing before even beginning to think of submitting it for publishing.  Then you can either self publish (which sounds like A LOT of work) or hope to get picked up by an agent & then a publishing company after what can turn out to be several years.  Or even worse, your book just sits rotting away on a computer somewhere because frankly you need more practice or you don’t have enough natural talent to begin with or you are just not lucky enough.

In any event, here is where I begin.  I have ordered three books from Amazon:
Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School Gotham Writers’ Workshop, Writing Fiction For Dummies Randy Ingermanson, Peter Economy, & Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively Rebecca McClanahan.  I will read and study these for several weeks then hopefully be able to get somewhere. Also, I have read a lot of articles that say to write everyday, even if it’s just a few sentences. Thus the blog.  Apparently flexing the writing muscle will improve your writing.  Makes sense, so I guess I’ll just have to keep working at it and see where I end up.

I would elaborate on my ultimate goal but at this elementary point in my writing it seems truly silly to do so. Maybe I don’t even have an ultimate goal? Or maybe in three weeks I will have moved on to learning underwater basket weaving or something similar?  For now I will just take the advice of others who have been here before, start small and try to enjoy the process.