On the Outside, Looking In: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s been a while since I posted a story inspired by a Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge. The last one that came along was mashup; I got a dystopian wasteland meets a comedic fantasy world, and even though I managed to plot an idea I just couldn’t find the right voice. Oh well; it’s not the first time I’ve swung and missed. Won’t be the last either.

It’s been a crazy time for me lately. School has started and I’m doing my best to keep a 4.0 GPA; not a problem so far. I’ve changed jobs, and although I love my new one, I’m having to learn an entirely new skill set for it. My car is suffering from terminal Mechanical Shutdown Syndrome, so I’m shopping for an affordable used one. I know almost nothing about cars, so this is major stress. To top it all off I’ve been dealing with minor illness and major medication reactions. Meh.

But enough about me; you came for the flash fic. This week’s Wendig Challenge is Time to Create a Character.  The premise is simple: create a character in under 250 words. As I understand it, next week we will borrow from among these characters to create a new piece of flash fiction. So, here we go:

On the Outside, Looking In

I spend all of my time just watching. Sometimes it’s traffic; that’s mostly early mornings and evenings. This is a quiet neighborhood; people go to work, people come home. A few of them like to walk, or bike. It’s only a few blocks from downtown, but it’s the sleepy southern kind of downtown with diners and small shops, and a public library on Main Street. During the day, when there’s nobody around I watch the animals; dogs, cats, birds, squirrels; typical residential wildlife. At night, when everyone is sleeping, I just watch the houses, and wonder which one is mine.
I’m pretty sure one of them is, or was, but none of them look familiar. For that matter, I don’t recognize any of the people I watch, either. That creeps me out; I mean, if I lived in one of these houses then these are, or were, my neighbors, and I don’t know any of them.
To be honest, the whole thing creeps me out, which is kinda ironic, given my situation. Normally one doesn’t think about whether a ghost is ever frightened. It may just be me, though. I’ve talked with a few other spirits, and they don’t seem to as disoriented as I am. Of course, they all know who they are, and how they died.
I can’t remember either of those things, and I think it’s really important that I do. I’m going to have to find somebody that can help me with that.

Flash Fiction Challenge: A Fist Full of Hearts

Chuck Wendig has a flash fiction challenge on his blog. (No matter how I try to keep up, I always miss the release date for these things, but at least this time I found it before the challenge expired.) This challenge was The Random Title Jamboree. Rules were pretty simple: use a random number generator to pick an element of the title from each column. 1500 word limit. Addition of “The” allowed. I cheated a bit on that last bit; I added “A” instead. Guess I won’t win the trophy.

My numbers were 4 (Fist Full of) and 18 (Hearts) and I added that illegal article, A. Oddly, I got the story I wanted in only 1154 words. ENG 246 would be shocked that I came in under word count. Since I’ve been on a western kick lately I was pretty surprised with what the little voices in my head dictated.

Anyway, here it is.

A Fist Full of Hearts

Inquiry into the Creation of Artificial Humans, Vol. I
A scientific record by Amanda Stevenson
June 30th, 1887
The creature struggled against its restraints, but they held. After so many failures, one of the few things I am sure of is how strong my creations are. I placed the syringe next to the thing’s neck. “This is your fault,” I said. “I told you the rules. You chose to ignore them.” The creature roared its defiance as I slipped the needle beneath the skin, into the carotid artery. I pushed the plunger, sending the amber poison into the creature’s bloodstream. It jerked, and roared again, this time in pain. The massive body jerked against the restraints, then sagged limply. Its hands clenched spasmodically, once, twice, then stilled. I replaced the syringe on the instrument tray, rinsed my hands with a sterile wash, and left the operating theater.

I inspected myself in the mirror of the antechamber. The last time I terminated an experiment the creature somehow managed to get blood on the hem of my dress. I hadn’t noticed it until later, when I was preparing to receive guests for tea. This time, however, there were no unwanted fluids on lab coat or frock. I spent a few minutes adjusting my lace cuffs, and tidying my hair, and then left the lab for the day.

The afternoon was devoted to social calls; they are a dreadful waste of time, but necessary. Papa warned me when I announced my intention to follow him in the practice of medicine; society would not approve if I deviated too far from normal, and without society where would I find my patients? Unless I want to spend my time ministering to the poor, I would do well to attend to society’s demands as much as possible. At times it seems that I might do better to work among the lower classes; it might afford me more subjects for my research. Unfortunately, that research requires a great deal of money, and so I continue my career as a doctor among the pampered wives and daughters of society, who are so willing to pay a hefty fee to someone with a sympathetic look, who “truly understands how they suffer.”

The first few households I visited were a complete waste; I spent a few minutes listening to the latest gossip while trying to avoid dispensing free medical advice. It’s a delicate balance; I must be willing to listen and make small, helpful suggestions, but nothing that will allow “my friends” to avoid a professional visit for very long. Midway through the afternoon, though, I visited Mrs. S—. This was the social call which I most dreaded; Mrs. S— has children.

She isn’t the only member of my social circle with progeny; indeed, for a woman to be married for longer than a year and without children means that if she is not under my professional care it is because her husband prefers the services of one of my colleagues. Mrs. S— is unique among my acquaintances in her treatment of her children. Normally, when one calls on one’s acquaintances the children aren’t a factor. Nanny may, on occasion, lead the little darlings in for a quick inspection and then whisk them back upstairs, but for the most part one only sees the girls when they are being prepared for their introduction into society, and the boys, not at all.

Mrs. S—, however, has several small children of whom she is inordinately proud. When one calls upon her, instead of lengthy discussions of the latest scandals one receives a brief sharing of the highlights, and then Mrs. S— calls upon the children to entertain. One daughter sings, another plays the pianoforte; the boys, at their mother’s direction, recite, perform gymnastic feats, and on one memorable occasion, unsuccessfully attempt to demonstrate the various tricks they have taught the family dog.

Today was no different; over tea we exchanged news of the most trivial sort, and then “You must see the children!” Mrs. S— said. “It’s been so long since you last called, and they have all made such progress.” In short order the children were called, and the exhibition began. It was obvious, from the children’s expressions and attitudes, that they no more relished the ordeal than did I, but they made no complaint. In order, oldest to youngest, each child demonstrated some perceived skill or talent on maternal command. They were quiet, biddable, and even when fiercely embarrassed, they were obedient.

As I watched them I reflected on how Mrs. S— was able to command each of these, her creations, as it were, while I, who have brought forth vastly more complicated life in my laboratory, struggle and ultimately fail to control a single creature. So intent was I upon the problem that after all of the children were finished, and were hopefully awaiting the reward of a teacake and dismissal, I asked if they could repeat various bits of the performance. Mrs. S— happily agreed, and though I received dark looks from the children, they each reenacted their parts with the same obedience, and apparent enthusiasm.

When at last the children were released, I asked Mrs. S— how it is that her children are so exceedingly well behaved. She seemed surprised at the question and after a bit of thought said that it was due to love. “They know that I love them, and they love me. Because of that, they are willing to do things they dislike, just to please me.” We talked for only a few minutes more, then I apologized for taking up so much of her afternoon and left. So excited was I with what I had seen, I dispensed with the rest of the afternoon’s calls and returned home to consider.

Inquiry into the Creation of Artificial Humans, Vol. II
A scientific record by Amanda Stevenson
July 7th, 1887
I have at last solved the problem of how to control my creatures. Always before I have demanded their obedience through duty; after all, without me they would not exist. Each creation has, at some point, rebelled against this obligation and forced me to destroy it. If I replace obligation with love however, they will, as Mrs. S—‘s children do, obey me at every instance. For a while I was puzzled as to how to command the love of my creations, but again, I found the answer in Mrs. S— and her children.

The hearts that I designed to power my creatures do not love, but it took only a small modification to make room for a second, smaller, heart, one capable of love.

Tomorrow I will announce the opening of a free clinic, serving the needs of the city’s poorest children.

Love is, after all, the product of an innocent heart, and who has a more innocent heart than a child?

Meditation through Coleslaw? Who Knew!?

Since the first of the year I’ve been dealing with some diet related health issues. As a result I’ve had to change the way I eat, and this summer the family’s gotten pulled along in my wake. The last few weeks especially, I’ve cooked almost every night. Let’s be clear here—I haven’t microwaved, or heated food from bags, I’ve cooked. Lots of prep work, lots of dirty pans, like-my-mom-did-it cooking.

I’m not knocking microwave, or easy to prepare cooking, really; it just wasn’t meeting my needs. Cooking like this is a big deal for me, because I don’t really enjoy it. Most of the time food is just fuel, and the time spent in the kitchen is time I could be doing something I enjoy. I’m making an effort though, and so far it hasn’t been too been bad..

I had the house to myself this afternoon, so I decided to make some icebox slaw and give it a chance to mellow. The house was quiet, the kitchen wasn’t hot and steamy, and I didn’t need to rush to chop my veggies. As I placed the first bit of chopped cabbage into the bowl I realized that my mind had stilled and my breathing and heart rate had slowed. I had inadvertently put myself in a meditative state.

I began to consider one of the bigger plot problems I’ve been dealing with in my current writing project. I wasn’t really looking for a solution, just going through the situation a step at a time, and from each character’s viewpoint. By the time I was ready to put the slaw in the refrigerator I had worked out the problem and blocked the scene.

Normally when I have a writing problem I sit down in a quiet room with my laptop and fight my way through it; this is the first time I’ve worked on something while I was in the kitchen. I don’t know if I’ll be able to duplicate the results, but if I can, my family will be seeing a lot more coleslaw!

Meditation coleslaw

½ head of cabbage

¼ large red onion

1 medium carrot

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup sugar

salt and pepper to taste

Coarse chop the cabbage by hand. The simple repetitive motion is what induces calm. Put the cabbage in a large mixing bowl, preferably glass or ceramic, but definitely NOT aluminum. Chop the onion and carrot in similar fashion. (I use a vegetable peeler to shred the carrot, and then chop the shreds to a manageable size.) Stir the layers together by hand.

Combine the sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small saucepan; Again, no aluminum, please! Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove mixture from heat and pour over the cabbage. Mix gently. Refrigerate for at least thirty minutes before serving.

*This slaw is WAY better made hours ahead of time. It’s one of those things that you can make at your leisure, or when you need to mull over a problem, and have on hand for any meal. I have no idea how long it will keep in the refrigerator—it never lasts longer than 12 hours at our house.

**It’s even better to place the cabbage mix in a wide mouth canning jar before pouring the vinegar over it, but I realize that not everyone has those on hand.

Whole Lotta Hats

I wear a lot of hats.

I love fedoras, especially. I have straw ones, and a wool one. I have a white one (day wear) and a brown one (evenings and wet weather) and a hounds tooth one for Saturdays in the fall. (Do I have to explain that any farther?) There’s a natural straw colored one in the car, and a grey pinstriped around here somewhere.

I’m a big fan of slouch beanies and berets, too. I hate cold weather so it’s nice to have a selection of head gear. Plus, I get to spend hours on the Internet hunting down free patterns to make and wear.

I wear a lot of hats.

I’m the mom of twin boys; I’m the mom of a daughter. I’m a knitter, a crocheter, a cross-stitcher. I’m a reader, a writer, a cat lover. My dream is to have an organic farm. I’m back in school at 50+ to earn a certificate in a Heath Science field. I’m standing on the edge of an empty nest.

Yeah, lotta hats.

All those hats have kept me from starting a blog for the last couple of years. Somehow, somewhere, I got the idea that a blog should have a theme. I’ve read book blogs, writing blogs, homeschooling blogs—you get the idea. They all have a theme. I didn’t have a theme; some days I wanted to write about sustainable living or my faith in God, other times I just wanted to share about my cats, or the delight I find in bad jokes. Too many hats…

Then it came to me. I do have a theme: me! The fact that I may be wearing a different hat each time I post shouldn’t be a deterrent. After all, I can’t be the only person with more than a single hobby, a single cause to which they are committed. Everybody has more than one hat, right?

So, no apologies; here it is. A book blog, a writing blog, a cat blog, a needle-working blog. A back to school after 50 blog. Oh, and an on the-brink-of-the-empty-nest blog. And much more. I doubt that every post is going to interest every reader and that’s okay, but every post is going to interest some readers.

I hope.