Diana’s May Story: Defining Human

Pixabay image by Brigitte Werner

Defining Human

by D. Wallace Peach

“I don’t know why you keep that decrepit thing around.” Delia sipped her iced tea and glanced out the window of her friend’s home. On the manicured lawn, Sherri’s cyborg pushed their children on side-by-side swings, a human arm heaving on one small back while a mechanical arm pressed on the other.

“His name is Carter, and he’s part of the family.” Sherri angled her head for a view of their laughing boys. Dainty sandwiches adorned a platter at her table’s center, and Delia nibbled though she wouldn’t feel hungry until noon. Sherri poured more tea. “I grew up with him, and he—”

“Saved your life.” Delia patted her friend’s hand in understanding, though honestly, she’d survive without hearing a repeat of the story.

The cyborg had pulled Sherri from a fire and sacrificed the flesh on half of his face and body. The repair costs for an archived model had been prohibitive, but rather than purchase updated technology, the family had elected to preserve the damaged thing. Out of gratefulness. As if it possessed human feelings. The mawkish sentimentality was disturbing, and the cyborg’s exposed gears hideous. “They’re wired to protect us, you know?”

“I know,” Sherri said. “But he’s generous with his time and kind-hearted, and he has a fun sense of humor. He’d do anything for us, and we love him.”

Delia rolled her eyes as she finished her tea.  Her internal clock struck noon, and she helped herself to another sandwich. Her friend’s affection for the machine irritated her, and as usual, any attempt at reason was an utter squandering of her time.

The cyborg ushered the breathless children in for lunch, and Delia was thankful for the distraction. Not long after the meal, she packed her dawdling son into their transport. “Home,” she instructed. The vehicle hummed into travel mode, and she reclined in her seat with an e-mag.

“I like Carter,” her son said while fiddling with his recliner’s buttons. “He plays with us, and he’s nice.”

“He’s a machine.”

“He acts like a human.”

“Well, he’s not. We are human, superior to him and all his kind.”

“What’s the difference?”

Delia huffed at the obvious. “Quiet now, I’m reading.”

The transport glided to their front door. Their arrival home was later than planned, but she’d anticipated the delay and programmed naptime for optimum flexibility. Why carry the child when his feet were perfectly capable of walking?

She escorted her son to his room, tucked him into bed, and plugged his link into his temple. After several software adjustments, she retreated to her suite and flung herself down on her bed. She needed to reconsider her relationship with Sherri’s family. Their beliefs were having a radical impact on her son, and his confusion about what defined a human being was troubling.

Stress had taken its toll, and Delia decided to nap as well.  She set the timer for forty-five minutes, chose a pleasant dream sequence, and inserted the interface into her port. Her eyes closed as the software began its upload.

**

Note: I’m on the road again, helping my parents. I won’t be able to respond to comments or return visits until the evenings. Please bear with me. ❤ 

Wicker #Writephoto

copyright Sue Vincent

My mother despised the wicker witches on the neighbor’s farm. She made the sign of the cross when we scurried by on the straight and narrow path to church. Evil things. Satan’s work.

She wrenched me by my wrist, muttering prayers, refusing to raise her gaze from the dirt, grip so tight she left fingered bruises. Crushed violets on my skin. She heard the Devil in the wind on holy days.

I bent beneath God’s almighty eyes. He spied from my closet, prowled under my bed. Tallied transgressions like a spider weaving a child-size web. A tattletale, he caressed the pale shell of my mother’s ear, whispered lists of my depravities, filthy dreams. Collected my impious cravings like bright pennies from a well.

His flaming brand, his righteous redeemer, she blamed the stick witches, wielded the switch, and lay bloody creases of repentance across my spine. Grace earned with pain, not tears.

A wicked girl, I slipped my bed when the Devil beckoned. Irredeemable. An unholy thing. I ghosted across the porch beneath a gilded moon and fled to the neighbor’s field. The witches of sticks clutched hands and danced. Heads tossed back. Skirts swirling. I, the child in the center of their circle. For those moments. Safe from the shining sword of God.

**

An experiment with broken sentences. Did you like it or was it annoying? Would love your thoughts.

A completely fictional response to Sue Vincent’s #Writephoto prompt

Clarifying Shampoo

pixabay image combo

Betsy over at Parenting is Funny was recently musing over a bottle of clarifying shampoo (yes, it’s a real thing). Her blog is a hoot, and I encourage you to visit. Her post popped a story into my head. I hope you enjoy.

Clarifying Shampoo

Clara was born a Libra. Not the normal kind of Libra with a smattering of other signs in her chart to balance her scales. She was an anomaly, an astrological case study, solid Libra from her Sun all the way across the galaxy to Pluto. She vacillated like a seesaw and simple decisions were intolerable with all the second-guessing.

Worst of all, she was the epitome of annoying. Potential friends stopped calling after a week, and romantic relationships unraveled before they had a chance to knit. She frustrated counselors. Even her mother had stopped answering the phone.

Clara had to do something, and the only thing she hadn’t tried was consulting a psychic.

Madam Bea’s Fabulous Fortunes occupied the basement below a hair salon. She specialized in Tarot, but the handmade poster on her sandwich-board advertised results, and that was exactly what Clara needed. Results.

At the bottom of the concrete steps, a peeling door led into a tight space cordoned off by red sheets tacked to the ceiling. A disorienting combination of odors—garlic, mildew, and sandalwood—assaulted Clara’s nose. A card table separated two folding chairs, complete with a sparkly glass ball on a plastic stand.

Madam Bea, a beak-nosed woman with painted eyebrows, sat at the table finishing off a pizza. She waved to the unoccupied chair while munching on the crust, and then tossed the pizza box behind the makeshift curtains.

Clearly, Clara had made another mistake, but she accepted the seat and laid out the saga of her peculiar horoscope complete with runny mascara—another miscalculation. She should have applied the waterproof variety.

The fortune teller listened intently while picking her teeth with a ruby fingernail. “I have joost the thing,” she said and disappeared behind the sheets. When she returned, she placed a half-empty bottle of shampoo on the table.

“Shampoo?” Clara frowned.

“Clarifying champoo.” Madam Bea’s eyebrows arched higher than already arched. “Trust me. I give you discount. That be fifty dollars.”

Clara forked over the cash with a sigh and drove home. Before dropping into bed, she washed her hair.

In the morning, she shuffled to her closet and ruminated over what to wear. Slacks or a skirt? Maybe a dress. Or slacks in case the office is cold. But what if it’s warm? A dress with a sweater? Although a skirt…

The lavender suit.

Clara froze. The whispered voice seemed to originate from somewhere above her head. She glanced up and then peeked over her shoulder. Alone. Was the voice real? Inside her head? She backed up and sat on the edge of her bed. Should she make another counseling appointment?

Ivory blouse and low pumps. Pearl studs but skip the necklace.

Clara jolted up with a yelp. She rifled through her closet and wriggled into the lavender suit. Studs in her ears, she dashed from her apartment to the sidewalk, the low heels a wise choice with all the running.

She inhaled a lungful of sunshine to calm her racing heart, shoved the morning’s weirdness from her thoughts, and wavered over whether to walk to work or take the bus. Or drive. Or walk. What if she got blisters? And then there was city parking…

Walk. It’s a nice day. You need the exercise.

Clara frowned and casually swept a hand over the top of her head. Was her hair giving her instructions?

I’m clarifying.

“Clarifying?” She wrinkled her nose. “Why? But what if—”

Clarity never hurt anyone. Now, no time for waffling or you’ll be late.

Still suspicious of her hair, Clara set off for work, and for the first time in three years, she arrived on time, a fact noticed by Harry, the tall, dark, and hunky cubical-occupant across the aisle. Her hair urged her to have tea instead of coffee and to check her emails before returning calls, decisions that would have taken an hour.

By the time the clock struck noon, her lips curved into a relaxed smile, the day’s decision-making handled entirely by her hair.

Harry cleared his throat. “Clara, would you like to join me for a quick lunch?”

“Oh, er, hm.” Clara didn’t know. Should she? What would she order? Maybe she shouldn’t. But then he might not ask again. So, she should. But what if she did, and he ended up being a creep, and then he’d ask her every day? She might have to quit her job. Or he could be nice. “Um, I…”

Gah! Just say yes!

“Yes,” she blurted.

Eighteen years later, while Clara unpacked her shopping bags, her daughter, Elizabeth, sauntered into the kitchen, phone in hand. “Mom, there’s a bonfire at the park tonight. Chantelle and I were planning to go, but her mom needs their car. Can I take ours? I’ll be home by nine.”

Clara wanted to say yes, but driving after dark… And what if there was beer? And boys? There would be boys. Was Elizabeth old enough? Should she say no? Eventually, she’d have to trust her daughter’s choices. She could drive the two of them. But that might be humiliating. Was it worth a fight?

She’s a responsible kid. She said she’ll be home by nine.

Clara sighed. “All right, you can go. I trust you to make good choices.”

“Awesome, mom. I have to hurry and hop in the shower.”

“Oh!” Clara perked up and searched through her bags. “I bought you some shampoo.”

Sign #writephoto

Image: Sue Vincent

Belladonna Shadowbend climbed the creaky stairs of her dead aunt’s ancient Victorian home. Gossamer cobwebs draped the corners like grayed wedding veils. The eyeballs in the portraits tracked her progress, and a transparent child hissed from the next landing. Belladonna rolled her eyes and blew out a sigh. Honestly, so cliched.

Witchcraft had become so trendy among modern teenagers that Belladonna considered it passé. Gone were the glorious days when witches drowned tied to chairs or sizzled at the stake.

Was she feeling sorry for herself? Probably. Her dreams of building an online clearinghouse for magical accessories had shattered. She’d believed people wanted quality over crap and would pay for it, but Amazon was a start-up’s nightmare. Cheap magic wands, love potions, and cursed amulets were as popular as iphones. Everyone owned at least one, and the local bodegas sold them beside the tabloids and gum.

Her options were limited. No one was making any money in fortune telling, casting hexes, or selling souls. The white witches complained about global warming and saving the bees, but few listened to them. They needed a little help from the devil if they wanted someone to pay serious attention. She chuckled at the thought. An unexpected visit to hell would do wonders in Washington.

No, selling the old place with it’s slamming doors and undulating curtains would buy her some time while she figured out her next venture.

Another staircase led to the attic, a rat’s nest of iron-strapped trunks, twig brooms, and garment bags stuffed with black capes. Shelves along one wall held dozens of peaked hats. She picked one up, brushed off the brim, and coughed in the cloud of dust. The stuff appeared authentic, but what the heck? How many hats did one old witch need? She half expected a stash of pointy shoes and blurted a laugh when she flipped the lid on a trunk and found them. Cleaning the place out would take a year. Generations of witches in her family and her legacy amounted to a house full of vintage… oh… oh my…

Belladonna smiled. All she needed was a sign.

**

Written for Sue Vincent’s magical #writephoto prompt.

 

Fragrant #Writephoto

Copyright Sue Vincent

Agatha inherited her grandmother’s home, a small thing as houses went, with creaky floors and spidery cracks, a kitchen with two hundred years of updates and none of them modern. The place smelled of beeswax and herbs, lemon polish, patchouli, and memories.

She loved the quaint place that would become her home, but it was the formal garden that she roamed first. The Garden of Good Intentions, a little hand-painted sign said at the start of the nearest path. Neatly edged walkways, lined with bright fireworks of lavender, divided the round garden into quarters like slices of pie. All well-tended. But it was the myriad roses that had soaked up her grandmother’s devotion—old garden heirlooms and hybrid teas, exotics and wild species, miniatures and clusters of grandifloras.

The garden had once filled Agatha’s childhood with magic, but now as she strolled the pathways, her eyes widened with dread. She was born with a withering, wilting, aphid-prone, black-spotted thumb. In a year, the cherished garden would be dead.

Despite its impending doom, the place was worth an effort at least. Lips pressed between her teeth, Agatha rummaged in the shed for clippers and gloves and donned her grandmother’s straw hat with plastic daisies wired to the brim.

She watered too much when she wasn’t watering too little, cut away dying canes and broke a few living ones, deadheaded, and made her own fertilizers and bug sprays that scarcely worked. In the autumn, she trimmed the bushes back so far that she figured a few would never see spring. And yet somehow, they always recovered after a year… or two, heavy with blooms, vibrant, and smelling like heaven.

Jocelyn inherited her grandmother’s home with its creaky floors and spidery cracks, and though the kitchen had been updated, the place still smelled of honey and herbs, lemon polish and memories. She loved the quaint place that would become her home, but it was the beautiful garden that she roamed first. The Garden of Good Intentions, a hand-painted sign said at the start of the nearest path.

**

This story is in response to Sue Vincent’s #Writephoto prompt. Sue shares a new prompt every Thursday.

Diana’s January Story: Dead Planet

via Pixabay by Stefan Keller

Dead Planet

Our planet died, for no living thing can thrive forever beneath the grinding thumb of neglect. But the blue squalls and wind-carved rime weren’t the first to herald a long overdue demise. We endured fires, then the parched ash and dust of rainless drought. Snow seemed almost a blessing until summer never returned.

Now we trek south, burdened only by the essentials, all luxuries of the past abandoned along the way. Lighten the load. Always lighten the load. Learn to survive with less because that’s become the single, intentional goal. To survive.

I wonder, do the southerners trek north? Will we meet in the middle and goggle at each other, our doom reflected across the narrow gap separating our frozen breaths? These are the things I ponder as my snowshoes cut a jagged groove through the crust.

We reach the mountains’ divide. Finally. Ahead stretches a white tundra, a wind-scoured wasteland. The moon hangs in the sky, thin as spilled milk. Far ahead something unnatural rises from the barren land, and I take it as a sign, an assurance of progress. I aim my feet in its direction.

A small chuckle escapes my chest, a white cloud of warmth. Despite my misery, I still nurture a spark of hope deep in my heart, a promise as bright as midnight fire. Even amidst the endless days of frost and cold and muted color, the world is beautiful, and I long to believe that the gods haven’t forsaken us. Our ancestors cursed us, and we have made mistakes indeed, but salvation must lie ahead. This can’t be the end of everything, can it—our planet a sparkling blue orb, spinning onward, devoid of life?

I sweat beneath my coat and yet my toes are numb, both portending danger. But I cannot die. Not with the gods watching over me. Not with the prayers that I drop like cairns along my trail. The bodies we have left in the snow say otherwise, but I will not accept it. I cannot.

The distant monolith draws nearer, a pale blue mountain, sharp as a dog’s tooth. Its final shape eludes me, but I know it is something unnatural, something fashioned by man. I should rest, tend to my feet, but I quicken my pace. The others lag behind me, but my tracks are simple to follow. If I possessed the strength, I would run.

There is a point in most lives, I think, when we must accept our failures. When we realize there is no turning back the hands of time, no do-overs, no choices but to recognize that our wishes are as ephemeral as our breath. I reach that moment of clarity when I come close enough to decipher the frozen shape. Our gods too have perished in this desecration. I hang my head and march onward, knowing I will die before sunrise.

**

This is the last of the January stories.
Sorry to end on such a dreary note!

Stay tuned for the February prompt on the 1st.

Spirals of Time #Writephoto

photo by Sue Vincent

I’ve always known I would travel here, to the heathered moors and verdant hills, to wander narrow roadways past stone cottages with views of the cold northern sea. Perhaps it was the Brontes or Hardy who first entranced me with the raw emotion that seems embedded in the very soil, that sweeps through castle ruins and keens across ancient cairns and holy places.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on the pulse of my yearning. But after my accident, I chose to wait no more.

The stone chapel was once part of a larger manor. It’s a quaint place of colored glass and worn reliefs, of strange carvings above its arched doorway. But also a place of layered faiths and archaic mysteries, imbued with ghosts of the past like a spiritual lodestone. I can no more ignore it than deny my heart to beat.

The day wanes, and I worry that the door might be locked. I give the latch a tug, and my fears prove true. Undaunted, I circle the perimeter, looking for another way in. To break in, frankly, though my intentions are harmless overall.

“Can I help you?”

The voice startles me, and I turn, sputtering apologies, only to encounter another shock. The fellow stands so close we nearly bump noses. “I was attempting to find a way in,” I explain, retreating a step.

“I can see that.”

“I’m from the US.”

“Do people from the US normally break into private chapels?”

“No!” My nerves force a laugh. “Not that I’ve heard of anyway. Rarely. I’ve… Well, this will sound strange, but I… It seems so silly really.” A blush pinks my face, and I stick out my hand. “I’m Daphne.”

“William. The guardian.” He takes my hand and bows, kissing it.

“The guardian?” I blink at him, flustered and nervous, but not afraid. He seems a part of this place, bonded to the stones and wildflowers, the crooked graveyard, and the weathered cross at the roof’s peak. I blow out an awkward breath. “What I meant to say is… I think destiny delivered me here, to this exact moment, to this chapel. It’s puzzling, but I feel as though I belong here and always have.”

“And I’ve been expecting you.” He smiles, looking quite noble, and sweeps his palm toward the door.

I laugh at his odd comment, but his kindness puts me at ease. He unlocks the door, and I enter without a sound. The room is tiny, though I hardly notice, my eyes drawn to a tomb illuminated by the sunlight lancing a slender window. “Whose tomb…?” I begin to ask, but William has withdrawn and awaits me in the garden.

The place is silent and still, and yet it’s thick with souls and reeling with the passage of time. I can scarcely breathe as I approach the tomb and gaze upon the sculpture of a knight. He appears asleep, his features tranquil and familiar. William’s face. A red rose, the only color in the gray-washed chapel, lies near his belt, and a white note in a woman’s script, my script, rests at its side.

Wait for me, my loyal knight, and trust my heart,
for through the spirals of time, 
I will return.

My fingers pass through the paper without a flutter. I now know why I have come here. I am home.

**

Thanks to Sue Vincent for the beautiful Thursday #Writephoto prompt. It was hard to resist a little romance. ❤