“Ashes and Acorns” by Carol Kean

 

“Ashes and Acorns” is my last-minute entry for the HardFork: Can You See The Future? contest (November 2017). The mother in the story is inspired by my mom’s cousin Lois (who loves the Grand Canyon) and by a Scotland physician and sci-fi novelist I love (to the point of fan-girling): Thank you, Libby McGugan, for permission to quote you. Your grasp of physics, your optimism, benevolence, and Zen-like insights inspire me, and your prose has completely won me over. Looking forward to seeing “The Fifth Force,” your sequel to “The Eidolon,” published soon–and can’t wait for the third book in the trilogy!

p.s. If your mom never recited Robert Service ballads to you at bedtime, let me urge you to hear Johnny Cash – Cremation of Sam McGee via @YouTube

 

parrish

“Ashes and Acorns” by Carol Kean

 

“Scatter my ashes over the Grand Canyon,” she said.

That’s illegal, Mom.

“Promise me you will honor my last wish,” she said–long before anyone dreamed she was sick.

Mom. You want me to risk jail for this? Native Americans don’t want dead white people in their sacred place. People don’t get to pee in public, and they don’t get to scatter their ashes in–

“They don’t own that land,” Mom interrupted. “Nobody owns anything. Besides, they’re being ridiculous. You know how hot it gets before flesh and bone turn to ash. No germ on the planet survives the crematorium.”

It isn’t germs they worry about, and thanks, Mom, for that visual–your dead body dancing at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, flames reducing you to basic elements and dried bone fragments. People don’t get buried or cremated anymore if they can be recycled.

She must have guessed my true intentions: in the unlikely event of her death, I’d plant her ashes with an acorn and let her grow into a mighty oak tree. For sure, I’d skip the Canyon thing. How would she know? Dead is dead.

Early detection helped her survive the cancer she must have known, subconsciously, was killing her. Modern medical science not only cured Mom of cancer, it extended lifespans–hers, mine, and anyone deemed worthy or wealthy enough. A hundred-fifty was the new fifty. We could have gone on like this for a hundred years.

Then it started. “I miss your father,” she said. “I want to see Patricia again.”

Dad and my little sister were dead. D-e-a-d. All our modern technology still hadn’t connected us with our lost loved ones–because the dead are DEAD.

I didn’t say it, but she heard me, supposedly through our wireless implants, even though interpersonal exchanges like these were not supposed to be possible. Thought-sharing had to be enabled, on purpose.

Good mothers have always been good mind readers, Mom said. Telepathy has been possible since long before humans were modded.

Try telling that to the new regime, who required a full accounting of everyone “modded” (i.e., modified)  with life enhancing techno-gifts. In our cabin surrounded by mountain, desert and forest, wireless could be spotty, which allowed us to slip under the radar more often than not. As long as we paid our taxes. What else could we count on but death, sooner or later, and taxes?

Those less fortunate lived shorter, more private lives. Modded, unmodded. Alive, or dead. A thousand years hence, would any of it matter?

Things were going well, but Mom grew more and more restless.

Your dad came to me in a dream last night, she said.

Dang.

You know that means I was visited by his spirit, she said.

No, Mom, I know only two things, and that isn’t one of them. We can’t just go around believing things simply because we want them to be true.

Growing old and dying used to be a natural thing, she said, not some catastrophe we must avert.

That, I could not dispute.

My life has gone on long enough. I want to move on, she said.

Hold your horses, Mom. You’re needed here and now.

She didn’t look a day over forty. Her skin was smooth and rosy. Her pale blonde hair was full and thick, thanks to rejuvenated DNA, not dyes and chemicals.

Are you bored, Mom? We can move. All this solitude may be getting to you. Just don’t be in such a rush to die.

“You need a wife, Keith.”

Ouch.

Her eyes could pierce me like a sword when she turned seriously serious on me.

“You’ll never put yourself out there and risk breaking your heart again, unless I’m gone.”

“Mom! Stop.”

That woman’s willpower could have fired up more cities than all the solar panels on Earth. Mere technology couldn’t trap her spirit in a prison of flesh. Not that I believed any part of us survived death of the body.

Staph germ, they said. The swift, resistant kind.

“Genetek will find a way to fix you,” I insisted. “You know they can, and they will.”

In no time at all, the sparkle had dimmed from her blue eyes, her hair had gone limp, and her skin was ashen, but she spoke with all her former tenacity: “They can’t recycle me if I’m infected. They’ll have to cremate.”

I thought she’d forgotten all about that dreaded long-ago promise, but fools dream.

A promise made is a debt unpaid, Robert Service had groused in the Ballad of Sam McGee, that epically long, frost-bitten poem Mom had inexplicably memorized and recited to me at bedtime in my most-tender formative years. Was she psychic, after all? Had she intentionally conditioned me to make a foolish promise, and would she really guilt-trip me into keeping it?

She would indeed. By the time a Genetek crew reached our cabin in the Kaibob Forest, south of the Canyon, my mother was beyond their skills.

With VR images of her, with voice recordings, shared memories linked in a multiverse of users, it shouldn’t have seemed like she was gone. Not the way Dad and Patricia were gone, with none of the tech to recreate them, lest we forget the indelible details. How often I found myself holding still, in hopes of sensing her spirit in the cabin, on the forest path, under the red rock or the juniper, but then the black truck came, and a man in uniform delivered the package that contained my mother.

She was gone. Beyond my reach, beyond my senses. Completely and forever, gone.

With papers signed and notarized, I dug a hole for an oak tree near the cabin. Ashes and acorns, circle of life, dance of dust. Have fun in the hereafter, Mom. If you can find one.

I’d poured a loving spoonful of my mother into the Earth when another woman’s voice came to me, clear and strong: “A promise made is a debt unpaid.”

Of course it wasn’t really her. Everyone knows that! Memories deceive. Why else would I still be obsessed with a girl I hadn’t seen since college?

Merrin was an idealistic, unmodifed idiot, protesting the ethics of Genetek, which had saved my mother–the first time, anyway. Yes, other mothers died of cancer, leaving small children behind. These things happen. Only in comic books does anyone save the world overnight.

I finished planting a bit of my mother with a little black acorn, then saved the rest of her to pay off that debt, as soon as we had a good snowfall in the forecast.

Nobody in his right mind would hike the Canyon in November, snow swirling through the air, almost blinding when the wind gusted, but that made it the perfect time to unload the burden of illegal ashes.

More than a million acres of Kaibab National Forest bordered the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon. Dad used to quiz us on the flora and fauna: pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, aspen, oak, yada, yada. Patricia and I knew white-tailed deer from mule deer. We all knew a clear blue sky was no guarantee against a lightning strike, but that’s what got them during a father-daughter hike. A bolt from out of the blue.

The weight of Mom’s ashes surrounded me, inside the lining of the most waterproof, subzero parka ever to challenge a northern Arizona snowfall. Sam McGee could have used one of these.

Her voice played in my head as if on cue:

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! Through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.

Slowly, I liberated the last of Mom’s ashes from my parka while the entire poem played in my head, from memory, not circuitry. Surveillance drones made their usual rounds, but I couldn’t imagine they’d detect microscopic particles of Mom mingled with snowflakes, drifting from the promontory I stood on, halfway up from the bottom of a five-thousand-foot-deep gorge, 277 miles long, five to fifteen miles wide. Plenty of room for the molecules of one small woman enthralled by the red rock carved so long ago by the Colorado River, long before any humans claimed the sacred place as their own.

I felt a weight lift from my shoulders–until the growl of a helicopter passed overhead.

Oh, come on. They couldn’t detect those ashes. I’d filed my itinerary. Told them I was testing out some new nano-fibers and solar heaters in this high-tech coat.

I took one last, long look at Mom’s final resting place. With a shiver, I started to sense the spell this canyon had cast on her.

You need a wife.

Mom! Jeez! You’re dead, remember?

Yet I heard her voice saying what she said every autumn–as if falling leaves didn’t already remind me of the one who got away.

Funny how wisdom might change expression over the eons, but its truth is constant.

Mom? The voice was hers, but these were not the well-worn words I remembered.

Life is living us, not the other way around, she threw in for good measure.

I blew a cloudy breath into the November air. No one can fool you as easily as you can fool yourself.

Time to head back up the long, dusty trail. Or, not dusty anymore, but slick with snowfall turning to ice. I watched for park rangers, but an hour after the helicopter, no human trespassed on the trail but me.

The parka wasn’t going to get any rave reviews from me. Halfway in my hike to the top, I shivered. And couldn’t stop stop shivering. The same glitchy rocks and trees that kept my nanotech under the radar were now depriving my coat of its techno-wonders.

Darn it, was I ever cold. My big fear had been getting caught with illegal ashes, not freezing to death on my way up Bright Angel trail. I sat for a minute, then another, thinking how easy it would be to just close my eyes and never wake up.

Get up. Get going, Keith.

Yes, Mom.

I willed myself to move. When at last the rim came into view, so did a vision in white. Good God, an angel? I slapped my legs and didn’t feel anything. Me, dead, but still seeing and walking in the same old body? No sir, not buying it.

This angel looked exactly as I remembered her, with red-gold hair and a light sprinkling of freckles, green eyes, and a smile that would melt glaciers.

Merrin. How could this be? Last time I saw her, she was heading to an ecovillage and picketing the new Life Enhancing mods. My own mother was one of the “damn modders” Merrin denounced.

“So how’s that parka working out?” Merrin asked, as if she’d seen me only a few hours ago, not years and years ago.

My lips didn’t move when I tried to answer.

“How,” I managed, finally. How did she get here. Now, of all times.

“I had a nice talk with your mother,” Merrin said.

“My mother is dead.”

“I know. I’m so sorry, Keith.” Her smile faltered. “She’s where she wants to be, though, and she wants you to be all right with that.”

“Ha!”

Bees in a hive mind, Merrin and my mother.

We walked the deserted pathways, across a snow-white parking lot. With a flick of her gloved hand, Merrin brought a hybrid car to life. Spotlighting us in low beams, it drove itself over.

Instant heat inside. The car worked better than the coat.

“So,” I began when my face had thawed. “How does an anti-modder come to look as young as the day I last saw her storming off all those years ago?”

She winced. “O God! I am a hypocrite. There was a roadside bombing, and half the people on our bus were killed. I’d be dead, if not for a Go Fund Me and years of work with Genetek. I’m practically a cyborg.”

Was she blinking tears away? She looked sincere. I remembered Merrin for her drama, all right, but not for her acting skills. Never one to hide her emotions even if she tried.

Like my mother.

Merrin’s smile came back, slowly. We stared at each other, letting the nano-circuits of our implants do their dance, exchanging bits and bytes of information about the years that separated us.

Nothing was ever separate to begin with, Mom said. It just seems that way.

Merrin raised her eyebrows, and I knew she’d heard it too.

“Life is living us,” Merrin said.

“Not the other way around,” I added.

Her laugh sounded like sunshine and rainbows and butterflies unfurling their wings, and I seriously began to worry that my brain had short-circuited with my parka.

Mom would like that.

And I wasn’t in any position to argue with her.

# # # #

Maxfield Parrish was an American painter and illustrator active in the first half of the 20th century. He is known for his distinctive saturated hues and idealized neo-classical imagery. His career spanned fifty years and was wildly successful: his painting Daybreak is the most popular art print of the 20th century. Wikipedia

@sunravelme – Minnow Support Project- Curation for Creatives 

I was honored to be asked to help curate creative writing minnows for The Minnow Support project. Here are my choices. My first three choices are entries to @hardfork-series “Can You See the Future Contest” . They challenged their writers to create a story of what life will look like in the future.  “Ashes and Acorns” by @carolkean is a beautiful depiction of the relationship between the living and the dead, and what lives on through technology. 

2-December-2017    

I enjoyed this story so very very much. It’s absolutely beautifully written. Everything Keith is experiencing feels so real. And there are so many lovely lines. Ashes and acorns, circle of life, dance of dust. Have fun in the hereafter, Mom. If you can find one. So well done, @carolkean!

@carolkean I feel like I would still be able to know who wrote this even if your name wasn’t on the top of the page. You have a unique writing style. In a really good way.

  • How often I found myself holding still, in hopes of sensing her spirit in the cabin, on the forest path, under the red rock or the juniper, but then the black truck came, and a man in uniform delivered the package that contained my mother.

Like…damn. The entire story is riddled with pull-able quotes, but this line ^^^ really did it for me. It encapsulates the story’s dilemma and tone with one descriptive, palatable sentence.

And the shift towards the end, and that title…I could go on.

Wow @carolkean, just wow. I read the earlier draft in the editing queue at The Writers’ Block, but this…this leaves that one in the dust. So much more full. The relationship with the mother and the reason for Merrin’s appearance all work perfectly. Okay..stopping the gushing now. This is wonderful.

Your prose flows so effortlessly. I’m quite simply floored.

I’m resteeming this because it’s honestly amazing. 😀 Absolutely well done, Carol!

 

Congratulations! This story has been curated by The SFT. 🙂 A small SBD reward has been transferred to your wallet.   https://steemit.com/curation/@sft/the-sft-curates-12-6-17

It has been added to the Literary Reading Room at the SFT Library.

 

*Slowly, I liberated the last of Mom’s ashes from my parka while the entire poem played in my head, from memory, not circuitry.” More beautifully sneaky lines from your pen. I love love love your writing! MORE MORE MORE!

I enjoyed reading your earlier queued draft as it was, but I was thrilled by the final version here.

As you may already know, I love happy endings. Thanks for providing this one. 😀

 

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Friday night in Falls City (a fiction, for fun)

Driverless cars were the stupidest thing ever.

Marv Moran clipped the newspaper story on how the production of this idiocy was increasing, pinned it to the bulletin board, and proceeded to throw darts at it.

Marv Mor-ANN, not MOR-on, she said way more often than should be required. And Marv was short for Marvella, not Marvin, never mind how lean and muscular she looked or how short she kept her hair. The guys had nothing better to do than tease her, and she could take it. Actually they did have one better thing to do–beat her at drag racing –but that was a lost cause for most of them.

“Cool your jets, Marv,” came a familiar voice from behind. She hurled the last dart and turned to face Bat, the lanky, brown-eyed blond who drove like a bat outta hell but went back to being Kevin Miller, math nerd, every Monday. Not that she was still in school to see. High school sucked. She’d dropped out to take care of her dad and realized she wouldn’t need it anyway in her line of work.

“My jets are always red-hot,” Marv said, moving to the counter of the repair shop she’d inherited from her father. She stared at Bat, waiting for him to say what he was here for rather than be pressed into uttering some nicety like how can I help you.

“You see the Bugatti Chiron that just pulled into town?”

Marv snorted. “You walked all the way over here just to say that?”

“Thought I’d see you salivating over it with the rest of us, not holing up here in this cave.”

“I seen it.”

Bat shook his head. She knew that way he had of showing her she was full of shit even though he wasn’t going to call her on it this time. He was bursting with stuff to say, she could tell by the twinkle in his eyes. Of course she knew better than to say she seen it but he kept at her, like he could wear her down and get her to act like a lady, or a gal with bigger ambitions than running a body shop in Falls City, a grossly misnamed town of five thousand with no waterfalls for miles and miles.

His dark brown eyes sparkled even more, as if that was possible. “So whaddaya know about the guy who parked it at Bud’s dump of a hotel?”

She shrugged. “There you go, assuming it’s a guy.”

“You do know something!”

“Bat, if I told you even a fraction of what I know that you don’t, your head would explode.”

Friday night,

race night in Falls City, until highway patrol decided to flash their lights and pretend the party was over. Like the kids, the officers had little else to do on a weekend, so they never broke it up until the race was done.

Marv was always there in her dad’s old matte-black Dodge Charger, modified to more than 600 horsepower and speeds approaching 200 miles an hour. Her dad survived cancer only to die in that car when some asshole T-boned him, and the big old muscle car was said to be totaled, but Marv wasn’t buying it. Dent by dent, piece by piece, she restored the beast. The first rumblings of that thunderous exhaust when she brought the Charger back from the dead surely had Marvin Moran rolling in his coffin, trying to give her a thumbs-up.

Tonight she wasn’t driving the Charger. Tonight, she wasn’t even gonna be Marvella Moran.

“For me,” Aunt Charlene insisted. “Just this once, for me, show me how you’d look if you actually cared.”

Even her dad’s sister didn’t get it. Marv didn’t dress like she did because she didn’t care. She did whatever the hell she felt like doing, regardless of what others might think.

“So.” She held still as Aunt Charlene positioned a long blonde wig over her head. “Pretending to be something I’m not is proof that I give a shit.”

“Now, Marvella. You know that’s not what I mean.” Charlene applied false eyelashes to her niece, and handed her a push-up bra and a tight pink sweater. Marv, frowning, struggled into the quintessentially feminine stuff.

“Damn, you look good.”

“I already looked good,” Marv said.

She looked even better at the wheel of the Bugatti. Aunt Charlene handed her the keys through the window. “Jimmy will be watching with me, and it isn’t the race I’m hoping you’ll win.”

“It’s the attention of a good man like Jimmy,” Marv finished for her. “I’m not even nineteen, which is the new thirty, for awesome women like me anyway. I don’t define myself by what I wear or how many boyfriends I have.”

“Not even one!” Charlene sputtered. “I know what you’re doing, and one of these days you’ll stop trying to be your dad and just be yourself.”

“And if it takes posing as someone else to feel what it’s like to be liked, I’ll pose,” Marv scoffed.

“Hey. You want to drive my boyfriend’s car, you owe me,” Charlene said.

Marv started the car and took off with a roar of thunder. Now that felt good. That felt better than her first and last kiss.

The blacktop came to life

under the starry night sky. One perk of living in a remote corner of Nebraska was seeing the Milky Way. On a rare, clear night in L.A. some years ago, worried citizens called 9-1-1 to report a mysterious smear in the sky. They’d never seen the stars like that before.

The Dodges, the Mustangs, even a few Hondas lined up for some action and a perky cheerleader named Wendy waved a flag, getting ready to signal GO, when that Bugatti pulled up, a sexy blonde at the wheel.

Falls City hadn’t seen anything so exciting since Braniff Airways Flight 250 crashed near on August 6, 1966, en route to Omaha from Kansas City, and 38 passengers and four crew members died in a farm field late on a Saturday night. Marv wasn’t there, of course, but her dad told the story so often, she started suffering that syndrome known as false memory, and it felt like she’d stood there with him picking up debris and body parts from Grandpa Moran’s field.

Crushed metal and flying body parts were always a risk anytime someone took to the road, which is why those idiotic driverless cars were moving from science fiction to reality. Maybe in cities that shit would fly, but out here, where driving was the greatest sport available, nobody would give up the steering wheel to some computer.

All heads turned toward the blonde in the tight pink sweater roaring up in the black Bugatti. Marv grinned. Her Charger was awesome, but the French-built Chiron was said to be the fastest, most powerful car in Bugatti’s history. Sophisticated, innovative, iconic, it was a masterpiece of art and form. As was she, Marvella Moran, the girl with more muscle than the average city boy.

The ride was breathtaking. She won, of course, and raced back to Bud’s motel, where all the guys followed to see who the hell had set the night on fire.

Aunt Charlene and Jimmy would be watching as Marv stepped out and let the guys fawn over her and ask for her name and number.

She handed each one of them Marv Moran’s Body Shop business card.

Each one but Bat, that is, who stood back, arms crossed over his chest, grinning at her.

He strode over, six feet of nerd disguised as a leather-clad bat outta hell, until Monday morning. Towering over her, Bat leaned down and almost touched her ear with his lips to say, “Marv, you damn near make my head explode.”

“Bat, you…”

For once, a smart retort failed her. She felt the near touch of his lips travel down to her toes, and all she could do was stare at him.

“You…”

“Wanna take you to Prom, but you’re too cool for school,” he said.

“Damn right I am.”

Her heart pounded, and he tugged off the wig, and she normally would have decked him–in fun, of course–but he was smiling at her and looking not at all like the lanky kid who scored number one in Nebraska on every math decathlon.

“Much better,” he said, ruffling her short dark hair, his fingers traveling down and tilting her chin up.

“Bat, you’re getting weird on me.”

He shut up her with the second kiss of her life, and it ranked right up there with racing a Bugatti.

image

(Image source: pixabay)

# # #

This story —

Day 353: 5 Minute Freewrite: Monday – Prompt: muscle

— was written in response to the prompt “muscle car” at Steemit’s @freewritehouse daily #freewrite group.

Thank you, @mariannewest and @freewritehouse,

for the daily 5 minute #freewrite. To find out what freewriting is all about, go here.

 

https://steemit.com/freewrite/@carolkean/muscle-car-day-353-5-minute-freewrite-monday-prompt-muscle

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Old Souls, Misfits, or Time Travelers?

The brick schoolhouse I attended from kindergarten through senior year of high school is slated for demolition. (No, I didn’t cause any lasting damage to the structure. Honest: the school’s demise wasn’t my fault.)

I’ve been revisiting old yearbooks full of photos of people who grew up, married, and sent their kids to the same small-town school they’d attended. Familiar family names and resemblances to uncles, aunts, fathers, and siblings are all over the pages of old black and white photos. Familiar–and yet, growing up there, I never felt I was home. I never belonged, never paid much attention to the world I found myself in. In my head I was somewhere else, long ago and far away, or light years away in a future I was supposed to attend but I had lost my ticket. It wasn’t a conscious thing. It was a general detachment, being “tuned out” rather than tuned in. I was lost, out of time, out of place, separated from whatever people or beings I must have belonged with.

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57574627_10218841069807715_7940887638263726080_n The high school that burned before I was born (or old enough to remember)

I was ostracized or ignored by my classmates. I didn’t want to dress like them or do what they were doing. I couldn’t follow their conversations for long before drifting off into my own world in my head. With my own sisters–five of us all barely more than a year apart in age–I felt alien and out of touch. Much of my childhood was spent in a chair in a corner, alone with my books. In fairy tales, I felt at home. Fairy tales were full of misfits, magic, and happily ever after.

I learned to like the music and TV shows my four sisters loved, but antique stores, vintage photo albums, and the “Golden Oldies” radio station felt much more like “my” time and place. Stores and shopping malls held little that I wanted. This was the era of polyester, psychedelic prints and colors, palazzo pants, maxi and mini skirts, halter tops, hippie beads, bell bottoms, platform shoes, blue eye shadow, shag carpet, the velvet Elvis print, and other phenomena that defied explanation.

57491790_10218815856857407_4725945093532418048_nPhotos were taken with cheap Kodak Instamatics, faded and out of focus.

For hours I’d stare at the 1950s yearbooks of my parents and think that was the way people were supposed to look. The 1960s and 1970s hair, fashion, furniture, and architecture felt alien to me. Old photos of ancestors I had never even met, or met only as frail, stooped, wrinkled elders, felt more like my contemporaries than my actual peers. I never asked why; I simply felt a kinship with people who had come and gone before my time.

1979880_10206991706045275_40964164551347180_n[1]  1456619_10206991690084876_1793938061284579604_n[1] These looked like the people I was meant to be with. Never mind they were teenagers in WWI and  I was a child during the Vietnam war. On the left, back row, my mom’s mother; front row, bottom right, my mom’s father.

The present wasn’t a bad place to be. I knew the past wasn’t “better”–they didn’t have telephones, radios, TVs, paved roads, cars, refrigerators, running water, indoor plumbing, or electricity. The people were not “better.” But their faces in old photo albums seemed to be calling me home. I don’t believe in ghosts or reincarnation, but I like to imagine ancestral memories can survive like radio waves. Or maybe it’s epigenetics. Maybe our best memories are somehow encoded in our DNA, and an occasional grandchild arrives in this life remembering a world that is gone.

What if some kind of interference from a paranormal radio signal was messing with me? Misfits cannot help but wonder why they don’t fit in. The most common explanation doesn’t explain much:”You are an old soul.” I was born with a sense of nostalgia for a time, a place, a people I had never seen, yet it seemed more familiar than the world I was in. At a party, I would gravitate to the old ones rather than people my own age. Other people’s memories, and even more so, fictional stories of other lives, seemed to displace my own, and I had many gaping black holes in my mind. I was disengaged from my surroundings, living in another world in my mind.

“Immediacy” and “agency” are key words here. I lacked agency; I passively watched the world around me, feeling out of place, instead of actively engaging in it; I missed out on immediate people and events. “You were there,” my sisters would say. “How can you not remember this?” And whatever “this” was, or “who,” it was elusive. Groping in the dark corners of my mind for memories of some specific event I had actually attended in real time and real space, I came up empty. To this day there are events I am told I was physically present for, but my mind was so far away from it all, I cannot remember my lived life.

Now that I am more than half a century old, now that I have seen the dawn of a new millennium and the advent of such wonders as “the picture phone,” I like to imagine that I wasn’t just born weird–I was born somewhere else, and transferred here in some kind of fluke of metaphysics or a magic spell gone wrong. Or a portal. I’ve had a fascination with doorways and tunnels, windows and winged things all my life. While Mrs. Hoffman was telling our first-grade class how to do simple math, I was riding a dragon or a space ship somewhere far away. When I went to her desk saying I didn’t understand how to do the worksheet, she’d spank me, in front of the entire class, and say “they” paid attention, so they knew what to do, and so would I, if I ever quit daydreaming.

She died of cancer in later years. That, too, was not my fault.

Today the school building is about to take a hit from a wrecking ball, and suddenly this place I felt so detached from feels like an important locale, a childhood home, a fixture that needs to be preserved a little while longer. One more generation, at least. But the body count is too low. The children didn’t stay close to home and send a new generation to that little school. They grew up and moved to bigger and better places. Me, I never moved more than 90 miles away, though I’ve lived in other galaxies and ancient kingdoms of Middle Earth in my mind. I’m the one feeling like an amputation is about to sever me from the schoolhouse where my entire childhood was lived, or un-lived, but it was where my body was stationed, and enough of my mind tuned in, I developed a sense of nostalgia for this old place.

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The shortest (Julie) and the tallest (Carl) were “frenemies” before the term existed, relentlessly trading barbs with each other like a comic duo. They graduated together in 1975 and both were dead by the end of the year. Julie was murdered. Carl crashed his car into a bridge.

55759875_10218587665992778_5413681791275892736_n      55453667_10218603350664885_4397455832841715712_n

These four classmates, and far too many others, were dead before age 50:

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Our bus drivers:

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Plainfield Community School, you had a good run. I’m sad to see the old building go empty. If I walk through the hallways one last time, I will see Julie and Carl, my dad his buddy Wayne at age 18, and all the little kids who grew up and left their rural homes for greener pastures. The first school already burned to the ground. The 1960s version also has become last-century and has outlived its use. What will take its place? um, how about a portal, or a launch pad for a spaceship….

1402Peter Saga cover art for Perihelion Science Fiction ezine 

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Farm girls in the sun, in the snow

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55914240_10218609195851011_7705500078705737728_nThose farm boys were ripped! 42439074_10217269281313985_5555779783536672768_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See also Symptoms Of An Old Soul: 7 Signs You Were Meant To Live In A Different Era
BY LAUREN MARTIN  |  JUNE 6, 2014

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Missing Pieces by Jon Ripslinger – based on a true story of Joyce Klimt’s murder

Missing Pieces by [Ripslinger, Jon] Seventeen-year-old Kyle Donovan’s life is shattered. His mother is missing and his father is accused of killing her, dismembering her, and dumping her pieces into the Mississippi River off the shores of eastern Iowa. Kyle’s father, King Donovan, claims his wife deserted the family and left town with her lover. Kyle expected his dad’s trial for the crime to solve the mystery, but when the trial ends in a hung jury, Kyle is desperate to discover the truth for himself, however terrible. 

Missing Pieces by Jon Ripslinger 

“Based on a true story” is a sure way to get my attention. Written by a retired high school English teacher who likes Hemingway’s style is another. Jon Ripslinger delivers with this story of an 18-year-old high school football getting flak from classmates for having a dad on trial for murder.

Ripslinger’s years of experience with teenagers is manifest in his spot-on Point of View. While Kyle occasionally sounds wise for his years, he consistently sounds like an authentic teenage guy with bigger concerns than most people face even as adults. His mother is missing. His dad is Suspect #1 in her disappearance. Bullies harass Kyle and agitate him to fist-blows (and suspensions, as if Kyle didn’t have trouble enough already). He has a troubled little sister to look out for, a football team wanting him to hurry back, a girlfriend’s judgmental parents shunning him, but also a new friend and unexpected ally.

In my Kindle I highlighted numerous passages like this one:

“You get p^ssed often enough, gradually you get bitter. Bitter is like when something bad’s been happening for a long while. The bad crawls under your skin and festers. It never goes away. I was bitter because my mom was missing—dead or alive, I didn’t know. My dad had been accused of her murder but his trial had proven nothing. He seemed glad to have her gone and didn’t seem interested in finding her. If I didn’t do something, the truth about my mom’s disappearance might never be known. Kelly and I might never put our lives back together.
“You’d be bitter, too.”

Having studied far too many cold cases, I can attest that page after page rings true in this story. The stupid questions from reporters–“How do you feel” about your mother missing and presumed dead–sadly is all too accurate.

For young adult, this is riveting reading. For adults of any age, it’s illuminating. For those who’ve lost a loved one and the case has gone cold, this is a must-read. I bought it, read it, and finished it one evening. The book is that good. The prose is first-rate.

I’m off to find more by this author. You can find him at goodreads:

After Jon Ripslinger retired as a public high school English teacher, he began a career as an author. He has published many young adult novels and truly enjoys writing books for teens. He has also published numerous short stories in Woman’s World magazine.

Jon and his wife, Colette, live in Iowa. They are the proud parents of six children, and they have thirteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

When not working writing, Jon enjoys the outdoors, especially fishing. He waits patiently for the next “big one” to strike.

**Authors turning Cold Cases into fiction**

Jon Ripslinger spoke to high school students about the James/Joyce Klindt murder case that inspired one of his nine novels. See Klindt murder case is still alive by Barb Ickes

Apr 9, 2016

    “Throughout his teaching career, Ripslinger pined to write fiction. But he worked a couple of part-time jobs (See: six kids), and the serious writing had to wait until after his retirement in 1994. He collected ideas over the years, archiving them in his memory. One such idea was to borrow from one of the Quad-Cities’ most notorious crimes: The murder and dismemberment of Joyce Klindt by her husband, Davenport chiropractor James Klindt.” … The book, “Missing Pieces,” is required reading in Jan Luton’s composition classes at Assumption High School. … most of her students had familiarized themselves with Quad-City Times coverage of the Klindt case. They had questions about the relationship between fact and fiction.“What the kids are struck by is his language,” Luton said of Ripslinger’s writing. “It’s real to them. The first sentence of the book is, ‘I was pissed,’ (referring to the hung jury in Klindt’s first trial).”… The story’s main character is Kyle Donovan. But he is the imagination’s twin of Bart Klindt, Jim and Joyce’s only child. Though born of the book, Kyle is not merely borrowed from headlines of the 1983 murder. Bart Klindt went to school with one of Ripslinger’s sons, and the author remembers the then-teen visiting his house. He used Kyle to tell readers what it must have been like to be Bart.“A writer sort of becomes the character,” he told the students. “The character actually comes alive in your head. I let the character take me to the end of the story.” 

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    Magic in the Mundane – Part 4 of “In a Pig’s Ear” – a Steemit Freewrite

    Her. Jack wanted her to meet someone, and it was a her. Sarah pocketed her phone and watched as two figures skate-walked toward her through the snow and ice that would never stop a northerner or a Derby goer.

    What the–

    The little blonde from Register Six!

    source

    “Mom, meet Suzi,”

    he said. Her hand hovered in the air but Sarah could only see her eyes. Those arresting, unforgettable eyes, pale blue with a dark ring around the iris. Layne knew the terminology for it. “What makes a pretty blue-eyed blonde even prettier,” he said, “is the limbal ring. It’s completely unconscious, the way we all judge one face more attractive than another.”



    source

    Suzi wasn’t shy.

    When Sarah failed to extend her hand, Suzi gave her a quick hug and big smile. It quickly faded as she said, “I’m so sorry about Layne. He did so many little things to cheer me up after my mom died. I just can’t even begin to put it all into words.”

    Jack draped an arm around Suzi. “You know the story Mom. The woman who fell off her bicycle…?”

    Layne the brain surgeon had a million stories. Sarah just shook her head.

    “Mom was such a fitness fanatic. One day someone found her on the bike trail, face down, and Mom had no idea what she hit. Just that an impact had sent her through the air and–” Suzi caught herself. “Oh God. I’m sorry.”

    Layne and Rocko had gone airborne when that texter rear-ended the old Dodge. “Go on,” Sarah said. “I’m a farm girl. And an E.R. nurse. You don’t have to worry about triggering a meltdown.”

    Suzi’s small sigh clouded the air like smoke. She continued: “Mom dusted herself and rode home, showed us her scraped elbows and knees, and said she was fine but for a bruised ego. And we believed her. Until she lapsed into a coma right before dinner. Layne was on call that night. A blood clot had formed in Mom’s brain. She died before they could start surgery. Subdural hematoma.”

    Suzi’s sentences fell like hammer blows. Her voice was calm and neutral but the pain that edged her words was all too familiar.

    “Dad recognized her years later when he came in with Rocko. Said he’d know those eyes anywhere,” Jack added.

    “He had a photographic memory,” Sarah said. “See a face even once, and he’d remember the name and the place and time of day and an hour-long story to go with it. Funny. He couldn’t seem to remember that he’d told us the same story a hundred times already.”

    “Or maybe he didn’t trust us to remember his stories, so he kept repeating them.” Jack always made excuses for his dad.

    It was possible Layne had mentioned the story of the blonde at Register Six while Sarah was doing dishes or chopping wood or feeding dogs, and she’d tuned it out.

    “He was so bright and so full of fun,” Suzi said. “No matter how bitterly cold or stinking hot and humid it was, no matter how long the line at the register, he would just smile and strike up conversations with strangers, and leave a kind word to anyone. If a clerk was grouchy, he’d go out of his way to be nice. He could get old Edna Schneider laughing and smiling. Now that takes a special kind of magic.”

    Finding magic in the mundane.

    That was it. That was how a wacky, zany, impulsive, reckless big spender like Layne Davis had conquered the heart of Sarah Savage.

    She turned her gaze to Jack. Their only son, just as her brother Jack had been the only son, and there was so much of him in the nephew he never lived to see. There was a lot of Layne in that boy too, but a mother can see the good in her son and turn a blind eye to any shortcomings. For some reason, a husband’s shortcomings were far too easy to see, while the good was harder to remember.

    “It was by her eyes I found her here,” Jack said. “Dad had described them well, plus he’d fronted her the money for that butt-ugly brown Fairlane.” He waved a hand toward a derby car. “She was all over Kevin Klunder’s 1979 Monte Carlo. Hell, I wanted to buy it and restore it, but he wants to smash it.”

    “Bad memories of an old girlfriend who cheated on him in the back seat of that car,” Suzi said.

    Ahh. And that was the magic of the derby. Mostly it was just simple fun, but for too many of the drivers, it was therapy. Better than a thousand dollars an hour for a shrink.

    Suzi was a derby driver.

    Layne had “fronted” her the money to be here. Typical Layne. He’d never ask to be repaid, even after fronting the tuition for students who were about to drop out of two-year programs for lack of funds.

    “It don’t have to cost twenty grand for a derby car,” Suzi said. “Jack is old school. Says you might see us spewing smoke and dragging broken parts around the arena, but we’re in the arena, dammit, and we’re gonna kick ass.”

    Dented cars, dented hearts. Sarah extended her hand to Suzi.

    “Welcome to our world.”

     

    Day 482: 5 Minute Freewrite: Thursday – Prompt: magical realism

    a style of painting and literature in which fantastic or imaginary and often unsettling images or events are depicted in a sharply detailed, realistic manner. — Dictionary.com

    Magical Realism

    We recognize the world, although now–not only because we have emerged from a dream–we look on it with new eyes. We are offered a new style that is thoroughly of this world, that celebrates the mundane. This new world of objects is still alien to the current idea of Realism. It employs various techniques that endow all things with a deeper meaning and reveal mysteries that always threaten the secure tranquility of simple and ingenuous things. This [art offers a] calm admiration of the magic of being, of the discovery that things already have their own faces, [this] means that the ground in which the most diverse ideas in the world can take root has been reconquered–albeit in new ways. For the new art it is a question of representing before our eyes, in an intuitive way, the fact, the interior figure, of the exterior world. (Franz Roh, Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism (1925).Magical Realism. Ed. L. P. Zamora and W. B. Faris. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. p. 15-32.)http://www.public.asu.edu/~aarios/resourcebank/definitions/

    Part 4 was inspired by this news item:
      and this:

    “The limbal ring is well-named. Limbis means border or edge, and it’s related to limbic, meaning emotion or drives. The limbal ring, seen from inches away, is an intimacy zone. Don’t flirt until you see the whites of their eyes.”
    How Big Is Your Limbal Ring? | Psychology Today

    And of course THIS – the daily freewrite prompt at Steemit!

    Check Out The @FreeWriteHouse Prompt Of The Day By @MarianneWest

     

    Part 1 – In a Pig’s Ear – Day 478: 5 Minute Freewrite: Sunday – Prompt: pig’s ear

    Part 2 – Pineapple Finials- Day 480: 5 Minute Freewrite: Tuesday – Prompt: pineapple

    Part 3 – “Live. Love. Smash.” – Day 481: 5 Minute Freewrite: Wednesday – Prompt: sound of sirens

    Part 4 – Magic in the Mundane – Part 4 of “In a Pig’s Ear” – Day 482: 5 Minute Freewrite: Thursday – Prompt: magical realism

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    “Live. Love. Smash.” – a Steemit Freewrite, Part 3 of In a Pig’s Ear

    What kind of people live for a Demolition Derby?

    Rude barbarians and helmeted gladiators, Huns and Vikings were only yesterday on the scale of human history, so the urge to slash and burn boiled strong in the gene pool. The controlled violence of football and hockey served as some kind of safety valve, but the Demolition Derby filled a void like no other. While preachers and teachers urged a life of nonviolence and civilized conduct, rednecks and brutes might need a million years to internalize it. You could take the man out of the fight, but you couldn’t take the fight out of man. Or woman.

    source

    “Live. Love. Laugh. Smash.”


    source: Jackson Forderer, Mankato Free Press

    She hadn’t planned to start playing crash-cars

    with her son again, but then, she hadn’t planned to have the sound of sirens transmogrify her life. One minute her husband was off on a mission to get Rocko more pig’s ears, code for I’ma gonna go flirt with the blonde at Register Six, and the next minute he was dead. Part of her died with him. Until Jack pulled a fast one on her. Only say the word and I shall be healed. Their son, like Jesus saying “Lazarus, come forth,” had said “Derby,” Winter Slam Demolition Derby, to be precise, and she was transfigured.

    They weren’t here for the money.



    Gunning their engines, unleashing a deafening noise that drowned out the roar of the crowd, they lived for a blood sport of gasoline, oil, and metal. It drowned out the sound of sirens, the horrid strains of “Amazing Grace” and the fumes of funeral flowers.


       Sarah Savage rose from the dead. She raised old cars from the dead–at least long enough to give them one last ride to hell–and it was good.

    Until Jack texted her Mom there’s someone I’ve been wanting you to meet.

    Her. He wanted her to meet someone, and it was a her. This was interesting. Sarah pocketed her phone and watched as two figures skate-walked toward her through the snow and ice that would never stop a northerner or a Derby goer.

    What the–

    source

    The little blonde from Register Six!

    To be continued…

    Part Three: “Live. Love. Smash.” – a Steemit Freewrite, Part 3 of In a Pig’s Ear

    Check Out The @FreeWriteHouse Prompt Of The Day By @MarianneWest

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    “Pineapple Finials” – a Steemit Freewrite and sequel to “In a Pig’s Ear”

    Pineapple Finials- Day 480: 5 Minute Freewrite: Tuesday – Prompt: pineapple


    *my daughter’s old walnut four-poster  | carolkean  in freewrite

    Her husband was dead

    and she couldn’t sleep in their room, not with his old faded Levis piled under those leather boots leaning like the Tower of Pisa against the giant ceramic pot of his ludicrous avocado tree, not with the scent of Irish Spring soap still emanating from the master bath, not with the little Caspar dog bed Rocko had loved lying empty by the floor-to-ceiling window.

    So she slept in the bed her parents and grandparents had used, the one with the bedposts that terrified her all through childhood. They looked like spears wielded by cannibals who ate missionaries. Not until she met Layne did she learn that this solid walnut bed was hand-carved into pineapples at the “finials.” She only knew the wood had darkened to ebony over the years, and the bed was smaller than a full size but larger than a twin, which made it twice the price for a custom mattress.

    Pineapples and finials. The words Layne knew! “Dad just has to show off,” the kids would say. “Nobody says pylon when they could say orange traffic cone.” Well, call her a nobody. She said pylon, but Millennials were woefully uneducated. They knew this much: Never challenge Layne Davis at Scrabble. Every crazy word he came up with turned out to be a legitimate science term that appeared in the dictionary.

    Never again would she lose a Scrabble game to him. Or an argument. One minute he was here, annoying and presumptuous as always. An hour later, half a mile from their front door, he was dead in a ditch.

    Accidents happen closest to home, people say, as if “home” is dangerous. No. Statistically, drivers are near home more often than any destination, so it only stands to reason that…

    Her brain froze up. She tried again.

    The car starts out from and returns to the same spot no matter where the driver is heading, so, duh. It was just numbers, not fate, not some Twilight Zone vibe marking HOME as the scene of most fatalities. The riskiest room in the house was not the kitchen but the bathroom. As an E.R. nurse she knew a quarter of a million people a year visited emergency rooms because of injuries suffered while bathing or showering, and fourteen percent occurred while using the toilet.

    The toilet! People actually suffered ambulance-worthy injuries while using the toilet!

    So for Layne to drive off in her dad’s old Dodge and get rear-ended and killed was really not such a terrible surprise. Stranger things happened all the time. He was a brain surgeon; he’d drilled holes into the skulls of many a crash victim to relieve pressure and swelling. His friend Bill might have had at him with that drill had Layne not died before the texting idiot who’d killed him could summon 9-1-1.

    “Mom.”

    The voice startled her even more than the figure at the door. Jack. So much like his father but also like his namesake, the uncle he never got to meet.

    Normally she’d bounce up and greet him with a hug, but normally, he wasn’t watching her like she was a grenade that might go off. “You were just here two weeks ago,” she said. “You don’t have to check on me in person, you know.”

    He shrugged. “I just fed the dogs.” Then he looked at her as if awaiting a reply, or a dawning realization.

    Had she forgotten to feed the dogs? No. No. She was not that far gone. But she hadn’t heard him pull in. Hadn’t registered the chorus of joyous yipping that always heralded Jack’s arrival.

    “You know, that bed isn’t as ugly as I remember,” Jack said. “The granny quilt with the flowers can go any decade now, but the bed. It’s really something. Solid walnut!”

    Big yellow poppies wound their way up the old bedspread, looking a little faded nowadays, not as cheery and bright as they did when Sarah’s brother bought it for their mom one Christmas. As if they didn’t have enough quilts made from old work shirts and scraps from hand-sewn dresses, Mom scolded him. Jack Savage was dead of a burst appendix before Mom could get to the return lane with a bedspread that suddenly became priceless to her.

    “Mom.” Her son’s voice brought her back to the land of the living. “Didn’t Dad try to get you to sell this bed?”

    “He tried. Yes.” She finger-tipped some dust off a finial. “Columbus brought the first pineapple to Spain from Guadalupe. New England sea captains marked a safe return voyage with ripe pineapples impaled in fence posts outside their homes.” A sigh escaped her. “I don’t suppose pineapple finials would have increased the odds of your father coming home safe with Rocko from his little trip to the store.”

    The girls would be rolling their eyes at her or making snide remarks at her history lesson, but Jack was so patient. She had to give him that. He was here to insist that she leave the house and get out of her rut, and he knew she knew that, but at least he wasn’t so obvious and so in-your-face about it. Abby and Mandy just never let up on her.

    “I didn’t come here just to check on you, Mom.” He shifted his feet, looking tall in his faded Levis and buff in his white T-shirt that fit loose at the waist, tight in the arms and chest. “I came to see if you wanna watch me at the Demolition Derby.”

    “You? In a derby?” Her breath quickened.

    “Me.” He cracked a smile. His eyes lit up the way Layne’s did at the Chicago car show every February.

    Jack knew her soft spot. He knew she had been Sarah Savage, queen of the Demolition Derby, before she became a good Queen Mum to a prince and two spoiled princesses.

    Her mind raced, considering what he might be driving in a derby.

    “You didn’t get that old Chevy Impala running again!” she said in the same scoffing tone her dad had always used on her when she did something unbelievable.

    “I did indeed.”

    A vision of the old Dodge rammed from behind, an image of Rocko airborne, then releasing his last sigh: Was she up for this?

    God, it would feel good to smash something.

    That was her go-to after she lost her brother.

    Sarah unclenched her fists and pulled herself to her feet. This was what the Savage family had done for three generations in this old house: both feet on the floor. One foot ahead of the other. Her parents had buried their only son; her mom had lived another twenty-five years after burying her husband. Sarah would go on too because that’s what people do.

    One step at a time.



    source

    Day 480: 5 Minute Freewrite: Tuesday – Prompt: pineapple

    We have an antique bed with pineapple filials, but you all know me. I had to see what was up with pineapple designs showing up in antiques and the doilies my mom used to crochet. The hard, prickly pineapple used to symbolize a home’s warmth and hospitality. Pineapple motifs were carved into wood bedposts and entry doors, window frames, shutters and stair risers, and stenciled onto walls, floors, and ceilings. source

    My mother has a pineapple doily pattern,

    and I am in awe of her spider-like talent for taking a stick and a string, counting the loops on and off the hook, and creating things like this while watching TV:

    source

    Check Out The @FreeWriteHouse Prompt Of The Day By @MarianneWest

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