Lilliann, The Inventor

Now, Lillian,” Daddy said, squinting through the rain on the car windshield, “I want you to remember that moving was not an easy task.  I had to find a new job, to start with.  I’m going to have a hard time getting new jobs if I get into the habit of quitting after just a few months.”

I know, Daddy,” Lillian said.  She was fiddling with Jeffery, her toy robot.  He was her very favorite, with a square shaped copper body, a dome style head, and multicolored lights on his chest

Daddy glanced at Jeffery, and shuddered.  “Finding a new place to rent was even harder.  I had to convince the new landlady that the old one was crazy.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to find us another place if something happens at this one.”

Lillian looked up at her father.  “I didn’t mean to make everyone so mad, Daddy.  I’m sorry.”

Daddy sighed.  “I know you didn’t mean to cause all this trouble, Honey.  Just, no more pets, okay?  That’s what really got everyone’s attention.  Just stick to strays from now on.”

No pets, got it,” Lillian said.  “I promise.”

Alright, then,” Daddy said.

They drove past a park.  The falling rain made the swings and the slide glisten.  “I thought you could play at the park,” Daddy said. Looking hopeful.  “You spend too much time inside with your grandpa’s books.”

Can I have a workroom in the new house?” Lillian asked.

Sure,” Daddy said, “down in the basement.  But only if you spend some time outside in the park.  Every week, Lillian.”

Lillian sighed.  “Alright,” she said.

He glanced again at Jeffery, and said, “I mean it, Lillian, no pets.”

Okay,” Lillian said, “I promise.”

The next few days were a flurry of unpacking.  Lillian made sure to put up a bookshelf and put away her grandfather’s ancient books first.  Then she unpacked the box of her machines.  “You’ll all be happy to get out of your box, won’t you?” she crooned.  One by one she set the machines out onto the floor.  The yellow race car scooted around, beeping its horn.  The horse shaped one stomped around, and the gurney truck pulled its weight up and down. 

One day, about a week after they moved in, Lillian made her way down the stairs for breakfast.  She had lovely plans to spend the day working on setting up her work room.  Those plans were dashed when she sat down to breakfast.

Daddy gave her a smile, and set a plate of waffles down in front of her.  “It’s a beautiful day out,” he said, setting down his own plate.  “A great day to head down to the park and meet some girls your age.”

“I was hoping you’d forget about that,” Lillian said.  She took a bite of her waffles.  “I wanted to start setting up my workroom.  I haven’t been able to yet.”

There will be lots of days to do that,” Daddy said.  “Rainy days and cold snowy days, and those days it’s just overcast and you’re not sure if it will rain or not.  You have to take advantage of sunny days, Lillian.  Your grandpa’s books will still be there when you get home.  I know, I’ve tried to get rid of them.  It doesn’t work.”

Oh, alright,” Lillian said with a sigh.  She dug into her waffles, and thought grudging thoughts about other girls her age.  She’d never liked other girls her age.

All to soon Lillian made her way down to the park, Jeffery in her arms.  The park was full of other children, running around on the grass and climbing all over the equipment that looked a lot less shiny in the sunlight.  They were loud and screaming, and not one of them were bothering to look where they were going.  Lillian held Jeffery close to her, too afraid of him being stepped on to put him down anywhere.

Lillian looked around for somewhere a little quieter.  She spied a sandbox under the shade of a tree, and headed that way.

The only two children there were a little boy playing in the sand with a plastic red shovel and pale, and a girl about Lillian’s age.  She was reading a book, and looked up when Lillian approached.  “Hi,” she said, “I’m Kasey.”

Hello. I’m Lillian.  My dad and I just moved here.”

Cool,” Kasey said.  She closed her book and inclined her head towards the boy in the sandbox.  “That’s my little brother Charlie.”

Hi!” Charlie said.  He waived his shovel at her, and went back to patting sand into his pail.

I like your robot,” Kasey said.  “Can I see him?”

Lillian considered this request for a moment, then said, “Okay.  His name is Jeffery.”

She set Jeffery down on the grass, and he started to walk around, making his beeping noise.  Kasey picked him up, taking the utmost care.  “Where do the batteries go?” she asked.

He doesn’t run on batteries,” Lillian said.  “I made him.”

Oh, that’s really cool,” Kasey said, making Lillian feel much better.  “How did you learn to make robots that don’t need batteries?”

My grandpa taught me before he died,” Lillian said.  “He taught my dad, too, but he doesn’t like it as much.”

Charlie took notice of Jeffery then.  “Robot!” he cried. He hurried out of the sandbox, and reached for Jeffery.

“Charlie, no!” Kasey cried. She held Jeffery away from him, passing the robot back to Lillian. “You don’t grab stuff that isn’t yours.”

She turned to Lillian and said, “Sorry. My mom works here at the park, so I have to watch Charlie all day.” She pointed towards a woman selling ice cream out of a truck. The woman saw Kasey gesturing to her and waived. “We come here every day that she works.”

“So you must spend a lot of time here,” Lillian said. “That must be fun.”

“It is most of the time,” Kasey said.

“What are you reading?” Lillian asked.

“A Wrinkle in Time,” Kasey said. “I don’t like it all that much, but everyone seems to say how good it is.”

Lillian sat down on the grass next to her. “I didn’t like it either,” she said. “What books have you read that you do like?”

The girls chatted about books while Charlie went back to his pale and shovel.  Lillian, who’d had experiences with little boys before, was pleasantly surprised to find that Charlie was neither loud or insistent on attention.  He hummed to himself while making lopsided castles in the sand.

After a few moments, though, his humming stopped.  “Kay,” he said, looking towards his sister.

Kasey looked up, and muttered, “Oh, not him.  Don’t even look at him, Charlie, and maybe he won’t come over here.”

Who’s him?”  Lillian asked. 

Billy,” Kasey said.  She nodded towards a little boy coming onto the playground.  He was holding the hand of a woman who wasn’t looking at him.  Instead she was looking at her phone.  The boy looked to be about Charlie’s age, and he was straining away from the woman.  She let him go and settled herself onto a bench, not bothering to see which direction he went.

That’s not a very good babysitter,” Lillian said.

That’s his mom,” Kasey replied.

Billy made his way to the sandbox.  Charlie picked up his red pale, and gave Billy a concerned look. 

“Bucket!” Billy cried, “Mine!”                 

“No!” Charlie cried.

Quit it!” Kasey said.  She hurried to pull Charlie and his pale away.  Lillian looked towards Billy’s mom.  She hadn’t noticed anything, and was still playing on her phone.

My bucket!” Billy said again, and reached for the pale, grabbing hold of one side of it.  “No, mine!” Charlie said.  He kept ahold of his pale, and tried desperately to pull it out of the bully’s hands. 

The pale, which was a cheap thing from the dollar store, snapped in half.  Charlie fell back into Kasey’s arms, and Billy fell into the sand.  Both boys were holding half of the broken pale.  They started to wail.

Charlie, please don’t,” Kasey said, desperately trying to console him.  “Don’t cry, it was only a plastic pale.”

But it was his plastic pale,” Lillian said.  She carefully took the piece from Charlie, then snatched the piece away from Billy.  “I’ll got tell his mom,” she said.  She walked up to the woman on her cell phone.  “Excuse me,” she said, “maybe you didn’t notice, but your son broke that little boy’s toy pale.”

The woman glanced at Lillian, but didn’t respond.  She instead looked right back at her phone. 

Ma’am, can you hear me?” Lillian asked.

Go find your mom,” the woman replied.

Lillian knew a lost cause when she saw one.  She sighed, and threw the pieces of the pale away on her way back to Kasey and Charlie.  “Sorry,” she said.

It’s okay,” Kasey replied.  She’d distracted Charlie with a piece of chalk to draw on the sides of the sandbox with.  “I’ve tried that before.  That lady doesn’t pay attention to anything but her stupid phone.”

So I’ve noticed,” Lillian said.

It was getting close to lunch time.  Lillian got to her feet, and said, “I should go home now.  It was nice to meet you, Kasey.  I don’t usually like meeting new people.”

It was nice to meet you, too,” Kasey said.  “Will you be back at the park again?”

I think I will,” Lillian said.  She waved goodbye to her new friends, and started for home.

Along the way Lillian heard a sound from an overturned trash bin.  She looked inside and saw a thin cat munching on the leftover fast food someone had thrown away.  It was dirty, with matted fur and stains around its mouth.  When it saw Lillian looking at it, it arched its back and hissed.

Hey, there,” Lillian said, reaching a careful hand towards the cat.  “No collar.  You don’t look like anyone’s pet.”

A few days later Lillian hurried down the stairs for breakfast, holding her newest robot.  It was a shiny blue race car.  She held Jeffery in her other arm.  Once she reached the

kitchen she set them down on the floor.  Jeffery walked around, and the sports car drove along the floor, beeping its horn.

Do you care if I go to the park?” Lillian asked Daddy.

Of course not,” Daddy said with a smile.  “Did you finish your new robot, then?”

Yeah, I want to show it to Kasey and Charlie,” Lillian said.  Daddy set a bowl of oatmeal in front of her, and she started to eat a little quicker than usual.

I’m so glad you’ve started making friends,” Daddy said.  “It’s important to not let your work consume you.”

I know, Daddy,” Lillian said.

Soon she was on her way to the park, both Jeffery and her new blue car tucked in a bag along with a copy of The Wind in The Willows for Kasey to borrow.

Looking around, Lillian spotted Kasey and Charlie.  They were playing on the swings.  Kasey saw Lillian and waved to her.  Lillian hurried over to join her.

You haven’t been around for a couple days,” Kasey said.

I get kind of caught up when I’m working on a new robot,” Lillian said.  She pulled the blue car out of her bag, and set it in the gravel around the swings so it could drive around. 

Charlie’s face lit up and cried, “Car!” He jumped down from his swing and ran after it.

Be careful, Charlie,” Kasey said.

It’s okay,” Lillian said.  “I made it for him to chase.  He can’t break it.”

You don’t have a little brother, do you?” Kasey asked.

Still, Charlie was happy to chase the car, leaving Kasey and Lillian free to swing and talk about books.  “Thank you for bringing this for me to read,” Kasey said, looking over the cover of The Wind and The Willows.

Lillian, who had never had anyone to share a book with before, said, “I’m glad you wanted to read it.”

There were shouts from across the park.  It was Billy, pulling a little girl from a bouncing hippo so that he could clamber onto it himself.

That really is a wretched little boy,” Lillian said.  “His mom should keep a better eye on him.”

She won’t, though,” Kasey said.  “Mom was really mad about the pale.  She didn’t have the extra money to replace it.”

That’s not fair,” Lillian said.  “Billy’s mom should replace it.  He’s the one who broke it.”

As though talking about him had gotten his attention, Billy started towards them.  Lillian reached down from her swing and scooped up Jeffery.  But Billy wasn’t looking at Jeffery.  He was looking at the sports car.

Car!” Billy cried, and started to chase after it.  Charlie kept his distance, but didn’t seem to mind Billy chasing the car with him.

Are you okay with that?” Kasey asked.

I’m okay if you are,” Lillian said.  “At least he’s not terrorizing anyone.

So long as he doesn’t mess with Charlie I don’t care,” Kasey said.

When Lillian had built her car, she’d done so with Charlie’s speed in mind.  Billy was bigger, and he could run faster.  Lillian also hadn’t planned on a little boy jumping onto  the car with both feet.  But that’s just what Billy did.

No, you wretched little brat!” Lillian cried.  She jumped from her swing and set Jeffery on the ground.  He car lay in the gravel crushed into pieces.  She raised up her hand to slap Billy, but stopped herself just in time.  Even so, Billy sat down on the ground and started to bawl.  “Mommy, Mommy!” he screamed.

Good luck with that, kid,” Lillian muttered.

But suddenly there his mother was.  Her phone was in her pocket for once.

You again,” she said, glaring at Lillian.  “What did you do to my son?  You little brat, you broke his car!”

That is my car,” Lillian said.  “And your son broke it, not me.”

Billy’s mom grabbed Lillian by her upper arm.  “You little liar.  What girl your age plays with toy cars?  You’re going to take me to your mom right now.”

I can’t, she’s dead,” Lillian said.  “Let go of me!”

Well, that explains a lot,” the woman said.  She let go of Lillian, and scooped up Billy along with the remains of the car.  “Take me to your dad, then.”

Kasey, keep hold of Jeffery for me until I can come back for him,” Lillian called.

The woman walked behind Lillian the whole way back home, carrying her wailing son.  When they got there she hammered on the door.  Daddy answered, looking very puzzled.

Can I help you?” he asked, glancing from the woman to Lillian.

Yeah, um, your kid smashed up my son’s toy car,” the woman said.  “Toys aren’t cheap, you know.  I don’t have the money to be replacing stuff that other kids break.”

Daddy looked at the wrecked bits of car.  Then his eyes went to Lillian’s arm, which was still red from where the woman had grabbed her. 

Oh, Honey,” Daddy said.  “What were you thinking?  You’re a big girl, you should know better.”

Daddy!” Lillian cried, “that is my car.  I made it.”

Now don’t tell lies, Lillian,” Daddy said.  “You know I hate liars.  Miss, I am so sorry.  Please, won’t you come in?  I’ll make us some  coffee, and we can discuss the cost of the car.  It looks very expensive.”

Thanks,” the woman said.

As Daddy closed the door he said, “Lillian, did anyone see you leave the park?”

It was nearly a week later when Lillian once again set off for the park after breakfast.  It was an overcast day, but she thought she could catch an hour or two before it started to rain.

Other children had apparently not thought they would be so lucky.  The only two in the park were Kasey and Charlie.  Charlie was playing in the sandbox with his red shovel and a mixer bowl.  Kasey was on the nearby cement, playing with a set of jacks.  Jeffery was walking around at her side.  Their mom was on the path near them, looking around for customers.

Hello,” Lillian said.

Hi,” Kasey said.  Charlie waved, then went back to the sand.  “You’re the little girl Kasey was telling me about,” her mom said.  “She told me how you stood up for Charlie, and that terrible woman went to your house.  I hope you didn’t get in any trouble.”

No, Daddy knew I wouldn’t smash some other kid’s toy,” Lillian said.

Well, I’m glad,” Kasey’s mom said.  She gave Lillian a quick pat on the shoulder, and moved on along the path.

Lillian sat down next to Kasey, and scooped up Jeffery.  “Thank you for keeping him safe for me,” she said.

No problem,” Kasey said.  “Mom was a little freaked out by him, though.  He doesn’t ever really stop walking around, does he?”

No,” Lillian said.  “I’m sorry he upset your mom.  She seems really nice.  I hope she doesn’t mind that I made a robot for Charlie.”

Charlie heard his name and looked over at the girls.  His eyes came to rest on the shiny red fire engine that Lillian had just taken out of a bag.  “Fire truck!” he cried.  He ran over to the truck, and knelt down to push it across the grass.  The light on top of the truck started to flash, and the little ladder moved up and down.  “I made this one a little different than the others,” Lillian said with a smile.  “It’s a new power source.  Can you let me know if there are any problems?”

Sure,” Kasey said.

Still holding Jeffery, Lillian pulled her new cell phone out of her pocket.  “Check out what my dad made me,” she said, holding it out for Kasey to inspect.  “He said that now that I’m out of the house more often, he wants to make sure he can get a hold of me. So, how have you been the last week?”

“Really good,” Kasey said. “Billy and his mom haven’t been here at all since the last day I saw you.”

“Well, I think Dad made her feel pretty bad about how she’d been acting,” Lillian said.

They watched Charlie play with his fire engine in the sun. Lillian smiled, enjoying the feeling of the sun. Daddy was right, she decided. She should take advantage of the sunny days.

If you liked this story, please check out Days, available on the I Store, Gumroad and Tablo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talking to People About My Writing

So, first of all, I have to tell you that I have the worst luck when it comes to computers. I swear, I can’t get through a draft without something bad happening to mine.

This time, it was my adorable, lovable puppy. He chewed through my power cord, thankfully when it wasn’t plugged in. I was able to fix it with some electrical tape, but that was only a temporary thing. If you’re reading this I’m back up and running now, because I can’t actually post anything without my computer. But as I write this, (in an email document) I’m desperately praying that my power cord comes soon, so that this posts on time. The moral here is, if you think you’ve fixed a power cord with electric tape, assume that it won’t stay fixed for long and order a new one right away. Also, maybe don’t have a puppy. (Kidding!)

Anyway, what I really wanted to talk to you about today was something totally different.

I want to talk about talking about my writing to other people, because it’s something that I struggled with, and still struggle with. Maybe it’s something that you struggle with too. Maybe we can learn from each other.

See, I have a hard time talking to people. I struggle with social anxiety, and it’s hard for me to talk out loud to people. I’m afraid I’ll be perceived as stupid, or lazy. This causes me all sort of anxiety when I send out query letters, approach book reviewers, post my stories here on PBW, and pretty much anything else that involves reaching out with my work.

Obviously, I have to get over this. Whether I end up going the traditional publishing route or the independent, I have to talk to people about my writing. But it can’t just be gotten over. Anxiety, much like the depression I fight with as well, is not something that you just ‘get over’. In fact, if you tell someone with a mental illness, even a mild one like mine, to get over it, there’s a good chance you’re an asshole.

Now, this might actually all sound like bullshit. I mean, it has to be. I publish two posts a week, am active on social media, and share at least two of my stories every month. I’ve published two books, sent my short stories off to editors hundreds of times, entered countless contests and have sent my my novels out to agents.

The truth is that I’ve come a long way with my anxiety. I’ve worked very hard, and still do just about every day. I’ve learned, over time, to find ways to combat my anxiety, and get my work out in spite of it.

One big thing I had on my side was that I’m not afraid of failing, just looking like an idiot. So a kindly worded rejection letter has never been a big deal to me. I wasn’t bad, other people were just better. I’ve also, every time I’ve ever sent a query out, just assumed that I was going to get a rejection letter, so that’s not an issue.

My biggest concern is that I’m going to be personally judged. Even my fiction also touches on my history. I worry that I share too much about my family, my personal failings, my life. Which is why, in a large way, I started this blog. It’s why I’ve always been very loud about when you could expect to hear from me. I’m scared of posting, but I’m way more scared of not meeting an expectation that I’ve told others to have of me.

Following other blogs that also dive into personal issues has also helped me a lot. I feel better about sharing my history when I see other bloggers do it. One has talked in depth about her divorce. Another has similar issues as me, coming from an abusive childhood. Reading their stories helped me. I realized that A. I wasn’t the only one who felt like this and B. sharing is good for both the reader and the writer. I thank God for the men and women who were brutally honest online, because it encourages me to do the same.

Some of it is just shutting down the critic in my head. Telling that part of my brain to shut the hell up. It can be hard, but if I repeat it often enough I get pretty far.

And this is why, my dear readers, I am constantly saying over and over, “I am a writer.” Because if I say it often enough, I can make myself believe it. So, when I’m stressing out over a query, I whisper it. When I don’t really want to press publish on a post, I say it out loud. And when I nearly cried over putting my books on Gumroad, I almost screamed about it. I am a writer, and this is what writers do.

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Some more really bad poetry by me

Oliver

The wiggle, waddle

The excitement of your life!

You cannot stand still

Sluggish morning

Pouring myself in

Fitting into the crevices

Of the morning flow

Chai

Rain on he window

Steam rising from my tea cup

the scent of warm leaves

mingled with sweet, strong spices

warm hands, even in the cold

Color on My Lips

A little color on my lips

and I’m ready, now, to go

With a gentle swing to my hips

A little color on my lips

for comfort and courage to sew

to face the world with a glow

A little color on my lips

And I’m ready, now, to go

Gracie

Gracie wasn’t anything like the kids I usually deal with. Most kids that get dropped in my lap are seeking foster homes for terrible reasons. Abusive parents, drug addict parents, dead parents. The kids come in shell shocked and broken. Some are screaming obscenities and ready for a fight over anything. Some can’t string two words together they’re so worked up. The worst just sit quietly and accept wherever I send them, as though nothing’s going to ever be good again so it couldn’t possibly matter. Those are the kids that really worry me.

Gracie was different. For one thing, she wasn’t taken from or abandoned by her parents. She just appeared in our waiting room one day, in a neat pink dress with a nice brown coat and matching suitcase.

Candace, our secretary, said that she’d walked right in all by her lonesome and sat herself down.

“Are you looking for someone, Sweetie?” Candace asked.

“No, Ma’am,” Gracie said.

“Where are your parents?” By this time, a few of us caseworkers had come out of our offices to see what was going on.

Gracie just looked at all of us, with those big hazel eyes of hers, and said, “They had to go away for awhile.”

Well, what other place did a child have to go when her parents went away but the foster care office?

There was a lot of calling back and forth to the police in all the surrounding areas, checking to see if anybody was missing a young female with brown hair and hazel eyes. All she could tell us was that her name was Gracie. She didn’t know her address, her parent’s names, what school she might go to, or if she had any relations who might be looking for her.

While we were all trying to find information on her, Gracie sat on her chair as though content to wait. We all prayed she wasn’t allergic to anything when we fed her some lunch.

Finally, after it had been established that no one in the tri state area was missing her, I called an emergency foster family, the Clarks.

Mr and Mrs showed up right away. Mrs. Clark was a big woman, and she gave Gracie a big hug right off the bat, and said, “You’ve had some day, haven’t you?”

“You can come stay with us until your mom and dad come back, okay?” Mr. Clark asked. He was an older gentleman, graying on top like his wife. They were old hands at the whole foster parent thing.

Gracie left with them, holding her suitcase in one hand and Mrs. Clark with the other. I, as the caseworker assigned to this mess, thought that all I had to do at that point was locate her parents.

After two days of fruitless searching, though, Mrs. Clark was back with Gracie walking calmly behind her. Mrs. Clark was not so calm.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot keep this child in my house for another minute!” she cried.
“What happened?” I asked, sending Gracie into the waiting room and getting Mrs. Clark into a chair.
“There’s something wrong with her!” she cried. “Yesterday, Todd took her out on his boat and he fell out! Nearly drowned.”
“Wait, so he almost drowned right in front of her?” I asked.
“Yes!” Mrs. Clark said. “And she just sat in the boat, the whole time. Didn’t say a word, during or after.”
“The poor thing was probably in shock,” I said.
“I think she’s a little demon. I haven’t had a full night sleep since she moved in,” Mrs. Clark said.
“What’s she doing that’s keeping you from sleeping?” I asked.
Mrs. Clark stopped, and was silent a moment. “She whispers things,” she said.
“She what?” I asked.
“Never mind. I won’t have her back in my house,” Mrs. Clark snapped, and stormed out of my office before I could say another word. I jotted myself a note to move the Clark’s off of my good foster family list, and went to talk to Gracie.

She’d sat herself down in the same chair as before looking around the room as if nothing was wrong. I sat next to her, and said, “How you feeling, Gracie?”
“Okay,” she said. She opened her suitcase and took out a cloth covered sketchbook.
“You want to talk about what happened with Mr. Clark? It must have been scary.”
“Not really,” Gracie said. “I had a life vest on.”

Being a caseworker and not a therapist, I had no idea what to say to that.
I called Mrs. Flemming. She and her husband were new foster parents, and I hadn’t seen much of them yet. But she came into the office all energy and color with a bright red coat and curly blond hair that was all over the place.
“Oh, aren’t you just a doll!” Mrs. Flemming cried upon seeing Gracie. “Do you want to come stay at my place for a few days?”
“Yes, thank you,” Gracie said. She seemed quite calm, taking Mrs. Flemming’s hand and leaving with her. They looked picture perfect leaving the office.

With Gracie out of the office, I returned to my search for her parents.

Someone had the news on in the background. While I called police offices, hospitals and mortuaries, Candace and some of the others were crowding around. I looked up while on hold. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“There was a shooting in Ohio,” Candace said, her eyes wide.
“Just like that one in Colorado a few days ago,” said Jim, one of the other caseworkers.

“People thing it might be the same group.”
Had there been a shooting? I hadn’t noticed, being so wrapped up in the mystery of Gracie. “When was that?” I asked.
“On the ninth,” Candace said, looking back at the tv.
I thought back. The ninth was the same day Gracie had wandered into the office.
I decided it was time to widen my search.

Two days later, I’d managed to do nothing more than mildly annoy a few police offices in Colorado who where quite busy enough without trying to track down missing parents. As I searched for a rock I hadn’t looked under yet, Candace knocked on my office door.
“Mr. Flemming is here, and he’s got Gracie with him,” she said.
No one ever comes into the office with their foster kid to tell us what a delight they’ve been. So it was with dark expectations that I admitted Mr. Flemming into my office.
The man was young, and as bright as his wife. Or, at least he seemed like he must be on a good day. This was not a good day for him. He was unshaven, his shirt had a coffee stain on the front and he looked like he hadn’t slept the night before.
“I’m really sorry to barge in on you like this,” he said.
“Don’t worry about it,” I replied. “What’s on your mind?”
“Monica’s had, well, an accident,” he said. “She was in the attic, getting down this big doll house. We’ve got a ladder going up there, and on the way down she fell. The dollhouse landed on her.”
“Is she okay?” I asked.
“She’s still in the hospital,” Mr. Flemming said. He sat on the chair in front of me, wringing his hands. “It’s just, it’s so weird, you know? She was telling me before that she was having these nightmares about falling, or hurting herself. Actually, I have too. Ever since, well ever since Gracie came to stay with us.”
Before I could say anything he tossed his hands in the air and said, “I know! I know, it’s not like she’s doing anything. She’s been so polite, so well behaved. It’s just that, Monica was really the one who wanted to do this. Now, she’s in the hospital, and I can’t take care of a little girl and her at the same time.”
“Alright, I understand,” I sighed.
Mr. Flemming almost ran out of the office, leaving Gracie in the waiting room again.
I took a deep breath before going out to sit with her. She was drawing in her book when I joined her. It must have been cold outside, because even sitting next to her made me feel cold.
“You okay, Gracie?” I asked.
“Sure,” she replied. “Mrs. Flemming fell, not me.”
“That’s true but it’s no fun seeing someone get hurt.”
She shrugged. “Do I have to go somewhere else now?” she asked.
“Just until your mom or dad show up,” I said. She was taking all of this too well. I was sure she was going to explode sooner or later.

The next available family was the Marshalls. I figured they’d be a solid bet. They’d adopted a little boy last year who’s mom had overdosed. Mrs and Mr showed up with little Ralph in arm.
Ralph was one of my favorite happy ending babies. He was a little over two years, and recovering well from the addictions he’d been born with. The Marshalls were doing a great job with him.
Gracie gave Ralph an apprehensive look as Mr. Marshall knelt down in front of her. “I hear you’ve had a string of bad luck, girl,” he said.
“I guess so,” Gracie replied, holding her suitcase with both hands.
“Well, don’t worry,” he said, holding his hand out for her to shake. “We’re gonna look after you now, and I have very good luck. Would you like me to carry your suitcase to the car?”
“No, thank you,” Gracie said, but she followed them out of the office without complaint.

It had been days, and I was running out of places to look for Gracie’s lost parents. Worse, my in box was getting full. Gracie was sad, but there were a lot of sad kids. I added her name to all of the missing children lists I could find, and got back to work.
In the first hour, I dealt with one infant being surrendered, a boy who’d gotten into some legal trouble that was too much for his parents to deal with, and another who’s mom was drinking too much.
The next few weeks went by in a flurry of catch up work. I was only vaguely aware of the rest of the world. I’d even forgotten all about Gracie, in fact, until Mr. Mitchell showed up in my office first thing in the morning with Gracie in tow. “How can I help you?” I asked.
“You ought to tell people, if you’re going to place a child with behavioral issues with them,” Mr. Mitchell said. He looked furious. “You put my family in danger, I deserved to know!”
“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” I asked. “Because Gracie hasn’t exhibited any dangerous behavior. We would have told you.”
“She burned Ralph’s hand on the stove!” he cried. “The kids were playing in the living room, and Sammy took a load of cloths down to the basement. While she was down there she heard Ralphie screaming. She came upstairs and he was sitting on the kitchen floor, with the burner on and his hand all burned!”
“Where was Gracie?” I asked, crossing my hands on my desk.
“She was still in the living room, drawing in her book like nothing was going on!”
“So at what point is this story going to explain to me how Gracie burned Ralph’s hand?” I asked.
“She made him do it. He’d never gone anywhere near that stove before. She whispered in his ear, just like she’s been doing since she got there!”
“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.
“I just, never mind,” Mr. Mitchell said. “We’re not keeping her. I’ve got to meet Sammy and Ralph at the hospital, excuse me.”
He stormed out, not even looking at Gracie as he passed.
I cursed under my breath as I started into the waiting room. Before I reached Gracie, though, Candace said, “Turn up the tv,” in a hushed voice.

I looked toward the television mounted on the wall. There was a hospital, I wasn’t sure which one. But people in black were running through it with guns.
“Turn that off,” I said, “there’s a kid in here.” No one seemed to want to listen to me, though. Not knowing what else to do, I took Gracie into my office, and shut the door. As I led her into the room, I was struck again by how cold she felt.
“Well, it’s kind of a crazy day, isn’t it?” I asked her.
“I guess so,” she said.
I tried to call a couple of foster families on my list, but no one was picking up. Gracie sat in the chair in my office, drawing. She hummed a bit, but I didn’t recognize the song.

Finally, I left her in my office for a moment to go see what was going on.
Candace was crying at her desk. She looked up when she heard me. “There were shootings all over the world,” she whispered. “Pittsburgh, DC, London, Tokyo. They got hospitals and schools. They’re saying on the tv that it’s all the same group.”
Another caseworker standing next to her desk said, “They could be anywhere.”
Well, that explained why I couldn’t get anyone on the phone.
I made Candace turn the tv off. We rounded up the caseworkers and kids in the building, and got everyone in the waiting room. We pulled out board games and used the coffee pot to brew hot chocolate. With the kids distracted, we discussed what we were supposed to do with them. It wasn’t ideal, but with no foster families available, we decided it was best to put them up at our homes for the night. Gracie would come with me.

She walked with me to my car, carrying her suitcase. “Is that heavy?” I asked her, “I can take it for you, if you want.”
“No thank you, I can manage,” she said. We climbed into the car, and I turned on the heat. I wasn’t sure whether it was the cool air or the news that made me so cold.
Gracie was the perfect house guest. Her manners at the hastily unburdened dinner table were lovely and she was content to watch cartoon movies. I didn’t dare turn on cable, for fear of stumbling across news footage of the shootings.
After she was all washed up and put to bed on the pull out, I went off to my room in the hope of getting some more work done before bed. I left the door cracked so that I could keep an eye on her.
The night was quiet. I guess my neighbors were too upset by the day to be making much noise. The only sound I heard was the scratching of my pen on paper.

The whispering started low, I was aware of it before I really heard it. Not for a second did I think it was coming from my neighbors. I stood up, trying to think it what could be making that dark, scraping noise. Then I heard my living room window open.
I ran into the room in time to see a thick, dark shadow slither through the crack. It darted towards the pullout where Gracie was sleeping.
I got there first, and scooped her up into my arms. Just then another shadow slipped into the room. Images were whirling in my mind. I was sure that the best thing to do would be to leap out of the window, or turn on the burner in the kitchen. Or, maybe just take a butcher knife and go visiting.

Gracie woke up in my arms. She was freezing, and it was little wonder. The room was so cold that ice was forming on the window, cracking the glass. I held her close, trying to think of a way to save her, trying not to hurt myself, just trying to breath.
“Mommy, Daddy!” she cried. She squirmed from my arms, stronger than any human child, and ran to the shadows. As she ran, they changed. Suddenly they looked not like shadows, but like a man and a woman, both well dressed and tall. Even like this, I couldn’t imagine they’d ever pass for human.
“Gracie!” they cried, bending down to pick her up. Their voices were like razor blades in my skin, I could feel blood dripping from my ears.
“Are you all done now?” she asked.
“For now,” the female one said.
The male looked down at me, and said, “Thank you for looking after her. She’s out little good luck charm.”
I wanted to weep at the sight of his eyes. I wanted to scream, pull my skin off, stab myself in the eye.
Just like that, though, they were gone. The last thing I heard was Gracie, her voice taking on the grating, scraping tone of her kind, calling, “Goodbye!”

If you liked this, don’t forget to check out Days and Other Stories, available on Amazon, Istore, and Gumroad.

Writing 101, Day 9

Rough draft, mostly playing with this idea.

WARM

It was warm out finally, and thank God for that, Marcey thought.  At 72, the cold was no fun.  But finally the winter chill had gone, the wet grass was dried by the late May sun, and she could take her work to the park.  So she packed up her knitting supplies, and took herself down to the park.

She bought herself a cup of coffee, and settled into her work.  She was making a little red sweater for a client who wanted something more personal for her nephew’s second birthday.  It made Marcey’s daughter laugh whenever they talked about her little ‘side hustle,’ as  they called it.  It wasn’t like she needed the money.  She wasn’t hurting like some her age.  She just liked to keep busy.

As she made her way to the chest of the sweater, a young couple walked past.  The woman was keeping up a constant stream of chatter.  The man, however, stopped in his tracks, and stared at Marcey.  Specifically, he stared at the sweater.  She was starting to wonder whether she should yell for the police, when the man burst into tears.

“Sorry,” the woman said to her, pulling the man away.  “I’m really sorry.”  She hurried away from Marcey as quickly as she could, still dragging the sobbing man along.

“What was all that?” Marcey muttered.  Since she knew she wasn’t likely to find out, she sipped her coffee, and made a mental note to tell her daughter about it later.

It was a warm day, but Jordan didn’t feel very warm.  There was never such a thing a good weather for a funeral, after all.

She’d put a lot into helping Paul plan it.  There was no one else around to do it, and hadn’t he always been her best friend?  So she pulled on her black dress, and went to his apartment to pick him up.

Paul was dressed when she got there.  Well, that’s a step in the right direction, she thought.  He even managed a smile for her when he came to the door.

“Did you eat?” she asked him.

“Not yet,” he replied.

“Let’s take a walk through the park, and go to the diner,” Jordan said.

“Yeah, okay,” he agreed.

Jordan felt triumphant as they started along the path.  They’d talked about nothing but the funeral for days, so she thought of anything she could to talk about now other than that.

“So that Rick guy called me again,” she said.  “Just out of the blue, like our last date went well or something.”

“No kidding,” Paul said, and actually managed a laugh.  “After spending half the date talking on his phone?”

“I know,” she replied.

They were coming up on a bench.  There was an old woman sitting there, drinking a coffee and knitting a red sweater.  When Paul saw her, he froze.  Then he started to sob.

The woman looked scared to death, which made absolute sense to Jordan.  Generally, people don’t start crying at the sight of art projects.  “Sorry,” she said, and started pulling Paul away, “I’m really sorry.”  She drug him down the path, trying to figure out what about that old woman had made Paul so upset.

If it had only been Maureen, Paul thought, maybe he could stand it a little better.  He dressed in the bedroom they had shared for three years, where her side of the bed still smelled a little like her.  He had loved her since the first day he met her, and when she died it broke his heart.  But if it had only been her, he supposed it would have healed.

Jordan was pulling up.  She’d been so great though all this, the only person he’d had to rely on.  He had put so much of this on her, even though he knew she must be hurting too.

So when she suggested a walk through the park and breakfast at the diner, he gave her a smile and said yes.

And at first, he really did feel better.  Listening to Jordan babble, walking with her in the sunlight, he felt warm for the first time since Maureen died.

Then he saw the woman, knitting a sweater with red yarn.

Maureen had laughed at him when he brought her that red yarn and a pair of knitting needles.  “I hope those are for decoration,” she’d said, “because I don’t knit.”

“Yeah, but you’re going to be a mommy now,” Paul had told her with a laugh.  “Everybody’s mother should knit.”

He couldn’t help it.  He started to weep.

If it had only been Maureen, he supposed he could have healed.  But knowing there would have been a baby, and now there never would be?  He didn’t believe he would never be warm again.

Done!

Okay, so I didn’t write a response to the Writing 101 post today, because I was busy finishing this instead.


Photo by Garrett Luttrell
Photo by Garrett Luttrell

That pile of five composition notebooks is the first draft of Starting Chains, book two of Woven.  After working on it since November, it is finally done!

Oh, and that’s my sort of creepy cat, Harper.  She’s not always so glowey, as my husband puts it.

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