HL Pic Series: 8 – Josie

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Josie twirled a red umbrella as she walked down the cobble-stoned street toward the Centrum, the center of town from where all streets began. There she knew she would find a restaurant to get a slice of pizza. Pizza was, after all, in every country across Europe.

Earlier that morning, like every morning for the past three and a half months, she had been painting down by the canal. The air had turned from fog to mist and then into a light shower. Luckily, she packed up when she felt the first bit of mist, and had gotten her paints back to her flat before any damage occurred, unlike her first rainy morning in Maastricht. Not quite quick enough that day, some of the watercolors had run down her shirt.

She loved her bustling city life in the Netherlands, and was sad to have to leave the following week. Her study time was coming to an end, but she was going to miss her new friends and their eclectic ways.

Josie’s American friends and parents thought her crazy when she told them she wanted to take an art semester in the Dutch country, rather than going to Paris or Italy like most students. Josie did her homework though, and decided her education would be better improved by going to a country with a more open attitude about people, freedom and life. Walking through the street, she knew she had made the right decision, even if sometimes she became uncomfortable by the Dutch’s open views of the body.

In the country that produced Vincent van Gogh, Pieter van der Werff and Johannes Vermeer, Josie had found her deep creative and artistic Self. She allowed her ingrained restraints to fall away, and she occasionally worried that she would lose that new-found Self when she went back home to the states.

Josie spotted a friend trotting toward her.

“Hallo, Yosie!” the woman called, waving.

“Hi, Renate!” Josie was grateful that most Dutch were fluent in English because even after several months there, her Dutch was still terrible. “I’m going to get a slice of pizza. Are you hungry?”

“Oh, Yosie, don’t you get tired of pizza? The market is on today and we can get kibbeling and frites! They serve it with tartar sauce.” She said the last part slowly, trying to entice Josie. Josie laughed.

“You know I don’t like fried fish! I maybe could do the fries, but your ketchup is so sweet here. Hmm… Maybe this time I’ll eat them like you do, with only mayonnaise.”

“Oh, Josie! You’re so funny. I’m going to miss you when you go next week. Maybe I can come for a visit, yah?”

“I would love that, Renate! We will definitely keep in touch.” Josie hugged her friend. She noticed the rain had stopped so she pulled down her umbrella as they entered the Centrum. 

Jan and Christof hailed them from a table set outside at a nearby cafe. A server wiped off chairs for them. Josie sighed. It wouldn’t be Europe if we didn’t eat outside.

 I am really going to miss this.

 

 

HL Pic Series: 7-Lucy

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Lucy dreamed. She was in Venice this time. Venice? Lucy woke.

It must have been spurred by my date tonight. Out with Golly, they had picked up McDonald’s and gone to the park downtown – the one with the pond and the pretty lampposts. That what must be what triggered it.

Lucy shook her head to clear the dream, then got up to make a cup of tea. She would not be getting back to sleep too soon, she thought. She took her tea to the sofa, grabbed a pen and paper and began writing as she recalled the dream.

The lamppost sat on a dock where several gondolas bounced lightly nearby in the water. I’ve never seen a gondola in my life. How do I even know they’re called gondolas? She watched the gondolas’ bouncing grow more erratic, so she looked to the right and watched a giant yacht float into the city. It was not slowing as it neared.

In her dream, she yelled to the captain, “Slow down!”

The captain looked at her through hollow eyes. The great ship would never make it through the canal – it would smash into both buildings that lined in on either side. Then it did.

But it didn’t. It glided through the buildings, rather than into them.

Lucy stood on the dock. Her hands shook. She looked around but nobody else on the dock or over by the buildings had noticed the ship. She waved at a lady near the closer of the two buildings, but the lady had looked right through her, too. Lucy looked at her hands, and went to hold the lamppost. They went right through it.

So… I’m a ghost.

Remembering caused the pen to shake in her hand, but she wrote it all down. She wrote it shakily. She wrote it in her journal of dreams, adding it to her collection of other strange dreams.

The captain looked through me. What does this mean? Is it another premonition? Or is there another more symbolic meaning to this dream? His eyes… What do all these dreams mean? Am I going to die? Or am I going to live?

 

 

HL Series: 6-Darlene

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Darlene stood on her balcony, gazing out over the Tuscan village and countryside. She never thought she would get out of her small town to venture across an ocean; but here she was, living a life she had never wanted to hope for.

She had met Derrick later in life – just after she turned fifty. Sure, she had dated lots of men, even married a couple, but they didn’t work out. Since there weren’t any children, she’d had no reason to stay after the passion wore off; but Derrick was different.

She had been waiting tables in a truck stop restaurant when state troopers made him exit the closed highway. He had wanted to wait out the storm, rather than get a hotel room, and this was how he ended up in Darlene’s booth.

At three in the morning, she had already been working for four hours. Her feet ached. A new girl had bumped her earlier and spilled a full plate of food on her, so her uniform was filthy and greasy. Mind-wrestling the drunks had been extra difficult that evening. She could not understand why anyone was even out in that kind of weather. If they needed booze that bad, they should have picked it up before the storm hit and taken it home to drink.

Angry and exhausted, Darlene had tromped toward Derrick with a coffee pot in one hand and her order pad in the other. She hadn’t anything about him until she stood before him at the table. When she looked up, the greyest eyes she’d ever seen stared back at her with a slight twinkle. Startled, she immediately stood taller and tried to smooth her apron, though when looking down, she realized it was futile. She gave him a half-smile.

“What can I get for ya?”

“Well, I guess I’ll have whatever is on the front of your apron.” He laughed, releasing her from her stressed and straight-backed position.

Darlene relaxed and pulled at her apron. “So that’s two eggs over easy, bacon, a side of pancakes and coffee?”

“Sounds delicious.” He handed her the menu and she smiled back at him. “Can you join me?”

Darlene instantly rubbed her hand over her hair. “Me?”

“Yes. It’s a cold night and you look like you could use a cup of coffee.” She nodded, and went to put his order in. Then she grabbed an extra cup for herself and went to sit down with him.

She ran away with him two weeks later and had not been back to her hometown since. That was four years ago.

Looking once again over the Tuscan valley, she had no regrets.

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HL Pic Series: 5-Ashley

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Ashley stared at the flap-like piece sticking out of the gigantic formation. She’d heard about the strange growth from some of her cycling friends, but did not believe them. Instead, she decided to ride out into the desert by herself to see it; proof was in the sighting – or so her parents had always said. So, she loaded her backpack with a towel, sunscreen, snacks and water and rode her bike eight miles out of town to get a closer view of Paddle Rock. It’s weird! I wonder how that happened.

Ashley had been raised by atheistic scientists who had an answer for all of her questions – up until she had become a teenager. Then she would ask questions they could not answer, like from the Big Bang Theory: How could something come from nothing?

She fought with her parents as they tried to convince her, which created distance between them. Their theories did not make sense to her, so she began a spiritual quest to fill the small void she felt in her chest. Searching the book store, she bought books on Druids, Wicca, Kabbalah, Astrology, New Ageism, Becoming a Shaman, Crystals, Tarot, Mystic Wisdom, Buddhism and many others. Over time she read them all, but each time something still felt missing.

At college she ended up on a dorm floor with a bunch of Christians, some who were bicyclers, like her. She was uncomfortable talking to them about her lack of spiritual upbringing, even though a few were interested in her story. Sometimes she got really frustrated with them because there were days when all they talked about was Jesus. If he is so great, why doesn’t everyone follow him?

One morning, after an extremely difficult exam, she awoke with a headache. She decided to skip class and stay in bed. Waving goodbye to her roommate, who would be gone for several hours, she rolled back toward the wall and closed her eyes.

As she lay in a half-dream state, the face of Jesus, sheathed in luminescence, floated before her and said, “You are my child. I formed you in the womb and know every bit of you. You are well loved.”

Ashley woke up. Her head felt groggy, so she sat up, shook it, rubbed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself. Did that really just happen? Did Jesus just talk to me? That’s weird, my headache is gone already.

Since she was not sure if she had just had a dream, or if it was indeed a vision, she got up, walked over to her roommate’s desk and borrowed her bible. She had heard the girls talking about the New Testament, so she opened up to Matthew and began to read. The words rang of truth and she began to feel the hole fill.

HL Pic Series: 4-Jo

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Jo studied the hammock.

“I think it will stay,” she said to the small gecko hanging onto a wooden porch post. “Now, it’s time for a margarita.”

So far Jo’s dream had not developed as she had planned. She had worked hard for thirty eight years as a school teacher, living frugally and saving every penny toward her retirement. When her dream to marry and have a family had not come to fruition by the time she’d hit thirty-five, she decided to change her dream. Now, here she was, living on an island in the Caribbean.

The thing was, it was not at all what she had expected. Sure, there were sandy beaches, lots of good-looking men on vacation and beautiful clear waters.

But, the brochures had not mentioned the sand fleas or the fact that shoes need to be worn on the sand because it gets hot enough to cause blisters. Those dreamy picture cards had not mentioned the fish that nibble at legs and toes, or the jellyfish that stings like a burning hot poker, or the crabs that chase people from the water. Those beautiful brochures had not discussed language barriers, the inability to find help that worked more than a few hours per day so a house could be painted and wood trim fixed, or the fact that everything smelled like fish. All the time. Everywhere.

Jo had come down to the island once to see the house, buying it through a website. When she moved, she discovered she had paid much more than market value and now she was stuck. After three months of living in it, she recognized that she had not done her due diligence. Now, paint chipped, the washing machine froze up and she only had one burner left working on her stove.

She did not even want to think about the hurricanes.

And… Nobody had told her that in equatorial heat, sweat poured from every pore, all day and all night. She never felt clean. She was either sweaty and gross, or dried out from the salt air like an old starfish. Nobody had told her how terribly she would miss her family and friends.

She sighed.

Today was a good day. She had a hammock, and her blender still worked; and so, she made a margarita and took an afternoon nap.

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HL Series: 3-Jenny

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Jenny stared at the tree on the hill. It was a half mile from the house, but she could walk it in ten minutes when she needed to, and lately she’d been feeling the need often. It was the place she felt safest, sitting under that tree. Whether the sun shined, or the rain poured, she felt comfort there.

That tree stood like a beacon, always calling to her.

In their youth, one day when they were having a picnic at the top of the hill, Jared asked her to marry him. From their lunch spot they could see the village in the distance, and they could hear the water babbling as it flowed downstream from the creek on the other side. Jared used to love to chase the sheep that came over the hill from old Lenny’s place.

Sometimes, when times were tough, she used to walk to the top of that hill and look over to see the church in town. She’d listen for the bells and could feel God close to her then. She just knew they would be able to pay that next bill, to teach their son, Jesse, to stop fighting, and to get past all the tears when her parents passed.

Jared had made a little stone circle for her to sit in. He said she could say her prayers there, and she did. She prayed, she cried, and she screamed from the top of that hill; but it had become her resting place.

And now it was his. Jared’s. Jared was the tree. God bless that tree that sat in a small stone circle.

 

 

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HL Pic Series: 2-Mavis

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Mavis sat alone in her rocking chair, wrapped in an old frayed shawl with a dirty afghan across her lap. She stared at the dusty television that no longer worked, and wondered if anyone would knock on her door today.

The postman used to knock everyday, handing her mail with a cheerful smile and a good word, but recently he had begun leaving the mail outside on the mat – not that she received mail every day. Some days she was too tired or sore to open the door, bend over and pick it up. Those were not good days for the mail, because something bad always happened to it. Rain would soak it through until the ink ran, or a bug would inevitably get squashed on it, or a neighbor’s dog or cat would leave footprints across the envelopes as they ran through her yard. Wet and dirty mail is not fun to open.

Today she longed for company. She was tired, but was on the lesser side of sore and thought she could make a pot of tea for a visiting friend. She thought it would be nice if her nephew, Tommy, would drop by and fix the television. He was handy with electronics, but she didn’t know if this tv could be fixed again. She had no money for a new one, either. She shook her head. Money, money, money. Everything costs too much nowadays.

The small stipend she worked all those years to put into social security was now barely enough to pay for her groceries each month. She was lucky Harold had paid off the house before he died, because she could not afford to live if she had a rent or a mortgage payment nowadays. She kept the heat low and only used the air conditioning in emergencies, had no cable and only a house phone without a long distance plan. She didn’t need one, as she had nobody left to call these days, and she needed to keep costs down.

A knock sounded at the door. She looked up, startled. She was lost in her thoughts again. Was that the door? She slowly got to her feet, holding the rocker steady and letting the aphgan fall to the floor. She stared at it for a moment and then shook her head. That must be how it gets so dirty. She stepped on it because she could take a long enough step to pass over it. Shaking her head again, she went to the door.

A dirty little girl stood outside, holding her mail.

“Here, Missus,” she said. “I saw your mail laying on your mat, so I thought I’d get it for you.” At the aged woman’s nod, the girl continued. “My name’s Emmy Gorth. I live over there.” She pointed at a house with a leaning porch and chipped paint diagonally across the street.

Mavis studied her for a moment and then shrugged her shoulders. “Hello there, young Emmy,” she said. “I’m Mavis Bell. Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?”

Emmy looked at her dress and then at Mavis with a lift of her eyebrow.

“Oh, that doesn’t matter. You’ll be sitting on a proper chair, so it won’t even show.”

Emmy looked across the street and then down at the mat, thinking.

“I guess I could. I’m not much of a fan of tea, though. Do you have any Koolaid?”

Mavis put a thumb under her chin for a moment and then shook her head, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any. Only tea.” She tilted her head sadly to the side as the smile slipped from her face.

“Um… okay. I’ll try tea, I guess,” said Emmy.

Mavis’ face lit up as the girl walked past, handing her the mail. Mavis dropped it on a side table and guided Emmy to a wooden table with two rickety wooden chairs. Emmy sat down rigidly and fanned the wrinkles out from her skirt. Mavis went to start the kettle.

“You are a very special guest today, so guess what?” Mavis asked with a smile.

“What?” replied Emmy with a sparkle in her eye.

“We are going to use my very best china service for our tea today.”

Emmy’s eyes grew wide and she watched every move Mavis made as she prepared the tea.

“I think I have some sugar cookies left here,” Mavis said, fishing around in an old coffee tin on the counter. She brought the tea and cookies to the table on a fancy silver tray.

“Now be careful, it’s hot. And here, put this honey in it,” Mavis said.

Emmy stirred the honey around the rose-covered tea cup in a gentle manner, suddenly sticking her pinky up. Mavis’ eyes sparkled as she smiled. Emmy picked up the cup, blew over the top and tentatively tasted the tea.

Her eyes flew up in surprise. “This is pretty good! It tastes like lemon!” She took a bite of cookie. “Mmmm…”

The two talked over the tea and cookies for a couple of hours. Mavis regaled the girl with stories from her youthful days until all of a sudden Emmy’s eyes grew wide and she popped up off the chair.

“I have to go! My mom will be home anytime now.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to see you go, Emmy, but I hope you come back to visit another day,” Mavis told her. Emmy nodded and waved and rushed out the door. Mavis smiled and cleaned up the dishes.

I believe I feel good enough to make a sandwich, she thought.

 

 

 

 

 

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HL Pic Series: 1-Brigid

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Brigid leaned her bicycle against the wall, hoping it wouldn’t fall again. She needed to make her flower delivery and did not want to lose the little bit of soil left in the baskets. Last week she hit a rock and fell off her bike, spilling flowers and soil onto the pavement in front of Cookie’s Bakery. At least twenty heads had turned to look at her, but she could do nothing except pick up her bike and put the flowers back into their arrangements as close as she could remember. Her face had burned, but she did not look in the window a second time. She had not ridden past the bakery since.

She looked down the street and blew hair from her eyes. She missed seeing Cord’s smile.

They’d been friends since 1st grade when Molly Buttercup had yanked the swing from her grip, sending her sprawling in the dirt. Cord came to her rescue, helping her up and dusting off her scratched knee. She lost her heart in that moment. Afterward, he was always friendly and funny to her, but treated her more like a little sister – someone who needed protecting.

She sighed. Maybe she should stop in to buy a cupcake. Summer vacation was almost over and she would rather face him now, than after school started back up. It was their last year and she really hoped he would ask her to the homecoming dance, but knew it would probably be Bella this time. He seemed to rotate through the five: Bella, Ciara, Olivia, Mona and Lyric. Who named their daughter Lyric, anyway?

She delivered the flowers to the cafe without incident and returned to her bike. She pedaled fast, trying not to think. She knew it would be easier to just do, and not think about doing. Thinking about a plan always seemed to stall her in her tracks and make her lose confidence. That’s why after all these years, she still just gawked at him sometimes. Leaning her bike against the wall on the side of the bakery, she steeled her face into a pleasant expression and stepped into the bakery, trying to be nonchalant.

Of course, she tripped over the door jamb and stumbled.

Cord’s warm hands gripped her shoulders. Her face burned, all nonchalance gone. There he was again, saving her.

She blurted, “Aw, hell!” Then looking up at Cord, her eyes grew huge and she slapped a hand over her mouth.

“Aw, now, Brige, it ain’t that bad,” he drawled. “You don’t need to cuss. You know I’ll always catch you.” He winked.

She didn’t think her face could have burned any brighter as her shoulders drooped. “I’m sorry, Cord. I know you don’t like that kind of language.” Her skin was beginning to tingle where his hands still lay. She looked up at him, through the heat in her face.

He pulled her close for a quick hug and then released her just as quickly. “Um, Brigid?” He shuffled a foot and studied a spot on his shirt.

“Yeah?” She watched him scratch at the bit of flour.

“Um… School’s starting soon, and I was wondering if maybe you’d want to be my date to the homecoming dance this year.”

She blanked. When she didn’t answer, he looked up and into her eyes. The startling green snapped her from her reverie.

“Yes, I would.” She smiled big as a surge of confidence came over her. He smiled shyly back at her. “Geez,” she said, lightly punching his shoulder, “What took you so long to ask?”

His grin grew as big as hers. “I’ve been waiting for senior year. I didn’t want to screw up our friendship, but I think we can handle it now. Can I get you a cupcake?” He winked again.

 

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Mandy and Renee Meet Boofer Strang (a Short Story)

Boofer Strang beat the drum. Candles flickered from the wind the drumbeats created. Mandy giggled as she held her friend’s hand waiting for a spirit to visit. She and Renee had come to New Orleans to soak up the atmosphere. Mandy had read many books that described hot steamy nights and a dark occult side of the city.

The previous evening the two women visited a famous vampire bar. Mandy could have sworn that one pasty creature followed them the whole way to the Irish Pub where they drank, clapped and stomped until dawn. This afternoon they had taken a tour bus to the Saint Louis Cemetery to see the tomb of Marie Laveau, the late voodoo queen, before heading to her shop. They both bought voodoo dolls. Mandy had giggled then too because the doll’s face looked like a cross between a native mask and a castle painting. After that they had their tea leaves read. Mandy hoped the future prediction of her marrying a handsome man and having three children would come true.

The drumming stopped. Mandy felt her cheeks ache from chewing her bubble gum. Focus, she told herself, and then she looked around the dark room. The decor and low-lit paintings made her feel that she sat amongst the dead, more so than when she had been at the graveyard. She had thought those graves looked funny, sitting so far above ground because of the high water table.

Focus, she thought again. She snapped her mouth shut on a bubble and looked at her friend. Her breath caught.

Renee’s eyes were balls of white. Shivers crawled down Mandy’s back and arms. She wondered what to do and lightly shook the hand she was holding. Renee did not move. She looked at the Strang man whose eyes were closed. He hummed lightly, but it was gradually growing in strength and volume. She looked back at Renee, who was now also humming.

Mandy dropped Renee’s hand, got on her knees and shook her friend’s shoulders. The woman’s blond curls swayed, but her eyes stayed the same and her humming grew louder.

She turned to the man. “Stop this, Boofer Strang,” she said loudly over the humming.

He ignored her.

“Stop this right now!” She saw him lift one eyelid, but he quickly closed it again. She let out a deep breath.

“Renee! Renee!” Mandy shook her friend hard and slapped her face.

Renee burst into laughter as she brought a hand to her cheek. Boofer laughted with her all of a sudden the lights came on. Mandy looked from one to the other as they hooted.

“That’s what you get, Mandy, for dragging me around to all these creepy places!” Renee clapped her hands. “You didn’t have to slap me though!” She hooted again and held her stomach as she rocked back and forth.

Mandy looked at her hands which seemed to be convulsing. Then she huffed, stood up and stomped out of the room. Great guffaws followed her.

Hammer and the Fish (a Short Story)

“That dog! You know…that one they call Hammer? Today he grabbed the pinkest and biggest salmon I’ve ever caught! Durn dog took it right off my table.” Gary shook his head, “That twisted dog has an epic ability to find my best fish every single day. I swear I have got to find a way to get rid of him. The other guys just laugh when he steals from me, but he doesn’t bother them at all. If he did, they wouldn’t be laughing.”

“Aww, honey, I’m sorry. That stinks,” said Helen, his wife, as she rubbed his back. “I don’t know what to say.”

Gary slouched in his chair. After a few minutes he lifted his head, “You know I saw a large yacht off the coast today. I need one of those, then I could catch and sell my fish without that oaf of a dog sneaking around. He barely even has to jump to reach the top of my table, he’s so big.” His eyes glazed over and he leaned back, “I’d just take my pole, sit back with a beer and watch the fish pile up into my bucket, if I had a nice ride like that.”

“Aww, babe… do you need a hug?”

“Uff, I’ll tell you about needs… That dog needs a bath. He smells like he visits the dump as well as the dock!”

Oh, calm down, hon. You’ll raise your blood pressure. Oh! I know. I’ll make you some of those fish tacos you love. You know, the kind in tortillas with fried fish and cole slaw? I’ll even put in a little pickle relish – just the way you like them.”

Gary looked at his wife. He studied her. She was always good to him, even when he knew he was being cantankerous. Maybe he was over reacting to the dog, he thought. Maybe tomorrow he’d try not to holler.

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The next morning Gary watched for Hammer. As soon as he saw the great beast coming toward him on the dock, he threw out a good-sized fish, although not as big as the salmon.

Hammer stopped. He looked at the fish. He looked at Gary. He looked back at the fish. He looked once more at Gary before he bent his head, picked up the fish and headed back toward the shore. At the end of the dock, he turned back and for a brief moment, Gary thought the large curly black-haired head had dipped at him, in thanks.