Life changes significantly when the things your loved one once could do are no longer possible.
Dementia leaves you feeling so powerless and it can seem like you’re fighting an uphill battle with more losses than wins. It is so easy to be discouraged.
Today’s blog I’m going to discuss the little things one can do that make the most impact on your loved one with dementia. If you haven’t read my previous post about dementia, you can find it here.
When we typically think of dementia, we think nursing homes, old ladies in sleeping gowns talking about long-gone relatives and confusing events (think Aunt Bethany from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation).
Sometimes those things are closer to the truth. Sometimes they’re not.
Comfort is essential.
Think of how you feel after laying in the same position for hours. Would the blankets wrinkle under your legs? And if your back was hurting, would you change position because of it? What if your brain was no longer able to translate the data from your sensory organs?
These are things to think about when considering the comfort of your loved one with dementia.
Is it cold in the room?
Is the sun too bright?
Is it too dark?
Are there sounds that could be confused for something scary if you didn’t know what they were?
Our loved ones with dementia will eventually get to the point where their brains can no longer process, and communication will become impossible. While we’re able to have them with us, it’s important to take into account how they feel.
With all the confusion going on, if you add discomfort to the mix, it can cause increased agitation, which can compound and exacerbate their symptoms, making dealing with everything so much more difficult.
Take a walk in their shoes.
Imagine waking up in a strange place.
Everything is confusing.
People and objects seem somewhat familiar, but you’re not sure why.
A shadow looms and someone towers over you, demanding that you do something.
You were enjoying watching a bird on a tree outside, you don’t want to do whatever they keep insisting.
Without warning, you’re being forced to do something you don’t want to do. It’s scary, it’s confusing, and you wonder if you may be among enemies.
I’ve been struggling with my mom’s dementia in this way. At times she refuses meds and/or changing or washing. I know that these things need to be done so that she doesn’t get sick, but she doesn’t understand.
You can examine the situation and think about how you would feel.
Maybe the music is too loud. Maybe the sun is reflecting off a picture frame and shining in their face. Maybe they need to be moved to a different position. Maybe their clothing is twisted and cutting off circulation.
Once you determine the source of discomfort or irritation, you can correct it, and try giving medication or changing or washing then.
Other times, distractions or bribing with a treat or a favorite activity can help. You can say, “After we get you cleaned up, we can treat ourselves with some chocolate! How does that sound?”
This also allows them to be in the decision making process, as so many of their decisions have been taken away from them at this point. It can really help with self esteem.
I realized, when approaching her, if I remain standing, it puts me in an aggressive and intimidating stance and my mom feels threatened. However, when I crouch or sit down to eye level to talk to her, she relaxes and smiles.
I need to constantly remind myself that she might be uncomfortable. She can’t tell me when something hurts, so I need to be extra diligent in inspecting everything prior to completing: watching fingers and arms while using the Hoyer lift, watching toes and feet when removing/installing railings and that they are properly secured before walking away (especially the ones near the head!), observing how the skin pulls when lifting, if her hair is caught in the pillow, if she needs a pillow behind her back, on top of so many other things. It can be overwhelming how hypervigilant one needs to be.
Sometimes, there’s too much going on. Not everything needs to be completed on your schedule. It’s okay to pick and choose what’s absolutely essential at that time and putting the rest on the backburner for later. As long as the care that’s needed gets completed in a safe manner, you can go with how your loved one is feeling.
When sundowners hits (the late afternoon increase in agitation), everything can change. Sometimes it’s best to do the more strenuous things earlier in the day when their mood is the most stable.
Adapt to the situation.
With dementia, logic does not work.
No matter how much begging, pleading, manipulating you try, it can be impossible to convince a dementia patient that these things are beneficial for them. It’s kind of like a toddler not wanting to take a bath. It forces you to find creative solutions.
My dad found that for my mom, using silverware became increasingly difficult.
My mom would forget their use and hold up to inspect while dropping food everywhere. She was spilling more food than eating and he was worried she wasn’t getting enough calories.
It was then that he had an epiphany that silverware is a social custom, not necessary to actually feed oneself.
He began serving her food that she could eat with her fingers. Once this barrier was removed, she had no trouble feeding herself and her appetite increased.
Just make sure to clean your loved one’s hands (and under fingernails) prior to eating, as this is a potential route for contagion.
I do this with sanitized hand wipes or use a bowl of warm, sudsy water and a washcloth to soak, then a gentle nail file to remove the under nail debris. This particular unpleasant task is a lot easier while the hand is submerged under water. You can wear gloves to do this, but don’t have to. Just be careful not to poke at the sensitive undersides of the nail.
I found that, with a little assistance, I could also help my mom feed herself in another way.
My dad made a pot pie, so once cooled, I loaded up a spoonful, held hands with my mom, and held the spoon with that hand, as if she were holding it.
This way I could steady her tremor, tilt the spoon in the correct position, and guide it to her mouth with her hand. This allowed her to feed herself as if she were doing it on her own.
This also allows me to provide human contact and connection, which dementia patients so desperately need. (I think we all could use a little more of this!)
Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul ~ Plato
Another cool thing I’ve found that helps, is music.
My mom graduated high school in the early 1970’s, so I began playing hits from specific years like 1971 and 1973. I noticed my mom immediately perk up and become interested.
Sometimes she will say things like, “Oh this!”, or “Oh wow…” in awe, or giggle. It’s always nice to see a smile on her face, instead of that confused, lost look that seems to be taking over. She looks truly happy in those times.
She seems to particularly enjoy Simon and Garfunkel, Carole King, The Mamas and the Papas, and other folk rock of that era.
Be kind to yourself.
Lastly, look out for yourself.
You can’t care for others if you need caring yourself.
Eat right, exercise, talk to qualified people that can help your brain stay screwed on right.
This is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do, but you aren’t alone. Reach out to someone, anyone if you need help. There’s always this number if you need someone to talk to. There is nothing shameful in asking for help.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
OR Text GO to 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Counselor through Crisis Text Line, a global not-for-profit organization. Free, 24/7, confidential.
Thank you for stopping by to read my words. Make sure to spread some kindness today, to yourself and those around you. You never know who might need a hug from a friend, and we’re all friends here.
Life was becoming increasingly stressful and I needed to do something about it.
Dementia is a slow, insidious process
I’m an only child of two wonderful parents, a dad who’s worked hard his whole life to take care of family and those in need (good job, Grandma Charlie!) and my bighearted, kind mama. My mom mostly stayed at home to take care of me, with brief partial college stints, bookkeeping and volunteer jobs. We would visit my great aunt in the nursing home and my mom’s parents, always making sure everyone was well taken care of. I come from a long line of caring people.
But then she started slipping away.
I was busy with my own life north of Seattle, trying to force my life to be a certain way (we all know how well THAT works), and so frustrated it wasn’t working out how I wanted. I would talk to my mom on the phone, noticing her words seemed harder and harder to recall. She used different words that meant sort of the same thing. She had been on different types of medications throughout her whole life. First they thought it was depression. Then they thought it was anxiety. Briefly, one provider thought she might have bipolar disorder. Her 80-something-year-old psychiatrist was giving her samples of Viibryd and telling her there was something wrong with her, “Normally the medication works for most people, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Let’s up the dose.”
Because I was 70 miles away and dealing with my own self-created problems, I didn’t notice as much until visiting for holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. My mom couldn’t talk. She would just stare at us, look like she wanted to say something, then wander off. It felt like she was haunting her own house. I didn’t know what to think, none of us did. My dad did the best he could, trying to keep money flowing in. The good paying jobs required travel and my mom couldn’t go with him. Her gait had changed, her balance was off. Medical appointment after medical appointment just shrugged and tried adjusting meds. We all hoped this was just some random thing that would self-resolve.
I remember one day, I had gotten off at the wrong stop, I didn’t know where and when the next bus was going to be by, I frantically checked all the bus schedules before it stopped running, trying to find my way. Panic seized my fingers as my shaking hands desperately tried to find what route to take. In the midst of this, my mom called me. She couldn’t remember how to work the microwave and was asking me for help. I was hours away, without a car. Dad was on a trip. Family and friends were checking on my mom when they could, but this was one of the between times when nobody was available. You’d think this would have spurred me into running home and saving my mom. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even know how to save myself. I stared at the bus as it stopped on the other side of the busy road and left without me. I had been on the wrong side of the street the whole time. I told my mom to ask one of the neighbors for help and called my dad to tell him. He was thousands of miles away himself. Luckily, he was able to get ahold of someone to go to mom and help her fix something to eat.
She drifted further
Flash forward a few years and I found myself moving back to my hometown. My first love and I had rekindled something and wanted to see what would become of it. I was now only 17 miles away from my parents. We enjoyed our time together as a family and with my soon-to-be-husband, playing with side-by-sides up in the hills, my momma always with a big grin. We would see each other on weekends and holidays, life always getting in the way. Soon the weekends together began to stretch to almost months between, just busy with our own lives.
He never gave up
My dad became fulltime caregiver, money-bringer, grocery-getter, bill-payer, chef, household duty-doer, nurse, entertainer, beautician, all while still trying to help his community where he could. As a kid I thought my dad was a secret agent. I’m not so sure I was wrong. Maybe Superman?
I was now working as a medical assistant for a family practice clinic and really enjoyed helping people. My folks and I would find random times to meet for lunch when we could, or have them come up for a visit. My dad reduced his work and began to spend more time at home. We had caregivers come by to stay with my mom while my dad went on the occasional necessary business trip that would keep money coming in to help pay for care while away and money to sustain between. I was trying to manage my mom’s care in place of my dad (while working only one job haha), which became increasingly stressful. I found myself having to be in two places at once. I don’t know how my dad does it.
One instance, a day before Mother’s day, I had to leave work because two caregivers argued about my mom’s care, resulting in the other taking my mom. I received a call from the one caregiver saying that my mom had been taken. My heart seized. Someone had kidnapped my mom?! I raced over there, unsure if I should call the police or a hitman, frantically calling both my mom’s cellphone and the caregiver’s, neither were answering. It turns out, the caregiver was wanting to get pictures with my mom in front of some flowers. I think there was some twisting of info by the other caregiver to get me riled up. Although I was still very upset for having to worry for my mom, I was glad she was returned unharmed. My dad decided no more long travel jobs and changed his career again, which can be really difficult to do! Luckily, my dad’s The Man and is able to do more than most people.
Then the pandemic hit
Life got really complicated. Not only did my work need to continue to provide care for regular health issues, we had to contend with this crazy new virus. And on top of just the regular job, we also had to try to wade through all the misinformation and gossip and just pure nonsense people brought to us, demanding answers, but they didn’t like the answers we gave. Meanwhile, I was worried I would bring it home and accidently kill my mom.
I began to crack
I hit a deer on a lunch break and couldn’t finish the rest of the day. I was a sobbing mess. I returned the next day and struggled to continue to do my job while faced with patients screaming and saying the most horrible things to me. At me. I tried to brush it off, not take it personally, but it’s really hard. Especially when I care so, so much. One day, I returned from lunch to grab my first patient of the afternoon. The patient wouldn’t stop lobbying insults at me, even after repeated boundary enforcement. When she said, “I’m just trying to give you a little taste of humanity!”, it broke me. Why do you think we do this? We do this FOR humanity! My heart broke in two right there. I tried to calmly remove myself from the situation and the insults got worse. She followed me out of the exam room and down the hall as I retreated into a provider office with no exit. My brain was reminded of a traumatic situation at a music venue where I had to hide and my brain thought I was in the situation again. The following days I had trouble returning to work after lunch. I changed my schedule, reduced to three days per week. I was having random crying spells and bouts of rage. I was at my limit. Life was becoming increasingly stressful and I needed to do something about it.
Becoming a caregiver
Little ideas had been flittering around inside my head for some time, but suddenly they clicked into place. I needed to help my dad take care of my mama and I couldn’t do that while also working a fulltime job. My work is super awesome and I feel so fortunate to be able to get FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) to be able to still have a paycheck and benefits while caring for my mom. I am also fortunate to have such an awesome husband to financially support me with a reduced paycheck and eagerness to help my folks out with whatever they need.
This snowfall we received on Christmas and the day after became a super blessing, despite missing my last day of work (I miss you, Jamestown Fam!). One of my dad’s career changes led to him becoming a snowplowman! He even got this nice writeup a couple years ago in the paper! Solmar Man, 70, Helps Snowbound Elderly Get Medication. He needed someone to care for my mom while he plowed so people could get their food and medications. This was the perfect time for me to step into that caregiver role.
For Christmas I had splurged and bought my mom an assortment of home spa supplies. My first day as caregiver, I treated her to an Epsom salt footbath, complete with massage, moisturizer, and soft socks.
Dementia: the cruel thief
My mom’s dementia has progressed to the point where she now cannot walk, is incontinent of both, and having seizures. Her memory comes and goes, going more each day. She forgets who my dad is and thinks he’s just “some guy” she’s living with. She’ll ask him where Jim is and he’ll tell her, “Hon, I’m Jim. I’m your husband. I’m married to you. You’re my wife. I love you.” She’ll just look at him suspiciously. My dad does a good job of keeping the humor up to keep them going. She recognizes me when I arrive with an excited “Kara!”, but after a while will kind of forget who I am. Sometimes she’ll talk about me to me, or think I’m her sister, Celia.
She’s still there
Occasionally she has these super lucid moments that we cling to. On the 3rd day I was with her as Caregiver, she kept asking where my dad was. I answered each time as if it were the first, she doesn’t know that I’ve answered this 60 times before, and adding anger to her confusion and fear won’t do anyone any good. Most of the time, it’s just because she needs the reassurance that she is safe and things are okay. One of the times I responded with the same, “Dad’s out plowing snow with Micah! He’ll be back a little later today.” She replied, “Hallelujah! I miss him,” with love and longing inflected in her tone. My heart grew/melted and I made sure to tell him. Those moments are growing fewer and further between.
The hard stuff
Another lucid moment occurred while I was doting on her, trying to clean her nails, her hands and feet seem to have minds of their own now. Her hands kept twitching while I tried to use a soft brush. She turned to me and said, “I’m so sorry baby, that you have to do this.” I assured her that I was happy to be there and it was my pleasure to spoil her. She smiled and held my hand.
That day, my dad hesitated leaving, worried about my mom having a potential seizure, as that morning she had some symptoms she normally displays prior to an episode. Seizures happen in dementia patients as cells in their brain slowly die and the brain shrinks, and possibly also due to other medications lowering her seizure threshold. We discussed potential anti-seizure medication, but those meds have their own side effects that don’t make it beneficial in my mom’s case. There really aren’t any great options, other than caring for symptoms as they arise. I told him I’ve experienced people with seizures and know what to do, and promised to to call him if needed. Mom stayed fairly alert, no seizures, just her normal occasional foot jerks and hand trembling. I had spread bird seed in the bushes by her window so that she could see the birds from her bed. She held my hand and told me she liked the blue ones. She pointed, gasped, and giggled as the little creatures flitted about, oblivious of their audience.
Enjoy the moment
I decided to write my experiences with my mom to help other people in their transition of role from loved one to caregiver. This is a very difficult road, but so rewarding to be able to be there. It is absolutely heart wrenching at times to see my mom and my dad go through this. Part of it is grieving the life I should have had with my mom. Dementia has robbed us of the adult mother-daughter relationship we should have had. I’m so thankful I get the chance to be here now for her during this time. What I keep reminding myself is it’s not about me. Once you get the Ego out of the way, it helps. Thank your support team, as they are vital to you keeping your mind, and make sure to take time for yourself. It’s super important to have that healthy separation and boundary, as the caregiver role can take over if you’re not careful. I’m learning as I go and will pass on what I can.
Thank you for stopping by to read my words. Make sure to spread some kindness today, to yourself and those around you. You never know what someone is dealing with on the inside, you don’t want to be the one who breaks them.
National Novel Writing Month: write 50,000 words in 30 days.
It’s a rainy day today in the Pacific Northwest (but of course!), a good day to snuggle away in fable.
So get yourself a nice cozy spot, a snack or drink, and let’s lose ourselves in story.
This will be a two part blog, ending my final on my #NaNoWriMo series (as the month is ending in two days), but not my final on writing. In further blogs we’ll go over editing and the OTHER necessary parts of writing.
If you missed it, my first blog in the series follows what we need for characters. You can find this here.
My second installment touching on outlining techniques and ways to drive and use your antagonist’s motivation to drive the story is here.
The third is about family and beginnings, on how to start the story off. You can read all about that here.
Today we’ll get to build Part I of the rough draft, piecing everything together, similar to honing a clump of clay into a cup on the pottery wheel.
We’ll see what happens to Cath and Fors. Will Grandfather be able to guide his daughter through the choices she should be making? Or will his past get in the way and cloud his vision?
And here it is, without further delay: The Rough Draft
The Rough Draft: Part I
The tempest of his grandchildren’s feet announced their presence before Ashley and Jessica’s voices, excited about turkey and cranberry sauce, reached Pat’s rusty eardrums. On their tails, Cath, their haggard mother, keys in mouth, dumped her armload of mail on the already heaped pile. As usual, she missed the coat hook, jacket and purse landing with a thud. She stepped over these in her typical distracted shuffle, not noticing her father until she nearly bumped into him. The jangling between her lips and wide, surprised eyes reminded him of a Chinook salmon sporting a Grand Slam lure.
“What’ve we got here, a Blackmouth?” he asked and pointed at the black keys. “I think we’re gonna need a bigger net, boys!” he hollered at the kids.
Cath’s dark eyes slugged him with a disparaging look.
The girls stood, hands on hips. The taller one’s hair as dark as coal, while her younger sister’s hair glinted almost translucent, the color so blonde. A telling difference of their personalities.
“We’re not boys, Grandpa!” Ashley said in such a big girl tone Pat had to do a double take to make sure his granddaughter was still seven and not 27.
Jessica, the toddler, echoed her sister’s sentiments: “Nah boys, g’pa!”
Pat’s heart melted and he scooped the four year old up. Her speech was stunted, years behind where she should be. Casualty of what they’d been through, he supposed, and gave her an extra squeeze.
“I see nothing but a couple harbor seals! You can tell ’cause their bellies make this sound,” he said, lifted the toddler’s floral shirt to reveal the cutest little Buda belly he’d ever seen, and promptly blew a drawn out farty raspberry on it. The girl’s squeal of laughter and squirming drove him to keep going. “I’m a killer whale chasing two yummy seals!” he chased the girls through the living room, his bum knee keeping him from crawling up on the sofa after them.
“Have I told you the tale of why killer whales chase seals?” he asked, sitting down with a huff and a puff.
“Yeessss,” Ashley groaned in overdramatized boredom.
“Tory! Tory!” Jessica cried out as she snuggled up on her grandpa’s lap.
“Do you wanna hear it or not?” he grumbled.
“Okay, yes, I do,” Ashley admitted and sat to his left.
“Long, long ago,” Pat began in his low, storyteller voice. “Frigg, the goddess of motherhood, watched over a special group of her children, mothers with hair of marbled black and white. These mothers were the sacred daughters of Skadi, a giantess and a goddess of the mountains, and Njord, a god of the sea. The daughters debated where to give birth, as being from both mountain and sea, no two daughters could agree. Frigg watched with concern, as she knew their time was growing desperate. They decided to make a compromise. A small island that barely classified as a beach bordered the two kingdoms of land and sea. Seeyal was a slick sea captain that promised to see the mothers safely to shore. Seeyal had a weakness for salmon, especially smoked with honey. What they did not know was that this was during a mighty feast that Aegir, a larger sea god, was throwing. The smell of the honeyed salmon wafted up as Seeyal crossed the sea with the mothers. Seeyal couldn’t stand it, promised the tide would carry them on until he returned, and dove overboard. Drunk on honied salmon, he joined a lively dance. His exuberance flamed the dancing party to cause such a ruckus, it spun the current into a whirlpool, waves taking over the ship, and sucked the mothers into the sea. Frigg had just enough time to change the mothers’ forms to half sea creatures before they drowned, forever trapping them between land and sea. The goddess was so distraught by the loss that she changed Seeyal’s form as well, to be eternally chased by the drowned mothers.”
The two girls sat in stunned silence, letting the story settle in their minds.
“Great now they’ll have nightmares,” Cath bellyached from behind him.
“Seal belly!” Pat cried out and levied another raspberry on Jessica’s tummy.
“Grandpa, you’re silly,” Ashley’s little voice giggled and he knew he had no place else in the world he’d rather be.
“I’m silly?” he asked with surprise. “I’d say a seal is more silly than a silly ol’ me,” he said and blew another raspberry on Jessica’s tummy.
“You’re going to make her wet herself and then I’ll have to clean it up,” Cath muttered.
Pat stopped and nodded at his daughter. “So they let you have Thanksgiving off this year?”
Jessica wormed out of his arms and away towards the toy chest.
“The motel, Black Fish did,” she answered as she looked through the mail. Each envelope wore a stamped LAST NOTICE and she threw them down with a sigh. “I still have to work at Briny’s tonight, you know, one of their top diner nights, not everyone has a family to spend the holiday with.”
Pat looked at his daughter but said nothing.
A crash and a wail interrupted the silence behind them.
“Oh jeeze now what,” Cath lamented wandering towards the noise. “Hey! What’s going on?!”
Pat winced as he stood and hobbled into the kitchen. He couldn’t see anything through the charred oven window, another thing he meant to get to. Groaning, he hefted it open, the air reminding him of an engine room on a summer night. The juices bubbled and steamed in the bottom of the pan as he carefully ladled them over the roasting bird, glad that at least his grandkids would get a good Thanksgiving dinner.
The wailing got louder and he knew someone was in trouble.
“I have to get ready for work, I can’t do this, can you?” Cath fumed past him and began violently scrubbing her hands in the sink.
“What’s going on?” he asked, noting she’d picked the phrase up from him, and peered over her shoulder. Her hands were dyed blue. “What-” he began to ask again.
“Ashley went through my old cake boxes, found my dye set, and thought it would be fun to dye her sister’s hair. FOOD dye, dad, FOOD DYE!!” She burst out crying, raising blue hands to her face.
Pat saw the potential result of this and grabbed her hands before they touched and spun her into a hug. His flannel didn’t matter. “Sweetie, you’re working yourself to the bone,” he poked at her pronounceable ribs under his embrace. “What happened to that idea anyways, your cake shop idea?”
She shook her head against his shoulder. “I can’t even afford to keep us in this house, not to mention the cost it would take to put into a new business. It just isn’t possible.”
Pat sighed and gathered her closer. “All I want is for you and the girls to be happy. They never get to see you, you’re working too much.”
“You can’t work, with your leg and all,” she said and pulled away, returning to the sink. “It’s more help having you here with them than paying for daycare, trust me,” she said, her back occluding her expression.
It was the same old fight they’d had with her since he’d moved in to help out. He couldn’t work or afford to live where he was at, it just made sense at the time. It was a symbiotic thing, really.
Pat opened the pantry, grabbed the bag of potatoes, and hefted it onto the counter. “Have you tried calling him?” he asked, knowing her answer.
Her back tensed and she stopped scrubbing.
“He said he was going to throw some money your way, you just needed to let him know when, right?” he asked, scrutinizing each potato as he removed it.
She cleared her throat and began scrubbing again. “I’m not asking him for anything. If he happens to send some money, great. But I am not begging from him.”
Pat put the last unacceptable potatoes back and dug for two larger ones. Tuber dirt flaked onto the counter through the mesh bag. He had a flash of nets and seaweed falling through while the catch shifted. There was always something unexpected in the net, something he couldn’t see until it was dumped on deck. Black hair and white skin against green and silver.
“Do you hear me?!” Cath demanded and spun around. “Do not ask me again!”
Pat regarded her hair turning from embers to ashes and wondered where the time had gone. He nodded. “Just trying to help.”
“And can you deal with them? I’m going to be dealing with enough whining about ‘my steak’s not done right’, ‘my potatoes are too soft’, ‘I can’t find my napkin’. I’ve had it with them!” she sputtered and pointed towards the girls’ bedroom. She looked at her blue hands and sighed, back bowing. “Please?” she asked softly and returned to the sink.
Pat kissed his daughter’s hair and made his way back to the girls’ room. There sat baby Jessica, hair bright blue with little blue streams cascading down her face as she cried, wiping teal across her face.
Ashley pouted, nose in the corner of their bedroom, the designated timeout spot, timer ticking away.
“Blue, oh so lonesome for you,” he sang and cradled the hiccupping toddler. She snuggled against his chest, her wet hair scent mixed with stale graham crackers. He didn’t care if he got stained blue. He’d stain his whole body blue if he had to for these girls.
“G’pa,” she mumbled, her sobs now quelled.
“Are we having a blue Thanksgiving, girls?” he asked.
“I wanted to make us mermaids, is all,” Ashley glowered. “I told her she couldn’t see until I was done, but she wouldn’t listen and tried climbing up to see the mirror, and I told her momma doesn’t like us to climb up there, and I tried to keep her from climbing, and I tried, and then she fell.” she babbled.
“Did you bonk your head?” he asked Jessica.
She nodded and pointed to her right temple. “B’nk.”
Pat lifted her hair and saw a good goose egg forming. No blood. He looked at her pupils. She smiled. She was okay.
“Okay, no more dying your sister’s hair, ya hear?” he instructed Ashley.
“Okay, you can reduce your sentence to two minutes,” he said and pointed at the timer on the bench in the corner ticking five minutes remaining.
“That’s not fair!” she whined.
Pat looked at her seriously and dropped his tone. “Do you want to increase it by ten?”
She shrunk back, turned the timer down to two minutes, and jutted her lip into the corner .
“I’m gong to check on you in a minute, I’d better not find you away from the corner,” he said.
Pat carried the toddler back to her mother. “We’ve got a silly goose with a silly goose egg,” he announced. “Maybe we should have silly goose instead of turkey?”
The toddler squealed in feigned alarm.
Cath checked her daughter’s head, wiped the area, and kissed it. “All better!” she said and smiled at Jessica.
“Ah bah-ah!” Jessica laughed.
Cath kissed her forehead. “Did you know that tomorrow is your birthday? You turn five!”
Jessica gasped in the magic. “My?”
“I’ll get a cake after work,” she said.
“You could bake one better than any store bought,” Pat said.
“I know, I just didn’t have enough-” Cath checked her watch. “Crap. I’d better get to work.”
“I know you said you didn’t want us to have Thanksgiving early for you,” he said. “But I cooked a little piece of turkey early so you could have some with us before work.”
She smiled. “Dad, you didn’t have to.”
“That’s why I did it,” he said, in his usual response. “Ashley, you can come out now!” He pulled a small foil-wrapped package from the oven and set it on the counter. It steamed as he opened it. Inside, a brined turkey leg waited to be devoured.
The small family enjoyed a taste of turkey together. Ten minutes later, Cath left for work.
Pat spared no expense, went all out on a lavish Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings. Vegetables were a hard sell, but the pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce were a hit. He wished he could bake as well as he daughter and would have attempted the toddler’s birthday cake with the rest, but didn’t want to step on her mother’s toes. It was her place, after all.
That night the girls fell asleep with bellies full and minds swimming with tales.
The next day, Pat awoke to his usual aches and pains. His knee barked a little louder today. He moaned before he got up, groaned as he moved, griped as he stood, and grunted as he ambled towards the back porch, muttering to himself about his dang prostate.
The day looked to be a good one to be a duck.
Rain poured and streamed down everything, collecting in little rivulets and rivers.
He missed this kind of weather on the deck of a boat. Raincoat in place over layers of warm clothes: any weather could be comfortable.
The sound of a car pulling up cut through his memories.
They lived on a dead end road, far out in the boonies. People only ended up here if they meant to or were lost.
He hacked up the rest of his lungs, closed the door behind him, and shuffled towards his shotgun. Cath would have already been back and gone from work, now at her motel job. She shouldn’t be home until at least noon. He glanced at the clock. 6:42 am. He’d slept in.
As he made his way through the kitchen he noticed a store-bought cake on the table next to a plate with dried gravy and turkey bones. Ah good, she’d gotten dinner, he noted as he grabbed his Smith & Wesson and opened the door.
His daughter’s Toyota Sprinter sat there, and a middle-aged man Pat had never seen, stood next to it.
“What have you done with my daughter?” he asked, raising the shotgun.
The man’s dark eyes widened in surprise. His dark hair and light skin reminded him of something. A memory.
Pat cocked the gun.
“Dad! Jeeze!” Cath said and stood up from the passenger door. “I’ll explain everything, get inside. You don’t need that. Go sit down.”
Pat hesitated and dropped the muzzle to the ground. He eyed the stranger. The man was almost a head taller than his daughter, muscular to the point of nearly bulging out of a blue crushed velvet sweat suit. The guy looked like he bench pressed Volkswagens for fun. She showed up with some crazy stranger and expected her dad not to be on alert? He didn’t un-cock it and remained where he stood.
“I think you’d better tell me that story now.”
He watched his daughter sigh in frustration. He didn’t care. He had two sleeping little girls to protect in the house behind him that mattered more than someone’s, even his daughter’s, momentary irritation.
“I found him washed up on the beach, I saw him out the window as I was changing a pillowcase,” she said, looking back at the man with concern. The man had a dazed look about him, like he didn’t quite know where he was.
“The police,” she continued, “took him to the hospital, he’s okay, just has amnesia and some exposure symptoms, ‘nothing a hot meal and warm blankets can’t fix,’ the doctor said,” she caressed the stranger’s arm.
“What’s his name?” he asked.
Cath turned to the man. “Do you remember anything yet?”
The man looked at her, then shook his head blankly.
“How do we know he’s not just some axe murderer?” Pat asked, assessing the man’s reach and throw and calculated the muscle behind it.
“He said I was beautiful,” she said with hearts and rainbows.
Pat rolled his eyes. This is a chemical thing. “Well, I’m not setting this thing down until I know what we’re dealing with here.”
Cath shrugged. “Let’s get him into the house. We can heat up some dinner.”
Pat backed up and allowed them entry, keeping his eye on the stranger.
The man’s feet, a little too large for the hotel slippers, rocked on the edges, making it appear like he didn’t know how to walk. Pat sneered at the idea of a man so useless as he hobbled up after them.
Cath sat him down at the kitchen table and began doting on the man, first with a blanket, then followed by, snacks, a steaming hot cup of cocoa, and water laid out around him. The man’s glassy eyes looked at the items like he didn’t know what they were. Pat was reminded of a tubeworm on a piling.
“Are you hungry? Or thirsty?” Cath asked as if he were one of the girls.
The simply sat there.
Pat remained standing, sure the man was going to fly into a murderous rage at any moment.
“This is a hot drink, this is a cold drink,” she said and pointed to the two.
The man finally seemed to register something. “Why would I want a hot drink?” he asked, the question leaving a puzzled wake across his face.
Cath looked stumped, then to her father for help.
“Cause it warms you up from the inside?” Pat suggested.
The man nodded as if Pat had offered deep philosophical advice on the meaning of life.
“So how did you end up with him,” Pat asked.
“I found him on the-“
“I know, that’s what you said,” Pat looked at Cath. “But why didn’t the police or hospital keep him? Why did you end up with him?”
Cath looked uncomfortable and grabbed the dirty plate she had left the night before. “Because of the holiday, they were having trouble reaching the department of whatever so I offered to help for a couple of days.”
“You offered,” he repeated. “Are you staying home with him, too?”
She shrugged. “The hotel said I should take a couple of days to regroup, I guess I kinda freaked out a bit when I found him. I thought he was dead at first,” she said and chuckled uncomfortably.
“And what about the steakhouse?” he asked.
“I guess I could give them a call,” she said and began rinsing the plate under the faucet. “I mean, I know I-“
The man whipped around and stared at the sink. The sudden movement had Pat training the gun on the stranger. The man failed to notice or didn’t’ care. Instead he stared at Cath as she froze, plate in sink water, watching the stranger.
“You have the power of The Wave in your home?” he asked in amazement.
Cath looked in surprise at her father and motioned for him to lower the barrel. “No, it’s not the ocean, it’s fresh water. Like from mountain streams?”
The man nodded. “Good fishing where the two waters meet.”
Cath smiled at her dad. “See? You guys do have something in common!”
Pat lowered his gun and wiped his face. “You’re a fisherman. You probably fell overboard and hit your head.”
The stranger thought about this. “All I remember is waking up to this beautiful woman.”
“Yeah, been there,” mumbled Pat, then cleared his throat at his daughter’s expression. “I’m just gonna put this back over here,” he said and wandered out of the room towards the gun safe. He used this opportunity to remain close, but listen to the kids talk.
“What are you doing?” the man asked. Pat could detect an accent. Was that Norwegian?
“Just doing what I should have done last night, but I was too tired,” Cath said. Pat could hear water splashing.
“Did that sponge cause you some offense?”
Pat paused as he heard his daughter do the same.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You keep grinding it’s head against that rock and bloating it with freshwater. I can only assume it lobbied the most foul offense,” the man stated with such careful selection, Pat wondered about this man’s background. It wasn’t Norwegian, but something else.
“Um, no, this is washing dishes,” she said and laughed uncomfortably. This was Pat’s cue to step back inside, still armed. Cath squeezed out the yellow sponge and showed it to the man. “See? It’s not alive. Never was.”
“That is an actual sea sponge,” Pat admitted. “It was, at one time, alive.”
Cath looked at it in surprise. “This lives in the sea?”
“My best friend is a sponge,” the man lamented.
“I have one of those, too,” Cath nodded.
Pat regarded the man. He didn’t think he was using the word as a metaphor. “Would you prefer raw fish?” he asked.
The man perked up at the idea.
Cath glared at her father in bewilderment. “What are you doing, dad?”
Pat uncocked the gun and leaned it in the corner. “We always keep some on hand,” he said and walked to the chest freezer. He removed a large tubular bundle. “It’ll take a bit to thaw,” he said and unwrapped a whole king salmon.
The stranger’s eyes grew wide and he licked his lips. “Where is your Grandmother? Surely, she should get the first bite?”
Cath looked at her father uncomfortably. “I don’t think anyone knows.”
“She left without saying a word,” Pat said sadly. “And a year and a half later, I found you on the deck of my houseboat, no note, nothing. Just swattled in seaweed and foam.” He squeezed his daughter’s shoulder.
“What was her name?” the man asked. “Maybe it’ll help me remember mine?”
“Beskee,” Pat said, thinking of her now. Her soft skin contrasting against his rough, weather-beaten, and her dark hair falling into his sun-bleached. He felt as if they had been the two parts of yin and yang, completely merging, becoming one. That one night with her decades ago changed his life. He knew he would gladly do it again. He hoped to, one day.
The stranger gasped. “I do remember my name. Fors!”
Cath looked at her father. “That’s a name I’ve never heard!”
“Do you remember anything else?” Pat asked.
Fors thought a moment. A lock of his dark hair fell into his face. He bobbed his head, looked up in frustration, and smoothed his hair out of his face. “I remember it being easier to keep my hair out of my face.”
Cath found one of the girls’ sparkly hairbands and lifted his hair out of his face. “How’s that?”
He shrugged. “That works.”
Pat cleared and rinsed the sink, blocked it, then filled it with cold water, floating the stiff fish head side down. The tail bobbed as if it were waving a them.
Fors immediately stood, crowding the sink.
“Whoa, what?” Cath stepped back.
Fors slinked back and forth like a cat studying a mouse in a hole.
Cath and her father exchanged glances. “Wait. What is it you’re not telling me?” she asked her father, suspicion narrowing her eyes.
Pat looked at the almost indiscernible stain of color that followed Fors’ hair line down his neck and below his collar, out of sight. The same was detectable on his temples.
Pat gave a resigned sigh and turned back to Fors. “Do you normally live in the sea.”
“Mm-hm,” Fors replied distracted by the salmon.
“Like, underneath, within the sea?” Pat probed.
“Mm-hm,” Fors repeated.
“As in you are in your human form now, but you’re not always in this form, correct?”
“Dad, what?” Cath looked between the two men. She hesitantly laughed. “You’re pulling our legs, right?”
Pat smiled sadly.
“Mm-hm,” Fors replied again.
“See, he’s not even listening, you’re just trying to get him to respond,” Cath said, crossing her arms.
Without warning, Fors began kicking at the sink counter.
“Wait! Stop! What are you doing?!” she shrieked at him.
Fors stumbled back, looking lost. “I’m sorry, when we’re underwater, that’s what we do. I guess it’s different on land.”
Cath looked to her father for an explanation.
“You see, killer whales use their fins to kick fish around, kinda like soccer,” Pat began to explain.
“You and killer whales again! Enough with the orca tales! I don’t care!” Cath blew up. “What in the hell is he talking about, dad?!”
“I’m trying to tell you, if you’d only listen!” Pat yelled back, irritated by the day’s events.
“Mama? G’pa?” little Jessica said, standing a few feet from the arguing adults. “I skawd.”
“Oh baby, I’m so sorry, we didn’t mean to wake you,” Cath apologized and scooped her blue daughter up for kisses.
“Yeah I couldn’t get all the dye out,” Pat admitted sheepishly.
Cath rocked her toddler on her hip as if the last four and a half years had disappeared and she held her new baby in her arms again. Pat remembered holding Cath that way.
“She’ll be my poor Baby Blue, from now on,” Cath said into her hair.
“Hoo? Hoo?” Jessica asked, tipping up each time she pointed at Fors. “Hoo? Hoo?”
“That’s our new friend, Fors,” Cath introduced.
“My? My?” Jessica excitedly grasped fistfulls of her mother’s uniform.
“Yes, it’s your birthday!” Cath said with an excited grin.
The toddler pointed at the man.
Fors smiled. “Hello, little podling! Are you also hungry for salmon?”
The little girl smiled and hid her face, to the delight of the adults.
“Well, now that you’re up, do you want breakfast?” she asked Jessica.
The girl pointed to the telling white bakery box.
“No, you can’t have cake until after dinner tonight,” Cath said and opened the refrigerator instead. “Let’s see. We’ve got a couple eggs, some milk, and some cheese. How about scrambled eggs?”
Jessica nodded excitedly.
“I know, do you want to wake your sister?” Cath and Jessica giggled deviously and the little girl scrambled off to pester her sister.
Cath broke eggs into a bowl, poured milk, and began whipping the eggs into submission.
“Okay jokes aside,” she began, followed by feigned laughter. “Fors, you’re from some seaside town?”
“No,” he chuckled along with her. “I’m from under the sea!”
“Okay,” she paused stirring. “Like, you work in some undersea habitat thing?”
Fors considered her words. “I don’t think I understand the meaning of that question. I live undersea, with my family. We follow the salmon. Our grandmothers teach us the Way of the Wave. My sister, Yayga, is the fiercest huntress of them all, this side of The Great Chasm.”
“You certainly have a lot of awesome women in your family,” Cath speculated. “Do you remember how you ended up here?”
Fors thought for a moment. “I don’t. Last I remember, we were making our preparations for our travel southward for the winter. I was going to see my friend, the sponge. Then…I woke up. To you.” He smiled.
“This, isn’t some kind of Candid Camera thing, is it?” Cath asked and looked back and forth between the two men with narrowed eyes. The smile she’d brought with him now faded on her face.
Pat shook his head. “Not on my end, it ain’t.”
“A candy what?” Fors now looked between them.
“Never mind,” Cath dismissed. “You keep watching that salmon, I’m going to talk to my dad over here…”
Fors nodded happily and went back to taking possession of the salmon, dribbling back and forth in front of the sink.
Cath pulled her father out of the room towards the front door, where he had moments ago been spying on them. “What is going on? What are you not telling me?”
“You’ve heard of mermaids,” he lead, gesturing with a prompting motion. “But orcas.”
“Killer whale mermaids?” she looked between her father and the man treating her sink like a soccer goal.
Pat nodded and prompted again.
“And your mother,” he said, hoping that it would be all he needed to say.
“I’m stumped,” she said, not even trying. She studied him and crossed her chest. “I thought you always made that up because you were too drunk to remember or she was too horrible, or something. Not… wait… are we related?” she gestured towards the kitchen.
He shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of. Why, you wanna breed with him?” he asked, elbowing her as he winked.
“Dad!” she squawked in a way he hadn’t heard since she was a teenager and he had the audacity to be in her room.
“I think the salmon is nearly thawed!” Fors declared in such an excited state, Pat nearly grabbed the shotgun again. He eyed it just to be sure it was in reach.
Before they had a chance to respond, a horrified shriek ricocheted throughout the house. “JESSICAAAAAHH GET OUUUT!!!!”
“Well, the girls are up!” Cath cheerily joked. “I guess I’d better start scrambling those eggs.”
“Before they scramble our brains!” Pat crossed his eyes at his daughter.
“Too late!” She laughed, crossing her eyes back.
The thundering of small feet rounded the corner to reveal a distraught Ashley with a little sister barnacled to her left ankle, weighing her gait into a classic horror monster leg drag. Pat expected her to demand brains. Instead, she shrieked, “Moooommm!!!! She gave me a hickie!!!”
Pat could see little pink spots on the girl’s face, arms, and now leg.
“I should never have taken her to daycare before you moved in,” she chided as she found her younger daughter’s mouth, slid an errant bill firmly and slowly between the two, until the parasitic daughter successfully detached.
“It wasn’t daycare,” Ashley sneered. “It was Channel 9. We watched a show with grandpa on leeches.”
“How informative,” Cath looked at Pat with accusational daggers.
“You can also use salt,” Ashley informed. “But that’s not very nice for the leech.”
“Do we even have leeches around here?” Cath demanded.
“You never know,” he shrugged.
“Okay, you girls play quietly and I’ll turn cartoons,” she offered.
The two celebrated loudly for a moment until they hushed each other and ran into the living room.
“I tell ya…” she began but followed the two girls without finishing her thought
“I need coffee,” Pat said to himself and eased ahead to the other side of the sink to fill his pot.
Fors backed up and looked about the room. “Where is it the podlings ran off to? Is there a school of fish for Grandmother to train them on?”
“No,” Pat shook his head, remembering sad memories. “Did you know Beskee? She would have been pregnant, about 37 years ago,” he looked back towards the living room. “Another one of your kind?”
Fors shook his head. “There’s a lot of us and a lot of families, it’s hard to keep track of everyone.”
The explosion of animated shenanigans and swelling orchestras made it hard for Pat’s rough voice to be heard. He cleared his throat and tried speaking over the din. “Are there a lot…a lot of your kind that walk like this amongst us?” Pat asked, both terrified and intrigued by the possibilities.
“We can only do this with help,” he said, lowering his voice. “Help from people who exact extreme revenge if crossed. Payment can be steep.”
“What kind of payment?” Pat asked, not caring that the coffee pot was spilling over in the sink.
A knock at the door interrupted everything.
Duhhn duhhn duhhhnnnnn….
Tune in for Part II to find out the exciting conclusion….
National Novel Writing Month: write 50,000 words in 30 days.
I apologize for Sunday’s blog being a little late.
It’s Thanksgiving Day!
Many people take this time to gather family close, to be thankful for what we have.
In our busy lives, sometimes that’s hard to remember to take the time to do.
Dear Reader, I am thankful for you!
If you celebrate this day or not, you don’t have to be thankful only on this day, it can be a daily practice!
Experts do say the thankful mindset helps us live longer.
So in the name of both thankfulness, family, and new beginnings, let’s get to it.
Whether those be human or animal loved ones, snuggle close, grab a snack or a drink, and let’s lose ourselves in story.
Okay so where we left off.
If you haven’t read the first blog where I talk about building characters, you can find ithere, and the second one, about outlining and planning the story, ishere.
We have the story we want to tell, so how to begin it?
We’ve decided to tell this from the perspective of Grandfather. In the story, life is all about family, and for him it doesn’t change much until Orcaman appears – that is, within the time we’re wanting to tell this story. His backstory has significant changes, but it’s not his story we’re telling, it’s his daughter’s.
That could be a future story idea!! Always keep a look out for those ideas!!
Grandpa will also notice Orcaman behaving oddly, in a way that he knows only because Cath’s mother was a mermaid.
What action should we choose?
In Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid, she shows her “oddness” by combing her hair with a fork. (See also Dinglehopper)
If you’ve seen the movie Splash! (1984), they have a silly scene where Daryl Hannah’s character eats a lobster, shell and all, to the shock and offense of the upper crust dining around them. A link to watch the scene is here (sorry for the quality, it’s a video of a TV screen. I didn’t film it).
So let’s think of something new and funny to invent.
Maybe he offers to help with the dishes?
Oh! Maybe the sponge reminds him of a friend?
Orcas are usually seen around May through September. So maybe he gets left behind when the orcas go south for the winter, when he would normally see his sponge friend.
And maybe the family doesn’t realize sponges come from the sea? Grandfather would know, with his diving experience, and maybe his merfolk experience?
Keep in mind, this isn’t the only way to do it, and likely would be considered wrong by someone who prefers their own method.
And there’s alllllllll sorts of traditional methods that are THE way to do things… That is, until someone else does things a little different and we decide THAT’S a cool way to do it!
There is something about bending the rules, just a bit.
We’re all a little punk rock in our own way, right? ;c)P
Do what you want.
You have the wand (pen, keys, quill).
Work the magic how you want it!
This is going to take place in 1994, so no cellphones or Facebook or YouTube or TikTok.
To enrich your words when writing in a different time period, research what life was like then. If you don’t already remember, or even if you do, this can help you fill in the blanks and weave snippets of info into your story to really make your world feel authentic. This is a link for one site I found for 1994. Or there’s always Wikipedia here.
A few other notable things to potentially sprinkle throughout: Pagers, Barbara Walters, Shawshank Redemption, Apollo 13 (1995, but still), The Magic School Bus, Fresh Prince, Bill Hicks dies, 1994 Winter Olympics, first photo of Pluto from Hubble, the Channel Tunnel is finished between England and France, and a whole lot more…
No, that’s not a garage opener or ancient MP3 player.
In The Beginning…
Beginnings need to start with a bang, or something that gets the reader’s interest, and holds it. Which is so difficult these days with everyone’s 12 second attention span.
So if we’re taking this from the perspective of the Grandfather relaying his story to his grandkids, maybe they’re just getting out of school for Thanksgiving break.
We could start with:
Pat waited for his grandchildren.
Houston, we have a problem!
It starts a story, but it doesn’t make the reader feel anything.
Let’s try for something that evokes the senses of the reader, to make them feel like they’re part of the story.
The tempest of his grandchildren’s feet announced their presence before Ashley and Jessica’s excited voices reached Pat’s rusty eardrums.
To make this story mean more to the reader (unbeknownst to them), we’ll present the challenge or lesson that’s needed for the protagonist, Cath, to learn by the end of the story.
She will be overcoming her past, she will need to see things as they really are, and she will have to trust again. She will make the choice her father should have.
So let’s weave that in to the first paragraph.
The tempest of his grandchildren’s feet announced their presence before Ashley and Jessica’s voices excited about turkey and cranberry sauce reached Pat’s rusty eardrums. On their tails, Cath, their haggard mother, keys in mouth, dumped her armload of mail on the already heaped pile. As usual, she missed the coat hook, coat and purse landing with a thud. She stepped over these in her typical distracted shuffle, not noticing her father until she nearly bumped into him. The jangling between her lips and wide, surprised eyes reminded him of a Chinook salmon sporting a Grand Slam lure.
We get a sense that the mother is overwhelmed and distracted, as she doesn’t notice she missed the coat hook (there’s some redundancy with the word “coat”, but we’ll fix that in the editing phase, a future blog), and nearly runs into her dad. A little of the grandfather’s fishing background comes through his view of the scene. The little hint of the food is all we need to piece together it’s around Thanksgiving.
See how I weaved all these things together?
I also still have not named Orcaman. He will need to have a name.
Now that we have an idea for the story, maybe we can tie it all together with what we decide to call him?
He could have a simple name, like Bob.
But let’s try for something deeper in meaning.
What does he symbolize?
Let’s look back at my first blog post where we brainstormed ideas for his character.
Orcas are apex predators with complicated family structures and are highly social, comparable to elephants and certain primates. They live in matriarchal pods where the grandmother is the fiercest hunter, teaching her children and grandchildren where the best hunting grounds are. A type of dolphin, they can be seen playing with each other and other sea creatures, if not eating them. After age 15 or so, orcas begin mating, but females return to their Grandmother’s pod to give birth while the males return to their own grandmothers. Interestingly, female orcas go through menopause. Thinking human-wise, this gives me the impression of a man that has a strong familial bond, playful, and maybe wanders around, putting himself in dangerous situations for the adrenaline rush. VERY close to his mother and grandmother. We’ll give him black hair, he’ll always be running and jumping (enjoys basketball?), and a really silly sense of humor. They are called killer whales for a reason. Maybe he’ll beat the crap out of someone trying to mug the protagonist? Little details to keep in mind for later. Being a sea creature, he would not want to be kept inside a home. And maybe he lost one of his senses when he morphed to human? Eye sight? A lack of sense of smell could be humorous to exploit. Archetype: Explorer
We can also see here that both he and Grandfather have strong motivating factors via their family. And possibly some butting of heads with customs from his pod’s matriarchal-based values versus Grandfather’s more patriarchal upbringing.
So to compare, a society where (if they were capable of filming) they would likely have a movie called The Podmother, full of seal violence:
An aging matriarch as she passes control of the pod down to her daughter, focusing on the daughter’s transformation from reluctant outsider to ruthless pod boss.
Hmmm… I may need to write that story, too!
I tend to get sidetracked.
Back to this story.
We decided he’s from a society where they place importance on motherhood (or parenthood in general) and killing.
Ooooh maybe his name in his language means Brutal Guardian of The Mothers?
Kind of a Viking-ish name.
Well, maybe their society is similar to Vikings? Or at least our understanding of them.
Oooooohhh maybe there’s an ancient myth we can cite (or write!) that can explain a god punishing or rewarding a Viking for protecting a group of mothers…or maybe not protecting a bunch of mothers? Punishment!
It could be the tale Grandfather tells his children! It could be something like this:
Long, long ago, Frigg, the goddess of motherhood, watched over a special group of her children, mothers with hair of marbled black and white. These mothers were the sacred daughters of Skadi, a giantess and a goddess of the mountains, and Njord, a god of the sea. The daughters debated where to give birth, as being from both mountain and sea, no two daughters could agree. Frigg watched with concern, as she knew their time was growing desperate. They decided to make a compromise. A small island that barely classified as a beach bordered the two kingdoms of land and sea. Seeyal was a slick sea captain that promised to see the mothers safely to shore. Seeyal had a weakness for salmon, especially smoked with honey. What they did not know was that this was during a mighty feast that Aegir, a larger sea god, was throwing. The smell of the honeyed salmon wafted up as Seeyal crossed the sea with the mothers. Seeyal couldn’t stand it, promised the tide would carry them on until he returned, and dove overboard. Drunk on honied salmon, he joined a lively dance. His exuberance flamed the dancing party to cause such a ruckus, it spun the current into a whirlpool, waves taking over the ship, and sucked the mothers into the sea. Frigg had just enough time to change the mothers’ forms to half sea creatures before they drowned, forever trapping them between land and sea. The goddess was so distraught by the loss that she changed Seeyal’s form as well, to be eternally chased by the drowned mothers.
That could work!
Okay, but we still need a name.
I know, I know, I’m getting there!
Through a long process via Google Translate, I reduced the name in Norwegian down to Mother’s Defender: Mødres Forsvarer.
Let’s have his nickname be Fors.
Yay! We have a name!
Now I can begin the process of weaving all this together.
What will you weave?
Check in Sunday to see what I do next with the story!
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and if you don’t celebrate that, tell someone you love them.
National Novel Writing Month: write 50,000 words in 30 days.
I hear later today it’s supposed to get stormy, the perfect weather to hunker down and read!
So get yourself a nice cozy spot, a snack or drink, and let’s lose ourselves in story.
Okay so where we left off.
We have characters for our version of the Little Mermaid tale. If you haven’t read that blog yet, you can check it out here.
Today we will be tackling a few things, including outlining, but before we get to that, we should discuss The Villain.
(Cue dramatic music)
I didn’t go into detail about the antagonist yet, though they are potentially the second most important character.
Unless I already have a distinct vision for the “bad guy”, it can be fun to come up with the villain’s motivations during the outlining stage, that way we can use their actions to drive the story’s events.
In the original The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, the Sea Witch is given only a small part. She is described in manner and appearance as being “ugly”, the personification of all the things society (or the author) despised at the time.
In the middle of this clearing was a house built of the bones of shipwrecked men, and there sat the sea witch, letting a toad eat out of her mouth just as we might feed sugar to a little canary bird. She called the ugly fat water snakes her little chickabiddies, and let them crawl and sprawl about on her spongy bosom.
So, how can we play with this character idea and make it fun?
If we changed the mermaid to a male Orcaman, maybe we should change the sea witch as well?
First, what sense should Orcaman lose?
I know technically talking isn’t one of the 5 senses lol bear with me here.
What if, instead of losing the ability to speak, what if he loses his sense of taste?
You have no idea how horribly inconvenient that can be… especially if your love interest opens her own cake shop!
Oooohh!!! Potential plot device!
Okay, back to the sea witch.
If we’re taking taste away, how about the sea witch is very jealous about Orcaman’s taste-testing skills?
Maybe Orcaman gave the sea witch a bad review on their special house brew?
Yeah, mermaid coffee, that’s right!
The sea witch is a barista who brews something special, so strong it turns orcas into men! :c)P
And we could go the stereotypical route with the witch, either original example, the Disney’s Ursula (probably most everyone’s experience).
Or “The Other” that people use when they’re scared and don’t understand.
How about we make this sea witch the personification of all the jerks out there, the guys who cut you off in traffic, the Mr. ItMustBeAboveYourPayGrade in the line, the guy who blows up at every small inconvenience, the manipulator.
And we’ll name him: DaveChad.
He’s The Ultimate Jerk!®
He uses the magic of The Bad Mean (the negative energy of the world, opposite of The Good Happy) to convert his angry outbursts into scathing rays of destruction and powerful mind-bending manipulations.
And unfortunately, he makes the best cup of coffee under the sea.
Oooh! Opportunity!! Cath the Single Mom makes the best coffee on land!!
Okay, so now that we have our antagonist or villain and his motivation, let’s get to outlining.
The purpose of outlining is to get your story arranged ahead of time so that you can keep your plot organized and know what’s happening next.
A lot of people outline, many famous authors have complicated diagrams, flowsheets, tables, storyboards, and anything you can imagine.
And that’s just it, it’s anything you can imagine.
There is no right or wrong way to plan out your story.
Sometimes, I just like to write a short story of the plot and see where it takes me.
I guess I’m more of a “By-The-Seat-Of-Your-Pants” kinda writer or “pantser”, rather than a “Planner”. That’s just how my brain works.
If you’re more of a “Planner”, that’s awesome! Everyone is different.
I’ll show you a couple different ways, including a fun one that could be turned into a game, if you so desire!
The traditional outline method would be something like this:
SETTING: Undersea, creepy ocean-themed coffee shop, A Kelp of Coffee CHARACTERS: Orcaman and DaveChad PURPOSE: To show how desperate Orcaman is to get to the surface and how evil and manipulative Davechad is. Also, propel the plot forward. A. Orcaman saw Cath and fell in love. He will do anything to go topside. i. Orcaman enters A Kelp of Coffee where Davechad is known to help those in predicaments ii. “I need legs. You’re the only one who can help. I’m in love.” iii. “It will cost you. You will have poor taste and olfactory obfuscation. If she does not marry you in 1 month, you will work as my dishwasher, chained to the skink for eternity!” iv. Orcaman agrees to the terms, certain he can make this happen. B. Davechad brews the strongest cup he’s ever created, so strong it begins to eat at the metal cup, and offers it to Orcaman. He accepts the drink. i. He takes a sip. It’s so hot and so strong, not only does it burn, but it removes a layer from the surface of his mouth. ii. “Now I can’t taste anything!” iii. “You won’t be able to smell anything, either!” [cue evil laughter] iv. Orcaman runs out of the building.
So you could totally do that for every scene in your story.
Like I said, I’m more of a pantser and would be more drawn to just writing the thing out in story form.
You don’t have to be as detailed, either.
It could simply be:
Orcaman sees Cath and falls in love
Visits DaveChad and asks for legs. loses his taste and smell as payment.
Cath finds an unconscious Orcaman now with legs.
He has 1 month to get her to marry him.
There’s also the bubble diagram technique.
This works especially well in the brainstorming phase.
Very simple, just write the subject you’re planning and lines extending outward for each related thing.
My typical writing technique is to just simply purge and go with it.
I like to explore as I go.
You can always edit later.
Correction:You WILL be editing later, and it’s always easier to remove words than add them.
If you just get everything down, you can rearrange them in a way that works best for the story’s sake.
Here’s my version of discovering the story:
Orcaman, beloved undersea food critic, loves watching Cath as she sits in the mornings before work drinking her coffee as she wistfully stares off at the sea, and again in the evenings while she works the dining room. He overhears her say she’s trying to start her own cake business on the side (along with being a single mom raising two kids). She laments on how she wishes she had more help, although she appreciates her father helping in the capacity he is able, with his leg and all. In desperation, he turns to DaveChad, who gives him the legs he desires, but takes his taste and smell as payment. Orcaman somehow sustains a head injury while leaving, knocking him out. Cath finds an unconscious Orcaman (now with Legs™!) on the beach. She helps him up and takes him to the Black Fish Motel where she dresses him in the lost and found. He has amnesia. Or says he does? He’s really nice and sweet. Police don’t find any missing persons cases with his description, so they allow him to decide where he’d like to go, so he chooses to remain with Cath. He has 1 month to make her fall in love with him. Through his attentions and assistance, she begins to. Together, they get her cake shop closer to a reality. She is somewhat dismayed he can’t taste test her delights. DaveChad sees what is happening and really wants a dishwasher. He’s tired of cleaning his own dishes, he already has a cook. He can’t let Orcaman win! Meanwhile, Grandpa has his own backstory that now becomes relevant to this story. He has always told tales about his fishing days, of meeting a beautiful maiden of the sea, everyone had thought he was making the story up. One day, Grandpa notices how Orcaman does something (eats shellfish whole? uses a fork to comb his hair?) that makes him suspicious. He begins telling Orcaman all about his onetime love. This turns out to be DaveChad’s current cook, who is chained to the stove. Oooh and maybe she gave Orcaman something to take beforehand that allowed him to fight half the spell. He tells Grandpa his love still exists, she has been chained to her job all this time. Grandpa wishes he could free her, laments on how old he is and his bum knee sustained from the fishing accident that is somehow tied to the sea maiden. He tells Grandpa about the spell and his need to marry his daughter within the next couple weeks. Grandpa tells him that’s simply not possible, not because she would say no, but that she’s still waiting for her ex-husband to sign the divorce papers. Distraught, he does not know what to do, only that the only way to free himself and the old maiden is to break DaveChad’s powers. The villain had seen this coming and meanwhile had been writing letters “from Cath” to her ex, professing her returning love and wish for reconciliation. He shows up at her work (the opening of her cake shop) with flowers and a box of chocolates (the wrong kind, of course), and tells her his feelings are the same, he has returned to his family. What they don’t know is the ACTUAL ex read the letters, didn’t care, and went on with his life. DaveChad was so angered by the ex not following his plan, he made himself look like the ex and is merely playing the part to manipulate Cath and Orcaman. Nobody knows it’s him. Cath is angry that he showed up “out of nowhere”, but when he says, “it’s for the kids”, she softens, allowing his spells to work on her. She brings her ex into the house in a hypnotized state and explains he’s back in their lives. Orcaman is shocked and hurt, but then he sees the eyes of DaveChad staring back and knows it’s not Cath’s ex. He tries to explain, but she gets angry and kicks him out.
Alright! We have a story!
But we’re not done.
Who shall narrate the story? Whose thoughts and actions should we follow?
We can ponder this a while.
Now that we have all the events laid out, we can try the game option I mentioned earlier!
This involves index cards or pieces of paper. It could even be all those junk mail envelopes you’ve been meaning to throw out. Just something you can tear into pieces and write on.
I’ve listed the events out below in simpler format for me to readily see.
Orcaman watches Cath and falls in love
Orcaman seeks out DaveChad for help, he has 1 month
Cath finds unconscious Orcaman
They begin to fall in love
Grandpa’s Sea Maiden/Cook backstory
DaveChad contacts Ex
DaveChad disguises himself as the Ex
“Ex” shows up and Orcaman is kicked out
Okay so I’ve written these on little slips of paper and I’m going to shuffle them.
You can do this with any story or even just write generalized events, basically Mad Lib your way through a story! Might be fun! (Especially on days like today where the power might go out!) You could retell a story from the event you draw from the stack, or tell how the story would be different if that event had not occurred.
The first piece I draw will be the first scene to start off the story.
Drum roll, please…
And survey says….
We will begin the story with the Grandfather telling his tales of the sea, and of how he got his injury and no longer sails.
Also, maybe we’ll make the perspective be of the old man watching his daughter struggle, wishing he could help more.
He was a single dad himself when he raised Cath.
He probably didn’t like the ex, but maybe he did? Maybe he wished she would stay with the ex and doesn’t like Orcaman?
Ohhhh, maybe he’s afraid Cath will have a difficult life alone like he did and he wants to save her from the pain.
When the ex comes back into the picture, he thinks “Stability!”, only thinking of his daughter’s and grandkids’ best interests.
What will he do when he finds out the ex is really DaveChad?
Despite his voice telling the story, the Grandfather won’t be the hero/protagonist (of this story!), it will be his daughter. (Just because it’s a retelling of The Little Mermaid, doesn’t mean it needs to be from the Mermaid’s perspective.)
She will be overcoming her past, she will need to see things as they really are, and she will have to trust again. She will make the choice her father should have (I’ll figure out what exactly that is as I go along).
Those will be her main driving motivations (beyond caring for her children, that is of course a given).
There’s a lot of potential here!
I don’t have the ending quite planned out, but that’s fine, I can discover it as I go!
So tune in next week to find out how I assemble these pieces together and actually weave the story!
It had been a long time since we’d heard laughter.
A whispered joke or amusing memory was the best we usually got. Sorrowful sobbings, solemn silences, and lonely lamentations endured as the usual fare.
Two jovial guests frolicked in the green, giggles revitalizing the infinite monotony.
They snickered at the phallic nature of my neighbor’s name, one I found quite silly as well. I could hear his grumbles of feigned irritation, the typical response he had given in life, however we all knew he thought it just as funny. Our bellies chuckled along.
One guest wandered on; the other remained, brushed a leaf off my tombstone, and read my name aloud.
It had been a long time since anyone had visited me.
For just a moment, I felt alive again.
Warmth flowed through my fingers, breath eddied in my chest, my heart pumped life. Earthly needs and wants infused my consciousness, swiftly lacerated by fears and doubts. Oh, the Great Paradox.
I remember my last temporal thoughts: worries for my wife, our son’s presence in the room, vague awareness of his hand as it squeezed around mine. My wife’s unsteady voice carried my favorite song. I clutched onto her words when the darkness took my sight.
Even when detached, I hovered, holding onto her tone. It swaddled me like a warm blanket. She told me it was okay to let go. Her voice was so beautiful, I didn’t want to stray.
I heard people moving, shuffling. Chair legs rumbled across the floor that my hands had laid so long ago. Someone, our son I think, said my breathing had stopped. I beheld no need to take in air. No pain, no bodily complaints. I didn’t need to remain attached.
Releasing my hold, I drifted towards the ceiling.
The last thing I heard, my wife whisper, “I love you.”
My funeral was a dismal affair. One by one they all left. I waited alone with the dog.
It had been a long time since we’d heard laughter.
“I wish I knew his story,” the new guest now said and plucked a twig and another leaf from my tombstone.
It reminded me of my mother gently removing sticks and grass from my hair after playtime. I wished I could tell the guest of my childhood, how my mother baked the best pies, and her songs in the dark after supper, lulling us to sleep at the end of a hard day. I wished I could tell her of my reckless adolescence, the time I almost rode off a cliff, the secret rendezvous under the moon, hot breath and searching hands. I wanted to tell her about the day I became a husband, the day I became a father, and the wonder of grandfatherhood. I wished I could impart the lessons of a life lived fearlessly.
I could hear a visitor weeping softly a few rows down. The wind changed, replacing sound with scent, the same as my wife’s: flowers and honey.
It had been a long time since anyone had visited me.
My family moved on to another place, different obligations, work seemed so important. I ground away so hard, but in the end I wondered what I had sacrificed so hard for. I had missed laughter and memories with family. Regret pestered me like fat, lazy flies on a stifling summer day. I wanted to caution her, always choose love. I longed to prevent her from wishing, like I did.
They moved on and the feeling of life went with them, like headlights from a jalopy as it dissolved out of sight around a corner.
The guests commented on my neighbor’s brief span of years. She giggled as they tickled her with their respectful fingers, clearing tall weeds away.
We were alone again. I felt myself smile. It was a good day.
It had been a long time since we’d heard laughter.
It won’t be morning by the time you read this, as it will take time to write all this, edit it, and then publish it to the Web.
Which is perfect for today’s topic.
What is it?
National Novel Writing Month: write 50,000 words in 30 days.
November 1st is the call to begin writing on that thing you’ve always wanted, that story trapped in your head, whether it be a completely original idea or maybe a better ending to a story you already love.
You don’t have to sign up to participate. You just have to have a want to write.
I’m a little late (story of my life), being a week into November already, but that’s okay. That’s the thing about writing, people put a lot of unnecessary pressure upon themselves to write The Next Great Thing. We all hope to, trust me. (Although pressure can be helpful for those of us who live on the edge of deadlines lol!)
Write for yourself.
What’s something you would like to read?
You write better when you’re relaxed.
Without judgement, the words will flow.
I’ve decided to take you on a trip with me to explore NaNoWriMo and see how the process of story creation works. A behind the paper (or screen) glance if you will.
Grab yourself a snack or a drink, because we’re going on an adventure!
Okay, so here is the hardest part for most people
What do I write?
You have an endless expanse of possibilities at your fingertips, a million stories, a million movies, a million personal experiences. The sheer mass of possibility can be daunting. If you start from “I wanna write a blockbuster!” You’re not going to be happy with what you write. If your expectations are amongst those who have been doing this their entire lives and you’re just starting now, it’s not going to be that easy.
Experience is what you need.
How do I start?
Brainstorming, one of my favorite parts!
Let’s take something familiar most people should know.
The Little Mermaid.
You could go completely in-depth and investigate the hidden symbolism and infuse all sorts of easter egg double meanings. Or, you could just have fun with it.
Let’s have fun.
Undersea maiden with a killer voice longs for life above, saves a handsome prince, goes against her parent’s wishes and visits the sea witch to change herself to be with him.
The cost is her voice.
The prince is happy to have this beautiful mute woman, but longs for the singing maiden who saved him, not realizing the two women are the same.
The old version of the story has a sadder ending with the mermaid not wanting to destroy the prince’s happiness with his new bride and jumping to her death into the sea to become foam.
The Disney version of course is nicer with the characters working together to beat the sea witch and the mermaid’s dad gives her permission (and legs) to marry the man of her dreams.
So, how can we have fun with it?
Does this mermaid have to be half woman/half fish?
What if she was half of another sea creature? The Irish have mythologies of selkies, shapeshifting women that wear the pelts of seals (there’s of course more to it than that). What about a half otter? We could call her fuzzy britches! Half sea anemone? That might be interesting, but she would be rooted to the spot.
How about a half-orca mermaid? That might be fun to try since they exist in pods.
Okay, so a half-orca mermaid.
We could also flip it and have it a merman.
So instead of a prince, we could have a princess, or maybe even a working-class single mom, just trying to make ends meet? This will make it easier for the reader to relate, even for yourself. You’re not a prince/princess, are you? Chances are any potential readers won’t be either.
Let’s say she works at a hotel in the morning cleaning rooms and in the evening, a restaurant on a pier above the sea, she’s always staring wistfully through the dining room window out to sea.
What do they want?
Character motivation is key when developing your story. When you know what they wish for, long for, desire, you know what will motivate them, and what challenges to put in front of them to overcome.
So, single mom, working two jobs, trying to provide for her kids. She would be short on time and money, trying to balance actually seeing her kids with trying to earn enough to feed, clothe, and house them. No time to care for herself, possibly not even trying to date, but lonely. Maybe she’s also trying to go back to school?
Let’s say they have grandma or grandpa as a babysitter while mom works and/or goes to school. They could play the role of the Sage, providing wisdom and maybe even foreshadow stories of seeing orcas turning to people while aboard a fishing vessel.
For example, let’s say the Grandfather spent time aboard a fishing vessel until forced to retire from an injury. We’ll want to make everything related, so possibly an accident involving a pod of orcas.
Maybe the Grandfather found one caught in a net. Did he set it free? Did his actions or inaction result in crew members getting hurt? Is he still dealing with the guilt from this?
You can use this handy chart to figure out what motivates your characters.
We can also play with the sea monster/siren trope. Maybe he saw a beautiful Orca Maiden? Ooohh maybe her mom was an orcamaid? Now we’re starting to get a story.
Another good resource to play with are tropes.
Tropes are the storylines we’ve heard a million times and generally accept as typical. The typical princess, the typical Romeo and Juliette romance, the typical hero who takes an incredible amount of damage without succumbing. You can find a great resource for tropes here, I found a fun one to start with about mermaids.
Wait, stop! What’s going to happen?
Now, at this point I normally race to start writing the story, but then I struggle down the line with the plot.
What can be helpful is to if not completely outline, at least jot down what you want to happen in the story. (see next post, after I write it)
And remember, when writing a story, you need something to happen. A day-in-the-life pseudo documentary can be interesting if the subject matter is interesting. But most of the time, the reason why people read a story is enjoy following a character on a journey of some sort.
If nothing happens, the reader can feel cheated as if they wasted minutes of their life they will never get back, and that does include the writer as well.
You want to read something to enjoy it, so write something to enjoy it.
Before we get to that, I’d like to focus on the main point.
You don’t have a story without characters.
Even your setting can be a character, if the environment is trying to kill your protagonist (think a snow storm or earthquake). Your characters need to go through something that changes them or challenges them, which can be physically or mentally, often times both.
So far, we have Single Mom, Orcaman, Grandfather, and kids.
Let’s give them names.
If you know your time period you can Google popular names of that time. If you have a culture in mind, that will help, especially to add depth to your character. How about we make them Irish, a sort of also nod to the selkie?
I like using the 1990’s for pre-everything-on-the-internet age, so there can still be some mystery, in that the protagonist will have to seek out information. And not many cellphones.
Let’s say Single Mom is 36 years old and this will take place in 1994.
Single Mom would have been born in 1958. The top Irish names were Mary, Margaret, Catherine, Ann, and Elizabeth.
Let’s also keep in mind that Grandfather would have been approximately 23-25 years old when he had Single Mom. If we make him 24 at her birth, he would have been born 1934. Popular boys names would have been John, Patrick, James, Michael, and Thomas.
Okay here’s what I’ve got so far…
Single Mom: Catherine, goes by Cath, age 36 years. Has 2 kids aged 7 and 4 from a previous failed marriage. Works at the Black Fish Motel (opposite of Red Lion, see what I did there?) from 5 am to noon and at Briny’s Steak and Seafood from 5 pm to midnight. (like I said, she’s exhausted). Archetype: Hero
Grandpa: Patrick Michael Muirgen (means “born of the sea”), age 60 years. Retired from a life lived on a fishing boat. Cath’s mom left when Cath was a baby, so his mom Mary Elizabeth mostly raised Cath. Injured many years ago at sea, he’s been struggling with his wounds ever since. He tells tales of his time at sea, entertaining the children. Archetype: Sage
Orcaman: Orcas are apex predators with complicated family structures and are highly social, comparable to elephants and certain primates. They live in matriarchal pods where the grandmother is the fiercest hunter, teaching her children and grandchildren where the best hunting grounds are. A type of dolphin, they can be seen playing with each other and other sea creatures, if not eating them. After age 15 or so, orcas begin mating, but females return to their Grandmother’s pod to give birth while the males return to their own grandmothers. Interestingly, female orcas go through menopause. Thinking human-wise, this gives me the impression of a man that has a strong familial bond, playful, and maybe wanders around, putting himself in dangerous situations for the adrenaline rush. VERY close to his mother and grandmother. We’ll give him black hair, he’ll always be running and jumping (enjoys basketball?), and a really silly sense of humor. They are called killer whales for a reason. Maybe he’ll beat the crap out of someone trying to mug the protagonist? Little details to keep in mind for later. Being a sea creature, he would not want to be kept inside a home. And maybe he lost one of his senses when he morphed to human? Eye sight? A lack of sense of smell could be humorous to exploit. Archetype: Explorer
Children: They will likely have a lesser role in the story, but it’s good to get an idea of what they’re like to infuse realness. Ages 7 and 4, how about two girls to have that echo the matriarchal aspect of the orcas. And with how kids seem to be able to see through that veil with their imaginations, maybe they see him as he really is, an orca? Let’s give them the names of Ashley the 7 year old and Jessica the toddler. Archetype: Innocent
Now what characters will you come up with?
Next blog will be on outlining or my form of it, rather. We’ll explore different techniques, as everyone is different. Together, we’ll come up with ways to plan out the story we want to tell.
On this beautiful, Pacific Northwest rainy day, I am reminded of how nice it is to curl up with a good book. This morning I began to think over all the books I read as a child, those that transported me away from a dreary day to a magical land, where I could fight my problems with a sword, or use magic to change things I couldn’t in real life, or meet new friends that lived inside a closet, rather than traveling via car to see my friends.
I decided to compile a list of my favorite books that inspired me growing up to pursue writing my own stories.
Catherine Called Birdie
Scholastic book fairs were one of the highlights of my childhood. I remember getting that little order booklet, seeing all the new books I could potentially delve into and explore! My mom gave me a monetary limit (believe me, I needed it!) and I chose what I wanted with what we had to spare. One such book fair, I had just read The Diary of Ann Frank and was interested in other diary books (it was fascinating to delve inside the mind of someone else!) and came across Catherine Called Birdie. It’s a fictional story in the point of view of a 14 year old girl in feudal Europe whose father has all these plans for suitors. She wants to have fun playing with the peasant children, but she’s forced instead to learn needlepoint and boring ladylike things. She comes up with ingenious plans to discourage suitors and get out of role requirements. As a tomboy, I ate this up.
Nancy Drew Files series
I got into the updated Nancy Drew Files that were written in the 80’s and 90’s, rather than the original yellow hardbacks my mom and aunt used to read. My friend Holly and I used to pretend we were Nancy Drew and George, her sidekick friend. We also decided to make our own detective names by taking our middle names and making up last names. I had found an old leather coat in the closet that looked sleuthy, just the perfect combination of hip and sophisticated I imagined Nancy Drew herself would wear. We solved crimes incognito and always saved the day.
Journey of the Sparrows
From as far back as I can remember, I have loved to go to the bookstore. Any bookstore. You could leave me there for hours, and I would still be wanting more time. I remember my parents taking me and the smell of all the books letting me know all the potential stories I might uncover. I wanted to read them all. One particular book, Journey of the Sparrows, caught my eye with the bright colors and pretty smiling lady on the front, along with a pretty bird with a long tail. I hadn’t heard of the country El Salvador, except brief world geography mentions. I had no idea how much this book would come to teach me. The story involves a group of siblings that their mother used all of their money to send them via coyotes (men that smuggle humans) away from the brutal civil war that was killing so many. These coyotes hid the children and others in crates piled in the back of a truck, with crates of chickens over the top to hide them. Their journey was dangerous, they face illness, brutality, starvation, and had to constantly be on the lookout. This book humanized what countless people go through each day and opened my eyes to what others have to do to survive.
The Song of The Lioness Quartet
This is one of the most inspiring series’ I have ever read. It follows a set of twins, a girl, Alanna, and her brother, Alan, who have destinies already planned by their father. Alanna is to go to the convent to study magic and become “the perfect wife” someday. Alan is to become a page and study under a knight and one day fight with swords. The only problem is that neither of them want these things. Alanna would rather learn to fight and become a great knight someday, and she is afraid of her magic. Alan would rather study at the convent and learn to use his magical abilities. Alanna comes up with a plan to switch identities, she cuts her hair, and they trade places. She has to pretend to be a boy, and hide who she is. The author talks about so much real life stuff, I had never read anything like that before. As the story progresses, you watch Alanna grow up into a powerful woman, something that inspires me to strive for even today.
Dealing with Dragons
This book changed my life. Every trope you can think of in fantasy about how a princess should behave, the author does exactly the opposite. Her universe she builds had an incredibly fun set of rules based in fairy tales and is so cleaver at weaving them together. The characters are rich and feel so real. I loved the play on the fairy godmothers and how princes don’t know how to act if princesses refuse their offers of rescue. Such a wonderful series as well.
My Side of the Mountain
I love stories of survival, human against all odds, persevering, relying on their environment around them to live. My Side of the Mountain is a beautiful story of a boy who gets fed up living in a crowded apartment in New York City and runs away to live in the woods. He wanders into town to do research in the library of how to survive, and on a cold and rainy night an old man in a pickup truck happens by and shows him how to spark a flint and steel to build a fire. The book contains sketches as if you’re reading his journal. I would replicate this so much, pretend to be living in the wilderness and use a little notepad to document my “inventions” for survival. He raises a falcon from the egg and I so desperately wanted an animal companion like his.
The Spirit Ring
In middle school, I remember seeing The Spirit Ring on the shelf and marveling at the large, black tome with a scary looking gold ring. What’s funny is I had heard people talking about Lord of the Rings, and I actually thought this was related. Once I started reading, I found it definitely was not, but drew me in nonetheless. It takes place in an alternate timeline in the Italian Renaissance, involving sorcery and magic. The main character’s father is an artist that creates gorgeous statues, and an evil man hires him. The man turns out to be cruel and evil, trapping her father in a ring. She goes on a journey and it’s up to her to save her dad.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
This series brought about so many imaginings and inspired so many of my stories. I remember pretending I knew where the Narnia portals would appear, combining it with Sliders, and traveling to different parts of Narnia, meeting different creatures, and swimming with the mermaids. Mr. Tumnus and I would have coffee instead of tea and we would fight the evil queen’s henchmen. A loose brick behind the fireplace was the perfect place to hide secret notes for the allied against the queen.
I remember reading this book after my dad had, a gift from his cousin Linda I think. It involves a reluctant messiah who travels from town to town in a small aircraft, giving plane rides to people and helping them solve their problems. The narrator of the book is a man that meets this pilot and learns how to manipulate reality around him. The pilot showed that reality changes once you start paying attention and realize you really can change things.
Johnathan Livingston Seagull
I don’t know how many times my parents read this book to me before I learned how to read it myself. It’s from the perspective of a seagull and his daily life. This book made me realize every living creature could have its own mind like Johnathan Livingston Seagull. Also the same author as Illusions.
Calvin and Hobbes
Even though it’s not a novel, Calvin and Hobbes inspired me so much. Calvin’s imagination along with his stuffed tiger that was real only in Calvin’s eyes felt so much like how I perceived the world. I imagined the school bus was a prison bus and I was being sent to work in a labor camp, performing sweatshop duties. I imagined every day how I could escape the evil wardens and run to my freedom back to the Allied Forces that I spied for. The blackberry bush out back was a giant squid octopus with razor sharp tentacles and I had to defeat it with my laser sword (what appeared to be a stick in other’s eyes). My parents were secret agents with made up identities, that’s why my dad went on business trips, and my mom had to maintain an appearance of normalcy. I had endless imaginings.
Romancing the Stone
This movie was so important to me. The adventures in the jungle, the danger of being pursued by thieves and murderers, the romance of the man trying to save her but she ends up saving herself, following a treasure map, all of it. I would draw endless treasure maps that folded to show clues. I would pretend to swing on vines away from the bad guy just in time (using my awesome giant swing my dad made with cables far up in trees). I had to dig up the treasure before the villains found it first. And the story being from the perspective of a romance novelist, well, there ya go!
I hope you enjoyed my musings on what has motivated me and been the fundamental ingredients for my imagination. Thanks for following!
-1- balanced and watched its owner’s progress on BuilderZ, oblivious to what was about to happen. Mira knew she risked serious bodily harm, but she had no choice. She sat on her gaming chair cross-legged in her blue cutoff jumpsuit, and slowly reached towards the drone that perched quietly atop her short, pink hair. Moving too quickly would scare it and the service bot next to her and there wasn’t enough time to chase a frantic bot around the apartment.
“Gotchya,” she muttered, grasping its propeller before it could spin.
-1- beeped in alarm, not used to its owner’s touch being so firm. It could only mean one thing.
The drone’s circuits deduced the proper equations and alerted -0- of their impending doom. -0-’s periscope head rose to full height and it began tracking towards the bunker in her room whining, “Howdy? Howdy!” all the way.
“Oh, no you don’t,” she said, getting up and sliding the bar to lock its tracks from moving further across the cement floor. “That’s what we need to have looked at, Little Geek. Your chip shouldn’t be making that noise.”
“Howdy! Howdy!” it complained.
“Exactly,” she muttered as she held -1- from fleeing and snapped the rubber band over the propeller blades.
The drone beeped in sad confusion.
“I’m not hurting you,” she replied to the bot’s pitiful cries. “You’re due for updates and maybe an oil change.”
-1- went limp, its access doors hung open, landing gear mocking death.
“You’re okay, silly!” Mira rolled her grey eyes. “You guys act like I leave you outside with discharged batteries. Not everyone lets their bots inside, on the bed,” she lectured.
Mira walked to her closet and retrieved the bot transport crate. At its appearance, both robots began alarming like the world was ending more than it already was. She placed them inside, making sure they stayed upright on the old blanket, and locked the door that took her fingerprint to open.
Transport had arrived. She checked the time on her headset display, 1345, just enough time. Mira clipped on her bag, grabbed an extra air cylinder, then saved her bot’s certs in an easy-to-access file on her headset’s home screen. She had enough BuilderZ points saved up to afford the expensive ride, only certain transports would go to that part of town. It seemed to get more expensive the rougher it got.
She slipped on her Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, or SCBA-mini, the canned air that kept her alive in Earth’s oxygen-poor atmosphere.
The bot carrier felt heavier. Mira turned to see -0- had grappled onto her gaming chair, causing her to drag it halfway across the room.
“Hey! Let go! Bad bot! Bad bot!” she chastised, tapping on it’s mechanical arm.
“Howdy?” -0- asked, releasing its grip, and retracted its arm back through the crate’s bars.
She pushed the chair back to its spot, then walked out her door.
Transport sat ready, a standard hovervan that smelled like cheap aftershave and cigar smoke. The bulletproof partition smeared with lipstick separated her and her bots from the driver, a man resembling Marlon Brando.
“What’s a girl like you doin’ goin’ to this part of town?” he asked, cigar dipping with each vowel.
“My bots need servicing,” she said, and held up the cage for the driver to view.
“Howdy! Howdy!” -0- whined.
-1- echoed its despair.
“I hear that!” The driver laughed like a hacksaw, ending in a cough that deprived him of a lung or two.
The town smeared by, descending from energy efficient domes to ancient, crumbling boxes. Within the deepest concrete, they finally stopped. The closest the transport would venture left her with a two-block walk. As the door opened, she was greeted with the stench of the waste treatment plant. Quickly, she donned the SCBA-mini and breathed the canned air. The points automatically deducted as the transport drove away.
Hurrying to avoid any trouble, she glanced at the street they needed to cross. The split second she turned her attention, a mumble jumper took advantage and landed in front of her.
Startled, she jolted back.
The man’s nearly bleached white eyes stared at her. “Gimmmeyerrrbotsssss…” he mumbled, jumping about from foot to foot. He must have had an eyeful of optic not long before, the conducive gel ran from the corners of his eyes.
“No!” she shrieked, instinctively putting herself in front of them. “They’re broken anyways, you wouldn’t want them,” she said, trying to remain calm.
“Howdy! Howdy!” -0- cried.
Optic really messed with peoples’ heads, and this mumble jumper was over stimmed. His nervous system had been hit with repeated jolts via the optic nerves, emitted from a special optical scanner popular on the black market. They took a lot of juice to power.
“Gimmme your botsss er I’ll take yer airrr,” He smacked an aluminum bat against his hand.
Frag. Mira couldn’t let her friends get chopped up just so some bleach-eyes could get stimmed. “Don’t hurt me,” she said clearly, hoping someone was close enough to hear her through the mask. Maybe she could distract him somehow and run away. She looked around. Frag. Was this the only deserted block in the city?
The mumble jumper swung his bat at her mask. Mira arched back, not quite in time, and felt the concussion as metal connected to metal, throwing her head to the right. She sensed time slow, frame by frame. The man loomed above her laying in the street, Godzilla in her view, and reached for her friends. She needed to stop him, but everything was spinning and ringing. She reached up, fingers curling futilely around the bars of their cage, and felt it ripped from her grasp. Her friends were being taken and there was nothing she could do about it.
“Stop,” her breath came in, along with grit and the odor of fermenting sewage. She choked, realizing too late she was breathing toxic air. Her lungs heaved the useless gas about, struggling to find something to convert. Scorched ozone coated her tongue and throat. She gagged, her body’s reflex in case of an obstacle restricting oxygen flow.
Her sluggish brain registered the spare tank in her bag. She ripped her zipper open, clawing at the smooth cylinder and the ruptured tank attached to her face. The force from the bat had knocked the threads tight. Finally, it spun loose. She twisted the fresh cylinder in its place. Sweet, fresh air filled her mouth and lungs, and she drew it in as a lover to a waiting embrace.
Mira’s thoughts cleared with the fresh O2. She looked up to see the thief escaping with her friends. He turned down an alley and disappeared.
She staggered to her feet and struggled after him. The alley was dark and dirty. She told herself not to follow, but ran into the darkness anyway.
Mira heard a zap, a scream, and a crash. Bleach-eyes rocked in fetal position, holding his bat hand. The weapon laid next to him; a scorched lightning bolt melted into the aluminum, each end showing charred points of contact. The bot carrier caved in where he’d tried to use the bat. Inside, she heard an angry “Howdy!! Howdy!!” She knelt to see -1- laying on its side, edge rumpled in damage, sparks bleeding life.
“No!” Mira screamed and scooped the carrier up. She wasn’t far from the office! Could she make it in time? She sprinted towards the light of the alley entrance.
Now suddenly, people were about. Where were you minutes ago? She pinballed through the crowd, ignoring the plinks of mini cylinders against her shoulders to save her friends.
“Howdy! Howdy!” -0- called in encouragement.
There, Dr. Fix-It. The sign announced it was pressurized and she gladly removed her mask as she hurried inside. She ran to the receptionist, a well-manicured man about Mira’s age. His hazel glassy eyes regarded Mira with complacency.
“Hello,” his monotone voice sounded as if he were reading from a script. “And welcome to Dr. Fix-It, what is It we can Fix today?”
“My bots,” she held up the carrier. “This one was attacked on the way here, has sparking damage to the starboard side, this one has a malfunctioning chip, says howdy,” she spouted, words struggling to free themselves before the next tumbled loose.
He looked disinterestedly at the bots and shrugged. “Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes!” she nodded frantically, voice becoming high-pitched and desperate. “Mira Pushevnik, these are -0- and -1-, appointment at 1415!”
The receptionist checked the screen. “You’re late,” he said. “It’s 1416.”
She looked at him dumbfounded. “Look! -1- is injured! We were attacked just outside and I had to save them! I’m lucky to have them alive…”
He rolled his eyes and clicked the button on the headset. “Yeah, they’re late,” she heard him say.
She peered at -1- and hoped it wouldn’t take too long.
“Okay, they’ll see you,” he admitted. “Please fill out these forms and they’ll call you from the door over there,” and pointed behind him.
She nodded and accepted the clipboard. She was baffled. In a world of headsets and electronic everything, paperwork still existed at the doctor’s office.
Mira sat down between a balding man with a mal-computing catculator and a perfectly manicured woman with a shopping droid.
The forms were 47 pages thick, double-sided. How could she fill this out in time?
She started with the easy things. Names, dates of manufacture, time of last service, credential numbers. Brand. She struggled. Mixedbrand? She circled that. Staticorreplication? Static as far as she was aware. In the last 6 years she hadn’t seen them go into replication mode.
The shopping droid booped sadly and leaked hydraulic fluid in a puddle on the floor. The middle-aged woman complained loudly and shoved the droid’s input sensors into the puddle. “Bad droid! Bad!”
Mira wanted to tell the woman that’s not the proper way to program a droid when the catculator began spewing bundles of code on the floor. It proceeded to polish it’s outer casing as if nothing happened.
The catculator’s owner turned to Mira and said, “Such poor design. They sure enjoy simple equations, though,” he bragged, tossing a 3+8 and watched it return 11 with loud merriment. “My grandfather had one when he was a lad,” the man commented with pride.
The woman noticed the catculator getting all the attention. “My shopping droid is top of the line! Truckwalkoo’s signature line!” She could not have stuck her nose further into the air unless it had somehow decided to take flight from her face.
“If it’s so ‘top of the line’, why are you here then?” the man asked, caressing his catculator’s sensor cover.
The woman made an irritable noise. “It’s having some real issues,” she bemoaned. “First, it bought 400 enemas! I don’t need that many! Then when I asked for it to pick up my ‘happy pills’, it dumped an entire pallet, cracking my marble floor! I mean, what’s the use of having this pile of crap if it’s going to cause me even more problems?” She raised a heeled shoe to kick the defenseless droid.
The poor thing cowered away from the woman and leaked another puddle of fluid.
“Ewww!! And it does this crap!” the woman shrieked and kicked the outer casing, leaving a dent.
“Don’t hurt it!” Mira yelled, putting herself between the shopping droid and its abusive owner. “It doesn’t know any better! It sounds like it’s just trying to help! You need to program it!”
“Well why the frag would I be here otherwise?” the woman retorted in a nasty tone. “Don’t tell me what to do with my own property!” She stood up, heels giving her an extra foot over Mira’s 5’4”, and shoved Mira to the dirty floor.
“Howdy!” -0- rattled the crate.
“Reginald?” a woman dressed in scrubs stood at the door to the repair bays. “And Mathcat?”
“That’s us!” the man with the Catculator said and stood up. “Lemme just get rid of this here,” he said and scooped up the codebundle, depositing it in the wastebasket as he passed.
Mira felt terrible for the shopping droid as she watched the angry woman in heels kick the poor thing across to another seating area. She might report the woman, but stuff like that seemed to be low priority. So many people swarming to the high ground of Colorado had the police overwhelmed.
The paperwork had fallen off her chair, a corner landing in the puddle. Mira cringed, hoping the droid didn’t have any bugs, and dabbed at the soaked pages with tissues. Some ink had run, erasing all the lines of her name and address. After it dried, she’d have to re-write it.
“Mira?” the same woman in scrubs called.
Mira picked up the bent cage with her bots and walked towards the back office, passing the woman with the droid, who crossed her arms and refused to look in Mira’s direction.
Mira passed repair bay doors and could hear saws, pumps, pneumatic drills, and what sounded like an old tv laugh track on repeat.
“Hi Mira, I’m Lexa, Doc Frackle’s assistant. We’ll be in this room, here,” she said and opened door NE13. An exam bench laid waiting with a fresh towel and cover fastener removal tools.
Lexa had Mira place her bots on the towel, keeping restraints in place, although -1-’s wasn’t necessary.
“This one, -0-, has a chip issue, repeats ‘Howdy’ all the time,” Mira explained. “And -1- was attacked on the way here, hit by a metal baseball bat,” Mira bit her lower lip to keep from crying. Not right now, she told her tears.
The assistant nodded. “Let me just do a pressure check on the little guy here and see what systems are damaged,” she said, and turned to access the hose fitting inside -1-’s trapdoors. “I’ve seen worse that ended up being fully repairable.” Lexa connected the hose, hit a button and watched numbers on a display projected by her headset. “Okay you see here?” she pointed to the screen. “These low readings show damage to just the outer casing, no internal damage.” She smiled at Mira. “Next, we’ll do an electronics check. Could you hold the doors open here so I can attach the leads?”
Mira held -1- open while the woman attached a red wire to the red side of the battery and a black wire to an exposed part of -1-’s frame.
“Okay go ahead and let go, otherwise it’ll pick up the electricity your body produces and give us a false reading,” the woman instructed politely.
Mira stood back and watched the numbers climb to 6v then start ticking backwards to 3v.
The woman used a thin length of bare metal to probe at different circuits. One flashed and what remaining lights had been on now flickered off.
“Oh yup, we’ve got a leaker,” the woman said and disconnected the wires. “Probably needs a new battery, some soldering, maybe replace some of the damaged wiring. Nothing too bad, though. I’ll have the Doc check to make sure. And this guy,” she said and turned to -0-. “The only thing was the word repetition?”
Lexa opened -0-’s service bays and stuck her finger into the chip port.
“Howdy!! Howdy!!” -0- exclaimed in alarm.
“There doesn’t seem to be any debris or leaking oil here, sometimes that can cause it,” the assistant said distantly as she focused on what touch told her. “Huh. Did you know there’s an extra chip port? It’s not often a bot requires more than one chip.”
Mira was surprised to hear that.
“And wait, there is something here…” Lexa struggled, then pulled an object free. She held up a small rock. “I wonder if that’s what-” she began.
An image projected from -0- onto the bay wall showed the face of a creature resembling a crab or lobster, except its eyes held a level of intelligence that signaled Mira’s uncanny valley, millions of years of evolution screaming to avoid that diseased human.
The crab creature clicked and chirped like two marbles grinding on each other. The image changed to that of a technicolor cowboy, “Howdy!” the image said in grainy audio, the same sound -0- made in alarm or excitement. The screen flashed again to show another tv program, a woman sitting with a steaming cup, “You know what really gets me?” It blinked again to a newscaster sitting at a desk, staring in dread. “…the lies we are being told, about what happened. We are all in danger…” The screen flashed to a movie clip. A woman in a red dress and red hair giggled at the screen. “I tried to tell you, to tell them, but nobody listened! I know they messed up, but did you ask why? Maybe there’s a reason you don’t, you can’t understand. That reason is how it makes them feel.” Several clips from apocalypse movies showed the Earth exploding in different ways. The screen disappeared.
Mira and Lexa stared at each other in shock.
The door opened and the Doc walked in. “Okay, two broken bots?” he asked, a smile on his face.
Lexa broke first and said, “Nothing crazy. The little guy probably needs a new battery, some soldering, maybe replace some of the damaged wiring. Nothing too bad, though,” she repeated herself. “The other one just had a foreign body,” she said and held up the rock. Why was she hiding the weird message?
The Doc nodded. “I’m Dr. Frakle, I’ll just do the official looksy,” he said and prodded at -1-’s open circuits. “Yeah, use codes Contact with Blunt Object, Undetermined Intent, and Unspecified Open Wound of Other Part of Head, initial encounter.” He turned to -0-. “Let’s just do a little scansy,” he said and gently plugged the scanner into the service bot. The screen projected showing -0-’s properties and manufacture info. The doc paused at the listed chip and extra, unused slot. “Oh wow, that’s not good,” he mumbled.
“What’s wrong?” Mira asked in concern.
“Your bot has parts that The Coalition has deemed ‘hazardous’,” he explained. “I’m sorry, but this bot has to be put down, it’s too dangerous for me to let you leave with it.”
Mira cried out in anguish. “What?! It’s a service bot! It wouldn’t harm a soul!”
“Looks like it had a massive electrical discharge not long ago, imagine if that had been you?” The Doc counseled.
“The mumble jumper who did this did that to -1- did the same to my air tank, and -0- saved us with that shock!” Mira cried out.
Doc Frackle gave Mira a look of frank disbelief.
“We can give you a moment to say goodbye,” the assistant said, gently pushing the Doc out of the room.
Doc Frackle smiled in sympathy and said, “I know it’s tough, but it’s really for the best.”
Mira cradled her bots to her. “I can’t let you hurt them,” Mira cried at the assistant.
Lexa hugged Mira and whispered in her ear, “I can sneak you out. When I tell you, run,” she urged. She straightened up and said loudly, “Yes, we have a restroom, let me show you,” she said and helped her carefully place her bots in the carrier.
The assistant peered down the hall, motioned for Mira, then led them to the door for the restroom. “Your name and address are missing from your forms, so that’s good. I can also make sure the info is wrong in the database. I’ll distract everyone so you can escape out the service door in the restroom” she said in a hurried hushed tone.
“Why are you helping me?” Mira asked in disbelief.
Lexa smiled. “You stood up to Mrs. Saltich! I hate that lady! She doesn’t deserve to have shopping droids or bots of any kind in her service! She’s way up there in CyoCom, so our thousands of complaints have registered on selective ears,” she said in frustration. “You take care of your bots and get out of here. Don’t worry about what Doc Wackadoodle says, he’s paid by CyoCom to deliver these kinds of bots to them. I guess they pick up on signals The Coalition doesn’t want us to know about,” she said and hugged Mira. Lexa pressed a fob into her hand. “Use my transit privileges, I’ll get a new one next week.”
Lexa turned, opened door NE9 and proclaimed loudly, “Who’s stretched hoverzine was parked out front? I think a refuse machine just ran into it!”
A crowd of people including the Doc and Mrs. Saltich ran towards the front.
“Run!” Lexa urged Mira and began unplugging the surveillance system.
Mira nodded her thanks then scurried through the service door with her bots into the alley way outside. She donned her SCBA-mini and hurried in the opposite direction towards the transit station. Hugging her case close, she kept hypervigilant this time.
The station sat dim and gloomy, other transit users strolled and collected in small silhouettes, waiting for the next departure. Billboards recruiting new coworkers for Mira offered positions with CyoCom to repair what was left of the moon. Work on Monday was the last thing she wanted to think about now.
The transit arrived, exhaust air blowing clouds of dust into everyone’s masks. As the air ride relaxed, its accordion skirt pooched out on all sides.
Mira followed the line and picked her way to a seat in the middle, away from everyone else. She held up the cage to inspect -1-. Its lights flickered on and off. Mira felt a pit of despair within her gut. If she hadn’t insisted on taking her bots in, -1- wouldn’t be in the state it was in. And what was that weird message earlier? Mira wondered if she could even repair -1-. She had rebuilt it from wreckage but didn’t know if she had the right parts in her junk drawer now.
The transport alerted her stop was next. Mira gathered her things and stood to exit as quickly as possible before the auto doors closed. She nearly sprinted home to the egg-shaped apartment building she called “The Orphanage”.
Once inside, she carefully removed her bots, undoing their safety locks, and tore through her junk drawer for extra parts. She laid everything out on her towel-covered kitchen island and set about repairing -1-. Using everything she had, she made do with what she didn’t, and clicked in the battery. Nothing happened. -1-’s lights remained off. Mira sighed in frustration. This was beyond her skill.
“Howdy! Howdy!” -0- begged to be picked up.
“Not now, Little Geek,” Mira waved it away. “I’m trying to save -1-.”
“Howdy!! Howdy!!” -0- insisted and began driving up her leg.
“Hey! Okay, fine! Hold on,” she said and put down her screwdriver to pick the service bot up.
Instead of parking on her lap, it climbed onto the island and examined -1-’s open hatch. -0- stuck out one of its Swiss army appendages and connected. Bolts of electricity shot out of -0- and into one, zapping loudly.
“Hey! What-” Mira stood up as -1-’s lights flashed on.
-1- retracted its limp landing gear, closed its access doors, and spun up to eye level with Mira. It beeped with happy little chirps.
“You’re okay!” she cried out with glee. “I’m so glad you’re okay! Good job, -0-!” she congratulated the bot with a caress.
-1- landed on her head.
“I’m sorry, Little Geeks. I won’t take you there ever again!”
“Howdy! Howdy!” -0- agreed.
Mira said, patting -0-, “Someday we’ll figure out what that message meant…”
Mira knew she was in trouble the second the “New Message” icon appeared. Only official messages were sent in this manner. “Frag!” she swore. Mira’s holo-plaid nail hovered over the button. 225,000 miles away, her Remote Control Vehicle paused, cement hose in grapple, and awaiting further commands. The other RCVs blew liquid cement into forms, rebuilding the moon’s mass. She took a breath and pressed. The icon grew into the 3D text of “Work Status Message”. “Dear [Mira], CyoCom is grateful to our dedicated employees for doing what’s possible, remotely. You have been chosen for an on-site Lunar Restoration Project. You will be given departure details in a separate message. Please congratulate yourself on your contribution to CyoCom, and to humanity.” A garbled list of lawyer babble sped over the screen until it vanished. Mira was stunned. She had been selected. She had dreamed of going to space and this was her chance. Why then, did she have such a bad feeling? Before she could consider further, the general alarm sounded. “INCOMING GEOLOGICAL EVENT” played across her screen in red. “Frag,” she swore again, holstered the controller, and climbed out of her uncomfortable work chair. Her 25-year-old back ached from the increasing gravity, but she had no time to focus on that. She dashed to pull the shutters, choking off the orange light from outside. The alarms frightened her robots, both rescues. -1- a drone scavenged from wreckage, hovered up at the ceiling and chirped anxious beeps. Its patchwork body rocked like an unstable top. -0-, a rectangular-bodied service bot’s tracks clicked on the bare cement floor. Its malfunctioning chip repeated “Howdy!” as it whirred around her. The floor rumbled. “Seek shelter!” she commanded her nervous bots. Objects vibrated off perches as she crawled towards her closet bunker. Each room in the egg-shaped building (The Orphanage, as she called it), came with an escape bunker, a CyoCom company perk. She pushed herself to safety through its doors. -1- scraped around the corner and dove into the closet, -0- right after. She slammed the doors closed and curled up on the floor with her bots until it was over. The shaking subsided enough for Mira to sit up and project her screen. The transport would pick her up at 0300, sunup, now that Earth spun so fast. CyoCom kept with the 24-hour clock, despite the 6-hour solar daytime, making a “day” out of nearly two. She rehydrated food that never looked like the package and projected the cockpit of her favorite game. She initiated the liftoff sequence and brown gave way to black. Atop her short, pink hair, the headset read her body language and the movement of her grey eyes to control the ship. Once close to an asteroid, she held the button to charge lasers. When the gauge’s needle was a millimeter from the red zone, she let go. Mira altered the laser beam, lassoed the spinning rock, countering the rotation. Powering the coils to keep pressure, she towed it back. Her points chimed up, extra for precision, difficulty level, and beating the last player’s record (herself). With these, she could afford the new gaming chair that mimicked 0 Gs. Level 3478 began. She fell asleep in an old blanket, surrounded by bots. She awoke to the sound of an alarmed -1-. Visitor, its beeps indicated. Visitor? Who could possibly be visiting at 0300? The transport! Mira bolted upright, barely registering the tremors had stopped. She’d missed sunup in the darkness of the bunker. -0- hummed loudly, having been overturned. “Howdy! Howdy!” It used one of its hidden swiss-army appendages to right itself. Mira felt the crunch of broken debris underfoot and looked down at her cutoff jumpsuit in dismay. There was no time to change. Hastily, she grabbed a sheer overdress. She glanced at the security scanner at the left of the door. No weapons. She opened the door. “Mira Pushevnik?” the man asked. “Transport to the Training Center.” Through the forcescreen she could see the official double swoop of the CyoCom logo on his mask and jacket. -0- activated its vacuum attachment and inhaled rubble as it greeted everything like a cowboy. -1- landed on her shoulder. “No drones or service bots permitted,” the driver shouted over the noise. “They’ve had their updates! No viruses or malware! I have their certs right here!” Mira said in a wobbly voice. He shook his head sternly. “Not permitted.” Her heart thudded and she watched herself from afar. “Stay,” she commanded her robots, holding back waves of sorrow. -1- sadly complied and flew off somewhere behind her. “Let me grab my stuff,” she mumbled and clipped her bag on. Mira donned her SCBA-mini and stepped into the oxygen-poor atmosphere. She inhaled canned air tinged with the sour everything-icide from the mask. As she gulped, she drank in her surroundings. The gritty sky was tinged sepia like old photographs. The ocean, rising a little more each year, stretched to the horizon, only interrupted by the mountain top islands of the Rockies. Mira climbed into the transport and knew -0- and -1- were scanning her from inside. “I’ll be back,” she whispered. The transport rose and headed northwest while she watched the domed top of The Orphanage recede into the background. She closed her eyes and ignored the two silent tears. Arriving at the CyoCom Training Center, they touched down at the foot of a staircase. The driver opened the door, revealing a pretentious pair staring at her from the top. She unsteadily picked her way up, heavy with gravity. The woman dressed in a lab coat, smart brown bun, and square glasses, clasped her hands together tightly, as if they might try to escape while she wasn’t looking. Her hazel eyes regarded Mira with a look she guessed lab rats would be accustomed. The short, pudgy man spoke up. “My name is Hector Kukk, attorney for CyoCom,” he said, voice muffled by mask. He repeatedly dabbed at his receding forehead and temples. “This is Dr. Jasmine Walters, xenologist for the… Europan Transition… portion of the… Lunar Restoration…” he said, struggling to breathe. “This way,” Dr. Walters motioned for Mira to follow. The building featured the unnatural straight edges and right angles of the 21st century, unlike the energy efficient domes she was used to. They waited their turn through a decontamination foyer that fogged them with blue chemicals. Something beeped and the door opened, allowing entrance to a stone and marble lobby crammed with people. CyoCom employees in their blue logoed jumpsuits all seemed to be late for something, contrasting with the custodians in orange hazmat suits, straining against the flow to pick up garbage and perform decon duty. Mira wasn’t used to so many people in one place. Hector and Dr. Walters removed their masks, Mira followed suit. The air tasted of bitter blood. Hector bumped into a custodian, shoving the figure to the floor. “Watch where you’re going!” He growled. Mira watched with astonished disbelief as they pulled her to step over the human towards the front desk. Mira turned back to witness the custodian fumble to their feet, collect their things, and wander off. That’s not right. Mira’s heart sank. “We’re checking in file #35813648, Pushevnik, Mira,” Hector commanded the receptionist. The desk official nodded. “I have a meeting to attend,” Hector said. “Dr. Walters will take over from here. Level 2727,” he congratulated and placed a fleshy hand on her shoulder. “You really impressed us.” His oniony sweat left a cold spot as he walked away. “Follow me to your quarters,” she instructed. The austere woman walked with the dignified posture of someone whose spine had been replaced with a 5-foot icicle. They walked down to a metal door, buzzed through, and down a hallway lined with doors. “Your room,” she said and pointed at 404. “I’ll be back at 0500.” She walked away. “Thanks,” Mira said sarcastically and approached the door, it slid open. Her room was simple, like home, but with straight walls, and a shower with actual water, not chemical wash. Such luxury! A branded uniform and matching slippers hung behind the door. She hurriedly washed before the ration sensor shut the water off. The bed faced a blank screen. She projected a cam from her apartment. -0- and -1- were sitting in front of the door, waiting for her to return. She switched on audio. “Little Geeks, I’m not gonna be home for a while, I’m sorry!” At the sound of her voice, they became active and scanned for her location. “I’m not there, guys, I’m at CyoCom’s Training Center,” she said feeling bad. She missed her friends. “I can’t wait to come home and see you! Be good and stay charged!” The door beeped and Mira switched off. Dr. Walters, right on schedule, 0500. Mira opened the door. “Have you settled in well?” the woman asked. Without waiting for a reply, turned, and marched away. Mira sprinted to catch up and hoped they wouldn’t see any custodians on the way. Passageways later, they entered a lab. Mira gazed past computers, test equipment, and isolation booths towards a metal structure in the back that resembled a submarine. Dr. Walter spun the structure’s hatch open with a hiss. As they entered, Mira smelled brackish water and rotten eggs. Goosebumps rose in the chill of the room. A large white sarcophagus rested in the center, alluding basic humanoid shape. Steam rolled off the iced-over faceplate. Dr. Walters used her elbow to scrape it off. Mira read the nameplate below, Edon of Europa, and peered into the darkness. A pair of eyes opened, white irises contrasting black pupils, too round to be human. Mira’s first thought was of a squid and jerked back in surprise. The eyes focused on hers and she couldn’t look away. Surrounding skin flashed in moving blue and white stripes. “Mira, meet the specimen,” Dr. Walter introduced in a dispassionate voice. “You’ll learn to operate their ships.” Mira broke the gaze. “I’ll be flying an alien ship?” she asked in wonder. Dr. Walters nodded. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Edon,” Mira hollered over the pumps. “He’s used to aqueous, icy conditions on Europa (Jupiter’s moon), so he stays contained in either this bath or his travel suit. The pressure he’s accustomed is 240 atmospheres, roughly 10 and a half pounds per square foot. You ever seen a bottom fish pulled up too quick?” Dr. Walters motioned an explosion. Mira turned back to Edon, hoping her eyes relayed kindness. He blinked, his skin flashed deeper blues and greens, pattern reversing. “We’ll leave so he can change without killing us,” Dr. Walters said and laughed. Mira watched his pupils dilate and skin erupt in jagged red stripes. Dr. Walters wrapped her surprisingly strong fingers around Mira’s arm, pulling her out, into warmer, drier air. As they waited in the lab, Edon’s eyes haunted Mira. She felt he was trying to communicate, and he wasn’t happy to be there. The pumps keyed up, feeding pressure into Edon’s chamber. She heard a hiss, the hatch opened, and Edon stepped out in his travel suit. He towered two feet above Mira’s 5’4” frame. His round helmet sloshed a turbid, yellowish fluid. The bulk of his head hung like an octopus, skin now zigzagged blue lines and green dots. Two nostrils dotted the plateau above a thin, lipless line. Two arms and two legs, maybe we aren’t so different after all? “Can he talk?” Mira whispered. “He has a way of communicating,” she grumbled. “We’ll see if you’re able to ‘hear’ him. First, the training module.” Edon followed slowly, each step seemed to take effort. She worried about him. They shuffled into another room set up like the cockpit of a spaceship. Two suit docking stations, one suit attached, a control screen, and a unique console setup she had seen a million times before. It was the exact replica of the BuilderZ spaceship. “This is a simulator of a Europan ship with an ingenious tractor beam. We need pilots. It’s why we developed the BuilderZ game. You’ve already trained how to fly. Now it’s time to do it in real life!” Dr. Walters’ eyes blazed with zealous passion. “Don’t you see? You can save our species, Mira!” Mira stood back and tried to absorb it all. What she had believed was entertainment was an insidious training program. She wondered if she should question any other aspects of reality. “Your BuilderZ scores show you can pick up the signals. Let’s see if you can connect,” she said in a wide Cheshire grin. Mira slipped out of her shoes and Dr. Walters helped her into the suit. Mira pushed her feet into the stiff, cold legs. The helmet and the top half of the suit hung forward. Dr. Walters motioned to leave it unzipped, opened a cupboard, and retrieved a dark bottle. She poured a syrupy green liquid into a dosing cup and offered it to Mira. Mira didn’t trust her. Will they treat me like the custodian if I say no? “Drink up,” Dr. Walters insisted. Swallowing the bittersweet liquid, she began to feel she was floating away, detaching from herself. What was that stuff? “Now for his part,” Dr. Walters declared and turned to Edon. “Come on!” she screeched and motioned irritably. Edon motioned for Mira to close her eyes. She did and waited. Her mind began to wander. She thought of her childhood, the night the moon exploded, the death of her parents. The chaos following the crowds to high ground when the oceans flooded. The nice lady who brought her to The Orphanage. Darkness. Everywhere. This was not her memory. She could feel the foreignness of it, like fingers poking into her brain. Water. Everywhere. She felt fluid against long, webbed appendages. The sensation of liquid through gills made her cough. Others here, too. She could feel their shapes as if she were tracing their profiles, with her mind rather than fingers. Light flashed in grand explosions and small pulsated harmonies, rivaling all fireworks. Great discussions happening. It was their way of communicating in the darkness under the ice of Europa. The ones who lived On Top of the ice came together with those who lived Below, where Edon’s family lived. An excess of ceremonial substances lead to The Cataclysm with the obnoxious people of the little blue dot. His mother, Head Speaker, upset with the negligence of On Top, chose to send Edon, to explain what happened. Confusing images flashed too quickly to focus: A mission of peace, capture, experimentation, torture, breath withheld. Edon wasn’t a scary monster from outer space any more than she was; their cultures were simply alien from each other. A sensation resembling sinuses clearing pushed Mira to wakefulness. “You’ve paired!” Dr. Walters cried in triumph. “When will Edon be able to return home?” Mira asked. The woman become all angles. “He knows that’s impossible. He’s simply too valuable!” Dr. Walters revealed. “But he’s dying!” Mira begged. “It wasn’t even his fault!” Something beyond clinical detachment emptied her face. “The specimen will train the test subject the rest of the day,” she said, avoiding Mira’s eyes, speaking instead to the wall behind her. “Learn as much as possible before he expires. The next launch window is 0700, we won’t have another chance for months!” she exclaimed then hurried off. Mira looked at Edon knowing she couldn’t let him die. His big eyes reminded her of a puppy on death row, of -0-. She closed her eyes and thought towards Edon, If I get you aboard the ship, will you make it home in time? She opened her eyes and he nodded, skin flashing lavender bands. She bowed back in promise, hoping she could come up with a plan. Mira closed her eyes and began the training. She was besieged with massive amounts of information: ship’s systems, controls, even a map of the universe and known inhabitations, like a map of neighborhoods. She knew everything. She notified Dr. Walters. The woman stormed into the room and proclaimed, “The specimen deserves a fresh bath!” Two men entered the room and forcibly removed Edon. “Wait! Don’t hurt him!” Mira cried out and struggled to free herself from the suit. Dr. Walters held her back. “It’s already 1800! Better return to your room. Eat something and get good rest, you wouldn’t want to ruin your chance to be our first successful test subject, would you?” Mira couldn’t believe her apathy. Is there another way? Back in room 404, Mira sat in shocked silence. She couldn’t sleep and didn’t feel hungry, despite the fresh mashed root with gravy. She took two bites, but the richness gave her a stomachache. She curled up on the bed. How could she save Edon? She projected a view of the current orbiting asteroids. One caught her eye. The same type as level 2727. Mira switched to the camera at her apartment but couldn’t find her robots. Frag, what happened to them? Mira worried. She cycled through all available camera views. Her sparse furnishings didn’t allow for hiding spots. The front door was closed, they had to be home. The weight of it all, the shock of the day, and now her friends were missing. Mira began to cry hot, gulping tears. How could she go on? The door beeped. Mira wiped her nose on her sleeve. It was 12 hours from launch time. Leave me alone. She dragged herself to the security panel, and glimpsed a figure dressed in the hazmat uniform of a custodian. She’d barely spent any time here, services shouldn’t be necessary yet. Confused, she opened the door. A muffled “Howdy!” hailed from the suit. She couldn’t believe her ears. “-0-?!” She pulled the weightless uniform inside and heard cheery beeping. “And -1-?!” She unzipped it to reveal -1- straining to keep them both in the air. “How did you Little Geeks get past the guards? I’m so glad to see you!” she shouted in joy and helped her friends from their clever disguise. Once free, -1- orbited, beeping in celebration. -0- circumnavigated her feet while repeating “Howdy! Howdy!” She sat to cuddle her friends. “You guys gave me an idea,” she said and stood up. “I’m gonna chat with a new friend, you’ll like him.” She laid down on the bed and closed her eyes, unsure if they could connect this far away. Edon, are you there? A few moments later, images entered her mind, and she knew she had his attention. Are you okay? She asked. Metaphors flooded her consciences, reminiscent of before her robots’ arrival. I have some friends with me now, she told him. I think we can help you! She sent him descriptions of her idea and he collaborated until they had something that could work. She awoke with renewed hope and programmed her bots while eating the cold food. She tapped into the wireless security channel and displayed the hallway by Edon and watched as the seemingly invisible custodian with a noisy vacuum passed everyone. It was just before 0700 and Mira was as ready as she could be. The door beeped. She left her empty room to follow Dr. Walters. In an otherworldly blur, she was stuck with injections and biomonitor stickers, then helped into a version of Edon’s travel suit, modified for air instead of sulfuric acid. They connected her umbilical and harnesses. She held her breath as they removed her SCBA-mini, flipped the top of the suit over her head, and zipped it closed. She stared through the helmet at the cockpit she had spent years training for. This was it. Air hissed at the back of her head, tickling her scalp. She closed her eyes. The sinus thing happened, and she connected to the ship. She felt the heartbeat of the engine as it circulated the coolant and had to keep her pulse from overrevving. It was difficult to see the controls through the helmet, but she knew them. Mira awaited commands for the liftoff sequence. The countdown began. Her breathing sped up and she struggled to reduce the air intake to safe levels. 3…2…1…Ignition. The ship rocketed through Earth’s gravity. She felt the rumbling cease as she entered open space. Within the vessel she heard a smothered “Howdy!” She exhaled in relief. The plan had worked. “CyoCom Control, this is Mira, I have made it through Earth’s atmosphere,” she said. She could see the scaffolding and concrete forms shining in the solar light, not quite a tenth of the old moon’s mass. “Affirmative, Mira, CyoCom Control has you on screen. Congratulations on a successful launch,” a CyoCom employee said. “This- ah-” his voice was interrupted. “We have a situation,” Hector snarled. She could hear Dr. Walters curse. “What’s going on?” Mira queried. “The specimen and travel suit are missing,” he growled. Mira smiled. “Affirmative,” she asserted. “I’m returning Edon to his home world.” Dr. Walters shrieked over the line, “We don’t have time for that! Earth will become inhospitable before you get back!” “Don’t worry,” Mira replied. “I’ve been tracking an asteroid that should help to stabilize Earth. +14° 15’ 42”, see it there? Just like level 2727, I can do it.” “You have no idea the situation you’re creating,” Hector moaned. “Do you know how many candidates we went through?” “How many died?” Mira asked in a whisper. “One hundred and thirty-four,” he replied, indifferent. “We can start again, but it’s expensive.” She felt the weight of each death. “We can’t keep doing this, people aren’t disposable!” She shouted. “What’s the use of saving our species if we lose our empathy along the way? You already deceive and abuse your own people, abduct and torture ambassadors on missions of peace, what else will become acceptable?” “You’re edging on treason,” Hector warned. “I see the path we’re headed down,” she told him. “It’s been repeated throughout history. Have we learned nothing? You can’t see beyond your greed.” “It’s not ‘greed’,” Dr. Walters sputtered. “It’s self-preservation! You’re risking the death of us all for one being, whose kind almost wiped us out! They should be destroyed!” “I told you, I can grab that asteroid and do what you asked me to do!” she avowed, determined. “Then I’m taking Edon home. The sky is our neighborhood, we should treat our neighbors with respect.” Edon removed himself from his hiding spot, along with -0- and -1-, and connected to the passenger dock. She didn’t respond to CyoCom’s pleading threats. Instead, she followed the sensors to the asteroid, designated 83 MF4. An M-type, nickel-iron planet-saving lump. They would be in range soon. She depressed the button to charge the lasers as they made their approach. Just as she’d done a million times in-game, she watched the gauges for overheating. It was difficult to see, not far from the red. Not yet…not yet…now! She let go, powered up the coils, and coaxed the large rock to slow. It wrenched back, its 1200-mile mass a lot to counter. Mira tugged, then fired thrusters for extra torque. Sweat stung her eyes and she couldn’t hear above the hiss of air. She grimaced, then yanked at the space rock. Slowly, it began to drift towards the moon. She heard cheering over the forgotten live radio. The builders met the ship, attached the dolly thrusters, and eased it into place. Its iron/nickel elements easily weldable to the framework. She could hear CyoCom Control receiving reports that the moon’s increased mass began the smallest of recoupments on Earth. They had done it. “Howdy! Howdy!” -0- exclaimed as it drifted in the zero G’s. -1- accompanied in a chorus of happy little beeps, gyrating like a UFO. She turned to Edon. “So which way to your home?” She could see his big eyes through the helmet and his skin flashed a pinkish hue. He pointed to the coordinates he had already set. “Let’s go, friends,” Mira rejoiced.