A picture is worth a thousand screams

tongue

I sat nodding in agreement looking at the pictures. People getting attacked by the animals with whom they tried to stage “selfies” had become quite an engulfing habit of mine.

What did they think was going to happen?

“This raccoon looks so cuddly. Maybe it wants me to touch it.” Fourteen rabies shots later she figured out she was very wrong. It didn’t want to be fed dog food.

An elephant doesn’t need any help in procuring hay. The gargantuan animal can handle its own mastication, thanks. Bet that smack to the head is going to hurt in the morning. Maybe the sign by the exhibit was meant to be taken seriously.

Drive-through animal parks are fun, eh? Unfortunately, the poor schmuck at the car wash will have to clean up the llama slobber instead of its owner. He’d wear rubber gloves if he knew that slime’s origin. If only the driver had to remove the mucus all over the steering wheel.

Surprise or not, growling might prove a prescient warning of impending doom. Flattened ears are a dead give-away (pun intended). Take the clue to back off. Better yet, how about you stay away in the first place?

Regardless of whether your plan is a slapdash attempt to secure the most popular pic on Instagram – a viral success with your followers’ adoration – ignorance precedes your photographic prowess. It’s a paradoxical certainty you will end up with a bandage or two. Maybe even a few scars. (*fingers crossed*)

It’s a wild animal after all.

+The Studio 30+ prompt this week, “nodding in agreement,” originally came from Tara. Studio30

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Seeking help

pillsThe doctor said not to be too concerned about the change. I told him, “There’s just such a distinct difference. The personality changes are so pronounced.” This being the first time he’d seen her, the man wouldn’t necessarily know any better. He saw so many patients in a day that he probably only knew them from what he wrote down in their files. A prescription pad might be all he felt he needed.

Dr. Franklin sat shaking his head unapologetically while my pulse raced and feelings of hopelessness spun out of control. “You can’t understand, she wasn’t like this before. She … I … you just don’t know her.” The dull affect was a first warning sign. Her personality had changed. Something was missing although I was at a loss to explain it to him, the so-called professional. Shouldn’t he have learned about these things in medical school?

I looked out the three-paned window at the dreary winter sky, stratified in bleak layers of gray, pale pink and slate blue. The coldness it foreshadowed chilled me to the bone. Turning back to the doctor, I noticed a look of impatience on his face.

The man didn’t seem to take notice of my mother sitting in a wheelchair beside his desk, her gaze turned blankly to the wall. He said, “I’m sorry, but we need to hurry this along. Other patients are waiting.”

*The weekly writing prompt at Studio 30+ was something was missing. (image via John on Flickr)

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Coincidence

This is what it's like driving through the Karoo desert

The highway stretched out evenly, no curves whatsoever, where I saw the car veer off into the ditch and overturn. It was a beautiful green Mustang, vintage. I don’t know much about cars, but it was an old one. A convertible, as a matter of fact, so the people never had a chance.

I should have stopped but was on my way to meet my friend, Kristine, for lunch. She’d just broken up with her boyfriend and had been pretty upset, so I didn’t want to be late. Plus, I don’t do well in stressful situations. Dealing with Kristine was going to be bad enough. She’s pretty high-maintenance.

The last bit of carnage was visible in my rear-view mirror as I drove away. Some type of scarf or long see-through piece of material blew up over the top before the vehicle crashed. It billowed out from around the driver’s head and cascaded across the empty field after the hunk of twisted metal came to rest. The opaque fabric was still floating skyward when the dust began to settle from the aftermath.

I called 9-1-1, I’m not totally heartless. There was simply nothing I could do. I have no medical training and I’m absolutely no good in an emergency. Other drivers who came upon the wreck pulled over on the shoulder, so I know others were there to help.

The newspaper had a story the next day about the young couple who died in the accident – a tragedy really. They were actually on their way to their wedding. Such a waste.

Reading the article made me realize the woman’s veil was swept into the air at the scene. It gave me chills. Maybe her soul escaped along with it. I believe in providence, so I’d like to think it did.

*The Studio 30+ prompt I should have stopped originally came from Joe.

Studio30Does anyone recognize Kristine?

(image via S. Marx on Flickr)

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Gone Writing – aka November’s Craziness

November is already half gone, and I’m currently in the throes of the kicking-my-butt event known as National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Even though I’m not meeting the 1,600 word daily goal, I am plugging right along on a work-in-progress tentatively called “The Ones You Love.” So I’ve been a little busy, but I’ll be back soon!

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No Trespassing

sign

Weeds grew high enough to almost completely obscure sight of the decrepit house from the road. Vines crawled up the windows and kept whatever lurked there out of view if anyone dared traverse the length of driveway and spy inside the grimed-covered windows. Decades of cigarette smoke left a yellow filth to glaze the panes, almost as if on purpose. An unsuspected outsider might peek into the lives of the building’s former residents and gain insight into their previously secret details.

Those intimacies were likely best hidden away, out of the visual perception of an otherwise unknowing public.

Two sets of eyes peeked up over the rotting wood of the sill. A small hand wiped at the grime, its owner not realizing the action’s futility. Even industrial-strength cleaner would require considerable labor to remove it. Aiden asked his brother, “What’s in there, Kyle?”

“I can’t tell,” came the reply, with a strong shushing. “There might be somebody around, and we’re dead meat if we get caught here,” Kyle admonished him. The boys’ parents warned them about snooping around the property. The place looked abandoned, but technically they were still trespassing.

Aiden whispered back, “Maybe we should go home.” He stifled a pained howl and grasped his arm when Kyle punched him and accused, “You’re just being chicken. Come on. We’re finding a way inside.” The boys crept around to the back door for a better look. Inching through chest-high foxtail, they were fairly well-hidden in their clandestine approach. With the sun setting in the west, the growing darkness worked in their favor.

Choking back tears, Aiden followed his brother at arm’s length. He’d do anything Kyle told him to but wanted to avoid getting hit again. He clambered up the back porch steps, his short legs not as nimble, and bumped his head into Kyle’s rear end when he stopped short.

The boys’ eyes widened when they heard movement coming from the interior. Older kids on the school bus said no one lived there, that the old man had died years ago, but everyone held their breath as they passed the ramshackle building each morning.

Aiden jumped up, adrenaline overcoming his lack of agility and preparing him for flight. Not quite old enough to go to school, he’d only gotten the ghost stories second-hand. Those legends scared him, and he was ready to run home regardless of their house being the length of two hayfields away. He’d wear out the soles of his little brown boots making tracks all the way back.

Kyle caught his shoulder and lowered the kid to crouch beside him. They hunkered below the nearly opaque door glass and listened intently. Being on the east side of the structure meant shadows spilled longer and cast an eerie backdrop to their perch atop the concrete stairs. Both of them realized how worried their mother would get with dinner-time fast approaching.

His nervousness already a hindrance, Aiden began to whine about having to pee and shouldn’t they leave already. He wasn’t having fun anymore and begged Kyle to listen to reason.

Another thump came from inside, closer this time, along with the sound of something sliding across the floor. Yet another clomp and more sliding. Aiden began to cry anew, while Kyle continued to hush him. Both boys froze in terror as the noise got louder the closer it drew.

The two sat transfixed, knees touching and arms locked around each other in automatic and instinctive support, staring into one another’s saucer-like orbs. “Your eyes look just like mine, Kyle,” Aiden said quietly. They seemed to peer into a mirror as similar as they appeared. The momentary respite vanished when the noise commenced again.

The clomping slowly but assuredly approached the door. Each stomp and slide frightened the boys to their cores. It came closer and closer.

Aiden gasped for breath, increasingly labored and ragged at every inhalation. Kyle whispered, “Shhh, Aiden, shhh … we have to be quiet.” He clung to his brother.

They both flinched when a bare light bulb flashed on above their heads and something crashed into the opposite side of the door. Springing to their feet and ready to flee, the pair stood facing the oldest man they’d ever seen in their short lives. The man was stick thin, cheek bones jutting out from either side of his gaunt face, with only a few straggly hairs on his sallow head.

He could’ve been a skeleton for all they knew, but they imagined him the dead come back to life. The man slammed his walker into the adjacent side of the door and shook its cracked glass. He yelled, “Get off my porch, you damn kids! Get outta here. It ain’t Halloween!”

The younger boy was first down the steps, with Kyle close on his heels. They sprinted down the driveway, dust clouding up behind them but nearly invisible in the darkening night. Aiden’s pointed-toe boots were blown almost clean of it by the time he reached their own porch. He ran so fast he’d forgotten his previously urgent need to relieve himself. The front of Kyle’s blue jeans, on the other hand, were dark from having the piss literally scared out of him.

***

The Studio 30+ prompt “best hidden away” was originally offered by Tina. Studio30

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Something Amiss

for sale

A pungent smell hit the real estate agent and young couple upon opening the door of the modest home. Ms. Nichols rushed through the entryway to open a window in hopes the room would air out before her customers entered. She wanted to make this sale, as no other prospective buyers had inquired about the low-end property. These folks might be her only chance.

Her sales instinct kicked in, and she tried to downplay the odor. “My, my … it’s a little stuffy in here,” she commented in her flurry to raise another window. The husband covered his nose and mouth and muttered sarcastically, “Damn, more than a little. What is that stench?” His wife elbowed his ribs and quickly shushed him.

The scene startled Nichols. Appalled the house had been left in this condition, she wished the owner had warned her. His seeming desperation to list the property apparently overshadowed its preparation. From a professional standpoint, this showing presented a worst-case scenario.

Beyond being clean, a seller should always keep the place in its most pristine condition. The staging was all wrong. Mr. Blackwell should’ve made his house as nice as possible, maybe even bake cookies or burn a candle to create a homey atmosphere. A pleasant showing experience. Maybe he was single and had no one to help him ready it for viewing.

Instead, a mystery stench overwhelmed the visitors upon their arrival. Quite a fatal mistake. If Blackwell truly wanted to sell, he had to insure all was in order before he left home. No phone call, no forewarning. Nothing.

Ms. Nichols blushed, giggled nervously, and thought to herself, “How could he miss this?” She speculated a dead mouse under the refrigerator had gone undetected.

She issued the couple to other rooms – quickly – as no one wished to prolong their exit. All three covered their noses and mouths upon re-entering the front room. The real estate agent continued to ruminate over the situation and made half-hearted apologies as they left. She saw the pair shaking their heads in disgust or confusion, she couldn’t tell which, as they got in their car and sped away.

Her own head wagged side to side in consternation at the seller’s negligence. She fanned her face and took out her phone to check her voicemail, thinking he may have left an explanatory message. She assumed this must be the first time he’d sold a home and didn’t know what to do. Surely it was inexperience or ignorance on his part.

He knew the truth. The fact of the matter was he hoped to unload the property before anyone discovered what he’d hidden under the living room floor. Blackwell recently moved the couch to cover a spot where he sawed through the hardwood and sub-flooring. He’d hastily stored his late wife’s remains there after he stabbed her to death one week prior.

Panic drove the man to act on impulse and immediately put the house on the market. Leaving in such a rush, he hadn’t considered how to cover up remnants of such an act, this being his first foray into criminal behavior.

Time was of the essence. He had to get out of town before anyone noticed his missus, a so-called homemaker, was missing. Maybe he’d sell the house “as is” and have the company simply wire him the money. Obviously, the murderer hadn’t put much thought into the consequences of his actions.

The phone in Blackwell’s pocket jingled. He saw the real estate agent’s number pop up on the read-out and thought, “Bloody hell, she’s annoying. I might just have to do something about her, too.”

***

The Studio 30+ prompt “he knew the truth” was originally from Kenneth. Studio30

(image: Huffington Post)

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Betrothed

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creepyhalloweenimages.com

I called Cameron to come get me when my car didn’t start the morning we were to be married. No way was I going to take a taxi in my full-skirted dress. My best friend, Kristine swore him seeing my dress before the ceremony was a bad idea. She told us, “Don’t you dare do that. It’s supposed to be bad luck.” We didn’t think the superstition would get us in trouble, but  basically Kristine cursed us.

That woman never opened an umbrella inside, avoided ladders and black cats at all costs, and constantly knocked on wood. She believed all those old stories her grandmother told her as a kid. She even had bottles sticking up from stunted limbs on a dead tree in her backyard to ward off evil spirits. I laughed at her silly beliefs every time I heard the glass clinking together outside her kitchen window.

That was back when we were friends. Without being especially maudlin, the rest of my story must be told.

Kristine loosely predicted my demise. Cameron picked me up in his fully restored ‘67 Ford Mustang that we meant to drive away from the reception and take on our honeymoon. It was such a beautiful car – a dark moss green convertible. He loved that car, but I hated how he drove it.

The change in plans threw off the schedule, so we were running late. Cameron put “the pedal to the metal,” as usual. He always drove too fast in the ‘Stang. That last big curve on the way into town is what ended it all, my life anyway.

The top was down, so the wind was whipping my freshly coiffed hair. I reached to grab a hat out of the back seat in hopes of salvaging my hairstyle. Layers of toile in my gown flew about, and errant material caught in Cameron’s sunglasses. It blocked his eyes from the road and ultimately caused the crash that killed me. My ejection from the car coincidentally took his new $300 Versace shades with me. He never found them, and I can’t say that I’m sorry.

My dress was ruined, too. I couldn’t even be buried in it.

To be blunt, I think Kristine jinxed me.

She was at the hospital to console Cameron after my death. She comforted him and nursed him back to health. I know her methods, so I wasn’t surprised when they fell in love so quickly. He’s such a tool.

The ceremony was in Vegas, what there was of it. I’d hardly call a drive-through chapel a proper location for a wedding service, though. The Mustang was totaled, so it took place in Kristine’s car instead.

I bet she even carried the rabbit’s foot keychain from her grandmother for “something old.” Maybe her luck will run out if she didn’t find something borrowed or blue. I can only hope.

***

The Studio 30+ writing prompt “supposed to be bad luck” came from Joe at Mostly Harmless Drivel.

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Quite a “Good Morning!”

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The last thing I want to do when I wake up — or get home from work, or do housework, or come in from outside — is find a tiny present from my cat on the floor/bed/kitchen chair. Realizing the hazards that go along with pet ownership, those ugly little gifts never cease to surprise me. Especially when I have yet to put in my contact lenses and don’t think before I reach down to pick them up off the carpet. Those slimy hairballs still shock me.

My cats are getting old, and I regularly take them to the vet. They’re generally in good health. Some feline ailments are common with age, though, just like with people. So I’m conscious of their behavior, eating habits, and fluid intake and output. I am aware of changes in their litter box, as gross as that may seem to non-cat-owners and haters.

They’re my responsibility, after all. I took on their care when “rescuing” them and accepted the inevitability of hairy furniture and clothing. With time, I even got used to waking up with whiskers brushing my face and beady eyes staring into my soul as a hungry alarm clock. Their purr’s cadence on my chest became a comfort, and they give me so much more than I give them.

I have to remember how much I love them when it’s time to “shave the couch” if I’m hosting book club. When I find the potato chip bag ripped open on the kitchen floor, I tell myself to just clean it up. The same goes for coming home to the trash knocked over and coffee grounds spread across the linoleum. My little girl cat must think she still lives on the streets and must scrounge for her supper.

They didn’t ask to come live with me. I brought outside cats inside my home. So when the boy cat bumps his head against my arm, cries for more to eat, and then yawns his bad breath on me, I remind myself I asked for it. I’ve been an animal lover all my life.

My parents were animal people. Mom let us have cats in the house and taught us to care for them. My dad raised dogs, cats, horses, chickens, goats, and pigs on the farm. My parents brought us up to love animals, and I hope I’m doing the same for my son.

He adores our cats, although he’s still a bit intimated by the dog. As his responsibility for their care increases, so does his general compassion. I hope that capacity extends to people, which our world so desperately needs from children.

Maybe he’ll even help clean up the hairballs one day.

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Expecting

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via allthecolor on Flickr

For Maggie, making a trip to the store for baby supplies wasn’t all the other new mothers cracked it up to be. Finding a place to park was easy enough, as at least two front rows were reserved for expectant mothers. Wise marketers made access simple to lure women in and tempt them to buy the same old, same old.

Inside the double glass doors, Maggie may have stepped back into the ‘50s for all she could tell. A cotton candy machine could’ve exploded, splashing the clothing with saccharine pink and sky blue. “Here we go again,” she said. “Why is everything for babies sold as such a stereotype?”

She didn’t want to select clothes by gender … lace and frills for little girls or animals and mechanical motifs for the boys. Maggie resisted making her selections based on such a backward categorization. Lady bugs and footballs in abundance. She just wanted to get some cute baby things. Registering for gifts here meant “snips and snails and puppy dog tails,” all the old tripe from the past.

Guilty feelings crossed her mind at being so greedy as to hand-pick what friends and relatives should buy the baby. Much like begging for shower gifts. She felt a tinge of shame at taking advantage of their generosity.

An electronic scanner clutched in her clammy palm, Maggie half-heartedly waved the device at random objects. A hooded bath towel here, burp pads there, all with the same themes decorating the garb. Her heart just wasn’t in it.

Maggie considered going the generic green and yellow route. “Better to stay on the safe side,” she thought. She and her husband refused to find out the baby’s sex via a sonogram or answer intrusive inquiries about it. People were surprised at their own lack of curiosity. She wanted to tell the busy-bodies to go work for the Big Baby Boootie business chain and help put every newborn into a feminine or masculine pigeon hole.

She rounded the corner to the aisle with the registry kiosk and had a mild moment of panic. What would they name the child? Jordan, Taylor, Jayden, Morgan – a list of androgynous choices came to mind. The registry monitor loomed large in front of her, vaguely representing the first choices she’d make for her progeny in a world where so much was determined by arbitrary X and Y chromosomes.

The moment had come to enter her choices for “Baby Thompson” into the computer, but she had only a few measly items scanned into the system – some plain white onsies and drab cream-colored sleepers that would leave nosy people guessing. She felt helpless against the force of how society pits “girls against boys” from birth. Maggie nodded her head and resolved, “Luvs and Huggies it is.”

*A prompt from Studio 30+ this week was, “Here we go again.” Studio30

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A great escape

autumn newbie

A tiny frog hides in the center.

Creativity. Butt in seat. 10,000 words. Quieten your inner critic.

My bullet points of consideration from a weekend surrounded by creative people.

Participating in this retreat didn’t necessarily mean their abilities rubbed off on me. There was much to learn, though, especially about confidence. Self-assuredness differs from bravado, even though it’s a subtle delineation. I got to soak in all the atmosphere and information over the weekend at a Creative Retreat in a secluded valley alongside the Jack’s Fork River in southeastern Missouri.

Bunker Hill defines the concept of “backwoods.” Our creative purpose didn’t suffer from any pre-conceived stereotype of that concept, though. What the resort may lack in refinement is more than made up for in tranquility.

The participants consisted mainly of educators, a sage lot whose collective expertise I might normally find intimidating. A facilitator took us through brainstorming exercises meant to overcome “writer’s block,” which my cousin defines as when writers’ imaginary friends stop talking to us. I found the groupthink process enlightening and hope the insight gained helps keep my fingers active at this keyboard, no matter how much work I have ahead of me.

A critique of my as-yet unedited novel provided productive, if not somewhat overwhelming, feedback. The learned advisors’ suggestion to start over induced an automatic gag-reflex, although I was able to quickly recover. The book does need more action, dialogue is not my strong suit, and the details in my head should sometimes stay there instead of the page.

There’s definitely much left to do on it. The beauty of the setting softened the blow of their words. Constructive criticism will help me grow, and my fragile ego won’t crumble. Thirty years now after the first time I was told, I have yet to accept how much my skin still needs to thicken.

My hands shook slightly while I read some of my work during the “open mic,” that old self-conscious feeling never quite defeated, with so many seemingly wiser listeners in the silent room. We had a great weekend. Other participants sought the same solace my sister and I did … a break in the routine with an aim of bettering our craft. We met fun people whose brief company we enjoyed and learned along the way.

Ghost stories told around a beach-front campfire that night rekindled Girl Scout and church camp memories but luckily eluded my dreams while in Old Cabin 3, rumored to be haunted but unspecifically so. Only acorns fell on the roof from massive oaks overhead, and no crazed lunatics scratched on the shingles or window panes. We survived that legend.

What a great way to spend a short get-away by the river. The lazy current pulled the fallen leaves away softly, nature fading summer but renewing our spirits. It made me want to write even more. Self-doubt be damned.

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