Flash Fiction: Unraveling

Unraveling FF

Unraveling

She was twenty-nine, broken-up-with, and sitting in a kayak in the middle of a moonlit lake.

A ball of blue yarn distorted itself into an egg shape between her knees. The double-bladed paddle resting crosswise on the sides of the kayak laughed at her. Unlike her and the man now sleeping on the opposite side of the campground, these blades would always swim synchronized, bound together by the shaft between them, inseparable.

There was nothing solid to hold her and him together anymore. Nothing but the strands of memory and emotion that stretched from her like spider threads, floating ghostly over the moon-washed water between her and shore.

He could have waited until the trip was over.

He could have let their last memory together be so full of wood smoke and dusty hiking boots and blankets laid out under the stars that there was no room for shocked silences. For confusion and tears. For solitary midnight kayak trips without a lifejacket or a walkie-talkie or any clear purpose in mind—other than to get away. From him. From herself.

But no. He had let his doubts and fears bubble over and hiss into the campfire. And all she could do was gape at him like a gutted fish. She felt the flame-heat on her face and hands like the kisses she wanted him to give her. In her imagination, she saw, tucked away safe in a zippered backpack pocket, the tiny velvet box she had thought he’d bring on this trip.

She had misread him so badly that his life-story might as well have been written in Ancient Greek.

There by the fire, her hands slid down her knitting needles to cover the half-formed strip of stitches that would have been her garter. A blue thing and a new thing, the smell of wood smoke still lingering in the fibers. He would have smelled it as he pulled the garter off with his teeth, reminding him of the night his love said yes.

Now, out here on the lake, she pulled the unfinished garter off its needle and started unraveling the stitches, pulling each loop free individually. It felt like plucking out her eyelashes, like yanking out her teeth. One by one.

But she kept going.

Soon, the garter was a memory and a pile of crinkled yarn sat in her lap. She stared at it, dry-eyed, for a long time.

The soft plish of water on kayak hull filled her ears. A breeze began blowing. Her arms grew bumps and her nipples hardened under her thin T-shirt. The moon’s frozen face peered down from space, and everything—not just the yarn—looked blue under its gaze.

Finally, she rewound the disappointed yarn around the ball. It felt cruelly soft in her hands, like the love-softened words he used to speak in her ear, like the hidden parts of his body that she would never get to touch now.

She dug her fingers into the ball, clinging to its softness and tearing into its heart at the same time.

Then she hurled the yarn into the lake.


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Book Review: Shadow Run

My Goodreads rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

In their new YA novel Shadow Run, authors AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller combine popular science fiction tropes with original elements and characters, pulling readers along on a fast-paced romp through space.

Qole is the young captain of the Kaitan Heritage, a space “fishing” vessel that harvests a mysterious purple-and-black substance called Shadow, which is used as an energy source. Shadow is unstable and dangerous—it infects (and will eventually kill) anyone who is exposed to it too long, including Qole and her brother Arjan. However, Shadow can also give people superpowers, such as extreme strength. Qole is one of those people—the most powerful one currently known.

Prince Nev, disguised as a normal guy, joins Qole’s crew in hopes of convincing (or forcing) her to come back to his homeworld with him so the royal family can study her and find out how to make Shadow more stable and usable. Things don’t go to plan, however, and the Kaitan is attacked by enemy warships. Our heroes manage to escape and make it back to Nev’s home planet… only to discover that Prince Nev’s faith in the good intentions of his family was, shall we say, misguided.

I enjoyed the original elements and characters in this book. The Shadow-fishing process and equipment is very interesting and reminiscent of real seagoing fishing vessels. Also, reflecting current social values, the book features a diverse cast of characters. Qole is a kickbutt female captain—especially when she “powers up” with Shadow and starts dragging full-grown men around and (SPOILER ALERT) setting things on fire with her mind.

Also, Qole and her brother, Arjan, both have brown skin. There’s an interesting scene about midway through the book in which some white characters make veiled snide comments about Qole’s skin color and she confronts them about it. The primary offending character responds with the in-world equivalent of, “But I can’t be racist—I have a black friend!” All in all, I’d say the book depicts race and micro-aggressions fairly accurately (although you would think such things wouldn’t be an issue anymore in such a far-future setting).

On the flip side, I didn’t like the way the book handled Basra, the gender-ambiguous crew member on the Kaitan. If your beliefs about gender are similar to mine, you won’t be a fan of such characters in the first place. Beyond that, I thought it was odd that the other characters made such a big deal about Basra’s gender fluidity. For example, when Nev first meets Basra, he is shocked into silence by the fact that he can’t tell if Basra is male or female.

Again, as with the race component, you would think the idea of gender-fluidity would be common enough in the story’s setting that it wouldn’t surprise people anymore. If the authors of the book really wanted to normalize “other” gender identities, they should have depicted Basra as normal, rather than using the other characters’ perspectives to constantly point out just how different Basra is.

Moving on, no sci-fi story would be complete without futuristic technology. In this department, the book borrows several popular sci-fi tropes. The characters have Star Wars-style encounters with enemy warships involving tractor beams and daring escapes from the depths of enemy vessels. Nev wields glowing “disruptor” swords reminiscent of lightsabers—he even goes so far as to pull the swords into his hands from across the room, albeit using magnetic attractor cuffs instead of the Force. Also, the I-got-superpowers-from-that-weird-substance thing is a bit cliché. Overall, however, the book’s more unique elements balance out the familiar ones and put a fresh spin on Qole and Nev’s space adventure.

Speaking of Qole and Nev, this is where the book most distinguishes itself as a YA novel—which is not necessarily a good thing. During their said Star Wars-style escape from the belly of an enemy ship, Qole and Nev start touching each other a lot and therefore fall in love, even though (SPOILER ALERT) Nev had straight up tried to kidnap the uncooperative Qole a few hours before.

The hate-to-love romance arc that Nev and Qole share is overdone in YA fiction—not to mention problematic. It essentially says that hotness trumps trustworthiness. Does touching the hot guy in the middle of a highly stressful situation make the girl tingle? Yes? Well… that’s basically all there is to it. They are now in love, even if they don’t admit it to themselves yet.

While hate-to-love arcs can work if executed properly, I was not a fan of Nev and Qole’s fast-acting relationship. I would have preferred to see their attraction and love grow slowly throughout the series. (Obviously, there are more books coming, as this one ends with a cliffhanger. And besides, “trilogy” seems to be the smallest size that YA sci-fi comes in these days.)

Despite my issues with this book, however, I still enjoyed reading it. Interwoven with the space-opera-style daring-do are threads of mystery regarding some of the side characters’ pasts. Also, because of the wild differences in points of view between captain, crewmembers, and spy-prince, there is plenty of high-stakes drama between characters—which makes for an entertaining read. And between the disruptor swords, superpowers, out-of-control mining drones, and desperate escapes, the book’s climactic chapters kept my eyes pasted to the page.

So, conclusion?

If you’re a fan of Star Wars (like I am), you should enjoy this book. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if the second Shadow Run installment is as good as The Empire Strikes Back.


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Flash Fiction: Dunes and Antlers

Well, that little break from blogging lasted longer than I meant it to! I was only going to take a week off for a beach trip, but then I got caught up in a whirlwind of job applications, work schedule changes, and knitting projects… and that week turned into a month-plus-some. Sigh.

Oh well. Nothing I can do except start up my writing routine again.

So, here’s a shiny new short story for you! (Bonus points if you can guess which Bible story this piece is loosely based on.)


Desert 1

Dunes and Antlers

Burgo lay on his belly just behind the crest of the sand dune, energy rifle aimed at the herd of scab deer below. The animals were foraging among the scrub that clung to life along the dry riverbed cutting through this part of the desert.

The deer were well within range of his weapon, but Burgo didn’t fire. He wasn’t hunting meat today. He was looking for a particular beast—and he wanted to take it alive.

Sweat trickled along Burgo’s skin, running back and forth in the wrinkle channels on his forehead. It was only a half hour after dawn and already the sun was hard at work, baking the desert like flatbread. Burgo’s instincts urged him to seek shade and water. But he just pulled the hood of his cowl lower over his face.

Burgo was good at enduring the desert’s heat. The clan elders liked to say it was because he was full of water bubbling up from a well deep inside him—why else would his skin be such a dark, cool shade of blue?

But Burgo’s brother, Gozza, had condemned his strength as inflexibility.

Clinging to the old nomadic ways was hurting the clan, Gozza had said. Why keep on suffering harsh conditions and constant food shortages in the desert when there were gentler lands waiting just beyond the southern mountains? Lands filled with water and permanent houses and steam-powered machines and stable jobs.

Many of the ogres found Gozza persuasive. But Burgo didn’t want to leave the desert. To do so would have been to shun the land that birthed him, the place his fathers and mothers had called home for countless generations.

Burgo was not afraid of the sun.

But Gozza was. And so was half the clan.

The last words Gozza had said to Burgo before he and his faction split off from the clan echoed in Burgo’s ears as he lay atop the dune, sweating in the heat.

“One day, brother, the sun is going to burn you to ashes before you even realize what’s happening.”

Gozza had spoken those words fifteen years ago when he left the clan. Yet here was Burgo, alive and unburned. Gozza’s prediction had not come true. And Burgo was desperate to prove this fact to his brother.

Below Burgo, the scab deer stirred as the dominant buck appeared, stepping around a clump of bushes and into the open. The buck was bigger than all the other deer, red scab-like scales covering its legs and climbing halfway up its sides, large thorny antlers growing from its head like trees.

Burgo sighted the buck down the length of his rifle, barrel protruding over the top of the dune. His eyes lost focus for a moment as he imagined himself falling on his knees in the sand and presenting one of the buck’s antlers to Gozza. A gift of the desert, a proof of health, a sign of remorse, a plea for listening ears.

Then Burgo squeezed one eye shut, aimed, and fired.

A sizzling ribbon of energy shot from the barrel and hit the buck’s chest. The animal collapsed to the ground in shock. The herd squealed its alarm and bolted, hooves pounding away down the dry riverbed.

Burgo scrambled to his feet and half ran, half slid down the dune, sand flying, robe flapping behind him. Then he dashed across the cracked surface of the riverbed toward the deer. The effects of the rifle’s stun setting wouldn’t last long on such a big, heavy animal. He had to remove an antler before the buck came to. Burgo was as tall and brawny as any ogre, but even he would be no match for a furious 700-pound scab deer.

Skidding to a halt next to the unconscious animal, Burgo slung his rifle over his shoulder by the carrying strap and yanked a serrated hunting knife out of the sheath hanging on his belt. He set to work on the beast’s right antler, sawing as fast as he could without letting the blade slip. The antler would grow back eventually—but not if he accidentally cut the deer’s jugular.

As he worked the blade back and forth, Burgo’s breath came in quick pulses, driven equally by his labor and his racing thoughts.

Burgo hated the way he and his brother had parted fifteen years ago, kept from coming to blows over their disagreement only by the abruptness of their separation. If only Gozza and the others had waited. If only they had stayed long enough to see that the desert was no longer against them.

The clan had been thriving in recent years as more and more ogre nomads abandoned the desert. With fewer tribes squabbling over the land’s limited food and water, the overhunted scab deer had begun to increase in numbers again. And with more food came more children.

Yet as Burgo’s sons and daughters grew, so did his regret. Every time he saw his children playing together around the tents or foraging for sponge plants in the shadows of sand-blasted rock formations, he thought of his brother.

Burgo wished he could relive the days when he and Gozza were young, just two boys wrestling each other in the sand, two friends debating which ogre girls were the strongest, two brothers sharing food and weapons and lookout duties while out hunting scab deer.

Those were the best days—the days when he and Gozza shared the same rays of sun.

But Burgo couldn’t go back. The only paths left to him led into the future—and if Burgo were to meet his brother on one of those paths, he would need a gift to ease the tension between them.

Burgo didn’t know whether Gozza would accept the antler. His brother had, after all, rejected the old traditions when he left the clan. But he was sure Gozza would at least know what the gift meant. If nothing else, Burgo wanted his brother to know he was sorry—for the lost years they could have spent together, for the fact they were no longer brothers, but strangers.

The deer was beginning to stir. With a final swipe of his blade, the freshly severed antler fell into Burgo’s hands. Then he thrust the blade back into its sheath and fled, cradling the antler in his arms like a baby.

Burgo retreated downwind of the deer along the river channel. Then he cut through a dip between two dunes and circled back to the place where he’d left his ground-bird tethered in the shade of a lone rock formation. The robbed scab deer bellowed somewhere beyond the dunes, but Burgo knew the animal wouldn’t leave the riverbed since there was nothing green to eat out in the sand.

Burgo tied the antler to the ground-bird’s saddle, then mounted up and headed back toward camp.

As the deer’s indignant bawling melted into the hot air behind him, Burgo smiled.

It was a small smile. Barely enough to bend his cheeks.

He had found a suitable antler and harvested it without injury to himself or the deer. But until he found his brother, he would have no one to give it to—and his smile would remain as dry as the desert.


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I’m Still a Story Snob

For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories, mostly of the speculative fiction variety. I’m researching, trying to find out what makes these stories steam along the tracks so I can put the same principles to use in my writing.

The only problem is, the more stories I read, the snobbier I get (as evidenced by the fact that I’ve written about this topic before).

I’m starting to get extremely picky about which stories I’m willing to call “good.” Lately, I’ve been sorting most of the pieces I read into the “decent” or “needs some tweaking” boxes.

Sometimes these classifications are justified, I think. I can take only so many flat characters, illogical plots, and pointless fight scenes before I get fed up and close the book. The English major in me is deathly allergic to bad and mediocre writing (unless it’s my own writing, cuz critiquing my own work is as hard as thinking up a creative metaphor).

Other times, my like or dislike of a story simply comes down to personal taste. In my old age (of not even a quarter century), I’m starting to enjoy speculative fiction that focuses more on detailed characterization and deep messages rather than pulpy sword/fist/laser-gun/werewolf action. There’s nothing wrong with the latter type of story, especially if it’s done well. It’s just not what I’m in to right now.

So where does all this leave me? Is it bad to be a story snob?

I would say yes and no.

Yes, because no one should waste their time reading a story that doesn’t pique their interest when there are hundreds of “better” books out there. Nobody has time to read all the stories in the world. (There’s a sad fact for you.) We readers, therefore, have to prioritize and sort and sift and be super picky in order to make sure we read as many awesome stories as possible before our journeys on Earth conclude.

But then, there’s always the danger of story snobs missing out on a really great book because they judged it by its cover, or read the first page and didn’t like it, or wouldn’t even try it because their annoying Aunt Busybody was the one who suggested they read it.

I don’t want to be that kind of snob.

That’s why I try to give a book a whole chapter (or two, or few) to grab me before I return it to the library. That’s why I usually finish a short story once I start it, even if it’s kind of lackluster.

I don’t want to risk missing any good stories.

Though of course, by “good,” I mean “personally appealing at the present moment.”

So, I guess it’s okay to keep being a story snob. I just have to be careful I don’t let my picky palette prevent me from scooping up and sampling all the strange but exciting new book flavors out there.

Okay, now I want ice cream.


Bonus content! Here’s a list of the short story anthologies I’ve been reading.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
I’m not very far into this book yet, but the first few stories are original and engaging enough to make me excited about the rest.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois
This is a monster of an anthology, stuffed to bursting with seemingly endless sci-fi shenanigans. Some of the stories are confusing, most of them are dark, and a few are downright great.

Writers of the Future Vol. 32 by various authors
This anthology features all the quarterly winners of the 2015/16 Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest. Most of these stories produced one of three possible reactions in me: 1) eye roll (because of clichés), 2) disgusted frown (because of gory violence), 3) satisfied smile (because of interesting concept / unique characters / twist ending).


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Flash Fiction: The Ardent Captain

Here’s a new story! Even though I’m calling it flash fiction, it’s really more of a very short short-story, since it’s over 1,000 words long.

As always, compliments and critiques are equally appreciated! 🙂


lava-jungle

The Ardent Captain

Captain Nathaniel Bennett stood on the bridge of the Ardent and stared down at the lava oozing from the top of the volcano far below. Though the air inside the bridge compartment was cool as it always was at this altitude, Bennett imagined he could feel the heat of the molten rock on his cheeks—like a blush.

Volcanoes are the Earth’s way of blushing, he thought. Then he berated himself inwardly for having such a ridiculous, romantic notion.

He reached up and straightened the collar of his blue and white captain’s coat, a gesture he couldn’t help but repeat whenever he felt his attention had deviated too far from his duties. If only he hadn’t opened Caroline’s letter that morning. Her notes always seemed to put him in a foggy, sentimental mood—highly inappropriate for an airship captain.

Bennett turned away from the brass-plated window network that afforded them an almost one hundred and eighty degree view of sky and land. The deck officers standing behind him snapped to attention under his gaze.

“Well, gentlemen,” Bennett said, “it appears the eruption was not as spectacular as predicted.”

The lava was merely trickling—and it was doing so away from the local villages.

“There is still the matter of fires set by the lava, sir,” the first officer said.

“Yes, but the locals should be able to take care of that with the help of their balloons.” Bennett pointed out the windows to where several round white shapes were already rising above the foothills. “Since we are no longer needed for evacuation, we may now return to Fleet Port.”

“Aye, sir,” the first officer said. He turned to the helmsman. “Set course for Fleet Port, half steam.” Then he repeated the instructions to the navigator and chief engineer via the speaking tubes.

Bennett let out his breath as he listened to the chorus of voices bouncing in and out of the tubes, confirming heading, wind speeds, lift gas density, steam pressure. His crew knew their work and they did it well, carrying out his orders with alacrity and aplomb. In the standard maneuvers that made up the bulk of the ship’s day-to-day work, the crew needed very little direct supervision from him.

His thoughts, on the other hand, required tight control.

Should unexpected circumstances arise or difficult assignments arrive from Fleet via messenger balloon, he must be ready to lead with wisdom. He couldn’t let emotions or irrelevant thoughts cloud his judgement.

And yet, no matter how hard he tried, he could never quite put Caroline out of his head once she had entered it.

The forested hills began to rotate far below Bennett’s feet as the airship turned, angling toward the east where Fleet Port lay, a bit less than twelve hours away. He waited until the ship was well underway, then retired to his cabin, leaving the bridge under the first officer’s command.

Caroline’s letter was waiting for Bennett on his desk, the corners of the tri-folded paper waving gently in one of the errant drafts that always ghosted about an airship’s interior. Bennett leaned against his closed door and stared at the letter. He had only read it once, but already he knew it by heart—if not the exact words, then the sentiments it expressed.

Caroline missed him terribly. His months-long assignments seemed interminable to her. She had plenty to keep her busy, writing articles for the Gazette, looking after her aging parents, and fixing up their even more rapidly aging house on Center Island. But for all her bustling activity, she was lonely, aching for close companionship and thought-provoking conversation. Bennett always made sure to buy her a new book on philosophy or politics whenever he set foot in a city and send it back to her via Air Express.

But Bennett knew that wasn’t enough—and he knew it without reading Caroline’s letters. In the privacy of his own cabin, without the pressure of command forcing him to keep his personal thoughts and feelings corked up, he could admit it.

He wanted to hear her voice again.

He wanted to sit with her by the fireplace, talking late into the moonlit night. He wanted to hear her humming like an angry bee as she yanked weeds out of the front lawn, hear her singing across the aisle from him in the neighborhood chapel, hear her reading her latest article aloud to her rheumy-eyed parents.

He wanted to see her again.

He wanted to see her sitting on the crumbling brick wall that separated her family’s garden from the river path that ran behind it, notebook and pen in her hands, trowel and pail of mortar and fresh red bricks forgotten at her feet. He wanted to see her jump off the wall and run to him much faster than most middle-aged women could.

He wanted to take her in his arms and press one hand to the small of her back and use the other to smooth back her flyaway hair and pull her under the willows where no one would see and kiss her perfect lips and…

The flush on Bennett’s cheeks was real this time.

He grabbed his collar with both hands and gave it a sharp tug, but he didn’t let go. Instead, his hands crept up and covered his face.

Oh good skies. No. He couldn’t touch Caroline like that. Not without giving her a ring. Not without abandoning his crew, his ship, his duty to protect the people of the Central Empire. Not without throwing overboard the airborne life he had lived for the last thirty-odd years.

Bennett dropped his hands to his sides and exhaled the breath he had been holding inside his lungs, afraid to release lest his eyes choose to issue tears along with it.

He had to write back to Caroline—had to tell her what she was doing to his mind and body, why he couldn’t let himself see or listen to her anymore.

It only took two of Bennett’s long strides to cross the cabin to his desk beneath the porthole window. Even on a huge carrier-class airship like the Ardent, space was limited for crew and captain alike.

Bennett sat down, pushed Caroline’s letter aside, pulled a fresh piece of paper from the desk drawer. The inkwell was cold in his fingers as he flipped open the top and filled his pen. His hand slowly moved the pen to the top left corner of the paper.

Bennett paused. His hand hovered, a miniscule bead of ink quivering on the end of the nib.

How did one address such a letter? His usual greeting, “Dear Caroline,” was far too familiar, far too tender to properly set up the difficult words that would follow. Yet writing nothing but her name would be too harsh. He didn’t want to hurt her. He would let himself break down and weep in front of his whole crew before he would hurt her.

The bead of ink dripped noiselessly onto the paper.

Bennett stared at the spot for a long moment.

The Ardent’s steel-reinforced timbers creaked in the wind. The ship’s engines droned low and steady somewhere beneath his boots. Footsteps passed outside in the corridor, carrying familiar, muffled voices along with them.

But neither of them were the voice he really wanted to hear.

Bennett reached up, undid the brass button under his throat, loosened his collar.

Then he wrote,
My Dearest Caroline…


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Flash Fiction: Float like a Pufferfish, Sing like a Siren

Hello, all! Here is another flash fiction piece for your reading pleasure. Like the last flash I posted, this piece is mostly unedited as far as story content goes. If you have constructive criticism to offer, please feel free to comment!


bubbles

Float like a Pufferfish, Sing like a Siren

At the first full dress rehearsal for Sea of Songs, I heard somebody say I looked more like a pufferfish than a mermaid. I was sitting on the edge of the huge glass tank that served as a backdrop for the stage, orange rubber prosthetic tail dangling in the chlorine-scented water. Unable to maneuver my legs very well, I twisted at the waist and glared over my shoulder at the stagehands checking lights and pulleys and whatever in the wings behind me.

I was comfortable with my weight, with the body God put me in. But I wanted to set those jerks straight about the damaging effects their comments would have on anyone with body insecurities.

Lucky for the stagehands, none of them made eye contact with me. If they had, the full force of my body positivity speech would have knocked their sorry butts all the way into 2020.

“One minute!” The director’s voice rebounded through the empty theater’s speakers and up into the upper wings where I sat. “Places, please!”

Way ahead of you. I’d been ready for dress rehearsal for weeks now, all my lines and songs memorized, all my beats, breaths, and kicks charted out. The stage crew and tank builders had just finished installing all the complicated set pieces this morning, three days behind schedule—so unprofessional!—and now we were finally ready to run through the whole play.

Opening night was tomorrow. So this had better be good. No, better than good. It had to be absolutely, undeniably excellent. People expected no less of Broadway.

I took a deep breath—not because I was nervous, but because it was time to start my breathing exercise, purging CO2 from my lungs and lowering my heartrate in preparation for my first performance dive fourteen-and-a-half minutes into Act 1. Most of my dives didn’t require me to hold my breath for more than a minute, but swimming in the prosthetic tail was strenuous, so I needed the breathing techniques to help my body be more efficient with its oxygen consumption.

Across the tank, I saw my fellow mermaids begin their breathing exercises, chests inflating slowly underneath the long strands of colorful hair glued in place over their breasts. There wasn’t a single fat roll or double chin among them. Some even had noticeable abs. Good for them. Seriously.

I had been cast as the token fluffy mermaid. I knew that coming in. But that only made me even more excited to be a part of this production. Not only was Sea of Songs pushing the limits on what was possible for set design—I mean, water wasn’t exactly friends with electronics and makeup—but the director was also making a conscious effort to represent more body types.

Opening night would be full of girls and women of every dress size, from zero to infinity. I wanted them all to see me—every cushy inch of me—looking pretty and confident in my mermaid getup, swimming right along with the others, a fabulous painted orca playing with her dolphin friends.

And besides, a relatively unknown actor like me will seize every opportunity she can to appear on Broadway. No questions asked.

The opening strains of the musical’s nautical-sounding theme song floated up from the orchestra pit far below. One by one, sailors danced onto the stage, which was set to look like an old-timey sailing ship. I kept breathing, ignoring their antics as best I could. I wanted to laugh when the captain shoved his annoying first mate into one of the lower tanks, but I managed to control the urge, exhaling just a little faster than usual.

The sailors finished their song and bantered back and forth a bit. Then the lights darkened and the music got more ominous—the beginning of the “storm” that would drive their ship off course, into the Siren Sea.

“Break a tail,” I whispered to the mermaids sitting next to me. They all grinned and one gave me a thumbs up.

Then we slid into the tank. The music disappeared in a watery rush. Then the bubbles cleared and I could hear the bass reverberating through the glass, into the water. Across the wide tank, I could see the colorful smudges of the other mermaids waiting at the top of the tank, just above the level of the stage’s curtain. We waited for the musical cue. Then we all dived, arms extended in front, tails swishing in back.

I concentrated on the maneuvers, dolphin-kicking my legs slowly and steadily, timing my movements with the other mermaids. Thirty seconds passed and we came up for air. Half of the mermaids immediately dived again. But the rest of us hurriedly hauled ourselves out of the water onto a small platform just offstage that lowered us thirty feet down to the tank on the main stage.

We dropped back into the water and swam out on stage. This time, our heads were out of the water. This time, we were singing.

The entrancing melody of our siren song floated up to the movable ship set piece on the other side of the stage. Slowly, the ship drifted toward us as the sailors fell under our spell—under my spell.

Tomorrow, I’d show the audience I was just as much mermaid material as anyone else, long lavender hair flowing around my shoulders, voice as sultry as a siren’s.

You know what? Let the stagehands make their snide comments, hiding up in the darkness of the wings. I’d be down here. Singing and swimming and swirling in the stage lights. A million rainbow bubbles dancing over my curves.


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Imagining Dad

My Dad is a very organized and thorough person—both by personality and in his work. If he has a free Saturday and doesn’t have plans to go spend it outdoors, he passes the day organizing the garage. Or vacuuming the entire house. Or cleaning out the cars. Or doing the family bookkeeping, meticulously going through every single credit card receipt from the past few weeks and matching them up with the latest statement.

For his job, Dad works in quality. He visits and corresponds with the suppliers that manufacture products for the company he works for, making sure they are following all the specs and meeting all the standards they should be. Essentially, Dad’s job is to keep cutting down on cut corners until everything is running smoothly.

If you were to talk to my Dad—about work, about life—it would be obvious that he’s intelligent, analytical, and passionate about his beliefs. But you wouldn’t expect him to be the kind of person who has a lot of imagination. At least, not the whimsical kind.

But he does.

His imagination just doesn’t show until he starts playing.

Back in the olden days when my younger sisters and I were kids, Dad would jump right into our imagination games like a swimmer diving into a pool. When we were really little, he’d get down on his hands and knees and give us “horsey rides” across the luscious green carpet grass in our living room. When we were a little older and discovered the sparkly pink magic of Barbies, he wasn’t afraid to pick up a doll and make her do the splits or call for Ken, the hilarious high-pitched voice coming from his mouth at odds with his manly mustache.

And then there were all the lets-play-pretend games (props optional). When he came home for lunch each day, he would sit at the table and cut up an apple or pear, putting a few slices on the very edge of the table—fodder for the mischievous “animals” hiding underneath. It was always a challenge for us animals to grab the fruit without being caught by the zookeeper.

Helped along by Dad’s imagination, car rides turned into airplane rides.

An old red wagon turned into a prairie schooner, complete with a rounded canvas cover.

The top level of our two-story playhouse (that Dad built!) became the Eagle’s Nest.

And bedtime turned into story time.

For a guy who has never been a big reader (at least, not until he discovered Clive Cussler’s books last year), Dad could sure tell a good story. Dad’s stories took us to fantastic worlds where anything could happen—from a family of elephants escaping hunters using secret underground tunnels, to assorted Mexican foods coming to life!

The Taco Brothers and Burrito Sisters made frequent appearances during that limbo time between putting on our pajamas and actually feeling sleepy enough to go to bed.

The Taco Brothers and Burrito Sisters were always on the run from Big Boy and his sidekick, Little Boy, the hungry villains who wanted nothing more than to devour our heroes. One time, Big Boy disguised himself as a giant container of sour cream in hopes of luring the anthropomorphic tacos and burritos to their doom. (It didn’t work—apparently, tacos are suspicious creatures.) Another time, the Taco Brothers and Burrito Sisters took a trip on the Enchilada Train. Everything was going well, but then Big Boy attacked, biting a huge chunk out of the train and our heroes barely escaped with their tortilla skins intact!

Things can get tense in Imagination Land.

Especially when ninjas show up to fight you as soon as you agree to star as The Bulk in your daughters’ knock-off Avengers home movie. Ah, good times.

All through my childhood and teen years, my Dad was there for me. Not only for the serious stuff like teaching me how to drive and helping me with my problems—but also for the fun, fanciful, frivolous stuff. The playful, the pretend. The imaginary. The kind of stuff that makes life truly wonderful, in the most literal sense of the word.

Thank you, Daddy, for playing with me.

Thank you for filling my life with wonder.

dad-in-silhouette


Thanks for visiting the Written Woods!

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