Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Archangel of Downward Spiral

This is the story I wrote that won the first "Pic 1 K" contest at "Soft Whispers" Magazine. The idea was to write a story based on the picture (above).

Clenching the bed sheets in his fists, and releasing a moan from his lips that only he (and one other) could hear, Jack Ridley pushed the thorny brambles and branches out of his way, twisting a serpentine path through the cumbersome forest.

Eventually, the trees thinned and he emerged from the thicket into a clearing.

The grass was brown here, the blades brittle and curling.

The sky was granite gray and, although the prospect of rain looked promising, not a drop seemed forthcoming.

The heat was oppressive. Ridley's clothes clung to his sweaty body. He pushed a wet strand of gray hair out of his eyes.

Ridley sighed and thought: 
I'm tired. Just as he perceived his weariness, he spied in the distance a convenient and comfortable-looking bench. He wobbled over and plopped down on it. He leaned back, lifted his head and gazed into the unimpressive sky.

A rustling sound startled him, and jerking his head toward the forest, he saw her.

The child glided onto the lawn. Her hair was deepest copper. She had an upturned nose and the tips of her ears were pointed, almost pixieish. She wore a crisp, white cotton dress; no wrinkles or stains marred its perfection.

Wings sprouted from her back. The wings themselves were marred. They were dingy and torn in places. They appeared to be made of some sort of fabric. Ridley thought of children playing angels in Christmas pageants, but as he stared at the things, he thought he saw them move.

"You're Jonathan Ridley," she said, glancing at him from a short distance.

"Everyone calls me..."

"Jack," she said. "I know." She ambled over and sat next to him, taking his hand. She looked at him with chestnut eyes. "My name's really Zipporah, but everyone calls me Mehitabel."

Jack groaned, rubbing a sudden tender spot on his inner arm.  "They're giving you another shot," said Mehitabel.

Jack stopped massaging his arm and looked around. "Where am I?"

"One of the In-Between Places." Mehitabel's gaze drifted across the lawn. “You've been wandering the In-Between Places for days."

Ridley stirred restlessly and stared at Mehitabel, feeling agitated. "What am I doin' here?" He might've asked this question a hundred times before, but he couldn't remember.

"Waiting," she replied. "Deciding." She saw his face become angry. Large, wet tears began dropping from her eyes as distant thunder sounded beyond the trees.

He softened and squeezed her hand lightly. "Don't cry, Mehitabel. I'm just bone-tired. Those woods were hard to get through."

"They always are," Mehitabel said mysteriously.

"What did I do to deserve this?" he asked. As soon as the question left his lips, there came to him a recollection so terrible that he pulled away. He slid off the bench and onto the lawn, sobbing. "Oh, God!"

"You killed some people," said Mehitabel. And the way she spoke them, the words were like freshly honed knives, sharp and eviscerating. "A man you worked for paid you to kill." Tears continued to drip from her dark amber eyes, and where they fell, the grass became a vibrant green and tiny violets bloomed.

Jack stood. He looked at Mehitabel, and she ceased crying.

"You want to know the choice?" she asked.

A feeling of déjà vu crept over him and he looked around anxiously.

"Please don't run away again."

"I've been running away?"

Mehitabel nodded. "Through the In-Between Places. There's not many left. As we go down, we get closer."

"Down?" Jack glanced back at the forest behind them, then toward the path ahead. He didn't discern any slant to the landscape.

"We're traveling Downward."

Again, Jack felt a stomach-lurching rush of familiarity. "You've told me this before."

"Several times," Mehitabel said. "Each time you get afraid or angry and run away. Into another In-Between Place."

A breeze began blowing. It carried on its breath a whisper of screams. Mehitabel turned suddenly in its direction and trembled.

"What's that?" Jack asked. He shrank from the sound and stumbled forward, flopping onto the bench. He buried his face in his hands.

"Where you're going," she said.

Jack looked up. She was crying again. A shuffling sounded in the bushes. Mehitabel sprang up and raced toward the spot; then stopped, her face alarmed.

"He's not yours yet!" She began chewing her fingernails, nervously. Although she seemed frightened, Jack sensed she was also quite angry.

"What's the choice?" Jack asked.

"You won't run?"

"I hope not," Jack said, shivering in the shrieking wind.

"You must accept punishment, some of which has already been paid. Then you move Upward."


"No. First, you go to the waiting place. There you begin making atonement."

"Purgatory," whispered Jack. "What's it like?"

  "I'm not allowed to tell. Repentance must be based on trust."

"Would you follow me on ahead?"

Mehitabel twisted her hands. "I can't go much further. My power wanes the closer we get."

"You're an angel." When Mehitabel didn't answer, Jack continued. "Can you return with me?"

"Until we reach the place you call Purgatory. There I leave you."


"I guard the Downward Way. Seek the wanderers and make the offer on behalf of the One Who Waits."

"You live 

"Always." Her huge brown eyes were sad.

Jack frowned. "I know what's gonna happen. I'm gonna be tormented by those people I killed."

Mehitabel pointed in the direction the wind emanated from, the terrible cries echoing still. "You'll choose that?" Jack suddenly doubled over, heaving with the effort to breathe.

"Your agony!" Mehitabel gasped, eyes wide. "Choose! Quickly!"

Jack hung his head, squeezed his eyes tightly shut and cried out: "I'm sorry! I accept whatever is due."

In a dark hospital room, a monitor wailed as it flat-lined. A man named Jack Ridley breathed his last.

His eyes opened on a sunny glade carpeted with violets and he smiled. He heard a rustling of wings and, looking up, saw the flitting shape of a sparrow on the wing. 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Word Association, 3 a.m.

New poem published Thursday on 'Soft Whispers.'

I think of you
here in the inky blackness
separating dusk from 
dawn and I listen
to music - REM, 
and wonder: am I
losing mine, too?
faith - makes me 
feel faint when I start
to question it,
so I just ignore
the issue and
place it, wrap it
contextually, conceptually
within the confusion
and obscurity 
of other words:
clamor - am I 
making one
for nothing
here in the silent 
breathings of
my soul?
sleep - when is
the last time
since you left 
that I knew 
that blessedness?
or love - which is
something like faith
but is even more 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Picnic Table Blogging with Squirrels

I'm sitting right this second under a shady oak tree at a metal picnic bench on the campus of St. Petersburg College in Clearwater. It's a beautiful spring day, temperature in the lower 70's (I'm guessing) with a slight breeze that's gently threatening to waft my study papers across the lawn. So, I've put them away. At least until I'm done blogging. Squirrels watch me from the trees and from the grass.

This is my second week in college with more than 2 classes at a time and I have to say, it is very, very hard. I'm not to the point of having migraines yet, like I did when I was studying web design on line, but I've been very close to having one. Took some Advil and it went away.

I know that my efforts and struggles will pay off in the end, however, so I'm going to keep grinding away at it. That's the only way to do things, really. I have to remember that diamonds are beautiful gems, but they start out as lumps of ugly, unimpressive coal.

For now, I'm content just hanging out with the squirrels. I'm a little nutty, too.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Florida Proof of Global Warming?

Just wondering if anyone else is curious why it's still barely making out of the 60's some days here in the Sunshine State in mid-March?

As much as I love stormy weather (it's been raining most of the day today with a few nice bolts of lightning  every so often) I can't help but wonder at the curiously cold weather we've been having. It got into the 70's a few days last week, though, so maybe spring is just having to fight for her right to enter the scene this year.

I also wonder about all of those reports of global warming, despite the recent news of scientists unethically fudging the results of experiments in that area.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fractals in Love

New poetry published on 'Soft Whispers'
Nature loves a strange attractor
a chaotic set of repeating notations
that explode in ecstasy outward from her center 
in lines and spirals and circles
A paisley mathematics so beautiful in 
design that it is almost blinding
As the vibrant colors engage
they tickle the mind and delight the eye
and leave me with burning questions:
Do Mandelbrots and Julia Sets fall in love?
Is this what it looks like
when colors and patterns hold hands? 
Kiss deeply?
Make mad, passionate love?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Curse of the Little Green Hybrid

This story was published in 'Soft Whispers' anthology titled "Un-luck of the Irish" on March 17, 2010

My family lived on the hill behind the O'Riley farm (if you can call it that--a few acres of inferior soil that was barely fit to grow potatoes in).  We sort of looked out for their clan and my Da helped them when he could. 
He also helped himself to the attentions of Margaret O'Riley, the youngest girl. Their tryst caused quite a stir, for it wasn't often that our two races pitched woo. 
And so...I entered the scene. 
My name is Larry. I’m a leprechaun. 
Well, half-leprechaun, really. My uncle Morvay called me the "little green hybrid."
There's a legend, nasty as badly-brewed poteen that a witch put a hex on the O'Riley family. An upstart of a young woman tried to curse the witch. So, the witch cursed her. 
She wrote it in goat's blood, on the side of the girl's hovel, and the words have never worn away.
"The blood remains upon this wall
That ye might be a curse to all
Since you cursed me, with thy foul tongue
Let then on all thine flesh be hung
The power of death in all thine speech
Wheresoever ye tongues may reach."
The O'Riley's tried many times to remove it, even with fire, but to no avail.
So the wall was avoided. When additions to the house were made, they were constructed around the wall. 
It was said that the old witch refuses to die, but remains ever close, watching her curse in action. 
I first saw evidence of the curse when I was a wee lad. Uncle Pat, came to our house drunk after a night of carousing, and became angry when Da refused to let him in. 
"May the devil take ye, elfin bugger!" He pounded on the door. "And may ye shrivel up and die!"
"Yer witch-curse won't do for me!" Da yelled. "It's a man's curse and on'y on a man will it do!"
Da was right. 
Pat's curse rebounded. The next day, they found him in a ditch less than a mile from his house. It was difficult identifying him, though, desiccated as he was.
Afterwards, I began to wonder. Would the curse manifest itself in me since I was only half O'Riley? Would my leprechaun blood protect me and keep me from making terrible oaths? Was being a "little green hybrid" a good thing? 
I wanted to know. 
About that time my Aunt Esmerelda moved in with us. God, she was old. Positively prehistoric! 
She crept up on me behind the house while I was trying to hex a snail. 
"Do ye love the curse so much that ye seek to destroy innocent creatures with it?" she snapped. I spun around, shocked by her sudden appearance. 
"No...Aunty, I..." 
"What, then?" Her dark, brooding eyes flared. 
"I wanted to see if the curse skipped me, because I'm half..."
"Leprechaun?" she asked. I nodded. "Would ye be happy if it did?" 
I nodded again, "And relieved."
She smiled; a hideous, toothless grin that split her face like an old scar. "If ye don't want the curse, mind yer tongue. Don't say words in anger. Or even in jest."
"Have you ever been affected by the curse, Aunty?"
"Only once," she said. 
I decided to try an innocent curse on a person. Not entirely innocent, because a curse by its very nature is bad. 
For the target, I picked my mum. I watched her by the cook fire and thought: "Itch." Then: "Scratch," "Feel an itch," "May your skin prickle with the sudden urge to scratch yourself and then subside," and all other variations of "itch" and "scratch" that I could think of. Nothing happened. I felt relieved. When I turned around I saw Aunt Esmerelda in the corner, watching me. My face flushed hot and I fled the room, wondering if she knew what I'd been trying to do. But she couldn't read my mind. Could she?
Some years later, Da passed and Mum was forced to turn the tenant farm over to her brother, Peter. She decided to immigrate to America, and I was going with her. So was Aunt Esmerelda.
The voyage was dull, cramped, and cold. The Atlantic winds howled, but the ship rolled smoothly along the waves. There were other leprechauns on the vessel, though none of the non-Irish humans could see them because leprechauns have the gift of invisibility-at-will.
I took up with an Irish lad named Devon and together we sneaked onto the first-class decks and peered out at the waves. 
"We're gonna make good time in this tailwind," Devon said. 
"Aye. If we don't get hammered by the sea and go down to the deeps."  
Devon shook his head. "Nah. T'is the best ship ever built, don't ye know?"
"Bollocks! If she's a ship, she can go down and she probably will," I laughed. 
A sudden strong headwind whipped around as the breeze changed directions and a chill prickled the back of my neck. We turned to head back below to lower class and I saw her. 
Aunt Esmerelda, reclining in a lounge chair, was watching me scornfully with her hard, black eyes.
By now you may have guessed. Our voyage abruptly ended in the wee hours of the morn, amid screaming and ice-cold, watery death. But I don't look that old, you say? Trust me, I am. The blasted leprechaun blood in my veins has kept me youthful beyond endurance. Or maybe it is that final curse. I’ll get to that later.
Mum died that night. And Devon. And countless, innocent others. 
Esmerelda and I escaped on a lifeboat with as many of the Irish, human and leprechaun, that we could find. Some survivors would later complain that they saw boats adrift with few people in them. They probably couldn't see the leprechauns. 
I sat shivering in the boat with my head bowed. Sometimes, I would look at Esmerelda. She bored holes into me with her black, knowing eyes and grinned in that awful way.

Once we were aboard the Carpathia and counted among the living, I found the wireless op and sent a message to Peter, breaking the news about Mum and asking questions that I hoped wouldn't make him think I'd gone mad. 
We were living in a New York tenement when his return message reached me weeks later. He wrote of his sorrow at mum's death and confirmed my fears. I wasn't the first to suspect what I then knew to be true.
Now that I've told this much, do you believe it? You haven't even heard the worst. 
I burned the wire from Uncle Peter and tried to wipe all references from my mind so she wouldn't discover my treachery. 
After thinking long and hard, I discovered how to end the curse. It was a way as horrible as the curse itself, but it was the only way the carnage could finally be brought to an end. So, I lit a candle one day after Esmerelda had gone shopping, and made the first of many horrible utterances. 
A few weeks later, word reached us that Uncle Peter and his wife had died of consumption and that many others in the O'Riley family were also stricken and were not long for the world. Esmerelda frowned when I read these letters to her, but said nothing.
As for myself, I volunteered to help in the hospitals, caring for those suffering from tuberculosis and other dread diseases, like dysentery and influenza. 
Eventually, I received news that the last of my O'Riley kin had died in Ireland. The home was to be razed to plant corn. 
"Good luck," I said, putting down the letter. I meant it both about the razing and the corn. I hoped that both would be possible soon. 
"What are ye on about?" Esmerelda muttered. We were sitting at the kitchen table.
"Nothing," I said. I coughed and put my hand to my mouth. A drop of blood appeared on my palm. I gazed at it and smiled. 
"I'm the last," I said. Esmerelda didn't say anything."What happens to you when I die?" I asked her. 
"I'll die too," she replied. "At last." She smiled her toothless, evil grin. 
"Why the devil are you smiling then, witch?!"
"Because I'm cursed, too. Cursed to watch my own evil." She laid her hand on my arm.
"Of them all, you're the only one had the guts to end it."
I flinched, twisted out of her grasp. "I had to curse my own family to do it!"
"Yes. And I'm sorry for it."
I looked up at her in surprise. "You're sorry?"
"When the obituaries started coming, I knew what you were doing. I could've saved you the trouble, but I didn't."
"What do you mean?"
"I removed the curse after the shipwreck. Those miserable souls; dying, screaming. It haunted me. I long for death now, and I'll die soon. But you don't have to." As she said this, she placed her bony hands over my chest, murmuring words in the old tongue. I felt the pain in my lungs disappear. My head began to spin and everything went black. 
When I came to, she was gone.
"You expect me to believe that crap?" the youth said. He ran his greedy hands along my 32 inch HDTV. 
"You said you'd buy it for two, if I told you my story."
"It's B.S.! You 'aint no half-breed leprechaun and you didn't sink the freaking Titanic. I'll give ya fifty bucks." 
I was down on my luck and soon to be evicted from my apartment if I didn't come up with some rent, which was why I was having the yard sale in the first place.
I reluctantly accepted the fifty and helped the punk load the TV into the backseat of his convertible. 
"Nice car," I said, making small talk. "Is it new?"
"Yeah..." He got into the drivers' seat. "It's a little green hybrid, just like you." He roared with laughter and slammed the door. "See ya around, Larry Leprechaun!"
He drove away. 
I watched the car speed down the street. "And may the road rise up to meet your greedy head."
I started to turn away, then grimaced as I heard the distant clamor of screeching tires,  shattering glass and fiberglass. 
The dawning horror overtook me that the curse, and its progenitor, still live.  Remembering her final curse, I grew cold with terror.
Somewhere she is watching...grinning. Forever, unless...
I hurried to my apartment and took my sharpest knife with a trembling hand. 
I grasped my tongue between my fingers...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Threadbare Heart

Published on "Soft Whispers" today:

My heart is hanging by a thread 
and you stand there holding the other end 
and smile your saddest smile
we know it’s no use
no amount of pretending can bring something back
that’s lost beyond recovery 
You pull away and the thread goes with you
my heart goes with you, tethered like a balloon
leaving me standing here
empty without a heart of my own
it was always yours
it is always yours
I don’t need it right now
so just take care of it and
bring it back to me soon
it won’t change anything at all
if I have it back
it will still be yours 
Though you won’t be here
you never were here, really
you were just a feverish dream
that I had one summer 
some events to fill in
on the calendar
A name on my to-do list
something to fill up my heart
like promises and sighs
please...let me have it back now
just drop the end of the string
and walk away...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Blogging, Writing, Homework and other Happenings

I'm here at the library blogging and thinking about doing some homework. It's been a crazy week. I have a dear friend who is in need of prayers...well-wishes, whatever you can give. He has hit that place commonly known as 'Rock Bottom.' For those of us who have been there, we know that pain all too well. If you haven't been there, consider yourself blessed.

I signed up for three classes at college for the Summer Term, but I can't enroll in them yet. Plus, I looked at something on my account called a 'Hold' and apparently I have to go see the business office on the 14th when they reopen from Spring Break about the $10 I need to give them for them re-ordering me a SPC One Card. So, that may be what is holding up getting my loan. Or not. I do know they sent me an email on 3/4 stating that they have issued the disbursement for my student loan.

Anyway, I have three new classes in my shopping cart for when open enrollment begins. I'm getting one of those blasted remedial Algebra classes done, and I'm taking an Art History class (something I will enjoy) and General Psychology (another subject I am interested in).

As for writing, I am working on several new stories. I started one for the 'Soft Whispers' new anthology "Un-luck of the Irish." but it is becoming too long to be considered flash fiction. So, I've gone back to the drawing board and I'm trying to hammer out a short piece about a disgruntled and very unlucky half-leprechaun named Larry. This story I've tentatively titled "Little Green Hybrid."

I sent 'Soft Whispers' a new poem yesterday called "Fractals in Love." It's a musing of mine on the beauty of fractal mathematics. Something I totally don't understand but love anyway. I also sent them a poem for their "Seventeen Syllables" poetry anthology which is for haikus. I sent them a seven stanza poem called "Seven Petals." Each stanza of the poem is a haiku. I'm pushing the envelope on that one, because haikus are generally just one stanza, seventeen syllable poems and my poem consists of seven haikus. Jim's a pretty neat guy about those kind of things, though. I told him if it was breaking the rules, he could reject it.

I'm also still looking for part-time evening employment. 30-32 hours a week. I put in OPS employment applications and updated my regular app with St. Petersburg College. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spring Break, Even If It Doesn't Feel Like It

Spring break at school next week.

I am glad for the repreive as the following week I will begin two more express classes online: Applied Ethics and Speech Communications. I will be taking these classes on the computers at the St. Pete campus since I no longer have internet at home. Still looking for part-time work.

I wish the weather felt more like spring, though. It's been too cold for too long.