AWAKE, oh Sleeper!

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TEC4:

This is powerful and very true … Wake up!

Originally posted on Everything Rides on Hope Now:

Burdened is the only way I can describe my heart recently.  I have this constant feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is very wrong.  It’s a feeling like one of my children is in danger and I am helpless to protect them.  I go to sleep at night with the feeling and I wake up with it.

Around the world, Christians are suffering for their faith.  They always are, but lately it has been overwhelming to watch and hear about.  The headlines on Christian persecution do not end right now.

  • Over 250 schoolgirls were kidnapped by a terrorist group named “Boko Harem”.  These girls were kidnapped because they attended a “Western”, “Christianized” school in Nigeria.  The Islamic extremists forced most of them to convert to Islam, raped some, and sold some as child brides.
  • In Iraq and Syria, an evil, twisted faction of Al Queda named ISIS…

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Legacy – #ThreeWordWednesday (late again!), 03/26/2014

3wordwednesday

Cunning, Emaciated, Degenerate

Denis mounted the brownstone steps, thinking about the meeting he needed to attend later in the day. I’ve got to block this deal. Yes, it would probably make money — and destroy what’s left of a hundred lives or so. And destroy some greenspace. I don’t want any part of that. Fortunately for him, he wasn’t alone; there was a group at the company who wanted to stage a takeover, and Denis meant to help them.

His grandfather had picked a heck of time to demand a meeting.

He knocked on the door. Delagardie, who was nearly as aged and emaciated as his master, answered.

Before Denis could get a greeting out, Delagardie said in a barely-audible whisper, “Your grandfather is expecting you. Go straight up.”

The young man started for the stairs as the door squealed shut behind him.  Anyone expecting warmth and courtesy here had come to the last place where it could be found.

He stood outside the room for a minute. Something about the last minute summons bothered him. He and his mother had been estranged from his grandfather after the death of Denis’ father. While it was rumored that the old man was extremely wealthy it wasn’t an attraction for his grandson. With the idealism of youth, Denis had long ago decided it wasn’t a legacy he wanted any part of. In his eyes, the money was contaminated by the degenerate lifestyle and corrupt business practices his grandfather was infamous for.

“Denis. Come in. What are you waiting for?”

Reluctantly, he swung the door open and entered. Andrew DeFleur was laying in bed, his thin frame hardly seeming to hold the blankets off the mattress.

“Grandfather.” Denis bowed slightly. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes. Sit down.”

Dennis paused and then sat.

“I’m dying.  I doubt that comes as any surprise to you.”

What do I say to that? I’m sorry? What a shame? Should I care?

The old man put him out of his misery and chuckled with surprising strength. “I’ll spare you from trying to find a nice, hypocritical phrase. Your Great-aunt Esme would break into tears and that pious old fraud Uncle Jeffrey would preach a sermon over me. You don’t pretend — it’s one of the things I like about you. “

“You hardly know me.”

A small, cynical smile came over Andrew’s face. “I know more than you think, young man.”

“May I ask why you had me come?” Denis said briskly. He had other and better things to do.

“Why, for the pleasure of your company, of course. Of course, not!” Andrew grasped a small glass of a slightly cloudy liquid and drank. “No, because I need to discuss my inheritance with you.”

Dennis looked at his watch.  He had less than an hour to return to his office. He stood and prepared to leave.  “I don’t have time for this, grandfather, and I’m not  –“

“Sit DOWN!”

He did, involuntarily, feeling for the moment that he’d lost control over himself.

“Now.” His grandfather settled back on his pillows. “This isn’t something I can leave to just anyone.” A cunning smile crossed his face. “It requires someone decent, someone who is capable of making money but who doesn’t make money his first priority. Someone idealistic and fundamentally kind.  Someone like you, Denis.” The old man paused.  “There has to be some sacrifice involved, after all.”

Denis used every bit of his will to get up and leave, but he couldn’t budge.

Andrew swung his scrawny body up and off the side of the bed. “I wasn’t always like this. I don’t mean my age, but the kind of person I was.  We have a great deal in common, you and I — or we did, before my grandfather called me in, just like this.”

He reached out one apparently frail hand and gripped Denis’ wrist. With the other, he raised Denis’ chin so their eyes met and gazes locked.

He has a red highlight in his eyes, the paralyzed Denis thought. Why didn’t I ever notice that before?

A shimmer surrounded the old man and lifted away to form a sphere. It bobbed down the arm Andrew was using to hold Denis’, and slowly traveled up the younger man’s body.  It spread thin and sank into him.

The old man released Denis and collapsed onto the bed.

Denis, whose chin had dropped to his chest, slowly raised his head. He looked at the old man with no interest, stood, adjusted his coat and descended the stairs.

Delagardie met him at the door. “Mr. Andrew?”

“He’s dead.” Their eyes met, and Delagardie noted with pleasure the red glint in the younger man’s eyes. He handed Denis a key.

“I’ll make all the arrangements, sir.  You will be home this evening?”

“Indeed, I will.  But first I have a deal that I need to ensure goes through — and some friends to stab in the back.”  He left, a swagger in his step and a cold, cynical smile on his face.

Counting Sheep, #FridayFlash, 03/21/2014

promptlights

It was three months from the day the lights appeared when the ships appeared in Earth’s skies. They didn’t announce themselves, or even acknowledge any of Earth’s attempts to contact them.

Communications between the planet’s leaders buzzed, the news outlets speculated, and people spent the three months wondering about what it all meant. When the ships arrived peacefully, and nothing more shocking happened, as usual, people got used to them and life went on. People went from watching the skies to worrying about whatever crisis the news media was promoting this week.

Robert Baldwin couldn’t decide if there was any reason to worry. At times, he felt the faint prickle of unease, but for no good reason he could put his finger on. It was just there.

The external appearance of the ships wasn’t cause for alarm, either. In fact, they rather resembled geometric abstractions of the clean white clouds of a perfect summer day.  Robert’s upstairs neighbor, Ted, who saw conspiracies in everything, claimed that made them more dangerous.

“Hey, they look harmless and then wham! They go for world domination and use us for soup!”

Robert mused that Ted had probably cornered the market on tinfoil, imagining it stocked to the ceiling in his apartment. “I think you’ve watched too many Twilight Zone episodes, Ted.”

“You wait. You’ll see.”

All he saw, along with everyone else, was nothing. The ships kept hovering in the skies, and were mostly disregarded. There was still no attempt at contact, peaceful or otherwise, no one disappeared and life went on pretty much as usual.

If anything, it seemed as though life was too good. At night, the news had fewer road rage reports, fewer violent crimes, and there hadn’t been a mass shooting for months. Human interaction had changed – this city was generally regarded as a hotbed of anger and “me first”, but Robert thought he  heard less swearing (almost none, in fact) and people weren’t so prone to pushing and shoving their way through the streets. He eyed the ships above him uneasily and thought about Ted.

The next morning they met on the stairs. “So, still think you’ll wind up as Cream of Ted?” Robert joked.

Ted looked at his neighbor in surprise. “What?” He paused, a couple of steps below Robert. “Oh.  No. You know – I think I overreacted.”

Robert almost tripped as he walked down to Ted’s level. “Excuse me?”

“No, seriously.” They descended together. “I’ve actually got kind of a – I don’t know – good feeling about this?” He looked at Robert quizzically.

Robert returned his look, equally confused and a little concerned.

Ted’s smile was uncharacteristically beatific. “No I’m haven’t been ‘body snatched’ or anything. I just don’t think we have anything to worry about.”

Reynolds’ stock was about to drop, Robert thought, and shrugged. “If you say so.” Maybe Ted was right, but somehow he wasn’t sure.

A week later, he was very sure indeed.  Robert woke from a deep sleep with no warning. Two tall, thin, shadowy gray figures stood at the foot of his bed.

The shape on the right raised a spectral hand. “Hush, human.” The voice was thin and bloodless and yet managed to sound like someone’s maiden aunt soothing a child.

“We prefer lulling our herds to sleep,” the figure on the left said in the same kind of voice. “But some sheep, to use a term familiar to you, simply can’t be lulled.”

“Such as you, human,” said Right-Side.

“So we cull our herds.” A twitch of Left-Side’s hand sent Robert flying – right out the window. Even though he was terrified, he couldn’t scream – he couldn’t move.

***

The couple returning from their date didn’t scream either as Robert landed in front of them, quite dead.

“Poor guy,” the woman said as she stepped over his body, careful not to get any blood on her Manolos.

“Yes. I’m sure someone will take care of this,” her companion said.

They snuggled as they continued down the street, their faces blindly raised to the moonlight reflecting from the visitors’ ships.

#ThreeWordWednesday, 3/5/2014 (fiction)

Credible, Decrepit, Pensive.

It had been more than 30 years since I left my hometown.

Frankly, I never expected to return. My folks had died when I was still in my 20s, my sister left the state, and it was just me. There was little to call me back, even though I was still about an hour away from home.  Somehow, the adventure gene was one I hadn’t gotten.

Then a group of my friends found me on Facebook. I don’t even know why I signed up. Curiosity, I guess. I reconnected without any desire to come home, or do the reunion thing.  In the span of time, 30 years isn’t much, but somehow time had attenuated my memories and the feelings attached to them.  So I did a credible job of responding to the “remember whens” and “whatever happened tos” and kept my emotional distance.

Then, about 2 weeks ago, someone posted that the houses on the street where I grew up were about to be demolished.  Some developer thought the small town needed a big-box strip mall and they’d chosen that area for it.

So here I was; I sat in the driveway, pensive, with no interest in going further.  No one had bothered me – the houses were already empty – and the place I had called home for 22 years was decrepit. The owners who’d had it after my folks died hadn’t taken very good care of it, I thought.

You’re going to call me weird, but I’ve always thought that an abandoned house was one of the saddest things imaginable. When I was a little girl, my grandparents’ house in the country was a target for people who’d decided to dump their unwanted pets. More times than I can count, I remembered a bewildered pet sitting by the side of the road, waiting for a loved person who would never return.

These houses felt the same way to me – as though they wondered what they had done wrong, why their families had left, feeling cold and lonely as the days passed.

I started my car and put it in gear, backing down the driveway and pulling out onto the deserted highway.  On an impulse, I tooted the horn as I drove away; I remember, thanks for the memories. So long.

Sour Grapes? Oh, yes, indeed!

You’ve probably already heard about a writer named Lynn Shepherd and her diatribe on HuffPo about that dastardly J. K. Rowling and how she’s (Rowling) a success and she should just quit writing and give everyone else a shot.

After I finished shaking my head to get the wrackspurts out and start thinking clearly again, I posted comments and linked to the article (with comments) on my Facebook page.  I won’t link to it here — you can find it if you really want to read it (again or for the first time) but I don’t have to drive traffic to her drivel.

At least I did her the courtesy of reading the article before I commented, which is more than she did for Rowling. In my mind, besides the sheer effrontery of one writer telling another writer not to write (well, except for the patronizing little tap on the head which was: “By all means keep writing [...] for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn.” Gosh and golly, Ms. Shepherd. I guess Ms. Rowling should be grateful and tug her forelock because you will let her write for her own pleasure! How big of you!) the idea that you should criticise someone’s work when you’ve never even read it(!) is mind-blowing.

There were two other places where I thought she really missed the mark.  One had to do with the idea that adults who read YA lit are wasting their time somehow.  Some of the most interesting and enjoyable books I have read or remember reading when I was somewhat younger fall into the YA category.  Beyond Harry Potter, I would classify the following as YA:

If you add in Tolkien’s Hobbit along with the Narnia books and the Space Trilogy of C.S. Lewis (and I’m not entirely sure what age level Lewis was aiming for with Narnia) that’s literally hundreds and hundreds of hours of wonderful, thought-provoking and entertaining reading for people at any age.  The very idea that adults shouldn’t read them horrifies me. That takes some arrogance on the part of Ms. Shepherd (but I think it’s obvious by now that she has no shortage of that quality).

I thought Chuck Wendig, blogging on Terrible Minds, found the right response to YA naysayers:

“… for now, I’ll leave you with this lovely Nick Hornby quote: ‘I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of.'”

Finally, and most incredibly, Shepherd seemingly believes that the success of writers like Rowling, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, et al. somehow puts a roadblock in front of writers like her.  First off, as one commenter expressed it, publishing is not a “zero-sum” game, where writer X keeps writer y from getting published.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the success of the megawriters keeps publishing houses in the money they need to bring in the next level of writers. Ms. Shepherd, your books got published because Ms. Rowling’s did (or someone else like her).  If you’re not seeing her level of success, maybe you need to examine what you’re writing.

Speaking for myself, new writers get four pages when I’m at the library looking for something to read.  If you can’t hook me so that I want to keep reading, you’re going back on the shelf.  I’ve even stopped reading one or two of Stephen King’s books (and I read Carrie in the original paperback right after it was published — he’s one of my favorite writers, period).  It’s not the name on the front of the book I care about, it’s the words inside.  I didn’t particularly care for The Casual Vacancy either.  I felt what Ms. Rowling was trying to do had been done much better by British crime writer Robert Barnard in Political Suicide. But at least I opened the book and tried before I decided not to read it.

I find myself thinking that Ms. Shepherd’s 15 minutes of fame have come at a cost. There are a lot of YA fans and Potter fans who will never forgive her for her rant. I’ve heard (courtesy of the BBC website) that there are a lot of people who have hit her author page on Amazon and one-starred her books.  It’s a pity – she might have a good product (or not) but she may well wind up writing under a pseudonym herself.  I wonder if she’ll get any more shelf space that way?

Just a Feeling

6136085344_f675065475_zAnne turned on the radio and hurriedly cranked the volume down. The kids had finally fallen asleep and the last thing she wanted was to wake them up.

Suzette, her gentle Down’s Syndrome child, had been a good girl and slept right away, followed by Pat, the newest member of her little foster family – a golden-haired, dimpled six-month-old darling inexplicably left on the sidewalk in a baby carrier by a single mother who had apparently tired of being one. Matthew, the oldest at three, had been the tenacious one – wanting one more drink and one more story, until finally his eyes closed.

She wiped down the counter, loaded the dishwasher and started it. The music changed, and she grinned. I used to dance to that, she thought, and tried out a few rusty dance steps. Being a foster parent meant that she didn’t have much of a social life – at least not at the moment – and Anne hadn’t been out dancing since her divorce.

Spinning, a little off-balance, she giggled – and stopped abruptly at the site of a teary-eyed Matthew, standing at the entrance to the kitchen, holding the Hobbes she had crocheted for him.

“You’re supposed to be in bed.” Quietly, she walked over and scooped him up. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s a monster in my room, mommyAnnie!”

“A monster,” she said, “where?”

The little boy pointed up at an angle. “By the see’ing. Up.”

“Let’s go take a look.”

“No!” He struggled to get away from Anne. “Can’t go. Can’t!”

Anne was taken aback. Matthew had been the least trouble of any child put in her care, at an age to be helpful, and very much thnking of himself as a brave big brother. This isn’t like him …

“Ok, Buster.” She put Matthew on his chair at the dining room table and headed down the hall.

As she entered the room, she shut the door to avoid waking the other children and flipped on the light switch. Maybe it’s a spider. Or some kind of bug. But the walls were clean and gleaming in the light from the fixture. Nothing seemed to be hanging out of the closet, home for the monsters of her childhood.

On her way out the door, she stopped. Just for an instant, she felt something, rather than seeing it, but the moment passed and she decided that she had just picked up on Matthew’s heebie-jeebies. She shut the light off and headed back to the kitchen.

“Nothing there.”

“It ‘cared of you.” His eyes were still wide and he was sucking his thumb, something she hadn’t seen from him since the earliest days he’d been there.

“Scared of me? Why?”

“You girl.”

Scared of me because I’m female, huh? Just like most of the guys I seem to meet these days.

“You need to go back to bed, sweetie.”

Matthew shook his head violently. “No, pleez, mommyAnnie. Plees. Mons’er’ll come back.”

“What did it look like?”

=“Din’t see it. Feeled it. Feeled bad!”

Anne sighed. She still had quite a bit to do before bed. “Ok. Tell you what. You can sack out on the couch until I’m done. Will that help?”

He nodded and jumped up on the couch, pulling the afghan off the back to cover up with.

“Thank YOU!”

She went back to the kitchen and finished cleaning the stove. Opening the cabinets, she built a shopping list for the next day. As she worked, Anne felt a growing sense of unease. She tapped the pen on the counter and then went to look in on Matthew.

He had pulled the afghan up, almost covering his face. “MommyAnnie,” he whispered, “it’s here again.”

Anne knelt by the couch and brushed the hair from the little boy’s eyes. “Shh, honey. You must have woke up from a bad dream and it just stuck with you. It happens all the time.”

“No, no, no, no, no ….” Matthew teared up again. “It wants hurt me.”

“But not me?”

“It’s ‘cared of you.”

“Because I’m a girl.”

He nodded gravely and scrubbed the tears from his face.

She hugged him and they stayed there; neither moved for a long time. Abruptly, the tension broke.

Matthew scrambled off the couch and wrapped himself as far around her as he could. “It’s gone.”

I hate to admit this, but I felt something. I really did.

She cuddled him. “Think you can go back to bed?”

“Uh-huh.”

Anne walked him back to the room, tucked him in, gave Hobbes a kiss and went back to the kitchen thoughtfully.

“I don’t know what that was all about, but I’m glad it’s over.” She whistled as she emptied the dishwasher.Who ever heard of a monster that was scared of girls?” I guess Suzette’s safe, then.

She nearly fainted when an infant’s terrified scream came from Pat’s room.

Happy Belated #ThreeWordWednesday

The sullen man next to me on the bus made me uneasy.  He was dressed in less-than-clean clothes and didn’t appear to have shaved for about a week.  I had the distinct impression (reinforced by his sotto voce mutterings) that he was irrational.  I was stuck, though – the seats were full and people jammed the aisles, shifting and dodging in a nearly Brownian motion at each stop. I exchanged a glance, and raised eyebrows, with my other seatmate over the man’s bowed head. The third member of our happy little group was the sullen man’s polar opposite – Hugo Boss, clean-shaven and just, well, clean; he nearly looked like he was spit-shined. Ex-military, I’ll bet, I thought briefly, and pushed aside everything to try to order my workday before I hit my desk.

This was a long ride, all the way down Lakeshore Boulevard and then on the freeway to East Ninth.  I’d missed my usual express bus, which got on the freeway right away.  I wouldn’t do that again.

The squeal of the doors at yet another stop broke into my reverie. A pretty lady in a business suit and heels got on and shifted into the mass of standees.  She was pregnant – at a guess, about five months. She grabbed the overhead bar – which she could just reach – and balanced herself with the briefcase in her other hand.

The spit-and-polish businessman gave her one look – just a glance, really – and went back to his iPad. Just as I was about to stand and offer her my seat, the man next to me beat me to it.

In a gentle voice that I could barely hear over the noise of people’s voices and MP3 players whose earphones leaked a cacophony of music, the man, with a sweet smile that completely changed his face, said “Please, ma’am, have my seat.”

The Allegory of the Long Spoons (look it up) talks about the difference between heaven and hell being that in heaven people feed each other and in hell, they only worry about themselves.  For me, from now on, there’s going to be an Allegory of the Bus Seat. And maybe, too, a lesson about impressions and how misleading they can be.