Archive for the ‘Shorts & Poems – Fiction posts’ Category

10:42pm

Natasha shivered in the corner of the shattered room, racing against the sputtering warmth of her dying candle. She held in her numb hands her last connection to the outside world—the Morse Code telegraph that had been serendipitously stowed with the emergency supplies in the one corner of the room not destroyed. Or perhaps the devices had been placed everywhere, in the event of catastrophe, but there was no one left to ask.

She worked her telegraph furiously, blowing on her hands. SOS 12. 50 N. 23. 0 E. Find me. Alive. 12. 50 N. 23. 0 E.

The candle gave its last cough of light, warmth and comfort, plunging Natasha into darkness. The stars were obscured behind the lingering haze of death—dust, ash, and particles of things she would not name. Beyond the waist-high ruins that were her shelter, there was nothing but sand, rocks, night, and leftovers of a people who felt make-believe and yet vibrant in her memory.

It was impossible to gauge time in this place of everlasting darkness, cold and ghostly vibrations of a once-life. Even the sun would not deign to shine here like in her homeland, and mornings were marked by skies of gray, brown and almost-blue. The echo of bombs, screams and concrete blasted into pieces still haunted her ears. It was hard to determine what was worse: the chaotic noise or the desperate silence that followed in its wake.

Natasha waited for a response, counting each breath to mark time. A hundred breaths. She worked out her message like a prayer. SOS 12. 50 N. 23. 0 E. Find me. Alive. 12. 50 N. 23. 0 E.

The stars peeked through and she gazed at them, throwing out an invisible tether to connect her to something real.

Delicate fingers of twilight teased the edge of the horizon. Morning approached, but she had no candles left for when night fell again.

Natasha had a watch with a backlight she could activate with a push of a button, but how long would the battery last? Even solar-powered, it too would eventually expire.

Her rations had run out some time past, and scrambling for sustenance in this barren landscape would not get her much further. If she hadn’t injured her foot, she could have attempted to walk beyond this plateau of obliteration, but she had to preserve her strength.

A hundred breaths. She repeated her plea.

Somewhere, far beyond this place, people still lived and remembered her; someone would hear her, someone would come.

Without the basic warmth of her candle, the frost of winter crept over her, entering the crevices of her lungs and seizing her breath, but she forged on with her focused in-out, in-out, counting.

Alas, she had counted on her Ronald to have her back, but she hadn’t expected that to work out literally—he had been her shield against the flying debris, grabbing her from behind and throwing her down, absorbing the battering instead.

She had held him with her whole body in the aftermath, as if she could funnel her own life back into him, allow him to live a little longer, but even Superman couldn’t have healed from those wounds. Not even if he had flown clear into the sun.

Ronald had smiled at her, and squeezed her hand. Even though he could not speak, she had known how deeply he loved her, and with the smallest squeeze in return, she had conveyed fifteen years of unspoken conversations; the things she had wanted to say but had never had the chance to, and at least, they had had that moment where they didn’t need any words. There was nothing, in the end, left to say.

Often she had felt him with her, holding her, keeping vigil with her across the realms that separated them.

How long had it been, really, since she had heard the sound of another in happiness? How many nights had she passed in this broken solitude?

A hundred breaths. She fumbled through her message, unfeeling fingers clumsy. SOS 12. 50 N. 23. 0 E.

Natasha lit the backlight on her watch. It was set to the time of her old life, and she had not yet changed it to match the current zone. It reminded her there were other people, other places, which still possessed the innocence of youth, the simple joys of being alive; those brief memories had acted as her sustenance but would not hold her much longer.

It was 10:42pm in her homeland. Parties would be winding down, children would be sneaking out, young lovers plotting secret rendezvous. She smiled to herself, her fingers telegraphing her farewell of their own accord. 10:42pm. Ronald. Find me. I love you.

Natasha curled into herself and drifted into nothingness. The stars reached for her and embraced her with their warmth, carrying her away.

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Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone and having this incredibly deep conversation where time melts away and you end up discussing things you never thought you would?

Neil Gaiman’s latest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, was a little bit like that for me–I became immersed in the story, and it felt like I was having a conversation with this world of imagination, where things that I had not realized were dormant woke up, and demanded to be expressed.

Of all the books I’ve read, I’ve never had to stop to write a poem, but with “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” audiobook, I hit pause three times and the poems fell out. I’m posting them below in their first draft form (see preface with the adjustments I made).

Possibly unnecessary fine print: I don’t want to color anyone’s view of Mr. Gaiman’s story itself, as poetry comes from weird places and sometimes has an oblique connection to the inspiration. So I disclaim any relationship between the poetry and the plot of the story.

I’ll post my official review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane later, but as I’m going to meet Mr. Gaiman on his last US book tour, I thought I would share my experiences and — for what they’re worth — my poetry.

This is the kind of poetry I’ve been writing a lot of – it feels like I have various people inside me that have things that need to be said, and if I don’t let them have their moment, they throw hissy fits that come out in other ways in my life. I would usually not share some of it – like “Things We Fear” – because I don’t want to let that darkness out, but I’m learning from Mr. Gaiman how to celebrate the spectrum that is life, and to let it come out in my writing and share it anyway.




Preface: I don’t remember the order these were written. As they are first draft, they’re all untitled but I’m putting pilot-titles for now. My first drafts also don’t usually contain any punctuation or verse breaks, because I hear the rhythm in my head and don’t need them, but I added some punctuation here because it’s expected. I’m still trying to work out the right balance of punctuation since I sort of expect everyone to instill their own rhythm to the words and the imposition of mine feels somewhat intrusive.


Butterfly Wings

Catch the butterfly
Before it goes away.
Put it in a jar
If its beauty will be contained.

But vividness changes—
When we try to hold it still
Its dynamic nature
Won’t permit motionlessness.

Life is vivid—
Changing all the time.
We try to hold our breath;
Catch the butterfly by its wing.
But life won’t be contained
And it flies away.




Things We Fear

The fear of knowing
That it’s coming
Is not quite as terrible
As the fear of knowing
It is already here—
Always waiting.

That the moment I let go of my hold
My guard
I will be assailed
By people long gone
By truths I’ve discovered already
To be false
But are made real again
When that cruel knowledge—
The certainty that I’ve already lost—
Attacks me once again.

As I’ve gotten older
It’s a little bit better;
I see it coming—
Feel the veil between
Reality now
Reality then
Drop
And nothing but empty promises
Can comfort me.
And only sometimes can the assurances
Remind me it’s over.

But as I’m older
I also despair
That it’s never over.
Time doesn’t heal so much
As creates a promise of distance.

And we have opportunities
For other truths
Stronger realities
To stand between
The hopelessness of a child
Trapped, terrified, alone—
And an adult, bigger
Less bound by the whims of others.

Now I can trust the sense
Of entrapment, loneliness and fear
That fades but never leaves
Will at least seem gone by morning.




Gossamer and granite

Bittersweet magic
Moments, realities
Dreams, almosts—
Better thans and could-have-beens,
Just likes, one days,
When I Grow Up—
All the things that paint our days
And taint our pasts
And lead us to now.

All there to explore
Celebrate
Release
And discover through new eyes.

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This week, instead of my Friday Night Review, I wanted to share my fiction publications.

Next week I will have an interview and some book reviews to share, but I’m putting more focus on my fiction and poetry at the moment.

As a “Minter” at “The Story Mint”, I contributed to my first serial (“Turning Point”). My chapter was published yesterday. It was a challenge to write the final chapter after ten other authors had preceded with their own style, but it was fun when it all came together.

I will be heading the new Minter Serials tomorrow, with my short story, The Legends of the Milky Way.

I’ve also published three more short stories on Amazon (they’ll be posted on my Store page shortly; for now these link directly to the site):

Of Leprechauns and Men: The tale follows the unexpected alliance between O’Riley and Mac, a leprechaun and a man who need each other to journey home.

Death by Chocolate: A haunting and quirky YA short about a teenager’s reflections from beyond the grave, the consideration of what it means to be normal or different, and what, if anything, can be done to save the mother who has gone astray.

First Place: A bittersweet YA short. Sarah is on the brink of suicide when a mysterious blue ribbon gives her pause. When she turns to her mother for answers, another mystery is solved instead.

Tomorrow I’ll have one more story on Amazon, The Girl Who Smiled (which is actually a bit dark). I’ll have to break out some light and humourous stories soon, to balance these out.

Thanks so much for your encouragement and support.

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Thank you for your interest in my work. I held a one-day-only special sneak-peek of my story, “Of Leprechauns and Men”, for Saint Patrick’s Day, but I have taken it down as the story is now posted as a Kindle edition on Amazon.

Occasionally I have free days for my stories. Stay tuned… :)

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My store page is officially posted. I have an Author’s Page on Amazon, as well, and I hope to have several more stories up over the next couple of months.

Fields of Lisbon will be free this Sunday, on March 3rd.

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I wanted to share a short story I had written earlier this year that celebrates the spirit of the season. It has not been published before. Enjoy!

 

THE MOM ACCOUNT

by Joanna Celeste




It was that time of the year again. I stood by Mom as she piled the last of our stuff onto the checkout line at Wal-Mart. Between me and my little brother, Cooper, I estimated we had just bought about $580 worth of new sneakers, new clothes, and new school supplies. We shopped for the best deals, and we had a slew of hand-me-downs, but we kept growing out of things. The total rang up on the screen and I winced, glancing at Mom’s face. $600. A little over half the month’s rent. She didn’t flinch; I was probably the only one who could see the slight difference in her eyes, and the gentle turn of her mouth. But then she and I had always been that way, connected on a special level.


It stunk being eleven. I wasn’t allowed to get a proper job until I was sixteen—child labor laws and all that—and Cooper was only nine. All our money came from chores and allowance, which was really Mom’s money in disguise.


Thanksgiving––and Mom’s birthday––had come and gone without a single real present for her. We couldn’t afford to give her more than trinkets and handmade stuff. The birthday before last, Granny had gifted her money for the casino.


I grinned, bringing back that day. Mom had sailed through the door, beaming like the sun on a summer day, chattering excitedly about her fantastic luck. Then she had opened her purse and taken out a wad of bills, just like from the movies! Cooper and I had held the money in our hands, had taken pictures of it, and we had counted it—one thousand two hundred dollars, in hundred dollar bills. Cash.


Mom had thrown the cash around with abandon, and then she had let us follow suit. For fifteen minutes, we had been filthy rich. We had thrown the money off the staircase of the second floor, watching the cash flutter to the living room, over our Goodwill sofa. We had thrown it over our heads, dancing in the cash snowstorm. Then we had carefully picked it all up and counted it again. But the best thing had been Mom’s expression. She had been happy in so many ways it had spilled out of her like a supernova. I had suspected people on our block had even smiled to themselves, without knowing why.


“Vanessa,” Mom squeezed my shoulder. “Honey, it’s time to go.”


I nodded and followed her out of the store to our car. We stuffed the twelve shopping bags into the trunk and seats. I held one in my lap. Mom had spent every dime of that special birthday money on bills. On things for the house. I had never seen her buy anything for herself, and she had said—when she had thought no one could hear—that she couldn’t remember the last time she had bought something  just for her.

***




By the time we got home, I had a Plan.


Coop and I thanked our mom and dashed upstairs to unpack our goodies. Our rooms were separated by a curtain, so I could take out my secret piggy bank while he unpacked.


Mom had taught us that if we always kept money hidden, not to be used ever, then we could win at Monopoly because just when the other guy thought we were toast, we could whip out our savings. I wasn’t great with that many games, but I owned Monopoly, so I kept a real-life stash of money, not to be used ever. But this was important.


I poured everything out and counted—twenty-four dollars and sixteen cents in change and loose bills. I had learned one thing from Dad, before he had moved away, and that was that pennies could really add up to something. He used to have jars and jars of pennies, in his crowded tiny apartment.


I frowned at my stash. It wasn’t going to be enough for my Plan.


“Coop,” I wiggled the curtain to ask permission to cross into his room.


“Yeah, I’m going downstairs to play Super Mario,” the door opened and I whipped the curtain aside.


“Wait! I want to call a Secret Meeting. I have a Plan.”


Cooper paused, one foot over the threshold. He scowled, as if debating whether this was worth interrupting him from tackling Level Five, but he tilted his head. “What is it?”


I outlined the steps, and a grin spread over his face. “Yeah. Let’s do it!”


We shook hands on it, and Cooper brought out his secret stash, from socks and paperclip boxes and even his collection of special quarters, laying everything out on his mattress. I added my pile from my room.


“Let’s count it,” Cooper suggested.


“Okay, I’ll do this half and you do that half,” I waved my hand down the middle.


We worked in silence.


“Twenty-two dollars and eight cents,” Cooper announced.


I counted the last few pennies. “Nineteen dollars and forty-six cents.”


Coop frowned. He hated uneven numbers. “We should make it fifty. That’s a lot.”


“If we include our allowances, we could add another eight dollars.”


“And I bet you have change in your room,” Coop dove through the curtain, rummaging. I would have protested, but I did have change in lots of weird little places.


“Ha! Forty-six cents!” He brandished a fist, coming back into his room. “That’s fifty.”


We shared our special smile and ran downstairs to get ready for dinner.

***




Eight days later, we held a Secret Meeting to wrap our presents. Christmas was fourteen hours away. I was a big pack rat so I had boxes, bags and tissue paper. Coop had toilet paper rolls and two ring boxes. We carefully laid everything out, with scissors and tape.


We shared a grin and set to work packaging up the money in lots of ways, so as to spread the gift out more. When all was said and done, we had eleven little packages, and one big finale, all wrapped and ready to go under the tree.


Coop and I knew the truth about Santa Claus, so we waited until Mom had gone to sleep, having put her Santa presents under the tree. We crept down the stairs like ninjas, avoiding that stair that always squeaked. It was hard not to rustle the gifts against each other, but we managed not to wake Mom up.


This was the first time that we were both more excited about Mom’s reaction to what she would receive, than what we hoped to find for ourselves under the tree.


I gave Coop a thumbs-up to note everything was under the tree. We plunked down upon the sofa, admiring our handiwork. Our tree was decorated with multicolored lights and tinsel, so the reflections and shadows danced across our living room.


“Should we bother sleeping?” I whispered.


Cooper yawned. “Let’s make pancakes.”


Pancakes at 3am was never a bad idea. We tiptoed around the kitchen, arguing quietly over Mom’s secret recipe—which wasn’t a secret, but she always added something to make it extra tasty that she called “love”. We had our suspicions it was something else, like cinnamon or apple sauce—no matter how many times we had watched her make them. We settled on cinnamon and apple sauce, but in the end they still weren’t as yummy as hers.


We set aside a plate for her, so she could have breakfast when she woke up. I made her coffee, because I remembered how to do it, and Cooper made her grilled cheese. It wasn’t a proper brunch without bacon and grilled cheese, but we didn’t have bacon.


The kitchen was a mess when we had finally finished cooking and eating. Chicory, cheddar and cinnamon warred with each other in the air, overtaking the house.


The dawn gray light seeped through the windows. We cleaned up as quietly as we could.


At the stroke of 6am, we ran into Mom’s bedroom, jumping on the bed to wake her.


“We just gotta warm it up first,” Cooper grabbed her other arm, and we got her out of bed. “This is gonna be the best Christmas ever, you’ll see.”


“Cooper!”


“What?”


I sighed, but Mom was too sleepy to notice the slip. We helped her down the stairs.


Once I had pressed a hot cup of coffee into her hands, and Cooper had warmed up the food just right, we all sat down to our Christmas celebration together.


“Thank you, this is delicious,” Mom murmured. “And you cleaned the kitchen?”


“It’s Christmas,” I gave her the first gift.


Mom unwrapped a tin with tissue paper separating six dollars, each bill taped to its own white sheet of tissue. She laughed as she inspected the gift. “Aw, thank you honey.”


Coop and I shared a secret smile, and we decided to bypass tradition and forgo our turns at getting presents to give Mom hers, all at once.


Cooper dove in, handing Mom a ring box, with a $5 bill neatly folded up. She had barely gotten over her puzzlement before I gave her a toilet paper roll with a $2 bill wrapped inside it. Mom examined the bill, the aw-my-kids-are-so-cute look morphing into wait-is-this-all-going-to-be-money?


Mom tore through the wrapping, forgoing her usual lovingly-slow process of opening presents by plucking off the tape on the ends. “Is this all for me?”


“Yup! And wait, there’s more!” I chortled. “I’ve always wanted to say that.”


We gave her the remainder of the small presents—various change and dollar bills.


Then Cooper brought out The Big Box: an assortment of two fives and his special collection of quarters, all wrapped up with different colored tissue, thrown into a three-foot-squared box with peanuts.


Mom broke into laughter as she fished out the presents. “Oh, my goodness! More?”


Cooper stared, making sure every quarter was fished out. He nodded. “That’s it.”


Mom sat back on her haunches, heaving a sigh. “Wow. This-truly, it’s-amazing!”


“This is the Mom account,” I explained, bringing out a shoe box I had made into a piggy bank. “You put all your money in here, and you can only use it to buy yourself stuff.”


Cooper nodded solemnly. “You can’t use it on bills, or stuff for us; nothing like that.”


“What?” Mom looked over all the tissue-paper-taped coins and bills and toilet paper rolls. “I-” She burst into tears, and we hugged her from both sides. I found my brother’s hand and squeezed it. He returned the gesture. We both agreed: Best Christmas Ever.

***




Mom went shopping two days later. Coop and I waited in the living room, playing chess.


The door opened and Mom breezed in, beaming so widely she could have melted the polar ice caps with one smile. “Look what I got!” She brandished two shopping bags.


She showed us her things: A lipstick that came with its own Clinique sample kit, a long nightgown, and a book. I looked up at Mom’s expression. She traced her finger over every item, as if not sure if it was really hers. She was happy, and so beautiful.


Coop and I shared a smile. We’d get started right away on her next Mom Account.

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