Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Headmaster's Lesson

Hey Everyone,

In honor of the three year anniversary of "Tyrants, Tormentors and the Tiara" being published, I thought I would post one of the first short stories I ever wrote. It was originally written at the idea of an editor, who said the background history of the novel's characters was interesting enough that I should write prequels for them (a view later echoed in one of the reviews). While I have never gotten to whole prequels, I have written a few stories and this is one of the first. It has been through more revisions and edits than I can count since it was first written and I'd be delighted for any additional feedback to make it better. I hope everyone enjoys it!

Thanks,

James

The Headmaster’s Lesson
                
                The Rhorian Academy of Magic needed a new Headmaster.

                Lillian reflected upon this fact as she drifted through the open iron gates leading to her home.  The house was a vibrant mansion in the wealthy northern section of the continent’s largest city. The expansive brick building was both incredibly opulent and outstandingly gaudy, decorated with hand carved oak doors and stained glass windows situated within gold encrusted frames.

                Yet its beauty paled in comparison to Lillian.  Long pale blonde hair reached down her back blending with the white silk dress covering her slender body. A light lace cloak with a lowered hood clung to her shoulders, glittering in the silvery moonlight washing over the sleeping city. Her flawless pale skin was soft as the lace and she possessed enchanting green eyes which seemed to glow like a cat’s. Attractive and wealthy, Lillian was the desire of many young men seeking the affections of the delicate looking nineteen-year-old. 

                The fragile appearance was a mirage, however. Lillian wasn’t just another enchanting beauty. She was a gifted magical prodigy. She graduated at the top of her class at the academy, winning almost every award for scholastic achievement bestowed by the school.  Many people credited her success to favoritism resulting from the high political status and wealth of her family. She didn’t care. She was content to let her enemies doubt her skills.

                Lillian passed through the entryway to her home, cradling a small package in her hands. She was greeted by a stout middle aged man with graying red hair.  He wore a fancy tailor-made suit, so clean and neat one might think the outfit was brand new. He was the butler. Like everyone living under her father’s roof, he understood the importance of maintaining a perfect image at all times.

                “Welcome home, Lady Lillian,” he said, removing her cloak.

                “Good Afternoon, Arthur,” Lillian responded.

                “You’re home late tonight.”

                The hour was well past midnight. Such late outings were normal for her. She was a new teacher at the magical academy and spent many evenings performing experiments or training apprentices. Further, she was a noblewoman and spent most other nights socializing with fellow aristocrats at the palace.

                “Urgent matters required my attention,” she said. “Is my father home?”

                “Yes, my Lady. He is upstairs in his study. Would you like me to send a messenger for you?”

                “No. I shall go speak with him. We have important business to discuss.”

                “Very well. Shall I take your package for you?”

                “No, thank you,” Lillian said, pulling the box close to her body. “It’s a special present for my father. I’d like to deliver it myself.”

                “Very well, my Lady.”

                Arthur bowed but Lillian was already past him. She hurried across the spotless tile floor and up the elegant marble staircase.  Reaching the landing, she turned left down a short wooden hallway ending at a polished wooden door. The stone staircase inside ascended to the top of the circular tower housing her father’s study.

                Lillian had expected her father to be there. He was a powerful wizard and influential figure within the kingdom. He spent most nights working in his study, answering various requests and correspondence from important regents both local and abroad. His efforts were well rewarded in the form of favors and allies.

                She sighed. Politics were at the heart of all life inside the Academy of Magic and corruption ran rampant throughout the school. Every teacher and sorcerer found themselves somehow involved in the scheming, sometimes out of simple necessity to survive. No one was more corrupt than Headmaster Sorin.

                Like a puppet master pulling the strings of his marionettes, the ambitious sorcerer was the ultimate schemer, beguiling the kingdom’s nobility, exploiting the school’s students, and twisting everyone around him to suit his ends. Now his time was up. The Academy was about to get a new headmaster.

Lillian worked hard to bring this day to pass. She was a clever and intelligent diplomat. She understood the intricacies of the political world and knew how to play the bureaucratic games. She was the true master: better than any king, better than any noble and better than even Sorin.

She shook her head. She wasn’t always so manipulative. Once upon a time, she rejected the notion of corruption, believing the country’s leaders to be guided by their sense of right and wrong. She was na├»ve, ignorant of the evil filling the world around her. She even possessed the audacity to confront Sorin when she discovered his true nature.  The encounter still haunted her.

She was only a child, barely older than ten. At the time, Lillian possessed a close relationship with the headmaster, who also taught at the academy. She learned Sorin was abusing one of his students. An orphan with no wealth or influence, the boy was beaten, ridiculed and forced to flee the school. Lillian was appalled.

She arranged a private meeting where she lashed out against Sorin, calling him a fickle and unfeeling tyrant, among other less savory accusations. She suspected her childish rant was pathetic to observe. The headmaster wasn’t amused. Rising from his desk, he towered over her, rigid with anger. Despite the close bond they’d shared, Lillian believed he was going to kill her.

Then, his body relaxed and a compassionate smile crossed his lips. He held out his hand to her. His voice was gentle and soft when he spoke.

“Come with me,” he said.

“Where are we going?” she asked, fidgeting uncomfortably.

“I want to take you somewhere,” he replied. “Don’t worry, I’m not punishing you and I’m not going to hurt you. I want to show you something. Perhaps when I’m done you’ll be wiser.”

His easy demeanor dismissed her misgivings. Lillian rose from her seat and accepted his hand. With a simple spell he rendered them invisible. He led her from his office and beyond the school grounds into the city. 

They walked for several miles. Lillian gazed around, uncertain where they were going. To her horror, she discovered they were approaching the far southern section of city. She was forbidden to enter this area and felt apprehensive about continuing. Her discomfort grew as they left behind the familiar streets and entered a foreign landscape.

Buildings were crowded close together. Laundry water ran down the streets mingling with the rotting garbage lining the avenues.  Swarms of flies buzzed everywhere and cockroaches carpeted the alleys. Mosquitoes thrived in pools of stagnant water, forming curtains of disease and pestilence. Mange-covered animals fought with hungry beggars as they pilfered piles of standing garbage seeking sustenance amid the trash.  

Lillian gave a squeal as rats raced past her feet. Disease covered faces of homeless vagabonds turned toward the open street seeking the source of the cry. She gripped Sorin’s hand and squeezed herself against him.  

Sorin gave a reassuring smile. With a wave of his hand, he whispered “Proch”.  The mosquitoes dispersed and transient animals of the street veered off their intended paths to avoid them.
 
They continued down the grimy avenues fighting to withstand the horrid stench. Lillian’s eyes fastened on the boys and girls lining the streets. She gazed at their distorted, prematurely aged faces and disfigured bodies. Though many were her age, they were different from her classmates. They lacked hope. They lacked joy. They lacked the dream of a better future she saw in the faces of her fellow students. She shivered.

“What are we doing here?” she asked.

“Tell me,” Sorin said. “Do you want to live here?”

“No,” Lillian answered, shaking her head as she looked at the poverty stricken ghetto.

“Me either,” he said. “These people have no money, no power, and will be trapped in this dark existence until the day they die.”

He steered her around and they hurried from the blighted area. Lillian hoped the trip was over but they didn’t retrace their steps toward the academy. Instead he led her toward the busy northwestern marketplace. As they moved through the cleaner urban streets, he often stopped beside large dusty windows instructing her to gaze inside.

In one building, Lillian saw line after line of women sitting in chairs, sewing clothes, quilts and other various items. Like mindless automatons, thy raised and lowered their arms in endless repetition. With one stitch, then another stitch, followed by another, they plugged away at their task. The overwhelming monotony of the endless cycle was broken occasionally when one woman would strike up a brief conversation with her co-workers. The conversation was quickly stymied, however, when a manager would appear and squelch the noise.

In other windows, she watched copyists, bookkeepers and lawyers work diligently to record notes, maintain ledgers and otherwise perform the menial tasks necessary for the operation of their small businesses. Though dressed in nicer attire than the spinsters, they nevertheless carried on their hum-drum tasks in the same mind-numbing and endless continuity. Like the spinsters, they found themselves trapped in an eternal cycle of awaiting the day’s end only to come back and do it again the next.

As they approached the central market, the crowd grew thicker. Sorin levitated Lillian and himself off the ground to avoid getting jostled.  After the sickening stagnation of the slums and imprisoning solitude of quiet offices, the den of activity was a welcome break. A cacophony of voices rose from the myriad of merchants, shoppers, children and animals littering the central square. After a few minutes though, the chaotic scene started bothering her.

There were too many voices. Everyone was jostling everyone else in an attempt to get helped or served before their fellow shoppers. She could see a shopkeeper, perspiring in the noon day heat as he rushed back and forth between customers vying for his attention. Haggling with buyers, shouting at shoplifters, answering questions, and defending the quality of his product, the trader endured endless minutes of turmoil just to squeeze a miniscule profit from his wares. He was the lucky one.

At other booths, merchants stood pleading for attention. They assaulted pedestrians with a litany of shouts and cries imploring their business. Disinterested shoppers struggled to get away as these merchants transformed into beggars seeking sales sufficient to feed their families for another night.

“Every day is the same,” Sorin said. “Every single day, these people perform endless hours of non-stop labor. Day in and day out, they break their backs in an eternal quest just to make enough money to survive. Today, tomorrow, the next day, until the end of their lives, these people will slave away. All with the thin hope that maybe someday far in the future, when their bodies are too broken to be of any use to society, they’ll while away their final years in front of their fireplaces.  They have money but no power to better their lives. Is that how you want to live?”

“No,” Lillian answered.

“Me either,” Sorin said.

He guided Lillian beyond the busy thoroughfare and dismissed the levitation spell. Their new road was a residential street Lillian knew well. They were moving northeast, back toward the academy. Lillian believed the trip was over. She was mistaken.

Sorin led her past the academy without stopping. At last they reached a series of mighty bulwarks. It was the outer wall of the Royal Palace, home for regents of the continent’s largest fortified city. They passed through the portcullis and into the courtyard.

Stepping onto the palace grounds was like stepping into a new world. Everything was beautiful, peaceful and tranquil. Gardens grew on both sides of the stone path they walked on, encircled with gates of finest gold. The smell of honeysuckle rose from the garden walls tickling Lillian’s nose with its enticing aroma. Royal children played hide-and-seek among the citrus trees, surrounded by butterfly bushes and jasmine growing throughout the lush paradise.

They left the gardens and passed through the open front doors into the entry hall. A large domed ceiling lined with crystalline chandeliers cast colorful rainbows around the lavish chamber.  This was Lillian’s first time inside the palace. She gawked at the beauty and magnificence around her.

Sorin led her past luxurious pools of magically heated water where aristocrats soaked in pleasant leisure while servants accommodated their every whim. She strolled through vast libraries where timeless tomes of knowledge unavailable to the masses lay at the beck and call of any noble reclining in the plush armchairs.  She watched as massive banquets of rare and savory delicacies lay before princes and diplomats alike to appease their hungry palates.

Lillian gaped at the gaudy lifestyle of the rich and powerful. Decadence and extravagance were a part of life in the king’s court. The poverty and humdrum existence of the working classes, she observed earlier, seemed like torture compared to the free and easy lifestyle of the rich and powerful. Sorin seemed to sense her thoughts. He looked down at her with a self-satisfied smirk.

“These people have wealth and power,” he said. “They can live in whatever manner they want, above the law, above poverty, enjoying the finest things in life while others bow to their every desire. Nothing they want is outside their reach.”

Lillian nodded. Sorin knelt down until he was at her eye level. He placed a hand on each of her shoulders, twisting her to look at him.  

“I’ve shown you three different lifestyles today,” he said. “I’ve shown you those with no money or power. I’ve shown you those with money but no power, and I’ve shown you those with money and power. Which would you rather be?”

The answer was obvious but Lillian didn’t answer. She stared at him with stubborn defiance.
“What does this have to do with what I told you earlier?” she asked. “How does this justify you treating others with cruel contempt?”

“Because others don’t matter,” Sorin explained. “If you want to live this kind of life, you need to know what’s necessary to reach the top and do what’s necessary to stay there. There are three types of people in the world:  those who can help you attain power, those who can’t help you attain power, and those who stand in your way! The first must be manipulated to your ends. The second are garbage to be discarded. The third must be destroyed!”

“Look around,” he continued. “Don’t you think the people in the slums and the market would do anything to be here right now? Isn’t power worth any price?”

Lillian thought about her answer to the question. Eight years had passed since the fateful confrontation. She was no longer a child but a graduate of the academy and a fiercely courted debutante. Still, she doubted any class or piece of instruction from all her years at the school made as much of an impact upon her as the headmaster’s lesson.

She’d learned the country’s leaders weren’t in their positions because of skill but cunning. She recognized being headmaster of the Rhorian Academy wasn’t based upon tenure, age, or even talent. It was based upon connections. Anyone could be headmaster, noble or even king if they knew how to pull the right strings at the right time.

Sorin knew this too. His corruption grew with his political might until the whole school was permeated by his schemes. Like a spider in his web, the shyster carefully positioned his tangled threads until he stood in line for the throne. Meanwhile, beneath his gaze, Lillian was constructing her own plan.

She reached the top of the stairs and entered her father’s study. The chamber was furnished with plush arm chairs and side tables covered with papers. The walls were lined with ancient tomes detailing subjects too numerous to name. A large fire roared in the hearth, illuminating the room. Asleep in an armchair beside the fireplace, her father dozed with his head tilted back. His hand, still clutching a number of letters, rested on the side table.

Lillian expected this. The hour was late and he was getting old. He often dozed off in his study following long days. She crossed the room to stand in front of him. She placed the box on the side table and gently untied the long ribbon enclosing it. Inside rested a beautiful golden medallion decorated with a variety of priceless stones. A platinum chain formed the top of the necklace, which rested on a soft raised stand. Lillian ignored it.

She lifted the false bottom to the box and placed the medallion on the table beside the armchair. Beneath it lay a long dagger made entirely of smooth clear glass. She picked it up and looked at her father. Without a word, she raised the blade and plunged it through his throat. His eyes flew open in alarm. His hands darted to his punctured neck as Lillian yanked the dagger back out and hurled it into the fireplace. The glass shattered into a thousand pieces as it struck the hot brick behind and the shards vanished among the burning embers.

Lillian looked back at her father. He was writhing, gripping his neck, choking as he attempted to breathe through the blood filling his pierced throat. Gargling sounds issued from his mouth as he tried in vain to utter a spell.

“Sorry, father,” she said. “But, as you say: There are three types of people in the world, those who can get you power, those who can’t get you power, and those who stand in your way. The latter must be destroyed. Lesson learned.”

The light faded from Sorin’s eyes as life left his body. His head fell backwards and his eyes gazed unseeing at the ceiling. Lillian returned the necklace to the box, retying the string. In a few minutes, she would go down and alert the guards that she had discovered her father’s murdered body. Next, she’d signal her agents. In the morning, she would be nominated as the new headmaster and following a fixed vote, would assume the post. All this was prearranged.

Lillian looked back at her father. She took no joy in his death. She was neither happy nor sad. She’d learned power was everything and you must do whatever is necessary to get it.

Thus the Rhorian Academy of Magic got a new headmaster.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Physics Test

Hello Everyone!

This is another short story that I wrote a number of years ago. It was originally written for a writing contest with a prompt of "Dream Come True". I was inspired to pull it out again and tamper with it this week when an online short story group I recently joined posted the topic "Back in Time" for their prompt. It is a little different from what I normally write, so let me know what you think. As always, I appreciate any feedback!


The Physics Test
by James Meadows

When a forty-five year-old single accountant wakes up in the morning, he expects to see his bedroom ceiling and feel the familiar sheets of his plush bed. As my consciousness left the world of sleep, I experienced neither of these sensations.  The bed was hard and unfamiliar. The sheets were thin and ragged, very different from my normal linens.

I opened my eyes and gazed around the blurry room, allowing my vision to focus. The bed chamber was definitely not mine. This was not my house. The room was very small. There was barely enough space for the bed, small desk, and nearby dresser. High on the wall, a long thin window ran perpendicular to the foot of my bed. The small window was just large enough to flood the entire room with the bright light of the early morning sun.

The shock of finding myself in the unexpected surroundings caused me to bolt upright in bed gazing around the room. I knew this room. This was my college apartment. I lived here during my junior and senior years. What was I doing here?

As my stunned mind attempted to digest the revelation, I heard footsteps outside the door to my room. The knob turned and my already puzzled mind was greeted by an even more incredible sight. Sarah entered the room.

“Good morning sleepy head,” she cooed, running her hand through my hair as she sat beside me on the bed. She noticed the odd expression on my face. “Are you okay?”

I didn’t know what to say. My mind was swimming. I just sat there for a second.

“I am…incredible,” I said.

“Well, you better be,” she teased, giving me a quick kiss. “You have your physics final today and you better not fail it!”

She rose from the bed and walked toward the doorway. As she passed through, she added, “You better get cleaned up. I’ll have breakfast on the table in a few. I’m making your favorite.”

Sarah gave me a wink as she disappeared around the corner. My eyes flew open in alarm. I remembered this day. This was the last day of my junior year. The details soared back into my mind. I had struggled with physics all semester and needed an ‘A’ on the final in order to pass the class. My parents had told me, if I failed physics, they would take me out of college and bring me back home. Sarah had spent all week, neglecting her own classes, helping me study for the final. We both knew what would happen if I failed the test.

I thought about her as I went to my closet and got dressed. Funny how I still remembered where everything was after all of these years. I grabbed an old pair of jeans and a t-shirt before heading into the bathroom for my shower. After bathing and dressing, I stopped to look in the mirror. I ran my hands down my face. I couldn’t believe how young I looked. My body was strong, healthy, athletic, and agile again. This wasn’t possible.

My first instinct was to lower my arm and pinch myself very hard. It hurt. I turned the shower onto full heat and placed my hand underneath. The burning water scalded me. I even cut myself shaving. It stung like a bee. I wasn’t dreaming. How was this happening?

Washed, dressed and shaved, I walked into the kitchen and sat down across from my girlfriend. She was tying her long black hair into a braid. Her deep blue eyes stared happily at me. I stared back. I had forgotten many things over the years but I had never forgotten how beautiful she was. Still, no memory could do justice to the reality before me. After a few moments, she started laughing.

“What are you looking at me like that for?” she giggled, “Eat your food!”

I took my eyes off her and began eating the eggs and bacon she had made for me. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her for long, though. I still loved her. And I missed her.

Today was a special day in our relationship. I did make an ‘A’ on the test. In our excitement afterward, we made love for the first time. She would move in with me for my senior year. Afterward, I would ruin everything.

Following my senior year, I was offered a job in Seattle, about as far away from Sarah and College Station as physically possible. I left her behind to take the job. She had to stay to finish her last couple of years of college. Long distance relationships were not easy in the early-90’s prior to the advent of internet and smartphones. We didn’t make it. I lost her.

Two years later, I lost the job as well. I never met another woman like her and spent the rest of my life praying, wishing, and dreaming for a second chance. I didn’t know what miracle had brought it about but somehow, someway, this was that chance.

I finished my food, still staring at her in wonder. She rose from the table and went to my room. A few seconds later, she came back holding my backpack. I thanked her for the breakfast and rose to put on my backpack.

“Good luck,” she said, giving me a soft kiss on the lips and the beautiful smile I remembered only too well. She turned to get the dishes. I couldn’t contain myself anymore. Years of dreaming, longing and wishing seized ahold of me. I race up behind her and threw my arms around her.

“I love you, Sarah,” I said, pulling her close to me. “I love you so very much!”

She smiled and pulled me close. Together we embraced and kissed with unbidden passion. Then she patted me on the chest and took a step back.

“Go do me proud,” she smiled, and turned back to the dishes.

I didn’t want to leave her. I didn’t want to take my eyes off her. But I knew what was at stake, so I hurried out the door. I was within walking distance of the campus. Once again, to my surprise, I remembered the way to my old class as though it were yesterday. As I made the long trek, I thought about the incredible potential of this suddenly realized dream.

Not only could I save my relationship with Sarah, I would be rich. I knew the results of every major sporting event for the next twenty-plus years. I knew the best stocks in which to invest. By the time I was forty-five again, I could be a billionaire. The world was at my mercy!

The rest of my walk, I consumed my mind with visions of wealth and the endless possibilities awaiting me. Soon I was at the door to my class and choosing a seat in the auditorium. As I sat down, the teacher entered and ordered everyone to put all of their belongings beneath their desks except for scantrons and pencils. He then began handing out the tests.

A dark cloud passed over my mind. Perhaps my previous twenty-year old self knew the answers to all of the questions on my test, after a full week of studying. I, however, had not spent a full week studying. I hadn’t studied a word of physics in more than twenty years.

The teacher placed the test in front of me, along with a spare sheet of paper to work math formulas on.  I scanned the questions. I didn’t have the vaguest idea on any of them. The equations for calculating various masses and ratios were long absent from my mind.

A chill went up my spine. If I failed this test, I would lose Sarah anyway. I would be taken home to the northeast, many days drive from Texas. She would be here at college. She was still a sophomore with several years left in school. The long distance relationship didn’t work in Seattle. I had no reason to believe it would work from the other side of the US. She would meet other guys; find other loves. I would be left alone, again.

I tried to rack my brains. Somehow, I had to pass this test. The information had to be in there somewhere. I was back in my twenty year old body and, even though my mind was maintaining the memories and thoughts of my older self, my brain must still be my twenty year old brain. Somehow, after a week of study, some of the information must still be accessible somewhere.

Focusing my thoughts like a yogi, I attempted to clear my mind. If I could just access the memories stored somewhere within my younger brain, I would find the answers. I stared at the question and gradually, like a blurry image clears to reveal a vibrant picture, the memorized learning from weeks of study took form inside my mind. I could remember the answers. I quickly bubbled in my answer to the first question; then the second question; then the third.

A smile spread across my lips. I could still remember everything, even after….after….I couldn’t remember. How old was I before? I looked up in surprise. I was forty-something, I thought. How can I forget my previous age? I could remember everything about my life after the test. I could remember the job in Seattle, losing Sarah, my new career, sporting events, etc. Strangely, however, the images were growing blurry. As I concentrated on them, they become clearer.

Confused, I returned to my paper. I couldn’t remember the answers to the questions anymore. I focused my mind back to my twenty-year old memories, just as I had done before. Again, the answers became clear. I started bubbling in my selections again. I would pass the test. I would stay here with Sarah. And, this time, I would not leave for the job in…where was the job in?

I looked up again. The memories were growing blurry again. I couldn’t remember where I had taken the job. I couldn’t remember my previous age. Everything from before I was given this second chance was growing blurry. After some effort, I was able to remember most of the details, much to my relief.

The memory was little consolation. Each time I focused on being in the mind of my twenty-year old self, the memory of my alternate future grew blurry. I looked at the various questions in front of me. I still had most of the test left. I needed to pass this test in order to keep Sarah. But I also needed to remember the mistakes and errors of the future or I would repeat them and lose her anyway.

Frustration flared inside of me. My sudden dream of getting a second chance was turning into a nightmare. I was caught in a lose-lose situation. I didn’t know what to do. I looked at the clock on the wall. Time was ticking away. There was only an hour remaining. I had lost a third of my time just trying to answer the first few questions. I had to do something. I couldn’t lose Sarah again. I wouldn’t lose Sarah again.

I needed to pass the test. At the same time, I had to find a way to make sure I didn’t lose Sarah. I looked at my piece of notepaper. I could write a note, some words to my twenty-year old self, to prevent me from making a mistake. What could I say?

My mind flashed to all the sports scores I knew, all the stock knowledge I remembered, all the things I wanted to say to myself. There was not enough time to put them all down. I needed to complete the test and already I was under time pressure. I would only be able to tell myself one or two things. What should I do?

I pictured myself as a millionaire, rich from stocks and sports betting. I pictured myself living in plush mansions with beautiful cars and wealth. In those pictures, though, I was without Sarah. On the other hand, I looked at myself with Sarah, poor and yet with her. If I was rich, I could have other women: I could have super models, actresses, star female athletes. Yet if I gave them all up, I could have her.

I looked down at the piece of scrap paper beside me. Raising my pencil, I wrote these words: “Justin, this is your future self. If you remember nothing of your life before being given this second chance, remember this: Whatever you do, do not take the job in Seattle and do not leave Sarah. Stay with her, love her, and treat her as I wish I had treated her the first time. Nothing else matters.”

Folding the paper, I stuffed it into my pocket. I gave a small sigh and allowed my mind to drift back into the memories and thoughts of my twenty-year old self. I looked back at the test and its many questions. The answers came to me. With each new question, I could feel my future self, my alternate self, fade from existence. I smiled.

Most people could only dream of getting the chance to relive their life, to fix their mistakes, or to even just write a note to their past self. I had gotten my chance. I wouldn’t waste it. I may lose myself, my memories, all my knowledge and even the fortune I might have otherwise. But I would not lose Sarah. This was all that mattered.



Friday, November 13, 2015

A Storm At Sea

My fiance and I just returned from a wonderful cruise to Progresso and Cozumel. It was full of neat adventures that I will have to write about sometime. Because of our recent voyage, I figured I would post a short story about the sea which I wrote for a contest a couple of years ago. The short story topic was "A Storm At Sea". I hope everyone enjoys it and I look forward to your feedback.


                                                                     "A Storm At Sea"

Steven and Angelica tossed about helpless as violent waves slammed against the sides of the ship. All around the boat, people shouted, clinging to the rails as the vessel sped across the turbulent sea. The wind grew fiercer. Passengers exchanged anxious glances. They were still a long way from shore. The storm had come upon the boat suddenly and before the passengers knew what was happening, a once peaceful family fishing trip had turned into a battle for survival.

Another hard wave hit the boat and the door to Steven and Angelica’s compartment closed again, leaving them stranded within the darkness. Though the two little ones were hardly capable of understanding the seriousness of the situation, Steven and Angelica could still hear the shouts and feel the growing agitation afflicting their fellow passengers. As they sat inside their small plastic compartment, they wondered if they would ever again see their home.

More waves racked the ship. The shouts of fear rising from the passengers grew louder. Steven and Angelica thought about their friends at school. Would they every see any of them again?

A sense of isolation crept in around them. They were trapped, stranded upon this tiny vessel, prisoners far from the safety of the home they knew so well. There was no one to save them. No one would come to their rescue. At any second, the cold hand of death could reach in and snag them forever from the world of the living.

More screams sounded. The door flung open again. They could see the driver, standing behind the wheel, his eyes squinting ahead at the approaching land. They could see the other passengers, wrapped inside their life vests, shielding their eyes from the spray of water cascading over the sides.

They were so close to land but the waves were growing bigger as they moved closer to shore. The boat was filling fast as salty water rushed over its edges with each fresh surge. The fight against the sea was not going in the small boat’s favor.

Steven and Angelica’s anxiety grew as the land in the distance grew bigger. They were so close now. A foreboding sense of dread gripped them. Then, a scream filled the air as a passenger pointed toward a particularly large wave rising above the boat. The driver let out a cry and tried to change the vessel’s course. They were too late. With a force greater than anything Angelica or Steven had ever imagined, the boat bowled over, toppling upside down into the sea.

Shouts of fear transformed into splashes. Steven and Angelica were hurled from their compartment into the salty waters. Plunged beneath the surface, they began swimming excitedly, looking around for the other people on the boat. The passengers and driver had risen safely to the surface. Waves pummeled the crew's fragile bodies. At any moment, they could sink.  

            The driver was shouting, pointing at a nearby boat which, having spotted their predicament, had changed directions. The passengers began swimming toward the ship, helping each other. No one looked back for Angelica and Steven. Forgotten amid the chaos, they watched as the boat’s crew swam away without them.

            The family’s ambivalence did not bother them, though. They didn’t care about the other passengers. They didn’t care about the water-filled ice chest sinking beneath the sea, which had served as their prison during the ride. They were content to just be back in the pleasant salty water.

            Turning their tails toward the rest of the company, the two fish swam away from the boat, away from the fisherman, and away from the nightmare of the last twenty minutes. Together, they swam home. 


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hey Everyone,

I hope you read and enjoyed my last post. I'm posting a new story today. This one was from a short story writing group I was in a few years ago. We were assigned to write a short story and the topic was: "the fish saves the day". As usual in such short story activities, I like doing something a little different or unexpected with the prompts so I wrote this one. I hope everyone likes it. Feel free to leave some feedback at the bottom!

James

"The Fish"
            I want to tell you a story about a fish. Before I start, I can’t resist the temptation to rant. You humans whine more than any other creature. I swear, everywhere I buzz, I always hear “I don’t have enough time”, “no one likes me”, and other non-sense. If you want to whine try being a fly on the wall, like me.

            “I don’t have enough time”? Yeah, try having a lifespan of a month. “No one likes me”? Try having ninety percent of the creatures in the world consider you either a food group or trying to kill you.

            Don’t get me wrong, I like people. I know that sounds silly considering how determined you are to wipe us from the face of the planet, but it’s true.

            Think about it, I could be one of two places. I could be outside where every spider, bird, insect, reptile and even some plants are drooling at the thought of making me their next meal. Or I could be inside a house, where your insecticides, which are harmless to me, and your other barriers protect me from most of my natural predators. Plus, if I am lucky, I can find a house with open garbage bags, random food, and even houseplants to keep me satisfied.

            Anyway, where was I? I wazzzzzzzz….oh, yeah, the fish.

            So, I am flying around the supermarket, where I was born, savoring the tasty fruits. I can honestly say I'm not a malnourished fly and notably larger than most of my other comrades zooming around the store. As I make my way to a particularly tasty looking orange, I catch the irresistible scent of a dead fish. I love fish.

            I forget about the orange, which is not hard to do. I really think all flies suffer from some form of ADHD. We just can’t keep our minds on the same topic for very long. One moment we are at a juicy fruit, the next second, we see a sandwich over there just calling our name. Oh, a glass of milk. Wow, what a neat shirt that guy is wearing, I think I will land on it. Look at that, a fly swatter. And so on.

            Anyway, where was I? I wazzzzzzzz…oh yeah, the fish.

            So, I smell this really awesome dead fish and head straight for it. I find the fish wrapped in some sort of white paper and sitting at the top of a plastic grocery sac. Zooming through the air, I settle happily onto the aromatic treat and rub my hands together in preparation for the upcoming feast.


            The woman carrying the bag is oblivious to my presence. The darkness of the mostly empty unlit parking lot makes it difficult for her to see me. Plus she seems preoccupied talking on her cell phone. I doubt she would notice a swarm of gnats buzzing in her face. She sounds like she is having a rather excitable debate with someone regarding a recent political event.

            Speaking of which, I have to express my opinion that you humans are the most close minded group of creatures imaginable. Maybe that is why you surround yourself with people who have the same opinions concerning everything happening in the world. They say birds of a feather flock together and you guys certainly do but you gain nothing from it. I watch you walk in groups through the store talking about some subject and all you do is agree with each other. In the end, the only thing you achieve is strengthening you own viewpoint while backing up your rigid belief that anyone who thinks differently is wrong.

            Anyway, where was I? I wazzzzzzzz….oh yeah, the fish.

            So the woman hangs up the phone as she reaches her car. She opens the door and is about to place the bag into her passenger seat when she screams. She drops the bag and groceries fly everywhere. The fish lands on the floor of the passenger side while I zoom into the air to avoid getting crushed in the upheaval.


            As I resume my perch atop the fish, I look around to see what is going on. A man dressed in black clothes is standing right outside the door in front of the woman. He has a knife in his hands. He orders her to shut up, give him the keys and get in the car. Terrified, she starts backing into the car, the knife held at her throat.

            Now, personally, I don’t care much for violence. I watched too many of my friends and colleagues get killed by fly swatters, people slamming their hands together, and other cruel techniques you people come up with for killing us. You try to justify your actions by saying that we carry lots of diseases. Seriously? Do you know how many diseases you guys carry? Flu, colds, bronchitis, and I can go on. You are like walking germ boxes. I see you kissing each other all the time. Do you know how many bacteria and germs you pass on?

            Anyway, where was I? I wazzzzzzzz….oh yeah, the fish.

            So I’m watching this man threaten the innocent woman who was nice enough to buy me this wonderful fish. I wasn’t going to stand for that type of violence if I could do anything about it. The frightened woman sits down in the driver’s seat, moving hurriedly toward the passenger seat, and is about to give the man her keys when I strike.

            I fly straight toward the most vulnerable place I can think of in any living creature: the eyes. I know all about eyes. I have lots of them and they are very vulnerable. Anyway, he is bending down, keeping the knife at the woman’s throat, when I plunge straight into his eye, which is kind of gross. Of course, as a fly, we probably share different views on what constitutes gross.


            My assault brings an immediate result. He gives a cry of surprise, shoots upright and his free hand flies straight up to his face. I quickly dodge his hand and make a beeline for the other eye. I peg him hard and he staggers backward waving his knife and free hand around his face trying to shoo me away.

            The woman acts immediately. She plunges her keys into the ignition and starts the car. She quickly puts the car in drive. The man tries to stop her but I renew my assault with full vigor, plunging into his eye again. He lets out a furious cry as the woman hits the gas and starts forward. She moves so quickly I barely have time to zoom back into the car before she is across the parking lot and slamming the door.

            She speeds down the street, breathing heavily and I celebrate my victory by flying back to the fish. She still seems pretty shaken when she pulls into her garage. She starts collecting her groceries with an expression of numb shock. Then she notices me sitting atop the fish. She doesn’t swat at me but I abandon my post anyway.


            Leaving the rest of the groceries, she picks up the fish and carries it into the house. I follow at a short distance. She walks over to the counter and pulls out a meat knife. Unwrapping a corner of the meat, she cuts off a small piece and places it on a plate by the window. Then, she walks off just leaving that piece sitting there. I readily accept the small offering and start wiping my hands for the meal.

            Later, after she reports the event to the police and is on the phone with her mother, I hear her make the statement that I saved her life. I don’t know about all that. Really, I wouldn’t have even been there if it wasn’t for the fish. So, I think you could say the fish saved the day.

            I don’t mind giving credit to a fish, especially not one that provides such an awesome meal. Besides, I think fish and flies have a lot in common. We both have short attention spans and everyone wants to eat us. On the other hand, I suppose they don’t feel the same way because I’m told that they eat flies. Never having been to a lake or pond, I really don’t know. Like I said, I grew up in the grocery store and it is nice to finally have a house to call my own.

            Anyway, um, where was I? I wazzzzzzzz….oh yeah, the fish.