23 July, 2021

Fiction Friday - Don't Look Too Close


Marion put the heavy vase back on the table, her thirst sated. She smacked her lips a couple times just to hear the wetness on her lips, teeth and tongue. A sigh escaped and she turned down the hall. The flowers lay on the table where she'd lain them on entering the old house and seeing the vase.

It had been too long. How long? Marion had no idea. The old wood panels of her huge Victorian house were faded with dust, but for the table in the center hall. The table that had held a heavy, cut-glass vase full of fresh wild flowers. 

Fresh? No, a few days old at least. Not that Marion had noticed. Her thirst drove her to distraction.

"Why am I so thirsty?" The thought crossed her mind as a simple question mark without words. She had no answers.

Her steps took her down the well-worn floorboards to the kitchen. Water.

The faucet creaked, but nothing came out. Why not? Too many questions.

Marion looked around at the faded wallpaper beyond the breakfast table. Had it always looked like that? Where was everyone? "Hello?" Her voice creaked out as a rasp.

Marion looked down at herself for the first time. Her clothes were faded like the wallpaper. That seemed wrong, too. Marion always took good care of her clothes. So why was her dress faded and - was that a rip? Tugging the fabric of her dress to and fro, she could see that the hem was ragged and there were random holes down the front of her dress.

"Why am I wearing a dress, anyway? Wait -" Marion asked the question out loud then stopped to think. She didn't recall coming into the house, or where she had come from. "This is stupid. I'm going to change," she told herself, and went back out to the hallway to take the main stairs up to her bedroom. Jeans. She wanted jeans.

At the top of the stairs, in the center of the hall, was a mirror over a side table. Marion saw herself as she crested the stairs and her jaw fell open.

Chunks of flesh were missing from her face and neck. She had seen without watching as her hands lifted the vase and played with her skirt, but now she turned her forearms back and forth and could see how the skin had shrunk back and pruned on itself. Her nails looked longer and dirty.

Stepping closer to the mirror to get a better look, her hands went up to her neck and touched a line of blotchy red bruising still visible across the part of her neck that was whole.

"Oh that's right," she stated with the slow dawning of realization. "I'm dead." And she watched her mirror image fade into a ghostly white vapor.


It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

16 July, 2021

Fiction Friday - Angelique


(An alternate side of last week's story.)

Angelique couldn't move.

Angelique couldn't even open her eyes.

Angelique was strapped down and sedated.

The chaos of her mind had been tamed by the drug, and she'd fallen into a dreamy sleep. It happened often enough. Sleep was a respite from the fighting voices and moods that tried to take over her thoughts and actions in every waking minute. But this was a deeper sleep induced by a strong sedative.

As her gurney rolled with occasional rattles and squeaks through hallways, and dropped in the elevator to the main floor of the New World Psychiatric Center, Angelique dreamed she was flying. She floated through space until she landed on a boat. The boat was in the middle of an endless sea and the gentle rocking met the squeaks and squawks of seagulls soaring in the sky above her.

As Angelique and five other patients lay in repose in the lobotomorium, their caregivers had a final discussion confirming their choices. Dr. James had no qualms about her status. "Angelique's behavior is erratic. She has posed a danger to herself and to others on more than one occasion. She started a fight in the cafeteria just the other day."

As was common in these kinds of organizational meetings, one person was the designated "Devil's Advocate" - there to ask the hard questions that were uncomfortable to ask or answer.

"Is 'starting a fight' a reason to take this action?" the D.A. asked in his usual matter-of-fact way.

"Violence, especially repetitive violence, and inciting others to violence, is a good reason to take this action, yes," responded Dr. James. "This was just the most recent fight that has broken out in her wake. She has not responded well to other treatments during the course of her eight months here. We only use this course as a last resort, and that's why I have recommended this patient."

No one in the room would ever say the word "lobotomy".

Another doctor, not the D.A., posed the key question: "You have exhausted other efforts at rehabilitation?"

"We have. Drugs, counseling, art therapy, music and movement therapies, even electric shock. She is not just unresponsive, but often openly hostile to the doctors and interns administering treatment." Every head around the table nodded in approval and the D.A. made a note on his pad. They moved on to the next doctor in attendance.

Angelique's ship was stalled in still waters. There was no movement, no calling of the birds. The boat she was on was empty. She was alone. It was terrifying to be so alone in the middle of a watery expanse she could do nothing about. Her heartbeat increased as in her dream Angelique raced around the - was it a yacht? - opening doors and crying out for anyone to hear, but hearing only her own voice echoing back.

After a time, noises of doors and footsteps calmed her. Someone was there, and that was better than the isolation.

Up above, in the conference room, food had been ordered and the curtain pulled back on a two-way mirror so the doctors could watch their patients being treated by their students, who were beginning to arrive. This was for two reasons: First, the students still required supervision in order to get their grade. Second, knowing they had to watch the procedure was meant as a deterrent to a doctor's careless prescription of this drastic action.

The doctors poured drinks and filled their plates as they chose, some nibbling, some piling on their favorite foods. In The Tank below, the students were arriving and checking out their patients and instruments, not talking much. One doctor nodded in approval at the focus of his student. In the conference room, they couldn't hear the murmur of spectators arriving beyond the glass wall, and they'd only see a corner of the bleachers after the curtain was opened. The announcer was on their time schedule, so they didn't require any audio, just watched a countdown clock on the wall above their viewing window.

As Owen positioned himself against her gurney, Angelique felt the slight movement and thought the boat might get moving again soon. Her breathing calmed and heart-rate settled once more.

The curtain opened with a sustained "Sssshhhhhck" which Angelique's brain registered as an attempt to start the boat's engine. Short bursts of cheers and applause for the students turned into noises from an island that suddenly popped up in the midst of the vast, empty sea.

There was a brief silence, then Angelique felt piercing pressure behind her eye and her dream-self screamed in horror before falling overboard to the roar of a crowd cheering.

The dream ended. Angelique's brain was functioning, but there were no visions, no emotions, and nothing mattered.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

This story is the patient's perspective from last week's post, You can visit it here to see how I came up with that idea.

09 July, 2021

Fiction Friday - The Lobotomotorium

Angelique couldn't move.

Angelique couldn't even open her eyes.

Angelique was strapped down and sedated. 

The orderly took his time pushing her gurney down the hall and hit the button to activate the automatic doors to "The Tank".  

The Tank was a large, sterile room with three walls of smooth tiles and one larger, curved wall of glass, lined with tiers of bleachers looking in. On the other side of the glass the orderly saw two volunteers cleaning the bleachers, preparing them for the day's big show. He pushed Angelique's gurney into position at the end of a row of five other, similar gurneys. All bore strapped down, unconscious people who wouldn't leave this place the same person who entered it.

If only they knew.

Lobotomies were frowned upon, and certainly the New World Psychiatric Center did not admit to performing them. But they were an educational facility among other things. And historically, lobotomies were common practice. Avant Garde, even, in their day. So it was important that students understand the procedure.

Teaching the history of psychiatric treatment was one thing, but the students took it further. Now it was a contest. A race.

It had started years ago, when two students found they'd both be doing their first lobotomies the following day. They connived to schedule them at the same time, each student devising conflicts until the only time available was identical. They'd shared the lobotomorium, two instructors supervising each one, so it was a tame affair. But when they all left The Tank, the students knew who had won.

Now, with a new department head who appreciated "a little good-spirited competition" the events happened quarterly. Sometimes with two patients, sometimes four, and occasionally like now, six. It was a race. Fastest successful lobotomy won.

The orderly crossed to the giant window and pulled the heavy curtain closed. Then he left the cold lobotomotorium and went to change into casual clothes. He had front row seats for the year-end final. Staff were allowed to book tickets first, in appreciation of their hard work keeping the facility operational.

Back in his civvies, no longer an orderly, Don grabbed a snack in the cafeteria and listened to the gossip. Most people were favoring Ambrose or Patty in this round, but it sounded like Owen might be a dark horse. Don placed his bet with Ty, the cafeteria cashier. Betting wasn't allowed, so naturally everyone did it. 

An hour later, Don was taking his seat, a small bag of popcorn in hand, and Penelope at his side. He was amazed she'd agreed to join him, based on her known stance of never dating coworkers. Probably his great seats made the difference. 

The stadium seating filled up and voices surrounded them until a whine and whistle crackled through the massive speakers. "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the FINAL TEST!" A cheer rose up and anticipation was palpable. "Today we have six advanced students competing for the honor of Senior Lobotomotoriate and a chance to offer the closing speech at the leaving day ceremony." Another round of applause. It was a high honor.

"Please welcome..." The giant green curtain that Don had closed was pulled back by two young assistants to reveal each participant standing in front of their gurneys, ready to bow on cue. "Owen Leake!" Owen gave a quick bow, his face stone. He would be lobotomizing Angelique, Don noted absently. Applause, cheers. "Patty Montgomery!" She graced the crowd with a smile before nodding. Louder applause. "Sabrina O'Shea!" Don thought this girl looked the most nervous of all of them. No wonder Ty gave her poor odds . "Terry Quick!" Another unknown received obligatory applause, before the announcer named the expected winner. "And Ambrose Montague!" The crowd went wild for him. Partly in anticipation of winning bets, and partly because he was good looking and popular.

"Participants, take your posts!"

This was it. Don was scanning the six gurneys at once, not wanting to miss anything. He was so focused it came as a jolt when Penelope gripped his hand. Tightly. He looked at her and saw the same eagerness in her eyes. They grinned at each other, squeezed hands, and turned back to the games. Who would win? He realized he didn't even know who she supported.

"On your marks..." Six students raised their silver orbitoclasts in preparation. "Get set..." Six would-be doctors bent over their gurneys and aimed the tool - was Sabrina's hand shaking? "Go!" There was no explanation of what needed to happen, no discussion of each step. That's what lecture classes were for. Six students performed their duties quickly and neatly (most of them) and as expected Ambrose and Patty lifted their tools up first, almost at the same second.

"IT'S A PHOTO FINISH!" The crowd went wild. "Ladies and Gentlemen, please wait while we consult the recording. Participants may relax." 

The talk in the stadium was a low rumble. Might it be a tie? What were the odds on that? Ty wasn't there to ask. He never watched the event; just waited for the final verdict and the replays later that day. It took about two minutes of waiting. The students in The Tank were sitting on folded chairs. Sabrina looked devastated, her head in her hands, and Owen put a hand on her shoulder, trying to console her.

Then the speakers popped to life again. "Your attention please!" All talking ceased. "After careful consideration of the recording, it is clear that Patty Montgomery is your new Lobotomotoriate!" The crowd erupted into cheers and applause, but Don heard an "Awww" from Penelope and realized she must have lost money on her bet. He grinned at her. "I won!" He had backed Patty.

In The Tank, Patty was surrounded with pats on the back and hand shakes from her comrades. 

Don rose to escort Penelope to the reception. Another orderly would remove the patients. His workday was done.

As they left the stadium and joined the trail of spectators, Penelope asked, "I wonder how bad Sabrina did. She looked really shaken. Did you see?" 

Don had seen that. If she botched it too badly he'd have some work to do in his shift at the crematorium tomorrow.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

This story actually came from my husband Brett, who was discussing what word you might use to name a place to have a lobotomy. Or maybe he just mispronounced laboratory and the conversation ensued. But it was just a chat at home that sparked an idea!

04 July, 2021

Happy 4th of July!

So I found a thing...

I can't copy and paste here, but it was this post that I found, all about the 4th. I am on the far side of the planet from the USA, so 4th of July is ... just another Sunday.

I am American, however, so it's an odd position for me. I know other American expats in my small city, but it seems strange to ask "Hey, anyone have any 4th of July specials?" on a facebook forum in Vietnam. Not that there's animosity towards America, but we are a minority among expats here, so it seems presumptuous. 

South African ... Day, sure. Plenty of South Africans around!

ANZAC... You got it. (That's an Australia/New Zealand thing.) Aussies are a dime a dozen in this tourist town!

Anyway. I was reading the 9 Independence Day related questions on the above-linked post and thought how crazy my answers would sound in the US. (I'm only doing some of them. Hit the link for the full selection.)

2. Where's the nearest US flag to me right now?  

Possibly at the embassy in Hanoi? I don't know. Maybe there's one in a tourist shop in town or something, but most of those are closed these days - thanks Covid - so I have absolutely no clue. 

3. When was the last time I sang the Star-Spangled Banner?

Wow. I have probably hummed or softly sung along with it when watching some event on TV within the past five years, but actually stood and sung it at an event? I've been out of the US for five years apart from visits. Probably it's been more than five years ago.

6. I will not be toasting the US with an adult beverage today. Sundays are my longest day working online, and I do not work for an American company, so I don't have the day off. I'll drink, sure, but nothing special, and I won't be out with fellow Americans.

7. This question was about how easy/hard it is to go without access to a bank or the mail during long holiday weekends. 

To that I say, "BWAHahahahaha!" My home is in a small city in a developing country. I live on the outskirts of town, in an area that hasn't even been designated with street names. Mail. HAH! Nothing can be delivered here except food, when we provide a map-link.

8. Food-wise, my 4th will include a pizza - flat, weak, barely a pizza really. I've gotten used to the Vietnamese version of pizza. There are places that do decent American-style pizza, but they are expensive, and I'll only be grabbing a slice as I can between work, so not worth it for today.

9. The Fourth might be a summer highlight in the US, but here, we've been coping with heat and humidity for two months already. No, I have not gotten sunburned. The sun is almost directly overhead, so I stay inside the house most of the day. Bugs aren't much of a problem either. The climate keeps them docile in the summer! (plus... geckos.)

So what about you? Make me jealous! Tell me your Independence Day plans! I'd love to hang out for a cookout, sitting on the deck drinking beer, watching fireworks over the trees. 

(Last year, we were supposed to travel back to the US for an extended trip in June-July, but Covid happened, so we missed all that.)

Happy Independence Day!

02 July, 2021

Fiction Friday - The Bunny Bus


Mr. Stetson was every bunny's favorite bus driver. He was funny and cheerful, and had a knack for turning every bus trip into an adventure.

On their way to the Rabbit Natural History Museum, Mr. Stetson quizzed the bunnies over his shoulder about what they remembered. He'd look into the rear-view mirror and loudly ask, "Who was our founding father?" and one of the funny bunnies would jump up and say, "Me!" Everyone would laugh and then a know-it-all bunny (or the teacher) would say the correct answer.

More often, he related snippets of their history inaccurately, and waited for the youngsters to correct him, amid howls of laughter. The teachers loved it, too. It was like having a teacher's aide on the field trip.

"See that rock to our left? That's where Rabbitham Lincoln rested during his historic race with Yertle the Turtle," Mr. Stetson might say.

"No!" all the bunnies would shout, and then there would be a discussion of whether the race ever took place and if so who was in the race, and who knew if that particular rock had any significance at all!

Today was different, though. Mr. Stetson was driving very carefully because the gauges in the bus were lighting up and flashing. "Is everything okay, Mr. Stetson?" asked Ms. Linwood, the teacher leading this trip. She'd noticed he stopped playing his games a while back.

"Not sure, Shelly," he answered. "We may be due for an unscheduled stop." No sooner had he said those words than bus shuddered to a stop and smoke started steaming out around the hood. "Everyone to the back!" He called, and Ms. Linwood organized the students to go, as calmly as possible, out the rear exit. 

Mr. Stetson popped the hood to let the engine cool faster, but that was a mistake. As soon as he did that, he could see flames were climbing up from the engine block so he joined the parade out the back door.

Once outside, a little bunny started thumping his hind leg nervously, crouched on the ground as he was. Then another started doing the same. Another and another. Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump... Ms. Linwood looked at all of her students in confusion, but soon saw grown up rabbits hopping toward the bus from all sides. They'd felt the thumping and came to see what was the matter!

They worked together to put out the fire and calm the young bunnies. Some of the grown-ups had brought their lunches, thinking the thumping might be a gathering, so the students had a distraction of snacks until it was clear for them to head home.

"Well students, I guess we won't get to the museum today. We have a long hop home. Everyone ready?"

It took the rest of the school day to get back, because they took rest breaks often, but in the end, everyone was just happy to be home.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

This story was inspired by a Chinese student of mine who drew flames from the front of the bus as we read about a naughty bunny during one of our classes.

25 June, 2021

Fiction Friday - The Moon Fairies


Only a few were out tonight. The moon had risen early in the afternoon, so it would be already quite high in the sky when it was dark. A short night's work before it set in the wee hours. 

Lala looked around at her companions, and blushed when Crios caught her eye. The bioluminescent moon fairies were scattered around the park, illuminating plants as the gibbous moon shone down. The trick was to move appropriately as Luna traversed the sky on her slow, nightly pilgrimage. 

Lala flew around the big tree that cast its shade everywhere and found a patch of grass where moonlight needed a fairy boost. Light came through the tree's leafy shadow, and Lala had skill in finding the right spots to brighten. She had aced her Astronomical Geometry class, and was trusted to handle the tricky shadows. 

Crios eyed the moon and flew to her side, gauging that he had a few minutes. "Hi Lala. Nice to see you here tonight."

"Yes! I mean, you too. Were you out last night?"

"Off duty. This is your specialty." He gestured around at the park, a glorious blend of shadows and glowing, moonlit trees, shrubs, and flowers. Lala looked away in humble pride and distracted herself by glancing up at the moon and attaching moonglow to a new patch of grass that just opened into the light.

"They call you in special for mixed weather nights, though, right?" Everyone was good at something. Yes, Lala had impressive credentials and was on her way up to supervisory Moon Fairy. A title with Capital Letters, but no one did the job alone. Crios was an attractive, sweet boy. She wanted to return his compliment and remembered he had a gift for Astronomical Meteorology. He grinned at her praise.

"That's true. That makes my schedule a little hard to pin down, but it is nice to do what I enjoy."

Lala graced him with a wide-eyed stare. "I don't know how you can enjoy it. Weather-nights are so chaotic to me! I'm good with Luna following her schedule, but ... clouds? Moving clouds? Winds that might pick up and change the shadows? Better you than me!" He laughed, but a shadow passed over them and they both looked up, startled.

"Must've been a hawk," he said. But they'd both noticed the new position of the moon. "I'd better get back to my post. See you tomorrow?"

"Yeah..." Lala wanted to say more, to ask him to stay after their shift and drink the dew from the new flowers as the night darkened before dawn, but she said nothing. "See you tomorrow, Crios."

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

This story was inspired by a Chinese student of mine who goes by the English name "Moon" and called herself a moon fairy during one of our classes.

22 June, 2021

Happy Birthday, Sis! (To the Dearly Departed)

Dear Sister of Mine,

Happy birthday! What a year it's been! Last year this time I declared that I was taking back my year after losing the first quarter of Year of the Rat to grief. Covid still did its schtick, so I don't know that I'd say I really "owned" my year after that, but I have a healthier outlook.

How's Heaven? You didn't miss much here on Earth. If you were still here, you'd be 55 today! The "double-nickel"! Do people still call it that? Why am I asking you? 

In Vietnam our borders stayed closed to all but repatriating Vietnamese, and the pandemic hasn't been as hard here as elsewhere, so we're lucky. Of course, now that the rich countries are done deciding whether or not to vaccinate (our brother is opting out, can you believe it? Covidiot.) they are sending their excess to poorer countries. Like us, yay! But... harder hit poor countries are in greater need. India, Cambodia, places with a higher resurgence will get the vaccines, and then, hopefully, they may trickle down to us.

Meanwhile, the borders are closed to international travel, and my American friends who are all vaccinated and like, "yea! I can do whatever I want now!" don't seem to grasp that the rest of the world doesn't WANT them coming in just yet. I'm so UNBELIEVABLY happy that you visited me before all this mess!

You really decided to leave Earth at a good time, if I'm honest. With your newly weakened lung, I don't know if you would have survived this, so I'm glad you left in time that I could be there for your send-off. Don't worry, I won't say that to your kids - who seem to be doing fine - but I know perfectly well that I'm cavalier in my opinions on death... Possibly to a socially unacceptable level. I keep a lot inside because I don't want to shock people. You wouldn't be shocked, though.

Oh, sweet sister... I still send you messages occasionally. You still have that one, little, social media account that we used to communicate, that no one else seems capable of getting into. And thank God for that! Since they can't get in, they can't get in to delete your account! 

I'm still writing. I think you'd like the final version of the book you were alpha-reader on. It's not "final" final yet, but nearly there. So sorry you'll miss it when it finally gets published.

Anyway, I miss you all the time. I've started using one of the ribbon bookmarks you made me. I had been using a card from Lucas' funeral, but realized I should be honoring your memory more. Does that make sense? Just because we were closer in life. Not that it matters.

I've done a lot of writing about grief. But I'm done with that. I say that, but my writing definitely has a darker tone than it used to. I guess that's okay. 

Dad is still defying the odds and doing "okay" in Mom's words. Needs a walker, slower memory, but when I called him for Father's Day he was in good spirits. So weird to think I had expected him to be the first major death after we moved overseas. Crazy old thing, life. And death. Crazy old thing, death. Crazy old thing, grief. 

I'm boring my readers by now, so I'll end this. I really can't wait to see you again. I'm so blessed to have called you "sister", Sister.