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Quick Fix (Fiction)

October 23, 2014

One sentence summary:  Lilah Baker consents to a new sleep therapy for rapid weight loss, but experiences terrifying consequences she didn’t anticipate.

Cemetery

I ducked between two above-ground tombs, pressing my back against the cool stone. My heart pounded against the bones in my chest and my ribs began to ache. I had been to Lafayette Cemetery before, but only during daylight. The moon (full, of course) gave life to shadows that didn’t exist under the sun’s watch. My gasping breaths caught when I heard crunching gravel nearby. I knew the faceless figure would find me soon. Pumped full of adrenaline and sheer terror, I bolted for the nearest sidewalk path and ran. I saw the wrought iron archway of the cemetery entrance and made a sharp right to head toward it. I felt the first glimmer of hope that I’d escape. Then, I tripped on a buckled concrete seam and landed on my left knee. The figure grabbed my uninjured leg. I tried to kick free and slide away, but the grip only tightened. My foe’s other hand raised a machete over its cloaked head. My eyes focused on the moonlight glinting off the silver blade. I drew my arms over my face so I wouldn’t see it coming. I prayed the end would be swift.

I sat up, battling terror that threatened to suffocate me. I toppled off the edge of my bed, landing on the carpet with thud. Confused, I raised myself onto my elbows and scanned my bedroom. It felt so real. Ever since I did the deep sleep weight loss program with Dr. Sutton, I had terrifying dreams every night. I untangled my leg from the sheet and pulled myself up. As soon as I put weight on my left leg, pain radiated from my knee. I brushed my fingers over the area and felt a warm, sticky smear. I flipped on the bedroom light and saw the crimson stain on my fingertips. I slid my thumb over the not-yet-coagulated blood on my hand. How?

***        ***        ***

Four weeks ago, I sat in Dr. Sutton’s waiting room, flipping through last season’s Good Housekeeping magazine. After hearing the radio ad about a new weight loss treatment guaranteed to shed ten pounds a week, I scheduled my appointment. I needed quick results. My ex-fiancé was getting married on October 31, and there was no other way I could lose thirty pounds in time. I still loved him, and I knew if he saw me looking better than I did when we were engaged, he’d change his mind.

“Lilah Baker?” A nurse called from the door leading to the exam rooms.

I tossed the magazine on the square table. It landed on top of a sloppy mess of outdated reading material. “Right here.”

I followed her to the second door on the right and obeyed when she gestured me to enter. This didn’t look like any exam room I’d ever seen. Instead of a vinyl upholstered table covered with a long sheet of white paper, a long, clear tube-like encasing sat kitty-corner dividing the room in half.

“That’s the imaging machine,” the nurse said, as if sensing my question. “Here. Undress and put this on. Dr. Sutton will be in soon.”

I took the lime green garment, which resembled a wet suit, and was a bit surprised by its weight. Expecting paper, or even a flimsy cloth robe, I pinched the fabric between my thumb and forefinger, intrigued by the squishy gel feeling.

I felt self-conscious in the tight suit.  The gel fabric left an unattractive bulge where it ended mid-thigh. I challenged myself to keep my shoulders from slumping and my spine straight as I waited in the only normal chair in the room.

A short, balding man entered after two quick knocks on the door. He wrinkled his nose to nudge his wire-rimmed glasses into place. “Good afternoon, I’m Dr. Sutton.”

“Lilah Baker.” I said, shaking his hand.

He sat on the padded stool. “Says here you want to lose thirty pounds.” He gave me a once-over, eyes lingering on my midsection.

I folded my arms across my chest. “Yes.”

“We guarantee ten pounds per week, but some have had more dramatic loss. Imaging will help us determine your body type and cellular composition. Can you commit to three weeks in-patient?”

“Well, uh… I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be at home, but I do have some vacation saved.”

“We keep our patients in incubating rooms, each climate-controlled for optimum sleep. Once the desired weight is reached, patients wake naturally.”

“So, it’s kind of like hibernation?”

Dr. Sutton shrugged. “That’s an oversimplification, but you can think of it that way. Let’s do your scan.”

I climbed into the tube and he latched the lid over me. I don’t know what I expected, but I can say it wasn’t the icy water that filled the tube. He instructed me to be still, which I had no problem doing because any movement would’ve meant I’d lose the air pocket situated over my face. Several minutes later, the water drained and warm air pumped into the tube. When he opened the lid after a few minutes, my skin had completely dried.

“You’re on target for twelve pounds a week,” he announced after analyzing a chart displayed on his computer.

“And I lose the weight just by sleeping?”

“There are other physiological processes involved, but that’s essentially correct.” He handed me packet several pages thick. “This consent form provides everything you should know, including possible risks and complications, and what to expect post-sleep. I suggest you read through it and, if you’re still interested, sign the last page. Then, a nurse will schedule your entry.”

I flipped through the pages- five full ones with small print- and signed the line on the last page. “Oh. I almost forgot- do you want the background packet now, too?”

“Cindy will take that up front.”

I passed him the signed consent.

Dr. Sutton smiled and shook my hand. “Welcome to the new you.”

***        ***        ***

I sat at my kitchen table with a mug of hot chocolate. The adrenaline subsided, leaving a balmy sheen of perspiration on my skin. The muddled feeling in my brain didn’t go away. I’d felt out of sorts since I returned home five days ago.   As promised, I reached my goal weight of 130 pounds, and lost an additional pound since “re-acclimating to my normal environment,” as Dr. Sutton called it.

An intense urge to sleep came over me, followed by the sensation of bugs wriggling beneath my skin. I filled my mug with water and left it in the sink to clean later. I rubbed water over my bare arms, but the crawling sensation continued.

I grew curious if these were normal side effects of the induced sleep, so I searched the stack of mail on the counter to find my copy of the consent form. Through blurred vision, I found the envelope with the logo from Sutton Sleep Therapy in the upper left corner. I flattened the tri-folded papers, but couldn’t focus on the words.

A feeling of terror rose inside me. I couldn’t figure out the trigger, but I instinctively grabbed a butcher knife and sprinted through my house, checking every window and door lock. I peeked under beds, inside closets and behind doors. Satisfied no intruder had crept in, I collapsed on the couch, breathing heavy and muscles tensed.

I looked at the papers still clenched in my left hand and began to read.

You may experience vivid dreams. Some participants have reported episodes of fear, which have occurred during waking hours and REM sleep. Short term memory loss, though rare, has also been reported.

I remembered the background packet. I had revealed my worst fears, situations that induce anxiety, in addition to my entire medical history. Just then, it occurred to me that every nightmare I had since returning home involved my responses to those questions. Dr. Sutton used that information to get maximum results!

That wasn’t the worst of it. By page four, I understood the true horror of my situation.

You will have a computer chip implanted on your right amygdala which will allow us to stimulate physical activity and maintain weight loss. This will also provide us with the ability to track your individual progress. Signing of this release waives all rights to data compiled and grants permission to Sutton Sleep Center to use your name and details of your results in future marketing materials.

I touched the tiny lump on the side of my head. I couldn’t feel the incision, which had probably healed during my weeks of sleep.

Tampering with the implant will result in immediate removal from the program, rapid weight gain, and possible death.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

Inspiration: For those who read my stories and wonder, “what were you thinking?” this part is for you! The story came to me late at night while getting ready for bed. I thought I should probably try to go to bed earlier since it might help me lose a few extra pounds. Then I imagined how much weight could be lost if we were put into a coma-like sleep. That’s when the skeptic in me surfaced and went down the path of what could go wrong with that quick fix.

Starting with a dream seemed a bit cliche, but in the end, I stuck with that because it set up her bizarre predicament and, I hope, kept you interested enough to read about what led up to it.  I don’t consider myself a science fiction writer, but this one has a sci-fi feel to me.  Chips implanted in the brain?  Scary!

Yep, my mind is a twisted place, but I think this story fit in with my goal of writing ‘creepy’ in October. What do you think? :)

Too Close To Know (Poetry & Inspiration)

October 20, 2014

10-20 web

Gossamer threads

of gauzy dreams

lead me to the precipice

of altered reality.

Meaning unknown,

words scroll through my mind-

a late-night ticker tape,

a restless brain evading sleep.

Forces within, engage

in subconscious battle,

outcome, undetermined;

consequences, unforeseen.

Analysis becomes

a useless exercise in futility.

The obvious is obscured

by intimate familiarity.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

Poetry can be hard to read because often it is vague with little clues as to interpretation. I don’t want to take away your ability to assimilate my words to what you know, but in case you read this poem and came up blank, the following paragraphs give an idea as to where my thoughts were at and what lead to the writing of the poem.

This poem was written over several days, as seemingly random ideas came to mind. The first half in italics occurred as I tried to shut my brain down for the day. My mind doesn’t churn out anything useful after about 11pm, but still, it insists on idling until wee hours. What a waste.  These lines were me trying to find meaning in these fuzzy thoughts.

Now about the last two stanzas…

This morning, I thought about how another weekend away from the computer/internet has left me behind on writing on reading. I used to get worked up over it. Now, it seems, it doesn’t bother me so much. On the surface, it seems like a good thing… going with the flow. Maybe I’ve relaxed- accepting I’ll catch up, because I always do. But of course, being an over-thinker, I couldn’t let it go at that. I began to wonder if this shift was cleverly-disguised complacency; whether I’ll find myself in a few months not even bothering to style my hair, or staring at a black computer screen because I forgot my log in password.  Or worse- not knowing where I my laptop is!

For months, I’ve been unable to determine the root cause of my pseudo-complacency, which has shredded writing goals and given me an excuse to shrug off certain things. The last two stanzas are me acknowledging that maybe I’m just too close to me to figure out exactly what makes me tick.

This could be why I can offer advice to others, but rarely see when I should keep it for myself :)

If I can cajole myself into finding some sort of grindstone to put my nose to, I hope to ‘scare’ up some fiction to post later this week. ‘Scare’… October… Halloween… get it?

I know, that was bad! Sadly, I don’t have late-night to blame.

Hope you had a beautiful start to a new week.  Until next time…

Set Free (Fiction) – Emilio Pasquale Photo

October 16, 2014

The photo below provided by Emilio Pasquale.  The story I wrote inspired by the photo follows…

An Emilio Pasquale Photo

An Emilio Pasquale Photo

She thought she’d find an ally in her sister, but as they engaged in a stare-down, it became obvious to Elaine that she’d miscalculated. Her stiffened legs and a crick in her back warned she should quit. Clearly, more than a laminate table divided them. Yet, she refused to show signs of wearing down. I inherited Dad’s stubbornness.

“She’s getting older. I think the stress of the trip will be too much for her. Please, convince her not to go,” Elaine said, mindful to keep desperation out of her voice. Jackie would never admit it, but they both knew she had more sway with their mom. It’d been that way from the beginning, when Jackie almost died the day she entered the world fifty-eight years ago. It took adulthood and having kids of her own for Elaine to forgive her for that.

Jackie snorted. “We’re all getting older, Elaine. There’s no way she’d not go.” She dunked her tea bag several times with the back of her spoon. Her mouth pressed into a thin line and a frown creased her eyebrows.

Three soggy tea bags rested on the saucer beneath Jackie’s cup. All spent. That’s how Elaine felt. After two hours, neither had budged. If the conversation translated into chess, it would be a stalemate. In their defense, there wasn’t much room for compromise; it’s not like they could half-way go.

Elaine shook her head. “She gets so upset. Besides, the Alzheimer’s has progressed to the point she doesn’t understand much anymore.” She hesitated before adding the root of her concern. “I have a bad feeling about it.”

Jackie smirked. “Another premonition?” She crooked her fingers in air quotes as she said premonition.

“Nothing specific; just a feeling.”

“Look, you know as well as I do she hasn’t forgotten that house.” With the back of her hand, she brushed her graying bangs off her forehead. “I don’t know why, but she has to visit that place on Halloween every year.” Jackie sipped her tea and set her mug back on the paper coaster. “If you won’t go, I’ll take her by myself.”

Elaine recognized the determination in her younger sister’s eyes. Just like Mom’s. “You can’t drive until your seizures are controlled.” She sighed. “Fine. I’ll drive. We’ll leave at noon so we can get there before dark. That house is darn creepy at night.”

Jackie laughed. “That, I’d have to agree with.” She pulled out her wallet. “I got this.” She dropped a ten on the table to cover the muffins and beverages.

After she slid out of the booth, Elaine left another few dollars to compensate for monopolizing the table for so long.

*** *** *** Read more…

One Hail of a Weekend!

October 13, 2014

10-13 Hail1

Monsoon season ends,

with pelting by pea-sized hail-

Nature’s inspired show.

10-13 Hail2

I don’t see hail often, so when I do, I can’t help but watch in awe.  The pinging of the ice pellets on our rain gutters had an almost musical effect.  The show lasted for about ten minutes and it was amazing- though I didn’t ask for an encore, because I know the damage it can cause!

A few years ago, a hailstorm hit Scottsdale.  I watched helplessly from inside my office building while my car was pelted for several minutes, leaving it dimpled like a golf ball.  But this wasn’t my first experience with hail in Arizona…

I don’t remember the exact year now (that’s what happens when you get old :) ) but I figure it was probably 1989 or 1990, because I was in high school.  My parents and I watched from the sliding door as a newly-planted mesquite tree struggled in the heavy winds.  My dad went out to re-tie the stakes in hopes that it would help the tree remain upright.  Then hail came and my dad was still working on it, so I decided to help hold the tree.  Hail might be small, but it sure stings when it hits bare skin!  When the tree was tied good enough, we dashed inside, met by my mom who supported us in her own way:  she took lots of photos.

Even after being rained and hailed on, my hair still stood tall.  Ah, the wonders of White Rain hairspray…

Well, that’s enough about hail.  I’m working on a fiction story written for another of Emilio Pasquale’s photos.  I plan on posting later in the week, so I hope you’ll come back by and check it out.

Have a beautiful week!

Unknown Fears (Fiction)

October 9, 2014

10-9 Grass

Stacy brushed her hand over her bare calf to swat away whatever tickled her skin. They swished through knee-high grasses encroaching on the skinny dirt trail leading to the “perfect camping spot.” Those were her boyfriend’s words- not hers.

At that moment, Kenny turned and smiled. “Keeping up okay?”

She glared, even though he couldn’t get the full effect through her dark sunglasses. “Are we almost there?”

“Another half mile, I think.” He turned and continued on the path.

Stacy shifted the pack and winced when she moved the strap that had been digging into her hip for the last two hours. Her friends thought she was nuts for agreeing to go on this trip, but she had a feeling he planned to propose. After dating for three years, she didn’t want to miss it. Still, she couldn’t figure out what gave him the impression she would enjoy this.

Nearly an hour later they stopped and peered down an embankment.

“I’ll help you down,” he said, offering his left hand.

She shook her head. “It’s too steep. Can’t we just set up the tent here?”

“On the trail?” He laughed. “You can do this.”

“I don’t think my shoes are grippy en-“

He tugged her down the slope before she could finish her protest.

A few feet from flat ground, she lost her footing. Kenny’s body broke her fall. “Sorry,” she muttered before rolling to the side. The momentum flipped her onto her back.

He gasped a few breaths. “There. We made it.” He pointed to the left, toward a thicket of scrub oak trees. “We can camp there.”

Stacy felt like a turtle overturned on its shell since her abdominal muscles couldn’t right her while strapped to a thirty-pound pack. Grateful, she accepted his extended hand and ignored the barely-stifled snicker.

After they pitched the tent, he cooked pork and beans over a campfire. As he cleaned the dishes, she paused to listen to the creek. She watched the water rush over rocks, creating mini whitecaps. She had to admit; it was pretty here. She turned toward a scraping noise behind her and saw Kenny hoisting their packs into a tree with a rope he’d thrown over a sturdy branch. “What are you doing?”

He paused. “Stowing our packs.”

“Why not put them in the tent?”

“Bears.” He grunted as he threw his weight into a pull.

“Bears?” Panic edged into her voice.

Read more…

Sigh. Wildlife, 4; Humans, 0

October 7, 2014

Made a fool again.

White flag waved (with crossed fingers)…

Ready for next round.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

Early Monday morning we discovered the wildlife had another crazy night of partying. Somehow, they are able to keep their rabblerousing down enough that we sleep through it; however it’s obvious we were the benefactors of the animal equivalent of toilet-papering a house. I have the “trashy” pictures to prove it:

At least dirty laundry wasn't aired...

At least dirty laundry wasn’t aired…

As my older son and I scooped up garbage donning very fashionable surgical gloves, neighbors slowed to stare as they drove by. One man stopped and rolled down his window.

“Ah, the javelina got ‘ya?” he asked.

I shrugged.

“This is what the javelina do,” he said with a nod.

“Well then, I guess our trash won’t go out until I hear the garbage truck.”

I should’ve known! I bet it was that javelina that gave me “the look” after her baby finally freed itself from our garden. I feared she wasn’t done with us and I was right.

10-6 javelina-edit

Arizona Game and Fish has pretty much tied our hands, as it unlawful to injure, kill or trap them. I don’t really want to hurt them anyway, but they aren’t taking the hint that they aren’t welcome around here. Since I’m not likely to lure a pack of coyotes as pets to patrol our land, I’ll have to do more research on all the things javelina hate and start doing more of that!

Stay tuned for our next failure :)

(It’s hard to show confidence when our efforts thus far make Elmer Fudd look competent!)

The Beginning (Fiction)

October 3, 2014

10-3 trees

Evelyn pushed herself up onto her elbows and looked from left to right. Nothing. She spotted an old wooden sign in the distance, erected in another era, no doubt. Squinting against the harsh sunlight, she dragged herself in that direction. For some reason, her legs wouldn’t move and the dead weight made progress slow. She didn’t know how long it took, but the sun had dropped to about three finger widths from the horizon by the time she approached reading distance.

Unbelievable.

Nothing.

The sign had no writing. No clues. Just two arrows pointing in opposite directions. Absolutely nothing to reveal where she’d landed after dropping through the portal. Surrounded by lush greenery, she knew she wasn’t in Phoenix anymore. In exhaustion, her arms gave out and she crumpled to the ground.

“Eve?”

She turned her head toward the nude man running toward her and then averted her gaze.

“His promise is true!”

She surveyed her own body. Her Fila T-shirt and Adidas yoga pants were gone. Absent socks and New Balance running shoes revealed her poorly-manicured toenails. Never before had she wished for a bra, but in her nakedness, she would’ve been grateful for one. “Let me guess… Adam?”

He smiled. “Of course, my love.”

She scanned the horizon. “Okay, so it’s day six. Where are the trees? Flowers? Forbidden fruit? I wonder if it really tasted that good.”

He looked confused. “Come, there’s much to see in the garden.” He extended his arm.

Evelyn hesitated before grasping his hand. His biceps flexed as he pulled her weight. She smiled- maybe kicking around the garden with him wouldn’t be so bad. Her legs were wobbly at first, but the muscles managed to hold her. She instinctively crossed her arms over her front.

He glanced at her, puzzled. “What are you doing?”

“We didn’t fall yet. Um, never mind. Let’s go chill in the garden.”

“Chill?”

“Oh. Partake in the garden’s majesty?”

Adam smiled. “I know the perfect place.” He took her hand, leading her up the slight hill.

Evelyn looked at the ground and marveled at how the clover felt spongy under her feet, like a sea of little green pillows. She’d never walked barefoot outside before, heeding warnings of the dangers of stinging ants, broken glass and “filth” littering the ground.

“What’s on your mind?”

She paused. She couldn’t possibly tell the truth; that she lived in the future and landed here quite by accident. No way could she explain that she’d gone through a portal to escape Pinky, the man who’d held her captive for two years. She shivered at the thought of Pinky. His name didn’t sound like it, but he had a reputation as the most ruthless pimp roaming the streets of Phoenix. Legend held that he’d snapped the pinky right off a rival; it dangled from a chain around his neck.

They crested the hill and she gasped. “It’s beautiful!” The sun sat on the horizon, minutes away from turning the sky over to the stars. Stars. She hadn’t seen those since childhood camping trips.

“Do you want to help name some animals?”

Evelyn smiled. “Sure.”

They bounded down the hill, bursting through the thick foliage. Momentum slowed and the tallest tree she’d ever seen stood in front of them.

“We mustn’t eat from that tree,” Adam said, pointing.

Her skin prickled. She knew the story; they’d entered the serpent’s favorite haunt, and it was only a matter of time.

“I’m going to get some huckleberries,” Adam said. “Huckleberries… isn’t that a fun word to say?”

“Almost as fun as hippopotamus.” Her gaze darted from trees to brush. “I’ll wait here.”

His footfalls disappeared. The bird song wafting through the dusk air put her at ease, so she decided to rest. She leaned against the tree and closed her eyes, oblivious to the rustling behind her until the undulating movement crossed over her legs.

Pinky!

“Do you know why you mustn’t eat from that tree?”

She knew the serpent spoke, but still, seeing it was weird. “Because you’re evil!” She wrapped both hands around the serpent and squeezed. “You ruin the world! You invade our hearts! You. Need. To. Die!” She tightened her grip with each word.

“Eve, no!” Adam sprinted toward her.

“We mustn’t kill the animals!”

Evelyn relaxed her fingers and the serpent slithered out of reach before pausing to glare at her. She knew he’d be back.

She’d be ready.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

Suzanne at Apoplectic Apostrophes has a new writing challenge site, so even though I’d sworn off the distraction of writing challenges a  few months ago, I couldn’t resist joining in her inaugural challenge.  She’s always been supportive of my writing and I’m thrilled to participate in her new venture :)

The challenge: Write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is 739) and (1) reference the photo prompt published on her site, and (2) include the word “haunt” – used as a noun, not a verb.

It’s October and I’d vowed to write creepy this month. And with a prompt word like ‘haunt’ you’d, think I could do that, right?  Apparently not! I saw this challenge late last night and this is the story that wouldn’t get out of my head- a goofy, humorous, time-travel-gone-wrong story.

I’d better scare up some creepy soon, or October is going to laugh me all the way to December. Thanks for reading – oh, and if you want to join in, or check out other responses, click the badge below!

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