Reaching #Writephoto

photo copyright Sue Vincent

Black limbs jutted from thick boles. Their skeletal twigs clawed at her clothes, snagged her hair, and scratched her arms. She’d lost her way in the twilit forest but didn’t dare turn back. Couldn’t surrender. Not after coming so far.

She pushed forward, stumbled over gnarled roots that writhed from the earth like snakes. Her imagination ran in wild spirals and panic stole her breath. Soon darkness would filter between the boughs and force her to stop, at the mercy of the autumn cold, the hunger coiling in her stomach. Wolves roamed the uncharted terrain.

Why had she fled with so little preparation? Had she made a mistake? Could she have endured her troubles a little longer? Even as a child, when her mother died, she’d dreamed of flight. Her father had fallen prey to a widow’s deft manipulations. He’d fawned over his new bride, unable to acknowledge her cruelty, terrified of the truth, of his grief.

Until he too rested in the graveyard.

She tripped over a root and pitched to the ground, bloodying her palms and gouging a knee. Lips pressed between her teeth, she brushed pine needles from stinging hands and slowed her pace. Animals rustled in the underbrush, and an owl hooted overhead. She cringed and stepped gingerly between the trees, outstretched fingers snapping the dead twigs threatening to blind her.

Despite her resolve, her current situation elicited a muttered curse. A year ago, she’d made a poor choice, but the only one her naive desperation had conjured. She’d fled her father’s home, a decision well and good, but she’d charged straight into a debacle with seven other men. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

She’d escaped a life of cruelty for one scarcely better, one where safety had depended on servitude. She’d slaved for them: cooked, cleaned, laundered. They’d expected cheerful smiles, merry entertainment, and endless doting from a paper-thin woman without a heart or soul or choice. They hadn’t allowed her beyond the garden, scared her with threats of wild beasts and dangerous hunters, of being murdered. And all the while, their own faults had gone ignored. They were lazy slobs, grumpy and witless. Even the happiest among them didn’t lift a finger.

The sun was losing its battle with the moon. Spindly shadows lengthened as night crept through the canopy. When her endurance dropped through the soles of her shoes and trudging onward seemed pointless, she crested a hill and gasped. The forest parted. Beyond the last filigree of barren branches, the day’s final rays graced a serene valley. Twilight reached over the distant hills in a ribbon of golden hope. Snow White smiled, free to chart a new path. She squared her shoulders and set out for a future of her choosing.

**

Oh, it’s so fun to be participating again in Sue Vincent’s Thursday #Writephoto challenge. Happy Writing!

Tranquil Cove #Writephoto

photo by Sue Vincent

The beach parking lot was jammed with cars. Outside their blue rental, Samantha stretched her stiff limbs while Jeff rummaged in the back seat for snacks and towels. A tow truck clanked its chains and ground its gears in the midst of hauling away one of several abandoned vehicles, the windshields dusted with a week’s worth of windblown sand.

According to the glossy pamphlet, the rocky headlands and clustered islands sheltered turquoise waves, and the soft sand welcomed blankets and picnics. All inviting. But after days of battling crowds of tourists, the feature that most appealed to Sam was the promised solitude. Unfortunately, Tranquil Cove didn’t look like it would live up to its reputation.

She sighed and read the sign pounded into the sand at the lot’s edge. Someone had hand-scrawled a sloppy “g” on the otherwise formal warning.   “Beware of the grocks. No swimming.” She glanced at her new husband. “What are grocks?”

Jeff smirked and started up the dunes through the quivering beachgrass. “Come on.”

She climbed after him, willing to make the best of it, her toes sinking into the path’s velvet sand. The sound of a gigantic belch reached her ears, and she groaned at the prospect of a mob of drunken rugby players. But when they crested the dunes, an empty beach lay before them. “I can’t believe no one is here.”

“Someone was. Look at all the blankets and towels.”

“And footprints. Where is everyone?”

“Probably exploring the grocks.” He chuckled and headed across the sand to a sweet spot out of the breeze.

Sam helped him spread out their towels. They chowed on granola bars and shared a beer. The beach remained delightfully theirs, and as the sun peeked through the midday clouds, she napped in the rising heat.

Jeff nudged her awake. “Let’s go for a swim. I need to cool off.”

“The sign said ‘no swimming?’”

“Because of dangerous grocks.” He pulled her to her feet. “The sea’s calm, and I can see the bottom. Not a grock in sight.”

She gave in without argument. The water was refreshing, and other than a few rounded rocks, the bottom descended in a gentle slant. She wiped water from her eyes and drifted toward him, pulling herself along the shallow bottom with her hands. He sat on one of the submerged rocks near the shore, staring down at the water.

“What are you looking at?” she asked.

He leaned over for a kiss and then resumed his study. “There are bubbles coming from under this rock. What would cause that?”

She sat next to him. Sure enough, tiny air bubbles leaked up around their hard seat. “I have no idea. Some kind of mollusk?”

~

Eric and Penny unloaded their car in the packed parking lot as a tow truck hauled away a sand-strewn blue rental car. A huge belch split the air and Penny laughed. “You didn’t tell me your brother was here.”

“Ha ha ha.” Eric rolled his eyes. “This place isn’t supposed to be crowded.”

Penny glanced up from reading a sign. “Hey, what’s a grock?”

***

Update:

I’m still on hiatus, but figured I’d post something. And what better than a little story based on Sue Vincent’s Thursday #Writephoto prompt?

I’ll be visiting the blogosphere more often and should be back into a routine by mid-August. I miss you! But I’ve been reading between all the busyness, and that’s been wonderfully relaxing.

My parents are doing a little better after 8 months of health issues. Unfortunately, in a couple of weeks, I have to move them a second time. Their new housing will be more suited to their needs, and we’re all eager to get this last change in place.

Happy Blogging!

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. ❤ 

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.”

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.

February’s Speculative Fiction Prompt

Pixabay image by Marianne Sopala

For visually challenged writers, this is an image of an elephant in a snowstorm next to a little house that’s resting crookedly in a tree. A handful of white mice are on the roof of the house.

**

Thank you to everyone who responded to January’s prompt. There are marvelous imaginations out there, and I loved reading and sharing your stories, poems, and artwork. Now, for something a little different! Above is February’s image. If interested, you have until February 21st to submit a response. Happy Writing!

Here’s how it works:

On the first of every month, I’ll post a speculative fiction prompt from Pixabay. These images are attribution free so you can use them on your blog without worrying about copyright restrictions.

Throughout the month, in order of receipt, I’ll reblog as many of your prompt-inspired creations as I can. And on the last day of each month, I’ll share a complete round-up of all contributions with links to the original posts. Visiting the blogs of participants is a great way to meet other speculative fiction writers.

Post your response on your own blog and link back to this post with a pingback, so I can reblog your post as well as include you in the month-end round-up. There are no word limits or style restrictions, but please keep it somewhat family friendly.

If you’re unsure of how to create a pingback, Hugh has an excellent tutorial here. If you prefer, you can copy and paste your link into the comments of this post.

Above all, have fun.

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.