Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2012

May 18

Graypay

I slipped a manila envelope under her door containing a map of the Northern States with our route from Chicago to Montana highlighted, using as many non-highway roads as possible, and a note to Alison: “Three is the magic number”. I knew it wouldn’t be long before she came to my room.

“Montana?” she asked, sounding not at all pleased.

“It’s a beautiful state,” I told her.

“I know. I’ve seen pictures. But aren’t we going all the way to the Pacific? I thought it was supposed to be cross-country.”

“From Chicago to Montana is pretty far. Let’s make that our first stop and see about going the rest of the way when we get there. If there is anything I’ve learned in this life, it’s that plans are bound to change.”

“I know, plans are nothing, but planning is everything,” she crossed her arms. “And this magic number?”

“It took me weeks to convince your parents to let us do this. One of the conditions was that we have someone go with us to help.”

“Help with what? Carrying our luggage?”

“Driving. You have your license, but it’s been months since you’ve driven anywhere. I’ve driven a handful of times since I came here. It will be good to have someone else drive most of the way. Someone younger than me and older than you.”

“You’ve already thought of someone. Who?”

“Trey. I haven’t asked him yet. His father told me he comes home today. I’ll visit him tomorrow.”

Alison stared at me for a moment. “I don’t like it. He’s been away to college for two years. He’ll be a bear to travel with, thinking he knows everything.”

“Then we’ll have to set him straight.”

She sighed and sat down on the stool near my closet. “Fine.”

“Yes, well, thank you for the enthusiasm.”

“It’s almost impossible to feel enthusiastic about going to Montana with Trey tagging along.”

“Maybe someday you’ll feel differently.”

“About Trey?” Alison wrinkled her nose.

I couldn’t help but laugh. “You say that now, but I remember when I first met your grandmother. She was feisty. I didn’t know how any man could ever love her.”

“What changed?”

I looked at her picture on my dresser. “Everything.”

“Do you miss her?” Alison asked.

I set the picture of Stephie back on the dresser and sighed. “Only when I’m awake.”

“That’s a funny answer.”

“It’s a perfectly honest answer.”

“When you’re asleep, you don’t feel anything,” Alison reasoned.

“Ah, you’re forgetting about the dreams we have. Dreams that reveal your fears and your wishes. It’s when I dream that your grandmother joins me again.”

Alison didn’t look convinced.

“Dreams are powerful things, Alison. God used them to give Daniel the tools to become great in Babylon. Angels can speak to us in dreams. There’s no scientific proof to what I’m saying, but I’ve dreamed about your grandmother often enough to believe that when we are asleep, that’s when the veil between this world and heaven become thin enough to speak through it.”

“What do you talk about?” Alison asked.

“You. She is very interested in you. She asks about your father. Sometimes we’ll go back to a happy moment and look at it together. Sometimes she’s silly and I remember crazy dreams about her that don’t make sense when I wake up.”

Alison took the picture frame of Stephie from the dresser. It was a black and white photo from our wedding day. She held a small bouquet of daisies. “When did you first dream about her?”

“Just before she died. She was in the hospital. It was early in the morning, when she looked at me and smiled. She was always a beautiful woman, even after the cancer treatments took her hair. We talked about the day we met and some of the places we lived. I asked her if she needed anything. She told me she wanted to wear a pink dress the next day. ‘Don’t let them make me look like a hussy,’ she laughed. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but I told her not to worry. I’d take care of her.” I pulled out a hanky and wiped my eyes. “But that talk, that last talk was a dream. I woke up and she was gone.”

“Just a dream? How unfair! Why couldn’t God have given you one last, real moment?”

“Not just a dream,” I said, “the best dream. I may have been sleeping, but I know that it was really Stephie I was talking to. There is no doubt in my mind or my heart.”

“And that’s what faith is,” Alison said, knowing what I was going to say next.

I laughed. “You do listen to me.”

“Even when I try not to.”

I kissed her on her forehead. “I’m glad.”

May 19

Trey

Graypay came to see me today. I haven’t seen him since my high school graduation. It’s not that I don’t want to visit, but college is busy. It was good to see him again. He’s aged. I’m mean, he’s always seemed old to me, but he looked much older today. Tired. Wrinkled. But that same smile was still there and his stories were just as funny.

I had the distinct feeling that he had been watching for me; which is ridiculous, because the idea of him seeing me come home from three Chicago city blocks away is impossible. And yet, that is what had happened. After he made his request, my father finally understood why Mr. Elliott had called him a month ago.

“Do you have a job for the summer, Trey?”

“No, sir. I only came home yesterday.”

“Do you have anything specific in mind for the summer?”

“Not really. In this economy, I’ll be lucky to land anything.”

He smiled when I said that, and I knew I had to say yes to whatever he asked of me.

“Well then, I have a proposal for you to consider. I will be taking Alison on a cross-country trip in June and I would feel much better if you would join us. I would pay you thirty dollars a day and cover all your meals and boarding expenses. In return, you will drive Alison and I to Montana.”

My dad asked a question. “Jack, you trust my son with Alison?”

“I do.”

“But, Alison is a young lady. A very attractive young lady,” my dad persisted.

“Dad,” I interrupted. “Have a little faith in me. Alison is just a kid.”

“She’s seventeen.” Graypay said. “You are nineteen?”

“Twenty.”

“Then I will put my trust in you for Alison’s safe return. For if anything should happen, I know for a fact that her mother will seek prosecution to the fullest extent. She is still a minor. You are an adult.”

“You make yourself very clear,” my dad nodded. “Understood, son?”

“There is nothing to worry about. Alison is like a kid-sister.”

“Then you’ll take the job?” Graypay asked.

Truth was, I would have gone with him without pay. Graypay was one of the few adults in my life who actually told me what his expectations of me were; and let me tell you, he had very high expectations. Trying to please Graypay was like scaling a mountain; not impossible, but not easy.

My dad told me what a noble thing I was doing for Jack and Alison, but it didn’t feel that way. You do things like that for people you love. I didn’t tell my dad that, because I’m not certain I would do something like this for him.

May 22

Trey

Mrs. Elliott invited my parents and I over to finalize the plans for the trip, go over the maps, do all the things for me that I already know how to do. But it’s easier to take instruction from them. My parents shove it down my throat. Mr. and Mrs. Elliott asked questions, valued my opinion and even changed some of the routes and plans based on my suggestions. I like that.

Alison was there. Kid-sister, nothin’! When I left for college, she was all gangly and awkward and still…still…well she didn’t look like this. She’s grown taller and … you know, changed. Sisters, related or not, should not be pretty. She hugged me and I became the awkward one, especially when Mrs. Elliott glared at me from the other side of the room. Graypay winked at me, enjoying my discomfort.

Yep. This was going to be an interesting trip.


Graypay

There hasn’t been a moment since her birthday that I haven’t seen Alison checking her list of things to pack, preparing her notebooks to fit in her suitcase and checking maps and using that computer to find hotels along the way. She knows we are heading to Montana. She doesn’t know why.

Fourteen letters. I had hoped at least one of them would give me a clue. I sent one letter to every church that had been there all those years ago. Maybe there would be someone there who would remember, who would know where she was now or where she had gone. But nine of the letters have been returned unopened and two have been returned with notes saying that she wasn’t there or had never been there.

Instead of focusing on what hasn’t happened, I’m trying for focus on what might happen. Think positive. I learned that from her. Was she still like that? Would she look at a rain cloud and anxiously wait for the lightning and dance when it finally ripped across the sky? I do. And now I wait for the other five letters in hopes that I can find her again before it’s gone. Such a fool I’ve been, thinking I have all the time I need to do this. And now the clock is racing against my mind and I don’t know how much time I have. That’s the kicker! I’m running a race on a track I can’t see against an invisible opponent and I don’t know where the finish line is.

Read Full Post »

June 20

The police station is tidy but dust bunnies lurk in corners affirming only a clean surface. It smells funny too, like sweat and coffee and stale sugar. A young woman whose desk is in front of an open window obviously doesn’t smell like this room either; every now and then a wisp of her fruity perfume wanders over to me.

It wasn’t been a long drive from the hospital to the station, but the officer said it was necessary for me to do the line-up. Trey stayed at the hospital, so at least Graypay wasn’t alone; not that he knew where he was or what had happened. I wasn’t even sure I knew the answer to that; we had traveled so far so quickly that it was impossible to remember what state we were in; North Dakota or Montana. Maybe it didn’t really matter.

I was here now, in this station, because I had seen his face. It was only for a few seconds, but I could still see the depth of his blue eyes, and the long crease across his forehead, and the way his face glared with surprise when he looked at me. And then he left us there, confused and bleeding.

A police officer sat down opposite me and smiled weakly. “We’ll do this as quickly as possible, Miss Elliott. They are getting the line-up ready. The men will not be able to see you. You just need to look at their faces and tell us which one you remember seeing.”

I nodded.

“There’s just a bit of paper work to fill out while we wait,” the officer slid a clipboard across his desk.

As I reached for the pen, the officer saw how badly my hands were shaking. “Here,” he gently took the pen back. “I’ll help you. When is your birthday?”

May 17th

Alison

The morning was perfect. I woke to the smell of bacon and eggs, found a new fuzzy robe on the end of the bed, and a card that had been slipped under the door. My seventeenth birthday was off to a good start.

The kitchen sizzled with excitement. As I stepped onto the tile floor, Mom, Dad and Graypay broke into a boisterous chorus of “Happy Birthday”. I couldn’t pronounce ‘grandpa’ when I was two-years old and ‘Graypay’ stuck. Mom poured my first cup of coffee, sweetened with milk, vanilla, and sugar. For years I woke to the smell of coffee. The rich aroma was delicious. Despite all my requests for a sip, I was denied, told that when I was an adult, I would join the ranks of the caffeine addicts. Until then, it was water, milk, or juice. All the years waiting were not in vain. Although I imagined the taste to be different, richer and less bitter, I drank it all. The warmth of adulthood spread through my arms and legs and I sighed, feeling very pleased.

Seventeen. I know what you’re thinking. Seventeen is not the legal age for an adult. Eighteen is. But my parents married when they were seventeen. They started their own business after seventeen months of marriage. I was born seventeen months after they moved into this apartment. And yes, I was born on the seventeenth of May. Sadly, there is no seventeenth month of the year – that would round it all off quite nicely. Luckily, they didn’t go so far as to name me Seventeen or some equally horrible name. Alison suits me just fine.

Graypay sat in his usual chair, drinking his coffee from the same mug, wearing the sweater vest he always wears in the morning to ‘keep the chill off his heart’. He looked to my dad, eyebrows raised. “Now?”

Dad breathed in, a slow, deep breath. He was stalling. Or preparing for the wind to be knocked out of him. “Now.”

Graypay smiled widely and leaned forward. “Alison, Do you remember what number 17 on your list is?”

     This time I took a deep breath. Was he about to say what I thought he was about to say? “Yes.”

     “Happy Birthday!” He raised his arms and stood up. “We leave when school’s out.”

     My reaction at this was…well, I’m not proud of it. I’ve been raised to respond to things calmly. But Graypay was handing me one of my dreams and it was, without a doubt, the best birthday present I have ever received – or ever will receive. But still, I pride myself on being unlike the other girls, all giggly and silly.

What did I do that I’m so ashamed of?

I jumped up and down, screaming and crying. I hugged Graypay and screamed some more.

Next month I can cross the first thing off my list.

Alison’s List of Things to Do and Places to Go…

1.    Tour Washington D.C.

2.    Put a penny on Abraham Lincoln’s knee.

3.    Make a wish in Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy.

4.    See Old Faithful.

5.    Hike through a mountain pass.

6.    Follow the trail of Lewis and Clark.

7.    Take my picture in front of a Redwood tree.

8.    Be a missionary for at least a year in a third world country.

9.    Ride a steamboat down the Mississippi.

10. Visit the pub that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien frequented.

11. Write in my journal at least once a week.

12. Read every book on the banned list.

13. Be an ‘extra’ in a movie.

14. Go to Christmas Mass at the Vatican.

15. Graduate from college.

16. Have an article published in a magazine.

17. Drive across country. Not on highways, but back roads. And never on a toll road!

18. Work on a cruise ship.

19. Read from the Bible everyday.

20. Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen each Thanksgiving.

21. Take the tour through Anne Frank’s Secret Annex.

22. See the Great Wall of China.

23. Listen to what my body is telling me; my health is my choice.

24. Drink a mug of beer in a German pub.

25. Buy a bottle of olive oil in Italy.

26. Visit every state in the United States.

27. Learn the provinces of Canada.

28. Speak another language well enough to have a conversation and not be thought a fool.

29. Learn sign language.

30. Write a book.

31. Never eat ‘fast food’ again.

32. Go camping at least once a year.

33. Sponsor a child in another country.

34. See every Shakespeare play performed on stage.

35. Read the book before seeing the movie – in all cases.

36. If and when I meet a celebrity, I will not act like an idiot.

37. Solve a real mystery.

38. Drive on Highway 1.

39. And Route 66.

40. If I do become a mother, I will do it right, making my children my first priority.

41. Drive Highway 2 from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the Pacific Ocean.

42. Buy books in hard cover.

43. Buy Christmas presents for children in foster care.

44. Rescue a dog from the Humane Society and give him or her life filled with love.

45. Always tip 20% at restaurant

Read Full Post »

For the next several weeks and months, I will be sharing a chapter a week (or so) from a novel I’ve been working on for some time. It’s not at all like Gateways, but is still intended for young adults and the young at heart.

Description: Alison is a dreamer and can’t wait to grow up and see the world. With her life list in hand, she reaches her seventeenth birthday knowing that she is enduring the final steps of adolescence. To celebrate her  last year at home, her grandfather gives her number 17 on her list – a cross-country trip – Alison’s first chance to get out of Chicago and see our Nation’s western frontier. But nothing goes as planned. Three days into the trip, Alison’s grandfather, Jack, is showing drastic personality changes: he is easily confused and wanders off during a lunch stop somewhere in North Dakota. Alison fears that dementia is holding her grandfather hostage. 

Jack knew it was coming. Alzheimer’s is not an enemy to be defeated, but he does try to salvage his memories by writing his life story. The notebooks become his most treasured possessions. When they are stolen, it seems that Graypay’s defeat is complete.

The trip is stalled when Jack and Alison are hit by a speeding truck and left for dead. Jack remains in serious condition, leaving Alison to discover the true purpose of this trip: to find a woman he knew years ago. Alison doesn’t have a clue where to start, but by using the little mementos Jack kept in an old cigar box, she discovers the life her Grandfather tried to forget.

I will post Chapter 1 & 2 tomorrow morning.

As always, read, write, imagine and share!

Jessica

Read Full Post »

The Almond Tree

I said to the Almond Tree, “Sister, speak to me about God.” And the Almond Tree blossomed.

This was shared with me at a recent retreat and I continually return to this thought. We all strive to blossom under our own power, doing what we want in order to achieve what we want. Despite current trends in falling away from God, we are here for a reason.

What makes me blossom? My children. Writing a really good sentence that creates the perfect image or emotion in the soul of a reader. Laughter. Silence.

Discuss…

 

Read Full Post »

Another short story to share, this one is for adults – not that there is anything grossly inappropriate, but the overall theme is intended for the adult mind.

The idea for this came from to me at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing 4 years ago while I sat in a room full of writers who were (and likely still are!) haunted by the presence of characters we had yet to write.

As always, enjoy and please share your thoughts.

Peace!

Jessica

UNWANTED CHARACTER

Patricia wouldn’t leave; didn’t take the hint that she wasn’t welcome anymore. My plan was simple. I’d let her crawl around inside my mind as I took notes, and wrote a story; one that pulls at the heartstrings and screams of hear-me-roar feminism among the Texas dust that craves Wild West justice. But this short meeting has grown into a week-long sabbatical and I am her constant host.

It all started with an idea. I wanted to look at the world through the eyes of a woman who had to fight for life; not in an effort to save herself, but the lives of her children. Not a hip-holster hero with a Colt, but a woman in a skirt ready to fire her fierce rage. That’s when Patricia came to me. She had been raised here in the country, dodging tumbleweeds and side-stepping rattlers, when she followed him to the city, a setting where an angry drunk was her persistent predator.

Patricia preferred the wide open frontier where her ancestors coaxed crops from the earth. On the back porch of her childhood home, she spent evenings watching the trees along the property line tickle the bellies of distant clouds.

Nothing is pruned in the wild, she said. In the city, everything is cropped and managed.

“The city is its own jungle and you survived,” I reasoned.

Perhaps, she sighed, but not all rattlers slide on their bellies.

She had one exciting moment and I learned all about it during our walk and through dinner. I had taken all the notes I needed and was ready to start writing. It was her relentless need for reminiscing that became the antagonist of my existence.

Around three in the morning, I woke to her voice calling me to the window.

Look at the stars! she said. In the city, you only see the strongest. Here, every little shining beauty is dancing. I haven’t seen the Milky Way since I was out catching fireflies with my cousins. It seems bigger now, the Milky Way, you know? Everything else seems smaller: the house where I grew up, my old school, my mother. But the Milky Way is bigger.

The next day, she followed me through my routine with awe. I made a meal, did the grocery shopping, and went to the dentist. When she saw something she thought I might like, she nudged me lightly.

See that man? He reminds me of my father. He liked to wear wide-rimmed hats. Quite old-fashioned, you know. He spent his youth as a ranch-hand and always liked those hats.

At the grocery store she pulled me over to the meat counter.

Steak. I had steak all the time growing up. Daddy kept cows. In the city, steak was a luxury, used more on black eyes than on plates.

It was easiest to ignore her at the dentist. With my mouth open and full of scraping instruments, I just let her thoughts drift around me like laughing gas.

At home I read some of my previously published work hoping she might understand that I had what I needed from her. But no. The old stories fueled her, kept her talking about the single dimension of my characters and asked what their life had been like before the climax.

“That’s too much back story,” I reasoned. “It’s just this moment that the reader cares about.”

She made no response. Maybe she was starting to understand.

I was wrong. The next morning, I heard her voice in the bathroom over the din of my shower.

I just saw something….

“Get out!” I didn’t let her finish. “I’m in the shower!”

I just thought you wanted to see the—

“No!” I toweled off quickly, rubbing my skin so hard it left me red. “No! I got what I needed from you. Leave me alone.”

She stood there. I see, she straightened her skirt and tucked her hair behind her ear. I see. I’m sorry. I thought you wanted to write my story.

“I did. It’s done.” I showed her a paper copy of what I had sent to the magazine.  “I only wrote about the incident with your husband.” I felt ashamed. There was something more to this story and I had failed to grasp it.

It’s my fault, she said. I could have lived a much more interesting life, but I had to raise his children and feed them all on his salary. There wasn’t time to do anything else.

“But that day,” I started.

It wasn’t heroics or anything like that. It was just farm life falling into the city; he was like a coyote after my chickens. When the chickens are in danger, you defend them. That’s all it was.

“You did a great thing.”

It is a mortal sin.

“You protected your family.”

But I did not trust Him. I took matters into my own hands. His Word says to not kill. I didn’t do that. I took a life.

“It was instinct.”

No! her voice echoed loudly in my mind. It was a lack of instinct. All my life I had prayed for help, for patience, prayed for the flour to make an extra loaf, for the meat to be on sale. But when it really mattered, when I needed Him the most, I didn’t pray at all. I acted without one thought of Him or His laws.

I didn’t know what to say. I had called on her to learn her story, to absorb as many details of that night when she saved her family from her husband’s rage. But I had missed the point. She wouldn’t be proud of her actions. Other people might call her a hero, a female warrior in a small southwest town, but that’s not what she would feel. How could I have been so foolish to believe that an act as grave as murder, even as a means of saving her family, would not leave her feeling powerful, but weak? My Patricia has something I did not. Remorse.

“What did you do after? Before the police came?” I wondered.

I knelt next to him, trying to ignore the kitchen knife in his chest. I prayed to God to forgive me. I asked him to forgive me. But he just stared. Fear leaves a trail of blood that no amount of tears will ever wash away. My story is finished.

“No.” I said. “I understand now. I can change your story so others will understand.”

No. I’ll leave, she said.

“Where will you go?”

Patricia pointed to the first page of my manuscript. Here. This is before I experienced the cruelty of wrath and its aftermath. She smiled, I’ll spend the rest of my days in my back-story.

And she left my changed mind.

Read Full Post »

Periodically, I like to share little stories I’ve written with others. Such is the life and desire of a writer! Please share this with the children in your life (or the young at heart) and let me know the response. I’d love to have some comments from children, because it is for their benefit I write.

WOODLAND MUSIC

On a dark evening in late summer, a boy walked through the woods by the light of the moon, gathering fallen branches. Sounds of woodland creatures sang out. He eagerly wanted to join them in their song, so he walked and walked, thinking all the while of just the right tune. Deep in the heart of the forest where the trees stood in a wide circle like guards around a treasure, he swept away the grass and carefully lit a small fire. The moon, her silvery face smiling down, nodded and awaited the joyous melody that would certainly come.

“Who is this stranger?” the tree frogs croaked as they watched from their leafy perches.

As the warmth of the fire spread, the gray wolf padded quietly to the edge of the light. “Such a brave boy,” thought the wolf, “to come here alone.”

Owl sailed through the air as silent as a whisper. Landing on a branch high above the fire, owl admired the popping sparks that rose high into the trees like red stars. “Who-who-whooo is this?” Owl pondered. “Who is bringing light into my black night?”

The boy reached into his shirt pocket and took out a stick.

Spider let out a length of fine web and lowered herself closer to the stranger. “Such an odd thing to carry,” she thought. “What purpose does a stick with holes have? Can you catch prey with it?”

The boy put the stick to his lips.

Raccoon raced forward. “Is it food? Can I eat it? How does it taste? Where can I find one?” Raccoon imagined the sweet taste the stick must have to make the boy smile.

But the boy didn’t give Raccoon the stick. Instead he blew into the stick and moved his fingers over the holes. Such an enchanting sound drifted from the stick that all the animals leaned in closer. Airy notes floated around the flames, dancing with the sparks, lifting gently toward the moon as they disappeared into the dark of night.

“Ah! This boy is like us,” said the tree frogs. “He calls to his loved ones.”

“No,” said gray wolf, “this boy is like me, calling to his family.”

“Silly you!” hooted Owl, “He is like me. Wise and calm. His sound is very pleasing.”

“Absurd!” laughed Spider. “This boy lures his prey closer with a great art, just like my beautiful web.”

“Can’t be,” Raccoon scratched her head. “I’m sure it’s food. Why would he put it to his lips if it wasn’t food?”

Cricket jumped onto a log close to the boy. “It’s none of those things,” he chirped. “It’s music.”

“What is music?” the animals asked.

“It’s a sound that tickles your ears,” Cricket chirped. “It’s a story without words. It’s joy or sadness that drifts through the air. Listen.” Cricket joined the boy in making music. Delightful harmony drifted through the night and up to the tree tops with the smoke from the campfire. Fireflies glowed around the edge of the circle, adding their silent beauty to a perfect evening.

Tree frogs joined in with their twittering croaks.

Gray wolf moaned a soft moaning, groaning howl.

Owl kept beat with his “Who-who-who-ing”.

Spider strummed her web, contributing a gentle plinky-plunky melody.

Raccoon stood on her back legs and swayed, not adding to the music, but dancing.

A woodland symphony drifted through the night air, filling ears with the delicate melody and rhythm of forest life.

The boy winked at the milky moon, who smiled down on the circle of woodland music.

Read Full Post »

  • Optimal work schedule. Write from 5:00 AM until kids wake up, at which time I am free to go to work, homeschool, clean, do laundry, change a few diapers, grocery shop, prepare meals and clean up – all at my leisure. Writing begins again after kids are in bed and can last until I wake up with my face planted on the keyboard with a pool of drool on the space bar.
  • Accessories. I love the purses I carry that need to be large enough for my notebook & pen, a few diapers & wipes, and sometimes a few dollars to buy coffee while I cart kids around town, scratching a few notes whenever I can.
  • Fantastic Benefits. When I’m caught gazing off at nothing (certainly never from a lack of sleep), my excuse is a new plot conflict that needs attention.
  • Potential for Everlasting Revenge. I can base the creation of antagonists on the people who are rude to me in grocery stores and the idiots on the road who don’t recognize a genius at work as I drive and plot a story at the same time.
  • Reading YA books is not just for fun, it’s research.
  • Good Pay. For every 1,000 words I write, I earn oodles in the satisfaction of a job well done when I edit it down to less than 300 really good words. (You didn’t think I meant money, did you? Silly you!)
  • Spending Opportunities. Where else can I spend hundreds of $$$ on writing books, writing supplies, writing conferences to hone my craft?
  • Second Jobs. I love taking little jobs on the side to pay for my writing addiction. It’s proven to be a great source for character sketches.
  • Solitude. ‘nuf said.
  • Set my own goals. I try to write 500 words a day as well as keeping up on my blogs, journals, and social network marketing. But I’ll be honest, sometimes I count the words on my grocery list toward my 500.

Read Full Post »

Kindle Release

Book IHere it is! Gateways is currently available for Kindle through Amazon.com

$3.99

Give it a try and let me know what you think! Your feedback is more important than you know!

Jessica

Read Full Post »

Dew you right? Just like me, yew red all the articles on plot and character, how two hook the reader, and half grate dialogue. If so, aim sure you no the import ants of reading watt you right allowed. Better yet, sum one else should reed it allowed to you! Yes, its hard too share yore righting with otters because they mite think you crazy. Butt who wood half believed that a store about a young wizard wood bee so poplar? So donut worry a bout the store you right, worry a boat the little de tales that can mack or breach a store. Like, coma errs that chop of the sent tense or miss sing quote marcs. Short sent tenses.

Specially four self publish authors. Smell miss takes real lee bake a differ. Sew donut four get to us spell chick and thank dog for smart commuters white auto spell correct.

And sew, if you reed me book and fine sum mis stakes, be kind :)

Jessica

Read Full Post »

Chapter One of GATEWAYS

1

Escape

“What are you doing after school?” her mother called from the kitchen.

Victoria walked in from the hallway. “I’m staying after to finish a painting. Miss Witherspoon said she would be staying late tonight so I could stay too.”

“Who are you walking home with?”

“Bobby and Tucker.”

Her mother walked over to Victoria and handed her a sack lunch. “They’re going to wait around after school for you?”

“Well, Tucker is. Bobby is helping the new French teacher write the exam.” Victoria said. “We should be done around the same time.”

Her mother laughed. “Guess he’ll be passing that class.”        “Why the sudden interest in my after school activities?” Victoria asked. “You know Bobby and Tucker always walk home with me.”

Diane smiled, but Victoria saw a glint of fear in her eyes. “I’m just, you know, trying to do everything right.”

“Is this about your illness last month?” Victoria asked, remembering the afternoon she had found her mother unconscious on the floor when she came home from school. Victoria called Mr. Martin, Bobby and Tucker’s father, and he rushed over. Diane had come to before he got there, but ever since, she seemed a little lost. Paranoid even. Her mother had a security system installed the next day and while doing the laundry, Victoria found a long curved knife under her mother’s pillow.

“I know I seem overly worried lately,” Diane said. “And maybe it is about my illness. I just want to be careful, that’s all. You be careful too.”

Diane hugged Victoria tightly.

“I will, mom. Don’t worry. What’s for lunch today?” Victoria asked.

“Take a peek.”

Victoria opened the bag and laughed; an apple and a five dollar bill. Pizza day.

“Please eat the apple first,” her mother said.

Victoria put the money in her pants pocket. “Five-thirty.”

“What’s that?” her mother asked.

“The answer to your next question. I’ll be home at five-thirty.”

“Am I that predictable?”

Victoria kissed her mother on the cheek. “It’s all good parenting. Rule one: ask questions; two: know where your kids are; and three: meet their friends.”

“On that line of questioning, how late did you stay up last night finishing your project?”

Victoria hesitated. “Maybe eleven-thirty?”

“Your light was still on at one o’clock this morning,” her mother said, pouring coffee for both of them.

“If you knew the answer to that question, why did you ask?”

“Oh, you know, rule four: checking for honesty.”

—–

Because since Miss Witherspoon offered Victoria free range of the studio after school, making it to the end of the day was like walking through knee-deep mud. Victoria managed to schedule two art classes into her school day, as well as being a teacher’s assistant for the freshman class, but she still had to trudge through all the core classes: English, History, Calculus, and Biology. When the bell rang, dismissing the last class of the day, Victoria went straight to the art room. Miss Witherspoon wasn’t there yet, but Victoria liked it that way. Time alone in front of an easel with a paintbrush in hand, was time spent doing what she loved without the worries of a mother who keeps cutlery under her pillow.

Victoria was free to paint anything she wanted without the restrictions of an assigned project. The brush wore paint and undressed on the canvas. Painting drowned out all the other distractions.

But today, the paintbrush became a key to the landscapes. Victoria painted grass in the foreground, which dropped off sharply to a river, a narrow, blue ribbon cutting through the land. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. It would be the perfect place for a picnic. She knew that if she could stand on that bank the river would be wide, the water clear, with rocks like stepping stones providing a way across.

And then she stood there, holding her brush, her shoes squishing the grass as she breathed in the spring green of the scene she had just painted. The river filled her ears with its melodic splashes. Victoria’s mind reeled. She rubbed her eyes, feeling the sting of exhaustion.

Escape, sudden escape, is disorienting.

When she opened her eyes, she was standing in front of her easel again, a smudge of paint where she had imagined she stood by the river. She must have imagined it. That’s all it could have been. Too much school, too little sleep.  She decided that it was time to go home.

After cleaning the brushes, Victoria left a note for Miss Witherspoon and another on Bobby’s locker that she went home early. She told no one about it of course, because really there was nothing to tell. We all see things, imagine things, she told herself, but that doesn’t mean that it’s important. It rarely means that it will change you forever. But names came to mind of people who had been changed by visions. Moses’ face shown after a glimpse of God. Saul was blinded by his vision of Christ.

Victoria? She changed physically.

Her mother noticed it immediately. “Victoria, wha-? Your eye.”

Victoria touched her cheek below her eye.

“It’s changing,” her mother said.

The mirror confirmed it. Her right eye was not brown anymore. It was hazel, much like the bluish-green of trees reflecting on water. Nothing else had changed: her blonde hair still lay thickly over her shoulders and down her back and the skin over her nose was still lightly freckled.

More upsetting than her eye turning a shade of blue was her mother’s reaction. She didn’t ask Victoria, “Are you alright?” or feel her forehead. She simply stared at Victoria with tears in her eyes.

“What does it mean?” Victoria asked.

“I don’t know.”

—–

They ordered take-out that night from a little Chinese place down the road and watched a movie.

“But it’s Monday,” Victoria said. “Didn’t you buy the biscuit dough for the Roast Wellington? Mr. Wood should be here soon.” On the occasional Monday night, Mr. Wood, the principal at Victoria’s high school, came over for dinner.

Her mother didn’t look at Victoria when she answered. “I’m just too tired. I’ll cancel our dinner. You’ll see him tomorrow at school, he’ll understand. Besides, a movie sounds fun.” But all through the movie, her mother didn’t look at the screen or at Victoria. She stared at the floor, her forehead wrinkled.

Walking to school the next day, Victoria should have recognized that other things were changing too: a tree shivered when she walked by, as if the squirrels racing through the branches had tickled the woody trunk. She chose to ignore it, chalking it up to her imagination or a breeze that only affected that tree.

There was a man, too, who stood near the bus stop and watched as she walked by. Victoria wouldn’t have paid him any attention but his clothing was odd, not obnoxious or out of style, just odd. Maybe it was the long shirt that looked home-spun, or the fact that he was wearing all brown. In a desert, he would have blended perfectly, but here in the early green spring, he looked washed out.

And then there was the fountain outside the high school. Every other day, it bubbled lightly and filled the courtyard leading up to the front steps with a cheerful atmosphere. The fountain was not fancy, just a two-tiered sculpture of scalloped clams with mildew growing on the underside. Victoria never understood why a clam-shaped fountain stood in front of a school surrounded by farms; a corn stalk fountain or maybe a collaboration of all the old cars driven in this town made into a fountain. But clams? Had anyone here actually seen a real clam?

As Victoria approached the school, passing the fountain, the water churned like a tiny ocean frothing in the midst of a hurricane. The entire student body on the front lawn of the school was engulfed in silence as more and more eyes turned to watch the rolling water. Pennies and nickels clinked as they rode on the tiny waves.

Tucker touched Victoria’s arm, “What’s happening?” he asked.

She looked away from the fountain to Tucker. The water stopped its angry boil.

Mr. Wood walked up to Victoria. “Are you ok?” he asked.

“Fine. Just wondering what’s happening,” she pointed to the fountain.

Mr. Wood held her gaze for a long, uncomfortable moment. “Perhaps a shift in things to come.”

Victoria looked at Tucker and Bobby. They were all obviously confused by his cryptic comment.

“How are you, Tucker? Did you pass that physics test?” Mr. Wood asked.

“I’m Bobby.”

“Right,” Mr. Wood said. “I still can’t tell you two apart. How is our new French teacher doing? I understand you’ve been helping.”

“He’s good,” Bobby said.

“How’s your mom?” Mr. Wood asked Victoria. “She feeling better?”

“Yeah,” Victoria said. “I just think she’s been tired since her…whatever happened to her last month.”

“We’ll keep an eye on her,” he winked. “See you all inside.”

As they entered the school, the matter was forgotten amid hallway chatter, homework and slamming lockers.

At lunch, Bobby pointed Victoria’s eye out to Tucker. “Are you wearing a contact in one eye? It looks blue.”

“Who would wear one colored contact?” Victoria tried to make light of her eye. “It’s just…changing.”

“How?” Tucker asked.

“No idea,” she shrugged.

“I like it,” Tucker said. “How many people have different colored eyes?”

And so Victoria didn’t mind it either. Except that she saw things differently. She looked at a tree and knew it wasn’t just a tree but a link between earth and sky, a giant wooden stitch piecing together soil and clouds. That idea stayed with her throughout the day and found its way onto the canvas after school. In her mind, she saw the scene: a vast meadow of knee-high grass with one giant willow tree just off center toward the left. That single tree would be where the birds would land to foil the plans of snakes and foxes lurking in the swaying grass. Leaves danced on the wind, calling the birds of the sky downward to share their stories of sights beyond the clouds.

Near the tree she painted a boulder. To anyone else, it may have been just a rock, but Victoria imagined that it had been rolled there with great effort and a mournful purpose. Etched into the side was a name. No expert had carved the name; they were not artistically gothic-shaped letters. A wife, grieving her loss, had scraped angrily away at the stone, scarring it with her husband’s name, crying because there would be no one left to carve her name.

That’s when it happened again.  This time, rubbing her eyes didn’t bring her back.

Victoria had not stopped painting when she found herself standing by the rock; she almost painted the granite surface. She was just suddenly there, standing above his grave holding a paintbrush and noticing his name, Alexander. No last name. No date of birth and no death date; just a token for a life, the rock no longer just a rock, but a tombstone.

Victoria wasn’t hallucinating, she was lost.

Which was worse, she wondered?

How do you climb out of a painting? Where was the edge? There was no exit sign and no open-only-in-case-of-emergency door.

There was no doubt. She knew she was in the painting and she was stuck.

Was all this real? Reaching for the boulder, the cool surface was hard stone, not paint. The tree’s rough bark was warm; the strand of grass she plucked from the earth was not paint, but a smooth collaboration of photosynthesis and fibers. This was real. And if the rock was here and real, and the tree and grass were real, then it stood to reason that beneath her feet was someone’s husband.

She took a few steps away from the rock. Standing over a burial site seemed – well, she had seen a horror movie a few years ago when a corpse had pushed through the earth and grabbed some unsuspecting teenage girl dragging her to his underground lair. It was ridiculous. Impossible. Dead is dead and zombies are not real. But, she told herself, paintings were just illustrations, and yet here she was, standing on her grass.

Victoria knew that the girl in the zombie movie was going to die because she had no name and the music gave it away.

Am I a disposable character?

If this was her painting, she was the main character and you just didn’t kill off the main character. She needed her name. The girl in the zombie movie had no name; the dead man had only a first name, so she would announce her name to her story.

“Victoria Nike!” she shouted. “I am Victoria Nike.” Followed by, “Help!” Can people hear those trapped inside a painting? Was she trapped in a real place? “Help!” the second cry was more desperate. Bile rose in her throat.

Ok, don’t panic, she told herself, just think of ways to get out.

She tried everything she could think of to escape. She jumped on the grass, thinking that perhaps she needed to break through the earth, but that just sounded strange. Not any more strange than falling into a painting, but strange in the way that it didn’t work, so she needed a different plan. Maybe climbing the tree and jumping off would land her back in the classroom – bad idea, she decided. If grass was grass and tree was tree then leaping from a branch was a stupid idea.

Looking around, Victoria decided that her best option was to climb the hill and see what there was to see. Remembering the song from her childhood, Victoria lumbered up the hill, thinking of the bear. And yes, when she reached the top, all she could see was another hill, and another and another. That was frightening, but the two other details at the bottom of each hill: a willow tree and a boulder, caused her stomach to drop.

Victoria spun in a circle; the same landscape repeated no matter which direction she faced. From which tree had she come?

Stupid! she scolded herself. Not only am I lost in a painting, but I’m lost in a sea of hills.

Suddenly, a sharp awareness swam over her. Unlike a breeze or a chill from cold water, something told her she was no longer alone. A woman stood at the bottom of the hill, looking at the tree, then turned and looked directly at Victoria. Her blood ran cold. She knew this woman, recognized her long white hair and the flowing skirts she wore to school every day. “Miss Witherspoon.”

“Victoria?” Miss Witherspoon called. Victoria’s knees melted and she fell to the ground, her mind dizzy with recognition. The woman ran toward her, but Victoria crawled back on her hands, trying to get away but unable to make her body move faster. She kneeled next to Victoria, her face full of worry. “Are you hurt?”

Victoria shook her head. “What’s happening?” she asked, her voice trembling.

“I’ll explain everything,” Miss Witherspoon said and helped Victoria walk back to the tree and boulder – the one near which they had both entered.

“How do we get out?” Victoria asked.

“I’ll do it this time,” Miss Witherspoon said. “But next time…”

“Next time? Forget it! I’m not doing this again.”

Miss Witherspoon ignored her and reached forward, her arm disappearing into an unseen hole just above the boulder. She reached back for Victoria’s hand. Hesitating for only a second, Victoria took it, hoping the explanation was not as scary as realizing your teacher could enter paintings too.

The classroom looked the same, except that everything Victoria held as truth had been shattered. She turned to Miss Witherspoon, “Tell me what just happened!”

“Let’s sit down.”

Victoria didn’t move.

“Please,” Miss Witherspoon motioned to a stool. “I’ve never had to explain this to someone before. It will help my nerves if we can both sit.”

When Victoria finally sat, Miss Witherspoon took a deep breath and started. “Victoria, I’m a Painter.” She leaned toward her. “It’s my career. My gift. I was sent to find you, to see if you were the one.”

“The one?”

“You live here, in this world with so many distractions. And I would venture a guess that you started drawing before you could speak. These paintings,” Miss Witherspoon motioned toward all the paintings in the art room, “are mine. I’m going to venture another guess: Your bedroom walls are covered with your drawings. You can spend hours creating a landscape that you see perfectly in your mind, places you have never visited. As you move the brush over the canvas, you can smell the flowers you paint, you squint your eyes to a sun that shines down on the grass, grass you have drawn and a sun that is only on the canvas because you placed it there.”

For the first time, Victoria heard what she experienced every time she painted or drew. She thought it was just her mind completely engrossed in the task of painting, tricking her other senses into smelling and feeling the landscape.

“Well, sure. I mean…that’s the beauty of painting. It’s an escape. A chance to get away from this little town without really leaving.”

“Exactly!” Miss Witherspoon agreed. “You have the eyes. Victoria, you are a Painter. Not just an artist, but a Painter with a capital P.”

“And that means…?”

“It means this.” Miss Witherspoon waved her hand over a painting. The air between Miss Witherspoon’s hand and the canvas shimmered like heat waves. The scene was nothing more than a plowed field waiting for rain with a dark forest fencing the back acreage, but when the painting moved slightly in the wind that was coming from the left, carrying birds on its unseen waves, it was like looking through a window.

“How did you do that?” Victoria asked.

“I’m a Painter.”

Victoria couldn’t take her eyes off a squirrel, zigzagging across the ground, searching for a buried nut. “But this is…It’s so…”

“It’s a gateway,” Miss Witherspoon said.

Victoria leaned down to peer at a deer walking behind the trees.

“Do you know what a gateway is?” Miss Witherspoon asked.

“You want a definition?” Victoria watched the squirrel chattering loudly at another squirrel that was treading too close.

“A gateway is a passageway from one place to another. This painting is a gateway. Look at it.”

The squirrel was digging furiously. Victoria stopped and laughed. “This painting is a passageway to somewhere else?”

“Yes.” Miss Witherspoon smiled.

“And my painting?”

“Just a window. You saw how the landscape repeated?”

Victoria nodded.

“It was just a window to a place that doesn’t exist. Gateways are doorways to real places.”

“What are they for?” Victoria asked.

“Think of them as roads.”

Victoria frowned. “Roads? To where?”

Miss Witherspoon glanced around the room. “A gateway can take you to places you’ve only imagined.”

Looking around the room, Victoria saw paintings on easels, and more leaning against the wall. They were thresholds to other places.  Like Victoria’s paintings and sketches, Miss Witherspoon’s art had no people; just deserts, oceans, rain forests, rocky hillsides, rivers and ice-encrusted land and all were as familiar as distant cousins at a family reunion.

The places Miss Witherspoon painted were the same locations Victoria visited in her dreams and recreated for her own walls.

It was a shock, but she wasn’t afraid. It seemed perfectly logical to realize that the paintings were more than just paint on canvas. How could they not be? So many times Victoria had lost herself to her paintings only to be pulled back to reality when the scene was finished. Could this be the answer to her unrelenting need to paint? A thousand questions whirled through her mind but her mouth couldn’t utter a single word.

“You recognize the landscapes,” Miss Witherspoon was smiling. “Victoria, the places you paint are real. With the right training, your paintings can become gateways. You want a true escape? This is the way.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers

%d bloggers like this: