Four Years and Four Weeks

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Four years and four weeks ago, I sat down at a table in a local family restaurant, not knowing for a moment that my life was about to change.

 

It had been a rough year for me, you see: I had moved from Grande Prairie back to my hometown and I was struggling to fit back in.  I was still living out of boxes in parent’s basement (until I found a place of my own) and my former high school friends had their own lives.  A lot changes when you haven’t lived at home for seven years.

 

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo that year.  I had decided it.  It was too much trouble and too much stress.  The last two years had been marginal successes, at best.  And I didn’t need that kind of stress in my life.  Or so I had told myself.  Of course, my friends, and fate, had other plans.  When I expressed the above to a good friend, she immediately shut down all of my rational excuses why I wouldn’t be writing a novel in a month.  Instead, she gave me a new challenge: “write 5,000 words and meet new friends.”

 

I wrote 5,000 words that first weekend and just kept going.  You see, for the first time since I had started NaNo, I was spending a significant amount of time around people like me: other Wrimos.  That changed everything, including my outlook on writing.  Of course, I was writing a horrible Mary Sue fanfic that shall never see the light of day… but I was writing.  And having fun.  And meeting people!

 

And then, November 14, 2008 came.  The day when I innocently sat all alone at a table at the Ricky’s.  You see, fate had plans for me that day; thank goodness it’s more clever than I was.

 

I wasn’t alone for long.  One of the other Wrimos that I had sort-of-befriended came to keep me from feeling too lonely.  Then the Municipal Liaison at the time sat two “shy” girls at the table.  Of course, the four of us ended up singing songs from Harry Potter Puppet Pals, but who cares?  We were having fun, and I was hanging out with people that got me.  I was smiling.

 

And then someone else joined the table.  A young man with an amusing shirt, a hat, and an engaging smile.  I don’t really remember much else about what he looked like then, but I do recall that I couldn’t seem to stop talking to him.  I still haven’t stopped.

 

Three weeks ago, four years and one week to the day that we had met, that man asked me to marry him.

 

Of course, I said yes.  The last four years have been among the most amazing and life changing years ever.  He has laughed with me, cried with me, grieved with me, and grown with me.  He has challenged my beliefs and everything I thought that I wanted from life without ever making me feel like less of a person.  He has supported me without question no matter what was going right or wrong in my life.  He stood by my side when my world crumbled around me, and he was still there when the chaos stopped.

 

He constantly inspires me to aim for new heights, both as a writer and a person, mostly without even trying.  He pushes me to be better, to do better, and to set goals that I never would have otherwise considered.  He always listens to me vent when I just need to vent, but offers amazingly insightful advice when that’s what I need.  He likes my friends and loves my family (and I love his).  He completes me in nearly every way that it is physically and emotionally possible to do so, and I find myself loving him even more every day.

 

I don’t have the words to express how honored and humbled I am to have found him and I cannot wait to celebrate the next phase of our lives together, in front of the family and friends that have helped to shape us and our relationships.  I love him more than any mere words can say, and I cannot wait to see what other plans fate has in store for us.

So… This Happened

So…

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This happened.

 

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Then this happened.

 

All in all, it’s been a pretty amazing week so far (and it’s not over yet!).  Some highlights include:

  • Tea with friends new and old
  • Meeting an adorable pair of newlyweds and some newcomers at the Meet and Greet
  • Writing in a neat little bagel shop we discovered
  • Reaching my 50K in NaNo (and promptly doing nothing for 48 hours afterwards)
  • Overdosing on candy
  • Finding the perfect gift for my ML Secret Santa
  • Petting a shark and a ray
  • Eating my first sushi boat
  • Visiting the Office of Letters and Light and learning that I look great in a Viking hat
  • Watching a beautiful Pacific Octopus charm the employees of the aquarium
  • Baby Ostriches!!!
  • Dim sum in China Town
  • Meeting colourful characters on the streets of San Fran

 

Watch for more pictures and updates next week, as I’ll have more to share soon!  Tomorrow, we bike across the Golden Gate.  Wish my rear end luck (it’ll need it).  Until then?

 

Have a baby ostrich.

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Red Sea at Noon

This week’s flash fiction challenge is courtesy of Chuck Wendig.  I had 1,000 words to incorporate the following: Weird Tales, Besieged by the enemy!, Beneath the Sea, An Ancient Curse.  Enjoy!

 

 

“Captain, there’s something that demands your attention.”  The young seaman saluted neatly as he waited for his captain’s response.

 

“Can’t someone else deal with it?”  The Captain didn’t even look up from the stack of papers that filled her small desk.

 

“No ma’am.  The Bridge requested you specifically.”

 

Captain Mariana sighed and rose from the hard metal chair.  “Alright, lead on sailor.”

 

It took longer than Seaman Anderson would have liked to maneuver through the tight passageways that led from the Captain’s office to the Bridge.  Even after two months on board, the confined nature of the sub still left him feeling claustrophobic and it was with a sigh of relief that he finally emerged into the relative expanse of the Bridge.

 

“Captain on Deck!”  Everyone within the room stood with a clamber and saluted, an action which the Captain waved aside with one hand.

 

“So, what was so important that you had to send a dog to drag me away from my paperwork?”

 

Anderson’s mouth dropped, but he said nothing.

 

“This, ma’am.”  The Lieutenant in command said with a wave towards one of the small portholes.  “We just entered the Triangle an hour ago.  I fear we’re going to have to place our search and rescue plans on hold.”  Anderson didn’t have to move from his spot to ascertain what had caught the crew’s attention – an eerie red glow seemed to be pulsing through the porthole.

 

“Red sky at night; sailor’s delight.  Red in the morning; sailor’s warning.”  Captain Mariana muttered to herself as she stared through the porthole.

 

“Respectfully, ma’am, then what does a red sea at noon signify?”  The crew turned to stare, mouths agape, at Anderson’s insubordination, but the Captain merely smiled.

 

“It means war, Seaman.”

 

Although nobody laughed, Anderson knew that this must be some kind of ritual hazing of the new crew.  Frankly, he had expected something like this weeks ago.  “War against whom, ma’am?  The mermaids?”

 

When the Captain whirled to face him, Anderson knew he had said something wrong.  “What do you know about such things?”

 

“Only what I’ve seen in Disney films, ma’am.”  Surely this was part of the hazing, although the Captain might be taking it a bit too far.  “You know, the one where they sing all the time, except for the one who has to give up her voice to find true love?”

 

The Captain laughed and motioned Anderson towards the porthole.  “Is that what you think you see outside?”

 

 

“But when the Seaman looked through the porthole, all he saw were horrible green-skinned merfolk with sharp teeth, holding spears that glowed red and gold.  The sub’s torpedoes could not slow them and they swarmed the submarine in mere moments, spears able to pierce even the thickest of steel.”

 

The Cruise Director stopped and regarded his shivering audience of youngsters with satisfaction.  Horror Hour was almost complete, and he would need to hustle to make it to the costume competition on the Lido Deck, but he took the time to enjoy the terrified noises of his young audience.

 

“But if they destroyed the sub, how do you know what happened?”  One of the older ones asked, clearly feigning bravery for his younger sister.

 

The Director turned on the glowing prop that he had been holding behind his back and brandished it towards the boy.  “Because I was one of the ones on the attack!”  He shouted with a malicious laugh.

 

The room soon emptied and the Director chuckled to himself as he walked along the deck towards his next obligation.  Children were so gullible, he almost couldn’t stand it.  He had to admit that the cruise company’s idea to run a Halloween cruise over the cursed Bermuda Triangle had been brilliant – half of the passengers were already on edge and easier than usual to scare.

 

“Red sea at noon, indeed.”  He muttered to himself as he climbed the metal stairs up to the next deck.

 

If he had bothered to pay attention or look down, he might have heard the enemy crawling slowly up the side of the boat or seen the red glow underneath the ship in time to sound the alarm.

Book Review: “Wrecked” (****/5)

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I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of “Wrecked” by Jeff Goins. It took me far too long to get around to reading it, but I’m glad that I did. At its heart, “Wrecked” is a book about being broken in order to grow as an individual and a member of society. Being “wrecked” in the sense that this book is talking about means seeing the sadness and pain within others and allowing it to touch us, to move us, and eventually to change us. Although most of the stories were about missions, one does not need to travel somewhere exotic and poor to witness and work against pain. Indeed, one can help people that live right next door.

 

People who allow their hearts to be broken for the brokenness in the world have something that most of us don’t. Compassion. Selflessness. Freedom.

 

As humans, we have conflicting goals. We want our lives to mean something, to leave a legacy and make others proud of us. But we also want to “have it all”, to live a comfortable life and feel safe. Unfortunately, these two concepts are sometimes mutually exclusive. This is why we get “wrecked”. Sometimes something (subconscious goals, God, fate, or what-have-you) drags us out of our happy life and shows us how painful life really can be. The goodness comes when we realize that helping others can help us too, and the change can make us stronger.

 

If you’ve ever traveled to another country, especially in the developing world, you may have noticed that you don’t see many moody teenagers. Young adults in the rest of the world aren’t like they are in America. Other cultures make a clear delineation between childhood and adulthood; there are rites of passages and initiation ceremonies to mark these transitions. People expect and are willing to expose young people to hardship and pain, because it helps them grow.

 

In the Western world where I live, there are few of these rites of passage. There are ceremonies, yes, but (at least in my experience) none of them involve true pain. We are so busy pushing our young through more and more levels of education that we forget to let them live. And then, strangely, we are surprised when they go into the workforce and find that it’s not as easy as they expected. Mentorship programs are rare, and even when a young adult is lucky enough to find a mentor, who has the time to spend helping another learn? I think that this is exactly what the end goal of being “wrecked” is all about: if you are not able to directly work to end suffering, you can empower others to do so.

 

Bodybuilders know that, in order to build muscle, we must first break the tissue down. This is painful and often is where we want to quit. Because it hurts! But the torn muscle tissue regenerates to be stronger. The same can be said for life: we can’t grow without pain. Some of the biggest changes in life (teething, adolescence, breaking a bone, or giving birth) are accompanied by substantial pain. Finding your life’s purpose can be just as difficult, and may require sacrifice, discomfort, or even danger.

 

Jeff told a story about his first settled job, where he quickly took on more and more responsibilities that he felt he wasn’t qualified for. He thought that he wasn’t good enough, in spite of the faith his boss had in him. Without giving away any details, I will say that I have felt like this too. I too have wondered why so many people believed in me, when I clearly lack the skills that I need. But, with so many things, that situation has passed. I have yet to discover if the pain has made me stronger yet, but I know that it has left me with a renewed sense of purpose. Maybe that was what I needed to learn from this recent experience.

If you feel you’ve been given more than you can possibly handle, take heart. This is the point where you learn to grow into who you’re meant to be. It’s when you’re in over your head that you start taking your work seriously, when you finally grow.

Book Review: “Water for Elephants” (****/5)

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I received Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen as a gift earlier in the year.  Unfortunately, my life being what it is, it sat for a while before I finally picked it up.  I thought it would make a nice light camping read and, being a published NaNoWriMo novel, might inspire me to work extra hard on my own writing.

 

Unfortunately, it had rather the opposite effect.  By which I mean that I spent the entirety of the first day camping reading it.  I finished it quickly and read it again before the weekend was out.

 

At it’s heart, Water for Elephants is a love story.  There are darker undertones, though, of desperation, hatred, abuse, and greed.  It is a remembrance of things past, where perhaps the brighter spots are a little brighter and the darker spots a little darker than they might truly have been.  It is a truly visual story that leaves a mark on the reader: superficial at first, but eventually a deeper statement of love and compassion.

 

The story starts with a death – a murder.  The victim: a character that we feel no sympathy for and quickly learn to hate.  The perpetrator?  Well, that’s left a little bit ambiguous.  The mystery of the opening is soon pushed by the wayside as we live the memories of Jacob Janowski, a ninety-three year old circus veterinarian.  Alone and with nothing, young Jacob gives up his dream and inadvertently runs away with the circus.  There, he falls in love with the equestrian star, Marlena, a love that he must hide from her cruel husband.  But things grow even more complicated when the elephant Rosie joins the menagerie and Jacob finds himself trying to protect his two loves from the cruel force that seems intent on dooming them both.

 

The setting of the novel is vibrant and alive – it’s clear Gruen did her research.  It was that setting that really kept me engaged: I’ve heard that setting should be treated as a character, and this one definitely had a life of its own.  From the Depression-damaged towns to the sleazy sideshow and “cooch tent” to the glamours of the performer cars and a speakeasy, I truly felt present in the moment.

 

The interactions between the characters were equally believable, if occasionally a little flat and predictable.  The overall mystery of the murder and its fallout, as well as the side plots involving the injured Camel, older Jacob’s desire to visit the local circus, and the mystery that is Walter the clown kept me turning pages well into the time I should have been writing myself.

 

Water for Elephants is a thoughtful book, that I was able to read twice in quick succession and still glean more from it the second time.  I think it might be one of those rare books that only improves on re-visiting, although I will have to read it again to be sure.  I look forward to it.

Blind to her Beauty

This week’s flash fiction challenge: “Fairy Tale Upgrade” is courtesy of Chuck Wendig.  I hope you will enjoy my modern-ish version of the Ugly Duckling.

 

 

The orphans lined up along the street, begging for food like they did every morning.  It was Sunday, and the few churchgoers had been only slightly more generous than on any other day.

 

Cici looked down at the small pile of coins in her hand.  It might be enough.  Enough to buy something warm to eat and maybe even something to save for later.  It was never enough to buy everything: a safe home, a warm bed, enough food to fill her, and someone to look out for her.

 

Still, she had learned to get by on only a little.  There wasn’t much else that a girl with her looks could hope for.

 

It was still hard sometimes.  Especially in the winter, when the bitter winds blew across the land.  The crawl spaces under wooden porches were her favorite shelters – they were sheltered from the snow and the wind, and whatever piled up on top of the porch only helped to keep her warmer.  It wasn’t glamorous, but it kept her alive.  The Jones were the nicest folk she had found.  Either they didn’t mind her sleeping underneath their deck every night or they didn’t notice.  Both suited Cici just fine.

 

It wasn’t winter yet, though.  She could feel it in the air: a nip in the breeze that blew across the flatlands.  And her only blanket was worn and tearing.  Cici would have to find another, somehow.

 

It would be hard to get the money that she needed by begging.  There was always theft, but that always made Cici feel a little more ashamed of herself.  What would her sisters think of her waltzing into the general store and hiding a blanket underneath her skirt?  Not that they likely thought of her, but the thought still managed to stop her cold.  It seemed like she would always be trying to model proper behavior for sisters she hadn’t seen in two years.

 

Not that they would have listened to her anyway.  It had been painfully obvious to everyone that Cici wasn’t the prize of the bunch.  Far from it: she had a long nose that might have been better suited on a hound and her hair was thin and lank and dark, certainly not the golden curls that her mother had so praised in her sisters.  Her teeth were uneven and yellow, and her hips were too thin.  Most young men at home had looked away and whispered to each other when she passed.  It had taken her years to figure out why.

 

It was the same reason her begging results weren’t as good as some of the others’.  Cici was ugly, there was no getting around it.

 

When she had been little and still only homely, her mother used to tell her and her baby sisters stories.  They always ended the same way: the prince saved the princess and they lived happily ever after.  “There’s a prince out there for all of you, duckies,” she would say as they drifted off to sleep.

 

Cici had once thought that her prince would find her someday, but as she aged, she had come to the sad realization that it was not to be.  She would be alone, until the day the Jones’ porch didn’t provide enough shelter to get her through a winter.

 

Most days she was okay with that.  Today, though, it only made her sadder, as she slunk through the door into the tavern.  There was a pot of something delicious smelling on the fire, but she headed straight for the bar for two loaves of yesterday’s bread.  It didn’t smell or taste as good, but the price was right.

 

The tavern was unusually busy, so she lingered near the fire for as long as she could before the innkeeper’s wife ran her off.  There were no free tables, but she didn’t much care: near the fire was by far the warmest place in the room.  Most of the clientele seemed to be from another state, perhaps drawn here by the promise of a busy harvest.  Cici didn’t pay attention to the farms, only to the weather and the sheriff’s rules.  Growing things didn’t interest her.

 

Singing, though, did and she softly joined in on the tune that filled the room.  It was a pretty song, though she didn’t know all the words.  Instead, Cici made up her own.  Whispered at first they grew louder as she got the hang of the tune.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before someone noticed the girl singing a drinking song.

 

“Hey, you by the fire.  The one with the beautiful voice.  C’mere.”

 

A boy.  He was maybe two years older than her and seemed harmless enough, with a soft wavering gaze.  At least he wasn’t staring at her budding breasts.  Cici debated for a minute but finally joined him at his table.  If she was lucky, she might wheedle a coin or two from him for another song.  “Yes, sir?”

 

“That was beautiful.  Do you sing often?”

 

“Whenever I can.  It’s hard when I’m not in the right mood though.”

 

“Your husband must love it when you sing his babies to sleep.”

 

Cici flushed.  “Oh, I’m not married.”

 

“A beautiful woman like yourself?  I find that hard to believe.”

 

“I’m just a girl, sir, and far from beautiful.”

 

“I find that very hard to believe.”

 

“Can’t you see for yourself?”

 

“No…”  His hands reached towards her, fumbling against her shoulders and sliding up her neck to her face.  The questing hands felt her chin, her forehead, and her nose and finally came to rest on either cheek.  “To the contrary.  With a voice like that and a soul to match, anyone would find you incredibly beautiful.”

 

She blushed.  He smiled.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

She cast her eyes demurely towards the ground just as she realized that he wouldn’t see the response anyway.  “Cecilia.”

Character Profiles in “The Hunger Games”

As an advance note, I’m trying out a new posting system. I hope everything here turns out okay, but in case it doesn’t, please forgive me for any formatting issues.

 

Now, onto the subject of this blog post:

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I receive the monthly eZine from Randy Ingermanson, aka: “The Snowflake Guy”. I subscribed to his monthly emails after trying, and loving, his Snowflake method. I’ve only used it for the one novel so far, but using it up to step four has been helpful for short stories too.

 

However, there’s one place where I always seem to struggle, and that’s step 5. I’ve never really liked writing down the details of my characters, it seems unnatural to me. Strangely enough, I have no problems listing their basic motivations or the details about them when it comes down to it. But for some reason, summarizing the story for each of the characters is excruciatingly painful for me.

 

So imagine my surprise when I read this month’s eZine and saw Randy do it well, with a book that I’ve read recently as an example. I think I understand the concept of step 5 a lot better now, and I think that I’ll have to go back and re-work it for my current WIP to see if I can’t discover any unknown subplots.

 

Here’s the first character profile (warning: spoilers herein and in Randy’s full eZine):

 

Katniss
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Katniss Everdeen is a 16-year-old girl in a dystopic future America. She scratches out a bare living by hunting illegally with her best friend Gale.

Katniss only loves one person in the world, her little sister Prim. When Prim’s name is drawn for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place, which she knows will be a death sentence.

Katniss is particularly unhappy that the other tribute from her district is Peeta Mellark, a boy she hardly knows, except that he saved her life a few years ago when she was starving and desperate.

During the last interview before the Hunger Games begin, Peeta reveals on national TV that he has a terrible crush on Katniss, and therefore he can’t win even if he survives. Katniss is furious, thinking this is a scam to make her look weak.

When the Games begin, Katniss grabs a few supplies and heads for the hills to evade the Career tributes. Late that night, she discovers that Peeta has joined forces with the Careers, and has promised to deliver her to them.

Katniss is now completely convinced that Peeta is doing his best to survive at her expense. Can she outfox the Careers — and punish Peeta?

 

Read the rest here.
I have to say that Randy does an amazing job of, not only getting me engaged in the characters, but in the story, as each successive character’s mini-bio gets closer and closer to the finale of the story, when all the little story-threads finally come together. I think I finally understand how this type of synopsis can be more engaging for editors and agents, and I definitely think that my step 5s need more work.

 

If you want to read more from Randy, all of his past eZines are available on his website, and you can subscribe to receive the ones on the first Tuesday of the month.

 

Who do you follow regularly to learn more about your craft?

 

 

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 31,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Book Review: “The Hunger Games” (*****/5)

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I haven’t been unable to put a book down for a while.  This might seem shocking to many of you, but I’ve always been a fast reader and often finish books in one or two sittings (the most notable of which being nearly every Harry Potter book).  Lately, though, I’ve read a little of a book and put it down, only to pick it up a week or a month later.  Even the infamous Game of Thrones that kept my boyfriend up for many a late night didn’t hold my attention (I still have yet to finish it).

 

I could NOT put The Hunger Games down.

 

It wasn’t just that the protagonist was a wonderfully written young woman with courage that I can only dream of.  It wasn’t that the society of Panem was wonderfully weird and an interesting statement on society.  It wasn’t the fighting to the death and it wasn’t the love story.

 

It was everything.

 

I can certainly see why The Hunger Games is incredibly popular right now.  To start with, Katniss is an amazing protagonist with courage that few people have.  She sacrifices herself (pretty much literally) to save her younger sister without really thinking of the implications.  She handles most of the situations she’s faced with in the Capitol with courage and grace.  And she overcomes so very much in the Games themselves.

 

Katniss is faced with a problem that many young adult readers are not, although I think most readers can relate to facing strange situations that seem familiar but are fraught with politics and popularity contests and twists.  When I put it that way, it sounds much like junior high/high school, doesn’t it?  And then, just to make a bad situation worse: there’s the romance.  Does she love Gale?  Does she love Peeta?  Katniss doesn’t seem to know what she really wants and who she really cares for.

 

I also completely enjoyed the setting of Panem.  It was weird and wonderful and just a little bit off-putting.  I could see the North America that we know now turning out that way under the right circumstances.  I also particularly liked how the splendor of the Capitol was contrasted so sharply with the conditions in District Twelve.  In these times of economic uncertainty, I think it’s something that a lot of us can relate to.

 

The Hunger Games definitely sucked me in with its relevance to the world today and it’s subtle commentary on society.  But it was the action that kept me going, even though I had seen the movie and knew how it would end.  I hung on to every Tribute’s death and waited anxiously with Katniss for the next battle, the next fight for her life.  And when the end finally came, it was the opposite of what I would have expected.

 

I will definitely be buying and reading the next two books in the series, as I simply must know what happens in Panem next.  And I think that there are many things Suzanne Collins does that I will have to keep in mind for my own writing.

 

All in all, a great book that made an excellent movie.  I hunger for more.

Flamingo Dream

Time for another Flash Fiction!

 

Today’s submission was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Paint Color Title Scheme.  Of the ten possible colors listed, I chose “Flamingo Dream”!  I’m… not entirely sure what this is, but it was interesting to write after an emotionally draining day.  I am 99% sure I will be going back to this one and revising, as I think there’s a lot of good stuff here I might re-purpose after a night of good sleep.

 

In the meantime, please enjoy this rough, 20 minute (to write), 666 word story!

 

 

Flamingo Dream

Flamingos dream in black and white.  That was what the researchers said anyway, Ryan thought as he watched one of them nap in the sun.  But he couldn’t help but wonder how the researchers knew that was true.  Had they asked them?  Had they psychically wound their way into the flamingos’ dreams?  Had they experienced the richness of the world through a bird’s eye?

 

He doubted it.  Humans would probably never know, regardless of how many animals they studied in zoos.

 

Ryan enjoyed watching the zoo animals.  They always seemed so calm and content – all that they had to be was themselves, with no worries or fears.  Everything was provided for them: food, water, safety, interaction, family, friends…  It was probably a boring existence, but few of them seemed to mind.

 

He stuffed his hands into his pockets and sighed as he watched the graceful pink necks curve down and back up as the animals ate.  Sometimes he wished that his life could be that simple and easy.  But he couldn’t be what he wanted to be, or even what he was.  There was always something that someone else wanted of him: to be smarter, to work harder, to have more, to want more, to be… more.

 

Ryan wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to withstand it.

 

One of the flamingos ambled closer, drawn by the shrieking glee of a small girl in purple standing near him.  She was holding a mittened hand out towards the birds and yelling “pink, pink!”

 

The flamingo sniffed curiously at her hand.  Finding nothing exciting there, it pulled its head back and vocalized at her, which sent her into another shriek of excited glee.  Ryan smiled at her carefree enjoyment of the sunny day that he couldn’t seem to appreciate himself.  Animals and children: both were equally free to just be themselves.

 

And here he was, only in the later half of his twenties, wondering what the point of it all was.  Wondering who he was trying to impress with his long hours at work and his fancy new car.  Wondering when, exactly, he had stopped enjoying the simpler things in life like sunshine or the laugher of a child.

 

Ryan eyed one of the flamingos suspiciously as it shook water casually off its wings.  It sometimes seemed like he was far more caged than these birds.

 

###

 

The elder flamingo woke from her doze to find the tall human was still there.  That one came by a lot, she knew, and stayed longer than any others.  He was nice enough, as humans went: he didn’t throw things at them or honk back or make fun of their long legs and he always watched them so intently that it almost felt like admiration.  He could come and go as he pleased, but he always seemed to visit them late in the afternoon, just before bedtime.  With the young ones around and the constant visits from strange humans, it was pleasant to have some rhythm to the day.

 

One of the babies raced awkwardly towards her, nearly stumbling over his growing legs.  A commotion at the other end of the pond needed her attention.  She sighed and began her stately walk towards the fighting teens, proud even in the face of such a commonplace squabble.

 

Fights were for the young: the ones that still had down and spirit.  The ones who still naively believed that there was a place better than the pond they inhabited and the nice humans in the beige clothes that brought them food and let them inside for the winter.  They were still young and foolish, she knew, and would change their mind as soon as the cold struck.

 

When she looked back, the tall human was gone.  No matter: she knew that he would come back, as he always did.

 

If Ryan had been able to ask what she had dreamt during her nap, she could have told him that she dreamt of nothing.

Solitary

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “A Terrible Lie“.  This week, Chuck challenged us to write a short story where the conflict revolves around a terrible lie.

 

Here’s my humble submission:

 

“Red five to black six.”  The stranger’s blue eyes twinkled as she slid into the empty seat across from Emma.

 

The train tilted softly around a corner as Emma looked down at the cards in front of her.  Of course.  There it was.  She moved the cards around swiftly, pleased with herself.

 

“Thanks.”  She told the stranger, who smiled secretively and tucked a stray lock of dark hair behind one ear.  Her hands were beautifully manicured, Emma noticed, and she wore a single thick metal ring on her right hand.  “I’m Emma.”

 

“Paulette.”  Paulette’s hand was as soft as it looked, Emma realized as they shook.  “Are you traveling alone?”

 

With hardly a pause, Emma nodded.  “Just for a few hours.  I’m heading back home for Easter.”  The practiced words tumbled easily from her lips.  There was no home for her anymore.  Not really.

 

“I kind of figured that.  The cards, after all.”

 

Emma looked down at her game and smiled.  “Years ago, my mother told me that a game of solitaire was a surefire way to meet strangers.  Everyone has an opinion.”

 

“So they do.”

 

Silence fell between the seats as the train rocked again.  “How about you?”  Emma asked.  “Are you traveling with anyone?”

 

“No, I’m traveling on business.”

 

“What do you do?”  Emma admired Paulette’s crisp shirt and tailored pantsuit.

 

“Sales.”

 

“That sounds exciting.”

 

“It’s not really.  Honestly, it’s boring.  I thought I would be able to see the world and meet exciting new people, but for the most part all I see is the inside of trains and planes and hotel rooms.”

 

“Well, maybe this trip will offer you some excitement.”

 

Paulette smiled.  “I hope so.”

 

###

 

When Emma collected her things as the train slowed to a stop, it was with a strange feeling of reluctance.

 

“Well, it was nice meeting you.”  Paulette said softly, holding out one hand.  Without really thinking about it, Emma shook it, realizing that this was goodbye.

 

“Good luck with the job.  I hope things pick up.”

 

“Oh, I’m pretty sure they will.”

 

Before Emma could reply, Paulette had turned to leave, pulling a black, wheeled suitcase behind her.  Emma shook her head as she picked up her heavy duffel bag and carried it towards the exit.

 

A swift cab ride followed – not to her family home, but to a mid-range hotel not far from the train station.  As the car zipped along the dark streets, Emma silently berated herself.  She knew better than to get too chummy with strangers, even if the trip was boring.

 

What if she’d given herself away?

 

Her boss wouldn’t stand for that, she knew.  Moreover, she wouldn’t last long if she kept chatting away with strangers, spilling the beans.  Not when there were others like her out there, with similar agendas who wouldn’t mind one bit if some of the competition mysteriously disappeared.

 

At least the cover story about Easter had gone over well.  Besides, ignoring the risk, it had been a useful conversation: she knew where her target was staying.  She flipped open a small leather book she’d stashed in her purse, to reveal a small photograph of a dark haired woman with blue eyes.

 

###

 

When Emma arrived at her hotel room door, she felt strangely like she was being watched.  There was nobody around, though, and she slid the key card into the electronic lock carefully, trying to appear as though her heart wasn’t about to jump out of her chest.

 

She’d been jumpy like this ever since her boss had warned her that there might be a hit out on her.  Of course, that was ridiculous.  She was still new to the agency, out on her first solo assignment.  She wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar yet.

 

But when Emma pushed the door open the first thing that she saw was Paulette, harshly lit by a single lamp by the bed, standing in the middle of the hotel room.

Emma gasped.  “You…?”

 

Paulette’s hand raised until the gun was pointed squarely at Emma.  “I told you my work was about to become more exciting.”