Uh… Oops ~blush~

Okay, so I fell off the wagon, and instead of waiting, the darn thing ran off and left me here. So… Let’s do this.

JUNEBUG!

Since I left off on 5/20, that leaves the rest of those days for stories. I’ll do them now, this month. (Reminds me of the cartoon pirate – “No, THEES lahn!”)

Mai Madness: Fenton and Kilasha, Chapter 6

This is for Dawn, who is about to become a Mamma. She kept pestering me to write more of this story, so here you go, Mamma! (Have Not-the-Mamma buy you some ice cream for you!) To catch up, here’s where it starts.

Fenton and Kilasha, Chapter 6

Kilasha trembled with exhaustion, her muscles protesting their unaccustomed position on horseback. She blinked and her vision refused to lighten. She realized with a chill that night was coming, and fast. She pulled her mount to a stop, heart sinking. She had no tent, nor any blankets.

After cursing herself silently for several minutes, she made her decision. She dismounted stiffly and led her friendly companion into the trees.

The horse nosed at her, his breath comfortingly warm. He lipped at her braid and she laughed, pulling it away from him.

“No, my princeling, that’s not for you.”

The stallion flipped his ear in response and promptly tried to investigate her silks.

It dawned on her he was probably hungry. Spotting a small clearing, she tethered him by his reins and left him happily gorging on the fluffy grass and weeds. She removed the rest of his tack. The saddle was much heavier than she expected. She tugged at it and it came free all at once, tumbling into her arms and sending her onto her backside. The stallion turned and regarded her, his eye curious, and then turned back to his meal.

Upon investigation, she discovered three hidden pockets in the saddle; one at the rear and one on each leg piece. She liberated a small woolen blanket, light but warm, and a felt pad. There were fire-starting tools, eating implements, even a carving knife and half-finished animal figurine made from a soft wood. The badge on a spare riding jacket gave her pause, it bore the insignia of the Castle guard.

She made herself a small nest near the stallion, startled by the warmth of the simple blanket. Further rummaging yielded a pouch of jerked meat, beef by the smell. She broke off a piece and gnawed at it distastefully. As the last light faded from the sky, she drifted to sleep, tired beyond endurance.

A piercing scream woke her. It was the stallion. He reared, snapping the branch she’d used for a tether, and spun. His front hooves slashed out and a rough-clothed man fell back with a cry, clutching his splintered ribs.

She started to sit when a hand closed on her shoulder.

“Don’t move,” a voice grunted harshly in her ear, the odor of foul breath overpowering.

The stallion hopped sideways and one hoof flashed out. Her assailant went over backwards, face a mass of blood.

She stifled her scream with one fist. She whirled, trying to see, but the moonless night offered no help. She wished she’d built a fire, but they would have found her sooner. ‘They found you anyway,’ her mind whispered.

She shivered, staring into the night. She got to her hands and knees. The stallion blew out a sharp breath and she jumped. He crow-hopped sideways and kicked another assailant, a faceless mass in the darkness. She fumbled at her side in the bracken and clutched the knife in a trembling fist.

More steps sounded in the inky black and she made up her mind. Kilasha rose, intending to flee. She backed two steps and the third failed to find purchase. Off balance, she fell. Her head slammed into a rock and she felt like she dropped into a deep, dark hole.

Mai Madness: “The Rescue” Chapter Two: Into the Woods

This story continues one I wrote for March FADness last year, called “The Rescue.”

Fernando came awake to a heavy weight against his chest and stomach, as though a jack collapsed and let the car fall on him. He tried to breathe and pain seared him.

“Keep him quiet,” a man’s voice snapped.

“I’m trying!”

It sounded like Adana, but Fernando couldn’t get his voice working to ask. He finally managed to pry his eyes open and saw the interior of the ambulance.

“He’s awake!” Adana cried. “Fernando!”

The EMT turned, his curly red hair held back by a bandana with jalapeño peppers on it. “There’s our hero,” he murmured, checking something attached to Fernando’s body that looked like a hose. Fernando didn’t want to think about that too hard.

“What the hell happened?” he managed to croak.

“I got the ambulance,” Adana whispered, eyes wide and threatening to spill over with tears. “You were on the floor with blood all over the wall behind you…”

He went cold. “You could have been killed!” he grated.

She shook her head. “The others ran when you killed those three. I was afraid the cops would come, so I called Felipe.”

He stared at her. Felipe. She called Felipe.

“I’m Karl, Fernando,” the EMT interrupted. “We’re taking you to General. You’ve got quite a wound here, but we’ll fix it up.”

“Insurance,” Fernando panted, trying to reach for his wallet.

Karl caught his wrist. He didn’t have to hold it very hard, Fernando was that weak. “I work for Felipe.”

Fernando froze.

Karl smiled slightly, a look sliding through his eyes that let Fernando know the red-head knew exactly what Fernando was thinking. “Don’t worry about it, old man. Felipe pays his debts.” He let go of the wrist and checked something on the monitors nearby.

His debts. Felipe thought he still owed Fernando something? Fernando tried not to think about it.

At least Adana was safe.

She slipped her hand into his, and he let her hold his palm. Her fingers barely covered his, but their warmth comforted him. He felt his eyes fall shut like they had weights attached to them.

Mai Madness – New Job, Suicide

This prompt is a lot darker than the ones we’ve been looking at recently. The job here is to use the setting to establish a mood. The object is to use the same setting, but in one make it from the point of view of a character who just got a new job; the second time do it from the POV of a character who is contemplating suicide. (For that reason, please do not read if you feel the subject matter would be unpleasant.)

“Adams Street”

The Adams Street bridge clanked loudly as the drawbridge machinery locked it closed, the guard rails bouncing a little as the housing rattled. Jenny watched the mechanic working in the wheelhouse, far above the street, and wished that she might go up and see the bridge controls. She looked up at the tall white building across the river from her, the black bulk of the Sears Tower rising like Everest behind it. The black windows were a nice contrast to the argent walls of her new building, her office housed somewhere on the twentieth floor. She looked back at the wheelhouse impatiently, wishing the mechanic would hurry up.

Finally the security guard raised the gate blocking pedestrian traffic and Jenny started across the bridge in the midst of the flow of people. She was surprised, it was two in the afternoon and still the sidewalk was packed. Some were obviously tourists, backpacks and cameras in hand. Others were just as obviously on their way, like she was, to their offices; suits and fancy shoes making them seem glamorous. The bridge had little wells of metal, making holes like honeycomb filled in with concrete. Her pumps slipped a little on the surface and she wondered how treacherous it would be in the rain. She came to the middle of the bridge and watched the join between the two halves bouncing slightly as the traffic crossed. A large delivery truck lumbered by and the space gapped an inch or two and she suppressed a shiver. No one else noticed, so she gritted her teeth and stepped over it, catching a glimpse of the greenish water far below.

The second watchtower on this side of the street was lit by a bare bulb, no fixture covering it. She could just make out the shock of blonde hair belonging to the mechanic and wondered suddenly if he’d let her in if she knocked. She slipped on a bit of metal and caught herself against the hand rail. None of her fellow pedestrians spared her a glance and she walked on, a little offended.

A homeless man begged for money on the corner, his crutch tucked securely under his arm. His odor sprang out at her like a barking dog and she sidestepped slightly, wary of pickpocketing. She moved around him to the short set of stairs and came up to the revolving doors. She took a deep breath to center herself and pushed through, entering her new life.

Jenny emerged from Union Station, the grey overcast sky low ad close enough to touch. She stepped out from the overhanging roof and moved forward to the round planter box, maybe ten feet in diameter, and sank down on its far side, facing the river. Her feet ached. She slipped out of her shoes and rested her heels on top of them, keeping them off the concrete but letting the toes breathe.

The Adams Street bridge went across the river to her left, leading cars and pedestrians into the heart of Chicago’s Loop. Tommy had loved the Loop, with its business and restaurants and the museums on the far side. He’d been a member to the Art Institute. She couldn’t see it from where she sat, but knew it was at the end of Adams Street just before Millennium Park. She could walk there from here in about fifteen minutes, walk right up the wide shallow steps between the bronze lions, all the way in to Callebaut’s masterpiece. It was Tommy’s favorite. ‘Rainy Day, Paris Street.’

She looked away from the bridge and its wrought iron decoration to the green water below it. She could only see a narrow strip from where she sat but didn’t feel like walking over to the railing to see the whole of it. Little more than a canal here, bounded on both sides by concrete walls and manipulated at the end by locks, Tommy had loved the river. He’d loved the stench, the engineering feat that turned its direction backwards and made Chicago the enemy of St. Louis downriver. The Chicago River had been his favorite, and he’d ended his life in sight of it.

No one had found the body right away. He’d climbed down the embankment over by the Merchandize Mart, hidden from view by a few thin bushes. She could walk there, too, in about the same time it would take to walk to the Art Institute. She turned her head but the buildings and cars blocked her view of the Mart just as the trees and shrubs must have blocked his, as he slit his wrists at their feet.

She cleared her throat and looked back at the Adams Street drawbridge. Rust decorated its underbelly and she could make out the massive housing for the wheels that let the two halves raise, so ships could pass by. She stared at them until her eyes misted over with the need to blink, or with tears.

Two ducks floated by the housing, hunting for food.

Mai Madness – Horror Story

This prompt explores atmosphere. Horror stories do this very well (we all remember “a dark and stormy night,” right?); so the idea is to play with those images and see what we can come up with.

“The Silent Ones”

Susan looked up at the old Tudor, its windows black and looming over the entranceway. A short patio extended from the front door, its beveled glass pretty but empty like a staring eye. She glanced down at the EMF meter in her hand but it stayed silent.

She sighed and put her foot on the first step. The wood creaked loudly, startling her. She put her hand out to catch her balance and a large splinter slid into her palm like a knife into butter.

She worked at it with her teeth and tongue and finally sucked it out. It tasted bitter, like old paint or creosote. She spat it on the ground and watched blood well into her hand. She sucked a few more seconds, just to make sure it bled clean.

The moved toward the door and the floor beneath her feet bounced a little, like it was warped. She looked down and her stomach clenched. The planks were separated by an inch or so and blackness seemed to well up from between them like smoke. She shivered and blinked. The moment passed and the impression went away. She shook her head and went up to the door.

The key stuck in the lock, squeaking and she pushed it open. She looked at the EMF meter, but it was silent. She looked up and a shadow moved. She froze.

After a few more moments of staring, nothing seemed out of place. She felt sweat drip down her back between her shoulder blades, itching a little, and laughed at herself weekly. “Stop being such a ninny.”

A loud creak sounded from inside the entry hall and she gasped. She stared into the gloom, trying to let her eyes adjust to the dimness even though she wasn’t inside yet. “Hello? Is someone there?”

After several more minutes of waiting with nothing happening, she stepped all the way into the house. The back of her neck prickled and she brushed at it, but felt nothing. She turned to the door and swung it. It moved heavily and slammed shut, the hollow resultant boom echoing all the way up into the house. The minute it closed, darkness descended like a hand.

She fumbled her flashlight out of her pocket and flicked it on. The narrow beam swung around the entryway, a wide open space at the bottom of a stair that wound up and around the room for two storeys. She looked up to the cupola but couldn’t see anything except the faint black outline of a chandelier brooding just overhead. The shine of spider webs winked at her in the flashlight and she shivered.

She walked toward the kitchen at the back of the first floor, the map in her mind telling her the stairs to the basement were on the left, the formal dining room just beyond that and the sitting room on the right. As she came even with the basement stair she heard another creak, like a floorboard popping.

She turned and looked back, and caught out of the corner of her eye the golden chatoyance of an eye watching her from the dining room. She froze and the flashlight fell, shattering against the floor with a sharp pop. The EMF meter went off in a burst of lights and beeps and she started to run.

She never saw the stairs.

The basement door, far above her now, creaked as it closed. The lock clicked faintly and silence descended.

Mai Madness – Birth and Death

This prompt asks us to consider the same situation, but once from the perspective of a dying character, and then from the perspective of a birth. It was interesting what came out of the keyboard; this is one of those that seemed to write itself.

“Untitled”

Richard looked out at the street. The front window of the house was low and wide, not quite a bay window but the size of one. He could see all the way to the end of Kensington Court Road, down to where the street turned to the left and exited the group of houses that made up Kensington Court. They stood sad and run-down now, nothing like their splendor when they were built in the post-war boom. Back then, things were bright and optimistic. Not like now.

The oxygen tank next to his bed sighed softly, its faint hiss just audible over his labored breathing. Madge bustled in the kitchen, the desperate banging of pots and pans as she washed up from brunch clear to his ears. Their kids had escaped as soon as they could, almost before she’d served the coffee after breakfast.

He couldn’t blame them, not really. The stink of his sickness was sharp even in his own nose; what it must be like to them he had no idea. He nestled against the soft feather pillow, the bed springs creaking faintly. His son-in-law Michael had installed the bed in here, in the living room, the former magnificence of the room faded now. Madge hadn’t complained, though he knew that it must have pained her. She’d spent years getting the room just-so. Now…

He started to cough and couldn’t catch a breath. He tried to speak, to call Madge, but his voice wouldn’t cooperate. He stared outside, watching a car go buy slowly. It faded from few around the corner as his eyes slipped shut.

The oxygen tank continued its susurration, oblivious.

“Michael, I just can’t do this anymore!” Linda wailed. “He just looks so weak!”

Michael sighed. “I know, honey. You have to be strong. It means so much to him, and to your mom.”

Linda rubbed her stomach, the distention from little Victor junior lumpy under her palms. She felt him kick a little and grunted.

“Moving again?” Michael asked, smiling.

Linda started to answer and gasped. The pain took her by surprise. The nurse was right; this wasn’t anything like Braxton Hicks. “Michael…” she gasped.

He glanced over at her, eyes widening. “You’re kidding.”

She shook her head sharply, not getting breath to speak. She stared out the window at the old neighborhood, Mr. Phillip’s garden waving in the hot summer sunshine. She loved that garden. “Hurry,” she gasped.

Michael turned back to the road and accelerated.

Immediately after that, he hit the brakes and she cried out, the seatbelt cutting against her right breast and pressing painfully against Victor. He didn’t like it and kicked.

Little Johnnie Phillips, the grandson of old Mr. Phillips, waved cheerfully and ran across the road after his ball. Michael glanced at her and accelerated again. “Just hang in there, baby.”

“Baby is right,” she grated. “Oooh…”

Michael turned left at the end of the drive and they moved toward the entrance to Kensington Court. The light changed and he pulled into traffic, heading for Lutheran General. “Hurry, honey,” she gasped.

“But your water hasn’t broken!” he protested.

“You want it to happen in the car?”

His eyes were wide as he turned to stare at her and then turned back to the street, his jaw set. “I hope there’s no traffic.”

“Just wait a minute, Victor,” Linda whispered. “Just a minute, okay baby?”

Kensington Court receded on their left, the splendid old houses resting in the summer heat. Linda wiped the sweat from her lip, hoping she didn’t make a mess in the car. Victor kicked again, impatient.

Mai Madness – Setting – Opening and Closing Scene

The purpose of this assignment is to use setting to establish the opening and closing of a story. Setting can lead to Story, frame it, and sometimes be the purpose of it. By doing these exercises (this one and the ones over the past few days), one can explore their use of setting in their storytelling in order to develop the inner eye.

I found this one interesting, and it actually wove itself into a discrete vignette, not just disjointed ‘beginning’ and ‘ending.’ I hope you like.

Excerpt, Faerrie Story (working title)

The rain pounded down, drumming against the roof of the car hard enough to leave marks. Jesse sat back in the seat, leaning his head against the headrest. “Let’s just wait until this passes,” he suggested.

David stirred and looked at him. “Yeah.”

The streetlights flashed one, glowing dimly as they grew in power. They never flashed on brightly, always started on low and then grew in luminance. Jesse watched as a newspaper, lying discarded up against the curb a little in front of the car, gradually sank down flat against the concrete as it got more and more sodden. Ever since the Tribune had decided to make their little daily rag free, the papers would get discarded all around the sidewalks and in the alleys. Jesse hated it, but what can you do? It wasn’t like he could call up the Tribune and tell them to stop feeding the litter in the city. Advertising dollars fed the newspaper business, and the advertisers wanted the paper free so they could hawk their wares. The red ink on the cover bled slowly, like blood running, and then the paper dislodged itself in the torrent of water flowing down the gutter and disappeared down the storm drain. He sighed.

After another fifteen minutes, the torrent let up to a light but steady drizzle. “Let’s go,” he said, his voice loud in the silence.

David jumped, eyes flying open. “What?” he said too loudly.

Jesse chuckled and slapped his thigh. “You fell asleep, you slacker. Come on, Brian will worry.”

David nodded and unlocked his door. They stepped into the sauna that was Chicago in the summer.

Jesse walked along Jarvis, skirting a pile of building materials from the new condo a few doors down from their apartment. The builders had put up a large dumpster that took up three parking spaces on the tiny street and he frowned. A newspaper lay, half in and half out, perched on the top. As he walked by, he batted it over the top and heard it flutter to a stop inside the dumpster. He walked on, aware of his surroundings and yet relaxed, comfortable.

When had he become comfortable in he neighborhood again? He cast his mind back. It wasn’t clear, immediately. He hated the influx of the yuppie condos, tearing down the old buildings built in the 1920’s to make way for boring brick boxes with narrow rooms and hardly any space. But the neighborhood felt quiet now, without the buzz of frustrated anger it used to have.

He turned down the alley behind their building and heard the Rottweiler in the next yard barking. Its deep voice echoes through the alley, bouncing off windows and seeming louder than it was. He smiled. She was a pussycat in person, but sounded like she’d eat your face when you walked down the alley. Her owner called her Sara and she would like his face when they met on the street.

He stopped at their gate and pulled out his keys. Sara’s owner stepped out of their garage and saw him. “Hey, Jesse!”

“Hi, Mark. How’s Sara?”

Mark smiled. “She’s good. Wants to go for a walk, as usual.”

Jesse smiled and walked through his gate. “Have a good one.”

“You too,” Mark called.

Jesse walked up to their door, still smiling. He turned and looked back one last time at the coppery night, lit by the streetlights but not yet dark. The sun still cat her light even though she was not longer visible, hidden by the line of buildings between him and sunset. All was quiet. He turned and went back inside.

Mai Madness – Man Against Nature – Setting

The object of this exercise is to understand how to use nature settings effectively. We are to describe the setting of a man-against-nature story, using as much detail as possible.

“Mount Shasta”

Mount Shasta is not dormant. It’s one of the active volcanoes of the Cascade Mountain Range, and like its sister Mount Lassen they are geological anomalies. They lie well within the Sierra Nevadas, a non-volcanic range in Northern California. It’s rare to have a volcanic range intrude into another non-active range. Mount Shasta is an anomaly in other ways, as well. It rises from the valley floor as high as Everest does from its neighbors, a pimple in the landscape. It’s unusual to have such a tall peak standing alone without other mountains next to it. It stands in solitary splendor, an object of worship to the five tribes who lived in the area before the whites came. The whites didn’t know about it until about 1840, since the Spanish didn’t come this far north and the Russians and French fur trappers didn’t come this far south. It stands 14,000 feet high and is covered with five glaciers, named for the tribes whose land this was, before the whites came.

Before the whites came.

I stand at the stepping-off point, a small parking lot near a devastated area from the last season’s avalanche. A mile-wide swath of twisted trees and upended boulders, it’s mute testimony to the power and glory of Nature. It’s one thing to read about an avalanche or see one on television. In person, it’s stunning. I’m speechless. It looks like a demilitarized zone, like a bomb went off and took the pastoral woods and made them this twisted mass of roots and mangled greenery.

I turn my back and look up the trail. It’s innocent. It looks like any other trail I’ve climbed in these mountains. I grew up in the Sierra Nevadas, I know their forests well. This looks no different, even though the rocks and magma below me are quite alien to my experience. Up here, in the open air, all is as it should be. Sequoias and pine, and the occasional oak, greet me. I set off up the trail, gravelly rocks and powdered dirt under my feet. It’s a two-and-a-half mile walk, starting at 8,500 feet, straight up to the Sierra Club cabin. It will wind through the chaparral and forest almost to the tree line at 10,000 feet. I can already feel hypoxia waiting to claim the unwary. I slow my pace.

The trail ascends for a few hundred feet, rocks making steps out of the path. An alpine meadow opens out in front of me, curiously nestled within feet of the trail of the avalanche. I look up, craning my neck to see the peak, but it’s hidden by trees. Innocent. I wonder if anyone was on the mountain at the time of the avalanche and have a sudden mad wish that I had been. What would it have felt like?

The trees thin, the sequoias the first to disappear. The pines get shorter, only thirty feet instead of fifty or even a hundred. The underbrush gets thicker, gnarled branches and thick leaves to take in the sun’s nutrients this high above the valley floor. After a few hours of walking, my heartbeat pounding in my head from the elevation, we come around a last string of boulders and see it.

Built in the 1920’s by an old mountain climber, the Sierra Club cabin is the real starting-off point for the ascent to the peak. Climbers hike in here, spend the night, and get an early start. Mount Shasta is a training peak for places like K2, and is not a novice mountain. I’m not trained in technical climbing, which is what they call it when you use pitons and ropes. It’s a dangerous climb because part of it is on rock and part on glaciers. You need to have a number of skills to make it safely, and the elevation is nothing to sneeze at. Even at 10,000 feet I feel thready and weak. We walk up to the cabin.

I’m startled by how small it is. Only about fifteen feet square, it’s foundation is rock from the surrounding area. The rest is wood. I wonder suddenly if the wood was cut from the trees up here or hiked in. I’m sure I could look it up, but for now just stare at it. The man who built all this was a hermit. I know about the rock walk on the other side of the building from me, but take my time getting there. Each step makes my heart race and I feel dizzy. Hypoxia. I sit down on a nearby bench and drink some water, letting my heart slow down.

It takes longer than I expect and I feel fear stir in my gut. Maybe this wasn’t a good climb for me. But I’m stubborn. I’m here already, I don’t want to just turn back with my tail between my legs.

After I can move without wheezing, I get up and wander inside the cabin. The Forest Service runs it now, and there is literature in cases around the walls. There’s equipment too, for use by hikers and Search and Rescue. I am suddenly disinterested. The peak appears out the far window, white and immense.

I walk out the back door and don’t quite realize I’ve stopped dead. I see the peak every day from my kitchen, far below us at about 6,500 feet. We had to drive up the flanks of the mountain just to get to the stepping off point. So I’m about 3,500 feet above my house. I didn’t realize how much a difference that would make.

The glaciers seem close enough to touch. I suddenly don’t want to see an avalanche. My throat closes as I stare at them, looming overhead like great white hands of God. All it would take is the right combination of weather, a thawing here, a crack there. I quell the urge to run. Besides, if I run, I’d faint from the hypoxia.

After a moment or two, or an hour, I’m not sure how long I really stood there, I lowered my gaze to the rocks. And stand in shock. These aren’t rocks, they’re boulders, easily 500 pounds a pop. They are laid out in a path leading to the first wall, a half a mile or so straight in front of me. No one knows how he put them there. He would hike out with a six-foot metal staff and bring the boulders out of the forest, nestling them here like paving stones. He never told anyone how he did it. How the hell could he have? It would take a crane and a team of men! I set off along the path, and it’s much less like paving stones than I expected, more like walking a riverbed. I move from stone to stone, amazed by how flat their tops are. What makes a man live for years in the woods, building a path like this? I can understand the hermit impulse, but not the urge to expend such effort at altitude. I reach the first wall and look up.

It goes straight up the rock face about a hundred feet. It’s not yet a technical climb; I can see the footholds. I look back at my climbing partner and he shakes his head. He doesn’t think I should do it, with my knee. Stubborn suddenly, I put my foot on the first step.

Halfway up I nearly pass out. My heartbeat is so loud I wonder if other people could hear it. It pounds so heavily in my ear I am getting a headache. I collapse against the boulder I’m climbing and look up to where my partner is, the mountain goat. He’s a good twenty feet above me, hopping lightly from rock to rock.

Jackass.

He looks down and his expression goes blank. I blink. He walks down to me and tell me calmly, I need to get off the wall. I’ve come too far. I nod, nausea building in my stomach from the movement, and shrug. I can’t move my legs.

He advised me to wait until I can feel my feet. It takes longer than I want it too, about ten minutes of breathing slowly, trying not to let the panic claw its way into my breathing to take the last of my oxygen. There just isn’t enough up here. He tells me slowly it’s hypoxia.

The danger with hypoxia is you don’t know you have it. It’s one of the biggest dangers of exposure, along with hypo- and hyperthermia. Once you have it, it takes the oxygen in your blood away from your brain and you can no longer think. He guides me back down the wall to the valley floor, and I collapse on one of the boulders. There’s more air down here. He gets me some water and tells me to go sit somewhere, he’s going to go up again and see what’s there. Up to the end of the non-technical climb. Jealousy flares in me but when I look up the wall, I can hardly breathe from fear. I nod, defeated.

After I could move, maybe a half hour later, I walk over to the devastation caused by the avalanche. I can see where it started, to my left below one of the glaciers. A crack started at some point and the glacier broke off, thundering down the mountain to take everything in its path. I look down the flanks of Mount Shasta and can see for several miles. No, I don’t want to be up here when one of those mothers cuts loose.

I lay down on my back in the light dusting of grass and wildflowers. I lay totally flat and don’t even have to run through my relaxation exercises. My body doesn’t have any energy left to be tense. My heartbeat pounds in my throat and I imagine an observer could see the skin jumping. I lay there, my arms out and palms flat against the flanks of this mountain. I don’t know how long I laid there, a couple hours at least. I never quite dozed off, but I floated in some kind of connected haze. I began to imagine I could feel the engine of the volcano, buried miles beneath me in the rock and sediment.

The clouds floated by overhead, peaceful.

Mai Madness – Train Ride

Describe a train ride. The idea is to show travel, but I found it incredibly hard to do – the funny thing is, I ride a train to work every day. So I assumed it would be easy to write about. Not so much. I did have fun with it, and it helped other projects, but this one was hard to get down onto the keyboard.

“Chicago”

The number 93 bus pulls up at the Kimball terminal on Lawrence Avenue, and pulls past the entrance to park halfway down the block. The driver is stubborn about where the 93’s stop is – he won’t stop where the 81 does, which is right in front of the terminal doors. No, the 93 stop is halfway down the block, so halfway down the block we go. A small knot of passengers waits on the sidewalk, all ages and ethnicities – African American, Mexican-Indian, Pakistani, one White lady with silver hair in a bun, tendrils dripping around her face. I push past the family of African Americans who don’t make room for the disembarking passengers and hear the Arabian man behind me say something sharp to the mother. She mutters a swearword at him but moves grudgingly out of the way, hauling her little boy away by the arm. I walk up the sidewalk to the entrance to the station, past a group of transit employees in uniform, with “CTA” emblazoned on their chests. Chicago Transit Authority. A quasi-governmental agency, it’s really privately run and wastes a tremendous amount of money every year. It’s one of the last bastions of the old political order, the patronage jobs that could be had for doing favors for one’s local Alderman. I turn left, into the building’s atrium, and move up to the entrance. There are four narrow turnstiles and one handicapped one, which is nice and wide with a swinging door. I’d really prefer to use it, because my bags make me wider than two people walking abreast, but I hate fumbling with it. It’s embarrassing because I still haven’t quite figured out how to open it. So I sigh, and push my way through the narrow entrance, bumping my hips as I go. I feel the blood flame into my face and hope no one is watching. The attendant watches me as I go through and I can feel his eyes on my ass as I go through. He seems to ignore the wedding band, even though it’s on the hand that faces him whenever I go through the turnstile. Talk about optimism.

There are three tracks at Kimball. The far left isn’t used as often and you can feel it if you walk down it – a sense of disuse. I prefer the central walkway, where trains are on either side. After the reconstruction, they now run eight-car trains in the rush periods (morning and evening). Usually it’s only six, and four on the weekends. I like being in the front train car because I can look out the front of the train and have a sense of direction, of setting the trail. I like to be either the lead or the tail of any line of people. I don’t like being in the middle, it feels constricting. I pick my favorite seat, a single chair on the right side of the train by the window. These trains have eight single seats, sometimes ten if there are two at the tail of the car. The other train lines only have double seats, side by side. I don’t really like sitting next to people. My single seat is right against the window so I can watch as we go. I pull out my morning pages, sometimes having written a little on the bus here, sometimes not – it depends how crowded the bus is. We set off, moving slowly out of the station. The train car is nearly empty, this early in the morning, particularly since they switched to eight cars. Few people want to walk all the way down the platform to the first car, but I don’t mind – it’s nice to have the solitude.

I will sometimes track our progress in my morning pages, using a diamond in the left margin for stations, and writing their name above it. Kedzie is first. The train rocks a little on the long turn out of the station. The front car bounces less than the others, and if I’m in the last car I really feel the rails. I’m usually in the last car on the way home. Michael goes to work before me and parks at the next station after Kedzie, Francisco; I only have to come back to Francisco in the afternoons. After Francisco, I like to watch the scenery, because we go over the river. I find that the river changes by day – sometimes, the ducks swim, and once I saw a green heron fishing. There are little boats belonging to the houses along the shore and I wish I could take a boat and wander the river.

Rockwell is next, the last of the ground-level stations on the Brown Line. The rest are elevated, which is why they call the trains in Chicago the “L.” It’s usually fun to be that far above things, we’re up about the third storey. But a few weeks ago there was a derailment on one of the other train lines, the Green Line that goes out to West Chicago and Oak Park. It was scary. The rain derailed sideways to the tracks. If it hadn’t been at a junction, where there were extra tracks on either side of the main one, the cars would have gone right off to the road below. I think about that ass we leave Rockwell, on our way to Western. It’s not a comforting thought, but I have to trust in the Universe since this is how I get to work every day. Sometimes, having my head in the sand is a necessary evil.

After Western, we get into the stations that are being rebuilt. All the stations before Western are completed, somewhat. They didn’t finish entirely, but enough to reopen them. Damen is the first one; when we pass it all you can see are the skeletal girders that will house the new station. The last time there was a significant overhaul of these stations was in 1953, so they’re long overdue. Then we come to Montrose. I had a friend who I wanted to date who lived on Montrose. He lies in California with his new wife. Paul Mullins, he is an actor in Hollywood. Then we come to Irving Park. It’s one of the new stations too, but it’s ugly. I don’t like the new rectangular panels, they have small squares cut into the sheet metal. They’ll look awful in a few years with the accumulated grime of pigeon droppings and messy snows. I’m not sure why they were picked, but someone must think they look nice. Chicago is a contender for the Olympics, so the mayor wants the trains to show off our best side. Someone thinks this is our best side. No accounting for tastes. Addison is closed for remodeling, and you can’t even see the skeleton of the old station anymore. They’ve taken it down to the track, with the building materials on either side of the road below. Heavy barricades keep people out of the station and I wonder if anyone ever tries to break in.

I usually finish my pages before Belmont, which is a huge interchange. They’re doing a major track overhaul and the three train lines that go north and south are all on one track now in the mornings. It’s a clusterfuck. I hate it. The Red Line, the Purple Line, and the Brown Line all use the same track between Belmont and Fullerton, which is four stops. It’s caused so many delays, Mayor Daley put his foot down and the CTA announced in the news last month they’ll finish six months ahead of schedule, in December of this year instead of next summer. I’m glad. This is silly. It should be nice when it’s done, because there will be three tracks instead of just two – one for each of the three train lines. We stop on the long turn leading into Belmont and hear the rumble and clatter of a train heading back to Kimball. For some reason, I always feel like I should pull my arms back inside the train – even though the windows don’t open. I suppose this is because when I was little, my mother always told me not to put my arms outside the car window – if we get too close to another car, it’ll get chopped off. Not very realistic, but the admonition stayed with me and I still find myself paranoid when two trains pass each other. The tracks wiggle and bounce with the passage of the other train and I remember the derailment. But we emerge safely to Belmont, moving slowly into the station past the hundreds of people waiting to board.

Another morning in Chicago.

Oh Blog My Blog

I haven’t fallen off the wagon, exactly; it’s more that the homework train collided with the posting train and there’s words all over the tracks!

I’ll post shortly; just have to get caught up on the homework reading. Hang in there! (If you feel the need to read, check out March 2008 for some fun stories, both in the FFC category and the March FADness category…)

And positive comments make me write more.

Really.

~earnest nod~