Ficktion Friday: Departures

Bianca buffs her nails on her sleeve, and crosses her arms nervously. She hopes Char will come soon. From the look of it, departures are taking place, and she doesn’t want to be the only one to witness them.

Her finger had been poised above the bell for Char’s place when she’d heard his voice upstairs. Bobby. Maybe she was interrupting. Maybe Char hadn’t meant for her to come over today, bearing rolls from Cinnabon and soy lattes from Flying Goat Coffee. She’d scuttled back to her car, embarrassed. She’d gotten a signal wrong. Her married friends didn’t want to kaffeklatch with her when their husbands were home.

She’d assumed Bobby had been talking to Char, but he’d come outside alone, his cell balanced between ear and shoulder, a stack of garment bags cradled in his arms…

Where was Char? Why had she phoned? Was Bobby leaving?

Of course, he could be going on a business trip. Yeah, that could be why he was tromping down the front steps of their little condo for the third time with suitcases. He could be going to Europe or Malaysia or something. He might be away for weeks. Of course, that didn’t explain why he was doing all of this in the middle of the morning, when normally Char was at work…

Bianca sat, waiting awkwardly, hand on the parking brake, trying to decide if she should stay or go. Bobby had glanced up the street, toward her car. She was pretty sure he’d seen her. She was pretty sure that the open cardboard box he carried, full of odds and ends like coffee grinders and hangers was not something one would take on a business trip. She swore. Now he was striding down the walk in her direction. She turned the key and pressed the button to roll down the passenger’s side window.

“Can I help you?” Bobby’s brows were raised in faint curiosity. His polite tone set Bianca’s teeth on edge.

“Looks like you’re moving out.” The words rattled like gravel.

Bobby grimaced, dropped his pretense. “What’s it to you? Charelle’s at work. She won’t be home until about three-thirty.”

Bianca tilted her head toward the street. “Looks like you got her schedule wrong.”

Bobby’s face tightened as Char’s blue Civic pulled into the driveway. Bianca gnawed on her lower lip as Char flung open the driver’s side door, alternate expressions of fear, frustration and fury chasing across her face. Uneasily, Bianca rolled up her window, feeling like she ought to be somewhere else. The scene played out in pantomime.

What. Is. This. Char’s accusing finger, stabbing toward the car, the boxes, the man.

Now please, calm down. Bobby’s hands raised placatingly, shoulders hunched.

Calm down? Calm down? Char’s hands fly up toward her face, jerk like tethered pit bulls. In a heartbeat, the movements of rage falter, and Char’s body slumps as if she’s been hit. Bianca knows her cue as a friend, even as the unmarried friend, who knows nothing about the intricacies of a marriage.

“Char.” Bianca slides from behind the wheel of her car, her hands outstretched, wanting to shelter, waiting to heal. But Char surprises her, and straightens, her face emerging dry and defeated.

“Let’s help him,” she says in a surprisingly emotionless voice. “I’m sure he hasn’t got all day.”

So. The picture (Unusual Neighbours) which inspired this week’s Ficktion snippet was taken by Flickr photographer Ed Ed. It’s a nifty pic, and I like his stuff.

Ficktion Friday: Big Ma’s Girls

My head aches, and the bed is vibrating.


It’s not a bed.

The sour, throat-burning stench of diesel smoke accompanies the rumbling, and my face is pressed against a rough synthetic rug. With a gut-tightening sensation of fear, I know where I am.

Pops has done it again. All these years he’s threatened Big Ma that he was going to come and take his kids back, and he’s done it. I am in Pops’ rig, lying on the floor.

We’re not moving, and I’m glad, because he tossed me back here like a rag doll. Last night I went to bed at about ten thirty, finished reading my chapters in Fat Kid Rules the World for English, and then shut off the light before Big Ma could yell at me. I remember hearing the phone ring, then a voice – voices. And then, nothing.

Last time, Pops took Looley and me to ice cream. Big Ma let him, ‘cause she thought it would be good for us to know him; after all, Looley was six, and I was ten, and Looley hadn’t never seen him, and I barely remembered him. Ma never did believe what our mother, Lily, said about Pops, and so Big Ma thought she knew what was best. Pops took us to ice cream, all right. In Nevada, two states away.

“You girls gonna stay with me, now,” Pop informed us over butter-brickle cones at the Thrifty ice-cream counter. Looley just looked at him with her mouth open, but I chundered ice cream all down the front of the counter. Pops hustled us out of there right quick.

I thought Big Ma had finally gotten tired of us, had decided that we weren’t worth the effort of putting up with me and my mutant reading habits and Looley’s habit of wetting the bed and crying every night. But six months later, when social services and the detective Big Ma’d hired finally tracked us down, she’d been crying too hard to talk when she’d taken us into her soft, bony arms. Yeah, bony. Big Ma wasn’t big anymore. She wore off all her fat worrying about us.

Pops went to jail for about six months, and was on probation for two years.

He got off probation yesterday. And here I am today.

“Looley?” My voice is hoarse. It is pitch black in here.

I expect to hear something: a groan, a whisper, but there’s nothing. I reach out my arm, and feel along the floor, hunting for a shoe, a bit of her leg. I reach out my other arm, stretch out my legs until they bump the cabinets that are behind the driver’s seat.

In this small space, there is nobody here but me.

The rig isn’t stopped, it is idling. We are at a weigh station somewhere, maybe halfway across the country, maybe only fifty miles from home. If I wasn’t so thirsty, I might scream, see if anybody can hear me, but the noise from this stupid rig is so loud I can’t hear myself think. Pops wouldn’t let me go to school last time. He cut Looley and my hair, dyed Looley’s with shoeblack, and wouldn’t let us outside.

Why does he want us?

“My girls! My girls!” Big Ma had said over and over again, holding us and rocking us every time we woke up that first week back. “My girls.” Like we weren’t anybody else’s.

I am twelve now. I know a few things. I know my mother didn’t leave us with Big Ma because she didn’t love us. I know I might not ever see her again. What Pops thinks is his, he wants to keep.

I need to go.

My arms feel rubbery. I bend my legs ‘til my heels are solid on the floor. I roll over to my side, then up, careful not to touch anything, not to make a sound. On hands and knees I creep forward, expecting any moment to run into something that will clatter and fall and sound an alarm.

I move forward, sweeping my arms out in front of me, still looking for Looley. In a few moments, my fingers brush the enameled metal of the cupboards.

There is a space at the base of one of the cupboards, to allow air to circulate between the cab and the truck’s living space. I feel along the cabinets until my fingers feel the breeze. Lying on my back, I scooch forward, hoping to see something, but all I can see is the word ‘hell’ in red letters, staring down at me.

I blink, bewildered, until the ‘he’ suddenly turns into an ‘s,’ and I realize it is the digital clock on the console. It is only 11:35. Only an hour has passed since I’ve been gone… an hour or a day. I roll onto my stomach, and fumble with shaking hands for the latch that opens the way between the living space and the rig. Pops isn’t in the cab.

It’s my only chance.

This story brought to you by this picture, by Flickr user Fragilocyte. I’d say you could find more with the usual suspects at, but mostly they’re on vacation. Hurry on September.

Ficktion Friday: School Sucks, And Then It Rains

Raindrops like bullets
Shattering holes in my sanity
The yard grows wild.

“Rain is like bullets?” Dennis threw a dry erase marker at Esther’s head from the back of the classroom. They were meant to be taking study hall, or rather Esther was; Dennis was in English detention because he was behind an assignment, but no one seemed to be keeping track of him.

“What kind of crap is that? If rain was a bullet, it’d blow your freakin’ head off. Rain isn’t like bullets.”

Esther blocked the marker with her forearm and crossed out a word. “It’s not literal. It’s a haiku.” It was only the first week of school, and already Esther
hated everything, including the smell of the dry erase markers, the
classroom, and Dennis’ shoes. She hated that her mother wanted her to stay after class and join a ‘club;’ she was stuck messing around in the homework lab because she couldn’t go home.

“Haiku!” Dennis let out a huge fake sneeze. “Haiku!”

“Oh, shut up,” sighed Esther under her breath. Dennis had been in her class since second grade, but she never had been able to take his intrusive, jokey manner. “It’s for Mrs. Russo.”

“That cow,” Dennis said dismissively. “She and her ‘make the magic of poetry’ talk, and then she keeps me after because I can’t write poems. What, are you going to do a little dance and sing ‘Rain, Rain, Go Away?’ next? You girls and your poetry.” He said the word as if it stung him.

Esther sighed.

Stupid male humans
Quite possibly throwbacks from the pool
No swimmers, please!

“Are you writing another one?” Dennis’ chair legs landed on the floor with a thump. “Didn’t she only say we needed one?”

“We need to have five by the end of the week,” Esther told him. “We’re supposed to use words to evoke strong emotion, and give five examples of atmosphere in our daily haikus.”

“Daily?” Dennis sounded outraged. I hate crap like this! Nobody else has to write poems, for the whole rest of their lives, except in school. This is so lame!”

Esther shrugged.

What will be will be
School work to life’s work, place exchanging

“Sometimes I don’t think I’m going to make it,” Dennis said gloomily. He looked out the rain spitting down on the sidewalk, at the gray sky and the drooping trees. “I mean, does it really matter if I can identify a haiku? No. Does it matter if I can write a sestina? No. And don’t get me started on all that literature junk. It’s a total waste. It’s the first week of school, and I can’t take anymore already.”

Esther, who preferred school to home, uncapped another dry erase marker.

“Are you writing another one?” Dennis asked incredulously.

Nothing wasted
Everything gained and nothing put back
Take in every drop.

“Dennis?” Mrs. Russo stood in the doorway. “Have you thought of a topic for your haiku? Oh, hello, Esther. Are you helping him?”

Esther hunched her shoulders. “I guess,” she muttered.

“We’re writing about rain,” Dennis said grimly. “And how it makes you want to shoot yourself.”

There was a pause. Mrs. Russo winced. “I see,” she said finally. “Well.”

“We’ve written almost five,” Dennis said hopefully, ignoring Esther’s shocked and furious hiss. “Isn’t that enough?”

“Oh, it’s more than enough,” Mrs. Russo said hastily. “You can both go now.”

Esther opened her mouth. “What? Bu –“

“Hey, want to go and get a hot chocolate at Copperfield’s? Since it’s raining and all.”

Mrs. Russo beamed as Esther glared at Dennis, fury making her eyes gleam and her lips narrow. “Yes. And I want a muffin, too. And maybe a sandwich. And maybe — “

“Sure, sure,” Dennis said placatingly. “A muffin and a sandwich too. Come on.”

Mrs. Russo smiled after the two of them as they left her classroom, thinking mistily about young love and poetry. It was another cold, wet afternoon, but at home, there was a bit of mulled cider and a fire waiting. She turned off the lights, and closed the door behind her.

This is in honor of all the little duffers starting classes this week already (and in apology to my readers for being the second sucky story week in a row. Ugh!). Based on this picture, taken by Flickr user Captured Light, I doubt there will be any more from the suspects at, but hey – you might check there anyway. We’re all über busy or in a rain funk, so maybe it’s a week to read a book. Or paint the bathroom.

Ficktion Friday: Trojan Bulls

“So, who do you think put it there?”

“I dunno, Miss Lane. It was jus’… there.”

“Seriously? You folks just …woke up this morning, and there was a bull in your pasture?”

“Yep. Dunny got wind of it a ruckus outside, started makin’ a racket, and he ran around ‘til he just about fell over. Next thing we knowed, there was a gol’danged bull in the back pasture.”

All right. Ruckus, passing out… bull.

Dear Diary:

It had seemed like an easy call. For once, Harvey sent me, with my newly minted journalism degree, out of the office to cover a call that wasn’t a City Council meeting, and I’d jumped at it. Sure, he hadn’t sent me along with a photographer, but I’d treated it like a serious story nonetheless. Putting on a touch of lipstick, I’d shrugged into my mostly wool blazer, and had driven out to the farm in my brand new leather heels. And now, here I was, jotting down notes on… a UFO call.

It was massive, a scarred rusty edifice of pitted red metal, roughly the size of a water tower. A narrow ladder – looking too rickety to be trustworthy to climb upon – led to a hatch on the head. I was assured that the police had been there, had checked things out, and that the bull was empty. There were no human footprints on the ground, only a series of scratches, which could have come from anything. The police were dismissing it as a prank.

The yokel was a total caricature of a farmer – peach-down on his cheeks, blue chambray shirt, a cowlick in his straggling gray hair. His son or his ranch hand – was this Dunny? – had remained silent so far, which wasn’t making me any more comfortable. I’d glanced his direction a few times, to gauge his reaction to the older man’s line of patter, but his face was a closed book.

Darn that Harvey. He would send me out on some stupid call like this.

“Miss? You listenin’ to me, Miss?”

“Yes. I’m listening. And is this Dunny?” I nod to the young man, glancing into his slate gray eyes.

“No, this here’s Freddie, our new hand. He came right along last night, he did, and a good thing, too. Didn’t none of the others want to go out today, after that there Dunny raised such a fuss. Was scared to death, scared like I never seen him.”

“Freddie?” I begin, feeling stupid, “Did you see or hear anything strange before… when the bull appeared in the back pasture?”

“No, ma’am.” Freddie’s voice is deep, slow and sonorous, perhaps what a bull would sound like if it spoke aloud.

“And so you saw nothing… Okay. So your information comes from… Dunny with regard to the …appearance of the bull?

A slow blink. “No, ma’am.”


‘No, ma’am.”

Behind that slow wall of a face, it would seem that Freddie, smug in his snug white t-shirt and dirty jeans, that farm hand is … laughing at me. I feel blood suffuse my face.

“All right, I think we need to wrap up here. This Dunny? I need to speak with him. Now.”

“Dunny?” The yokel’s faded blue gaze lingers on my face in bewilderment. “Miss, Dunny can’t talk.”

I close my eyes in aggravation. “He can’t talk?”

“No, Miss. Dunny’s my redbone hound.”

Well, Diary, I snapped shut my notebook then. As my heels sank into the mud on the way back out to the car, I wondered if I was cut out to be a reporter, a real one. I wondered if journalism would ever remember the name Lois Lane…

I’m just not sure. Maybe Mom was right – and I should see if the junior college has a home economics course I can take. Who am I kidding, anyway?

The inspiration for this Ficktion piece comes from this picture taken by Flickr user Franc-tieur. More ficktion from the usual suspects at

Ficktion Friday: Feylit

“This is so lame,” Mad groaned. “Why can’t people figure out this isn’t some random character re-enactment weekend? I mean, hello – renaissance. Medieval times. Get a clue already!”

It was supposed to be a Renaissance Faire, but as usual, there were the requisite number of Trekkies in Wookie costumes, Hogwarths uniforms, busty wench types, old guys with long hair and motorcycle jackets carrying hooded birds of prey, and middle-aged women wearing a surfeit of smudged eyeliner and filmy, trailing shawls. It was hot, dusty, and crowded, and the afternoon was wearing on toward evening. Perri wondered for the nth time she had wasted a Sunday at the RenFaire when she could have been at home, away from her cousin Maddalena’s scything tongue, not having to hear anyone nasally say ‘Prithee’ and ‘milady’ every five minutes, or try and sell her flat, warm beer in a scrotum-shaped tankard. It had been Mad’s stupid idea to come to the RenFaire and “meet people,” in the first place.

“And where are the freakin’ guys? I mean, real guys, not these chess freaks.” Mad glared around the gaming area. “All the hot ones are running around after the Court and their ‘fairy’ prince. I swear, they deliberately leave the ugly ones running the booths.”

“Maddalena,” Perri winced, as a woman wearing thigh-high boots and a filmy shawl glared in their direction, “could you be a little quieter? I’m not in the mood to run from Lady Goth over there.”

“Well, she’s the one who should be running. She’s wearing a WONDER WOMAN costume, for heaven’s sakes,” Mad continued her harangue, completely oblivious to the attention she was drawing. “And it’s July. Hello? Try October for that?”

“So, do you want to just go?” Perri asked desperately, trying to stopper Mad’s acidic tongue. “We can still catch the 1:45 show at The Raven if we leave right now, and Mom can pick us up.”

“No.” Maddalena sounded wounded. “Athena said we should come today – there’s a parade or something in half an hour. She promised it would be cool. She promised it would change my life. After we see what’s so great, then we’ll go.”

“Okay,” Perri sighed, knowing it was useless to argue. Athena was Maddalena’s best friend, and no matter what stupid idea she had, Mad thought it was cool. “Let’s …watch a jousting match or something, okay? Just ‘til Athena gets here…”

They watched a match or two, and Mad made a point of pointing out the fake armor on the horse, and how the lady next to them wasn’t really in period dress (“I mean, only the very rich had those wimples,”) and she had tales of the middle ages and how the ‘Ring Around the Rosy’ was a song about the plague, and how people died, wreathed in garlic, pox-pustules, and stench. It was Mad’s usually cheerful turn of conversation. Perri’s stomach did slow rotations over a gruesome descriptions of the horses killed in jousting matches while Mad hopped into the line for the churros (“What the hell is this? Were there churros in medieval times?”). Perri stood alone, bleakly, listlessly watching the crowd. Athena had promised Mad that the parade was right at sundown; Perri wondered if she could take her cousin’s company for that long.

A murmur behind her had Perri turning, searching for the source of the sound.

“I’m sorry?” She turned and saw a tall, thin boy, his face shadowed by his a hank of long, darkish hair, standing behind her. “You said something to me?”

“Don’t eat the food,” he said, turning to face her head-on. His voice was gravelly.

“Don’t – why? Oh, no. Don’t tell me there’s been food poisoning? I should get my cousin…”

His shoulders shifted, and he seemed to shuffle, shrug a little.

“So, what, you’re just saying not to eat?” Perri asked anxiously. “Do you mean all the food? Or just the churros?”

He stood, seeming undecided, and Perri narrowed her eyes a little, studying him. He seemed much more hunched than he ought to be. Perri wondered if she should move away from him, wondered why she was still talking to him, but she didn’t want to get any closer to Mad, who was arguing with the lady at the churro booth about the authenticity of her cooking methods.

“Did you not receive the instructions?” he asked finally. He had an abrupt way of speaking, as if listening to internal voices.

Perri felt her stomach tighten. “Instructions? No,” she worried. “Mad’s the one who got the tickets. Is there something special going on today? Nobody told us we weren’t supposed to eat before the parade. Does something gross happen?”

The boy stood up straighter, and as he unfolded, Perri felt like she had been rabbit punched in the gut. His back straightened, and it seemed that his shoulders were suddenly wide. He loomed over her, and his eyes were an ageless, silvery gray, wide-irised and startlingly clear.

“You are entering the wildwood, and you approach Winter’s realm. No one would think the less of you if you turned back now. Take nothing. Eat nothing. There is still time to turn back safely.”

Perri blinked, gawking, as a thrill of fear ran through her. He …he was… She blinked again, remembering where she was. “Wow. That was pretty good,” she said, feeling chagrined for her moment of speechlessness. “So, how do you make yourself look taller?”

The boy shrugged again, seeming to collapse in on himself. “My Uncle taught me.” He nodded over his shoulder at the tall, long-haired man in kerchief and hoop earrings sporting what looked to be a castoff from the Pirates of the Caribbean costume closet.

Perri nodded politely, hoping Mad didn’t notice the boy’s uncle. “So you guys work the RenFaire year ‘round?”

“Yeah. This one’s better than the one in L.A.”

They nodded awkwardly, and looked out over the crowds of people for a moment. Perri studied him sidelong. He looked normal enough when he wasn’t trying to come off all hulking Medieval Wizard – he was actually kind of scary when he did that. How could anyone stand being around the crazies in the Trek outfits all the time if they weren’t totally weird?

“So, are you going to … I don’t know, do something with your RenFaire skills? I mean, do you think you’re going into drama or something later on? You totally should get into Shakespearean acting. You really have… this …presence thing down. I could totally see you doing something like Macbeth or Richard the Third.”

“Really?” The boy’s grin seemed wofish, far wwider than it should have been. Perri wondered if he was laughing at her in some way. “Thanks. That’s good to know.”

“Hey, who’s this? Wanna churro?” Mad reappeared, temper sweetened with fried sugar and argument.

“Um, this is — ” Perri glanced up at the boy and smiled. “Who– ”

But the boy’s face had closed, and he seemed to loom over them again, standing taller and broader, and somehow colder than any human being ought to be able to stand, standing like an ice cold wall. Once again, his voice was deep and gravelly, and Perri seemed to feel it in the soles of her rubber soled sandals. “Don’t eat the food. Don’t drink the water. Don’t stray from the path, mortal child. And don’t be here when the sun goes down.”

“Oh! That is awesome!” Mad gushed, brushing sugar from her lips. “It’s totally not medieval, but the whole ‘don’t stray from the path’ fits with the stories of the medieval era. I like it! Are you with the Court today?”

The boy gave an exaggeratedly graceful bow, holding out his long arm in a courtly gesture. “Of course.”

Mad applauded. “You know, you’re the only one here who has any kind of acting skill. Where do you go to school?”

Straightening from his bow, the boy’s hand brushed Perri’s, and she …blinked. The world was awash in glitter. Shining gold particles hung and shimmered before her eyes, beings too small to truly see. She put out a hand to steady herself as she lurched, dizzied and dazzled. She exclaimed wordlessly, heard Mad’s agreement.

“I know. Wasn’t he a hottie? Where’d he come from? Did you catch his name?”

Perri blinked again, and the effervescence in the air had vanished. The boy was halfway across the field, joining a motley group of similarly dressed medieval types, lining up for some kind of parade or dance. One of them had a pipe, and was miming playing it, dancing and swaying believably.

“Did you see it?” Perri demanded. “Mad, did you see that?

“Huh? Man, this piper’s really good,” her cousin said wonderingly, beginning to sway as she popped the last of her churro into her mouth. “This year’s are the best RenFaire people I have ever seen. And the churro’s are awesome. I’m getting back in line. Want one?”

“I… I think we should go home,” Perri said slowly, looking from Maddalena’s ecstatic, beaming face, shining unfamiliarly with a vacant happiness and with churro grease to the piper, who was dancing now, while playing not a sound.

“Are you kidding? Man, that piper is calling me,” Mad said, and essayed a clumsy, shuffling dance step. “I may not ever go home.”

So. Not one of my best, but I’m about to drop from the packing, so forgive me! This week’s Ficktion snippet was taken by Flickr photographer IguanaJo, and will likely be written on by the usual subjects. Catch the rest at

Ficktion Friday: Fly Free

Sixth grade

Gina and Jillian and Shelbi

(who spelled it with a ‘y’ last year)

take over the swing.

‘move down one,’ Gina bosses

Which is stupid, since everybody knows this is

My swing and the only reason Gina

thinks she is so hot is ‘cause her

sister Jolynne is already in ninth.


there are something like

fifteen other swings

this one’s mine,

you snotty cow

get your own

leave mine alone

go play swingset

somewhere else

I think all that and say


They don’t even say thanks.

Gina and Jillian and Shebi

sit, dragging their toes, idly swaying.

their chains rattle, keeping them

close. but going nowhere.

Shelbi has a chocolate Tootsie pop

Gina has grape

(Jillian has braces and isn’t supposed to have candy.)

Gina’s mouth is so full

she is drooling around her stick

I can smell grape all the

way over here

‘so, do you think

Brent Young is hot?

or do you like Lance Dacre?’

omg, they are both so hot!

i know!


‘I heard Brent…’

whispers. Secrets

heads together, their chains

clatter, wrapping together

my chains fall straight

holding only



Lance? My next door neighbor, who

always dares me to shoot his

insulin shots right into his stomach?

Lance, who

used to steal my bigwheel

and now rides his bike in races?

Brent? who is tall and lanky and talks

slow like he might have forgotten

what he was saying?

Lance? with his black hair

and bright blue eyes?

who smells like Daddy’s green soap?

Brent? who is five foot ten, and writes

poems for English?

they came and stole my swing

clattered and tangled the chains



for nothing.

well. lance isn’t nothing. quite.

‘It’s a swing set’

I say out loud


No one hears me

but anyway, I

dig in my heels and push

The chains pull tight

I am pulled back

before grade six

And then I fly free

This week’s picture is aptly named ||| |||| |||, which is exactly what the picture looks like. Cheers to Flickr photographer Bella Bellinsky, which is also a highly melodic name. More words from The Usual Suspects at

Ficktion Friday: Spun


It was something in the air, or in the water. It was something in his breath, on her skin. It was something, and now she was something else, something lighter and softer and more fragile, yet more edged and defined. Her fingertips grazed her sides, she felt velvet skin, slightly furred, felt the whorls of her fingertips and each plane of muscle, and each tendon in her legs. She felt finer and stronger and magnificently… complete. Whole.

And it was cold.

It had never been cold before, she had never felt that kiss of ice in the mist, nor seen the leaves glow with that inward fire. She had seen mornings, young with light, when the sun dallied in its rising, but nothing like the seamless dark where candles flickered and star bursts danced behind her eyes. She had seen the tiny yellow leaves, crinkling into full green. She had seen the young grain, first the blade, then the ear, then the corn erupted into fertility, but never the drying stalks, never the razed stubble, never the cinders, smoking, black. Never the swooping bats nor the sweetness of decayed fruit, never the cider and the wine. All her life she had bloomed.

And then, then he had touched her. And something inside had recoiled, turned like a worm in the sun, squirmed, fecund, heavy, disturbing. The pomegranate seeds she had pressed against her lips to stop their trembling, staining them, marking herself with his gift. And in so doing, she had crossed from above to below, not forever, they said, but for now.

He was coming, now.

He would show her how to draw up a bath, and he would wait for her, should she want him.

Did she want him?


She shuddered at his voice, and the cobweb gown she wore slipped down her shoulders.

It was so dark. She was cold and trembling and everything within her sparkled like ice in starlight.

So. The picture (entitled Ghosts Invade the Bathtub) that inspired this week’s Flicktioning was taken by Flickr photographers Danny & Nina, who are as cute as they wanna be, and will likely be Ficktionated by the usual suspects at Ficktion.ning.

Ficktion Friday: Look

“Is it him?” Ruby’s voice held undisguised eagerness.

Tulsa stepped back hurriedly from the window, afraid to see what was in her mother’s expression.

“Dylan? Oh, I don’t know,” she hedged, her voice a little too high. “He borrowed the dogs to walk down at the Bay Trail, I don’t expect he’ll be back for a long while.”

“He sure does like to walk.” Marmi’s dark, snapping eyes reflected the light from the fireplace, her seamed, weathered cheeks ruddy in its warmth. “Curious boy who comes to pay a call on a girl’s dogs.”

“I think he’s marvelous,” Ruby said righteously, fingers patting her upswept black curls. She had set her hair especially carefully today, and wore two bright circles of rouge on her cheeks. “There was a time when every young man knew the length and breadth of his hills, could walk the lanes with his head held high, but men these days… Dylan’s a real man, like they don’t make ’em no more. You’re lucky he thinks so well of you, Tulsa.”

Tulsa felt the dig and her face bloomed a mottled red. It was never, “You’re lucky to have him,” but “you’re lucky he’ll take you.” Tall, skinny and plain, Tulsa knew she wasn’t like her mother, who was curvy and raven-haired and full of flashing eyes and artless chatter. Ruby was always at her about Dylan Carlson, the tall, dark-haired boy who had attracted so many ardent glances from the town girls. Tulsa turned away and busied herself with twisting her school ring on her middle finger. If she didn’t know better, she’d think Ruby wanted Dylan for herself.

But she’s my mother, Tulsa remonstrated with herself. She wants me to be happy.

Ruby had married early — far too early, at fifteen, to avoid the scandal of Tulsa’s conception one moonlit night during the Midsummer Revels. Though the entire village knew the name of her seducer, Marni, Ruby’s mother, had urged her daughter to deny it, to go away, saying, “Why marry him? Can’t you see he’ll give you nothing but grief?” but Ruby could not see what much of the village saw, and when he left her, older by aeons at twenty one, hardened and bruised, she hated her mother and everyone else for being right, hated her mother for offering her sanctuary in the airy, pine-floored farmhouse where she’d been born, and hated her further for calming the red-haired, red-faced, screaming child who already eluded her. Now at thirty-two, Ruby was a restless evil, yearning for what she had never had, resentful of her own daughter’s freshness, and longing for something nameless. Tulsa felt her mother’s inner seethings and counted the days before she could go away to school and leave behind the chatter of the small village and Ruby’s scything tongue. Dylan was college-bound, wealthy, and easy to be with. He had appeared as a welcome savior, off-handedly including her in his world with the easy assumption that she would be grateful, and she was, she was, but… but…

“A man can walk too much,” Marni said, getting up from her chair and setting aside her whittling. “Tulsa. Come out with me, my girl. We should see where he’s gotten off to with the dogs.”

“Mother,” Ruby began querulously. “Why can’t you just leave well enough alone? He’ll come back after dark, won’t he, and I can feed him some of my chicken and dumplings. You know what the village says about my dumplings.”

Marni turned her jet bead eyes toward her daughter, the incurious, changeling child she did not understand. “That I do,” she said shortly. “Come along, Tulsa.”

Shrugging into a heavy canvas coat and wellington boots against the chill and damp, Tulsa followed her grandmother through the kitchen porch and out the back door. Once freed from her daughter’s lowering influence, Marni was no longer a picturesque little old lady, sitting by the fire but again the Boss Lady in her rough plaid Mac and her high boots, stumping along with her gnarled walking stick, turning her head to look over the land.

The hired boy was bringing in the sheep, the working dogs barking and nipping and gathering in the herd. Marni made an irritated little ‘tch’ of teeth to tongue, and Tulsa knew her grandmother was missing her old Aussie sheep dog, Shep, who had bounded along beside her until his death of old age last fall. It was another death since Big Jake’s death two summers ago, and Tulsa patted her grandmother’s shoulder in a show of sympathy. While Tulsa could not make up for the ache that was the loss of her grandfather, she had bought home two red retrievers, Bonnie and Clyde, just this past Spring, a bargain with Patti Kinslet from the 4-H club, in exchange for an ewe who had borne twins.

Almost overnight, Tulsa and the Twaine Harte farm had been the envy of every small boy in the village, especially Robin Kipling and Rudy Styles and their gang, all ten-year-old hellions Tulsa sat with when their parents went to Moose Lodge dances. The boys wanted the dogs to hunt with, and were forever crashing about in the woods, trying to trap rabbits and shoot deer with their puny bows and arrows. Before, Robin come out to the farm to play with the dogs, as his folks lived only across the creek near the spur trail, and he had tramped along with Marni on her wanderings, which took her to the edge of their property, and through the oak wood. But lately, only Dylan had taken the dogs, and Robin hadn’t come by with Rudy for awhile.

Dylan was impressed by the dogs, at least Tulsa supposed so; it was only after the dogs that he has shown any sign of knowing she was alive. Once he’d started seeing her home, he had offered almost every week to “take them off your hands,” and hied away over the hills to stretch his legs. The retrievers, big puppies, really, seemed happy enough to lollop along after anyone going anywhere, and were growing fat and glossy. Still, Tulsa thought, it might have been nice if Dylan had showed up with such regularity to look after her.

She thought she must have sighed, for Marni’s attention turned to her with a sudden ferocity.

“What does she see in him, then?”

“She? Ruby? What does she see in whom? Not Dylan, surely?”

Marni gave her granddaughter a flat glance, and Tulsa reined in her raveling thoughts. Marni did not appreciate muddle-headedness. “You mean her, don’t you? My mother?”

“Ruby has more interest in that prig than you do. Why is that, do you think? And what’s he after? The land?”

“I–I don’t know, Marni,” Tulsa stuttered, battered by her grandmother’s questions, not willing to too closely her comment about Ruby. “He’s not a prig, I don’t think. He’s just… Dylan.”

Dylan. Rather …aloof, tall, dark haired and a mid-year transfer to the village higher school. He did not speak idly, was not interested in sport, except for long-distance running; he qualified for a Letter jacket, but never wore one, nor a class ring. He was not a joiner; rumor had it that his father was a Bank owner in the city, and had moved them for their mother’s health, but no one knew for sure, and he would never be asked. Dylan never socialized and joked in the hallways, but spoke only in class, where his words seemed chipped from ice and very smart indeed. Most of the girls in Marni’s year had swooned over him, with that aristocratic curl hanging over his forehead, and most of the teachers favored him, holding up his work as an example. His pale face was chiseled and refined and just as cultured as marble stone as he looked down a little haughtily at the farm boys and ranch girls who surrounded him like constellations. He had a cool, unblinking gray gaze that was partly unnerving, and partly exciting to the girls who flocked around him like hypnotized birds. Tulsa dreaded to meet his eyes, afraid of what she’d see.

He had not really spoken to anyone but Tulsa, and her only recently. And, when she thought of it, Tulsa didn’t know why he had spoken to her, why he’d taken to walking her from her bus. It has been a heady excitement, at the first; had he sought her out because she hadn’t chased him? But she had been more bewildered and embarrassed at the way Ruby had made a fuss over him than proud, and before long, the mystery of why he spoke to her was superseded by the question of how long until Ruby did something unspeakable, and ruined everything. Why was he taking the time?

Had anyone else asked her, she would have bristled, indignant that they found her dubious parentage, her fiery red hair, her village background or long narrow face wanting, but Marni would ask the hard questions, the whys, and really want to hear an answer. It disturbed Tulsa that she didn’t have one.

“They say his father is wealthy… why would he want the farm? And, how would he think to get it from me, since it’s yours?”

Marni tsked, and set off walking at a stronger pace. “Everyone knows you’ll inherit, God knows your mother doesn’t want this spread. All I know is this Dylan walks this way every Wednesday now, whistling up the dogs and taking off toward the Baker’s place like he’s calling on kin. With all that town cash, why doesn’t get a dog of his own, I’d like to know. I don’t like it.”

Tulsa stumbled on something invisible then caught herself, her fingers bunching into fists in her deep flannel pockets. Marni’s words set up a ricochet in her mind, an awful echo that plummeted toward her stomach and bounced.

“I don’t like it.”

It was the words of a Matriarch, a woman whose will shaped the world around her. When Marni didn’t like something, she worried at it, dislodged it, searched it out root and branch, and destroyed it. Her grandmother often said that life was too short to have truck with that which she did not approve, and while the town folk showed an equal amusement and astonishment at Big Jake’s widow, Marni Atterly’s “high-handed ways,” it was to her the village came when they needed a salve for their herds, a cup of bilberry tea and an hour of windbagging, or when something harder when things more serious threatened their families and livelihoods. Marni was a power when she was curious, when she was unhappy, and she rooted out answers like a long-tusked boar.

Tulsa felt a frisson of nerves. This thing with Dylan would no longer be a delicious mystery, a thing for the others in town to wonder about and gossip over her good fortune. Marni would find things out, today, and once seen in the light, maybe the magic might fade, Dylan turn out to be a callow user, and Tulsa would no longer be special standing in his shadow. She was suddenly terrified of power of her grandmother’s regard.

“Is that why you wanted me?” Tulsa blurted. “Because you don’t like it? Or is it him you don’t like? You think he’s leading me on, two-timing me with someone over in Baker’s woods, and you want to have me see you tell him off, is that it?”

Marni slowed her pace and turned, head tilted curiously. “Do you think I’d ask that of you?”

“Well, I don’t know.” Tulsa flushed, and ducked her head. “You want me to see something. Isn’t that why?”

“I wanted you,” her grandmother said, lifting her chin, “so you could come away from that empty-headed mother of yours and get some fresh air into your lungs. No more. I thought I’d stop and see if there were rose hips in Fern Dell, and we could pick a bunch and make up a bit of jelly. Do I need more of a reason than that to have my granddaughter walk the hills with me?”

“No,” said Tulsa, unaccountably happier. “I just… I don’t know, Marn. I just wanted to know.”

Marni looked at Tulsa’s thin young face, flushed with exertion but less pinched now, and she felt bone deep weariness. “You’ll be going away from us soon,” she said almost under her breath, “and a good thing it will be for you, too.”

“I’ll miss you, gran,” Tulsa said with a surge of unexpected emotion. “You know I will. I’ll come back. I’ll finish school but I’ll come back.”

“Only the hills will miss you more, “Marni said, and pressed her hard hand against her grandchild’s cheek. “It will be good for you to get shut of this place for just a while, though. Just for a while.”

They hiked on in silence for awhile, Marni feeling a great deal calmer as they moved through a tangle of madrones and scrub oak. Ferns, thimbleberry and wild rose bushes nestled beneath sheltering branches of the hazelnut trees which lined the trail. Shy woodland starflowers and bluedicks were just opening in the thin warmth of the sunshine, and lichens and mosses furred the huge rocks which jutted up from the forest floor. Suddenly, birds were darting through the sparsely leafed branches and a bark echoed back toward them. Marni picked up her pace yet again, and Tulsa lengthened her stride as well.

“We’ll just take back the dogs, won’t we,” Tulsa said, feeling her stomach constrict with a nameless dread. “No matter if he’s with someone else, we’ll just take back the dogs, won’t we, and we won’t make a fuss?”

Marni gave a curt nod, and kept on walking, feeling what her grandchild felt, a nape-prickling sort of alarm, a susurration of the wind, whispering almost coherently in her ears. She strained to listen. Something… something…

In the clearing, Tulsa gave out a sudden laugh, for there was, wedged crookedly into a thick-trunked hazelnut tree, a hunting blind, of sorts. Its inexpertly nailed walls gave the identity of its builders, Rudy and Robin, and probably Wilt and Chris, whose fathers might have been a bit more free with the scrap lumber and tools. It was inexpertly camouflaged with bits of branches and leaves sticking out at odd angles, and a rope ladder rolled up on the ledge, which gave evidence of its being occupied. At the base of the tree were tied Bonnie and Clyde, chewing on sticks, flags of their tails waving.

Without thinking, Tulsa gave out a shout. “Hello the house! Some great hunters you are, didn’t even see us coming, did you?”

Bark scraped, and Tulsa heard an abrupt, brief tussle, and a thump. For a brief moment, she made out Rudy’s tearstained face, peering palely from between the branches.

“Rudy?” she moved worriedly toward the tree. “What are you –“

“Catch him!” Marni shouted, pulling the dogs by their leashes away from the tree. Tulsa bounded forward with a little shriek and extended her arms as thirty-five pounds of rapidly falling boy struck her and dropped her like a bag of lead onto the hard cold ground.

“Ow!” she complained, feeling her arms wrenched their sockets. “Rudy, what happened? Why didn’t you use the ladder? Are you all right?”

Rudy was crying, a hopeless, breathy sound, more the keening of a wounded animal than the roaring of an injured child with a bruised ego. He was shaking and also unpleasantly wet Tulsa soon discovered. She shrugged painfully out of her canvas coat and wrapped him in it, her shoulders still hurting too badly to struggle to her feet while holding him. There was no chance of him letting her go. He was clinging to her like a limpet.

“Rudy, love, where’s Robin? Where’s Chris and Wilton? Did you all have a falling out?” Tulsa’s eyes lifted to her grandmother’s, who was staring at the hunting blind with a raptor’s chilling gaze. Rudy sobbed on wordlessly, burying his trembling in Tulsa’s coat.

“Never mind, love,” Tulsa crooned. “It’s all awful now, I know, but we’ll find those boys, and we’ll sort this, we will.”

Rudy shuddered and sobbed harder.

With her grandmother’s assistance, Tulsa struggled to her feet, and, bearing her unwieldy burden, staggered toward the woods again, murmuring nonsense to calm Rudy’s crying. The dogs galloped alongside of her, breaking the trail and flushing out birds, who rose with a clatter of indignant wings. Too wrapped in trying to elicit some sort of response from the worryingly silent Rudy, Tulsa focused only on the trail before her and the boy in her arms. Before long, the woods subsided again into crisp silence. The birds settled, muttering, and the only sound was the soughing of the wind, rattling the branches against the sky.

When Dylan Carlson dropped from the hunting blind, Marni was ready for him. Rudy had left behind his bow, and the first of a series of arrows ripped into the soft flesh of Dylan’s groin and his legs. They were only little makeshift arrows from a little homemade bow that belonged to a little boy, but Marni had been sharpening the metal while she waited, quietly honing the aluminum between two stones the woods had offered up from its floor. As Dylan shrieked and tore the arrows from his body, Marni let off a volley of stones, thrown hard and true, like she had thrown sticks for Shep to fetch. Her gnarled old hands might be crabbed with arthritis, but her wiry arms were strong from years rocking coyotes and of hauling lambs over her shoulders and dragging them back from danger. Dylan did not stop to look for her, so unexpected was the onslaught. Instead, he ran, bruised, bloody and breathless, into the wood, as if his life depended upon it.

It did not; if he had seen her, he could have easily overpowered her, an old woman armed with a blackthorn staff and a handful of stones. But he didn’t see her. He was not curious enough to find out the source of his pain.

Later that night, Tulsa slipped away from the house. The whole village was buzzing with conjecture. Rudy hadn’t spoken to anyone except for Tulsa Atterly, and she’d asked the Doctor around before she’d gone home. Rudy’s own folks had no inkling but that Doc said their son appeared to be fine, but he’d need them to keep close for quite some time, and a general word went out for all the young ones to keep out of the woods for a time. Then Doc had sent off for the rangers to come, but no one knew what to make of that, either.

Marni Atterly had time for a few visitors to the farm, and she said there were vagrants in the woods, and she’d be locking down her animals tight from here on out. Conventional wisdom in the village was always to follow Marni Atterly’s advice, so barns were locked, herds were brought in close to the house, and the children’s whereabouts were known. It seemed best, if Marni said so.

Tulsa had left Clyde with Rudy, but Bonnie bounded at her side, stiff-legged and silent as she crept into the shed and picked up a shovel, and a bucket.

It wasn’t hard to find the tree, nor to climb the rope ladder, which had been left down. If she had seen them in the darkness, Tulsa might have used the arrows littering the ground, but it was enough to climb the ladder and stuff the kerosene soaked rag into the crotch of the tree. As it burned, Tulsa dug a firebreak around the base, filled her bucket with earth, and waited, Bonnie sitting alertly beside her.

The smoke would draw the village men down, curious and worried, and she might tell them gypsies must have set the fire, if she chose, but she might instead keep to the shadows and watch as the secret burned. The villagers would find the blind, assume the fire had started there, and tear it down board from board. They would chop down the hazel tree, and for its ill luck, they would dig at it, root and branch, and destroy it. They would turn the soil until it was erased.

It would be dismissed as a one-off thing, gypsies in the wood, keep the children away and safe, send out the rangers to be sure the blighters had moved on elsewhere. Curiosity about the incident would fade. But Tulsa, like her grandmother, would keep watching, circling the woods, peering into the faces she saw. It was no good being afraid to look, no good at all.

This story is based on this image, by Rhi~’s Photos

Please do read the original blog post attached to the photograph; it’s much more powerful than any piece of fiction. More stories found with The Usual Suspects on Ficktion.ning.

Ficktion Friday: The Dreaming Orbs

Fragment of a letter discovered in the possesion of Enos Cinos, on the 23rd of August,Village of Tramck, Hegemony of Ryvensford, the night the unSeered orphan Mina disappeared.

Everything you need to know begins and ends the summer she reached her majority. Fifteen.

We did not expect her to question, when she was told the Warders would come to seer the Stones. We expected her to fear, to heed us, to bind herself more closely to us, and thus escape her fate. Instead, she took her life into her own hands. Cook says she slopped the hogs and rode into the woods on their backs.

We know this to be of the veriest nonsense. The deep woods run along the cliffs, and plunge into the sea. The one who was Mina is gone. Had she flown into the wood, her fear would have betrayed her, for we did send in the dogs, and how could a peasant child confound them? She has been swallowed by the sea or

The ragged edge of the paper trailed off there into bits of crumbling ash, as if it had been rescued from flames. Jitan Lublin set it back into the crystal tray, and dusted her smudged fingers on her sash. A velvet-footed page stepped forward with a bow, and bore the stained stash away for cleaning.

“And this is from a Warder’s report, Pani Lublin?” the Oneiroseer’s rumpled brows were knit in confusion.

“Not from his report, but from his personal effects, some of which had been put to the torch. This is all of substance which we discovered, Cielon,” the Bluestone Mage confessed, looking tired. “They had the shore searched, and found only these curious orbs. It is our belief that they are some kind of… dreamer’s spheres.”

Pani Lublin said the word softly, and with hesitation. The other green-robed mages and Oneriomancers in the quiet, glass-ceilinged solarium were about their business, tending the bright green plants which were the root of the most deadly toxins and potent cures in the Hegemony. Though they appeared to have attracted no listeners, Jitan knew to speak with care.

“Orbs.” The Oneiroseer pursed her lips. She of all the Redstone Mages knew dreams and dreaming best, and she was fractionally displeased that any new device would enter the Hegemony without her knowledge or consent. “Dreaming spheres?” she pressed. “And were these instruments brought into the Magesterium for further study? Why did you not bring them to me?”

“The Alchemy Master, Magister Woeller…” Jitan began regretfully, but her words trailed away, as an errant wind suddenly riffled the edges of her robe. The rich, salt tang of the sea filled the room, and with a slight, musical chime, first one orb and then the next appeared on the crystalline tray next to the Oneiroseer.

“I see he has finished his examination in his usually understated manner,” Cielon said dryly. “I assume he has deemed them a minor power, beneath his notice.”

“Perhaps not,” Pani Lublin said slowly, her eyes still alertly focused on the high walls of the conservatory. “Sister, we might best speak of this another time. I must take my leave.”

The Oneiroseer’s eyes widened as Pani Lublin rose gracefully and rustled toward a hidden alcove which housed a discreet doorway.” “Jitan…” she began, then felt another wind, not nearly so subtle, but a restless, malicious thing, stirring up dust devils and bringing with it the smell of the high desert. Cielon stiffened her back and exhaled. “Pan Friel,” she said sharply, and inclined her head infinitesimally. “You have come to trouble me, I surmise, with your claims upon the orbs.”

The Oneiroseer’s brother mage, Shay Friel, quirked his narrow lips in the parody of a smile. “Well met, Oneiroseer. Indeed I have.”

Seaside Shooter‘s evocative photograph, Beach Treasure inspired this story fragment, using pieces of an already constructed universe that is big on dreams and dreamers, and which I miss terribly – I MUST finish all of my “real” editing and reviews so I can start writing fun escapist nonsense once again. Find perhaps more coherent offerings with The Usual Suspects at Ficktion.ning


Ficktion Fridays: Casual Friday

Marcia’s pinched brown face peered around the corner of my cube.

“Is she out there?”

I rolled back my chair, stretching. “Who?”

“Jeaneen Geli from HR.”

I rolled back a little further and swiveled, lazily eyeing the corridor of our beige carpeted habitat. “Nope.”

Marcia scurried out of her cubicle and shot across the hall toward the bathroom. Her maroon skirted legs had barely flashed by when I heard Jeaneen’s foghorn voice. “Marcia! Marcia, it’s Fire Drill Friday! Why aren’t you wearing a Hawaiian shirt?”

“O, God, our help,” I muttered under my breath. Poor Marcia. She was an over-educated customer service rep at the mortgage insurance company, just trying to do her job. None of us went to school for this insanity. We were all humanities majors who had dutifully diagrammed sentences and wrote literary criticisms of epic poetry only to find after five years of upper division classes, we had no marketable skills. Marcia was the worst of all of us — a Women’s Studies major who had specialised in the literature of post-Soviet Russian women. Russian women’s literature! As if that there were any Russians in the Tech Valley! Our bosses were Asian, our coworkers were South Asian, and the rest of us were a motley collection of biracial hybrids who had sifted through the cracks from elsewhere, and had settled here, the sleepy sediment of the fast-paced, high energy Tech Valley. We’d been happy with our ragtag crew — until corporate sent down word that we weren’t happy enough.

Happy workers were more productive, corporate decided, when we reached our numbers for the second quarter. Sure, we’d met expectations, but we could probably be even MORE productive, if we were encouraged toward Further Happiness. In order to be Happy workers, corporate decided, we needed… Casual Fridays.

I put on my headset and stared morosely at my keyboard. All right, at first I’d been dumb enough to think Corporate paying more attention to us was a Good Thing. I’d been fine when they’d sent down the cheery yellow desk to the lounge area and installed their good times girl, Jeaneen Geli (or Hell-ish Jeaneen, as we called her), to brighten up the place with brown bag discussions, book clubs, softball clubs and popcorn Friday afternoons. They’d bought us a few rubber tree plants and a some air hockey tables, a cappuccino machine and another snack machine, and I’d thought, “Good.” And though I considered it stupid to arrive an hour early or to stay one more minute after work than I had to, the state of the art gymnasium and weight rooms, I considered to be another Good Thing.

But it never seemed to end. We had Casual Friday, Margarita Mondays, Fire Drill Fridays (quarterly) and Weekend Wednesdays (the first Wednesday of the month). Birthdays were celebrated — lavishly — with balloons and DJ’s and pizza or sushi or take out from the Greek deli, wrapped gifts from supervisors and embarrassing singing telegrams. Each special day was accompanied by a cheery, color-coded communiqué from Janeen, and her merrily croaking voice in everyone’s voicemail. “Don’t forget – it’s blue jeans and suspenders tomorrow! It’s a Wild West Wednesday, and you cowpokes are gonna have a grand old time. Yee haw!” We were meant to see each other as Family, enjoy each other’s company, swap recipes and tell jokes and find each other sitters for special company Date Nights. Together, we were meant to form an unassailable community from which would spring the company’s greatest quarter yet.

It felt rude to be anything but breathlessly enthusiastic, blindingly cheerful, relentlessly optimistic. We were dropping like flies, people were going on sick leave just to get away from the overpowering sense of cheer at work. Jeaneen tried so hard to make everything a constant party. When the seasons changed, she instructed reception to answer, “Happy Spring! This is HGIC, how can we make your day worthwhile?” Our secretary, Alys, actually cried the first morning she had to say that in October. She was a Goth, and felt it wasn’t worth her job to have to be that upbeat. We talked her down, and she stayed, but she started rubbing ashes on her cheeks instead of blusher, and refused to wear any color but gray. Our maintenance personnel worried whenever any of us went out on the balcony, or stayed too long in the bathroom. Our office manager was put on a quiet suicide watch.

We felt ungrateful that we cringed at the sound of Janeen’s voice. But we did. Especially Marcia. Her introverted soul bubbled up and dissolved like a slug spattered with salt in the presence of Jeaneen’s loud, good natured fun. “I just can’t stand enforced enjoyment,” Marcia had admitted one day. “She’s got to be on drugs. I just can’t… maintain that level of glee. Isn’t it enough if I just do my job?”

No. It was not. Corporate had determined that we should be happy. And woe to any of us who did not get with the program.

“Is she here?” Janeen’s leaned into my cube in late afternoon. Even through my headset, I heard that hoarse magpie cackle, and flinched.

“I think she had a late meeting,” I hedged, making excuses,” “Should I give her a message?”

“No, no, I’ll just see her tomorrow. I’ll see you tomorrow, too,” Jeaneen said,dimpling mysteriously. She fluffed her wild black curls and looked twinkly.

“What’s tomorrow?” I asked, alarmed. “Did I miss a memo? Is it Hawaiian shirts? Laurel wreaths?”

“It’s Casual Friday, silly,” Jeaneen laughed. “What else did you think?”

Hearing the hysteria in her laughter was what made run the last few steps to the office. The giggles were high pitched and nervous sounding, and she sounded slightly unhinged, laughing until she was out of breath, wheezing, and starting up again.

I rushed out of the stairwell toward the sound, a stitch in my side from walking up all twenty-two flights. “Marcia?”

Her back was to me, and she was staring out of the lobby windows. I joined her, and stared. I didn’t see anything.


“A bear,” she said, and giggled.

I stared at the window, at the yellow desk, at the potted plants. “Bear?”

“Vladamir Mayakovsky utilized animal imagery to depict human emotions,” she sing songed. “Especially bears.”

“Marcia.” I touched her arm, gently. “Can you show me the bear? I can’t see him…”

Marcia finally turned to me, her face sweat smeared and her wild eyes watering. “Emotions,” she went on as if I hadn’t interrupted, “especially suffering and despair.”

“O…kay,” I nodded, keeping my fingers clamped firmly on her blazer sleeve. “Why don’t you come sit in my cubicle.”

“Could I?” she asked desperately.

“Sure.” We walked slowly down the corridor. As we passed her workspace, I glanced in, and cringed. Electric blue bears in the form of stickers, posters, pencil tops, erasers, mugs and a mouse pad were stuffed into her cubicle. A six foot fuzzy blue bear was crammed into her desk chair. Marcia passed by quickly, shying away from the doorway.

“Lord love a duck,” I muttered.

“She’s only trying to help,” Marcia said, in a high, tight voice. “I love bears, don’t I? Russian literature is full of bears. Full of them.”

“Marcia? Are you going to be all right?”

Marcia smiled at me vacantly. “Last night I dreamed I’d applied to university for my doctorate,” she said dreamily. “I sat down in a room full of people, and none of them wore Hawaiian shirts. None of them looked at me and smiled. Everyone stared at a book, and left me alone.”

“Do you need a drink of water?”

Marcia swiped her forehead with the back of her tremoring hand. “No. No water. It’s Casual Friday, isn’t it? Where’s Jeaneen? Aren’t there martinis today?”

This photograph of silliness was taken by Flickr Person Altamon and inspired this equally crazy story. Find more with The Usual Suspects at Fiction.ning.