Her name was Jeanie, at least I think it was. She came to live with us when I was about eleven years old. I remember washing the dishes with her after dinner one evening, she was washing and I was rinsing. She accidentally splashed water on her belly. She started to giggle and told me that meant she would marry a drunk, and she laughed. I don’t know how my face responded, but inside I was astonished. Really? How could dishwater splashed onto someone’s belly mean that? What was a drunk anyway? Someone who drank alcohol, I am sure! Oh no, so will I, I have done that many times! I took everything so damn literally when I was younger.
My mother left my father when I was eleven years old. We went from poor-to poorer. My mother was pregnant with her seventh child. She moved us into a very big rental house and took in three women with “problems”. I don’t know what all their problems were, but one of the ladies, her name was Connie, she cried a lot, uncontrollably. Jeanie, I remember, was more light-hearted, at least sometimes. She could be giggly and fun, but she could also be sullen and somber. I liked her. The third woman was an old lady we called Aunt Bee. She had dementia. She wandered off a lot and my brother and I had to get on our bikes and ride around town looking for her. One day the ladies left, they were just gone. Well, except Aunt Bee, she died in her sleep one night. It was weird, I remember feeling panicked at first, but my mother was very calm. I don’t know if I ever knew what happened to Connie and Jeanie.
Many years passed before I ever thought of them again. Then one day while washing the dishes, a bunch of water splashed out of the sink and soaked my belly, and I had the thought, “I am going to marry a drunk”! I stood frozen as the memories played out like a short film. When I came back, I chuckled and thought (possibly out loud), I’d not only married a drunk, I’d become one.
I have thought of Jeanie and her little superstition (or maybe it was her way of laughing something terrible off) every time I splash water on my belly while washing the dishes, and I wonder about her, I wonder what went so wrong in her life that she needed to live in a home to be looked after. Perhaps she and Connie both suffered from depression, I suppose that makes the most sense. I think of how potentially bad things could have gone. I think of my mother pregnant, supporting six other children. The desperation she must have felt, the desperation all the women must have felt. I think of the pain and the fear. I can see Jeanie’s face and see the two of us in that moment by the sink. I can hear her words, her giggle, and my heart breaks.
Phaedra Kimball is a full-time Sociology major. After living in Los Angeles, CA. for 20 years pursuing the life of an actor, and artist, she and her small family moved to a quieter life in Montana. Phaedra is passionate about politics, societal issues, learning, new art forms, and having new adventures.
Be Sure to Stop When You Get to Where You Are Going
By Patrick Dwyer
Saying goodbye to all those people seemed both urgent and full of sorrow. These are some of the best and finest friends a girl had, and we had made a madcap weekend of it! Group cuddles in every bed in that big rented house, shower plumbing more complex than the NY sewer system and just as hard to turn off, long walks down by that languid and ever time-stopping stretch of the Hudson, and those faces, all those faces. Every one of them up-turned to me with love, acceptance, even some admiration, as I rushed crazily through them all, making excuses for my haste, dallying for a kiss only at my peril.
I could not stay there any longer, even though I had promised for the full long weekend. The pressure behind my eyes, the ache behind and just to the left of my sternum had become unbearable. I could hardly see straight, and I was afraid of bursting into open sobs and ruining the party for everyone. I ran down the driveway and vaulted over the door of my convertible, flinging my bag into the narrow space behind the passenger seat, slammed the key into the ignition and spun my wheels down the gravel lane to the gate. I did not stop for the road but flung the wheel hard right and slid out in a drift heading south to the highway.
Not even daring to put words to the unasked question buried deep down, I let the dashed line in the center of the road wash away the pain in my head like the hot-pulse setting on that crazy shower massage back at the house. I would be alright. There was nothing I knew to do for the ache in my chest, except maybe wear it like armor and smash my way on through the rest of my life. Sometimes I found I could not wait for the next encounter, breast forward, like a lowered lance, daring all in my path to flee. Or to stand and deliver me to my rest.
Down the highway, realizing with a start that I had not filled my tank on the way up, and the needle was near empty. Which meant in this car that I was empty and would soon be coasting. As I lifted my eyes to scan down the road for fuel, I saw across the hundreds of flat farm acres here in the valley bottom, a goodly clump of trees by the road, a copse up ahead I did not recall from the drive up. And in their midst, high in their boughs, nearest the road, as if leaping for joy over an impossibly tall white post, a winged, red flying horse.
* * *
A very small, short-legged person in a ball cap with the same red horse emblem came out of the low one-story building, letting the screen door bang behind, and waddled up and between pumps older than any I had ever seen, to stand with a small and patient smile just safely out of reach of the swing of my door. I could not tell if it was a man or a woman, or even if it was only a child. The eyes that crowned the smile were ageless and deep brown, like the river in this valley, and they had that water’s same languid flow, the one with no sense of the passage of time.
As I opened my door, she (I just have to say ‘she’, because, well, I think I needed that smile, that intimation of a peace, of a great and effortless rest, to come from another woman right then) – she reached up a hand with stubby fingers so short as to almost not be fingers at all and took the handle of my car door, like I was being ushered down the steps of my own carriage by a footman. Standing on the apron, I turned my head distractedly from left to right, catching the scent of working dirt from the surrounding lands and also, much closer, the fragrance of blossoms so familiar, but which I could not name. The tiniest whiff of petroleum drifted by too, but without the usual assault. She said nothing, her smile remaining unchanging but not frozen, rather continually renewing, and if anything, growing just a bit warmer even as it grew just that bit smaller on her wide face.
“Fill it up?” I asked, not sure why I made it a question instead of an order. She gave me a nod with only the slow blink of her eyelids, closed the door of my car as if it were the door of a vault, and made the closing sound of that great slab of Detroit steel no more than the faint snick that the lid of a fine watch makes coming home to rest. Then she went about the business of pulling down the hose, winding back the meter numbers, unscrewing the filler cap and pouring gas into my tank, as if no activity could be more pleasant or more completely ordinary. So common it might’ve been beneath my notice.
I found myself wandering across the apron, pausing to consider if I wanted to enter the low building, perhaps buy myself a cold drink, or not. I did not, though I do not recall deciding that, and went instead around the left side of the building and out beneath some of the trees, where that blossom scent grew faintly more compelling. It seemed to be coming from the trees themselves, though none of them were in flower. In fact, the maples among them had already begun to turn and the huckleberries were well into fruit, countless tiny green swellings at the ends of the stems on the low bushes scattered in openings amongst the trees. I stood there, hip deep in that sense of the familiar-but-unnameable. Willing something to emerge, to appear before me, something that would take me up bodily and, as compelling as the haunting and elusive fragrance, spin away the life I knew and cast me up gently on the banks of … what? Something new? Oh no. No more of that. I wanted to be consumed, sweetly and eternally.
* * *
When I got back to my car, the hose was hung at the side of its pump, and everything, chrome, windshield, even the paint, gleamed as if new. Better than new. My host, yes, my host was not in sight, and I became aware for the first time since I had stopped that I had not been hearing any sound of traffic on this highway. I was not bothered by the oddity, only a little surprised that I had not noticed earlier. I went to find her and offer my payment for the gas and her services.
As I opened the flimsy screen door and entered the low room, feeling a little like a giant, or maybe a troll stooping to enter human habitation, fearful for my head, even without any fear of the occupants. There was a counter immediately to my left with an old cash register, the kind with pop-up numbers on levers, but no one in attendance. There were racks of the usual notions on the counter across from the space occupied by the register and a small display of dusty maps. Chewing gum, LifeSavers, some jars of penny candy and a neat display of pocket combs. Ahead there were rows of merchandise, not at all unlike those in the ubiquitous roadside convenience stores across America, except maybe for an overall greater simplicity of presentation while offering a much greater choice and variety of goods. And to the right, a cooler. Not the kind with the sliding glass doors, but the one with the metal lid that you raise to look down inside at the serpentine rows of bottle caps in their gated metal dispensing grooves. My hand reached down and along the caps as if, by a kind of commercial Braille, I might read and select a dewy wet bottle of cold refreshment, put my dime in the slot and slide it through its gate, free it from its long hibernation, and carry it away with me to enjoy down the road, on my way to … what?
She was standing beside me, not even coming up to my waist. She would need a tall bench or a ladder to get up to the top of this cooler, to reach down and replace the bottles. I was distracted by unasked-for thoughts of the logistics of her operation here, the unending physical challenges. Until she turned away, an invitation unspoken in the lingering twist of her round face toward me as she walked. I followed her to the counter, where she waddled to one end and around it and then, as if climbing a staircase, stood with her waist to the counter top, her surprisingly agile but short fingers working the register levers with those flat, round buttons on their ends.
“Twenty-three dollars even,” she announced with just a touch of apparent pride, and that very small smile again.
Even in the voice I could not tell either age or gender with any certainty. I was not surprised at the cost of the fill, though of course I should have been. I took cash out of my pocket and paid her, returning, as best I knew how, the warmth and grace of her smile.
She started to speak. I heard “Be sure to stop -” and then I finished her pleasantry in my head before she could continue – ‘be sure to stop again.’ But that is not what she was saying, I realized only when she stopped. “Be sure to stop when you get to where you are going,” is what she said, and she said it brightly, without any portent or meaningful inflection.
Still, other than getting it wrong, I made nothing of it, nodded my thanks, and went outside. I was careful not to bang the screen door.
* * *
I walked across the pump island to my carriage, for that is what it now seemed to be, opened the door with my left hand, and as I slid into the seat, realized my right palm was wrapped tightly around the wet green ribs of a seven-ounce bottle of Coke. My left hand arrested on the inside door handle, my eyes watched a small rivulet of moisture running from the fingers of my right hand down between two ribs of the bottle of nearly black contents to drip two big drops onto my seat cover, the wet stain spreading darkly, if briefly, in the fabric.
I closed my door. I knew I’d have to set the bottle down somewhere to get out my keys and start my car, but I could not let go of the bottle. I had a thought then about whether the cap was a twist-off, but I could see it was not, and I had no bottle opener in the car. I would have to go back inside to get the cap off. And I did not want to. I did not want to drink the cold contents, feel the rush of burning bubbles down my throat, the heady lift of eye-widening stimulation reach between my ears and detonate. Not right now. I needed to be going. I put the wet bottle standing on the passenger seat, leaning against the seat back, and fumbled for my keys. Where had I put them? I raised myself up, reached with my right hand into my back pocket, then my front pocket, switched hands on the steering wheel and patted my left front pocket. Nothing. Cash in my right pocket, from which I had paid for my gas, coins in my left, from which I supposed I had paid for the Coke, but no keys. Had I left them inside, on the counter, at the cooler?
Now I really did not want to go back inside.
“Wow! Look at this car!” I heard a boy child pipe from my right side, and to the rear. I turned to see, and saw a small boy in bibbed blue overalls and no shirt or shoes, running just ahead of a girl with blond pigtails, her hand reaching forward to catch up with him.
She was larger than the boy but not by much, and she let out her own running exclamation. “Ohhh! It’s so shiny!”
They were all smiles, excitement, and caged energy as they both slid to a stop by the passenger door, my own smile helpless but to return theirs.
“Can we have a ride?!” the boy chirped.
“Yes,” confirmed the girl, “can we?!”
They both stood on tiptoe, not so much to see inside as to maintain the barest tether to a planet that could not hold them down flat. I was, in a tired old word, captivated! I looked quickly in the direction from which they had run, but I could not see another car or any older folks that might belong to these two pixies. I did not know what to say. I looked back at the store across from the pump island but there was no one at the door. Of course I could not just drive off with these kids, but I did not want to leave them either. And I really did want to go for a spin with them! I looked all around again, returning to their faces, still suspended weightlessly above their feet.
With a quick look at each other and back to my face, they spun and rushed to the back of the car, climbed the bumper, ran up the back deck and dropped into the space behind the seats, seizing my bag between them and swinging it back and forth between them as if they had stolen a great treasure on an unusual day for the Spanish Main. They shrieked together in their joy and triumph, flung the bag ahead into the passenger seat, and tumbled over after it. The precarious pile of boy, girl, bag and damp Coke bottle quickly resolving itself into both kids sitting on the seat, with the bag at their feet and the bottle in the hands of the boy, the shrieking undiminished.
“Oh, you can’t …” I started to say as they swarmed aboard, but my heart was not in it, and I let it get flattened by their onslaught. In seconds, I suppose really, though it seemed like the length of the afternoon, they settled down marginally, their bouncing subsiding into the steady thrum of an ocean liner’s engines, and turned their eyes expectantly to me.
“Let’s go,” the girl commanded but with no trace of disrespect, more the inexorable will of Royalty, not unkind, but impossible to ignore or disagree with. The boy produced a bottle opener, popped the cap on the bottle and took a long drink, handing it with a nudge to his sister (I was sure of it now) who did not take her eyes from mine but did also take a long drink. The pulse of their energy continued, the boy belched loudly, and the girl handed the bottle to me to finish. I drank it all down, feeling the bubbles rise back up, and I immediately belched myself, to the complete delight and renewed bouncing of both of them. The boy sprang up, tossed the bottle cap overboard, and replaced the opener in the front of his bib, as he began to experiment with climbing the rigging. The girl put both hands on my elbow, pulling so gently and so insistently, pleading without a trace of whine, “Please?”
* * *
It seems we spent the whole rest of the afternoon together, and in the time we played and jumped and laughed and hugged it seemed we had always known each other, and always would. We changed places many times in the seats, everyone had a chance at the ship’s wheel, everyone got to walk the plank and disappear overboard and astern, all victims of a Captain’s rough justice. And I am not sure that we did not, or I did not, fire up the engine and at least drive them around the apron more than a couple times. I could not swear we had not sailed with the tide and gone many leagues down the road and back home to port, Captain and crew, Jolly Rogers all of us. Though of course none of that would have been proper.
When my bag was stowed away behind the seat again, and the crew had taken leave and gone ashore and the sun was now visibly lower in the sky than when they had arrived, when we had each taken a silent measure of each other’s smiles and bright faces, I put the key in the ignition (yes, the lost key), started up and slowly drove out and off the apron, waved my arm back at them widely, received theirs in return, and sent my face down the road.
Born in Missouri, raised in the East, traveled a lot, became a West Coast guy, studied a lot, raised a family. After two decades of professional writing, turned (back) to fiction. I am fascinated with who people are. Really are, not just what they seem. So I write tales of adventure, whimsy, humor and grit. Looking for what I think we all have in common.
In the Isle of the Beholder
Mommy and Daddy say I’m beautiful, but I don’t believe them. They are the ones who are beautiful, not me. I look nothing like them. I can spend hours touching their faces, running my fingers over the features that are much more interesting than mine. Daddy says I look just like Mommy did before they fell from the sky onto the island. I don’t believe that either. When I look at my reflection in a shiny object or a pool of water, I can’t imagine Mommy looking as strange as I do.
But those are the sort of things parents tell their children out of love, I guess. Like when Daddy was teaching me how to fish and I just couldn’t get the worm to stay on the hook. He told me it was okay because the worm really liked me and would rather spend time with me than with the fish. Or the time Mommy was teaching me to cook and I kept burning the food. She insisted Daddy liked it that way and she could never quite manage to burn it the way he preferred it like I could.
Mommy and Daddy are always telling me things like that because they love me. So when they told me I need to run and hide if I ever saw pale men in green clothes, it was hard to take them seriously. But they were very serious. Scary serious. Even after they described these strange people as sometimes wearing turtle shells on their heads, which sounded very funny, they stayed very serious and insisted I promise I would run away if I ever saw the Pale People. I told them I would, even though I didn’t believe, because I love them.
I tried talking more to them about the Pale People, but they didn’t want to. They just said they are very dangerous and were part of the reason why they were on the island. The only other time they did not want to talk about something is when I asked about the Outside World. They said it was a bad place. Very busy. People were mean to each other. People collected useless things and fought over them. Mommy and Daddy said there was nothing in the Outside World I would want. They said everything I needed was right here on the island. It was better here.
I asked them if there were other children to play with in the Outside World. Mommy and Daddy would look long and sadly at each other, then at me and say, yes, there are other children in the Outside World, but it wasn’t worth it to go into the world to meet them. It was because of the world the aero-plane crashed on the island. It was because of the world there were thirty-two piles of stones next to the aero-plane wreckage with someone buried beneath them. It was because of the world they were afraid of the Pale People.
I’m thinking of all these things because I’m standing on a cliff, looking down at the beach and there are people down there. It is far away and I can’t see them very well and I’m asking myself if those are turtle shells on their heads? It doesn’t matter, really, because they are strangers and they can only have come from one place: The Outside World. Which means they are bad. They are gathered around a big metal box that is half in the water. What is that thing? When did they come? How did they come? Why are they here?
It was luck that I came to this side of the island, because I rarely come here. Because Mommy’s birthday is coming soon, I came to this side to pick the tasty sun-fruit that she loves so much that doesn’t grow near home. Mommy and Daddy don’t like coming to this side of the island because it means passing by the aero-plane and the field of stones where their friends are buried. It makes them sad.
But because it’s Mommy’s birthday, and because the sun-fruit only grows over here, I saw the strangers in time, before they could sneak up on us on our side of the island.
Still, as I watch them form a single file line that disappears into the jungle, I ask myself again if those are turtle shells on their heads and if they are Pale People? Maybe they have children? Maybe they brought some and I just can’t see them from here?
I decide that I must investigate further. Just to be sure. After all, Mommy and Daddy will want to know as much as possible when I go back and warn them about the strangers. Daddy especially would expect nothing less. “Both a good scientist and warrior,” he says, “gather as much information as possible before taking action.”
I backtrack into the jungle and angle towards where I’m certain their path will cross mine. I hide along a creek, the bank of which is the path of least resistance they are most likely to take when walking through the jungle.
It isn’t long. I hear them long before I see them. They speak in a strange tongue that sounds more like noise than language. Just as I see their shapes bobbing in the trees and leafy plants, a breeze blows my way and I can smell them. They smell even stranger than they sound. But there is something familiar about the smell too, like maybe something I’ve smelled before near the aero-plane.
As they come closer, I gasp and quickly cover my mouth to hide the sound, and just as quickly am angry with myself for making the noise. Angry that, despite how well hid I know I am, my heart is still beating hard. “A good warrior,” Daddy says, “never gives her position away. She is calm, swift, and silent.” These words were often repeated while showing me how to move silently among dead leaves while hunting wild pig.
But this was my first time seeing the Pale People. A people I had, until now, thought were make-believe. A people my parents made up to scare me into going to bed on time when I was little.
But there they are…with turtle shells on their heads.
Their faces are indeed pale, as are their hands. But they cover the rest of their bodies with too much clothing. The same green clothes Mommy and Daddy described. Their faces are not only pale, but ugly and strange. Too smooth for a person. They are smooth like the rocks you find at the bottom of the creek.
They have all manner of belts and straps and stuff jangling on their bodies as they noisily tromp through the jungle. Even their feet are completely covered. Why wear so much stuff? Why wear anything in this heat? The very sight of them makes me uncomfortable. I get hot and sweaty just watching them an arms length away in my hiding place. And most strange of all, they carry a combination of metal and wood walking sticks in their hands. They look very heavy and uncomfortable to carry, and they aren’t even using them to help them walk.
Mommy and Daddy were right: The Pale People from the Outside World are very strange indeed…and they have no children with them.
The last of them pass by and continue on their noisy way deeper into the jungle. Towards home. Judging by the speed they are traveling, it will be easy to sneak around them and get home first to warn Mommy and Daddy so we can hide.
I step out onto the path and watch the last one disappear into the darkness of the jungle. I turn to leave by another way, but something on the ground captures my attention. I look and see a strange object. One of the Pale People dropped something.
It’s flat, rectangular, and brown in color with shiny edges on its smaller sides. One side has more shiny material exposed than the other and is crumpled like the metal on the damaged portions of the aero-plane, but in miniature. The brown portion has strange writing on it, no doubt Pale People language.
Heart racing at the idea of touching something real from the Outside World, I reach down and pick it up. Its flatness easily covers my entire palm, but it’s very light even though it’s only as thick as my finger.
I turn it over repeatedly in my hands, curious. Looking closer I see that the brown is more like black, and the surface is glossy. The writing is white, block-shaped letters that make no sense. I draw a breath when I realize it’s actually a form of paper, something like the kind of paper used for photographs. I’d only ever seen a few examples of paper, and this looked closest to that used for photographs. There were a few photographs at home from Mommy and Daddy’s former life…mostly pictures of sunsets and landscapes….and Daddy explained their creation to me once. I understood, but still found it hard to believe that paper could capture images with chemicals. Was this photo paper?
I poke the crumpled metallic looking end, making a crinkling noise. When I pull, it unfolds stiffly and remains in the last position in which I leave it. I frown at this development, biting my lower lip as I concentrate on twisting, bending, and reshaping the silvery fragile stuff, noticing in the process that it has a backside made of white paper. My frown deepens. I know this because I can almost make out my ugly reflection in the shiny side.
Mommy and Daddy should see this, I decide. If only for proof that the Pale People are here. I stand from my crouching position where I was handling it and make one last twist to satisfy my curiosity. When I did so, something crumbled at the center of the object beneath the different papers and fell out, landing at my feet.
I bend over and retrieve it, seeing that it looks like a half dried piece of mud that someone went through much trouble to shape into a perfect tiny square. Well, it would have been if one side of it didn’t have a jagged edge where it broke off from a bigger piece.
Curious again, I peel back the paper further and see that it’s merely a cover for more of the half dried mud. There was the jagged edge where the portion in my other hand had come from…and teeth marks?
I look at the small portion suspiciously. I sniff it and am surprised when I smell a pleasing, yet unfamiliar smell. It makes my mouth water.
Food? Wrapped in photo paper?
I put it in my mouth and chew. Right away the taste hits my tongue like sweet mud sending bolts of pleasure to the center of my brain. I’m shocked, but in a good way, eyes widening. Then I close my eyes, momentarily under its influence.
When I open them again, my heart stops with an icy blade through it.
I haven’t been a very alert warrior like Daddy has taught, because on the path in front of me is one of the invaders, a shocked look on his pale face staring at me from underneath his turtle shell.
My stopped heart suddenly does the opposite and jolts into flutters as I break through the jungle, leaves and branches whipping my face. Daddy would be angry at me for letting myself fall into such a panic so quickly. He would expect more from his “Little Jungle Warrior.” With this shameful thought, I calm myself and choose my steps more carefully, ducking under the undergrowth. I go into pig-chasing mode. And not a minute too soon because I can hear the man on the path crying out to his companions. I don’t understand the strange words, but it can’t be good.
I slip silently towards home, but stop suddenly in my tracks. A different Pale Stranger appears in front of me, but his back is to me as he scans the jungle, no doubt looking for me. He’s holding that strange wood and metal stick in a funny manner as if it would help find me.
I duck in another direction and sprint a little further, but stop again. More Pale People circling in. They’re not as dumb as they look. I jump under a bush and before I curl up into a tight ball, I throw a rock a ways behind me, making sure it makes a lot of noise in the jungle.
The Pale People grunt and shout as they chase after the noise. I watch them stumble by, almost stepping on me as they search the foliage with their sticks.
When they’ve passed by enough, I first crawl away a bit, then stand and sprint. I almost make it to the clearing with the aero-plane when one of them notices and sounds the alarm.
I double my speed, hurdling over the stone piles. I say an apology, a prayer really, to Mommy and Daddy’s friends who are buried beneath them. It can’t be very respectful to be jumping all over them like this, but I am in a hurry.
I make the far side of the clearing, near the aero-plane’s broke-off tail section. I can hear the Pale People are not far behind me. Despite all the stuff with which they weigh themselves down and their stifling clothing, they are actually kind of fast. Maybe Mommy and Daddy were right; maybe they’re dangerous.
At the tail section I decide to do something different. Next to the aero-plane there is a bow-shaped coconut tree. I pass it all the time and have even climbed it before, which is exactly what I have in mind when I don’t even slow down to run up the inward curving trunk.
Just as my momentum slows down and my bare feet start to slip I hug the trunk and scurry the rest of the distance monkey-like to the top of the aero-plane, scaring off some real monkeys in the process. They aren’t very happy at the intrusion and noisily let me know, which draws the attention of the Pale People who start to gather around the coconut tree.
More of the Pale People are entering the clearing with the aero-plane. One in particular captures my attention. This stranger is different. He doesn’t have a turtle shell on his head. Instead he has thick black hair. He is shorter and not quite as pale, though just as ugly. He doesn’t even wear the same clothes. His are brown, but just as all-covering with the trade mark Outside Worlder’s sweat stains at the neck and arm pits. He pauses at the site of the aero-plane and then the many piles of stones. Even from this distance I can see his face. The strange smoothness oddly makes it easier to read his emotions and I can clearly see in his brown eyes that he is very sad at the sight of the stones. The noise the Pale People are making around my coconut tree, however, distracts him and he runs over.
The Pale Men point and yell at me, kind of like the monkeys. One throws his stick over his shoulder by its strap and starts to climb the tree after me. I should run and climb the cliff next to which the tail section rests and finish the short cut to home so I can warn Mommy and Daddy. But I decide to pluck a coconut from the tree and bounce it off the turtle shell of the stranger who has the nerve to follow me. Oddly, the turtle shell makes a metallic “bong!” sound just before the stranger’s eyes roll back into his head and he falls from the tree like a stunned monkey. He falls to the ground with a loud thud, and one of his friends steps up and for some reason points his stick at me with both hands.
Almost as soon as he does, the short man with the sad face jumps forward. He knocks the other’s stick aside just as it makes the loudest noise I’ve ever heard in my life. Fire and smoke shoot about a foot out of the end that had been pointing at me less than a heartbeat before. A coconut near me disappears in an explosion, showering me with milk.
As I stare in shock at where the coconut had been, realizing that could have been my head, the short stranger yells angrily at the fire-stick wielding stranger.
I waste no more time and climb the cliff and run home.
It’s not a long journey to home: our little village of huts made from bamboo, palm leaves, and sheets of aero-plane.
I run up to Daddy and frantically try to explain that the Pale People are here. I’m talking too fast and Daddy tells me to slow down. Mommy comes over, concern in her beautiful face. I take a deep breath and tell them of the invaders, how they’ve already seen me and are right behind me.
There is only the briefest of pauses that shows a hint of disbelief…not at my truthfulness, but the fact that this day should come at all…and wise Daddy hurriedly shepherds us into the food cave. It’s not really a cave, but a hollow in the cliff against which home is built. With the tightly woven bamboo door that covers it, food tends to stay cooler and lasts longer. The door is also over grown with vines and other plants over the years, making good camouflage. I’m certain if there were time, Daddy would have taken us into the jungle and to higher ground. But there isn’t.
No sooner than we’d shut the door than the strangers come into our area of residence. Our home. We can see them through the cracks of the bamboo and vines, but surely they can’t see us.
They’re led by a Pale Person who is even taller than the others. He is barking orders in their annoying language, pointing here and there. Mother gasps, but quickly puts one hand to her mouth and puts her other arm around me protectively.
More Pale People filter in, the sunlight glinting off of their turtle shells. They start poking around our camp with their fire-sticks. Seeing the weapons again, I wish I had had time to tell Daddy about the destructive nature of the sticks. Daddy probably already knows. He knew about them wearing turtle shells for hats, didn’t he? He is watching them intently through the door now. He is holding his breath, squeezing my hand hard.
There is a ruckus among the strangers. The short stranger comes along and is having strong words with the tall Pale Person, pointing to the other green-wearing Pale People who are tearing our home apart. Chief Turtle Head shrugs and puts his hands on his hips.
As the exchange continues, Daddy gasps and mumbles something as he looks at the short stranger. I can’t hear what he says, but his voice rises as if he were asking himself a question. He moves his head closer and squints to see better through the door.
The heated exchange between the tall and short strangers is over and the short stranger steps away. It is his turn to put his hands on his hips. He looks around. He is still angry, or sad, or both. He shakes his head.
Daddy jumps back and grabs his heart.
“Hiro?” he says, tears filling his eyes.
Daddy turns to Mommy who is looking at him curiously just as I am. He says something so fast we don’t understand him, and to our shock he swings open the door and staggers towards the short stranger.
Every thing happens so fast. The Pale People react strongly. They point their weapons at Daddy and move forward. Mommy and I scream in horror. Daddy falls to his knees not far from the short man, talking quickly. The short man is shocked, but throws up his arms and stands between Daddy and the weapons, shouting over his shoulder. Chief Turtle Head shouts even louder and the Pale People lower their sticks as fast as they can. They shuffle away from the tall man, afraid.
Daddy is babbling. The short stranger cautiously approaches, disbelief in his eyes.
“Yoshi?” the short man addresses Daddy by his name.
Mommy and I gasp.
Daddy and the short man run into each other’s arms and start crying. The short man eventually pulls back and runs his hands over Daddy’s face, much as I like to do, but there is sadness and concern in his eyes. Daddy gently pulls his hands down and I catch bits and pieces of their conversation. I hear, “shot down…crash…fire…no medical treatment…both of us.”
It’s then I realize that the short man is no longer speaking the language of the Pale People, but the language of Mommy and Daddy…our language.
“Both of you?” the short man asks.
Daddy bobs his head and turns to me and Mommy cowering in the cave and waves us to come out. He tells us that it is ok. Mommy takes me by the hand and we cautiously join Daddy.
The short man looks upon us with wonder, and he has that same sadness in his eyes when he looks at Mommy’s face. It makes Mommy touch her face and look away.
The Pale People in green start to gather around, making me nervous. Chief Turtle Head is standing near, but just watches curiously with his thumbs hooked into his belt that has so much stuff hanging on it. Mommy and Daddy were right: the Outside Worlders are fond of their stuff.
“This is Hiro,” Daddy says, addressing the short man. “He is my brother. He has been searching for us for a long time.”
Mommy looks up and makes a noise of surprise, then does something I’ve only heard her explain people do in the Outside World: she bows gently at the waist. Hiro returns the gesture.
Daddy introduces Mommy and me.
Hiro’s eyes get big and he smiles. He bows again, to both of us this time.
“The Ambassador’s daughter?” Hiro asks, looking at Mommy.
Mommy says yes.
Hiro smiles big again, makes funny noises and elbows Daddy in the ribs. Daddy suddenly looks shy, as does Mommy who daintily puts her hands to her mouth and giggles a little.
I’m confused at this exchange, but Mommy just puts her arm around me.
Chief Turtle Head discreetly clears his throat and mildly says something to Hiro, who acknowledges by nodding. He first looks at Mommy and Daddy and then at me.
“My niece is very beautiful,” he says almost apologetically, “but perhaps it would be wise if she were to put some clothes on.”
It’s then that I notice that the Pale Men in green have been staring almost entirely at me this whole time. Now that I have time to really pay attention, I can see that they are really just boys not much older than me. Chief Turtle Head is older and is glaring at them like an angry father.
Mother gasps and rushes me to the nearest hut and makes me put on a dress I only rarely wear. I ask why, but she only says she will explain later.
When we return, Daddy and uncle Hiro are deep in conversation.
“…war is long over. They are our allies now. Cap-tan Ander-Sen here has been assigned to search these islands for MIA. I am his UN appointed liaison. I volunteered because I knew this is the area in which your plane went missing.”
“UN?” Daddy asks.
“Long story, but there will be time for that…”
And the conversation went on for a long time.
Eventually Mommy and Daddy pull me aside.
They tell me things are going to change. That we all have to leave the island now.
I say I don’t understand. I remind them they’ve always told me that this was home, that it was better here, that the Outside World was dangerous.
They nod and agree, but tell me there isn’t much they can do because the Outside World knows where to find them now and will never leave them alone. They have family who miss them. Their friends buried beneath the piles of stones at the aero-plane have families who deserve to know what happened to them. And they need medical attention.
I say I don’t understand.
They point to their faces and the scars on their bodies. They say these, and other injuries that I can’t see happened to them when they fell from the sky. They could die someday soon because of them, leaving me all alone on the island.
I shake my head in disbelief and start to cry. They are beautiful. I love their faces. How could there be anything wrong with them?
Mommy hugs me and rocks me back and forth.
“You deserve a normal life, a proper education,” Daddy says.
Uncle Hiro and the Pale People approach. They are already gathering our belongings, now gently under the stern watchfulness of Cap-Tan Ander-Sen.
I look up at Mommy and Daddy through tear filled eyes and ask, “Will there at least be children to play with?”
Adam Copeland is a native of the Pacific Northwest and the author of the “Tales of Avalon” series. He is a co-founder and past president of Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA). His world travels and life experience have played the muse in creating colorful stories of wonder, adventure, and spirituality with a touch of romance, all while pulling on the occasional heart string.
Get ‘Echoes of Avalon’ here!
SHORT STORIES WANTED!
Wisegoddess.com is excited to announce a new short story category.
We’re paying 50$ per short story (limit 5,000 words), plus a month ad space on Wisegoddess.com ($40 value), as well as a spot in the interview/spotlight queue for upcoming releases or announcements.
Select stories will also be eligible for a fair-trade short story anthology released by BlissQuest Publishing, tentatively titled, “On the Other Side”.
Categories and deadlines are as follows.
April (open now until April 30th, 2016)
Short story topic: Otherness
May (closed after May 30th, 2016)
Short story topic: Burnout
June (closed after June 30th, 2016)
Short story topic: Generosity / Grace / Loss
July (closed after June 30st, 2016)
Short story topic: Wonder
August (closed after August 30st, 2016)
Short story topic: Magical Realism
Submit your story to submissions (at) wisegoddess.com
The 30th of the month is the deadline for each topic. Authors of selected stories will be informed no later than the end of the following month, with a proposed date of publication and accompanying contract.
- Be sure to put the month’s short story topic in the subject header of your email so it goes to the correct curator for your category.
- Enter as many times as you’d like! By entering you’re verifying you have first publication rights and full ownership of your story.
As many as four stories a month may be chosen. If your story is one of the selected pieces, you’ll be provided with a proof/polishing edit, a signup sheet for showcase/interview and list of instructions for ad space and registration.
Selected stories will also be eligible for a fair-trade short story publication anthology released by BlissQuest Publishing.
What is a fair trade anthology?
BlissQuest Publishing will be offering selected short stories the option of appearing in a published collection of short stories to promote the fair trade publishing model.
To showcase the fair trade publishing model, BlissQuest will cover the cost of production; then split the net profits earned from the anthology sales evenly between the many authors and the house. This anthology will be sold with limited print options, and full digital distribution.
We look forward to reading your stories, and sharing the adventure with you!
Please feel free to direct any questions or comments about short story submissions to submissions (at) wisegoddess.com
Thank you so much for your consideration and participation!
A year and a half ago, I attempted to launch a fair trade publishing house, BlissQuest Publishing, and was met with a strange combination of vitriolic push, and an underdog’s cheering squad. The funding attempts failed repeatedly, and I spent the bulk of summer 2015 meeting and chatting with venture capital investors who all said the same thing, “You have a great idea. The math holds up. It’s a business model that will work. It’s an idea that’s overdue. BUT you’re a nobody.”
I only had a skeleton crew board; a great business plan; a handful of artists who were ready to be published in a fair trade model, but they weren’t big names, simply artists in support of an equality concept; a gaggle of supportive friends and family; and a metric ton of enthusiasm, passion, and years of research and hard-won experience. Earned.
But I am a nobody, and I couldn’t argue, they had a point there. Touché.
I had a model that wasn’t profitable to the house. In fact, the house was built to be un-profitable, as the model provides half of all net to the authors, and half rolls back into sustaining, maintenance, expansion, growth, community outreach, education and cultural development. The idea would have provided marketing and promotion for all artists, 50/50 splits on royalties, offered in-house hours for living stipends and the eventual plans for healthcare and retirement planning, and continued education reimbursement for the artists. It would mean the first business model to support diversity, artists of all media, all gender types, all religions, all races, sexual orientations and genres – It would have been the first business model for the ethical treatment and support of artists as though they are contributing, valid, valued members of society, worthy of the same benefits as a “real jobber”.
But I am a nobody.
Sensing a little bitterness about the “nobody” thing?
Yeah, me too.
In fact, I was so bitter about the consistent reminder that I hadn’t hit a chart with my books, or scored even a decent living wage in order to continue writing from the years of struggle in the field – I closed up the model, tucked it in a drawer and took a “real job” in a small town on the edge of the Pacific ocean, where I really was a nobody and wouldn’t feel bad about it.
I stopped writing. Stopped helping other writers. Stopped being a socialite of the artist venues and events.
Basically, I tucked my tail and quit. Only leaving my house to work, or attend the last of the events I’d already promised to participate in. Then I put my head down and hid from the echoing reminders of failure.
Failure. Failure and me, we go way back. We’ve been like peas in a pod since I can remember. In fact, my first eight years of blogging were just captures of my bumbling, painful attempts to human, failing most of the time. Efforting toward dreams, struggling through the day-to-day, losing relationships, and jobs, and even my hair. Failing at this and that, until, almost by happenstance, I would stumble into a brief success, almost effortlessly.
But I am a nobody.
Anyone who has ever met with any true level of success knows, there was nothing effortless about it. It was only achievable through those grueling workouts, consistent falls, determined rises, disciplined scheduling, monitored resources, and all of the precious, blood-stained, sweat-logged learnings from each heartbreaking fail.
The only true fail, is the one time we don’t get back up, right?
I’ve loved living on the coast, tucked in a small town where no one knows my origin story, my draft chapters aren’t common knowledge, and the mere mention of my name isn’t a cringe-worthy topic in the gatekeeper circles.
So being a nobody – has been really nice, like a mini-vacation, where the pressure to achieve those weighty dreams against the odds was lifted. I haven’t had to defend the idea of equality or representation, or fair trade as though I’m promoting snake oil to the blinded masses… and in the time I didn’t have to fight to stand upright in the sea of negative voices, all the while hearing the refrain, “you’re a nobody” – – -I caught my breath.
I breathed in sea air, hiked the forests, watched the clouds, took the back roads into the mountains, and sat by the rivers. I journaled. I cried. I wished over and over I’d been stronger and spoke better, and illuminated the idea and needs with more grace. I had to accept that I failed to reach the eyes and ears of the artists and audiences I wanted to help. My intention was good, but I was a nobody, and I can’t help anyone when I’m a nobody. I accepted the failure, and then took a nap in the woods by the Pacific as the fireweed died off, and the tide rolled out.
Autumn slipped into the valley. The trees ambered, and the rivers gorged with rain. The pastures swam with salmon as the deltas flooded, and in time I heard my own voice again. It seems like it’s been years since I heard her over all the yelling in the city of naysayers, the torrents of people all needing to be correct – correct over the top of my voice.
I realized, once I heard myself again….
It’s easy to dismiss an idealist as a nobody, to see them as inexperienced, unaware, or an ignorant dilettante, a fairy dreamer … then you bear no personal responsibility in the correcting of the circumstance which you yourself secretly abhor. Even the label “idealist” doesn’t actually mean, unknowledgeable, or impractical – it means I strive for a better status quo than what you have already settled for. Correcting over someone who has an idea for change, real lasting and supporting change to the community – is the same thing as walking past the trash that just missed the canister. Ignoring it, is the same as participating in its degeneration.
Because once you hear my voice, once I am a nobody no longer, and the truth has substance – you can no longer delete my validity with your much louder denials. Once you hear me, the weight of your own privilege will pull you off your horse, and you’ll have to earn your way just like all the other disenfranchised who struggle beside you, or under you, but they do it honestly – and with hopes for a better outcome. By acknowledging the truth of the need for fair trade and equal representation in diversified entertainment, you may risk losing the privileges you feel entitled to, even if that privilege is the first world marginalized “struggling artist archetype” you pride yourself on. The starving artist identity by which you define your value, by the effort of the struggle, will no longer be enough. By acknowledging and working toward change, you will be required to acknowledge your part in the unhealthiness of the entertainment and market-driven white-washing and sexual oppression of the industry – even if your only contribution is that you sold your work for less than it was worth, less than you needed to survive, in order to have your name in print, or your face on a billboard for a blink of an eye. Yes, that too contributes to the state we’re all currently in as artists.
When I realized that’s why people, even artists fought against me so hard, I understood I was attempting to create a positive change by trying to hack through the entertainment world undergrowth, years of privilege-enhanced market conditioning, racism, sexism, discrimination, and royalty theft, with a martini pick. As I pushed against the status quo, it pushed back. I got hate mail and threats of violence. Grown men screamed at me in public, red-faced and veins bulging. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”
And the rage, and fury caught me so off guard I replied with the only honest answer that popped to mind. “I’m Athena. I’m just a nobody, but I have this idea…”
Then I went to my car, trembling, to hide.
I took the approach a nobody would have taken. Honestly, at the time, I didn’t know of any other way than to stand there, handing out pamphlets, doing fundraisers and speeches and networking… and it wasn’t working.
So then, how to become a somebody and try again?
This winter one of my first mentors passed away. She was an amazing teacher, and a great source of inspiration to many students and people of my community in small town Alaska. She was the first person to really encourage my writing with gusto, the first teacher to nudge me to the front of the stage in drama club, and offered the only scholarship I took with me to college.
When I got the notice she’d passed away I was floored. I don’t believe I ever told her she was one of the three women, the three writing teachers I had – who inspired the much loved character in my books, Auntie Celeste is an amalgamate of my three writing coaches.
I’d never told her. I should have, and I should have thanked her more, and called more often. Even twenty years later, I knew her number and I should have made better use of it.
I’m a writer today, because she made me believe that storytellers were worthy, and I had a right to a voice.
I left a message on her facebook wall for her family and for all of her students who were online.
When her husband called to say thank you, and catch up. He asked if my next books were done. So I told him they were on my desk, waiting for publication funds. He lamented that I hadn’t been able to make the funding for the publishing house, that they had both been looking forward to it.
And I slipped out how the catch was, I could have had the funding from one large capital investor in California, but that the common refusal was that I was a nobody. So I was playing around with the idea of relaunching my brand, to hang out a sign and try to be a somebody so I could aim for funding again, or use my books to generate dialog.
H paused and said, “There’s just one thing I want to tell you. You’ve never been a nobody. You may not be well known, yet, but you’ve never been a nobody here. You are always a somebody to us.”
Just like that, the viewpoint tilted.
Just like that, I wept, and knew how silly I’d been.
Just like that, the idea I’d been working on for re-launching the brand took deep root. I diversified the shape of how to reach new audiences, plotted new ways to spread the word, and began mapping a trajectory to get back out there, launch those manuscripts and push the idea of fair trade and story-diversity again.
This time better networked, better supported, and with a safe, structured haven to retreat from the worst of the fire. This time with a brick and mortar location and a team of willing advocates. This time with proof in the volume of financing coming in from supporters who believe in fair trade.
I release to you, Athena.20
Wisegoddess.com is a site domain I’ve owned for ages, so I’m using it as the hub to pull all my other works, labels and ventures under. It’s where I’ll connect artists of all kinds, thinkers, creators, and offer platform and visibility to ideas, conversations, and efforts to change the unhealthy dynamics of our entertainment and storytelling industry that bleed into the environment and culture as a whole. Market conditioning can be re-formed, with work and creativity, and the willingness to recognize the value of stories outside our everyday experience, perspective and beliefs. We are all on this journey together, let’s enjoy it together, right?
I don’t need to hack through the unhealthy underbrush of a conditioned biased market – I need only stand. So, I stand here, and invite you to join, because together we can make change.
Come be creative with me.
The world needs our stories. All of them.