Artichoke Hearts

“So – what would you like for dinner? I’m about to run to the grocery store; I can make you anything you want.”

She thought for a moment, eyes shifting up and to the left, before returning his gaze and responding:

“Again? I really want to cook for you today, so – anything. Brussel sprouts and baked chicken? Avocado salad? Lasagna and crusty garlic bread? Grilled salmon with white wine? Panang curry?”

She smiled. “I’m a simple gal, and artichoke hearts are tasty and good for you!”

“Better than breakfast for dinner?” he pressed. “I make a mean waffle with berry compote and hand whipped cream…”

She thought again. “Artichokes.”

“Or healthy! I could do a sprout bowl, with a mix of quinoa and brown rice, edamame, bean sprouts, radish rosettes, and carrot shavings with a light green goddess dressing.”

“Artichokes.”

“What about – “

“Artichokes.”

Deep sigh. “Fine. I will get you your fucking artichoke hearts.”

“Thank you!”

“I hate you.”

She giggled; not realizing that he was not making a joke but merely being honest. That dating a chef without expanding her palette would prove not merely unwise, but deadly. That it is relatively easy to slip poison into a dish, and that an emasculated significant other whose livelihood depends on other people partaking in and enjoying his dishes who has spent the last 365 days cooking a rather pedestrian vegetable as a meal might be adequately tempted to add an extra, lethal ingredient.

He continued watching her with large eyes after setting her plate before her, and she was trying to figure out the likelihood that a diamond ring had been delicately folded into her meal as she ate with small, delicate bites. Each piece of artichoke heart was chewed 32 times, ensuring adequate digestion, and that this digestion was only occurring for food.

She was halfway through her dish, chewing thoroughly, concentrating intensely, when enough poison had been released into her system, and she sank into the remainder of her dinner.

He poured a glass of wine, which he then lifted in a gleeful, macabre toast. “Live like a toddler, eat like a toddler, die like a toddler.” The wine glided down his throat in one long, rich, smooth gulp, after which he gave a deep sigh, and then stood up from the table. Although he had been rather naughty and already had his dessert, it was time to make dinner.

Written in response to M’s July 2019 Writing Prompt.

Haze

How could he have missed her, when her skin was luminescent, as though she were shining from the inside out? He knew, in actuality, it was a mutation caused by his grandmother’s excessive use of hairspray, his mother’s generation’s prioritization of convenience over climate. Still, his heart fluttered.

She had dark violet eyes, a shade his mother claimed people used to purchase plastic-silicone cups they put directly on their eyes to obtain. He had never understood the appeal of this optical vanity until he got close enough to see into her eyes for the few seconds before she maced him. It was the right move; the ever present fog comprised of pollution had further empowered and encouraged rapists, and glowing in the dark made her more noticeable prey.

He told his mother about her when he got home, though as usual, his mother didn’t really listen. His eyes may have been the ones stinging from capsaicin and not having been the unknown girl’s love at first sight, but his mother’s eyes were the ones overflowing as she wailed once more about how she was such an awful person to have brought him into this world that was so dark and bereft of something called Oxycontin, about how she had trusted the politicians who lied regarding the veracity of global warming when she should have listened to the hippies. And wasn’t it so ironic, now everyone lived like hippies because the water was the wrong temperature and too polluted for bathing, and the supply of dry shampoo had run out when he was only 2. Or maybe it wasn’t ironic because her understanding of that word came from a song from the ’90s, which she had later heard used the term incorrectly.

Eventually, his mother tired herself out. Her lids closed, and she drooped onto the tabletop, and he went to bed, because it was dark and no one else in his home was awake, and there really wasn’t anything to do.

He couldn’t sleep. Violet eyes, fringed with long lashes, stared into his own every time his lids closed. He should probably have been tired, but was oddly energized, as though he had come across some contraband Twinkies, and had sugar and preservatives coursing through his veins. Finally, after hours of pretending he would be able to get some rest, he went outside for a walk.

And saw her again.

He was wading round the corner of a crumbling brick building, amidst the foot of water that was now a permanent fixture of a decaying former downtown, when he was forced to halt his next step mid-air to avoid running into her. He saw her right hand begin to move in front of her, and cried out: “PLEASEDON’TMACEMEAGAINIWONTHURTYOUIPROMISEINFACTIWOULDLIKETODOTHEOPPOSITEOFHURTYOUBECAUSEYOUINTRIGUEMEBUTPLEASEPLEASEDONTSPRAYMEAGAINBECAUSETHENYOUWILLHURTMEANDDOESNTTHATMAKEYOUAHYPOCRITEANDOHMYGLOBALWARMINGNOWIMBABBLINGLIKEMYMOTHER. SORRYBOUTTHAT.”

Her hand halted. She looked at him, eyes narrowed, and then burst out into laughter. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

He ran his hand through his greasy hair. “Um… yes?”

“Well, it’s a good thing you said something, since I’m carrying a stun gun and not mace.”

He was relieved at having not been attacked again, and curious as to how she had obtained a stun gun, given that they were illegal. Mostly, though, alarmed: “Yes, good I said something. I don’t like being electrocuted.”

She shook her head at him, lips pursed in derision. “You can’t play cool now. You just admitted to the ultimate girly insecurity: fear of turning into your mother.”

He opened his mouth, sure there was an objection to this, and them closed his mouth, having been unable to find it.

“It’s okay. I don’t particularly want you to turn into your mother, either.” She winked, revealing sparkly lids, before pushing past him. He turned to watch her walk away, only to see her look over her shoulder, and prompt him to follow her.

“Where are we going?” he asked, walking quickly so that he was at her side.

She shrugged. “I dunno. To find something to steal.”

“… steal?” He was a well-behaved boy, having heard numerous horror stories about what happened if people were caught stealing. It involved cruel and unusual punishment, occasionally culminating in death.

“Do you have something to live for?” she asked him, flashing teeth in a reckless smile. Her words were flippant, and he could not tell whether or not she was serious.

They arrived at a large group of brick buildings, whose front glass doorways were dark with dirt and dust, whose parking lots were spotted with vehicles that rose out of the constant smog, which they avoided out of decency, since the owners were likely living out of them. They tip-toed through the mist, moving without sound over the concrete, before she picked up a heavy green pole still occasionally used to contain the remnants of an illicit cigarette, and broke open one of the large glass windows.

Dust kicked up in small tufts with each step across the small black and white tiles lining the floor right before the window as they weaved between tables. Shortly, they came to an opening in the waist-high wall, and stepped onto dark green, low-pile carpet. Large wooden shelves loomed, filled with paper. She walked to the nearest shelf, running her fingers along the items it contained. “What is this place?” he asked.

“It’s a bookstore,” she responded. She removed a slim volume from a shelf, the front of which showed sad, feminine eyes morphing into a night sky atop a glimmering city. “This one is one of my favorites,” she said.

“You can read?” he asked. He had heard of it from his mother, although it was a concept he had never understood. What was the point in straining your eyes to view small symbols denoting meaning in a world where no one could see anything clearly, given the constant fog comprised of pollution? Yet here, she of the violet eyes held the item so close – maybe there was something to the act he was missing. He stared more closely at the front of her book, seeing white and orange symbols that were obviously supposed to mean something — yet, after staring for a few more seconds, he was completely oblivious to what that meaning was, and agreed with his original assessment of this “reading.”

She, meanwhile, ignored him, seeking out a brighter area, and finally settling in an area of the floor where a small shaft of sunlight shown through the window, lay on her stomach, and began slowly flipping through the pages.

He walked around a bit, finally finding a book filled with pictures, which he took near her and began reviewing. Some of the pictures were very beautiful or interesting, and he found himself getting lost, to the point where he looked up, and realized she was no longer beside him. Tucking up the book he had been looking at under his arm, and feeling a thrill that it was his now that he had decided to claim it, he began searching for her.

He found her, sitting on the dead, formerly grass, slope behind the building, knees up, arms crossed atop them. He sat beside her.

After a few seconds of silence, she sighed heavily, her mouth opening wide like a Greek tragic mask. “Do we have something to live for?”

“I don’t understand what you mean,” he admitted.

She gestured around herself. “Look at this world. Our parents fucked it up. There’s nothing to see, not much to do, and when you find shit to do anyway, such as ‘stealing’ from defunct stores that couldn’t take money if you offered it to them, you’re tortured. What kind of life is that?”

“…our life?” I ventured. “I mean, we’ve never known any different.”

“No, but we’ve heard the stories. Of how it used to be. Our parents lived in a world of light. Now we know nothing but haze and darkness. Violence and isolation.”

“I don’t feel isolated right now,” I said, looking over at her.

She dropped her chin onto her arms. “For now. But this feeling, like the one we just felt, won’t last.”

He thought for awhile. She made a kind of sense, yet he knew, in his heart, that she was not entirely correct. After awhile, he said: “Our life is… not great. But I’ve spent enough time listening to my mother – because when you’re around her, all you do is listen, there’s no point in talking – “

Tiny smile.

” – And I don’t think that they had it better. Should they have taken better care of the earth? Yes. Was it selfish of them to have us, knowing that the world would be nearly unlivable in the very near future? Maybe. But we are here, and we can still find some enjoyment in our lives. Even without dry shampoo.”

She looked over at him. “Dry what?”

“I don’t know. It’s something my mother talks about. A lot.”

She laughed. “You’re a weird guy. Or at least, have a very weird mother.”

“Agreed. Pretty sure I have to give mom all the credit, though.” After a pause, he said: “I’m Jeffrey, by the way.”

She looked over. “Nice to meet you, Jeffrey.” After a pause: “Amy.”

They sat behind the store awhile, making small talk that dipped its’ toes into large talk, and increasing their amiable feelings for each other until the initial liking of each others’ company began turning into something more.

Written in response to M’s June Writing Prompts

H&G: The Witch Needs to Update

“Look,” Geoffrey said, pointing towards a copse of trees about 600 meters away. The green of their leaves shone brighter in the sun that shone, seeming to single out these trees amongst the cool shade of the woods surrounding them.

“No, Geoffrey,” Hannah protested, stamping her right foot, her hands curled in fists at her sides. “You will not drop trou and piss in the woods. I will not have it.”

“Aren’t I supposed to be the bossy one? I’m the boy, and I’m older.”

But it had always been this way. It was difficult to resist someone who was so opinionated and certain when you were an aimless waffler.

Speaking of waffles…

“What is that delicious smell?” Hannah asked, her nostrils widening as she breathed deep.

“What do you care? You don’t eat – anything, really, as far as I can tell.”

Hannah shrugged. “True. But baked goods means that there is probably someone nearby. Perhaps in a lovely little cottage.”

“Lovely little cottage? Have you been watching those Jane Austen movies again or something? We live in the 21st century, not the 19th. Also, have you seen those hairstyles? You could never pull that off.”

“No one could. That’s why they wore bonnets. Or hats? I don’t know – something that covered their head.”

“That’s about the level of eloquence I expect from you.”

“I would kick you, but it might cause you to piss yourself.”

“Thank god for Oprah; I might not be alive anymore if you weren’t a germophobe.”

“…Hello children.” The voice broke through their fighting, despite having a fragile, bitter quality that should have been easy to ignore. Its’ owner looked equally frail, and was waving a hand with gnarled, knobby fingers at them, smiling at them with a mouth filled with crooked, yellow teeth.

“Hello,” Geoffrey said politely.

“You must be tired, if you have walked all the way out here to my cottage. Please help yourself to my house.” The gnarled fingers skimmed along the windowledge, and the siblings realized it was gingerbread. The entire house, in fact, was gingerbread, decorated with thick white icing, windows spun from sugar.

“Please. Eat,” The elderly woman prompted again, but both of them declined.

“That’s sweet, but I’m on a diet,” Hannah said.

“Diabetic,” Geoffrey said ruefully, shrugging his shoulders.

“Although, if you don’t mind, we would love to use your bathroom,” Hannah continued. She had begun feeling the pressure from her own bladder for the last few minutes, and was relieved to think that she would not have to walk all the way back to the car without relief.

“Bathroom? How would I get plumbing to work in a dessert house?” The witch replied, furrowing her brow in disbelief.

“I don’t know. How do you prevent the bugs and birds from eating it?” Hannah retorted, her bladder pressing ever more urgently.

“I don’t. It’s just fresh baked. Look, here they come now.” A line of ants was creeping up towards the windowpane from which the witch had greeted them.

“Well, what are we supposed to do?” Hannah asked, certain the woman was holding out on them. “Our car has got to be at least 2 miles away!”

The elderly woman shrugged. “Use the trees like everyone else?”

As the two hangry females had been arguing, Geoffrey had crept behind a nearby tree and done just that. Hannah refused.

So it was that two hours later, two lost little children came upon a restroom in the woods. They ran inside, only to find themselves caught in a trap once they had relieved themselves. And Hannah and Geoffrey came upon their car, having been lost only once, which was a full four miles from their encounter. Hannah would discover she had a urinary tract infection the next day, and Geoffrey would secretly revel in the fact that he had not solely been her lemming, and he did not.

Becoming Fearless

The world is bright.

The sun, midway in her journey ‘cross the sky,

sends warmth and light

to the meadow below,

lush with verdant, sweet-smelling grasses

and variegated wildflowers.

The nymph,

slender and young,

brunette curls trailing down her back,

espies a bloom fit for the crown she is weaving;

she plucks it, heedless of the thorns

until she feels the prick of pain,

sees the blood trickling from her finger.

The god,

looking for diversion,

espies a nymph fit for play,

and gives chase.

But fair Daphne knows how quickly a bud,

once picked,

can begin to wilt,

and how the world is

cruel and negligent

to those who are hurt and withering.

So she runs.

The mythical beings move ever faster;

he, demanding,

nipping at her heels.

She, frightened, feels

exhaustion

already causing her limbs to shake.

Why must she be so weak?

How can someone

so fair, so bright,

so full of potential,

be out of options

and powerless

so quickly?

She does what all young do,

if they can;

face red with shame,

she appeals for assistance

from her father.

The strong, possessive fingers of the divine grasp her shoulder,

and she learns that, in the face of complete terror, she screams –

with a power that seems to force Apollo to retract,

that shakes the buds resting in bushes and growing from the ground

with its volume and emotion.

But no –

it was not acknowledgement that she,

as a person with her own thoughts and feelings,

did not desire his touch

that had caused Apollo to retreat;

it was, instead, another man’s

imposition of himself upon her.

Granted, she had asked for his help.

Not realizing that he,

preferring that his daughter remain an untouched vessel

for eternity,

or at least, as long as trees live,

would cause her being to harden, thicken, and hollow,

her arms to grow lanky, darken, and sprout

thick green leaves

that Apollo, not to be thwarted of his prize entirely,

would tear from her being

as he had yearned to tear off her clothes,

and wear as a crown upon his head.

Ground suddenly unreliable,

her feet sank into the soil beneath her,

firmly entrenching her into the particular spot

on which her transformation had begun.

The sun continued to shine, until its’ journey was complete,

and Daphne drank in its rays and warmth,

spreading her branches far and wide,

secure in the knowledge that she needn’t fear

any longer.

The Writer’s Journey

I recently borrowed a copy of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers from the library. The title appealed to me, as someone with aspirations to potentially becoming a published novelist at some point in the future who also has a background in Classics. There are a lot of writing aids out there, some better, some worse. Based on the Vogler’s own words, this particular guide is his interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. However, as someone who has actually not read Campbell’s famed work, I found Vogler’s work meaningful, particularly because he uses examples from famous books and movies to help explain the concepts that he is recommending to help structure any (longer) work – novel, screenplay, etc.

Because this was a library book, and I could not mark the book up with highlights, handwriting, etc. (yes, I am one of those people who marks up her books), I am including the quotes, tables, summaries, etc., that struck me on this initial reading below. You definitely are not expected nor recommended to read the remainder of this post; this is literally posting so that I don’t lose the info that struck me as interesting/poignant from a reference book, but if you are currently struggling with the plot of this novel, I think this particular reference book could be a good resource.

Okay, now I’m going to post my notes, and shit’s going to get boring. #youwerewarned

At heart, despite its infinite variety, the hero’s story is always a journey.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “A Practical Guide”

Archetypes:

Ultimately, a Hero is one who is able to transcend the bounds and illusions of the ego, but at first, Heros are all ego: the I, the one, that personal identity which thinks it is separate from the rest of the group.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

People commonly think of Heroes as strong or brave, but these qualities are secondary to sacrifice – the true mark of a Hero.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

Ideally, every well-rounded character should manifest a touch of every archetype, because the archetypes are expressions of the parts that make up a complete personality.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

Interesting flaws humanize a character.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Hero”

Gift-giving, the donor function of the Mentor, has an important role in mythology.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Mentor”

Testing of the hero is the primary dramatic function of the Threshold Guardian.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Mentor

The energy of the Threshold Guardian may not be embodied as a character, but may be found as a prop, architectural feature, animal, or force of nature that blocks and tests the hero.


Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Threshold Guardian”

The Shapeshifter serves teh dramatic function of bringing doubt and suspense into a story…

Shapeshifters appears with great frequency and variety in the film noir and thriller genres.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Shapeshifter”

The negative face of the Shadow in stories is projected onto characters called villains, antagonists, or enemies. Villains and enemies are usually dedicated to the death, destruction, or defeat of the hero. Antagonists may not be quites o hostile – they may be Allies who are after the same goal but who disagree with the hero’s tactics. Antagonists and heroes in conflict are like horses in a team pulling in different directions, while villains and heroes are like trains on a head-on collision course.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Shadow”

In secret societies, a old rule of initiation is: Disorientation leads to suggestibility.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

Every good story poses a series of questions about the hero.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

Fairy tale heroes have a common denominator, a quality that unites them across boundaries of culture, geography, and time. They are lacking something, or something is taken away from them.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

Scripts often fail because the stakes simply aren’t high enough.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

In a good story, everything is related somehow to the theme…”

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Ordinary World”

A string of accidents or coincidences may be the message that calls a hero to adventure. This is the mysterious force of synchronicity

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Call to Adventure”

An important lesson of martial arts is Finish your opponent.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Road Back”

The central crisis or Supreme Ordeal is like a midterm exam; the Resurrection is the final exam. Heroes must be tested one last time to see if they retained the learning from the Supreme Ordeal of Act Two.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Resurrection”

Resurrection often calls for a sacrifice by the hero. Something must be surrendered, such as an old habit or belief. Something must be given back, like the libation the Greeks used to pour to the gods before drinking.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “The Resurrection”

There are two branches to the end of the Hero’s Journey. The more conventional way of ending a story, greatly preferred in Western culture and American movies in particular, is the circular form in which there is a sense of closure and completion. The other way, more popular in Asia and in Australian and European movies, is the open-ended approach in which there is a sense of unanswered questions, ambiguities, and unresolved conflicts. Heroes may have grown in awareness in both forms, but in the open-ended form their problems may not be tied up so neatly.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Return with the Elixir”

A rule of thumb: Subplots should have at least three “beats” or scenes distributed throughout the story, one in each act.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Return with the Elixir”

Another good rule of thumb for the Return phase is to operate on the KISS system, that is: Keep It Simple. Stupid. Many stories fail because they have too many endings.

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, “Return with the Elixir”