The World’s Greatest Down Tripper

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest 2020 – Ch1 Submission – Won 3rd Place in my Group

Requirements: Science Fiction/A Clothes Shop/A Name Badge

Synopsis: After identifying bullying, or Oppressor Tyrant Syndrome (OTS) as the biggest societal problem on earth, scientists have developed a vaccine, but in order to truly save the world, Down Trippers must secretly travel back in time and inoculate infants throughout history.

I suffer from a superiority complex. It makes me good at my job but keeps me short on friends. Fine by me. As a Down Tripper, I spend most of my time traveling to the past anyway—a place for which my precious few friends don’t have the requisite travel credentials, and couldn’t handle the rigors, regardless. Happy side benefit: today I turn sixty-five, but don’t look a day over thirty.

As I hover through town on my way to Past Presents (the vintage clothing store where I work…Insider Tip #1: it’s a cover—built around the time portal—you’ll see), I practice being interviewed for a documentary of my life. A film that, sadly, can never be made.

In medical school, I heard about the study by top-ranking Sociobiologists, identifying bullying as society’s biggest problem, and knew I’d be integral to the project. To be politically correct, I should say Oppressor Tyrant Syndrome, or OTS. But a bully is a bully.

With the advent of the LX3 Vaccine, Phase I began. When administered soon after birth it eliminates bullying traits in ninety percent of the population. Thirty years in, we see greater societal empathy and fewer wars. Homelessness is non-existent, poverty is on the decline, and healthcare is abundant and free for everyone.

You’re welcome.

Phase II has been even more impressive. Down Trippers go back in time and inoculate infants born through history. We’ve stopped genocides, famines, and pollution by preventing bullies from growing into tyrants.

My craft lands outside Past Presents. I disembark and I let myself into the building. The musty, familiar scent of old clothing conjures happy childhood afternoons playing dress-up in grandmother’s attic. Decades old music streams from hidden speakers, completing the vintage vibe. A truly ingenious cover for our important work.

“Good morning, Miss Gunther.”

“Good morning,” I reply.

Lisa, my personal AI, always greets me at the door. So annoying. There’s no good reason we should converse. In my opinion, they programmed her too highly-strung, but she gets the job done. She runs the shop and monitors my vitals and fluids while I travel (Insider Tip #2: time travelers wear diapers…at least the smart ones do). My idea. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Eager to learn where today will take me, I walk straight to the dressing room. In the portal, I pull my name tag from my pocket and hold it near my chest. The magnet beneath my skin snaps the tag in place with a click and a screen appears (Insider Tip #3: the tag only works inside the portal, so don’t get any ideas).

Through the mirror, I read today’s assignment: New York City, Nineteen Forty-Six. Yes! Today I will inoculate a future world leader. I take a deep breath and click my heels together three times.

            Nothing happens.

            I try again.

            Nothing.

            I stick my head out the curtain to call for Lisa, but she’s standing right there. “There seems to be a problem.”

            “The problem is biological, Marta.” The deep voice comes from around the corner.

            “Adam, is that you?” Why is my boss here?

            “Yes. Please join me.”

            Lisa lets me pass, grinning like a twelve-year old with a secret. “Adam, I’m anxious to get going. Today’s assignment is a big—.”

            “Surprise!” Adam throws confetti in my face. Several co-workers surround him.

            Shana, my protégé, steps forward. I’m blinded by the burning candles on the cake she pushes toward me. “Happy Birthday and Retirement!” Her face beams.

            Everyone sings the silly song to which we wash our hands.

            With my mouth agape, my eyes bounce from the cake to Adam, to every person standing between the rows of clothing. All staring at me. “I…I…” I had hoped my birthday would go unnoticed, and I certainly have no intentions of retiring.

            Adam drapes his arm around my shoulder. “You didn’t think we’d forget such a momentous occasion, did you? Blow out your candles.” He leans in and whispers, “Don’t make a scene. Meet me in the portal in five.”

            I blow out the ridiculous candles and paste on a smile. Someone hands me a glass of champagne. Suddenly the music is loud and everyone is talking. People are everywhere. There are balloons and a table with gifts. A sharp pain niggles behind my right eye.

            Someone cuts the cake. I stuff my slice on a shelf between a pair of ancient cowboy boots and a designer handbag, then make my way to the portal.

            Inside, Adam raises his hands. “Don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t make the rules.”

            “What rules?”

            He throws me a side eye. “If ever there was a Down Tripper who would have read the entire hiring agreement, it would be you, Marta.”

            He references Section IV, Paragraph 5(b)1: Mandatory Retirement Age. “But I don’t feel or look my age and can still do the job better than anyone.”

            “The rule is for your protection.”

            “No. The rule is for your protection,” I argue. “How much is the insurance coverage? I’ll pay it myself.”

            “Cost prohibitive.”

            “I have to be the one to inoculate him. It will only take a few minutes. Please let me go.”

            “Shana has already gone. Your badge is deactivated.” There is sadness in his blue-gray eyes.

            My heart is broken.

He pulls a small box from his pocket. “From the team.”

            A gold watch with the official seal of the Down Trippers. Its hefty weight provides little comfort. I want to scream and yell and fight. Fight for the elderly. Fight for one last job. Fight against age discrimination.

            Instead, just in case that documentary ever gets made, I take a deep breath and smile. “Thank you.”

            Because that’s what The World’s Greatest Down Tripper would do.

The Charm Bracelet

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest 2020 – Ch2 Submission – 2nd Place Winner Overall in my Group

Requirements: Horror/A Botanical Garden/Confetti

Synopsis: When teenagers start disappearing, the authorities will never look here.

Mary Rice still can’t believe Mr. Bradbury gave her this dream assignment of documenting springtime for the high school newspaper. She snaps photographs of purple tulips and lush greenery along the meandering paths of her hometown’s botanical gardens. At the pond, she steps onto a decorative foot bridge arching over the water. The late afternoon sunlight casts a golden glow and there are no tourists around to spoil her pictures. It’s almost magical.

“Hey, look at this,” Anne calls from the other side.

She isn’t thrilled to have Anne Shelley tagging along. The new girl’s hair is always greasy, her clothes are so last decade, and the way she lurks in shadows watching, hardly ever saying a word, is just creepy. The only way you know she’s around is when her bizarre charm bracelet, with too many of the same kind of charms, makes a sad, hollow noise like a broken bamboo windchime. It’s not pretty, or even cute.

Before answering, Mary takes several photos of the overhead cherry blossoms reflecting in the glass-like water. “What is it?” Her words are laced with annoyance, which she hadn’t intended, but even away from school, Anne is weird, and brings out the worst in her.

Mary had never spoken to Anne before today, so it surprised her when the new girl had been so quick to volunteer when Mr. B said everyone needed a partner. Usually Mary’s BFF would be here, but it seems she’s run off with her boyfriend. That’s not okay. They’d promised boys wouldn’t come before their friendship.

Anne is squatting low to the ground, poking a finger at the dirt. “Tiny silver stars.”

Mary crosses the bridge and joins her. A galaxy of mylar stars litter the ground, sunlight bouncing off them in all directions. “Confetti. Probably from a wedding. My cousin got married here last summer.” She adjusts the aperture on the school’s DLSR camera and takes several photos of the confetti from different angles, then scrolls through the images. “These are good.”

            Anne stands and walks down a narrow path. “There’s a trail of it. Come on.”

            Mary looks down the path at a tangle of tree branches forming an overhead archway. She’s visited these lush grounds all her life but has never noticed this path before. She turns in circles to get her bearings: atrium, tulips, meadow, fountain. This path must be new.

A cool breeze whips up, squeezing around her like she’s in the center of a storm. The hair at the nape of her neck lifts. She shivers to shake it off. A few more minutes won’t hurt, and she really should try to be nicer to the new girl. After all, Anne found the confetti that led to these amazing photographs. “Okay, but then we have to go. Stephen’s coming over to study.”

            A few steps through the tunnel and it’s like they’re in a different world. The warmth of the sun is gone. Mary’s insides twist. Her palms go slick and she almost drops the camera. “We should head back.”

            “Looks like someone left this trail of confetti for a reason. Maybe someone needs help. Don’t you want to find out?” Anne’s dark eyes are like glassy marbles.

“Not really.”

“Guess I was right about you.” Anne continues walking.

Mary follows. “Right about what?”

Anne stops at the edge of a clearing.

Mary almost collides into her. The beauty of the grassy field bursting with wildflowers of all colors makes her forget the question. The sun is back, higher in the sky than it should be and most of these flowers don’t bloom until summer. How is this possible? This exact spot is where the freeway should be—filled with rush hour traffic. She must have gotten turned around. Disoriented, her head swims with so much conflicting information.

In the center of the impossible field stands a single door. Not a building. Just an old, paint-peeling door with glass window panes and green vines crawling up each side. Mary feels drawn to it. Ignores the tightening in her gut, the shakiness of her limbs.

“Let me take your picture by it,” Anne says. “You look so pretty in this light.”

Mary smiles at the compliment and relaxes a bit. This background will make for some amazing photographs for her social media. Why not? She hands over the camera.

Anne directs Mary to pose with the door, beside it, and on the other side looking through the glass. “You’re gorgeous,” she says. “The camera loves you. No wonder you’re so popular and date the cutest guy in school.”

Mary laughs. “Oh please.” She pouts for the camera, tangling her fingers in her hair, pushing the perfect beachy curls to frame her face. She wonders why she ever thought Anne was weird. This is so much fun.

“Everyone will flip over these photos. Now, open the door and walk through as you wave to the camera—like you’re embarking on a new adventure.”

Mary hesitates, then grasps the antique knob and twists. She turns to face the camera, steps one foot over the threshold, and waves.

“Good, now step all the way in,” Anne encourages.

Mary’s other foot crosses the threshold and the door slams behind her. She whips around. Her feet feel rooted into the ground. She can’t move. “What is this?” she screams.

Anne takes one more picture, then approaches the door. “I knew I was right about you.”

Mary claws at nothingness. “No, I was right about you. You’re a freak. Let me out of here.”

“You only care about yourself just like your BFF and her boyfriend did.”

“No, no, no,” Mary cries.

Anne grabs the sides of the door frame and bends them in. After a few quick folds, she holds a small rectangular charm in the palm of her hand. She snaps it onto her bracelet, deletes the photos of Mary from the camera—all but the last one where she’s screaming—and walks home.

NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2020 – First Round (Update: This story came in 2nd Place in my Group!)

It’s my first time participating in this contest, and I’ve submitted my story but won’t hear if I progress to the second round until March 31st.

In round one, each writer received their random assignments and had eight days to submit a 2500 word story.

My assignments:

  • Genre – Crime Caper
  • Subject – Plastic Surgery
  • Character – Comedian

Here’s my story. I have no idea what my chances are, but it was a challenge and I had fun with it! I’d love to hear what you think.

The Game

Holland Hunt stepped onto the stage after a lavish introduction. Applause was her favorite drug. Shoulders back, chin high, warmth spread through her body like liquid love. She’d been doing stand-up for twelve years, and while this glitzy casino wasn’t her largest venue, and the packed theater probably wouldn’t be her drunkest crowd, tonight’s performance might end her career. Could she go through with her plan to sabotage the show?

When the thunderous applause waned, she took the microphone from the stand.

            “Hello, Las Vegas!”

            Another round of applause gave her a moment to scan the first few rows. No sign of her brother. Yet. She wasn’t supposed to know about his new face. Had their Game pushed him to such an extreme? Or was there someone or something else behind his decision to have plastic surgery? Either way, tonight, she would put a stop to the madness.

            Holland had received the call three months earlier from a sorority sister who worked for one of Los Angeles’ top cosmetic surgeons. The friend explained that Holland’s twin brother, Harrison, had drastically altered his face. She’d even texted photos as proof showing him puffy and bandaged right out of surgery. Shocked, Holland had dropped her phone and shattered the screen. Now it matched her shattered heart.

            She pushed the dark thoughts to the back of her mind, smiled at the audience, and launched into her routine. “Anyone else have trouble sleeping? I’m a horrible sleeper. My brain won’t stop pondering stupid things people say. Like when someone asks if my twin brother and I are identical.”

            A burst of laughter fueled her adrenaline.

            She rubbed her hands together. “It’s fun to fuck with stupid.” She smiled through another round of laughter. Paused. “I look them right in the eye and say, No, my hands are bigger.”

            The audience roared.

            Her insides bubbled. These moments made life worth living. She zoomed her hand over her head. “Goes right over their pretty little heads.”

            The ones who didn’t get it laughed the loudest.

Holland learned early in her career that people loved her twin jokes best, and growing up with Harrison gave her plenty of material. “All brothers are annoying, am I right? But twin brothers are the worst. Mine has a gold medal in pissing me off, a black belt in interrupting my punchlines, and a master’s degree in stealing my stuff.”

            The crowd loved this one. Universal truths always struck a chord.

            “We’ve made a family tradition out of stealing from each other.” She walked to the front of the stage, leaned forward. “With a last name like Hunt, what did our parents expect?”

            The audience exploded.

Holland stood in the spotlight, unhurried, and soaked in the adoration. “But we’ve only ever stolen one thing. Our grandmother gave me a sweet little gold promise ring with a tiny diamond the year we turned thirteen. Harrison claimed; it’s not fair (that whine is exactly how he sounded).”

Chuckles rippled across the room.

“He liked my gift better than his—a flimsy tie clip he’d never wear—and promised to steal the ring from me. The next day, it was gone from my musical jewelry box. You know the one? It had a spinning ballerina and flimsy-ass lock that was more invitation than a deterrence.”

The audience laughed knowingly.  

“The next day, Harrison secured the ring onto his bicycle lock and said if I could open it, I could keep it forever. Within minutes, it was back on my finger. For the combination, he’d used our birth date backwards. Not much of a challenge.”

More loving laughs.

She walked to stage left. “He lied. We’ve been stealing that ring back and forth for more than twenty years. Each exchange is documented, in elaborate detail, on a spreadsheet. Yep, we’re certifiable.”

The crowd loved this.

“We call it the Game and it quickly became an obsession—one we were both well-suited for given our propensity for patience and Olympic-level competitiveness.” She faced the crowd and grinned. “And it’s made damn good thieves out of both of us.”

Uncomfortable chuckles rippled around the room.

“I’m the current winner.” She fanned her outstretched hand to reveal a slim gold ring on her finger. “I figured it was more secure here than in the hotel safe.”

The theater quaked with laughter.

Harrison would love that joke. Even though she hadn’t yet spotted him, she felt his presence. Always could. Their birthday was a few days out, and as adults, their tradition was to meet in Vegas. He knew her performance schedule. She knew he was in the audience.

She crossed to stage right. “I know what you men are thinking…you’re terrified by the idea of dating a woman with lock-picking and safe-cracking skills. Am I right?!”

A sprinkle of laughter.

“Why do you think I’m still single?”

Not quite a universal truth, but still funny. They ate it up.

“You women are wondering who has kept the ring the longest? Inquiring minds want to know. I get it. Currently the record is mine: three years, two months, nineteen days, and thirty-seven minutes.”

More laughter.

“But who’s counting.”

The thunderous applause lasted long enough for her to return to center stage and take a sip of water. She soaked in more audience love, but her gut twisted. If she hadn’t created the facial recognition software on her latest safe, maybe things would be different. Maybe he wouldn’t have made the ultimate, irreversible decision to alter his appearance. She did this to him.

Her jokes shifted to other aspects of the Game. She weaved in their obsession with books and movies about famous heists and robberies. There was the time in college when Harrison gave her a clue—Acne and Yon—which took her days to recognize as an anagram for Danny Ocean. This led her to a key taped inside Harrison’s DVD of Ocean’s Eleven—the key that opened the box that held the ring. Things got very interesting after that. All manner of riddles and puzzles were fair game. They read everything they could find on picking locks and cracking safes.

The jokes continued, and the crowd held nothing back.

Holland took a sobering breath. Soon, the show and the Game would end right before their eyes. With the element of surprise on her side, she would be the ultimate winner.

During another outburst of applause, she scanned the audience again. The man on the far left, third row back, had the right build and coloring. Difficult to tell in the dim lighting. New face. New shadows.

They’d only talked seriously about stopping the Game once. It was the night of their high-school graduation and they’d chosen to play the Game rather than party with friends. In five years, they had learned more about thievery than any law-abiding citizen should know. The multiple safes they’d collected as Christmas and birthday gifts were barely a challenge anymore.

After solving a series of riddles that led to clues about which safe to focus on, Harrison broke the code, held the ring between his long, masculine fingers, and danced around the room, taunting her. “I win, I win!” In an irritating, gloating voice, he’d egged her on, “You’re a worthy opponent, sis, but you’ll never be better than me, so why not call it quits?”

She could ignore the smug line of his smiling lips, the twinkle in his pale green eyes, the same color as hers, and even his stupid strutting victory dance, but she couldn’t admit defeat. Not to her equal.

Maybe if she’d listened to her brain that night, instead of her ego, things might not have gone so far off the rails. “Oh no, sweetheart,” she’d said, “we quit when I’m on top.”

The Game continued.

When she traveled to Barcelona for her first real job at a bank, he was working in London and came for a weekend visit. When he arrived at her tiny apartment on Carrer de Badajoz, above a grocery store, she told him, “The ring is in a safety deposit box at the bank, so don’t bother picking the safe in my bedroom.”

“Sera mio,” he’d winked. It will be mine.

At the airport saying good-bye, he’d produced the ring, a wicked grin on his handsome face. “I guess you’ll have to come to London next.”

What a Danny Ocean move. Her mouth hung open. “W…what? How?” He must have found her safety deposit box key…but the bank had been closed all weekend. Fear snaked up her spine. Had he crossed into criminal territory? Was he better than her? Braver than her? Willing to take the Game further than her?

Over the next ten years, in the name of the Game, countless laws were broken, but their rules held; no one got hurt, and the ring was all they ever stole. As the scope of their Game expanded, the challenges grew increasingly difficult, and their spreadsheet swelled.

The audience roared at her last joke. By now, Holland was certain she had identified her brother. Time to switch from her usual material and put her plan into action.

“Did you hear about the guy who went to a plastic surgeon? Yeah, he didn’t know how it worked, and he had the doctor make his nose bigger!”

Not hilarious, but some people found it funny.

Harrison glared and shifted in his seat. She made eye contact to let him know he’d been spotted, then focused on the audience. “His naturally chiseled chin must have been undesirable because he had it rounded.”

Confused silence.

She glanced at her brother.

In another room, his active bastard face could have started a war.  

Holland walked toward him. “You can have all the plastic surgery you want, but I’d recognize my twin brother anywhere. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Harrison Hunt!” Her arms spread wide, “Join me on stage, won’t you?”

Darts of anger shot from his eyes, and his chest rose and fell like he’d finished a marathon, but he remained seated.

Confused murmurs echoed through the room as everyone twisted and turned in their seats.

Holland returned to center stage and took another drink of water. “Don’t be shy. I have something for you.” She waved her hand in the air, indicating the ring. “Come and get it, no strings attached.”

The stage manager waved his arms frantically—mouthed, What the hell?

She held up a finger, begged him with her eyes not to drop the curtain. Please let me finish.

Harrison approached the stage. A long, slow breath escaped her constricted lungs. She stared at the barely recognizable man. If it weren’t for the eyes, and the slightly crooked front tooth, he could be anyone. “Let’s hear it for my…brother!” Her throat tightened and her voice went spaghetti thin.

The audience had to be wondering if this was part of the show, and only a few people brought their hands together.

Harrison smiled and waved as he walked across the stage.

The siblings hooked hands, kissed each other’s cheeks. Tears stung Holland’s eyes. She would get through this. There was only one way to put an end to the Game, to stop the madness, and it had to happen here and now.

She faced the audience, still holding her brother’s hand. “I’ve had fun sharing about our crazy Game, our spreadsheet, our mad lock-picking skills, and our fierce competitiveness.” She wiped a tear from her cheek. “But tonight, it comes to an end.”

She turned to Harrison. “I never meant for any of this to happen.” She waved her hand in front of his face. “The Game has gone on too long, and now you’ve had plastic surgery. We have to stop the craziness.” She took a deep breath, slid the ring from her finger, and held it out for him. “The ring is yours. Game over.”

            Harrison didn’t take the ring. “May I say something now?”

            The audience sat in silence like they were watching a drama instead of a stand-up routine.

            He met his sister’s confused gaze, the malicious grin on his face brought her heart to her throat. Why won’t he take the damn ring already? I’m letting him win.

            He strolled to the front of the stage. “My sister is a brilliant comedian. Please give her a hand.”

            The crowd obliged.

            “She’s also a brilliant safe-cracker and coder. Her latest facial recognition software almost did me in. She fashioned the safe with a camera programmed to recognize my face and never open for me even with the correct combination. Magnificent engineering!”

            Some clapping cut through the tension in the room.

He cleared his throat. “Once it became clear what I was dealing with, there was no other option than to alter my appearance.” He gave the audience his profile. “What do you think? Not too bad?”

            A few hands came together.

            Holland moved toward her brother. “Please, Hair—.”

            He cut her off, jabbed his index finger at her face. “My turn, sis. You’re the one who wanted to do this in public.” He lowered his arm and turned back to the crowd. “She almost got me, but with my new face, I was able to by-pass the system. Take the ring. And replace it with a fake.”

            Gasps rippled through the room.

            Holland’s brain ricocheted like a bullet pinging and dinging between denial and disbelief.            He pulled a ring from his pocket and held it up for her to see. “This is the real ring. The one you have is gold-plated CZ.” He walked toward her, tugging at his ears. When they were a few feet apart, he stopped. “One more thing. I’m shocked you fell for my ploy.” In one swift motion, he pulled off his face—or what turned out to be a pile of silicone and putty. “I’d never actually go under the knife.”

            The audience was on their feet, the applause deafening.

Relief and anger and regret tornado-ed through Holland’s body. She was overjoyed to learn the plastic surgery was fake. But she was pissed. Pissed that he had played her. Pissed that he stole her spotlight. Pissed that he won.

She couldn’t find a way to hold her face that didn’t give all her emotions away.

He placed the real ring in her hand.

“Game over.”

My First Moth Story Slam!

The Moth – June 11, 2019 – Houston

Theme: CHEMISTRY

Vacation Week! I was off this week and had one goal…write 5,000 words on my work-in-progress, young adult novel. But here I sit on Saturday afternoon with zero words written and I’m not even a little bit disappointed.

Because I did something way more fun!

I’ve been listening to The Moth on NPR for years. Ever since I heard my first episode, I’ve dreamed of one day being on stage, sharing true stories from my life. Connecting with people in a medium that resonates to my core and speaks to my heart. Storytelling. This week, that dream came true.

A few days earlier I had received an email about a Moth Story Slam in Houston, and for the first time, I was going to be off work and could actually go. Immediately, I began crafting a story in my mind, spent the next few days fine-tuning it, then drove to Houston, put my name on the list, and was one of ten people chosen at random to tell a five-minute story!

The theme of the night was Chemistry and the ten storytellers each had a slightly different take on that theme. There were designated judges pulled from the audience (I’m guessing there were around 200 people there) and each storyteller received a score of 1-10 from each set of judges.

Host, Dusti Rhodes, introducing me

I was the second storyteller of the night and didn’t know I was going to get on stage until the host called my name. After she did, I made my way to the side of the stage, as previously instructed, and waited as she made the audience laugh by reading funny anecdotes about dangerous combinations. It was a short wait but I somehow had the presence of mind to snap this photo, and text my husband that I was on stage!

My husband did not have the week off, so I was in Houston all by myself. I’d driven down, gotten a hotel room, then called an Uber to take me to the venue (Warehouse Live) and I’d been sitting in the audience alone. Now I was alone back stage getting ready to stand behind that very microphone and tell the story I’d prepared.

And that’s what I did. My story (Chapter 16 from my memoir, More Than Everything) was about my one and only psychedelic drug experience in the 1980’s. The audience was fun and receptive. They laughed at all the right places and gasped when appropriate, then applauded loudly when I finished. I stayed on topic, kept it within the five minute time frame, and got great scores (9.0, 8.5, and 7.7) but I didn’t win. And that’s okay.

I DID IT!

There were so many great stories and everyone did so well. I felt like I shared the stage with a bunch of professionals. And as soon as my turn was over, I wanted to do it again.

Me (front center) with the other storytellers, the host and producers.

Later, many people approached me to say they enjoyed my story. One guy thought I should have won. One girl asked about my process, and another told me she loved my story and my outfit. A radio producer asked me if I had other stories and handed me his business card. People were so nice and friendly and supportive. It was surreal. It was fun. It was exhilarating. The whole experience felt almost serendipitous. Like clicking on that email set me on a path that led me straight to that stage to share that story with that audience.

It is an experience I’ll remember forever. And I want to do it again. And again. And again. Maybe some day one of my stories will make it on the radio.

After the show, I Ubered back to my hotel, sat in the bar, and drank a margarita to celebrate.

So while I didn’t get any new words written on my WIP, I got something so much better…a rich, beautiful, forever experience ripe with stories I’ll tell for a long time to come.

Excerpt from my WIP – YA Novel

pink sunriseThe sunrise bathes the stadium in a pretty pink glow, but I just might puke.

Coach takes my jacket and looks me in the eye. “Jovi, there’s no need to be nervous. You can run three-point-two miles in your sleep. Forget that it’s Regionals. Use your mantra: Just another run. You got this.” He pats my back—three quick exclamation points on the end of his pep talk.

Easy-peasy.

“Yes sir.” I walk toward the starting line. Just another run. Just another run.

This is not just another run—if I don’t win today, and place at State in two weeks, I’ll never get a running scholarship and college will be out of the question. There’s zero money to help make my dream come true. If I’m going to be the first one in my family to go to college, I’ll have to find a way to pay for it myself, and a scholarship is at the top of the list.

The bleachers are packed. It’s a sea of colorful blankets and jackets pulled tight against the crisp dawn. Yet, none of my family is here. Just like every other day, Dad, Luke and Sassy are working in the pecan orchard, and GrandMary doesn’t drive. If Dad had his way, I’d never run another mile in my life, and I’d spend every spare moment working in the family’s pecan business: clearing branches, bagging pecans, shelling pecans, cleaning equipment, whatever needs doing. It’s Dad’s life. It was his father’s life. And he wants to make it my life.

My best friend, Morgan is here, but only because I bribed her with ice cream after the meet. Morgan has perfect skin the color I like my coffee—with three creamers—can sing like an angel, mixes plaids with prints, and doesn’t know right from left or north from south. She changes the color of her wild curls with her mood, and right now I’m glad I can spot her pink hair in the stands. Otherwise, I’d be here alone. Again.

Fifty-seven other long-legged, pony-tailed girls line up on the grass at the one-yard line. I wedge myself between green and gold, and purple and white. Somewhere in the pack, wearing black and gold, with matching size ten Nike’s, is last year’s state champ, Shianne Boggs. She may have big feet, but off the course, she’s the girl with the $100 blowout, designer jeans, and way too many trophies.

“Runners, take your marks.”

I crouch into position with one foot in front of the other, one hand on the ground. Eyes straight ahead. At least I know this course. It’s my third time at Wimberley Regionals. The next twenty minutes of my life will be fields, creeks, hills, and a wooded path wide enough for four fast feet.

“Set.”

Okay adrenaline, work your magic.

The shot cracks through the air, turning my tension into thunder. I bolt forward.

It doesn’t take long for me to pull out front, along with six or seven others. Shianne’s weird exhale whistling in my right ear helps me focus. My jitters are gone. I have one job to do—win this race—and it’s starting to feel do-able.

The first mile is fast. Maybe five-minute-mile fast. My heart is a machine in my chest. Elbows bump. Colorful running shoes slap the ground in comfortable rhythm. My body is slick with sweat.

Several minutes tick by in an instant. All I know is my breath and my heart and my desire to win. I can do this. I’ve won my share of races but this is the one that counts. Winning today would be an upset but Coach says it’s my time. He’s had me in the gym lifting weights and doing flexibility training for months and I feel stronger than ever. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life. A win today would change everything.

With less than a mile to go, I’m one of four leaders packed in tight, and the pace is grueling. Quads on fire, lungs exploding. We splash across a creek—the cold water on my legs a refreshing surprise. I lean in and climb the last hill, giving it all I’ve got. One more turn and we’ll be back at the football field for the final 400 meters around the track.

It’s way too crowded in the turn. I’m on the inside. Not enough room.

Can’t find my footing.

My right elbow slams into another runner. Black and gold tumbles into my fall. Shianne Boggs. We’re a slow-motion collision of arms and legs and sweat.

Until our heads slam together.

And a dark explosion swallows me.

Balancing Act

person wearing black low top sneakers standing on railing
Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

You know those twenty minutes of euphoria that happen twice a year if you’re lucky? That brief, beautiful moment where everything is done and you feel like you’re winning at life?

The refrigerator is full, the dishwasher is empty. You’ve gone to the dentist, the doctor, gotten the oil changed in your car, the registration is up-to-date, your taxes are paid, there are no presents to buy, no parties to attend, nothing that needs doing because you did the work, paid attention, got things done, and have everything under control?

I experienced this joy last Sunday, when for a small window of time, everything was done. I danced around the house like a superhero, patted myself on the back, drank a glass of wine and took a bubble bath in celebration.

But the universe has a way of keeping us in check. Showing us the other side of the coin.

Reminding us nothing lasts forever.

Monday brought me a runny nose and a cough, Wednesday’s gift was back spasms that had me like: you didn’t really need to stand up today, did you? and then came Saturday. Saturday morning with its sunshine and promises. Still coughing, still feeling like crud, but excited by warmer temperatures and NO RAIN, I made myself a cup of coffee and went out on my back patio to enjoy.

Things were looking up.

Within minutes I got stung by a venomous caterpillar and spent the next twelve hours in excruciating pain. Yep, the universe reminded me who’s boss. It decided that five days of fighting a cold, slogging to work when I felt like staying in bed, enduring rainy day traffic and cranky co-workers wasn’t enough. The universe, in all its wisdom, decided yesterday was the day I needed to be introduced to this fuzzy fellow.

Puss Caterpillar with log

Meet the Southern Flannel Moth, a/k/a the Megalopyge opercularis, the Southern Stinging Caterpillar, or Puss Moth Caterpillar. They are a bi-annual (spring and fall) phenomenon found from Virginia to Florida to Texas. They love shade trees (especially oaks, pecans, elm, and citrus) and if you’re allergic, their sting can send you to the ER faster than you can say fuzzy wuzzy. These guys are fuzzy, but ferocious.

Above is my picture of the actual culprit. Here’s a better photo I found online:

Gardening-Asp-caterpillar

On my patio, the lime tree my daughter got me for mother’s day looked like it needed rotating, so I bent down, hugged the container and turned it. When I did, I suspect this creepy crawler moved from the plant to the front of my sweatshirt. Or it fell out of a tree. I didn’t see it.

When my arm brushed against its back there was an instant stinging, burning pain. I looked down and saw him there, stuck to my shirt. My husband used a stiff leaf to fling it away. My arm was on fire … like a thousand fire ant bites or a dozen wasp stings.

The stung area didn’t look like much, just some redness, but it felt like hell. We washed my arm with soap and water. Poured bleach on it, scrubbed it with mechanic’s de-greaser, and made a baking soda paste.

Nothing helped.

 

 

Except ice.

I set up camp on the couch, and over the next few hours, switched out an ice pack every thirty minutes while I watched the first four episodes of The Romanoffs on Prime Video to take my mind off my misery. It kinda worked. But not really. But wow! What a show.

Romanoffs

Hubby scoured the internet looking for anything that might help. Between episodes, we tried different remedies. Scotch tape to remove the poisonous hairs from my skin, vanilla extract, aloe vera. Tylenol did nothing for the pain. We tried anti-itch cream, pain relief rub, even magnesium oil. Nothing put a dent in my discomfort.

I’m not a baby. I survived 25 hours of labor and gave birth without medication. I have a high pain tolerance. But after six or eight hours of bone crushing, burning, throbbing agony, I questioned whether it would ever stop. I questioned my sanity. I questioned the existence of God.

Most of what we read online said the pain would subside within an hour or so. But then we read an article that said, in some cases, the pain lasts up to twelve hours. And that’s when I knew. The universe was going to make me suffer even longer.

The pain continued. And, after the skies grew dark, my mind grew numb, and my body grew exhausted, it was time for bed. The sting occurred at 10:00 am. It was now 9:00 pm. Still in misery, I brushed my teeth, put on my jammies, and crawled into bed.

And magically, within minutes, I felt an easing. A loosening. A promise that this pain, just like the euphoria of feeling on top of the world, and in control of everything, would not last forever.

As I drifted off to sleep, it was with the knowledge that this too had passed. I survived a week that started off bad, got worse, and then ended with unbelievable pain.

Life is a balancing act.

I lost a beautiful Saturday. Gained a healthy respect for caterpillars, and am kinda afraid to go outside right now. But I’ll keep getting up every day, going to work, doing all the things, and one of these days, I will be on top again, if only for a few brief moments.

Everything has an opposite. One cannot exist without the other. Good. Bad. Love. Hate. Euphoria. Pain. Control. Chaos.

And nothing lasts forever.

Not the common cold, not bad weeks, or rainy months … not even autumn, when the Puss Caterpillar invades Texas.

Have a great week.

architecture boulder city cityscape
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Find Time

I’m all about creating “found time” these days.

One way I do this is by padding my schedule with extra drive time so I can slow down and not be affected by traffic.  If it takes twenty minutes to get where I’m going, I give myself thirty or forty. Now, if I catch every light red, or get stuck behind a slow poke, there’s no anxiety.

If it takes me an hour to get ready, I give myself an hour and a half. This allows time to deal with a mascara emergency, or a wardrobe malfunction.

I’ve examined all areas of my life where I can add a few extra minutes here or there to all my tasks, and it’s like magic. I don’t rush and I don’t worry or fret. And I still get everything done.

Now I have pockets of extra minutes in my day to think, to daydream, to puzzle things out…to let my mind relax–which is a sure way to cultivate creativity!

Listen…

image

…can you hear that snowflake hit the ground?

I know I’m a few days early for a New Year’s Resolution post. But that’s not really what this is. This is a post about making a positive lifestyle change. A permanent change. A change that will make me a better person.

It won’t be easy. The important things never are.

As decent human beings, we strive to learn, to do good things, and be better people. Becoming our authentic selves takes time, dedication, and—what I’ve realized lately—it takes good listening skills.

We are all guilty of interrupting our companion to interject our next thought, our next idea. With close friends and family, it is a dance we do, and it is generally accepted and expected. There’s a rhythm and a flow to these conversations.

But what about with strangers? I’m one of those people who have trouble remembering names. I think it’s because I don’t listen well enough. I’m too busy being shy and insecure. Being an introvert. I’ve been too busy listening to the negative speak in my head…no one wants to hear what I have to say…no one will remember my face, my words, or my ideas…

I’m over that now.

Now I’m ready to grow into a better listener. I’m ready to sit in the stillness between the words and soak them in. Be mindful. Give the words as much time and space as they need to take up residency in my memory. Slow down. Be in the moment. So rather than answer reflexively with platitudes, I can respond with thoughtful confidence, praise with genuine heart, and comfort with loving care.

I want to learn to listen so hard that I can hear snow flakes falling, fish swimming under the surface of the water, and leaves hitting the ground.

Wish me luck! Mindful listening is the new black.

You heard it here first, folks. winky-kiss

 

 

Please stop the GROSSNESS!

gum3

I don’t rant often. My last one (about paper towels) was posted two years ago.

But I can stay silent on the abc (already been chewed) chewing gum epidemic no more.

This is the ghastly sight I see when walking up to the front door of my local drug store. Come on, people! Seriously?! You just spit your foul gum onto the sidewalk for others to step in? GROSS. Grow up already.

gum1

Just because your mommy isn’t there with her hand held out – to take your sticky gum – like when you were a kid, doesn’t mean it’s okay to throw it on the ground. There are garbage cans outside most stores. There are store receipts in your purse or pocket that work perfectly well for this purpose…there are tissues, new and used, scraps of paper everywhere…but a healthy percentage of you think the best idea is to spit your nasty gum on the ground?

Even if I don’t step on your disgusting refuse while it’s still wet (which is a whole other rant) I will step on it because THERE’S SO MUCH… so many of you seem to do this that it’s damn near impossible to avoid stepping on it.

gum2

PLEASE. PLEASE. PLEASE. Stop the grossness! If you can’t throw away your used chewing gum in a proper way, then STOP CHEWING IT!

Thank you.

End of rant.

One Good Thing

WTWAMy new motto is; “Do One Good Thing” for myself every day. Because, let’s face it, if I don’t take care of me, and make myself feel special, it’s likely not going to happen. That’s not a dig on my sweet husband (who is my biggest advocate and cheerleader, or my friends and family), but it speaks to the truth that I must feel worthy, by treating myself special, before anyone else can. Anyway.

This past week, I did one good thing for myself all week long! I attended my first writer’s academy (not a conference—big difference). West Texas Writer’s Academy in Canyon, Texas. #WTWA

Everything from the campus, to the faculty, to the food and the other writers, met or far exceeded my expectations. I’d  heard ‘this was the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing’ from more than one person beforehand, and I came away with the exact same sentiment.

Wow! Every day my brain was filled to capacity with information that, when put into practice, will make me a better writer. It was the most positive, supportive environment I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing, and the friendships I made will be with me a lifetime—that’s what happens when you find your tribe. I’m already looking forward to attending again and again, and putting into practice the long-term goals the week helped me define.

Do yourself a couple of favors; do one good thing for yourself today, and every day. Then, go find your tribe.

You’ll thank me, and you’ll be better equipped to go out and do one good thing for someone else…which is the reason I believe we’re here.