Monday, July 28, 2014

Flash Fiction #2: Sea of Yellow

So, as I promised for #MondayBlogs (I never actually promised), here is the next installment of my older flash fiction series, Red Wheelbarrow. This next segment, Sea of Yellow, was created from a writing prompt of nothing more than a picture of a meadow of yellow flowers. Since I wanted to keep these characters going, I made it the next part of their journey. (To see the first segment, Red Wheelbarrow, and learn how it came about, read last week's post or click here.)

The sun is heavy, and so are my eyelids. But I walk anyway, stumbling really, since my feet are heavy, too. My boots absorb the heat like an iron skillet, and the dirt inside them turns moist between my toes. It's been three days since we left, three says since the strangers forced us from the only place we've ever called home. It was the first time I ever made eye contact with a gun, me and the double barrel in a stare down. Mama went hysterical.

In that moment I thought was the end, Mama fell to her knees, between me and the shotgun. She cried until the woman with ratty hair and crazy eyes shoved her aside. That was when they found our white chickens, and Mama says those white chickens saved my life. And because Mama wouldn't put up a fight, they let us go. Made us leave everything behind.

Just like that.

Mama was too passive to put up a fight. It sickens me. That house was the only place Hank and Rose ever knew, and the only place with walls that I ever knew. It was small and lacking, but it was ours. And so were the chickens.

It was those thoughts that made me lose it on the woman with the gun—thoughts that mama would let them win. I grasped the barrel of the shotgun with both hands when the woman-beast was distracted, but she kicked me in the stomach, knocking the wind from me. I fell into Mama, and Mama's arms imprisoned me as I screamed at the beasts.

The rabid woman just laughed, as though I was a joke. In two years, maybe one, I wouldn't be. Maybe I'll even be stronger than Mama by then.

Now we journeyed through the mountains, not a single possession with us. Mama and I took turns carrying Hank, and sometimes my arms tingled until I felt nothing at all. Rose cried a lot, and so did Mama. She tried hiding it, but I know the sound well.

I'm better at hiding it. I don't sniffle like her, or blubber like Rose.

"We're almost there," Mama says, and I almost jump, even though her voice is soft. Hank was asleep at her shoulder, but now he stirs. It's the first any of us have spoken in hours. She's talked about the Sea of Yellow ever since I was little, about the place she and Grandpa fled to many years before, when all Hell broke loose on the civilized world--a world I know nothing about.

I manage to harrumph between breaths, my feet still trudging over rocky terrain. The sun burns my neck and my moist shirt clings to my ribs and back.

"We're almost there?" Hank groggily asks, and I imagine him rubbing his eyes in the way he sometimes does. But I don't turn to look. I'm ahead of them, still giving Mama the silent treatment.

"It'll take your breath away, Char," she says, trying to soften me up. Nothing has ever taken my breath away. I've read stories, Mama's old books, where women's breath gets taken away all the time, mostly by men. But it doesn't make sense.

The brush gets thick then, and as I shove it aside and make a way for Rose, it scratches my forearms. I push through and my hair gets caught, but I ignore it. Rose grasps the back of my shirt in her fists, whimpering. Probably over the bugs. They were small and non-threatening, but they were everywhere.

Then I see it. A clearing ahead.

Is that...yellow?

I shove through faster, telling Rose to keep up, and once in the clear, I freeze. A meadow, hidden away. Just for us.

Mama's Sea of Yellow.

And something strange happens inside my chest. Almost like a thud, and my breath seems to catch deep in my throat. I understand now, about Mama's claim that it would take my breath away. The feeling elates me, in a way I’ve never experienced.

I close my eyes, and before I can help it, I'm smiling. At the breeze against my face, at the feeling inside me, at the image inside my closed lids. I open them again, just to make sure it wasn't my imagination.

I feel Mama behind me now. She's sniffling again, and Hank is cheering. There's a cabin at the other end of the clearing, probably the very one Grandpa built, but that's not what catches my eye. It's the openness, the freedom, the new start.

The Sea of Yellow.

My eyes follow the dancing wings of a butterfly. It seems drawn to Rose, for it lands right at her feet. She giggles, extending her finger to it, and I shake my head, my mouth still turned in a smile. One minute the insects are her adversary and the next, her kindred spirit.

The flowers are everywhere, coming to my knees. As I remove my boots, Hank jumps from Mama's arms, and my eyes burn. And when I run my swollen, sweaty feet over the grass, I sigh. Refreshing, green blades between my toes, promising reprieve.

I fall to the ground and let them envelop me, and so do Mama, Rose, and Hank. Together, we laugh.

We have nothing, except the cabin and each other.

And Mama's Sea of Yellow.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Flash Fiction #1: Red Wheelbarrow

I've been saying for a while that I should put some of my old short stories or flash fiction on my blog. Well, since it's the day for #MondayBlogs, I figured I'd do just that. I'm starting with the first flash fiction piece, which was the first in a series of four. I'll post the rest next week. Or never. We'll see.

A few years ago (maybe more?), I did a LOT more blogging than I did now. I did a lot of writing prompts, mostly. Some of the stuff I came up with was crap, but others weren't so bad. This particular prompt was to write a short piece including the William Carlos Williams verse, The Red Wheelbarrow (which is basically the opening line to this piece of mine). be creative, or something like that.

Red Wheelbarrow

So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed in rainwater beside the white chickens. Everything does, since water’s worth more than gold these days. But Mama told me it wasn't always like that, that water used to flow at the flip of a switch.

Two inches of rain rest within the wheelbarrow's walls, and Hank takes the first handful to his mouth, his fingers trembling with excitement and fatigue. Hank’s always first, since he’s the smallest.

Rose rolls her eyes as she stands back, but I know she understands. He’s weak, even weaker than yesterday.

We haven’t seen rain in too many months, and my mouth is dry. Sometimes it bleeds, but Mama’s is worse.

She stands back and watches the three of us, and her tongue grazes over her cracked lips. But she’ll let us drink first, let us wet our dry tongues and fill our bellies, and I tell myself to save her some when my turn comes.

Hank is laughing now, and water dribbles down his dirty chin, leaving tracks. We can’t help our laughter, too, even Rose. Even the three chickens cluck.

And I imagine what they would taste like, though Mama refuses to kill them because the chickens give us eggs.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine.

We have to hide them when stragglers come by. Most men, and even women, would kill for a live animal. Sometimes even a dead one.

After Rose gulps four handfuls, it’s my turn. Rust flakes float in the remains, but it doesn’t stop me, and after one handful, I back up so Mama can take her turn. My hands are still wet, so when she isn’t looking I’ll lick them.

But she scolds me with her eyes, narrow and fierce and loving. Charlene.

I ignore her at first, but her eyes continue to dig and her feet seem fastened to the ground. And as I bow my head and eagerly cup more, I know that even though everything depends on that red wheelbarrow glazed in rainwater for Hank, Rose, and I, it doesn’t for Mama. For Mama everything depends on the life of her children.

Stay tuned for more from Red Wheelbarrow!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ten Things You Don't Know About Me (But You Might)

Thank you, Adam Dreece, for tagging me in this "Ten Things You Don't Know About Me" blog tour (he totally made it up, but whatever). Yes, I was supposed to have this up yesterday for #MondayBlogs. But I'm a writer, which translates to Procrastinator. 

I try explaining to my "in real life" friends and family the reason I love twitter so much, but it's hard to put into words the feeling you get from a large community of like-minded people and writers. I consider my twitter community a second family, really--people who are "in real life." It's where I can be myself and these people understand me. And they're awesome. Adam is one of those people. One of those awesome-yet-quirky-and-oh-so-hilarious-and-witty pals. He's also the author of the YA steampunk series, The Yellow Hoods. Check him out on twitter, too. He's the one wearing a steampunk monocle. Can't miss it. Monocle.

So...Ten things you don't know about me? Okay, so you might already know these, but...

  1. I used to dislike kids. Like, a lot. When Dave and I got married and he told me how many kids he wanted, I panicked inside because I didn't want ANY. The thought scared the Hell out of me. Kids hated me and the feeling was mutual. It's why I was a crappy babysitter as a teen, and why I actually turned down most jobs until people just stopped asking all together. I did not like little people. Didn't know how to treat them or talk to them. But of course I hid that from my fiancé. It's kinda funny how three years later things turned around for me and it was me pressuring him. I'm still not a fan of watching other people's kids (But I will!), but I do love them. Children, all of them, are so very special, and hold a special place in my heart. My children have turned me into the person I am today and helped me discover the things that make me me. And my favorite position to hold in my church? A primary teacher, go figure (teacher for the little kids).
  2. Even at age ten I was a hopeless romantic, and a writer. In my box of old stuff at my mom and dad's house last year, I found a children's book I wrote and illustrated at age ten, about two fish that fell in love. Ever since I was young I had daydreams about love stories and romance. Cue the shameful admittance: While playing Mario Brothers, I would let my mind drift into romantic tales of the two brothers rescuing Princess Peach from danger and the love triangle that might ensue. But it wasn't until after my first child was born that I got brave enough to write down these stories. In my teenage years and young twenties, the only writing I did was poetry. Lots of it. Thus, my first novel wasn't created until 2007 (And no, it does not involve plumber brothers or lizard men).
  3. I have saved every single rejection letter from literary agents that I have ever accumulated during the past seven years, whether snail mail or email.
  4. I can see boundaries very clearly and logically for other people, but when it comes to myself, every line is blurred...
  5. And that is because I am an Empath (is that even a real word)? I absorb other people's problems, take them on as my own. Even if I haven't personally experienced what someone else is going through, I can feel it, feel what they're feeling. I take it all on and then feel responsible for them, for their problems. And because I'm this way, I have an excruciatingly difficult time saying no to people. Rejecting people, or hurting people's feelings--even if they've wronged or defiled me--is worse to me than almost anything. It's torture. So what do I usually do instead? I allow myself to get used and abused. I place myself in uncomfortable situations and then don't know how to get out of them. I feel that other people's feelings are more important than my own. This is wrong, I know. It's a strength turned into a weakness. It's been a struggle to break free of this, and I have recently been tried more times than in the past. I'm getting better, though. I am. But I will always struggle with it. And I suppose it's what makes me a good writer.
  6. On that note, regardless of throwing my own self-worth to the wayside sometimes, I do value myself (does that even compute?). I am proud of who I am and the heritage I've come from. I am extremely self-conscious about my exterior, but I'm content with my interior. I know I have talents and gifts, and though it may have taken my whole life to get to know myself, I'm happy with the result.
  7. Despite the way my own lines blur, I do see others' very clearly, as I mentioned. Meaning if a loved one of mine is getting treated unjustly or getting bullied, I have NO problem stepping in to protect. Funny, how I'll defend others to the core, but usually stay quiet when it's myself. 
  8. I'm not shy, though. I mean, I was. As a child, I was so shy that my teachers worried about me and counselled with my parents because I never said a single word. Not one. I didn't come out of my shell until after high school, until I started finding out who I was. Now when I don't talk it's not because I'm shy. It's because I don't have anything important to say. I'm quiet sometimes, introspective. I'm an introvert and process things internally. I need alone time to recharge my battery. But that does not mean I'm shy (any of my close friends will attest to this).
  9. I have an innate ability not just to read people but to read social situations. I can always sense when someone is feeling off, and especially when someone is feeling off about me, for any reason--even if it's someone on social media whom I've never met or talked to in person. I always know. Even if it's as simple as someone being annoyed with me, I pick up on it, and this allows me to back off. Which is why it's hard for me to grasp when other people lack those certain social skills (stay out of my bubble, for crying out loud! I'm giving you all the social cues!). Anyway, like I always tell my husband, there's no point in lying to me or hiding your feelings. Because I know. I always know. Muahahah!
  10. Last but not least, because of the shyness and introvertedness (I'm making that a word, so be quiet) I mentioned above, I had a ROUGH, extremely EXCRUCIATING time in middle and high school. If I died and went to Hell, it would be there. Right back there in those halls with tan lockers and wannabe gang members, and then later in those halls with blue carpeting and spoiled rich kids. Middle school is for kids to get through their awkward stage. Well, I was beyond awkward from age 11 to 18. And high school is a time for the extroverts, party-lovers, and optimistic, outgoing people. Not for the quiet teen who struggles with self-image, self-worth, and confidence, who has no sense of style and whose hair had to be chopped off like a boy's due to a bad dye job. Not for the depressed, imbalanced, and empathetic teen. To ones like those, high school is cruel and harsh. And people like me would laugh when people said high school is the time of your life. Even then I knew it wasn't. I could wait to get out of there and move into the real world. Where I could put the years of bullying (yes, hardcore physical and emotional bullying that even involved a restraining order) and mean, cruel, and hurtful boys behind me. Where I could come into my own and finally feel what it felt like to be loved, and later, even desired.

You're it!

Next, I tag Kele Lampe and Sonya Craig, challenging them to dig deep and tell us 10 things we don't know! Kele (Katherine) isn't just one of the most amazing writers I have ever read, but she is my soul sister. Immediately we clicked when meeting on twitter, an almost cosmic bond forming between us. She is one of my BFFs, a most trusted confidante whom I can divulge anything to, and the author of the Caitlin Ross paranormal series, which have two of the most real, lovable, and amazing main characters I've ever met. She's brilliant, guys. Brilliant. Sonya and I often joke that we are nothing more than Kele's minions. 

Sonya is another soul sister, who I have come to know and love on twitter. We get a little out of control sometimes, the three of us (and Adam), and even inappropriate. I honestly do feel sorry about that to all my other followers. But...SONYA STARTED IT! My favorite beautiful friend to tease, with a most beautiful and understanding soul, Sonya is always there to cheer me up or offer a shoulder. Either way, we're all either laughing or crying or cringing. Or all three. Sonya writes amazing sci-fi, is a MASTER artist, and blogs about all things wonderful, including her biggest fan, Fat Cat. Check out both these wonderful women on twitter: Kele, and Sonya.