If you've reached this blog, welcome. Unfortunately the content on this page has been moved and is being updated at my new blog:

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Little Dove - No. 85

Rose crested the hill and kept the fuming rage from her cherub features.

In the valley below, a single hoof-churned road led through the ravine, ending at the moat and vertical draw bridge of the castle hunched between verdant slopes. Stone walls caked in mildew and shadows, encircled the dagger-sharp towers. Squinting, she made out the empty courtyard, the slabs freshly washed clean. The surrounding fields lay chard, providing a clear vantage point for the guards walking along the outer walls, armor and muskets gleaming.

"Almost there," she whispered.


Tearing herself away from the view, Rose reached down and seized Gavin's outstretched hand. With the aid, he rounded the last jut of granite. He scrambled the last few steps on his own and plopped down in a tuff of grass on the hill’s peak.

"Whoa." He scrubbed his face with a spindly hand as if clearing his sight. With eyes bulging, he pointed a needle finger at the fortified monstrosity. "What's that?"

"Nowhere," said Rose.

“Are they going to help us?”

“Sort of….” Rose lifted her face to setting sun. Wind swirled, scented with the promise of rain and wildflowers.

Drawing in a deep breath tinged with summer and pollen, Rose scanned the hilltop. A rocky outcropping poked from a carpet of knee-high blades. Although eroded by time, she guessed the crevices, the ones deep enough to hide within, remained.

"This way." She strode to the outcropping and knelt by a thick tuft.

"I'm tired," said Gavin from his initial spot.

"I know. We're going to stay here for the night." She shoved aside the blades of grass, searching. "I think there's a cave...."

"A cave?"

Rose grinned at the fissure she’d found in the rock while Gavin sprung to his feet and scampered with the vigor of morning. "In there." She shifted and he darted inside.


She slouched onto the grass, listening to his scrapes and grunts as he skittered inside. "Hello?" His call echoed against the stone.

Rose's smile stretched and she slumped against the granite. The top of the towers poked above the slope, an undeterred reminder of her purpose. Closing her eyes, she sank into the darkness, her body wilting. “Soon,” she whispered.

After another exploratory rustle, Gavin poked his head back outside. "There's room for you, too."

Rose rolled her head, giving him a weary smile. "I think I'll stay out here for a bit." She pulled her pack off from her shoulder and held it out like a worm on a hook. "Why don't you heat up the stones and get cozy."

"Me?!" Gavin's ebony eyes grew even wider than when he had spotted the castle. He reached for the bag and then halted his hand with a skeptical frown. "Really?"

"I think you're ready." She tossed the bag and he clutched the leather sack close to his sweaty tunic.

"I'll make it just like home." He vanished and the rustle of him digging into the bag joined the fading light.

Rose cast her gaze to the violet dome overhead. The first stars glinted, visible with the absent new moon. More dots emerged while Gavin trundled within the cave, reciting the stone-warming tune. His tinny voice and movements quieted by the time the sky darkened into a velvet night, illuminated solely by the swath of stars. In the quiet, she heard his rhythmic breathing, the pattern of his deepest sleeps.

"Stay safe in your dreams, my little dove," she said, rising, "I'll take care of the rest."

Down in the valley, embers glowed in the slits within the towers and walls, while the wider windows of the main hall blinked as the hearths dwindled. She counted the stories and pinpointed his room, the one with the balcony and drooping pennants. Instinct told her he lay inside, on the four posted bed with feather comforters and sheets as soft as down. She could all but feel him laying next to her, slumbering and satisfied. The same tears she had shed nearly eight years earlier pooled in her eyes and stained her cheeks. The hopelessness dominating her thoughts then, however, failed to reappear. Now only certainty, in her new found abilities, saturated her every pore.

Clenching her fists so her nails threatened to bite into her palms, Rose bowed her head and closed her eyes.

The chant began deep in her toes and swelled in her mind’s eye like ripples in a babbling brook. She poured all of her weariness from the weeks trekking overland, into the words repeating across her thoughts. The sight of the castle, spurred her anger and she blended her rage into the chant. The idea of failing amplified her wrath as visions of Gavin in his father’s greedy hands stoked her need to protect, to defend, her little dove from the vicious beast she knew all too well. Each emotion layered upon the next and she folded them into her chant until the words tingled on her tongue. Only then did she lift her face, open her eyes and add her voice.

Feathered mist had already begun gathering, but with her soft singing, the clouds mounted. Speeding her rhythm, the sky thickened with urgency, the stars winking out of sight. The wind whirled in agitated gusts, clawing at her skirts and the loose threads of her honey-dark hair.

While the energies mounted, Rose lifted her hand and glared down her arm as if firing an arrow from within her grimy sleeve. She waited until the winds howled, the clouds pressed upon her shoulders and the ground itself trembled. As her round through the chant returned to the beginning, she gave every last ounce of herself to the words. One line blended into the next and as the end neared, she pointed one finger at his room.

Lightning shot out of the sky, piercing through the tiles on the sloped roof sheltering his chamber.

Anguish pierced the night while a burnt smear tinged the air. The guards on the walls scurried in reply.

Rose dropped her arm and she wobbled back, steadying herself on the boulders. Her knees liquefied and she slid into the grass, her body drained and hollow. Leaning back upon the stone, she watched a ribbon of smoke coil toward the clearing sky as the energy she had gathered dissipated like tea into hot water.

The sixth sense warning her of his presence nearby quieted as if soothed by a warm glass of milk.

"It's done, my little dove,” she whispered. "Now you're safe."

Satisfaction buoyed her like a gentle sea. She gave into the swell and drifted off, for once in eight years, into an untarnished sleep.

Delays - No. 80

Winter smacked into Marshall’s face as he followed Bridget, and her lipstick-red roller bag, out of the hotel.

“Are you sure?” asked Bridget.

“Do you want to stay?” asked Marshall. He hunched in his jacket, and avoided wetting his loafers in the snow accumulating on either side of the awning-covered sidewalk.

Bridget snorted, and clutched her knee-length coat around her curvy frame. “Just check okay? I know you’ve got yours out, it’s like your goddamn hand.”

Scowling at the truth in her insinuation, Marshall cradled his iPhone. A scathing retort scampered along with his remaining body heat, so he glared at their flight details. “It’s still on time.”

“It better be.” Bridget twitched her heels and panty-hosed legs as a frosted gust swept through the urban cavern of skyscrapers. The wind cut through Marshall’s slacks like scissors.

A doorman lumbered over from beneath a heat lamp posted at the curb. His snowman body, covered in layers, left only a woolly outer coat and wind-burnt cheeks exposed to the elements. “Morning,” he said, his greeting muffled behind a scarf. “Can I call you two a cab?”

“One for me, yes,” said Bridget.

“Me too,” said Marshall after the doorman cast him a quizzical glance.

With a tip of his ear-muffed cap, the doorman sauntered toward the curb, one gloved hand raised.

Marshall grimaced as Bridget beat him to the vacated heat lamp. Stowing his iPhone, he retracted into his jacket and button-down shirt like a frightened turtle. His carryon weighed down his shoulder, but provided a bulky buffer against the weather. He determined the next Ice Age had settled by the time a canary yellow cab glided to the curb.

The doorman opened the backdoor.

Marshall darted forward and nearly collided with Bridget.

“Whatever happened to ladies first?” she asked.

“If you were a real lady, I’d think about it,” said Marshall. “At the moment I’m freezing and it’s warm in there.”

“You can wait for the next one.”

“Like hell, I’ll be a popsicle by then.”

“Might not be a next one anytime soon,” said the doorman with an unconcerned shrug.

“See?” Marshall straightened so he towered over Bridget’s pouty scowl and handed his bag to the doorman. “Anyway, we wait any longer we both are going to miss the flight.”

Bridget narrowed her eyes into unflattering slits of clotted mascara. Shoving her roller-bag at the doorman, she swooped down into the cab.

“Slide,” said Marshall, heaving in after her.



With a slam, the doorman blockaded the storm behind worn leather and scratched aluminum.

"I can't believe this," said Bridget while the doorman stowed their bags into the trunk.

"What did you expect in this weather? A parade?” Marshall waved at the blizzard descending outside.

The cabbie flipped open the dividing window.

"The airport," they said in unison.

Bridget gave Marshall a glare. Ignoring her, Marshall waggled his fingers at the cabbie, who then turned and started into the screen of snow. Bridget crossed her legs and tugged the edge of her skirt over her knees. Marshall gave her calves perusal, and earned the expected scowl.

"Get a good look now," she said, "you won't ever get a better one."

Marshall smirked. "Thoughtful as ever, Bridget."

She huffed and folded her arms before staring out into the passing blocks, her gaze as cold as the flakes outside. Marshall shook his head and dove into a game of solitaire on his iPhone. He didn't look up until the cabbie started cursing. By then, the line of brake lights stretched before them like a polka-dot tie against a sheet of white.

Bridget knocked on the dividing glass. "What's going on?" she asked, even before the cabbie had the divider opened.

"Road's closed getting to the highway," said the cabbie.

"Isn't there another way around?" asked Marshall.

"Of course, but it won't do you any good either." The cabbie gave them a wry grin. "Airport just shut down too."

"You're kidding me." Bridget’s gaze shot across the backseat like a javelin.

Marshall’s email dinged, drawing him back to the screen. He scrolled and winced. "Flight's canceled."

"Well, what are we supposed to do now?" asked Bridget, gesturing to the cars strewn across the road.

Marshall rubbed at the film clouding the window and noted the few blocks they'd actually traversed in the half an hour they'd been in the cab. "Back to the hotel, I guess."

"You want a lift?" asked the cabbie.

"No," said Bridget. She exited the cab and slammed the door.

"$24.50 then," said the cabbie, his humor vanishing into an expectant glower.

Marshall glared over his shoulder, through the back window, to where Bridget pounded upon the trunk. After fishing out his wallet, he paid the fare, braced himself and ducked outside. He snagged his bag from the trunk while Bridget struggled with her roller-bag.

"I can’t believe I’m stuck here with you,” said Bridget.

Marshall closed the truck with a spike of agitation. “That makes two of us.”

With a primal growl, Bridget hauled through the bumper to bumper lanes. Marshall kept himself from laughing as Bridget teetered on her heels in the thickening snow. Reaching the sidewalk, she flicked her chin down either end, spotted the right direction and stormed off at a jagged wobble.

With thoughts of the doorman’s heat lamp and the hotel bar held tight, Marshall trundled in her wake.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Wrecked - No. 78

Benet dug through the linens on our bunked beds, and then dove, head first, into the trunk before asking for help. "Where is it?"

I dipped my quill into the inkwell threatening to topple at my elbow. "Where's what?" I asked, knowing full well the object of his search.

"The bottle."

I looked up from the tiny desk where, thanks to the swell of the bucking sea, my usual flowing cursive skittered like a drunken ant across the parchment. "I haven't seen it today." The lie spilled from my lips before the thought trekked through my mind. I clasped the edge of the table as the boat tipped back and forth, rivaling a frantic metronome, and making the single, smoking lantern sputter.

"I need it," Benet growled, one hand on his stomach.

I firmed my mouth, swallowing a snide remark in the face of his ocean-sharpened nerves. Returning to the letter to my mother, I hoped, for the countless time, my scrawl might make her understand our sudden departure.

Meanwhile, Benet’s atypical agitation inflated, stifling the cabin. He tossed aside clothes and the trinkets we had gathered before our dash to the pier and buying passage on this western-bound vessel as those seeking my capture neared.

The boat wobbled upon another surge, and Benet thrust a shaky finger at me. "You have to know where it is."

I clasped my pen and cocked one eyebrow, meeting his scowl and sickly-green face. "Why is that?"

"You're…” His tone softened and his stiffen shoulders drooped. “You’re my wife. You're supposed to keep order of these things."

"Everything was in order before you went searching for that vile stuff." I swept my pen’s feather-end at the disarray he'd created out of the tidy home I'd made within the squished quarters carved into the ship’s bulkhead. Meeting his eyes, I raised my other brow in a silent dare for him to continue his demands for the liquor that did nothing but worsen his mood.

Benet threw one of his shirts onto the bunk. Grumbling, he exited.

I blew out a long exhale, and guessed at his destination: the deckhands who carried their own store of mind-numbing brews. Once I’d see the effect of Benet’s concoction, I’d bent an ear or two, convincing them not to share while maintaining the faux persona of my husband’s younger brother. The deckhands and sailors seemed to understand my subtle warnings. My husband, kind as he was when not half-dipped, would drink them dry before we reached warmer waters. He'd prod and work his charms, but as I watched him trundle out and vanish behind the door, I felt certain the others would hold tight to their treasures, if only for their own survival during our two month journey.

While the wooden slats groaned and the flames flickered, I finished my letter, sealed the envelope and headed for the upper decks, bent on a breath of fresh, if rain-smeared, air. A part of me wanted to seek Benet as well, to discover if his tantrum had passed and he had found a cooler head, the one I loved.

A rickety ladder led up from the lower decks. I tugged back the long cuffs of Benet’s jacket, exposing my ink-stained fingers and found the rungs with my boots. Poking out of the hatch, rain splattered my face. A gust coursed overhead and I snagged my broad brimmed hat helping to hide my femininity beneath shadows.

"Watch it." A scurrying sailor dashed by, nearly trampling my hands.

The ship tilted again, the angle more obtuse than evident in the hold. I hoisted myself through the hatch before being slammed against the frame.

My developing sea legs carried me to the starboard side with lurching steps while the weather dampened my shoulders. The rolling waves and sheets of rain obscured the horizon behind frothy white peaks. Sea met the darken sky of dense clouds, the two blending into one swirling throng. I cast my gaze up the masts where the canvas strained against the raging wind and men dangled from the rigging.

"You best get inside, boy." The Captain, a reedy man with an engulfing presence appeared at my side. He shared my inspection of the crew above our heads.

"What is it?" I asked, keeping my fake tenor steady.

"Storm. A bad one." He pointed a ropey hand at the blackest part of the sky. "She's just starting."

"Anything I can do?"

He peered down, his tar-dark eyes locking with mine. My breath caught in my throat as I felt his stare working beneath the grunge on my cheeks and the bulky layers obscuring my curves. "Keep yourself and your brother out of our way."

"Yes, sir." I glanced about, and through the bustling crew, spotted my husband by the bow. Benet had chosen a post, similar to mine, tucked between the active men rushing across the well-scrubbed deck. His broad back bent beneath the rain and both hands seized the railing. "We'll head down-."

A crack of lightning rode upon a booming blast of thunder. The flash and bang blossomed inside my skull. In the receding echo between my temples, I caught cries and the shriek of falling timber. The deck reared beneath me. Reaching out, I found a beam and rope, and clung for life.

Cracks and pops pulled my gaze across the deck. The mast fell in splintered halves, taking rigging and men down in a tangled mass of hemp, iron and flesh. Soggy canvas draped over the ship’s sides, the edges drowning in the waves bombarding the hull. As if stirred by the flavor, the ocean churned with vigor, rising up and over the sides, hungry for another taste.

I sought Benet through the sudden chaos but the fallen debris and hustling crew obscured my view.

"Captain!" someone shouted.

"Come on, girl," said the Captain.

I snapped my gaze to him, my heart seizing. The Captain stood tall at my side, as if combating the storm with his will alone. Finding his focus locked upon his ship, my heart regained its beat.

Falling ropes whizzed above my head and he snatched my arm. His stride remained steady even as the sea tossed the ship.

“Wait,” I said as he took us toward the stern.

I struggled against his grip, intent on the bow, but the Captain tightened his fingers around my limb. Without pausing, he hauled me up the steep flight of steps to the wheel where his Ruddermaster labored. The Captain tossed me toward the railing and I adhered to the boards like a barnacle while the boat tried pitching me overboard.

"Give her over," said the Captain, grasping one of the steering-wheel’s spokes.

The Ruddermaster acquiesced without argument. He backed up, flexing his once white-knuckled hands as if encouraging blood flow, and seized a nearby iron rung.

A wave crashed over the railing, wetting us all as the rain heightened into a deluge.

"We’re all going under this time," muttered the Ruddermaster.

I glanced at him, eyes wide, and saw the fear barely restrained in his scarred face.

“Quiet,” said the Captain, his growl cutting through the thunder, “she’ll hold.”

With my legs trembling, I twined my hands in the ropes. I peered past the Captain, fighting with the wheel, and searched across the ship's expanse. Upon the deck, men moved like sparrows, leaping for and tugging at lines as if to gain control of the now toppled rigging. Up at the bow, drenched canvas stretched over barrels and lines, as well as still and moving lumps.

My heart crawled into my throat and settled like a stone. I kept my eyes peeled for a hint of Benet’s dark mop of hair or fine features. Nothing but sail and storm looked back.

“Oh no,” said the Ruddermaster.

Following his gaze, I spotted the rising wall of water, overwhelming the port side like an avalanche. I cringed as the blow hit, stealing my feet out from under me. Gushing water filled my ears, but beneath the seas’ roar, high pitched snaps and cracks howled. I grasped my rope as brine stung my eyes, but the weight of the ship, once a secure anchor on the other side, disappeared.

Water swirled around me, frosty depths soaking my clothes and carrying me down toward a black abyss. My lungs burned and I released the useless cords. Clawing and kicking, I struggled my way toward what my instincts screamed would be the surface.

Sea and air mixed together as I emerged, slapping water drowned my ears. I gasped and flung my arms, flailing about for anything solid to keep from going back under. The fathoms hauled at my clothes, coaxing me below the surface with demanding fingers.

A hand found my collar and dragged me up and through the froth. A wooden plank slid into my hands and I dug my nails into the damp wood, chest heaving with desperate inhales.

"Hold on," said a voice I didn't bother identifying.

I lay my cheek on the wood, clenched my sea-stung eyes closed, and bobbed like the rest of the flotsam, beneath the storm’s wrath.

Not until the tempest passed and we washed up upon the bleached shore of a dot-sized island, did my thoughts renew their churn. Plopped upon the wet sand, I stared at the unblemished horizon stretching toward the remains of the dark clouds disappearing over the Earth's curve.

I felt the surviving crew glancing my way. The Captain, hovering at my back, grunted and they scurried, starting construction on shelter, gathering debris or perhaps collecting food. I didn't pay them or the instructions the Captain had given, enough attention to be sure. Instead, I kept my gaze on the water, hoping for the sea to give up one more.

The froth bubbled and hissed upon the beach, reminding me of our last argument over that damn bottle. Benet’s scowl glared back in each of the aquamarine flecks. The brightening sky surrounded me, as tightly as our lost quarters.

"Come along," said the Captain.


He squatted beside me, eyes stern and locked in mine. His salt-flecked features softened a hairs breath. "Wishing doesn’t bring anyone back.”

I dropped my head and stared at my damp breeches and blouse, revealing my gender with clinging fabric. "What happens now?" I asked, my voice a whisper.

"We get out of the sun." Standing, the Captain extended his hand. "Then we take another step."

I stared at his calloused fingers and after counting the grooves, took his palm. He hefted me off the sand with ease, and turned me from the waters.

Absorbing the palm-tree mound blossoming from the island's center, I squared my shoulders. Grief had no place on somewhere so small. There would be time, I was certain, for it later.

"Is there anything I can do?" I asked, lifting my chin.

The Captain nodded and started toward the men harvesting palm fronds. "This way."

I followed his heavy tread. My legs wobbled, compensating for a non-existent sway as my feet sunk into the dry sand, one step digging in after the next.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Road Trip - No. 76

We had a flat on the way, the first of the mini-disasters waiting for us along Route 1.

As my dad knelt beside our station wagon's squished back tire, on the shoulder of the bustling rural highway, the once clear-blue sky started clouding over with stretches of gray.

"Looks like rain," said my mom. She leaned on the barricade with arms folded, bunching her cashmere cardigan like her frowning brow.

"Don't say that," said my dad as he winched the jack, "you'll jinx the picnic."

"Leaving two hours late because of the office, didn't help."

"I took care of it as fast as I could, Wanda."

My mom rolled her eyes and swiveled from us, murmuring under her breath. Raising one hand to shade her gaze, I suspected she was looking for my twin older brothers, who had vanished in the roadside woods nearly as soon as the car had stopped.

Leaving her quietly griping, I squatted, like a toad, beside my dad and the spare, spindly arms wrapped around my bare chicken legs.

The car lifted off the asphalt in hiccupped jumps. My dad then went to work on the bolts with a smooth-mouthed crescent wrench.

"Stick out your hand, Bec."

I grinned as he used my pet name, somehow making the girlish Rebecca tolerable. Tugging back the cuff of my hand-me-down flannel, I exposed my cupped palm as he asked. He plopped one nugget after the next, each falling into my hand like a grimy jewel. He swapped out the tire with an extra grunt and slipped the hubcap over the bolts

“Your turn,” he said, dusting his hands and giving me room before the wheel. “Spin them on as tight as you can.”


“Yeah, go on.”

I skittered forward and bit my lower lip as I threaded the first nut into place.


I felt my mom’s glare behind my back, as hot as a noonday sun. Hunching closer to the tire, I sped up my fingers.

“What?” asked my dad.

“She’s a girl.”

“So, she should still know how to do this,” said my dad, countering her defense of my femininity with prudent logic.

“I’m all done.” I glanced between them, hoping my completion might simmer down their feud.

Silence won out, marred by the cars swooshing by us. My dad set about tightened the bolts with the wrench while my mom spun to the woods after giving the sky a squint. Once my dad started lowering the car back down, she began wrangling my brothers.


The granite slope dotted with birch and pine stretched up from the road like a fortress wall. Shadows leapt as the wind picked up, shaking the trees like cereal in a box.

“Where are they,” my mom muttered. She cupped one hand to her mouth, amplifying her bellow. “BOYS!?”

We heard the howling before my two adventuring brothers came into view. They clamored through the trees, one in navy flannel, the other in evergreen, but otherwise alike down to their yelps and the rips in their jeans.

"What've you done now?" asked my dad, straightening with one hand on the roof, while he rubbed the small of his back.

"Harry got stung," said Harold.

"Harold fell in a stream," said Harry.

A damp, musky scent along with Harold’s squishy stride confirmed the watery tumble while my brother, Harry, clutched one hand to his chest and grimaced.

"It's a wonder you two didn't burn the place down," said my mom. Although her tone scalded, she waved Harry over and inspected his hand.

“Come on,” said my dad. He walked to the back with Harold, my brother leaving a damp trail on the asphalt.

More curious about the sting’s effect, I crept to Harry’s side and lifted up onto my tiptoes. A swollen bump, as red as an apple, grew on his hand.

"Get back," muttered Harry, elbowing me in the chin.

"Rebecca," said my mom, “give him a break.” I cringed and dropped my eyes to my scuffed sneakers. "Go get me a soda from the cooler?"

“Yeah, go,” said Harry.

“Okay.” Brightening with a task, I dashed for the back of the car. I opened the hatch while my Dad threw a new tee-shirt and jeans at Harold, now hunched behind a rock.

“This is Harry’s,” said Harold.

“Just put it on,” said my dad.

From the refrigerator-sized cooler, I snagged a coke, one near the bags of ice lining the base, and skipped back victorious. My mom snagged the drink, pressed the can against Harry's sting and then thumped his hand over it, keeping the makeshift ice-pack in place.

"Now stay in the car," she said. He hung his head and fumbled into the back seat. "You too, Rebecca."

“But….” I pouted, but my mom's stiff finger, thrust at car, quieted me.

Harry stuck out his tongue and he slammed the door as I neared. Rolling my eyes, I started around to the other side.

“Come on, boys,” said my mom, placing herself like a fallen leaf into the passenger seat.

Harold rounded his private granite shield, pale cheeks flushed as he lumbered toward the car, shoes in hand. My dad gave Harold’s shoulders a squeeze while he deposited his soiled clothes into a waiting plastic grocery bag.

“Inside,” said my dad, shoving Harold at the back door I had just used. As he took the driver’s seat, my dad tossed the soggy bundle onto Harold’s lap.

The three doors slammed closed. I scrunched between my pained and sodden brothers and peered out the front windshield, intent on spying our next destination and the stings, streams or flat tires in between.

As my dad turned the ignition, the sky opened up with a blinding downpour.

"I told you," said my mom.

The steering wheel groaned under my dad’s fingers.

"What are we going to do now?" asked Harold. My brothers looked at one another, easily meeting each other's gazes over my head. After some silent signal, they started tickling me.

"BOYS!" said my mom, halting the nudging.

“We left to go on a picnic," said my dad as he veered onto the road, "we're going to go on a goddamn picnic."

“At least we’ve got drinks,” said Harold.

I watched with wide-eyes as he snagged the coke from Harry’s sting and popped the tab. The deluge inside matched the torrent smacking against the roof.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Oasis - No. 75

Tunnel walls wrapped around Yelsin like a glove. Damp sand crowded beneath his fingernails and grains coated his lungs. The rifle on his back thumped against his spine with each advancing scrape. Pebbles and splinters chafed against his stomach, tugging the grimy tee-shirt plastered to his skin. At his heels, he heard Beri’s wheezing, the older man’s heavy huffs drumming upon the soles of Yelsin’s boots and urging him forward.

A faint gust teased through the pin-prick up ahead, hovering like a star. The wind swirled the stagnate air drowning in dust and kissed Yelsin’s cheeks. Keeping his gaze locked on the light, Yelsin crawled and shoved, pushed and clawed his way toward blossoming freedom.

Disgorging himself from the hole, Yelsin lay on the sun-warmed earth, sucking in one breath after another. A bubbling laugh worked out from his toes and poured through his lips in a manic wave. The vocal surge drew him to his feet and he scanned the horizon with sudden vigor.

Desert stretched before him, speckled with scraggly patches of brush and twilight shadows. Electrical towers loomed like parading skeletons, silhouetted against a violet sky. Grabbing his rifle, Yelsin lifted both arms above his head and let out a victorious howl. The weight of the gun, the confinement of the tunnel, the dust clinging to him inside and out, and the gashes earned from their squirrel through the final fence, all forgotten in face of liberty.

"Yelsin?" asked Beri.

The anguish staining Beri’s voice shattered Yelsin’s euphoria. Spinning away from the open desert, Yelsin crouched by the hole and slung on his rifle. He clasped Beri's outstretched arm and pulled. Panting, Beri squirmed and kicked until the hole spewed him out onto the sand.

"I'm all right, I'm all right," said Beri, shooing Yelsin away.

Yelsin gave Beri room as he wilted alongside the opening, his denim jacket frayed at the cuffs and hem, while rips cluttered the knees of his jeans. Sweat soaked through at each joint, but Yelsin latched onto the crimson stain pooling along Beri's left side. An echo of gunfire from the last tower before the tunnel, rattled in his thoughts.

"What was it?"

"Sniper, maybe," said Beri. He grimaced as they worked his left arm from the jacket, exposing a bloodstained tee-shirt.


"Watch it," growled Beri.

Yelsin winced, bit his tongue and began examining the wound. Triage, which had become second nature in the Underground, took hold of his hands and he worked his fingers, investigating.

"I'm all right," said Beri again, although torrents poured off his bald head.

"I need to look at it," said Yelsin. Despite the older man's grumbles, he laid Beri onto the ground. Prodding and poking discovered swelling and a probable broken rib, but failed to locate the exit hole.

Beri hacked out a cough, spitting scarlet drops from his mouth. "Give it a rest."

"We have to get the bullet out."

Beri heaved upright.

"Yes," said Yelsin, grabbing Beri's rounded shoulders, “that’s it.”

Beri smacked Yelsin's hands and leaned against the dune, chest heaving with speeding breaths.

“What are you doing?” asked Yelsin. “We have to go.”

"Will you shut up?" Beri pressed a hand against the wound, hiding the sight beneath his hairy paw. "I have to tell you the rest."

"When that bullet’s out."

"No," said Beri seizing Yelsin's collar and yanking him close. "Now." His chestnut eyes wandered, drifting in and out of focus, but after a growl, clarity snapped into Beri’s stare and rooted Yelsin in place. Maintaining the locked gaze, Beri licked his dust-smeared lips. "Go east, straight east. Get to Verda and ask for Timmon. He'll show you the rest of the way."

"All right, all right. We'll get there." Yelsin grabbed Beri's arm, ready to haul him to his feet but the older man sagged into the sand.

"Go, go."

Yelsin batted aside Beri's fingers, waggling at the landscape. "We're going together."

“I’ll slow you down.”

“Then I can enjoy the scenery.”

With a grunt, Yelsin hefted Beri upright. His knees wobbled, but Yelsin shoved his shoulder into Beri's armpit. Side by side, they steadied.

“You’re a stubborn, boy,” said Beri after another hacking cough.

“Where do you think I got that from?”

“Your mother, of course.”

Yelsin grinned, his smile broadening as he noted a glimmer rekindling in Beri’s eye.

“Why are we standing here?” asked Beri. He pointed to the lightening horizon. "East."

Homecoming - No. 73

Hannah swept the beam of her flashlight over the drenched debris. "Rascal!?"

A breeze kicked up, washing grassy musk into her face, stirring what leaves remained on the trees and fluttering the litter bobbing in the driveway's puddles. The setting sun glinted through hurricane-torn branches, flecking the standing water and casting suggestive shadows across the backyard.

She's got to be here, Hannah reasoned.

Pivoting to the garage, she depressed the clicker. The rolling door drew back with a groan and whine. A mildew aroma, twined with rust, spilled out. Hannah put a hand to her nose until the smell dissipated into the dusk.

Squinting along her flashlight's beam, she spotted their sodden push-lawnmower sitting like a used napkin alongside a stack of plastic crates, the bottom row glistening wetly. A waterline, as high as her ankles, stained the cardboard boxes towering along the right hand wall. The clutter receded, blotting out the side windows and nearly reaching the crossbeams. Darkness skittered between the nooks and crevices as she cast her light over the dented cubes containing winter clothes, books, Christmas ornaments and tools.

"Rascal!" Hannah's heart crawled another inch into her throat at each suspect shade.

Moist footsteps squished closer, and Hannah found Bruce's face with the flashlight. His three day-old scruff added to his weary droop as he lifted his hand to intercept the beam.

The sight of his empty arms sent a boulder rolling into Hannah's stomach. "Any luck?"

"No," he said, with a shake of his head. "Good news though is most of the inside looks okay. I think only the basement took on water."

"I don't care about that." Hannah passed the light over the wilted rhododendrons and what remained of her vegetable garden clutching the edge of the driveway. She hugged her other arm around herself as Bruce delved into the garage. She crept to the edge of their stored possessions, illuminating the darkest pits while Bruce inspected boxes and lifted crates.

Hannah's stomach clenched as he returned and braced himself with one hand on the rolling-door's frame.

"I don't think she's here, honey."

Hannah tightened her grip on herself as evening dropped into a humid night. "We shouldn't have left without her."

Stepping out of the musty garage, Bruce pulled her close. "We had to go."

"I know, but..."

"She's tough old minx, she can handle a few extra nights outside." He kissed the top of her head. "And now we're back, she'll have someone waiting when she comes home."

Hannah looked up, her view of his face obscured by fading light and the tears pooling in her eyes. "You think so?"

"Yeah. Come on, let's head in and leave a light on for her."

"And a little dish outside," said Hannah as Bruce turned them from the garage.

"And a little dish outside."

Hannah pressed the clicker, the garage thudding closed behind them. She flicked off the flashlight as the living room lamp poured out of the framed window, revealing the brief stretch of lawn half-hidden beneath murky water. They mounted the stoop, reached the screen door and Hannah paused.

"I'll get the can," said Bruce. The screen door gave the same screech, one that had accompanied each of Rascal’s demanded entrances and tugged at her heartstrings.

Nodding absently, Hannah made a mental note to finally put in a cat door while gazing over the flooded patches and trees dividing their lot from the Andersen's. "Come home, Rascal," she whispered.

The nighttime hush descending on the soaked neighborhood coiled around her, and she shivered. In the kitchen, Bruce pulled out a can, fork, and dish, the scrape of aluminum and porcelain adding to the chill. The screen door squeaked open again.

"Here," said Bruce, offering the collection.

Hannah popped the tab on the can and with a prod from the fork and following thump, had a lump of fishy-scented food in the center. She set the dish onto the stoop. Standing, she cast one last look into the night. Another rattling shiver traced up her spine.

"Come on, honey," said Bruce, plucking the empty can and dirty fork from her white-knuckled grasp, "you're getting cold."

"Yeah." Hannah gave her arms a rub and turned toward the threshold with another moan from the screen door.

A familiar mew replied and Hannah glanced over her shoulder.

“Did you hear that?” she asked, unsure if feline cry emanated from the darkness or her imagination.


They both froze. Seizing the door and Bruce's arm, Hannah held her breath.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Carpool - No. 65

Clutching the teddy bear against his car's rumbling steering wheel, Adam let out a long breath.

"You up for this, little man?" He stared into the ebony marbles sunk in the snowy fur, half hoping for a reply. “Yeah, I don’t know either,” he said as the teddy bear remained mute.

His nerves climbed and Adam wiggled his fingers in the bear’s squishy sides, sending the ribbons drooping from the cherry-red bowtie fluttering like petals. A cramp twisted his gut and he thumped his head against the driver seat's headrest.

"You should have bought tulips," he mused to the ceiling, "she likes tulips."

Catching his reflection in the rearview mirror, he locked onto his worried frown.

"It doesn't matter."

His reflection nodded with a tightened jaw and eyes flashing with courage.

"You're not going to get a better chance," he argued. "Ask her now, or when you get to work, Carl's going to sweep her away." He scowled at the thought. The confidence in his reflection waned and he tore his gaze from the infectious sight. "He'll probably have an armload of tulips," he said to the teddy bear.

Shaking his head, Adam sagged into his seat. Movement, from the apartment building up the frosted stoop, snatched him from another staring contest with glassy eyes. With his pulse racing, he slipped the bear in the gap between his left hip and the door.

Through the passenger window, he spotted earth-toned snow boots tromping down the steps, preceding the hem of corduroys and an evergreen overcoat. Gail had a travel mug cupped in one mitten, and her laptop bag slung across her chest, accentuating the form underneath winter gear. Bending at the waist, she squinted beneath a matching skull cap with auburn pigtails poking out from the knitted roll. Her breath misted the window before her chap-stick lips broke into a smile.

Adam grinned back and popped the lock.

She swung the door open, allowing in an icy gust to mix with the heated air he'd trapped within the car.

"Morning," she said, plopping into the seat and setting her bag in the foot well. She knocked her heels against the doorframe, shedding snow, before swinging her legs inside and closing the door. A crimson blouse poked out beneath her half-zippered coat and scarf; a testament to the day's occasion.

Adam abandoned the bear in its hiding spot and clasped the steering wheel with both hands. "Morning."

He checked the side mirror and then rearview, avoiding meeting his cowardly gaze in both, and focused instead on the traffic lumbering along the modestly sanded road. Flicking on his blinker, he merged them into traffic with a minimal fishtail sway as Gail buckled her safety belt.

"Thanks for the lift," she said.

"Oh sure, no problem.”

“I couldn’t imagine driving in this.”

Adam shrugged and forced his fingers to loosen their apprehensive grasp. “How's your car?"

"Busted. The exhaust system is totally blown. But with this," she gestured to the snow banks lining the street like a gauntlet, "I'm not sure when I'm going to get it back."

"Well, if this works for you, we can make a habit of it. I drive through here anyway."

"Really?" He felt her quizzical look as he glided up to a stoplight and kept his gaze on the road to avoid giving his lie away. "I would have though the highway would be faster for you."

"Sometimes." Adam raked a hand through his shower-damp hair. His left elbow squished the teddy bear as he grasped the bottom curve of the steering wheel. The light changed and he depressed the gas, pushing them tentatively through the intersection.

" have plans for tonight?"

She seemed about to spit out her sip of coffee. "Me? No. I think Carl’s up to something but,” she shivered. “That’s so not happening, not even today. No sympathy dates for me.” Shaking her head, she rested her mug in her lap and blew out a long exhale. "What about you?" she asked, nibbling at her lower lip. “You must have something planned.”

"Maybe..." He flicked his gaze to the rearview mirror.

Do it, his reflection screamed.

Adam broke away with a weak cough and concentrated on the icy street as his courage wavered. The silence hung all the way through the next few blocks. Up ahead, the street lights burned green through resurging flurries, changed to honey yellow and then as red as the teddy bear's tie and Gail’s half-hidden blouse. Adam depressed the breaks and they slowed again. He cast her a sidelong glance, catching her profile as she watched pedestrians lumbering down a snow smothered sidewalk. "Gail..."

She swiveled from the window, her lashes fluttering around wide, hazel eyes. "Yes?" she said, her voice tentative, like a flake worried about melting, and then her features tightened.

She's holding her breath, Adam noted, and then realized he was doing the same. He reached for the squished bear at his side, but the whirr of spinning tires behind them snared his attention. He spotted an SUV, complete with panicked driver, through the rearview mirror a moment before impact.

“Oh, no.”

The initial blow sent them spinning forward on the slick asphalt and into the intersection. Horns bellowed before the second and third car smashed into them, smacking both sides in turn before the SUV bashed into the back bumper again.

Whiplash and then the strain of his seatbelt snapped Adam forward, back and to either side. He clenched his eyes shut but stars bloomed in the darkness behind his lids. The steering wheel's inflating airbag hit his face like a pillow in an unexpected fight. Screeching metal and cracking glass drowned his hearing while his heart thumped a rapid base.

Then, silence clutched the car and his world hovered in a stretched second. As if in slow motion, Adam collapsed into his seat and watched, for a moment mute and deaf, as the airbag deflated like a punctured balloon. Only the faint crunch of flakes falling onto his spider-webbed windshield worked through his dazed senses. The thought of Gail followed, stirring him back into motion. He lolled his head to the side.

She hunched in the passenger seat, hands grasping her seatbelt, her eyes shut. Coffee had spilt all over her coat and the travel mug had tumbled to the foot well where the muddy-colored liquid seeped into the mat and pooled at the base of her bag.

"Are you okay?" asked Adam. He frowned as his voice emerged from the other end of a tunnel.

Gail opened her eyes delicately and swiveled her gaze to him with care. "I think so." She licked her lips, her eyes unfocused as the tension in her shoulders ebbed. "My head hurts," she said, touching her fingertips to a bruising swell blooming at her right temple. She recoiled as if bit. "You?"

"I'm all right." Adam gave her a wobbly grin and then spotted the hatchback through the passenger windows. The little car had imbedded into the backdoor; the driver in a similar shaken state behind a dwindling airbag. Sweeping his gaze through the cracked windshield, Adam noted a station wagon crumpled into the hood of his car, and then in the rearview, spotted the instigating SUV over the waves of metal that had once been his trunk. "Whoa."

He glanced back as Gail fumbled at latch, but warped frame kept the door from opening.

"We better wait for the police or an ambulance or something," said Adam.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” she said and listed back into the chair.

Adam reached for the keys dangling in the ignition, but let out a gasp and froze. Pain washed through his right shoulder and flooded his chest.

"You’re hurt," said Gail. She extended her hand toward his right arm but stopped short of touching him, as if fearful of doing more damage.

Adam caught his breath as dizziness threatened to take him into unconsciousness. He fought back with a rise of testosterone at the thought of being the one fainting. "It’s just my arm,” he said, struggling to sound nonchalant.

Bracing his good hand against his seat, he tested his remaining limbs and found himself otherwise intact, minus a swiftly mounting headache.

Soft fur brushed his fingers, distracting him from the aches, and he glanced down at the teddy bear. The pudgy face appeared unflustered by the accident. Glass eyes stared expectantly at him; the stubby arms open as if waiting for a hug. He plucked the bear out of the crevice and decided trauma had put the tremble in his arm.

"Look what I found," he said, offering the stuffed animal over the parking break.

Gail stared for a moment, and then cradled the teddy bear in both hands. She straightened the bow tie while the hint of a grin worked onto her lips. "Who's this?"

"He's looking for a date for tonight," said Adam. “What do you say?”

"Oh really?" She shook her head and then stopped with a grimace. Wilting into her chair, her lips spread into a broader smile. "I feel like you're taking advantage of the situation. I'm not sure I'm thinking clearly enough to answer a question like that."

"This is all my master plan," he said, sweeping his good hand at the surrounding carnage. “Knock her senseless, check.”

Gail chuckled and looked down at the bear, her cheeks flushing.

Adam licked his lips as endorphins kicked in, dulling the demanding injury in his shoulder. His heart sprinted once more and he waited, hoping to avoid another crushing blow. "So?"

Gail tilted the bear so the beady face and opened arms stared back at him. Her gaze though, landed in his. "How can I say no to such a face?"