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Lonely Streets

Emptiness was not what she had expected from her first visit to a big city. Her image, of course, had been created before the disaster, but somehow a part of her mind had held onto the idea of a bustling metropolis.

The anti-vaxxers had scared a lot of people into not getting vaccinations. Herd immunity went away. The very old, very young, and those with compromised immune systems began to die off, slowly at first, then in great waves. The strains became more virulent as they had a chance to mutate, so even healthy people were being taken down.

The city was mostly empty. People lived in pocket neighborhoods, growing food on rooftop gardens so it could be protected, living in just a few houses or apartment complexes and keeping them up, letting the surrounding buildings gradually fall apart. Some groups had tentatively begun to work together to try to create more of a community throughout the city, but fear was the strongest emotion anyone had these days, so it was very difficult work.

She was a peacemaker. She worked with groups and helped them communicate. Everyone had something that someone else needed; she was one of the people who helped them figure out what that something was. She made sure everything was as fair as possible. She was an indeterminate color, neither white nor brown nor, really, anything identifiable. Her nose and hair, the two places most people looked to try to figure out a person’s identity, were not specifically one race or another. She was slightly exotic to every community, part of none, but a reasonable go-between. She had been working in smaller towns for years, but the group had decided to start working in the cities, too. This was her first.

She stood still, listening to the wind between the buildings, watching the noon light pick up reflections from the few unbroken windows. She had directions. All she had to do was walk down the lonely street, find the first group who had requested help, and start from the beginning.

Trust was difficult in these times, but humans needed it to survive. Her small group of forty people scattered over several states worked hard to bring people towards assuming the best rather than the worst of others, even others who looked nothing like them. The group had started out as a band of polyglots who had gone out to dinner a few times a month, reveling in their ability to carry on conversations in several languages. When the disaster had begun, they banded together, intellectuals in a sea of increasingly tribal communities. They began to look for a way to change things and make them better.

She spoke ten languages. Some of the others spoke more, but she was young and still learning. So far, ten had been enough; the few times she came across a group speaking a language she did not, there were words that were close enough in other languages that she could communicate. She had not yet failed to bring groups together, teaching them important pieces of each others’ languages and helping them communicate.

She was looking forward to this challenge.


For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Indie Adams challenged me with “these lonely streets” and I challenged Bewildered Bug with “Why are numbers beautiful? It’s like asking why is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony beautiful. If you don’t see why, someone can’t tell you. I know numbers are beautiful. If they aren’t beautiful, nothing is. – Paul Erdos”

Unplanned

For once, my IndieInk writing challenge will be nonfiction.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

Six years ago, we planned to have a baby. Just one.

We knew we were in trouble when a fertility specialist said, with barely concealed glee, “You two are impressively infertile!”

Second opinion: the only kind of treatment we were willing to use (due to hormonal issues and money limitations – the other option was $16,000 per cycle for a 60% chance of success, and those were not odds we were willing to play) had a 5% chance over three cycles. The doctor said, if he were in our place, he would not do it.

We didn’t. We worked on accepting that we would not have a child.

Several months later, I watched my husband interact with a child we’ve known for years, and I realized that I wanted to see him with his own child. I mentioned adoption and he said he’d been thinking about it but did not want to push me.

We were rejected, with no explanation, by the first agency. We found another. We weren’t completely comfortable, but they seemed eager and had good reviews.

We went to several match meetings that did not feel right or work out for one reason or another.

We became increasingly uncomfortable with the lawyer and agency, but were already in pretty deep, so we decided to play out this hand and see where it took us.

We met a family we liked. They liked us, too. We figured out what worked. I made food for them every time I went to visit; we became friends, of sorts. It is an odd relationship and not well defined, but we knew enough to trust each other.

A baby was born, emergency C-section, time spent in the NICU. Paperwork and confusion followed. Two weeks later we could finally come home.

We planned to do what so many people do so easily, just have a baby. It seemed like such a simple task, something natural in the deepest sense of the word. We have a beautiful baby girl from a life we had not planned, and six years after we started this journey, an entirely new life has opened up. We have more people involved than we expected and we have a lot to learn, but we love this little person completely.

This is not the life we had planned, the timing we expected, or the place we thought we’d be, but I find myself deliriously happy when I am holding our daughter. Sleep deprivation has something to do with it, but not as much as you might think.

Accepting this path was not easy, but it was a very good thing in the long run.


For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Britania challenged me with “‘We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.’ – Joseph Campbell” and I challenged iampisspot with “‘Achievement brings its own anticlimax.’ – Maya Angelou”

Love from hate

My parents met over a shared hatred. I think it’s hilarious that such incredible, steadfast love came from something they both hated deeply.

I am a musician. I play four instruments. Well, five, if you count the cello, but I’ve only been learning that for a few months, so it doesn’t really apply. I am first chair in violin for an internationally recognized orchestra, and my music actually pays enough to help support my family. I consider myself lucky.

I grew up with music all around me. I could never get out of practicing; since both of my parents are musicians, there was time set aside every day for each of us to practice while the other two worked on the house, read, or commented on the music. In my case, I usually got comments and suggestions. At the time, it really bothered me, but it made me a much better musician. I still have that habit of practicing every day, and it has stood me in good stead throughout my life.

My parents met at a rally in 1979. I was surprised to hear that people hated a style of music enough to actually protest it. Of course, now we can put days of music of any variety on an iPod, but then it was live music, records, or radio. I guess when you have limited options, you get really irritated if one of the options is overwhelmed by music you don’t like. My mother was at the rally with some other guy. She cracked a joke about how many conductors it takes to change a lightbulb (no one knows – no one is watching!, if you needed the punch line) and the guy she was with didn’t laugh. My father, who was standing behind her, chuckled. He had heard the joke before, but it is a good joke, and those never get old. My mother turned around and smiled at him and they began to talk. The guy she was with wandered off eventually, overwhelmed by the musical geekitude.

My parents stayed up all night talking, happily skipping the riots, and when they went home they wrote letters. Neither had much money at the time, so running up the phone bill was not an option. That means I have months of letters back and forth, discussions about every facet of life, arguments about music, and protestations of love.

They’re so cute!

They eventually got married and settled into a life of making music and raising me. I was lucky to end up in this family. I’m not sure my talent would have flourished without the intensive practice.

The rally was against disco. In a very real way, if disco had not died, I would not be here today.


For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, I was challenged by Laura with “If disco didn’t die, I wouldn’t be alive.” I challenged Kevin Wilkes with “Tell the story of the most important piece of furniture that you own.”

One small thing

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, I was challenged by Drake, who gave me the prompt “Write something about an event or situation that is common knowledge from the perspective of an inanimate object that makes people rethink how they would normally feel about it.” This week’s response was quite short, but I think it works. I challenged Debra.


There was a loud noise, and suddenly I was aware. Another noise followed almost as soon as I slammed into a wall and sank in. The sound of running feet could be heard, briefly, then silence.

Lights came on and voices began.

“Pretty straightforward. It’s a suicide. I hate these. How do you explain to someone that their family member hated life so much he wanted to do himself in? Especially this time of year.”

Another voice, lighter. “Powder burns on his skin make sense. Nothing looks weird. Let me look around a little just to be sure.”

There was the sound of rustling, paper moving, and furniture being shifted. Suddenly there was a light on me.

“Hey, boss.” The lighter voice sounded unsure. “Boss? If he was sitting over there, how did a bullet hit the wall here? And how many people miss when they’ve decided on suicide?”

Heavy steps came toward me, and another, brighter light shone into the hole.

“He couldn’t have fired a gun at that angle. It’s physically impossible.”

The lighter voice came in again, quietly. “Not ruling this a suicide, then?”

“Nope. Call the murder team and don’t touch anything.”

You think you have a hard life?

For this week’s Indie Ink Writing Challenge, I was challenged by the always interesting Miranda; the challenge she issues is at the end. I challenged Melissa R, who responded to my prompt here.

I had fun with this one – thanks, Miranda!


Being the middle kid kind of sucks to start with. You aren’t as special as the first born or the baby, but you have all the responsibilities. It’s even worse when you’re from a family as weird as mine. I mean, how many people can say that their dad ate them and then threw them up again? Add to that the reputation that being in charge of the Underworld gives me, and I end up with a pretty lonely life.

There was, of course, Persephone, but since she was my niece, I really wasn’t comfortable doing much. Gorgeous child, really, but she was always getting into trouble and eventually got me embroiled, too. I didn’t do anything to her, just set her up in the guest room and let her be. We had dinner together pretty regularly, but she didn’t eat much. I guess you’ve already heard that story, though.

A lot of people seem to have this idea about predestination. I am here to tell you that you make your own decisions. Have you met my father? Not the brightest bulb, and not someone who could set up that much complexity. I mean, there are the Fates, but once you’ve sat in their weaving room and heard them swearing about someone screwing up the pattern again, you realize how much choice you really have in life. You could do anything. It might kill you, but then you’d have me for company. That’s not too bad, is it?

That brings us to the question of good and evil. If you make your own choices, then you decide whether to be good or evil, right? The thing is, though, that no one thinks they are the bad guy. I should amend that –there are a few of you who are really very screwed up (and this coming from a guy who was thrown up by his father!) who want to hurt other people. They like being bad guys. In general, though, when people make decisions, it’s because they think it’s the right decision. Who is to say that you wouldn’t make the same decision coming from exactly the same situations?

If everyone is doing the best they can, the best they know how, then what is good and evil?

It’s perception, that’s all. I know. I’m supposed to judge these people. Sometimes they’re doing things that hurt other people because they can’t get out of their own heads. Sometimes they just aren’t that bright. Sometimes what they see as the greater good is more important.

The underworld isn’t too bad. I make people spend a few years really understanding what effect their actions had on other people, but once they get it, once they really comprehend what they’ve done, there isn’t more punishment. They get to join the community. It’s very polite down here, let me tell you. If anyone screws up and hurts another person, they’re back in the learning zone for a year or two. That’s pretty good incentive to not screw up. Not as much as getting dumped out of an airlock, but you can’t have everything. Of course, generally I only tell people about the torture part. That’s all they really want to know anyway. I get to be all-knowing down here, too, so nobody lies. Wouldn’t that be a relief?

I have to get back to what I was working on. We have an especially nasty little bugger coming down soon, and I need to make plans for him. People in power almost never have a clue how much they’ve hurt people. I wish they could live in a tenement while they were still alive. I know, it’s not going to happen, but I can dream, can’t I?


My prompt this week was “Hades, souls, good vs evil.”

A Memory

Wendryn did not take this week off from the writing challenge, but I just finished teaching a summer class, and had the time to play again, so here I am. I was challenged by Catherine, who gave me the prompt “Silence is golden.” This evoked a memory, which is described below. I, in turn, challenged Amanda. I normally write at Rhapsody in Numbers.


A Memory

*click* *whirr*

The automatic light timer clicks into place, and the 80s-tastic cassette deck kicks into gear. The plaintive strains of Swan Lake fill the small room. They probably make alarm clocks with built-in tape players, but why spend the money when a cheap piece of hardware can get the job done nearly as well?

I roll over to check the time. The bright red LEDs of the clock radio, almost blinding in the otherwise pitch black morning, read 4:59. The timer was only off by a minute this morning. Not bad.

Three movements into Tchaikovsky’s ballet, I finally decide to brave the cold and get moving. My naked feet slap on the frozen concrete floor as I feel my way across the room to turn off the music and find my slippers and robe.

Blearily, I shuffle up the old stairs. They creak and groan as I ascend into the kitchen. The heaters pop and click, working overtime to keep the house overly warm. I pad through the kitchen and living room, then up another half flight of stairs to the bathroom.

I flip the light switch, then close and lock the door as quietly as possible, so as not to wake anyone else. I turn on the hot water, then pop the valve to direct it to the showerhead, rather than the facet for the bath. The water, initially cold, pounds down into the tub. I disrobe as the stream warms up, then stick a hand in to check the temperature.

After striking the right balance, I step in and pull the curtain closed with a whoosh. I enjoy the hot water for a moment, then begin my morning ablutions—first the soap, then the shampoo, then the toothbrush. The brush rattles and tickles, but does its job.

The water shuts off with a thunk, and I step out of the shower and towel myself dry. I put my robe back on, and head back down to my room in the basement. Turning on the light, I check the time again. 5:27. I’ve got about 15 minutes before I have to head out. Probably not enough time for coffee. Ah, well. The hot water was at least as stimulating.

I get dressed for the cold, pack my bag for class, and lace up my heavy boots. I thud back up the stairs, then into the still, dark morning, and—

Silence.

Profound and utter silence.

It snowed overnight, and is still snowing now. It comes down in large flakes, drifting through the cuprous light of the streetlights. The streets are empty, and covered with a blanket of fresh snow. The scent of frost is in the air.

Delirium

For this week’s Indie Ink Writing Challenge, I was challenged by Dafeenah with one word – “Delirium”. I challenged melissa b, and she will answer here. I decided to write nonfiction this week, because the prompt reminded me of something.


I have some experience with delirium. Not all of it, but the hallucinations part. Bet you weren’t expecting that, were you?

I like road trips. I enjoy the freedom to go at my own pace, and I stop whenever something catches my interest. On the way home, however, I just want to get home without stopping. Once I get to the last leg, whatever I have decided that last leg actually is, I do not want to stop. I want to get all the way home and curl up in my own bed.

When I am very, very tired, though, this can cause me problems.

Mostly I see trees. I’ll be on a stretch of road with no trees, nothing on either side, and I will see trees arching over the road. This only happens in the dark; if it is bright out, I am more willing to stop and take a nap. Silly of me, probably, but that’s life. The trees are redwoods, I think, and they almost touch at the top of the arch. If the sun were out, the light would be dappled and pleasant. In the dark, though, they are a darker blot above me, lines covering the sky. I know logically that there are no trees, but I still see them.

If there are trees or bushes on the side of the road, they become animals. I could have sworn, late one night, that there was a twenty foot bear leaning over a wall. I see creatures running across the road, ephemeral, not real enough for me to brake, but real enough to catch the edges of my vision. Once, when I was painfully tired, a car passed me and I thought I saw things running alongside. Nothing identifiable, but definitely unnerving.

I have learned over the years to stop at a gas station, rest stop, or even just to get off the freeway and close my eyes. I much prefer a well-lit area, but that is not always available, and I do not think it is particularly safe to be driving in that condition. It is quite unnerving to see things I know are not there.

I have never gotten to this point with another person in the car. Apparently I am not willing to risk anyone else’s safety, only my own. I have not pushed so hard in a long time, though, and I do not plan to push that hard again.

Becoming reality

My latest piece for the Indie Ink Writing Challenge came from Greg Perry. The prompt is at the end. I challenged Michael Webb, and I really enjoyed his response.


I read about this when I was very young. It was science fiction then, no possibility of reality. When the shuttle landed for the final time, I thought it would remain in the realm of fiction, that we would never truly experience this unexpected beauty. Over time, though, people began to reach out to space again. I think the space program piqued our collective imagination and we simply could not let it go.

I am very old now, old enough that everyone treats me as if I am made of the thinnest china. I have enough money, finally, to do what I want, and I wanted to see this, so I am here, one of few people watching this first performance, this communication through art.

The music begins. The dancers are still, holding themselves carefully motionless. It isn’t exactly like the book, of course. There is a framework of sorts so the dancers can push off at certain points, change direction. The artists are still playing with this format. Leaving the limitation of gravity is both freeing and confusing.

The dancers begin to unfold, echoing the increasing complexity of the music. This performance was three people, using each other to propel themselves into forms and postures that no one on earth has ever been capable of before this. The audience was very small. I was watching, of course, with my few most beloved. Only a few other ships had been allowed. The important part of the audience surrounded the framework, flecks of light in what we see as a jellyfish-like body. They are intelligent and can communicate in our languages, but those languages are flat, to them. They use their whole bodies to talk. These dancers have been learning their language over years, and finally, we, the people of Earth, can speak to them in their language.

The dance has no up or down; that does not matter here. It is fluid grace. The dancers who began this, these three, are not traditionally shaped dancers. They are strong and limber, but they are not tiny. They do not work as dancers on Earth because they are not small enough to be lifted, thrown, and spun. They are dancers who danced for the love and the joy of it, then discovered this, the possibility of using their joy to speak.

The music is driving, fast, intense, and the dancers respond. They are pushing themselves hard, sweat dripping off and beading in the lack of gravity, adding hundreds of points of reflection to the already exquisite dance. One hooks an arm around another and they spin, the third coming in to join, a three pronged star spinning in ways that don’t seem possible. It’s like the first time I saw a Lomcevak performed in an airshow. My eyes could not figure out what the airplane was doing; it was moving in too many different directions at once. These dancers cause the same reaction – awe at their beauty and a wish to know how they do that. Not that it’s something that I will learn at this time in my life, but the temptation is there.

One dancer catches a part of the frame and spins off, following a piece of music which is suddenly in counterpoint. The two spinning continue, shifting their directions by pushing each other and bouncing off of pieces of the frame. The music pauses abruptly, and the dancers stop, too, holding fast to parts of the frame, their stillness more startling than their movement. Three distinct pieces of music begin, different rhythms that periodically match up. The dancers match the music, moving at different speeds and intensity, touching when the music matches, drifting back to their own dance when it separates again.

I am mesmerized. I never thought I would be so lucky as to get to see this beauty, gorgeous people in amazing motion, communicating fluidly while taking complete joy in the movement.

The main audience, surrounding the frame, expresses its approval as the performance ends. They surround the dancers, touching gently, lights dancing in excitement. These three dancers have brought us closer to equality than any amount of talking could ever do, and we can begin a new kind of discussion. Dancers and musicians as ambassadors is not something I thought I would ever get to see, but these three understand the aliens better, I think, than anyone else can. They learned by doing, allowed themselves to be laughed at when they had the equivalent of a horrible accent, and they proved that they could learn this beautiful complexity.

I am happy.


The prompt was “Your dream concert. Any artist/band, any venue, any time. Tell me about it.” This is an homage to Spider and Jeanne Robinson’s book Stardance (I can only find links to the trilogy), which I deeply love. It isn’t exactly the same story, but there are pieces of it included. If you haven’t read any Spider Robinson, I’d suggest you start. Oh, and if you like puns, check out the Callahan books…

Best served…

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Bewildered Bug challenged me, and I challenged Miranda with “If life were made of moments, then you’d never know you had one.” from Sondheim’s Into the Woods. My challenge is at the end.


Karl had been tracking his prey for weeks, learning the patterns. It was a dangerous move, but it was the only thing he had left. The courts had failed him, letting the criminal who had ruined his family go free. Negligent manslaughter. They said it was an accident, and accidents should be forgiven.

Karl was not in a forgiving mood. He’d lost his unborn child and his wife to this man. The man had said he was tired, not paying enough attention. He pretended remorse, but Karl was sure he could see through that, see the thrill that man had gotten from hitting another car and then driving away and letting them die. He’d driven away because he was afraid, he claimed, but Karl knew he was trying to get away with it, to not be blamed.

Well, Karl blamed him.

This morning was the culmination of weeks of work. As soon as the verdict had been handed down, he’d begun to plan. He found the man, followed him, figured out the best time to do this. He’d even researched the make and model of car. He had disabled the airbag and sliced the seatbelt so far back that it wouldn’t be noticed. He had disabled the safety features on his own car, too. He had no intention of surviving this.

Every morning, the man came to a stop at a deserted intersection between 6:37 AM and 6:44 AM. He was very precise. Karl waited two blocks away where he could see the headlights. He’d timed everything so he’d be up to killing speed by the time the man pulled away from the stop sign. There were no streetlights, and Karl drove with his headlights off. Today, everything fell into place. The man was there, as planned. Karl started from his designated spot, sped up, and reached the necessary speed just as the man pulled out. He saw the man’s face turn towards him in horror as Karl’s car slammed into him.

Karl’s last thought before he died was “Gotcha.”


My challenge was “You were just in a bad car accident. What goes through your mind just before you black out?”

Mirrors

The Indie Ink Writing Challenge was harder for me this week, but fun, as always. Blackbird challenged me (the challenge is at the end), and I challenged Katri.


The two men watched as she finally awoke. She stretched tentatively, then luxuriously, as she realized that she didn’t hurt anywhere anymore. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and started when her calves, rather than her knees, were at the edge. She shook her head, visibly confused, then tried to stand as they came into the room. She pushed off the bed and they caught her as she fell. She expected her feet to hit the ground sooner.

“It does get better,” the tall man said gently. “You just have to give your brain a little time to adapt.”

“I don’t understand!” she cried as she reached up to brush back the long hair she no longer had. “Where am I?”

“You are in a hospital.” The short man guided her over to a chair, settled her in, and handed her a cup of water, which she held very carefully. “You were very sick for a long time and there was no cure, so…”

She cut him off. “My husband. He said he’d have me frozen, but I don’t remember that.” She paused, and a stiff grin flitted over her face. “I guess I wouldn’t, though, would I?”

“We haven’t actually found a cure. We found something even better. You are an early beneficiary of an innovative medical procedure.” The tall man smiled. “I helped develop it, and the test subjects have almost invariably done very well. You are young enough that your adaptation should be fast.”

“How long was I frozen? When can I see my husband?” She sounded very stressed, almost panicked.

“I’m sorry. Your husband has not been brought back yet. It takes a lot of time and work–and no small amount of luck–to get one person up and running. You were under for 68 years.”

“I don’t know anyone anymore, do I?” She paled a little, took a sip of water, breathed deeply, and let her chin fall to her chest. “I want to go back to bed.”

They left her alone and she slept.

—–

When she woke up, she said, to no one in particular, “Okay, I’m up. I’m ready to talk.”

Within a few minutes they were back at her door carrying a large tray of food and another glass of water.

She began to eat. “So, what did you do to me?” she asked between bites.

“In layman’s terms, we performed a brain transplant. Sometimes, patients come into the ER and are beyond our ability to help. We can keep the body alive, but the mind is gone. If this patient happens to be an organ donor, and the family agrees, it is occasionally possible to transplant the brain of a popsicle–er…cryogenically preserved individual–into a donor body.”

“There are a lot of hurdles. The donor body must be a nearly perfect match. Even small variations in blood type, immunology, or neural structure can scuttle the entire thing. You are on quite a few drugs right now to suppress the donor immune system and ease the transition. You won’t be able to go outside of this room for a while yet, and you are going to have to take a pretty intense drug cocktail for the rest of your life, but so far, everything looks good.”

“I have a new body.” She took a few more bites as she pondered the information. “What do I look like?”

The tall man took a mirror out of his breast pocket. She took it with suddenly trembling hands. The face that gazed back at her was not hers, but it moved when she raised her eyebrows and licked her lips. She shook her head, watching the bald visage with fascination.

“I’m not me anymore!” The mirror fell from her hand, shattering on the tile floor.

“You are you, though. Your brain and thought patterns are the same,” the tall man replied clinically. Then, with a little more compassion, “You’ll be okay. It’s just going to take a little while to adjust.”

She turned to him, her eyes glittering with fury. “How would you know?” she challenged.

“I was the first human subject. I fell over a few times, too. I am almost a foot taller than I used to be, and I was Jewish. Believe me. It gets better, and you’ll eventually get used to your new body. Our brains are good at adapting. That’s how we have survived so long.”

She sat for a few minutes, toying with her food, then sat back. “You should bring in chairs for yourselves. I want to know everything that has happened since I was frozen.”


My challenge this week was “And when I/he/she looked in the mirror, I/he/she didn’t recognize the reflection staring back.”