|Posted on May 19, 2012 at 3:00 PM||comments (0)|
Okay, here's my Machine of Death story that didn't quite make the cut. Hope you like it.
They met at a graduation party. It was one of those parties everyone is invited to, and actually, nearly everyone shows up. The reek of beer and cigarettes hung in the air. Smoke swirled around people as they danced, or moved through the room. Music boomed from a central stereo, the beat making the walls vibrate.
Katherine, Crystal, and Kelly hung around in one corner of the living room, huddled around the machine giggling. Alley (don’t you dare ask her if it’s short for Alexis or Aaliyah) sat near them at the bottom of the stairs. Alley wore a midnight blue velvet corset over a white camisole with black jeans and platform knee-high boots. She turned her blue shadowed eyes and black lips to the giggling girls, planning to hit them with some scathing remark when her eyes found Katherine.
Katherine wore a gingham-checked top, like a tablecloth, but she had it tied under breasts, leaving the white camisole to hang free over her flat belly. Her black jeans hung loosely, low on her hips and covered her red Chuck Taylors. She covered her mouth as shelaughed.
“Can you believe it?” Crystal asked in between giggles.
“All of our slips start with ‘C’,” Kelly laughed.
“I know,” Katherine said, her voice like a song. “But really, would we have expected anything else?”
“I know!” the other two chimed in together.
Katherine glanced toward Alley and smiled at her. “What about you?”
Alley stood and finished her beer. “No.”
The girls watched her and laughed. Alley felt their eyes on her back as she walked away. It was the hardest thing she’d done all day.
Katherine stepped out the back door alone. The smell of chlorine and night air shifted around her as she walked and she shoved her hands in her pockets. The Goth-girl had really stuck in her mind. Why hadn’t she gotten her slip? She saw her over by the pool at a low table, another cup in her hand, looking like she wanted to bite someone. Something in Katherine stirred and she had the sudden desire to be bitten.
Walking nonchalantly through the yard, she made her way toward the graduate. She passed the outside bar and picked up a cup. “Hey,” she said as she approached the table. “Congratulations on surviving four years of hell.”
The girl actually smiled and bowed her head. “Thanks, you too.”
“I know.” Then she took a long drink, got up and walked away.
What is she trying to pull? Katherine smiled at her back and followed. If she was being coy, it was working. “Hey,” she said when they were side by side, “you’re supposed to respond with your name.”
The girl swung her ponytails to the side and stopped. “You had four years to learn my name. Why do you want it now?”
Katherine shrugged. Was it because she hadn’t wanted a slip? Was it because this was the first time Katherine really saw her? “Well, I’ve seen you around, but we never really had a chance.” She took a risk and touched the girl’s hand. The girl blushed beneath the white powder on her face.
“We have the chance now, though?” She phrased it as aquestion, then without warning, she leaned in and kissed Katherine full on the mouth. She tasted like beer and strawberries and smelled faintly of cinnamon. Katherine closed her eyes and let the experience wash over her.
The moment ended and Katherine turned abruptly. “Kevin.”
“What are you doing?”
She glanced at the woman she’d just kissed and shrugged. “I was congratulating a fellow graduate. This is…” she trailed off and turned to the girl again.
The Goth stood there glaring at Kevin. “When you’re done with mister Wonderful, then you come to me.” And she walked away. Katherine felt a pull as she watched her back disappear into the crowd.
Alley wandered into the crowd, something stirring within her. She heard them talking before she got out of earshot.
“What you get?” Katy asked.
“Another ‘c’.” This time Katherine sounded less than enthused.
Alley smiled and left the party.
A week later, Alley sat in a small corner coffee shop, taking a break. She had worked there all through high school, and now she wondered if she should keep the job, or go to college. Her boss came bustling through the door excitedly. The other patrons in the shop watched, but kept their curiosity to themselves for now.
“Al,” she called. Alley hated it when anyone shortened her name, but she put up with from her boss. “Come help me with this.”
She huffed as she tried to manhandle a medium sized box. Alley rushed to meet her and took an end. “What is it? A new cappuccino machine?”
Her boss shook her head and they set the box on a far table. “Better,” she said with a laugh. “These things are all the rage right now.”
Alley felt her stomach twist as they opened the box. They lifted the toaster sized box out. It was heavier than it looked and they set it on the table. The black box hunkered there with threebuttons, a slit, and a small hole. Each light had a small LED on top of it.
“Oh, a Death Machine!” One of the patrons stood and came over to them.
“Have you tried one yet?” her boss asked Alley.
“Not at all.”
“Yes, twice,” the patron responded, watching them excitedly. “When will it be up and running?”
Alley sighed and shook her head. Tossing her hands, she left her boss to chat up the machine and went back to her coffee.
Alley looked up toward the door. Katherine had been walking by and now entered the shop. “I’ve been looking for you.” She came to Alley’s table and slid into a chair. “Do you know how hard it is to find someone without a name?”
“How’s Kevin?” She wanted to know where this visit was going before she let herself get into it. The feelings she felt at the party had only slept. Seeing Katherine again brought them all back.
Katherine shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Yeah, I got tired ofall the alliteration.”
They laughed together and the sounds mingled in a musical way, pulling Alley toward her. “He wasn’t good for you, anyway.”
“Yeah, well, after the party, we all sort of went our own ways.” She stood and went to the counter, looking for a server.
Alley hopped up and went to her post. “Can I help you?”
Katherine laughed. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, can I help you?”
“Oh,” Katherine looked up at the menu. “I’ll have a cucumber sandwich and small mocha double shot with a shot of vanilla.”
Alley nodded and rang it in. “Eight bucks.”
She took the money, then pulled on the gloves. The sandwiches were in the cooler, already made, and she handed one to Katherine. Then she made her coffee. “You going to college?” she asked while she pressed the cappuccino.
“I start at State this fall. I’m studying art.”
Alley stirred the confection and handed it to her. “I’m still debating.” They went and sat downat Alley’s table. “I’m thinking about either going and studying biology, or taking a backpack trip across thecountry.”
She nodded. But Alley hadn’t wanted to backpack alone. Katherine made college sound likethe better option. “State, huh?”
“Yeah. I want to sculpt, but I suppose I’ll have to teach to make a career out of art.”
Alley knew Katherine had done art in high school, but she hadn’t realized how into art she’d been.
“Biology, huh? I would never peg you as a scientist.”
Alley smiled. “Thank you. But really, it’s just a precursor to Mortuary Science. All that dissection is right up my…” she stopped and smiled. “I’m Alley, by the way.” And she spelled it for her then gave her a phone number.
“So, you got a machine here?”
Alley turned to look at it and shuddered. “Yeah, today.”
“Have you done it yet?”
“Why not? You’d think that would be your thing, death and all that.”
Alley laughed and finished her coffee. “That machine did to death what Hot Topic did to Goth. I like the philosophy of death, not the certainty of it. I know I’m gonna die, I just don’t want to know how. Where’s the fun in speculating your death when you have it printed on a little card.”
Katherine was silent for a moment and sipped her coffee. “I get crunched, but I don’t know how or by what. I can speculate on that,” she finally said.
Alley sat in the library, studying for her final. Kat walked by and gently ran her fingers over Alley’s braids. Then she turned and sat beside her. “Hey, guess what?” she whispered.
“What?” Alley looked up from her book to see what Kat wanted. She had her hair pulled back into ponytails and smelled of patchouli. She wore the White Zombie t-shirt Alley had given her for her birthday. All she wanted to do then was snuggle up to her and kiss her, but she waited for her to speak.
“You remember the death machines from a few years ago?”
Alley nodded, waiting.
“They’re making acomeback.” She pulled a paper out of her messenger bag and smoothed it out on the table over Alley’s book. “Look. They’re modifying them to be anthropomorphic because people couldn’t relate to the boxes. They speculate that it was the box that eventually turned people off. Can you imagine? An android-like machine telling you how you’re going to die?”
“No.” Alley had never given in to Kat’s cajoling and had never gotten a reading. She really did like the mystery about death and the stories that death told. She didn’t want that taken away by a slip of paper that said something stupid and mundane like CANCER or LIVER FAILURE or OLD AGE. “If it can’t tell me VAMPIRE or WEREWOLF, I don’t want to know.”
She had done her face in pale white with purple eye shadow and deep red lips. She could see Kat looking at her mouth, but they were in the library and Kat never was that adventurous. “It only tells you the real way you’ll die, not your fantasy.”
“Then I want to die in your arms, and if it won’t tell me that, then I don’t want to know.”
Kat laughed quietly. “Silly. I get crunched. How would you die in my arms?”
“Maybe I crunch you.” Alley pushed the paper away and turned a page in her book. “But that comes later. Right now, I have tostudy.” She leaned over and kissed Kat on the cheek.
“All right.” Kat blushed and gathered her paper, stuffing it back in her bag, then hurried out.
Kat’s finals were stressful but much more subjective than Alley’s. She had to put on an art show with her bestwork from the year. She was to be graded on presentation as well as promotion. The business of art was just as important as the creation of it if they were to be professional. Kat had taken advantage of the art fair downtown to put her final together.
She gathered her last pieces and placed them in a cart. Mostof her work was already in her booth and she pushed the cart off campus andtoward the bus to get her final offering to the fair. The car stopped before she got to the corner and Alley rolled down the window. “Hey, gorgeous, need a ride?”
With a laugh, she stopped and put a hand on her hip. “My momma told me to never talk to strangers.”
“Well, I guess there’s no one stranger than me. Come on.” She popped the trunk.
Kat pushed the cart to the back of the car and carefully transferred her sculptures to the trunk. “How did your final go?” she asked when she got in the car.
Alley shrugged. “I think I did all right. At least we got to do it on an actual cadaver this time.”
Kat knew Alley had done her mid-terms in a test book, labeling pictures. She also knew that Alley had hated it. “Well, I’m sure you aced it. You studied hard.”
They drove downtown to the fair and Alley stopped by Kat’s booth. “How about you, are you ready for this?”
Kat nodded, nervous. “I think so. I’ve distributed flyers and handed one in. Here I have every project that ever earned an A and all of it is for sale. I have a ledger and a cash box, ready for any sales that happen during this exercise.”
“I’d give you an A,” Alley said, smiling at her.
“Well, you’re not my teacher, but thank you.” She leaned over and kissed her before getting out.
They both removed her art from the trunk, setting it on the tables Kat had set up in her booth. “Oh look!” Kat exclaimed. “The booth over there has one of the new machines!”
“Yay,” Alley said, no enthusiasm at all in her voice.
“Remember the old Fortuneteller machines? It looks likethat.” She set the piece she still held down and jogged out of the tent.
The booth wasn’t that far down and Kat stopped in front of it. “Hey,” she said to the boy standing near it. “Is that thing up and running?”
The boy didn’t smile, didn’t say a word. He just nodded.
“Can I try it?”
“Sweet. How does it work? I haven’t tried this type yet.”
Now the boy spoke, moving to stand beside her. “You sit on the stool there and hold the machine’s hand. Put your card in there to pay for it. A small needle pricks your palm for the sample. Then, when the machine has your results, it gives you a slip of paper and then comforts you.”
Kat sat down on the stool. “What if I don’t need comfort?”
“You can cancel any speech from the machine with this button.” He pointed to a small red button on the side of the panel.
“All right.” She took her wallet from her pocket and slid her card into the machine. Then, holding the machine’s hand, she waited for the pinprick of pain. It came fast, but she still jumped, then laughed. As the machine relaxed its grip, she withdrew her hand, cradling it in her other arm. A small slip of paper slid from a paper feed on the front of the panel.
Tentatively, she took it. It should say CRUNCHED if the machine was consistent, but what if it said otherwise? Turning the paper over in her hands, Kat sighed in relief. “It says the same thing as before.”
“I’m sorry, dear,” the machine began. “You are important enough to go on living no matter what the paper says.” Kat pushed the red button, silencing the machine.
“Thanks,” she said, standing. “At least it’sconsistent.” She smiled and waved, turning back to her booth and jogging back to Alley.
Alley did not look happy. She tapped her foot on the hot ground and glared at Kat. “Was that really necessary?”
“It says the same thing it did last time I tried it, the same thing it did eight years ago.” She slapped the slip of paper down as though that would make it all better.
“Of course it does,” Alley replied. “How else can they call it the Death Machine? It has to be consistent and accurate.”
“Ah, but is it accurate?” Kat slipped the paper into her pocket and returned to arranging her art.
The first death predicted by the new machine happened on the advent of a new technology. Most of the news devoted its stories to the droids that were set to hit the market in the next few months. They were sleek, human-like machines that, when programmed properly, could mimic human movement, speech, and even some mannerisms. Kat sat heavily at the kitchen table, the paper spread before her, and sighed.
Alley gazed up from the counter where she deftly dissected a peach. “Is everything all right?”
Kat took a moment to answer, but she waved her hand over the paper. “Of all the hype,” she started, then paused. “Of all the hype,” she said again, calmer, “you’d think the machine people would want to taut this a bit more. I mean, look at this.”
The peach devoid of its pit, Alley took it to the table. “What?”
“Right there, that little story in the corner.”
“FIRST DEATH PREDICTED BY NEW MACHINES IS A DOG,” read the headline. “’We didn’t want a dog that would die of liver failure or heart disease,’ said Tommy, 8, of his now deceased puppy Mort. The parents knew all too well the pain caused by getting attached to a pet only to watch it suffer in disease. So when the new Gypsy Death Machine printedout a slip that read CRASH, the family was quick to adopt the spunky pup.” Alley skimmed down to the end of the short article. “Mort was killed over the weekend when the gate was left open and he ran into the street. Indeed, he was hit by a motorcycle, fulfilling the prognosis still printed on the little tag the family had framed for his memorial.” Alley took a bite of the peach. “So?”
Kat waved her hands over the article. “This is big news! The new machines are every bit asaccurate as the old toasters were. The Gypsy Death Machine is in every mall, almost every restaurant and every single hospital. This story should revitalize them. It should draw people to them like never before. Now we know we can trust them.”
Alley made a noise as she choked on the peach. “Trust them? Kat, they’re machines.” She forced herself to swallow the bite she’d nearly spit out.
“Please go,” Kat pleaded. It wasn’t a command to leave, but a request to go to the machine. “I have to know. For me, please, do it for me. You’re killing me with this lack of information.”
She just shook her head and pushed the peach away. “First, I’m not killing you. You get crunched, remember? And my reasons for not going are still the same. Look at me, do I look like I want to know how I die?”
The silence stretched between them. Alley knew she looked every bit the part, but it was fun to see her lover squirm. Today she had her black hair tied up on top of her head and spiked out. She woreblack dangle crosses from her ears and a thick ring in her nose. The deep read of her lips and the dark blue of her eye shadow stood out on her pale face. She wore a simple black t-shirt, but the baby-doll cut hugged her breasts and her waist. The deep blue jeans kissed her skin as they held her legs. In a word, she looked deadly as opposed to ready for work. “Look, I have to get the mortuary. Don’t let it bother you so much. When it’s my time, I’ll welcome it, but not amoment before.” She leaned over and took Kat’s face in her hands. “I love you.” And she kissed her so deeply, Kat’s eyes were still closed when she pulled away.
That night at the mortuary, Alley couldn’t get the dead dog out of her mind. Even as she leaned over the stiff of the evening, she kept wondering how sick it seemed to get a dog based on his death prediction. How would Kat have felt if she had decided not go to college with, not to move in with, and certainly not to support Kat simply because her slip said CRUNCHED? Better yet, what if she had forbidden Kat to go into sculpting? Maybe one of her precious statues will fall on her. Maybe that’s what her slip means. Should Alley go home that instant and demand that Kat give up the one profession that drawson her passion?
She stood up and looked down at the corpse. Other than the Y incision, it hadn’t changed. “Stop it,Alley,” she said aloud. The scalpel down on the table, she pulled off her gloves and rubbed her eyes. “Hey, Green,” she yelled to the office. “I need a break. Can you open this guy up for me? I’ll be back in a few.”
A short balding man scurried out of the office. His eyes never left Alley’s body as he hurried to the table. “Something wrong?” he said in a voice far too sexy to come from his body.
“It’s Kat,” was all she offered. It was bad enough her colleague had the hots for her, she didn’t need to have images of what he might be imagining when he thought of her and her girlfriend. “I’ll be back in a few.”
Outside, she lit up a cigarette and pulled out her phone. “Kat?” she said when the connection opened.
“Alley?” She sounded worried, damn it. Alley wanted to comfort her, not bother her. But it seemed the only way she could comfort her was by getting a stupid slip of paper that read CANCER or BURIED ALIVE. Actually, BURIED ALIVE sounded like it might be interesting.
She shook her head to clear it. “Hey, Kat, yeah, it’s me. How are you?”
“I’m fine. I’m sculpting the dog and it’s making me feel better.”
She was sculpting thedog. “That sounds about right.” Alley couldn’t believe she was sculpting the dog. “Hey, instead of that, why don’t we go out? I don’t work tomorrow and I know this guy who got one of those droids. He said he wanted to see if it could dance like a human, so he has it in his club.”
“Is that Rodney?”
“Yeah,” she laughed and pulled on her cigarette. “Remember when he dropped out to become a bartender and we thought that was the coolest thing?”
Kat sighed a laugh and Alley could picture her shaking her head. “That guy was a riot.”
“Yeah. He saw me at the hospital a week or so ago and we struck up a conversation.” She dropped the cigarette and stomped it out. “I hadn’t mentioned it before because you seemed like you needed the solitude for your current project.”
“Oh, the Crusher, yeah.” She paused. “I finished that yesterday. Now I’m working on the dog.”
“Um, yeah,” Alley wasn’t sure if Kat had heard her. “But how about a night out tomorrow?”
“Sure,” she did sound better.
“All right. Wear something killer and I’ll see you later.” She kissed the phone. “Love you.”
“Love ya,” she said, almost chipper. Alley frowned as she closed the connection and tucked her phone away.
“Hey Green,” she said jogging back to her station. “Thanks.”
“No problem. Hope everything’s all right.” He waited, hopeful of more detail, but Alley just smiled and settled beside the body.
Kat stood in front of the mirror. She had never done the Goth look well, but she knew what Alley liked. Heels would do her no good for a night of dancing, so she wore leather boots that buckled up her calves over skin tight, black jeans. The white camisole hugged her and she took the gingham-checked top she wore so long ago and tied it beneath her breasts. She tied her black hair back in two ponytailsand tousled her bangs. She was putting on her make-up when the door opened down stairs.
“Up here,” she answered and turned back to the mirror. The knockout that stared back at her smiled in anticipation of the night. “Alley, ready or not, here I come.” She smiled and jogged out of the bathroom and down the stairs.
The look on Alley’s face must have been as astonished as her own when Alley surprised her with an outstanding look, and Kat smiled, satisfied at the reaction. “Hey, you look great,” Alley said. “Let me get ready and we’ll head out.”
After waiting a half hour, and not eating anything, Kat wandered into the kitchen. She figured they’d eat out on the way to the club, but her stomach rumbled in protest to waiting longer. The crackers sat on the counter and Kat took a few out. As she bit the first one, Alley came down the stairs.
She looked amazing in her mini skit and striped thigh-highs. Her boots laced up the back and crept up over her knees. She wore her midnight blue, velvet corset over a white camisole and had pulled her hair up on top of her head, much like she had done the night before. Her blue shadowed eyes crimped up as her ruby red lips smiled. “Shall we head out?” She sauntered up to Kat and held out her elbow. “Come with me, darling, and I will show you the world.”
Kat giggled and took her arm. “So does he really have one?” she whispered in excitement. She knew Alley would know what she meant.
“Last I heard, and he knows we’re coming tonight.” She led her to her motorcycle and both of them climbed on.
The ride through town exhilarated Kat and she closed her eyes in the wind. The scents of rain and patchouli mixed to fill her head with images of dancing and drinking and people. She smiled in anticipation. At a stop light, she adjusted the helmet Alley made her wear and scratched her chin.
“If you get crunched, it won’t be because I let you ride without proper equipment.” Kat could still hear her lover’s voice in her head every time she put the wretched thing on.
They parked a block from the club and Kat tucked the helmet into the side pack. “Look at the line,” she whispered as they walked toward the door.
“Don’t worry about theline.” Alley took her hand and pulled her along.
“Girls!” the voice greeted and a handsome man peeked around the line, smiling at them.
“Rod!” Alley picked up her pace and Kat jogged to keep up.
“Alley Kat!” He held out his arms as if to embrace them. “Meow!”
“Hiss,” Kat clawed her fingers and made to scratch, but they all laughed.
“Hey, come inside, dance, drink and be merry. I have something to show you,” he winked at Alley even as he put his hand on the small of Kat’s back and pushed her gently inside. The disgruntled moans and protests quieted as the door closed behind them.
“Hey, Rod,” Alley shouted over the music, “I need to use the little girl’s room.” She squeezed Kat’s hand before letting go. “Be right back, love.”
Kat smiled as she wandered away through the crowd. “Come with me!” Rod called over the music and took Kat’s hand. He led her through the club to a booth at the back. DJ’s lined up music as the current selection boomed through the club. “Good job, boys, keep the people hopping!” They walked through the booth to a staircase at the back.
“Will Alley know to find us up here?”
“Doesn’t matter, I just want to show you something, then we’ll meet her at the bar.”
They ascended the stairs, the bass beat shaking her body and mixing with the heady feelings caused by the lingering scent of patchouli and Kat shook her head to clear it. A single door greeted them at the top of the stairs and he pushed it open. “Come in,come see.” He pulled her in through the door and led her to a window overlooking the club. “Look.”
Kat let go of his hand and stood at the window. The mass of people writhed and bounced on the dance floor below. Lights played over the walls and equipment as well as heads and upturned faces. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be looking at. “What is it?”
“You can’t see it, can you?” But instead of disappointed, he sounded amused. “My droid is already working the floor. He completely blends in. And get this, I thought you’d appreciate this, I had him built to work like a Death Machine. No longer a toaster, and now no more Gypsies, we will have the Death Machine that you can truly relate to. Not only will these droids revolutionize our world as a whole, they will revitalize the Death Machines too.”
Kat felt her heart beat faster. A new machine? She wanted to see it, to try it. “Where?”
Rodney looked over her shoulder. “He’s down there on the floor. The black shirt with the hot pink tie. He takes your hand, like the Gypsies, but the slip comes out his belly button. That was my idea. You know, feel it in your gut news.”
It was a bad joke, but that didn’t detract from Kat’s excitement. “Oh,” she thought of Alley and almost felt disappointed. “Alley won’t like it.”
“Not at all.” She scanned the crowd for her lover. “She does not want to know.”
“Oh.” Now he sounded disappointed. “Well, she doesn’t have to do the prediction.”
Alley poked at her eye in the mirror and reapplied her lipstick. The music of the club beat through the walls and spoke to the rhythm in her body. She moved with it as she made her way out of the restroom. People hung in corners talking close, trying to be heard over the music, but not heard by anyone else. Others danced around in winding paths as they moved from one place to another. Alley flowed with them, working her way to the bar.
Kat was nowhere to be seen, but neither was Rodney. They were probably talking somewhere and would find her when they were ready. She wasn’t in the mood for a drink yet, so she wound her way through the crowd to the dance floor. The music pulled at her and she closed her eyes, dancing, swaying, bouncing. She felt bodies move around her, with her, touching and shoving. It felt good to be surrounded. She hadn’t been dancing in so long.
Then the music changed and she slowed her dance, but her eyes remained closed. A body moved in behind her and pressed close, matching her movement, swaying with her rhythm. Hands moved along her arms, and led her in a dance that she had never tried before. The hands gripped her, strong, but gentle, and then they found her hands. They held hands for a moment and she opened her eyes.
A tall man wearing black with a bright pink tie stood before her. He smiled down at her and then she felt a prick in the center of her palm.
“OW!” she yelled and reached up to slap him, but as she drew her hand back, she saw the needle in his palm. It wasn’t a needle he held. It came up out of his skin and retracted as he drew his hand away. “You fucker!” she yelled again. “You’re a Gypsy! Get the hell away from me!”
“Do you not want yourslip?”
“What? You took my prediction? You fate raped me!!” The anger flooded out all feelings of fun and frivolity. She felt it rise from the soles of her feet, heating its way through her legs and torso. It hit her heart and the resounding beat drowned out all opposing rhythms. Her hands clenched and unclenched, waiting for her brain to make a decision. By the time the heat reached her head, she could have exploded. Her hands clenched and came up by her sides as she glared at the machine. “I never wanted to know, and now you’ve taken that away from me!”
She didn’t realize she was on the floor, pounding on the machine, until hands tried to pull her away. “Get away from me! This thing took my future away and now I plan to return the favor!” She shouted, but the music had stopped. It didn’t matter, she couldn’t stop pounding and tearing. The machine’s skin was softer than rubber and her fingers tore it easily. She ripped into the neck and head, looking for anything that might kill the machine.
Muttering, incoherent, she tore and pulled and gripped and shook, and then she felt the jolt. One strong strike hit through her entire body and she shuddered before collapsing. The people in the club surrounded her, their faces blurring and melting into one another, and then everything went black.
Kat saw her lover go down and immediately ran from the room. Rod stayed behind a moment longer, but she only heard him exclaim in worry. Hurried steps behind her let her know he followed. The DJs in the booth stood motionless, watching the commotion on the floor, and Kat pushed by them.
“Alley!” she called out over the noise of the crowd. “Alley!”
The people parted as she pushed through and she saw her lover on the floor, lying motionless on the droid. The droid lay in pieces. She dropped to her knees and took Alley’s hand in hers. “Alley!” She squeezed the hand looking for a response. “Call an ambulance!” she shouted at the crowd when she got none. “Alley, it’s me, Kat, please.” Though what she pleaded for she wasn’t certain.
Rod knelt opposite her, running his hands over what was left of his droid. “What did she do to it?”
A moment of stunned silence passed between them as Kat looked angrily at him. “What does it look like she did to it, you moron, she killed it! Destroyed it! It must have done it’s little prediction on her.” The last she said quietly and ran her hand over Alley’s hair. She took her wrist, trying to find a pulse the way Alley had taught her, but she couldn’t find one. Sirens sounded outside, but she could only sit and rock and hold Alley’s hand and cry. “Come back to me,” she whispered. “This isn’t how you’re supposed to go. You’re supposed to go with me. Come back to me.”
The paramedics came in and knelt beside the mess. Strong hands took Kat by the shoulders and gently but firmly moved her out of the way. “Let us do our job, ma’am.”
But even as they lifted Alley onto the stretcher, she knew she was gone. Rob stood and made his way around the people to sit beside her. He held a slip of paper in his hand and it shook as he lifted up to her. “I’m sorry,” was all he could say.
The slip dropped from his fingers and drifted down into her hand. It was blank, but Kat turned it over. One word stared emotionlessly up at her for a moment before she dropped it. It said MOD.
|Posted on November 18, 2011 at 5:50 PM||comments (0)|
NaNoWriMo update: both my kids are doing it this year with me! I find it absolutely incredible that my son, 5 years old and in Kindergarten, is doing it. My daughter signed up on the actual NaNo site, so her goal is 50k. Unfortunately, she's letting life and a love of reading get in her way of writing and so she's stuck at just under 5k. My son didn't want to do it until I told him it was a contest and he could win. He loves to win and when he asked what the prize was, I told him it was nice certificate that said Winner! Needless to say, he got very excited and we signed him on the Young Writer's site. His writing goal is 200 words this month, and despite starting late, he is just over half way with 117 words. He's written two short stories based on Mario of Super Mario Bros fame. Read them, corrected by me, the originals are hand written and in lovely Kindergarten script, spelling and gramar in its original form.
My Mario Book
Mario flew away. Mario is now up to fly to garden.“Weeeeeee!” Mario is now in garden ready to go to the Lava galaxy. “Yippy!” Mariois at the Lava Galaxy. “Oh no.” Mario decided to go back. Mario won the game.The end. “zzzzzzzzzz”
My Mario Book 2
Mario went in the engine room. Mario is ready togo. Mario is flying to the Spiky galaxy. “Weeeeee!” Off he goes. “Yippy!” Kick,kick, kick. Mario falls… kick, kick,kick. “Wooooooooo!” And dies. “Woao.”Mario is dead. That’s ok, Mario was just knocked out. “Zzzzzzzzzz,” Mario fellasleep. “Zzzzzzzzz” Mario goes back to the Spiky galaxy. “Weeeeeee!” The end. “Woohoooooooo!”
His next book, My Mario Book 3, will be written soon and added to the word count. My book is still coming hard, but at least I'm currently on track. I still need to put in my words for today and we're contemplating dinner. But as I have a 24 hour write-in tomorrow, I am confident I will not only catch up, but get ahead. Watch the next blog as I will post my Machine of Death story.
|Posted on November 11, 2011 at 12:40 AM||comments (0)|
Welcome to week 2 of NaNo. I have been able to keep up so far with my NaNo novel, but not so well with the blog. Sorry. This year, I'm filling the plot holes in last years story. If you remember, last years novel went epic, so I don't think I'll have nay issue with putting in another 50,000 this year. Also, if the first plot hole (not the largest by far) took 10,000 words to fill, I may even be able to get almost 100,000 words out of it. That wouldn't be all this year in NaNo, but would carry over into next year's NaNo too. Not really wanting it too, but keeping an eye on time, words and how smooth the story is told when all is said and done. In the meantime, here is the preview of what I've done so far.
Somewhere I Belong
Naria watched the cat run off as the coach slowed. “What’s going on?” she asked Krydon.The Gyd shrugged his shoulders and poked his nose out the window. “What is it?”
“This is where I need to run home. The next village is only through those woods. The Gyds there will have a route to Central for you. Safe journey!” Gwidon bowed low and ran off.
Naria and Krydon watched her go and then looked at each other. “What about the coach?” she asked as she slipped her bag on her shoulder.
“We’ll send someone back for it from the village.” Krydon started into the woods, then looked back her. “Focus your goggles to maximum light. These trees are dark.”
She laughed quietly. Of course the trees were dark, the canopy was so dense no moonlight showed through. Even with her goggles open to focus all light in the area, she had a hard time seeing. Krydon must have sensed her discomfort as he hung back by her side, but she could sense that he wanted to scout ahead. Neither of them had been this far before and so had no idea what awaited them.
The chatter from small animals filtered through to them as they walked. By the activity, she could tell it was close to midday when the dark creatures scurried about their business, finding food and repairing shelter, training their young and sending off their offspring. It was comforting. The cat that had followed them slunk through the underbrush in pursuit of its prey.
“How is it that your race grew to intelligence but the felines did not?”
“What?” Krydon wrinkled his snout up at her.
“You know, the cats.”
“I know cats are a nuisance when they live too close to Gyds.”
“Seriously,” Naria said, gesturing toward the white blur that streaked past them again. “I heard stories from times ancient about the world our race came from and all the wonders it held. We had cats then too, it seems. They didn’t speak back then either.”
“Then perhaps it was because the creator knew they had nothing to say.”
She laughed. “Speciesist? Krydon, I would have thought better of you.”
“I’m not. Really, the dumb creatures are here for our protection and our provision. They really aren’t for our consideration in any other way.”
They walked on in silence, listening to the sounds of the forest. She wondered when they would come to the village Gwidon had mentioned. For that matter, why hadn’t she run them all the way to it? She had to admit that the forest was far to dens for a coach to pass through. “So are there any other races on this world?”
“Naria, really, you’ve never been so curious before. Why now?”
“Call it time on our hands. Fine. Why was I born without Sight?”
Now he stopped and shook his head. “You know I can’t answer that.”
She touched his shoulder and laughed. “I know. I’m just messing around.” A sudden tremor shook through her body and she fell to her knees. Usually she only felt that kind of impression when she touched someone who needed Healing. This felt like the earth itself needed healing. As quickly as it came, the feeling past. Krydon touched her with his nose.
“Are you all right?”
She nodded, unwilling to trust her voice yet. Even when she touched someone, she could control her reaction. This was like the times as a child, before she knew what was going on with her, before she truly understood she was Sightless. It hadn’t been until she brought Krydon safely into this world that her parents finally understood. Before that, the best doctors, both Seer and Gyd, hadn’t been able to figure out what was wrong. It was after Krydon’s birth that the Gyds brought her her first pair of goggles. It had only taken three tries to get them right.
When she felt she could stand safely, Naria pushed to her knees. “It was like a hiccup.” Squinting through the goggles, she tried to see anything that could have been the source of the hiccup. Eventually she saw the cat, munching on a rodent. She had never reacted to the creatures of the wild, especially not to them catching and eating their prey. She dismissed the cat and stood. “I haven’t felt anything like that since I was very small.”
Krydon shook his head and leaned on her to support her as they began to walk again. “Don’t scare me like that. You feel anything like it again, tell me.”
“Yes, papa.” She laughed, but she also rested against him, accepting his help.
The forest slowly thinned as they walked, and low buildings began to appear in between the spaces. “Where are we?” she whispered.
“Another village,” he answered just as quiet, but less anxious.
The absence of light told them it was a Seer village rather than a Gyd village, and as they neared, they caught hints of low chatter as the residents moved about doing their daily chores. The village itself was small compared to Naria’s. Most of these people were probably hunters, living in the forest. The first building they came to was an outbuilding, storage. A Seer approached them, hands raised in greeting.
“Welcome to Eastside,” he said. “Come.” Gesturing to them, he then turned and walked back toward the cluster of buildings he’d come from.
“Eastside?” Naria asked.
The Seer only nodded.
They hadn’t seen more that a few villages while Naria was growing up, but none of them had a town greeter. Krydon gruffed. “Is someone injured?”
“Injured?” The Seer turned, smiled and then laughed. “Not at all. I am Loor. I keep the borders free of the creatures in the forest. When I saw you, I knew you weren’t any animal, so I came to welcome you. I only assume you want the guest house, and yes, we do have one, even though we are small. So, unless I assumed wrong, please come with me.” He smiled again and turned back to the village.
“Are you the town greeter?” Naria asked. She had heard that some villages had such a person. They were assigned to watch for visitors and take them around town. Some of the larger villages and towns had more than one and she was curious to know.
Loor shook his head but did not turn. “I am one of the perimeter guard. Our village is small and the threat from the Beast in the Woods is constant. We hunt the plains for the Grazers, but we have no army to defeat the Beast.”
Naria had heard stories of the Beast when she was small, but she never really believed it. It was said that in the beginning, when Man first arrived on this world, they brought with them a creature so wild, it screeched in anger and disappeared in the forest, never to be seen again. It was described sometimes as a giant cat with long fierce teeth and loud scream. Other times it was described like a wild man, tall and hairy with big hands and feet and deep howl that would send shivers down your back. The only constant descriptions were the hair, its large size and its frightening sound. The stories were told to scare children into behaving. But along with the stories of the River Elves, most children stopped believing them shortly after they could start telling them themselves. She suppressed a laugh. “Have you ever seen the Beast?”
A Gyd trotted up to them then and bowed in greeting. “Loor, who is this you have brought into the village?”
“Travelers, Chreasa, they want the guest house.” To Naria he said, “I have seen it once, and believe me, once is enough for any one.” His words chilled her and she shivered. “If you would take them, Chreasa, I will go back to the forest border.”
The Gyd bowed again and fell into step with them. Loor bowed as he backed away, then turned and walked briskly back the way they had come. “I am Chreasa,” the Gyd said as they walked. “Welcome to Eastside.” She was slightly shorter than Krydon, but much older and gray colored patches of fur blended with the black that had been her color when she was younger.
“Thank you,” Naria said. “I’m Naria and this is Krydon.”
Chreasa stopped then and eyed her with curiosity. “The Naria? The Seer without Sight who can see into your body and cure you?”
Naria blushed. She hadn’t heard that one before. “I think so.”
The Gyd paused, studying her a moment longer before leading them on. “Your reputation is not unknown even beyond this village. Did you know that?”
“Yes.” She was rare in that her healing talents were inborn, but she had excelled in school and as she got better at handling her gifts, people carried her stories out of her village. “Once a Seer from a far village, near the mountain range, came to our village to trade Merchant goods. He fell ill with fever and asked for me by name. When I asked him how he knew me, he pointed at Krydon. ‘When you brought that pup into this world, you put yourself on the world map.’ I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but my parents tried to prepare me for my journey and told me there would be people who knew of me.”
Chreasa gruffed a laugh. “I thought you were just a myth.” They stopped by a low hut. The thatch of the roof nearly touched the ground with the slope. “Here is the guest house.” She pushed the door open and led them into a small room.
A Seer sat knitting behind a desk. “Chreasa,” she said as they entered, “who is this you’ve brought in to me?”
“Aelmy, these are travelers. This is Krydon and Naria.” She pointed her snout at them as she introduced them. “They need a room for the night.”
“Oh, I don’t know if we’ll need it for the night. It’s still early. We are trying to get to Central to find transport across the mountains.” Naria leaned on her hands against the desk as she spoke. “Thank you Chreasa,” she said as the Gyd backed out of the room.
The Seer put her project aside and stood. Smiling, she took a book from beneath the desk and opened it. “Central is still several days away from here. The Gyd village, Bearkin, sits between.”
“Bearkin?” Krydon stood up and put his paws on the desk.
“Yes, you know it?”
Krydon smiled and dropped from the desk. “It wouldn’t hurt to rest here,” he said to Naria. “We could go on to Bearkin tomorrow.”
Naria stretched and nodded. She could feel the road weariness now that she stood still. “Did we really ride for over half a day?” Her stomach rumbled as though confirming her inquiry.
“Follow me,” Aelmy stepped from behind the desk and stood at the interior door. “I have a cook in the kitchen as we stand here preparing the evening meal. You are welcome to eat with us.” She led them down a short hall and passed three doors. At the fourth, she pressed a key into a simple lock and let them in. “You can stay here as long as you need to. The wash room is just back there.” She pointed to the first door they passed. “The dining room is just there.” The wall on the other side of the hall opened in a wooden arch and through it they saw three wooden tables set with six chairs at each. “Would like a meal call?”
Naria nodded. “That would be fine, thank you.”
Aelmy nodded and handed Naria the key. Then she turned and walked back to the front room and sat again behind the desk.
Hope you enjoyed that, and I'll check back in a little later in the month.
|Posted on October 25, 2011 at 9:05 PM||comments (0)|
First of all, I can't believe it's been since August that I last wrote. Wow. But then it doesn't look like I have much traffic, so maybe you don't notice, or care.
Secondly, I finished a novella for an anthology. For the Love of Pete will appear in Wicked East Press's Bag of Fantasy Tales, due out later this year. I will update you when I know more details.
I will stop numbering now as I have a few more things to update. I hope to hear in a week or two on the status of my Machine of Death submission. If they don't take it (they got nearly 2000 submissions and they want 35 for the book) I will post my story here.
I'm now taking a short break to prepare for NaNoWriMo. November 1 is only a week away. I'm getting excited!
Oh, I'm taking a break, but I feel like I owe Squishables a blog. They aren't paying me for publicity or anything, but I did say I would blog about 81's trip to the club. Aside from the pictures I put up, I haven't written about anything from that trip. And yes I joined a health club.
I got a new job too, working as a homemaker. I help people who can't clean their houses due to disabilty or age. I just need more clients.
Lastly, I'm going back to school. I'll be starting a Photography degree program in January. More on that as I get into it. So until, November, have a great week, and have a great Halloween!
|Posted on June 12, 2011 at 9:30 AM||comments (0)|
Well, I finally heard back on the last story I had out there. By The Stars Disturbingly In Motion has not been selected. I seem to be having difficulty breaking into the paid markets. Oh well, I'm currently working on a novel and a short story for another anthology. I will update on that one as I finish it to let you see a bit of it. In the meantime, it is Sunday morning, and I have to get going. Just wanted to let you know where my submissions stand. Thank you for your support.
|Posted on May 14, 2011 at 11:59 AM||comments (1)|
The good news is that I finished Finding Elise and ordered the proof for my daughter. She read it, found a few typos that I have since corrected, and geve me her feedback in the same way that most teenagers tell you about something they've enjoyed. Here's a synopsis of the conversation:
Me - What did you think?
Her - Nice
(after a night to sleep on it...)
Me - Can you expand on "nice"?
Her - I was too tired to think last night.
Me - Okay.
(After a long pause...)
Me - So what did you think?
Her - It was good.
(Later that same day,)
Her - I almost cried at the end."
Me - End of what?
Her - the story, when she went home. She cried.
Me - Ah, but you liked it.
Her - *nod*
Her - What happened to Jassoo? Did he just go back to driving his cab?
Me - Um, yeah (guess I have a loose end to clean up.)
So she did read it, retain it, and slowly told me that she liked it. Now I just need to decide if I'm going to self publish this one, or if I want to shop it out. Does anyone know of any kidlit agents currently looking for MG Sci/fi?
The not so good news is simply that one of the stories I had out there did not get taken. I received a very nice rejection, though,
The Monster in Me
Im sorry to have to say that your story did not make it into Malicious Malpractices. While I really enjoyed the story, I just felt that it did not jive with the anthology. Please continue to submit it, as I found it quite enjoyable.
Thank you for submitting.
Mike Mitchell - Editor
It would have been a paid sale, but at least he liked it. I'll keep this market, rather forum in my favorites and submit again when I have a story I think will fit. I still have one more out there, one currently in consideration process, so I will continue to update you as I learn. Thank you for your thoughts, go buy a book, support the artist. Just remember, if you opt to get the Stitched Up! anthology, mention my name in your order as that is how I get my royalty. Thanks!
|Posted on May 5, 2011 at 3:10 PM||comments (0)|
Hello all, sorry I didn't post in April, but I did update the home page. How does it look? I'm still waiting to hear on the works I have out, so this won't give you any information there. However, i have finally gotten through Finding Elise and my daughter now has the proof in her eager young hands. I'm not sure if I want to release it myself, or if I want to try to shop it out, that may depend on my daughter's reaction to it. She is in the "target market" range. I was thinking, if she liked it, of maybe shopping out to a classroom to see what the kids in the class thought. Then maybe I'd decide how to proceed. Not sure, so many possibilities. One thing I can say for sure is that she is really excited to have the book in her hands.
In the meantime, I'm going through Between a Rock and Oblivion and taking out cliches when I see them. Like *face palm* I actually wrote "I will sleep when I'm dead." Yes it was back in 1998, and yes it was already cliche then, but I thought I had treated it right and that it would work, well, I was wrong, so out it came. I'm also tweeking the story a bit. I'm still not happy with the ending, so, hopefully, the characters will tell me how the story really goes by the time I get there.
I am also going through The Other Side, cleaning up the mistakes that abound in that book. I'm sorry, but that book is a good example of why self publishing has the stigma that it does. I just wish I could afford a professional edit. My friends were wonderful, but in the end, I wonder if someone who is paid to have a critical eye is just plain better. Someday I will have the right story to send out and someday I will get picked up by a publisher. I know it. I got a fortune that said, "You will become an accomplished writer." No lie. It is tacked up in my kitchen.
I am looking at The Magic Key as well, trying to bring the action closer to the beginning of the novel rather than sticking it way back in chapter 4. I think I like the beginning now, but the story dropped from 55,000 words to 48,000 words. Yikes, maybe it will turn into a novella. Oh well.
Short sotries still try to insist on being heard, but I haven't written one in a while. And Somewhere I Belong is still in pieces in Scrivener. And I still need to update the beta if I want to get it out. That's all for now. Keep an eye here to find out what happens with the pokers I have extended. I will let you know.
|Posted on March 2, 2011 at 5:41 PM||comments (0)|
Well, I am happy to report that my short story Time Away has been accepted for publication by Wicked East Press. They are putting out an anthology of stories about insanity. Some you know that I originally wrote Time Away for Necrotic Tissue's Malpractice anthology, but they passed on it. So I can only believe that it was truly meant for Hannibal's Manor with Wicked East Press. The main difference for me is that NT would have paid me. I do get a contributor's copy of this one, though. So I'm pretty excited. As this is another "for the love" publication, I would love it if you all got one and spread the word about my site and my book. The picture below will link to their store once it's printed and for sale.
Not to leave you empty, here's my opening.
Time Away (an excerpt)
Ron walked up tothe hospital entrance, nerves slowing his steps. Taking a calming breath at the door, he pushed his way in. The emergency room lay on his right, while admitting sat before him. The admitting nurse sat behind a menacingly large brown desk. The nurse smiled as he stared.
“Can I help you?” she flicked her eyes from his face back to her computer screen.
Swallowing hard, he nodded. “Ron Whitmyer.”
The smile faded from her eyes as the second became a minute and he said nothing else. “Are you here for an appointment?”
“Doctor Stevens, four thirty.” His heart raced as she turned back to her computer and typed in the information.
“I’m sorry, mister Wit-mire,” she shook her head, “how do you spell your name?”
He felt cold sweat run slowly down his neck. “W-h-i-t-m-y-e-r, Ron, Ronald.”
She typed it in and nodded. “Ok, Mr. Whitmyer. You’re all checked in. Dr. Stevens knows you’re here. Take the elevators at the first right up to fourth floor. The waiting room is right there.”
So begins Ron's sorry adventure. Here's hoping it has whet your appetite, stay tuned here or on facebook for more information.
|Posted on January 23, 2011 at 9:08 PM||comments (0)|
Well, time is certainly flying by. Already a month after Christmas, the new year has come and gone, and now, for better or worse, we are firmly ensconced in 2011. Happy New Year, belated, and I hope it's treating you well so far.
Tomorrow marks the opening of the contest I've been entering for the last five years. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. It is open to all novels, 50,000 - 150,000 words long. It now allows self-published novels, huzzah! It had two separate categories for general fiction, all genres, and young adult fiction, all genres. Should I enter, I will be entering The Other Side again. I have tweaked it, corrected the mistakes I've found. Sorry to those of you who have it. Just think of yourselves as the lucky first edition owners. My only concern really is that my heart just isn't feeling it this year. One friend told me to enter it anyway, the contest is free after all. So tomorrow, I may just do that.
In the meantime, I have several options to submit to. As I have had success with both Pill Hill and House of Horror, I am looking at those publications for options. Pill Hill has several anthologies that spark my interest, especially a horror cliche parody anthology that makes me laugh just thinking about it.
On the non-publishing front, I have about seven ideas running through my head right now about to drive me insane. I want to get back into most of my works in progress, as well as finish the story I started for NaNo, and then there are two short stories already formed, one of which I think will work for one of the Pill Hill Press anthologies... hmmm. But as you can see, there is a lot, erm, many voices all talking at once in my head. Oh, yes, and I finished a... *blushing* (quietly~ heh, fanfic.) I know fan fiction can't make me any money, but when the voices are pleading to be written, you have to listen or go insane, so you can read my latest one here. It is rather long, but if you click on my name, you'll see my profile there with a few other stories I've put up on that archive. Anyway, now that the Doctor is out of my head, maybe I can go back to Finding Elise. My daughter still wants to finish reading that.
Whew... so much. All right, so there is my latest news in a nutshell. And tomorrow is also a school release day. Yikes. I won't leave you with a story this time, as I just don't know what I'd give you. But here's a video that I feel truly represents my state of mind.
|Posted on December 21, 2010 at 1:43 PM||comments (0)|
As I sit here, trying to get into the mood to bake, I listen to mu children torment each other in the basement. Truly, my son came upstairs and said, "Mom, now she's telling me that there's a spider in my brain!" I asked what he meant by that, to which he replied, "She said it crawled in my ear and is now in my brain!" I thought of all the wonderfully wrong things I could say to that and simply calmed him by telling him that his eardrum would stop any spider that tried to get into his brain. He asked me what the spider would do then. I was nice and told him it would crawl out again, thwarted in its attempts to get to his brain. He seemed satisfied and ran off again to tell his sister what I had just told him.
So go the days of winter break in this house. I hate release days. I really do. As much as I love my children, I don't like them together for any length of time. Not even the promise of making gingerbread cookies could calm them. And now when I pull out the ingredients for oatmeal scotchies instead, they'll complain and ask why we aren't making gingerbread. To which I will resist with all that is within me saying, "Because naughty children don't get to pick what they bake, in fact they don't get to bake at all. Now go away and let mommy release the frustrations you have built by beating out some cookies that you can't eat." Oh well. I will tell them because we will run out of time now between now and when I have to leave for work.
In the meantime, I wrote a Christmas story. I did not write it today, but a couple of weeks ago. I posted it on my facebook, but no one read it. I sent it out in my Christmas cards and I've gotten some good feedback. I post it here, not as a way to get out my frustrations with my children, but only as a Merry Christmas message to you all.
It is told from the Innkeeper's wife's point of view. I know it's been done before, but not by me, and this is all my ideas. I hope you enjoy it.
The Innkeeper's Wife
by Jen Steffen
Elizabeth wiped sweat from her brow as she stirred the pot. “Esme, please take that tray to room four.” A pretty girl of eleven nodded and picked up the tray of bowls. Elizabeth watched her daughter fondly as she hurried out of the kitchen.
When Paul had suggested opening an inn in Bethlehem, Elizabeth had been dubious, but now that Cesar had called for a census, it seemed like business was more than either of them could handle. Yes, they were making good money, but the Romans who stayed with them made the others nervous. She blew hair out of her eyes and dished up another tray of stew, setting full bowls in a circle to fit as many on the tray as possible.
“Abby!” she called out the back door. Abby was tending the straw in the stable across the yard, but Elizabeth needed her to take this tray to room six. Hungry people were waiting for their dinner.
Instead of her younger daughter, her husband stormed into the kitchen. Bless him; he always looked uncomfortable around the stove and the preparation table. He pulled off his hat and looked all over the room. She stopped stirring and put a hand on her hip. If he had nothing to say, he needed to leave or he would be in the way. And they were full to capacity with tired and hungry travelers.
“What is it my love? I need Abby to take this tray to the family in room six.
Paul cleared his throat, fiddling with his hat. “I took in another family,” he said quickly. “Abby is tending to them in the stable right now.”
Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open. Another family? Wasn’t it enough that she was already making stew for ten families? Or that the Romans ate enough to feed three families themselves? “Paul,” she steadied her voice so she would not yell and scare any of their guests. “What were you thinking? We have people in every room and each room has far more people in it than should be there. Curse the Cesar for calling such an immediate count!” she spit on the floor in frustration.
“Don’t say that,” Paul rushed to her and put his hands on her shoulders. “This wasn’t the Cesar’s doing. The couple in the barn is a young, newly married couple, and his wife is ready to give birth. Abby is helping them get comfortable and as soon as she knows what the woman needs she will be in to get it. And Liz,” he eyes twinkled as he looked into her face, “there’s something about this couple. I had to let them in. When Abby comes in, you need to go see them.”
Then,looking over her shoulder, he dropped his hands and left the kitchen. “Don’t resent them, Liz.” He turned back before returning to his desk. “They’re special. I know it.” Then he disappeared in the crowd of people that insisted on sitting just outside the kitchen door.
Abby rushed in at that moment, panting as she took down a bowl. “Mom, she’s ready to give birth.”
Elizabeth handed Abby the tray she had prepared. “Is that so? Well, you take this to room six. I’ll see to the woman.”
Abby looked crestfallen, as though she thought she was old enough to deliver a baby. The poor thing was only nine. She put a hand on her daughter’s arm. “I’m sure I’ll need both you and Esme out there. Now take that stew to room six and tell your sister to start getting towels and blankets ready.”
As her daughter took the tray with a disgruntled look, Elizabeth scooped stew into another couple of bowls and took them out the back door. The scant grass of the yard scratched at her ankles as she scurried to the stable. A low light inside was the only indication of occupants other than the animals. The door pushed open slowly as she shoved it with her shoulder.
Immediately inside, the stalls were all full. The Romans had their horses in the first stalls, and then there were donkeys from a few of the families in the inn. Toward the back were her own chickens and a goat. In the middle, huddled around the light, sat a man with a worried look on his face and a woman looking very much in labor. He had piled straw up around her to make her comfortable. Bless Paul, he had at least sent Abby out with a blanket. The woman was between contractions at that moment and smiled up at Elizabeth. Paul was right. There was something special about this couple.
“I brought you some stew,” Elizabeth said, setting the bowls on a milking stool. “I have my girls getting towels and blankets for you. There is freshwater in the barrel over in the corner, but I will put some on to heat for you when I go back. Are you comfortable? I’m sorry there is no room inside.”
Goodness,she was babbling. Was she the one giving birth? Lord knew she was done with that phase of her life. The man took a bowland tried the stew. “Thank you,” he saidto her then turned to his wife. “It’swarm, Mary. Would you like a bite?”
“No,thank you,” she replied, her voice sounded weak, but her countenance held strong. Another contraction hit and Marysqueezed her fists around straw.
Elizabeth blinked and dropped to her knees. “Let me check. I’ve delivered my share of babies.”
They looked at her and Mary nodded. Elizabeth put her hands on the swollen belly and felt the child within. It was positioned for birth. That was good. It meant no complications. She lifted the woman’s skirts and put her hand between Mary’s legs. No man other than her husband should ever touch a woman like that, but Elizabeth needed to know if Mary was ready to birth this child. “Not quite there yet, miss. I’ll get that water and be right back.”
The contraction passed, and Mary nodded. “Joseph, don’t leave when she comes back. “
Elizabeth closed the door to give them privacy and hurried back to the house. Mary hadn’t been quite ready, but she was very close. She guessed that sometime after the next contraction or two, the woman would be ready to push. The kitchen gave off a plume of steam when she opened the door. First things first,she put a pot of water on the stove to warm. Then she wanted to see if anyone would give up their room. Lord knew the Romans did not need that much space.
Hurrying to the main room, she began to search the faces of the people gathered. The chatter of the guests filled the space and she raised her hands. “Quiet,people! Please, is there not one of you who would give up your room? There is a woman in the stable ready to give birth. And she is couched in the hay! Surely,you wouldn’t want that to be you, or your wives. Won’t anyone give up their bed?”
The people murmured to themselves, many pretending they hadn’t heard. Elizabeth stormed up to the Romans. “You of all people can appreciate the fact that we have a woman about to give birth in the stable. Couldn’t you spare your room, just for the night?”
The soldier stood and crossed his arms. “I’ll forgive that insolence if you turn now and leave.”
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes, but turned on her heel and stomped away. Paul met her by the kitchen door. “Liz, what are you thinking? You can’t talk to the Romans like that.”
“Well,I did. Rude buggers. I wish you could put them out on their rears.” She checked the temperature of the water on the stove, knowing it wouldn’t be warm enough yet. “If you hadn’t felt compelled to take in this family in the barn, I wouldn’t feel compelled to talk to the Romans like that.” She patted his arm and turned him to the door. “Don’t worry; I’ll make the barn feel like the best room in the house for these people. You go and be the innkeeper.”
She followed him out of the kitchen, but turned to the chest by the wall. Taking a blanket and a pillow, she left through the kitchen again. The water was taking too long to warm. “Abby! Esme!” she called as she left the kitchen.
“Inhere,” Esme called back from the barn door. “She’s really ready, mom.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” She waved Esme back into the barn and handed her the blanket at pillow. “You get her more comfortable. Stupid Romans wouldn’t offer their bed. For that matter, you’d think a barn was the perfect place to have a baby. None of them wanted to give up their beds.” She dropped to her knees again and checked Mary for readiness. “Oh my,” she drew her hand back. “You are ready. Next time you feel the urge, you need to push.”
Mary nodded, gripping Joseph’s hand tightly.
“You can hold my hand, too, if you need to.” Abby sat beside Mary and touched her tenderly on the shoulder.
Mary smiled at her and took her hand. Just then,another contraction hit. Abby bit her lip as Mary squeezed her hand.
Not taking her eyes from the birthing, Elizabeth motioned for Esme. “There is a pot of water warming on the stove inside. Get it and bring it here.”
Esme sighed, upset to be leaving in the middle of the action. Nevertheless, she went.
Mary grunted as she leaned forward, pushing.
A crown appeared with that one. “Oh, good show,”Elizabeth smiled up at Mary. “You’ve got it now, when it comes again, push hard and maybe we’ll get this baby out before midnight.”
“Does it hurt?” Abby was watching Mary’s face,worry on hers.
“Not so bad,” Mary managed to say. “I’ll tell you a secret,” she whispered. “This is the son of God. I think He’s blessed me with an easy child birth.” She squeezed her eyes shut as another contraction hit. She pushed again, grunting, and then yelling as she gave it everything she had.
“Yes,”Elizabeth breathed, holding her hands out for the child. “You’ve got it. The head is almost out. One more push and we should have a baby.”
“Here’s the water, mother.” Esme returned to the barn. Her mood improved considerably when she saw there was no baby yet.
“Set it here,” Elizabeth said, patting the floor near her side. “Sweetie,” she addressed Mary, “your mother didn’t come with you?”
Mary was breathing hard, but the contraction had subsided for the moment. “She isn’t from Bethlehem. I only came because of my husband.” She grunted the end of that, squeezing here yes shut as the next urge to push overwhelmed her.
“That’s it,” Elizabeth put her hands on the baby’s head. “It’s coming now.” She worked the shoulders free of the birth canal and the baby fell into her hands. “Oh, my darling, you are beautiful.” She turned the boy on his head and cleaned out his mouth.
The child cried out once, clearing his lungs then was quiet.
Elizabeth placed the still bloody infant on his mother’s breast and turned back to catch the afterbirth. “You have a beautiful son, Mary. There will be one more push,then we can get him cleaned up and wrapped, and you can relax.”
“What are you naming him?” Abby asked, her gaze fixed on the child.
Mary smiled, looking at her baby. “Jesus.”
She barely bucked with the final push, and Elizabeth took the afterbirth. “All right, let’s get him cleaned up. You have clothes for him?”
Joseph turned to their packs and pulled out a bundle of cloth. Elizabeth took the baby and nodded at him. “You get that ready while I get him clean.”
Holding him close, she took her snips and clipped the cord. Then she gently washed him. The water had cooled, so there was no danger of burning him. She washed his hair and cleaned his skin. The baby watched her in silence, taking in her face as she worked. He was radiant. Then, as she bent to rinse her rag, the baby reached up to touch her. Never in all of the births that she had assisted had a baby touched her. His touch was the gentlest, softest touch she had ever felt.
“Sweetie,”she breathed. “Lord.” Wrapping the infant in her apron to dry him,she took him back to his parents. His mother took him in her lap and swaddled him. Then she put him to her breast to suckle him.
Abby and Esme knelt beside her to look at the baby. “He’s special,” Elizabeth said, kneeling beside Abby.
“I know,” she whispered. “He’s the son of God.”
Their heads turned as the door to the stable opened. Three shepherds stood in the doorway, two with sheep over their shoulders. Behind them stood more men. “We came to find the child,” the man in front said. “The angel told us to come to the stable and we would see him.”
“Girls,”Elizabeth tugged at Abby’s arm. “Let’s give these people some room.” She pulled her daughters away and nodded at the shepherds as they passed.
“Here he is,” she heard Mary say quietly.
A reverent hush fell over the stable as the shepherds entered. Elizabeth shooed her girls back to the house. “Keep this quiet,” she said. “Mary will announce it when she’s ready.” The girls nodded and scurried inside to attend to the other guests. Elizabeth stayed in the kitchen. If visitors were coming, she needed to be prepared to feed them.
She put a clean pot on the stove and began adding vegetables and water. The more stew she had, the happier the people would be. The stable would be a busy place tonight.