Witches Burn

“I think I see what you’re going for, but you’re a bit too shabby to be chic, darlin’.” Her mouth was covered in icy pink glimmer, her Southern drawl just noticeable enough to be adorable. If you didn’t know how much evil lurked beneath. Sarah Jane and her gaggle of sorority sisters turned on their heels and sashayed towards the union. Sure, a lot of them would be date raped and enter into soulless marriages, but at the end of the day, most of them were going to graduate with a diamond on the left hand guaranteeing financial security. Their certainty that this was the case lifted their chins with the posture of a superior being.

Meanwhile, Melody was stuck with her thrift store finds, pretending she preferred a more quirky look when the reality was that she couldn’t afford nice, new clothes. Her fists involuntarily clenched at her sides, nails digging small crescents into the palms of her hands until she felt wetness in addition to pain – the unfairness of it all, “it all” being her “life,” had drawn blood.

She wandered to the library – unlike Sarah Jane and her minions, she was likely going to have to forge her own way in the cold, unfair world, which meant that she should probably keep up her grades. Scholarships tended to care whether or not a student was passing her classes.

Melody stared at the same paragraph in the Malleus Maleficarum for about 20 minutes before she gave up. Why had she wanted to take a class on the Middle Ages, anyway? The people were ridiculous, the primary sources were dry when not poorly written, and what did a primarily uneducated populace who decided to make women their scapegoats for everything that went wrong in their shitty, short lives have to do with her future career? Was she going to bring it up in a job interview to show she was well-rounded? Was she going to draw parallels to the world around her that were pointless, anyway, because Americans will steadfastly ignore all proof that history is repeating itself?

She decided that she was too tired for studying to do much good, anyway, and began walking home. As she trudged in her thin sneakers, soaked through from the wet piles of dead leaves littering all sidewalks, she heard a false laugh, and the clomp of thick, designer leather boots coming towards her. She closed her eyes tight, hoping that would make her invisible – but, of course, it didn’t.

“Why hello, Mel-oh-dee,” Sarah Jane’s voice crooned. “Didn’t your momma ever tell you not to squinch your eyes like that? It’s gonna give you wrinkles. And we all know you can’t afford the Botox.”

With a sigh, she opened her eyes, and resumed walking.

If there was such a thing as karma, the wind would have picked up, blowing Sarah Jane’s skirt up towards her shoulders and revealing a pair of laughably large granny panties. Or she would have slipped on the wet leaves, falling on her face like an actress in an old comedy movie. But Melody was very aware that karma does not exist. So of course it was her own feet that betrayed her, slipping on a cracked sidewalk hidden by the plethora of fall foliage. Her hands and chin were scraped by the unforgiving asphalt, and she would find that the unfortuitous action had cracked her laptop screen.

Sarah Jane and her cronies cackled, and Melody understood how a group of people could be mad enough at certain women to use any excuse possible, according to the widely accepted belief system of the day, to burn the bitches to death. But even if Sarah and gang were witches, it would be as pale imitations of the devious women thought to have naked orgies with the devil beneath the moonlight. Just some candle-burning, and “blessed be” Wiccan bullshit. Nothing criminal enough that their daddies, real, sugar, or otherwise, couldn’t get them out of.

Still. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if she and her bitches were taken down a peg. Or twelve.

The annual Hallowe’en bash was full of drama, as usual. Sarah Jane caught her boyfriend Ethan in flagrante delicto with sorority sister Mary Sue, which should have been almost boring at this point, but still resulted in tears and racoon-eyes, because Sarah Jane had unwisely foregone her waterproof mascara. Tiffany was discovered passed out in the bathroom, and unceremoniously dumped off at the hospital because no one wanted a ticket for drunk driving. One of Ethan’s frat brothers tried to show-off for a comely partygoer, and accidentally set the living room curtains on fire; the comely partygoer made the situation worse by pouring alcohol on the curtains to try to put the fire out. And one of the attendees snuck into the coat closet and relieved everyone of the cash in their coat pockets, wallets, and purses, as well as several sorority sisters of their credit cards.

The next time that Melody encountered Sarah Jane, her toes were warm and snug in the pair of Sorel boots she had recently acquired. Her neck was covered with a warm Burberry scarf, which peeped out of her dark blue pea coat. Sarah Jane, complaining to her “friends” about yet another instance of cheating by her boyfriend which one of them would likely soon partake in as well, did not see her through her bitterness and watery, irritated eyes. She walked right past, not even purposefully “accidentally” bumping into Melody, who was pleased to not be seen. Melody continued to the library, where she purchased a large flavored latte that probably contained all the calories she would need that day, before heading up to her spot on the fifth floor. The fifth floor contained the Regency period books, both those published during that time as well as more recent historical analyses. Even the most steadfast Jane Austen fan had a difficult time caring about these books, and save for the occasional odd student bravely trying to perform research that he or she would soon give up on, Melody generally had the floor to herself.

Melody walked to the fourth study carrel off the entrance and to the left, pulling the door closed, and laying her books on the shelves thoughtfully provided just above the desk. She removed her laptop, and logged in on the unblemished screen of the MacBook pro Sarah Jane’s father had unwittingly purchased.

Life was not fair, and karma isn’t real, although the ridiculous fire incident on Halloween night came close to making her think otherwise. She had witnessed the false and drunken bravado from the fringes, dressed as a slutty beetle (the only costume at the 11th hour with a full-face mask) as she snuck into the coat room and obtained her own justice. Her rich peers were almost asking to be robbed, having a ridiculous amount of cash in an unsupervised room, so she didn’t feel very guilty about removing their readily-available, liquid resources. Nor did she feel very guilty about sneaking through the quilted beige handbag with Sarah Jane’s name stitched across the front. In fact, she was not even sure if Sarah Jane had realized her Visa had been removed; Melody was still using the card to purchase food and drink because it had yet to be canceled.

As Melody took a sip of her creamy, sweet drink, she thought to herself that the witches on campus may still be alive, but she had burnt them, whether they realized it or not, where it hurt the most.

Written in response to one of M’s October Writing Prompts.

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NaNo No Mo’

The air, at least in Michigan, is starting to chill. The leaves are turning shades of yellow, orange, and red before drifting to the ground as beautiful corpses that litter our lawns, and then get wet and gross and present rake-breaking eyesores. It is, in short, October. Beautiful, fall-is-here October. Which means next month is November. And as most of those who like to write are aware, November is supposed to be a push to get a (probably shitty) 50k word draft of a novel drafted by partaking in NaNoWriMo.

There’s no hard and fast rule saying you have to participate in NaNoWriMo. But as someone who feels like there is at least one decent novel hidden somewhere in her sleep-deprived brain and shriveled, cynical heart, it is an event which I have attempted a few times, and always feel I should consider.

But not this month. Fuck November! My November is going to be awful. I’m going to be up to my eyeballs in work, struggling valiantly to meet nearly-impossible deadlines while sitting in a cube and feeling my ass grow wider each day because exercise is for people without kids and soul-crushing jobs.

However, theoretically, my December should be calmer. In fact, I’m taking at least two weeks off. So I am setting myself a goal in December, instead – 2k words per day for 2 weeks on whatever. Maybe a novel, maybe some short stories. But I want to write consistently, in addition to keeping my house clean, and keeping my kids fairly happy and well taken care-of.

What about you? Are you torturing yourself in November? Or is November a no-go? If the latter, do you want to push yourself in December, like me?

Have to Share: Laura Rider’s Masterpiece

Loved this novel, and had to share, in case anyone else has been feeling a bit of reading ennui lately:

Laura Rider is a force of nature hidden amongst the housewives in her small Wisconsin town. She owns a gardening business with her husband, Charlie, with whom she has laughed, loved (but not physically, lately), and lived for more than a decade. But now, she pretty much knows the gardening business inside and out. So now, she’s bored. And looking for something else to do.

When one of her heroes, radio personality Jenna Faroli, moves to town with her husband, an older man who is also not providing for his wife’s carnal nature, both Laura and her husband notice. Charlie, the easy-going, charming, lovable idiot, is eager to find someone who is as interested in a sordid, motel screw as he is. Laura is fascinated that this charming, intelligent woman is kind of physically plain and also, interested in her husband. Romance, chaos, and creative forces ensue.

This novel is fun, funny, and looks at what happens when smart people are forced to recognize their own flawed humanity by making terrible mistakes. How being driven can help you figure out what change you are craving, and how to make it happen. And how believing in aliens does not prevent a man from catching the attention of not just one, but two, amazing woman – but keeping their attention requires effort.

I loved this novel, and the audiobook version I borrowed from the library was very well done. The reader had an engaging voice, and although my office may be freezing, this book made it entertaining to drive to & from it. I may have just listened to this book at the right time, but I don’t think so. Although it only has 2.5 stars on Goodreads, I found it well-written, funny, and insightful.

So I highly recommend, if you’re looking for something fun.

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.