Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Christmas Reflection

“Spare a coin, sir?”
The man glanced down sharply at the urchin at his elbow. He’d been assailed by this one before, a grimy little thing with a gap-toothed grin and red braids. 
She held up ungloved hands and repeated her inquiry. With only a week left until Christmas, one was expected to be in a charitable mood, and he noticed passersby glancing toward his conversation on their way down the street. He made a hurried show of patting down his coat and shrugged. 
“Nothing on me. Sorry.”
“’s alright sir. Those for your little ones?” She pointed to the wrapped parcels he carried under one arm.
“That’s right.” He began to move on down the sidewalk, muttering, “Must be going now. Dropping these off and heading back to the office.”
“Oh that’s alright!” she chirped. “I can go this way too.”
He rolled his eyes but didn’t see a way to prevent this companionship. 
She continued chattering amicably. “Time spent with their Da. Your kids are lucky.”
He eyed her. “Presents, child. Not time. No one’s got time these days.”
“Oh.” She slowed momentarily, but his stride didn’t change. Then, skipping to catch up to him, she added, “Well, they’re still lucky. What did you pick out for them?”
Now he slowed, just slightly, and frowned at his packages. “No idea. The wife called the store and had ‘em wrapped up. She knows what they like better’n I do.”
They walked a few moments in silence before he stopped and indicated the next lane with his head.
“This is me. Run along now, little one. And have a Merry Christmas.”
She looked up at him with bright eyes. “I’ll try!” She flashed a toothy grin, whirled around, and sprinted back the way they had come. Rolling his eyes again at the impishness of children, he shook his head and turned down his street.


“Spare a coin, sir?”
It was the same little girl from earlier in the week, wearing her unsightly grin and holding out hopeful hands.
He checked his pockets mechanically.
“Nope. Sorry.”
“That’s okay sir! Maybe next time.”
“Mm-hmm,” he muttered as he began walking. She began to accompany him silently, and he stopped.
“Must you do that?”
“Do what, sir?”
“Follow me. Haven’t you got any place better to be?”
“Nope!” she answered cheerily. 
He turned to face her. “What do you mean? Don’t you have parents? Or friends to run along with?”
“Don’t got any parents here, but they’re watching over me with the good Lord.” She paused, turned her face to the sky, and breathed deeply. “Sometimes I know they’re specially watchin’, like when the baker on 7th gave me a muffin cause I swept up for him, or when some kind soul donates their old blankets to the home.”
“The home?”
“It’s a charity place over on Charleston. I like it there. It’s good folks that run it and I have ever so many pretend brothers and sisters.”
“That’s…nice.” he ventured.
“But I have lots of friends, too. Like you!”
“Me?” he frowned. “We’re not friends, child. You don’t even know me.”
Her smile vanished. “Don’t you want to be my friend, sir?”
“Uh…” his mind raced for a way out of this. Children were so invasive. The silence grew long and he looked uncomfortably at her anguished face.
“Oh, hang it all,” he sighed loudly. “I suppose you can call me your friend if you like.”
Instantly her smile came back, more radiant than ever. She was about to speak, but he cut her off.
“But I really must be going now. Run along, if you please.”
“Yes sir! See you later, friend!” She took off and left him staring after her until the cold wind reminded him to hurry home.


“Spare a coin, sir?”
She was grinning as usual, her cheeks and nose rosy with cold. “After all, it’s Christmas Eve!”
He rolled his eyes with a half smile and patted down his pockets in earnest this time, finding nothing but two shiny black buttons and a red jingle bell. He made a mental note to give the maid a sharp reminder that the children were not to touch his coat
He held out the objects in his gloved hand. “Nothin’ but these. Sorry. You’re welcome to ‘em, though.”
Her eyes shone as she reached for the trinkets. She gingerly picked them out of his hand as though they were glass.
“Thank you sir,” she breathed without taking her eyes from her treasures. “These is much better’n coins!”
“Whatever do you mean?” he asked. “Those won’t feed you or keep you warm.”
“They will,” she answered, raising her gaze to him. “They feed my heart! Don’t you know that’s the most important part of you?”
He shook his head, stunned at the odd profundity of this little beggar. 
Seeing his confusion, she continued. “I bet your kids feed your heart. And your missus. Good thing, cause I think hearts get a bit hungry this time of year!”
He was shocked to feel tears prick his eyes as he recalled the little one expected three Christmases ago, who had never gotten to breathe this world’s air. An annoying corner of his mind reminded him that he’d been avoiding his wife at this time of year ever since, not wanting to share in her grief. It seemed ridiculous and selfish now.
He felt warmth in his hand and looked down to find it grasped by his little friend. 
“Are you alright, sir?” she asked with her head cocked to one side.
He cleared his throat and released her hand with a little squeeze, as his mind came back to earth and the sounds of the city assailed him again. “I’m fine. I’m fine,” he repeated with a nod. “I’ll see you soon. I’ll have a coin next time. Promise.” He winked at her.
She giggled before taking off into the crowd.
He started on his route home and stopped short. He had errands to do first. To the bank for change, and then back into the office to inform his manager that he wasn’t available to work on Christmas, after all.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Miss H. Granger

*this is my first attempt at fanfiction…please be kind. obviously I don’t own these characters and all that.*

            I stand rooted to the spot by my mailbox on a cool spring afternoon. The other mail forgotten, I gaze in awe at the thick envelope in my hands that’s somehow different. My hands feel tingly, and I’m afraid to open it. My name stares back at me in green ink. I swallow nervously.
            Commanding my feet, I move slowly back toward the house, never taking my eyes from this mystery document that I have a funny feeling could change my life. I find myself on the landing and, tearing my eyes from my beautiful address, turn to shut the door behind me.
            “Anything good in the mail, sweetie?” Dad asks from behind his newspaper.
            “Uh,” I pause, “this.” I hold out the envelope.
            The top of the newspaper folds down and he squints through his spectacles. His brow furrows.
            “What’s that?”
            “Not sure.”
            He takes it from me, and only then do I see the beautiful wax seal on the back: four animals around a letter H. It’s a symbol I vaguely recognize, but I don’t know from where.
            Dad studies it for a second—when he turns it over I see the same glint of recognition in his eyes. He hands it back to me and clears his throat.
            “Well, it’s addressed to you. Why don’t you open it?” I can tell he’s not as calm as he sounds.
            “Dad, does this have anything to do with…” I pause. I’m not supposed to know about this. “…those people you were studying?”
            “Guess we’ll find out!” he says, with a too-large smile. “Jean!” he calls upstairs. “Eh, Hermione’s got a special letter!”
            “What?” comes my mom’s muffled response.
            A minute later she comes hurrying down. “Dan, what in the world is so important about this particular piece of mail?”
            I hand it to her. She looks at it, nonplussed. She turns it over and frowns slightly. “Dan, this isn’t about…? I thought we were done looking into that.”
            He grins. “Apparently the powers that be disagree.”
            She sighs. “Don’t say that.” She gives the letter back to me. “Well dear, you might as well open it.”
            I take it from her delicately. I don’t quite know what my parents are talking about, but random bits of old conversations come back to me. Something about the three of us meeting some strange people when I was only a few months old; something about my dad trying to research these people and my mom telling him to stop; something about that research starting up again after I accidentally made mute the girl who had until then been at the top of my class. And I’ve seen that big letter H before…maybe on Dad’s computer screen?
            They’re both waiting for me, watching the letter as if it might grow fangs. I break the beautiful seal (and cringe a little) and pull out two yellowish papers folded into each other. The letterhead announces the sender as HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY. I frown and look at my parents. My mom gives me a small smile and sighs. My dad nods at me to continue reading.
            I read aloud:

Dear Miss Granger,
            We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
            Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.

            I’m excited, but I have no idea why. “What– what is this?”
            “We…don’t really know,” my mom says, looking nervously at my dad.
            He smiles at me. “It means you can do magic. Just like in the stories.”
            “Dan, we don’t know that,” my mom cautions.
            “Jean, they sent her a letter! That’s the school where kids learn that stuff.”
            I just stand there, looking from one parent to the other, trying and utterly failing to understand what they’re saying. My dad kneels down, looks up at me, and takes my shoulders in his hands.
            “Hermione, we think–” he looks at my mom, as if asking for permission to continue. She nods.
            “We think,” he continues, “that you’re special. That you can do things other people can’t. Remember Veronica Burke?”
            I smile and nod. Once my parents believed that the accident was unintentional, it became sort of a joke between us.
            “Well, it seems these people,” he gestures to my letter, “agree with us. Looks like they want you to attend school there to learn magic.”
            My eyes grow wide and my heart starts pounding. I look at my mom; her jaw’s clenched— is she fighting tears? —but she has that ‘I’m proud of you’ look in her eyes.
            “What do you think?” Dad asks. “You wanna go?”
            Did I want to go? I had no idea, but this ‘other side’ of me scared me and excited me at the same time. I wanted to find out more…or did I?
            “We don’t have to decide right this minute,” my mom says. “Maybe we could look into it a little more…now that we know…” She trails off.
            My dad clears his throat. “Sure!” He stands up and strokes my hair.
            “I’m…I’m gonna look at this some more in my room,” I say. They nod, and as I make my way upstairs I can feel them waiting to talk until they hear my door close.
            I lay down on my bed and stare at the letter again. I sniff, and then shake my head violently. I’m not going to cry over something this trivial. But it’s not trivial, really. It’s the rest of my life.
            Then, inexplicably, a Kleenex pulls itself out of the box on my nightstand and floats gracefully into my lap. I stare at it, eyes wide. Then I laugh, pick it up, and blow my nose. I look at my letter again and then announce loudly to no one in particular, “I’M A WITCH!”

Friday, February 1, 2013

Some Silly Excuses

            I had a feeling this would happen. I've run out of stories that I wrote last semester for my creative writing class, and now that I'm not being forced to write stories, guess what? I'm not writing stories! Through no volition of my own, however. I really want to write more and I have plenty of fun ideas bouncing around in my tumble-dryer of a writer's brain...I just...don't write. You know? Plus I'm busy, this being my senior semester and me being a commuter and yadayada cry-me-a-river/world's-smallest-violin-is-playing-my-sad-song. Anyway, if nothing else comes out of this post, I wanted to at least state my intention to write more. And more often (oftener?). Maybe this post is just an attempt to guilt-trip myself into doing something productive besides homework. Whatever it is, let's hope it works.

            To tide you over (or quite possibly to tide myself over), here's a short fictional imagining of the Annunciation. I quite liked writing this scene, and I may look into expanding it into a novel or something. Who knows? Not me, apparently...(not I? Oh grammar...)

The Annunciation

            I sensed someone behind me. I turned around, expecting my mother. Instead, there was…light. A presence of light, focused in a human-shaped form but filling the room at the same time. I stared at it, not knowing what to think.
            “Mary.” The voice was commanding and yet gentle. Stern and soft at the same time. It came from within the light. No, the voice was the light. The presence was speaking to me. I took a step backwards, trembling.
            “Do not be afraid, dear one. The Master is pleased with you.”
            Gathering my courage, I spoke. “Pleased? With me? But why? I’ve done nothing great.”
            “If you did think you had done great things, child, you would not serve The Master as faithfully as you do. He has chosen you not because you are great, but because you are among the few who would give of themselves completely to honor His will.”
            I didn’t know exactly what to think of this. But I knew my visitor had to have come for a reason, so bravely I asked, “What must I do?”
            “The Holy Spirit will conceive in you a child, a son. His name will be Jesus, for He is The Savior. He will be the Son of The Master, and with His Father’s power will do mighty things among men.”
            My mind had only caught three words: conceive a child. “But I,” I spluttered quickly. I started to blush. “I’ve not—not been with a man. I cannot conceive as a virgin.”
            Even though the form in front of me had no visible face, I sensed it was smiling. “Nothing is impossible for The Master, Mary. It shall be as I have told you.”
            It was waiting for me to say something. I searched my mind. Finally I lowered my eyes and said, “So be it. I am willing.” I looked up and the light was gone. I stood there staring for a moment, then slid down against the wall to the floor, breathing hard. My mind was racing, replaying the scene over and over. Then—then—it hit me. Hard.
            ‘The Savior’, the angel had said. ‘The Son of The Master’. This was our Messiah! The Lord himself, this was His promised return. Finally! And I was to carry Him! In my womb? Why did He come as a child? Why now? Why me?
            With a start, I became aware of the tears rolling down my cheeks. I touched my face and looked at my wet fingertips. I broke into a huge smile. Suddenly I was both laughing and sobbing, why I didn’t exactly know. I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt a strong hand on my shoulder. I whirled around, but no one was there. I looked up and caught a twinkle of light just as it disappeared. I felt His smile. And I laughed. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Story That Wrote Itself

            The young man paused his typing and cracked his knuckles. Taking off his eyeglasses, he rubbed his tired eyes and took a drink of his long-cold coffee. He replaced the glasses and glanced at the newspaper that lay on the desk beside the typewriter. AL CAPONE BEHIND BARS, it announced, and JAPAN AND CHINA STRIKE PEACE. He sighed and turned his attention back to his story.
            The princess was the most beautiful creature anyone in Tyrenia had ever beheld. With flowing, curling locks the color of honey and eyes the color of sapphires, she sent the heart of many a young man fluttering.
            The writer sighed again and leaned back in his chair. Opening a desk drawer, he rummaged through it until he found an old photograph buried near the back. The girl in it bore a striking resemblance to the princess he had just described. He turned it over to read the inscription for the umpteenth time. “Michael—have a great summer! You’re a pal, hope to keep in touch. Much love, Eva.” He rolled his eyes. He ventured to guess that she hadn’t written “you’re a pal” on the senior picture she had given Jerry. Shaking his head to clear the memories, he reminded himself that he was certainly NOT writing this story to alleviate the pain of those college years. He stuffed the photo back in the drawer and turned his attention back to the story.
            However, it was only the prince of the neighboring kingdom to whom she returned any affection. To no other man would she bestow even a second glance, so besotted with the prince was she.
            The typewriter ceased its clacking as Michael paused and furrowed his brow. He thought perhaps he had worded that too strongly. After all, the quiet, steadfast stable boy had to get through the cracks of her protected heart somehow. So far he hadn’t written any cracks. He decided to view it in person, although these visits had to be brief. He transitioned his writing accordingly.
            I met the princess in her garden on a warm summer’s day.
            As soon as the period had clicked into place, the young man was there in the garden, watching the princess as she wrote in what he assumed was a journal of some sort. She sat on a stone bench in the shade of an overhanging willow. He approached her cautiously. This was his first time visiting this particular story of his.
            “Good morning, Princess Evelyn,” he began.
            The princess stood, startled, dropping the book and quill. She stared at him, her bluer-than-blue eyes large with confusion. “And who are you, good sir? How did you come to be in my garden?” She remembered her things and bent to pick them up while trying to keep her eyes on the stranger.
            The writer bowed and stepped toward her, stooping to pick up her quill. “My name is Michael, Your Highness.” He was grateful to have a name acceptable in both his world and in the worlds he created. He handed her the pen with a smile. “I…work in the palace and have observed your comings and goings as of late. Forgive me, Highness, but I wonder if you might indulge me the answer to an impertinent question.”
            She smiled her dazzling smile. “That depends on how impertinent the question. But what queer garments you wear, Michael. What, pray, are those pieces of glass that sit upon your nose?”
            Michael mentally chided himself for forgetting to remove his glasses before entering the story. They always caused unnecessary confusion, and he tried to make a habit of leaving them on the desk. “They, uh, aid my vision, Your Highness,” he said, taking them off and tucking them away in his breast pocket. His vision was unaffected; this was a quirk of his writing he couldn’t really explain but didn’t mind in the least. “Highness, forgive me, but my question concerns your imminent engagement.”
            “To Prince Gerald?” she asked, a lilt in her voice. Her eyes sparkled.
            “Yes, my lady. You see, as one who has observed both yourself and the prince, I cannot help but feel that you two are not entirely suited for one another.”
            The sparkle left her eyes. “Not suited for one another? We knew at one glance that our love was true. How can you say such things?”
            “As I said, Your Majesty, though you have not seen me before, I am quite familiar with both you and your lover. Have you never considered casting your affection elsewhere? There may exist, within your own palace even, someone whose love for you transcends even the prince’s. Someone of low stature but noble character.”
            “Low stature?” She considered this for a moment. “My family would never approve of that. I must marry someone of royal blood. Besides, you are surely mistaken. No love on earth could surpass that which Gerald and I hold for each other.” Her eyes began to sparkle again, and she started humming a love song under her breath.
            Michael shook his head. He hadn’t meant for her to be this infatuated, but he had been here long enough already. He would have to resort to other means. “Very well, my lady. However, if you are able, please think on what I’ve said.”
            She was too busy singing to hear him. He pulled out a small old notebook from his back pocket, along with a pencil stub. Carefully, he wrote,
                        He left the garden for the solitude of his attic.
            He was in the attic again, but everything was blurry. He put the notebook away and pulled out his glasses. Tucking the wire ends behind his ears, he sat down at his desk and looked out the window in front of him. It was raining now, and the sky was a darker gray than it had been when he left. He turned his attention to the page on the typewriter. New material had appeared.
            One day the princess met in her garden a strange man with circles of glass before his eyes.
            Michael chuckled and shook his head at his own foolishness. It was too late now; the scene couldn’t be unwritten. He promised himself he would be more careful in the future. The scene continued, recording the dialogue verbatim and writing the narrative in Michael’s authorial voice. It ended with,
            The princess hoped she had not offended Michael, as he seemed to have departed in a great hurry. After convincing herself not to worry about what the curious man had suggested, she filled her thoughts with her beloved Gerald and her arms with flowers until she was called in to tea.
            Michael sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He would have to use other means to convince Evelyn to choose the stable boy. It was supposed to be a beautiful ‘love-against-all-odds’ type of story wherein the princess discovered that the stable boy’s love for her had nothing (or very little) to do with her looks and everything to do with her sweet character, which the prince had not even noticed.            
            Michael decided that Evelyn would have to discover, rather than be told, that the prince’s love for her was based solely on her beauty. But how? He stood up and walked the length of the attic. Pacing sometimes helped when he found himself in need of inspiration. Six strides to the opposite wall. Back again. There again. Then he had it. Take her looks away. He grinned and sat down again. For this he would need a new character. He flexed his hands and began typing away.
            No one quite knew where she had come from, but the old woman was most certainly a stranger to Tyrenia. She claimed to be a distant relation to King William, but few believed this assertion. With her weathered, frightening face and wild gray hair, to compare her to the royal family was to liken a toad to a stallion. She set up residence in a dense grove near the palace, which soon afterward was said to be haunted by strange noises once night fell. Curiosity did not overcome the fear the villagers had of her, and for many weeks she occupied her grove undisturbed. Then one day, the princess herself felt compelled to pay this strange guest a visit.
            Michael decided to witness rather than write this scene. It was important that this go according to plan, but he had a feeling that his characters would know what to do. However, he felt his presence ought to go unnoticed this time, unless of course he simply had to intervene. He didn’t want to consider that possibility, though. Choosing his words with care, he typed,
            I found myself in the dark copse southwest of the castle, a mere stone’s throw from the old woman’s house. 
            He was pleased to see that she had situated her house just as he’d pictured. It was a squat little shack, which looked as if it had been picked up and dropped a few times. The surrounding trees reached hungrily for the heavily patched roof, but smoke poured merrily from its chimney nonetheless. He smiled. His stories often had a way of reading his mind. It made perfect sense, though—his mind was their birthplace.
            He heard a familiar humming, and thought he’d better get out of sight. After just barely remembering to remove his glasses, he hid himself behind a particularly thick trunk as the princess approached the hut on the barely discernible path that led out of the forest. She wore a satin cloak of a light purple and carried a basket. She was accompanied by a palace guard, whom she bade wait outside as she knocked on the crooked door. After a moment it opened with a squeal. Michael wished to anything he could see the old woman, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of his interference.
            “Why, Princess Evelyn!” came a rusty but kind voice.
            “Hello.” The princess gave a small curtsey. “I’ve come to bid you welcome to the kingdom, and to bring you a pie from our kitchens.” She indicated the basket on her arm.
            “Oh, goodness. Pleasure, I’m sure. Come in, Your Highness, come in. We’ll share that pie over a cup of tea, if you might stay a spell. Can’t say as the place is very nice—” here she scowled, and Michael imagined he would get a talking-to if the woman knew who was responsible for creating her house, “—but it’ll hold two. Or three.” She eyed the guard looming over the princess’s shoulder.
            “Oh that won’t be necessary. Thomas will wait outside.”
            “Well then, come right in, dear.”
            The princess entered the house and the door creaked shut. The guard stayed rooted to the spot with absolutely no expression and his arms folded across his chest. Michael hadn’t anticipated the princess bringing anyone, although he supposed he should have. The king and queen certainly wouldn’t let Evelyn leave the palace alone. However, her chaperone’s presence didn’t help Michael in any way.
            He was a mere four yards from where Michael stood behind the tree, and Michael knew that if he so much as breathed loudly the guard would know. After fretting about missing the conversation taking place inside the hut, an idea struck him. He pulled out his notebook and pencil, thought a moment, and scribbled,
            As Thomas waited outside the strange dwelling, he felt himself growing drowsy.
            The guard blinked slowly and gave a loud yawn. It was working! Michael continued,
            Finally, the stalwart soldier could fight it no longer. He sat against a tree and relaxed as sleep overtook his body.
            Michael looked up just in time to see Thomas’s arms drop from their fold. He silently congratulated himself as he tucked his notebook away and crept from behind the tree. He found a window on one side of the house that, luckily, the two women had their backs to. Pressing his nose against the cold glass, he tried to make out what they were saying.
            “Why…in love…your prince…understand?”
            “We…true love…”
            “Ah, but true love…beauty…you really are.”
            “I don’t…Gerald loves me…”
            “You might…lesson…love…show you…”
            “What do you…kind of lesson?”
            “…show you.”
            Then the talking ceased as the woman stood and placed a hand lovingly on the princess’s head. The princess flinched but didn’t move away. They stayed that way for a moment, and then the woman removed her hand and smiled at the girl.
            “Why don’t…home…again soon.”
            Evelyn nodded although she was obviously confused. She glanced at the window, and Michael’s heart skipped a beat as he dropped out of sight. He hoped he had been quick enough. He maneuvered around to the back of the building as he heard the door open. He pulled out his notebook as he heard the princess say,
            “Thomas? I’m ready to go home. Thomas?”
            “Mmgh…oh, Your Highness!”
                        He was back in the attic, and the rain outside had lessoned slightly.
            He looked out the attic window and smiled. No such luck; his was the only world he controlled. After replacing his glasses, he sat back down at the typewriter and looked at the page. Thankfully, he didn’t appear in the story this time. The princess must not have seen him. He wished he had gotten a glimpse of the princess before he left, but he supposed he could write that in himself. He began,
            Thomas gave her a strange look. “Oh, I’m sorry miss. Where’s the princess?”
            “Whatever do you mean, Thomas? I am the princess.” 
            “Begging your pardon, miss, but Princess Evelyn bears no resemblance to you.”
            The princess declared, exasperated, “Thomas! It is me! See?” She thrust her hand forward, on the little finger of which she wore a ring bearing her father’s seal. Upon seeing her hand, however, her expression stilled. She brought the other hand up for inspection. The hands that had once been delicate and white were no longer so. They might even pass for a servant’s hands. With growing panic, she felt her face. Her nose was larger than it should have been. Her jaw was squarer. She felt for her hair and pulled it around to her face. Dark brown and stick straight. She shuddered and pushed it away. She looked back up at Thomas, frightened. “What’s happened to me?”
            “I don’t know, my lady,” he said, still gazing at her curiously. “What happened in there?” He indicated the hut.
            The princess’s eyes widened. She turned around and banged furiously on the door. There was no answer. In frustration she grasped the handle and pushed on the door. It opened easily, and the room appeared just as it had mere moments ago, but there was no trace of the old woman. After staring blankly at the empty room for a moment, the princess shut the door and turned back around resolutely.
            “Let’s go, Thomas. We’ll figure this out at the castle.”
            Thomas, too dumbfounded to reply, followed her as she made her way out of the forest and back home.
            Michael ceased his typing and stretched out his hands. Time for more coffee. He took his mug and descended the ladder from the attic to his actual flat. He hadn’t really been meant to have the attic when he rented the flat, but it was sitting there unused right above him, and Mrs. Brady, the landlady, had agreed to let him use it as a workspace. It was a small, bare room, but he liked it that way. It seemed more conducive to creativity, like a blank canvas.
            He put the kettle on to boil and placed a filter and coffee grounds in the floral-patterned porcelain dripolater that had been his mother’s housewarming gift to him. He smiled. He was sure that his mother had assumed he’d be sharing the flat with a wife before long. No such luck. Soon the kettle began to whistle, and moments later he had a hot pot of coffee. He decided to take both the pot and the mug back up to his desk, provided he could find a way to carry them. Just when he thought he had his hands situated for the climb, the pot tilted and spilled a bit of coffee onto his knee.
            He almost jumped with pain, nearly spilling more, and barely managed to set the pot and mug down on his bedside table. He didn’t think he’d been burned, but the trousers were no longer presentable, at least until they’d had a wash. He changed them for clean ones and then made two trips back up to the attic, just to be safe.
            Finally Michael was again situated before his typewriter with fresh coffee at his disposal. It was time for the princess to meet her true love. He paused. This was another scene he’d much rather witness first-hand, but he was getting a little too fond of these visits. He had to be careful not to change the story from the inside unless absolutely necessary. As he reflected on that morning’s visit with the princess, his writer’s conscience started hinting uncomfortably that that trip hadn’t been necessary. He argued with himself for a moment about the scene’s validity, and ended up deciding that this morning was past, and that as long as he kept out of sight, he ought to be able to travel to his story whenever he chose. He knew in the back of his mind that this wasn’t the most rational vein of thought, but he was too invested in the story to care.
            It was late on the evening of the princess’s transformation, and I found myself in the stables as she came to seek solace in the company of her horse.
            The musty smell of horses and hay greeted him as he stood in the straw. Aside from an occasional whinny, the place was quiet. However, Michael knew it wouldn’t be long before he was joined. He found an empty stall and, tucking his glasses away in his pocket, hunched down to hear the scene.
            A moment later the princess (he assumed) entered. She sniffed loudly a couple of times, indicating that she had been crying not long ago. He heard her softly call her mare, Lily, and heard the horse come clopping to the front of its stall.
            “Hi Lily, good girl. Good girl,” came the princess’s hushed voice.
            The horse whinnied.
            “I know, I know. I don’t look like me.”
            Lily snorted.
            “I guess I still smell like me, though.”
            Michael could hear a slight smile in Evelyn’s voice.
            “What do you think, Lily? Am I really ugly? Or just plain?”
            That question struck something in Michael’s heart. You’re not ugly, he thought. As he waited for the stable boy to make his entrance, ready to muck stalls or groom horses, it struck him that the boy didn’t as of yet have a name. Or a physical description. Or…Michael’s face went still. He hadn’t created the stable boy. The intention had been there. From the story’s birth there had been a vague idea of the lad who saw the princess from afar and wished that their situations were not so far removed. A lad with a steadfast heart and a good head on his shoulders. He existed in theory, but not on paper—that is, not in reality. Michael’s stories might be able to fabricate scenes he had already determined, but they couldn’t scrape together a new character out of thin air, especially one this important to the plot.
            His shook his head. He supposed he would just go back, write the boy in, and come back to witness the meeting. He reached for his notebook, and his heart dropped out of his chest. His precious, tattered little notebook was still in the pocket of the coffee-stained trousers. His mind started racing. How was he to return home? He shifted his weight, and the rustle of straw caught the princess’s attention.
            “Is someone there?”
            He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. There was nothing to do but reveal himself. He stood shakily and exited the stall. He had to stop himself from smiling: she looked exactly as he had pictured. Straight, dark brown hair hung around a slightly fuller face. Her features were no longer petite, but still feminine. It was by no means an unpleasant face, but it belonged more to a servant than to a princess. He quickly formed an excuse in answer to her question. “I beg your pardon, Your Highness, I, uh, seem to have fallen asleep here. Do forgive me.”
            “Why Michael, I wondered where you’d gone. But,” she paused. “How did you ever recognize me? I’m so…ugly.” She said the word as though it tasted foul.
            Good question, he told himself. As far as she knew, he hadn’t seen her like this yet. He thought quickly. “I… heard rumors of what had happened to you, and I heard you speaking to your horse. And, forgive me, my lady, but you are far from ugly. Your looks have changed, certainly. But not for the worse, in my humble opinion.”
            She gave a small smile. “I’m not quite sure I agree, but thank you nonetheless.”
            He nodded. “Your Highness, grant me an odd request: you don’t happen to have a spare bit of parchment on your person, do you?”
            The princess carried a small satchel at her side, which she now reached into. “A queer request, but in fact I do. I often enjoy transcribing some of the thoughts that cross my mind throughout the day.” She pulled out the diary she had been using that morning, along with a rather squished quill and a small bottle of ink. “Have you need of writing instruments?”
            “Indeed, and I’m very grateful, Your Highness. I’m desperate to remember something which I’m certain to forget without making note of it.”
            She smiled and tore a page from her journal, handing it to him along with the quill and, after she had removed the top, the inkbottle.
            Michael took the parchment, dipped the quill in ink, and, his hand shaking, began to write. He hadn’t the faintest idea whether it would work, and if it did, his disappearance would be quite startling for the princess. However, that worry was not currently his primary concern.
                        He was back in his lonely attic again.
            He waited with bated breath. The princess was standing beside him, looking on curiously. After a moment, she broke the silence.
            “Is that all you needed to remember?” She looked up at him with her now-hazel eyes.
            “Uh, yes,” he replied. His mind spinning, he slowly gave her back her quill and ink.
            She chuckled as she tucked them away again. “You certainly are queer, Michael. You’re like no man I’ve ever met. But I enjoy your company.” She looked up at him again.
            He’d seen that particular look in her eyes before. It had been this morning, and they had been talking about…Gerald.
            Oh no.
            He still had to answer her. “I, uh, enjoy your company as well, Your Highness.” Why doesn’t her paper work? he asked himself, trying to contain his racing thoughts. Must be because it’s inside the story. It was created here. I need something from outside. Something real.
            “Might you accompany me for a short ride, Michael?” The princess jerked his attention back to the present.
            He looked at her blankly.
            “I’m not to go riding alone, but I’ll hardly be alone if you come with me.” She smiled.
            Even with dark hair and hazel eyes, it was a lovely smile. Maybe even nicer, Michael thought. It seemed a little more genuine. But…he tried to knock some sense into his head. He couldn’t go cavorting around the grounds with the princess. He had to figure out how to get home. He looked back at the piece of parchment in his hands. Why had he qualified his attic as “lonely”? He didn’t mind the quiet and solitude…did he?
            He looked back at Evelyn and decided that he really did prefer hazel eyes to blue. Suddenly he decided to throw caution to the wind. His lonely attic would wait. Crumpling the paper in his hand, he bowed and replied, “Your Highness, it would be my honor.”

Thursday, December 20, 2012


July 31st, 2023
Just some random thoughts…
            Before the B’quiiri came, everyone talked about alien invasion like it was a plague. Movies and TV shows were made about all different kinds of aliens, each kind with their own purpose (like that old show Doctor Who), but all of whom were bent on either enslaving or destroying Earth. I don’t know where the stereotype came from, since we hadn’t previously had contact with any extraterrestrial civilization. But the B’quiiri shattered our preconceived notions about aliens and made us wonder why we’d endorsed those scary movies in the first place.
            Maybe one reason they weren’t as intimidating as we had been prepared for was the fact that they were no more “advanced” a civilization than we were (they too had just made the upgrade from cell phones to telecoms, although they used different names). Both of our races had been exploring space for some time, searching for “other life.” They just happened to stumble across us before we found them.
            It was a pretty big deal, that first contact at the edge of the solar system. NASA’s people had been on their way back from another fruitless expedition to Neptune when suddenly this other vehicle appeared on their sensors. Since the voyage had been streaming live to every viewer with a TV or access to the internet, there was no covering it up or pretending that other ship wasn’t there. Of course, the world basically went into panic—unnecessarily, we found out later. Although, I think the panic would have been greater had they not been humanoid. Sure they have blue skin and weird noses, but other than that they look pretty normal, at least from what I’ve seen in the news.
            Anyway, I guess the reason this stuff is on my mind is that today’s headline was “MERRITT ISLAND BREAKS GROUND ON SPACEPORT.” I guess it’s actually happening. Washington D.C. and NASA have been talking for awhile about building a spaceport that would facilitate visits from the B’quiiri (and maybe even allow us to visit them! civilians, I mean…obviously NASA’s already sent people there). This is so exciting! Something tells me I’m going to see a lot of change in my lifetime. Who knows…maybe by the time I’m a grandma I’ll have even travelled to Quiir myself!

            I turned off my grandma’s old tablet and smiled at the irony. She hadn’t been there yet, but she was only 62…plenty young enough for an interstellar journey if she didn’t wait too much longer. She was right about one thing: she had seen an enormous amount of change since writing this. I think the spaceport opened in 2026 (long before I was born), and my mom got a job there as an intern when she was only 16, which was 2044. By that time the B’quiiri were making regular visits as tourists, and some of them liked it so much they decided to stay. I was born four years later, and since my jerk of a dad had left my mom when she got pregnant, I basically grew up in the spaceport, surrounded by the pale blue, cat-nosed people.
            When I was 16 I made a B’quiiri friend. His name was Eyqre (“Acre”), and he and his parents had come for a week-long vacation, just to see what the fuss was about. By this time I had the same internship my mom had when she was my age, and I relished showing new arrivals around (and trying not to laugh at their confusion). Technically, I wasn’t supposed to give the tours, but my mom was in management and she knew I could handle myself. After all, I had practically been raised in the place.
            After Eyqre and his parents had been fitted with aud-loquits to eliminate the language barrier, I took them to the screening room. Film screening, I should say, not medical. They joined the 20-some other B’quiiri waiting to see the 15-minute “Earth orientation” documentary. I went to the control panel and started the film. “Welcome to Earth,” the soothing female voice began. I walked to the back of the darkened room and leaned against the wall. I usually tuned out during the movie…I think I could have recited it word-for-word.
            You’d think we would have a medical screening for visitors to the planet, but that was one thing the Quiir government had insisted on—no scientific testing of any kind. They did let NASA run one B’quiir through a couple harmless machines back in the 20s, just to prove that they weren’t carrying any terrible diseases or anything. They passed to NASA’s satisfaction, but the scientific community was kind of miffed that they couldn’t properly examine this new species.
            Years later, when the two planets were in talks about allowing civilian visits, a bunch of scientists somehow convinced the government that humans and B’quiiri mingling would be dangerous since we hadn’t studied them thoroughly. And so, with some arm-pulling (and rumors of politicians being paid off), the “No-Contact” statute was issued. No human was allowed to have any direct physical contact with a B’quiir, and vice versa. Some conspiracy theorists were convinced that the scientific community had suggested the statute because they were sure it couldn’t be kept, and when a B’quiir slipped up they’d be ready with handcuffs and needles. Whatever the actual reason, the statute turned out to be a good idea, as we’d learned over time from a few accidents that touching them set off our soma-scanners. I guess since the devices came with standard programming that predated the B’quiiri’s first visit, even skin-to-skin contact with something so foreign set them beeping. A low alert, but still annoying. The B’quiiri had since taken to wearing long gloves whenever they visited Earth, and I swear sometimes I saw them rolling their eyes as they pulled them over their six-fingered hands.
            I absentmindedly tapped a rhythm on my soma-scanner, embedded in the back of my left hand. Click ca-lick click click ca-lick click click. The familiar “Thank you, and enjoy your visit here” roused me from my musings. I gave the rest of the tour and ended at the door that led outside. With their silver eyes wide, the visitors filed out quietly. Before his family got to the door, Eyqre—although I didn’t know his name then—detached himself from the crowd and approached me.
            “Hello.” He said it slowly, still adjusting to the mental influence of the aud-loquit.
            “Hi,” I said cheerfully. “Did you enjoy the tour?”
            “Very much,” he said, smiling. “Are there really almost 8 billion people on this planet?”
            “Yep, and that number just increased by about–” I looked around him at the dissipating group, “30.”
            He chuckled. “Well, I hope the Earth likes me.”
            “You seem polite,” I replied. “What’s not to like?”
            He smiled, and then his mother called him. “Goodbye Miss–” he looked at my nametag, “Miriam.”
            “Bye,” I said, waving as they went out the door.
            A few days later, Eyqre came back to the spaceport and introduced himself properly. He told me that his parents were having a blast, but that they weren’t paying him much attention and that he was lonely. He apologized for being upfront about it, but told me that I was the friendliest human he’d met thus far and that his favorite experience on the planet had been my tour. If he had been human, I would’ve called it flirting, but he was too new to the planet and awkward to flirt. Turns out he just needed a friend. On my lunch break we took a train to Orlando and I gave him a proper tour. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we decided to do it again, and for the rest of the week I spent my lunch breaks with him. We went to the Wildlife Refuge and the Space Center—ironic, I know, but he wanted to see the human perspective on space—and on our last day before he and his family departed, we stayed at the spaceport, eating PB&J (which he couldn’t get enough of) and talking about our different races and how oddly similar we really were.
            I missed him after he left, but then they came again about a month later. After a third and fourth visit his parents liked it so much that they decided to move to Earth, and Eyqre enrolled in my high school. They weren’t the first B’quiiri family to move to Earth, but Eyqre was the first at my school. Eventually he learned to ignore the stares, but on more than one occasion he assured me that he would never have survived if not for me. That always made me smile.
            I helped him acclimate to the culture as best as I could, and we always did our homework together. Come to think of it, we did just about everything together. We became inseparable, and I’m sure everyone at school thought we were dating. We knew better, though, and sort of laughed at everyone else for not realizing that we simply enjoyed each other’s company. Ok I’ll admit, maybe there was a deeper attraction between us, but it was mutually understood that nothing could ever come of it.
            But then one day, he kissed me.
            It happened the spring I was 17, 10 months after they had moved to Earth. We were at a park near my house, sitting in the grass with our backs against a wide tree, pouring over our Algebra 2. He had just explained to me for the umpteenth time what a logarithm was (culture was my area of expertise, math and science not so much), and then we were silent for a few seconds. Then he looked at me with a non-math-related spark in his silver eyes.
            “Do you ever think­–” he trailed off.
            “I wish…” And then he just leaned over and kissed me. Just like that. He took me by surprise, but I didn’t pull away.
            Then my scanner started screaming. I jerked my head away and swore, wishing there were a way to silence it. I examined the device. ‘ALERT LEVEL 5: FOREIGN CONTAMINANT’ was blinking at me in angry yellow lights as the thing continued to blare its alarm.
            “Crap,” I said. “Now the nearest hospital is going to think I’m dying or something.” I turned to Eyqre, and saw his face had gone pale. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I’m sure it's fine. This thing just doesn’t recognize B’quiiri DNA.”
            “Miriam,” he said fearfully. “The statute.”
            I blinked. I had entirely failed to realize that he had just committed a serious crime. “Oh crap,” I repeated. The scanner had finally gone silent, and we just stared at each other for a second, thinking through the implications of what had just occurred.
            “What if we just pretend this never happened?” I asked. “I won’t tell anyone.”
            “But that thing sends a signal to a hospital, right? Someone nearby knows something’s wrong.”
            I bit my lip. “Uh, ok. I’ll, uh, go home and gargle something really strong and then when the paramedics show up I can just claim this thing malfunctioned.”
            “Do you think that’ll work?”
            “Got any other ideas?”
            He shrugged.
            “Then it has to work. We might as well try. If you end up in prison who’ll help me with math?”
            That got a small smile out of him.
            But it wasn’t the paramedics that showed up at my door. It was two men in black suits. They questioned me about being in contact with a B’quiir, and I lied through the whole conversation. When they found out I worked at the spaceport they relaxed a little, but I still felt like they were just waiting for me to slip up and give Eyqre away. They questioned my mom, too, who appeared completely oblivious, but I had a funny feeling she had worked out what had happened. As soon as they left I ran up to my room, trying to hold in the tears. Eyqre wasn’t safe. Even though the men were gone, I knew they wouldn’t be content until they dug deeper.
            I called him on his telecom. He knew my voice well enough to hear the tears in it.
            “Miriam? What’s wrong? Did the paramedics come?”
            I told him about the men in suits and that I was sure they would find out which B’quiir I kept company with. I’m sure they could find out where I went to school, and anyone there would tell them what they wanted to know.
            He was silent for a minute. Then he sighed. “Miriam, I’m so sorry.”
            “Sorry?” I sniffed. “What for? It–” I took a shaky breath. “It wasn’t your fault.”
            “Not my fault?” He actually chuckled. “I’m the one that broke the statute.”
            “Well…” I couldn’t come up with a satisfactory reply. “I’m still not going to let them do anything to you.”
            “How do you plan to stop them?” he asked. I could hear the smile in his voice.
            “How are you so calm?” I said rather angrily, avoiding his question.
            He drew a long breath. “I’m not. I’m scared stiff. But smiling makes everything seem like it’ll be ok.”
            I shook my head. I couldn’t decide whether his approach was genius or stupid. After a moment I said, “You know they’ll probably be at your door by tomorrow morning. Evening at the latest. We have to do something before then.”
            “Like what?”
            “Like…” I took a deep breath and said the first thing that popped into my head. “Like run away.”
            “I don’t know…it’s the only thing I can think of. Do you have a better idea?”
            He sighed again. “What if…” he paused, and I knew I wouldn’t like whatever he was going to say. “What if I just own up and pay for my crime?”
            “No,” I said. The thought of Eyqre locked up for who knows how long threatened to bring back the tears. “No.” I knew a lot of scientists had been itching to get their hands on a B’quiir to really study for years. This might be just the excuse they needed to make some wild claim like he belonged to the government as a criminal against Earth or something. Maybe the conspiracy theorists were right. I’m not sure if our two races had set boundaries for any kind of diplomatic immunity yet.
            I wasn’t about to reveal the extent of my paranoia to Eyqre, but I had to convince him not to turn himself in. “Eyqre, I’m not sure they would just put you in prison. They might find an excuse to make it even worse for you. Not everyone in the world is as keen on your race as we are.”
            He was silent for a minute. “You really think running away would be better?”
            I had him on my side. “What other choice do we have?”
            Silence again. Then, “Well, I guess you’re the expert. I trust you.”
            I smiled.
            That night we left our homes, with one bag each and no destination in mind other than the west coast, where quite a few B’quiiri families had chosen to settle, and where—we hoped—no one would think to look for us. I left a note for my mom, with a postscript asking her to burn it. Writing it was hard. But Eyqre needed me, and Mom didn’t. I shut my mom out of my mind so I wouldn’t cry, but I also tried not to think about what my school friends would think, or when I would see the spaceport again, or how the heck two teens on the run would survive for long. We would figure out all that stuff later. For now we just had to leave. Eyqre left a note for his parents too, telling them that some people might come around asking questions, assuring them that he was all right, and apologizing over and over. We left our telecoms behind, figuring they could be used to track us. A few days into our journey, I began to suspect that my scanner might send out information to more places than hospitals, so Eyqre, as gently as he could, cut it out with his pocketknife. It hurt like anything, but his presence was calming, and he bandaged my bloody hand afterwards.
            When he kissed me again, I told myself the pain had been worth it.