Where The Stream Ends (Fiction)

03-30 Woods Canyon Lake1

July, 1989

Lucy grasped the back of Aaron’s t-shirt, the fabric twisted in her sweaty palm, as she stumbled to keep pace. “Slow down!”

Aaron grinned, even though- or maybe because- she couldn’t see him. “I’ll tell you when you need to watch your step.” He laughed. “Trust me.”

“I want to take the blindfold off.”

He stopped. With his hands on her shoulders, he said, “I know you don’t understand yet, but you will. If I remove it, you’ll know the surprise too soon.”

She sighed. “Okay. But how much longer?”

“Maybe ten minutes.”

She held her hand out and searched for his shirt. She gasped when she felt the warmth of his fingers intertwine with hers. The tingling traveled up her arm; an unexpected shockwave that triggered a flutter in her chest. She had been friends with Aaron since fifth grade, when he stole the ribbon from her ponytail during recess. He’d held it high above her head and with him being a good six inches taller, she was certain he hadn’t expected her to lunge at him, knocking him to the ground. She’d dusted her knees off and plucked the purple ribbon from his fingers and then offered her hand to help him up. He’d refused, and pushed himself up instead.

“Come on, Fridge… we’re almost there,” Aaron said.

She could hear the smile in his voice. For seven years, she’d been known as “Fridge,” the nickname Aaron started calling her after she’d tackled him near the swings. William Perry had always been one of his favorite football players. She’d protested because Perry was a large, imposing figure, while she was on the short side and rail-thin. It didn’t take long for others to join in and she found that undoing a nickname was just as impossible as getting an “A” in Mrs. Foster’s English class.

“Okay, we’re here.” Aaron untied the blindfold and stood beside her, shoulders nearly touching.

“Oh! It’s beautiful. Where are we?”

“Where the stream ends.”

Lucy tilted her head and furrowed her brow. After contemplating for several seconds, confusion melted away into understanding. “From that story you wrote sophomore year?”

Aaron nodded. “Yep. This is it. I go fishing here with my dad. Been that way for as long as I can remember.”

“It’s nice. That was the most romantic story I’d ever heard.”

“Shut up.”

She smiled when she noticed the tips of his ears redden. “Come on, it was sweet.”

“I didn’t know Mr. Cleary would read it to the class.”

She laughed. It really didn’t help the tough guy persona he’d been trying on at the time. “Girls love that stuff, though.”

He shrugged.

“So why did you bring me here?”

“Just thought you’d like to see it before you leave for U of A, is all.”

Lucy tossed a pebble into the water. “Life is a meandering journey,” she said as she watched the ripples widen and then disappear . In her peripheral view, she saw his head turn and sensed him studying her.

“You remember that line?”

Avoiding his gaze, she responded, “Of course. You can recite monologues from The Godfather, why wouldn’t I remember it?”

Only the cawing of birds soaring overhead interrupted the quietness that stretched between them.

“I got in. I go to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri in November.”

It took a few seconds to absorb his words. “That’s great! You were really hoping for that.” She was happy for him, so she couldn’t explain the feeling she had deep inside. Was it disappointment?

“I hope I’ll get to see you on leave,” Aaron said as he nudged her shoulder.

Tears moistened her eyes and she turned her head away to hide them. “Sure, of course. We’ll definitely stay friends.”

Lucy felt like he had something else to say. She waited for conversation, but instead, they steeped in silence a while longer before trekking back to the main trail.

***        ***        ***

March 2015

Lucy followed the dirt path, side-stepping brush that had overgrown in some places. The last time she’d been to the lake was when Aaron told her he was going into the Army.

That thought brought a pang of sadness because they had not remained friends. Sure, she saw him a couple times, but that was it. And then she heard from Joanie Graeber that he’d gotten engaged a few years later. A year after that, Lucy married Scott Trimble and moved to Chicago. She’d marveled at her fortune; finding her prince and a Disney fairy tale life.

She frowned. She discovered that beyond the endings in the pages of a book, after the “I-do’s” and happily-ever-after, a tarnished reality lurked. Instead of bringing them together, time spun them in circles and sent them in separate directions. Glancing at her naked ring finger, she admitted that being forty-three and single was not a truth she’d considered.

A smile crossed her lips when she spotted the end of the stream. Twenty-six years evaporated like rain in the desert as she stared at the same muddy banks she’d stood on with Aaron. She noticed something in the cluster of trees on the other side of the bank, so she made her way around the water’s edge, her sneakers sinking and sliding in the mud.

Lucy paused when she made out the shape of a bench. Not a regular wooden bench, but a marble one, placed under the protection of the tall pines. She inched closer, pine needles crunching beneath her feet. She noticed that the seat had not accumulated pine needles, so someone had to care for it, even though she hadn’t seen anyone yet today. Standing in front of it, she ran her fingers over the engraved message on the back:

In loving memory of Aaron McCarthy, 2014. You will always be here.

Numb with shock, and dizzy, she lowered herself onto the bench. Once the tears began, they flowed like they would never stop. She leaned forward, face in her hands, and succumbed to the emotions she thought she’d given away long ago. She wailed for God to save her and to ease her pain.

“Ma’am, are you okay?”

The voice startled her and when she looked up toward the voice, she realized her need for a tissue. “I, uh- well…”

He dropped his fishing pole and tackle box kneeled down beside her. “Lucy? Is that really you?”

Her eyes widened. “Aaron?” She shook her head, “But you… I saw.” She pointed to the inscription.

A familiar smile returned to his face. “My dad died last year. I’m junior.”

“How come I never knew that?”

He shrugged. “You never asked, I guess.” He slipped off his nylon fishing shirt worn over a t-shirt and handed it to her. “You might want to dry your face.” He slid onto the bench beside her.

She felt her cheeks color as she accepted the offering and followed his advice. As she wiped her face, she breathed in his scent that lingered in the fabric. She brought the shirt back to her lap.

He leaned forward with his elbows resting on his knees. “I hope your life turned out to be everything you wanted it to be.”

Unsure how to respond, she watched him as he stared at the receding water. “I’m sorry about your dad, Aaron.”

“I come here most Saturdays, so he doesn’t feel so far away.”

Lucy’s fingers played with the silky fabric of the crumpled shirt in her lap. “It is a beautiful place to be,” she whispered, somewhat distracted by the warmth of his thigh barely touching her leg.

Like it had twenty-six years ago, silence surrounded them as they retreated into their own thoughts.

He sighed. “I’ve never forgotten you, Lucy.”

Tears welled again. His words triggered the memory of the words he’d written all those years ago. Life is a meandering journey. It takes us where we least expect it and changes up the future as we planned it. But through it all, I never forgot that where the stream ends, love begins.

“You okay?”

She took a deep breath. “Was that story about us?” She rushed the words before fear changed her mind. As soon as the words tumbled out, she wished she could take them back. Listening to his measured breathing for several seconds did nothing to ease her regret.

“It’s always been about you,” he whispered.

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

I don’t normally write romance-y type stuff, which is why I decided to stretch myself and write this.  It’s much easier to write some twisted story where someone dies or something freakish happens!  Thanks for stopping by to read.  I hope you have a wonderful Easter weekend!

Sacrifice (Fiction & Emilio Pasquale Photo)

Photo by:  Emilio Pasquale
Photo by: Emilio Pasquale

I made myself small in the space between the beat up sofa and the metal TV tray that served as a table. Hunched with my knees pulled to my chest and arms wrapped around them, I strained to hear the hushed conversation between Mama and Aunt Celia. From this vantage point, I could only see Aunt Celia’s back and sometimes caught a glimpse of Mama’s face.

“I can’t do it,” Mama said.

“It’s been six days. If she’s not better tomorrow, you have to.”

“She’s my baby!”

“But the spirits ravage her.” Aunt Celia lowered her voice. “The ceremonial drapes have hung outside for six days. If Ariana isn’t released tomorrow, the spirits will claim the entire household.”

“She’s only three.” Mama leaned into Aunt Celia, sobbing into her shoulder. Her muffled cries echoed against the concrete floors and adobe walls of the sparsely furnished room.

Aunt Celia put her hands on Mama’s shoulders and set her upright. She then picked up a bundle that had been tucked under her thigh, the white cloth wrapping stark against the darkened room. Slivers of sunlight managed to sneak in between seams of fabric covering windows and through the warped door jam. I watched the back of my aunt’s thick arms move as she fiddled with the object in her lap and then extended her arms to present something to Mama.

Mama gasped. “No!” Metal clanged against the concrete floor.

I glimpsed the ornate silver handle, but my gaze settled on the long blade. I didn’t realize I’d broken my silence until I saw both women looking right at me.

“Mija…Cristina!” Mama and Aunt Celia exclaimed in unison.

“Mija, I thought you were outside playing with the other children.”

I slid out from the hiding place and stretched my legs. “Mama, I’m twelve. I don’t play anymore.”

Aunt Celia moaned as her eyes fluttered closed. “The premonition. It is true.” Her chin dropped to her chest and a string of words in an unfamiliar language tumbled into the otherwise silent room.

My eyes widened and I looked to Mama for direction. She appeared just as frightened. Lines creased her forehead and fear clouded her brown eyes.

“Go,” she whispered. “You should go play outside.”

Aunt Celia continued her chanting as if in a trance.

‘Alternate sacrifice’ were the only two words I understood. The hair prickled on my arms and a tingling sensation ran from my neck all the way down my spine. I sprinted for the door, not bothering to correct Mama that I’d passed the age of playing. Once outside, my toe caught the edge of one of the pavers making up the tiny porch. Stumbling into the adobe half-wall surrounding our house, I gulped several breaths while thinking of what to do. I knew my baby sister, Ariana, was in trouble. I stared at the ceremonial drapes; woven murals in bright colors that mocked life. I always thought that death slithered through night shadows shrouded in black, but the dawning came that death wore vivid hues of turquoise, yellow, red and purple. My eyes zeroed in on the skulls. Smiling skulls. They looked all too happy to rip souls from failing bodies.

I pushed off the wall, vaulting myself toward the brilliantly colored drapes. I screamed as I grasped and pulled at the fabric, tearing the cotton from nails that held them in place. I knocked statues and candle holders from the offering table butted up against the house. I dodged shards of ceramic that were intended to appease the spirits. I didn’t care. It was all just a tangled mess of superstitions, myths and wives tales. I didn’t agree with Mama and Aunt Celia; angry demons wouldn’t materialize and vengeful death wouldn’t steal the souls from healthy bodies in retribution. I believed Ariana would still be writhing in bed, face glistening from fever just as she had done for the last six days.

Aunt Celia bolted out of the front door, followed by Mama.

“No!” she shrieked and her hands flew up to cover her face.

“Oh, mija, what have you done?” Mama whispered, shaking her head.

I dropped shreds of fabric and stumbled a few steps backward. Silence descended; a heavy, stifling quiet that suppressed all noise, except the drum-like pounding of my heart against the bones in my chest. My pulse throbbed inside my head, but I resisted the urge to cup my hands over my ears.

“The alternate sacrifice,” Aunt Celia said.

I stood with my chin up. I didn’t believe in the death spirits, but still prepared for them to take me, just in case. Even in the balmy heat, a chill came over me and produced a dramatic shiver. My heart fluttered and then resumed its normal beat pattern. I sensed death spirits were among us, choosing souls like Mama selected meat from the market. God, please protect me.

Aunt Celia dropped to her knees. An anguished cry escaped her dry lips. “I am ready!” She reached toward the sky.

I stared in shock.  Aunt Celia collapsed into a heap and convulsed.

“Look away, Mija!” Mama called over her shoulder as she turned her back on her sister.

I obeyed and turned away from Aunt Celia. On my eighth birthday, Mama had explained that eyes were the windows to the soul. Mama told the story of her great-great grandmother, Anne, who had been caring for her sick brother when she watched him gasp his last breath. She witnessed his struggle and his eventual surrender, only to die minutes later. It was believed that the death spirits entered Anne’s body through her opened eyes, like a burglar slipping through an unlocked window.

Aunt Celia’s body stilled, but I kept my eyes clenched, too afraid to look.

“Mama, I hungry,” a timid voice called from the house.

Mama and I both whirled around to find Ariana peeking around the door. She had been bed-ridden and near death for six days.

“How about macaroni?” I asked. Ariana smiled and nodded her head vigorously before disappearing into the house.

Mama kneeled down beside Aunt Celia and gently tugged her eyelids shut.

Drawing the curtains. All the women in town knew this duty. After death, the eyelids had to be closed to prevent spirits from moving through the body. Male hands weren’t allowed to do this.

As I walked inside, I knew this would be a story told to my great-great grandchildren: the day Aunt Celia took my place as the alternate sacrifice.

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

This was another collaboration with Emilio Pasquale – he provided the photo to write whatever I could come up with for a story.  Be sure to check out his photo blog, if you haven’t already been there :)

Oh, Dear (Fiction inspired by Emilio Pasquale photo)

This story is inspired by Emilio Pasquale’s photo. I didn’t ask permission to post the photo here, but you can view it in another window by clicking the link on the first sentence. (Trust me, you should see it!)

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“Yes, Mr. Collins. The cabin will be set just how you requested. I took excellent notes.”

Samuel tapped his fingers on his desk. “You’ve got the dozen pink roses and the box of truffles in the bedroom?”

“Yes, sir.”

He exhaled. “Thank you, Josie. Everything has to be perfect; exactly like it was twenty years ago.”

He hung up the phone and rested his forehead in his hands. He knew his future depended on the success of the upcoming weekend. Twenty years ago, he had taken Deana to the rustic cabin on their honeymoon. They hadn’t had much money and, although the cabin was only two hours north of Phoenix, the climate was a world away. Three weeks ago, Deana moved out. Now, he had to prove to her that he still loved her. Recreating our honeymoon for Valentine’s Day is perfect!

He picked up the phone again and pressed the first programmed call number.

“What do you want?”

He gulped. “Listen, Deana. Just give me a chance.”

“I’ve already given you too many.”

“Please, just meet me at the Ponderosa Inn and Cabins on Saturday.” When the silence dragged on for several awkward seconds, he continued, “Cabin 9. Just one more chance. Please.

“That’s where we spent our honeymoon.”

“I remember.”

“I don’t think-”

“Don’t think, just show up.”

She sighed. “Fine.”

He exhaled and his shoulders slumped with the release of tension. “The room is ours at two, if you want to head up early. I have a couple things to take care of, but I’ll be there by four.”

She snorted. “Another one of your business weekends, huh? Never mind. We’ve been through-”

“No!” He took a breath to calm his panic. “No, wait, it’s not like that. I’ve reserved two hours of spa time; you pick the services.”

“Oh.” She paused. “They have a spa now?”

“They added it a few years ago.”

“Okay.”

He smiled. “You won’t be disappointed.”

He hung up the phone and dialed the Ponderosa Inn.

“Hi, this is Samuel Collins,” he said once the front desk picked up the line. “I need to schedule two hours of spa services for Saturday.”

“I’m sorry. The spa is fully booked until Sunday afternoon.”

“How much would it cost to make it happen?”

“Sir, it’s Valentine’s Day. The schedule is full.”

“Okay, okay.” He ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “Can you call people who are scheduled between two and four to find out if they will sell their appointment? I’ll pay any price.”

“Sure, Mr. Collins. I’ll see what I can do.”

“I appreciate it, Josie.”

***        ***        ***

On Valentine’s Day, Samuel called Deana. “Yes, the spa appointment is all set. When you check in at the front desk, ask for Yolanda and she’ll get you started.”

“I’m impressed. I didn’t think you could pull it off. I always planned our vacations.”

“I’m full of surprises.”

“Wait a second; you didn’t have your assistant set everything up, did you?”

“Actually, no.” That would’ve been smarter. “I’ve made our dinner reservations for 6pm, so that should give you enough time to get ready.”

“All right.”

“I love you, Deana.”

The line disconnected. She’d avoided saying she loved him for months. He didn’t pick up on it at first. A twinge of pain ran through his chest. He should’ve asked questions. He counted out twenty-three one hundred dollar bills; enough to cover the spa appointment and tips. He folded the wad in half and shoved it into his blazer pocket. He grabbed his overnight bag and headed to the car.

At four-twenty, he parked his car in the dirt parking to the left of the main building. He patted his pocket and strode into the lobby. The heat from the fireplace across from the front desk enveloped him as the door eased closed. He detected a sweet smell commingling with the pine scent, and just then, he noticed the plate of chocolate chip cookies on counter.

A brunette with large eyeliner-rimmed brown eyes greeted him with a smile. “Good afternoon.”

“Hi. You must be Josie?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m Samuel Collins. I wanted to thank you for your help getting this weekend set up.” He pulled out the wad of bills and peeled four bills away. He handed her the cash. “This is for you.”

Her eyes widened. “No way!”

“Do you have an envelope?”

Josie reached into a drawer to her right and pulled out a letter-sized envelope with three green pine trees stamped in the upper left corner.

He took the envelope from her manicured fingers. “Are the Davenports dining in the main room tonight?”

Josie’s nails clicked the laptop keys. “They have a six-thirty reservation.”

“Perfect. I owe them for the spa appointment.” He stuffed a few bills into the envelope and tucked the rest into his pocket. He handed the envelope to Josie. “Please see that this gets to those who attended to my wife today.” His phone vibrated in his pocket and he checked the screen. Deana. He tapped the screen. “Hi, hon-”

“What is wrong with you?” she shrieked.

He pulled the phone from his ear and turned away from Josie after catching sight of her perplexed expression. “I have no idea.” He didn’t know how to answer. “How was the spa?”

“Nice, until I got back to the cabin!”

“Why? I had them set it up exactly how it was for our honeymoon.”

“We didn’t have two deer in our bed on our honeymoon!”

“What?”

“Two deer. In our bed!”

“Hold on.” He turned to Josie. “She says there are two deer in our bed?”

Josie nodded. “Yes sir, just as you requested.”

“I didn’t ask for that!”

She pulled out a manila folder and flipped through some papers. “Right here.” She handed the paper to him. Scrawled in purple ink was, ‘two deer for our anniversary.’

Samuel rubbed his forehead. “No!  It was supposed to be a card that read, “To my dear for our anniversary.”

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If you didn’t check out the link to Emilio’s photo at the beginning of the story, here’s a second chance. You really should see the photo that inspired this story – it’s awesome!

I purposely left the ending open so you can determine how it plays out. If you’re a romantic, then she ended up finding the mixup “endeering” (sorry, that was really bad) and laughed at the mishap and they lived happily ever after. If you are a cynic, then she was so mad she drove home that night and reconciliation hopes were dashed :)

I still have a lot of “stuff” going on, but I couldn’t resist this distraction from the weight of life. I appreciate all the kind comments and prayers that many of you have sent my way. You all rock! I hope to be back more regularly soon.

Stone-Faced (Fiction) & Emilio Pasquale Photo

Photo by Emilio Pasquale
Photo by Emilio Pasquale (story that follows, by me!)

Becca Morris stretched in the chaise lounge on the patio of the courtyard, her back to the main building. Five women in various states of dishevelment sat cross-legged in the middle of the grassy lawn, chins up, eyes closed with hands resting on their knees. They chanted in unison, following the instructor’s lead. She’d read about this; some sort of meditation class that promised to help them train their inner spirits and balance chakras or something like that. Whatever, she thought with an eye roll.

Her gaze traveled between the yoga group and the winged creature statues sitting atop the eight pillars surrounding the courtyard. An ominous feeling blanketed her spirit. She sensed that ethereal chants wouldn’t be enough to save her.

“Becca Morris,” the lady wearing a beige lab coat called out. “You have a visitor!”

Becca leaned to her left and craned her neck to see behind her. She couldn’t see the woman, but didn’t care to try harder. “Right here,” she called out, waving her hand. She returned to her monitoring of the courtyard. She could tell by the wafting scent of apple blossoms that her friend, Danielle, had just sat in the lounge chair next to her.

“So, how are you doing?”

She shrugged. “Other than the fact I don’t belong here, I guess I’m fine.”

Danielle clasped her hands. “You had quite an episode, I hear.”

“An episode.” Becca snorted. “Is that what they call it?”

Her friend leaned back in the chair and released an exaggerated exhale. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

Becca kept her attention fixed on the perimeter, surveying the winged stone guardians. “I saw them in my peripheral vision. They were taking over Mount Ord. I had to stop them.”

“Who?”

“The rocks moved up the mountain, so I pulled my car over and watched. That’s when I realized they weren’t just rocks; they were creatures with hump-backs, almost like turtles. Some of them walked on two legs, others on four–” Becca halted her words and jerked her head to the right. She squinted her eyes, barely breathing as she focused. “That one moved!” She pointed to the winged creature atop a pillar to her right.

Danielle followed Becca’s gaze and finger point. She didn’t detect any change. She looked back at her friend. “I don’t know what’s going on with you.   They said you were arrested while tossing rocks off the mountain onto the highway.”

“They can’t congregate. They plan to take over the world.”

“You don’t think that sounds crazy?”

Becca’s gaze continued to rove from statue to statue. “They think so, which is why I’m here.”

“This is serious!” Danielle rubbed her forehead. “After your evaluation, they’re taking you to jail. Destruction of property, resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, and a bunch of other things I don’t remember.”

“Won’t matter. They’ll have taken over by then.”

“The statues?”

“It’s gone,” Becca whispered.

Danielle lifted her chin to look at the pillars. She gasped when she noticed the pillar to their right was indeed empty – the winged creature no longer posed with wings lifted.

“Do you believe me now?”

“I-I don’t know what to think.”

Becca jumped from her chair, then lifted it over her head and hurled it to the ground. She kept smashing the chair until she was able to break off the longest support pole. She gripped it in her hands and ran across the courtyard.

“Where are you going?”

Becca didn’t answer. She swung the pole at the pillars and winged statues, sending shards of plaster raining down. Two men burst out of the building and tackled her. She fought back, but they managed to wrestle the pole from her and pin her to the ground.

“She’s had another episode. We’ll need to medicate her, so you should go,” the woman in the beige lab coat said with her hand on Danielle’s arm.

Danielle nodded and let the woman lead her through the double doors into the building. She glanced over her shoulder one more time and saw one of the men removing a syringe from her friend’s arm. Becca barely moved. The woman pulled Danielle’s elbow and ushered her toward the exit.

Becca’s eyes widened as two winged creatures circled above. In her mind, she pointed and screamed, but her arm remained limp and her voice couldn’t overcome the injection’s effects.

With powerful talons, four of the winged creatures grasped the shirts of the two doctors hovering over her and dragged them away. Groggy from the sedative, she couldn’t tell if the same creatures came for her, or if it was another set, but she felt the breeze on her back as she ascended.

***          ***          ***

Becca’s eyelids fluttered open and then squeezed shut against the bright light. She reached her hands to cover her eyes, but they didn’t move. Restraints around her wrists dug into her skin. She flexed her leg muscles, but discovered her ankles were bound as well. Starting to panic, she tried to scream but only a timid moan escaped. As her eyes became accustomed to the light, she looked around her. Dozens of tables arranged in rows filled the room. A groan came from the table next to her. Becca strained to glimpse the person and their gazes locked. She gasped when she saw stone where skin should be. A perfectly chiseled face stared back at her, eyes unblinking. Frightened, she jerked her head to the left. Another stone face. She looked at her arms and grew numb with disbelief when she saw her skin marbled with stone.

A turtle-like stone figure moved down the row toward her. The steps clomped on the concrete floor and echoed in the cavernous room.

“Where am I?” Her words were unintelligible to her own ears.

The figure stopped and squeezed Becca’s leg then ran its stony limb along her forehead, making a scraping sound. Stone on stone, she thought. Panic rose in her chest.

Metamorphosis room.

The idea cut through her anxiety, and she realized it must have been a telepathically transmitted response to her question. “Why?”

Start with the heart

then conquer the mind;

when the body is stone

the time is right.

“What’s that mean?”

The stone figure continued down the row, checking each subject, leaving the question to evaporate, unanswered. The footsteps grew distant and then the double-doors closed with a jarring clang.

Becca’s thoughts stalled and her body grew rigid. The restraints around her wrists and ankles snapped and the table tilted, sliding her to her feet. As if in a trance, she shuffled toward the double-doors.

It’s time.

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Thanks to Emilio Pasquale for providing the photo as inspiration for this story.  If you  haven’t checked out his photography blog, you should!

Inspiration:  The photo was the obvious inspiration.  I started two other stories, but grew bored with them early on.  Finally, I came up with the story during a drive to Phoenix.  I caught sight of a boulder on the side of a mountain, and at the angle, it almost looked like it was moving  up the mountain.  That’s when I got the idea to write a story about stone-like creatures taking over the world.  I know my mind isn’t right, but let’s just go with it. okay? :)

What Lives Within (Fiction)

Dead tree trunk in our yard... my imagination frightens me with possibilities of what has made this home...
Dead tree trunk in our yard… my imagination frightens me with possibilities of what has made this home…

I went inside a beehive for the first time last night.

You think I’m crazy; I see it in your eyes. I know, because it’s the same look my husband gave me when I told him about it this morning.

But it’s true. Even as my husband scans the Yellow Pages for a psychiatrist (doesn’t he know the internet is much more efficient?) I stand by my claim. I have a bee sting on my neck to prove it.

Well, Larry (that’s my husband) says the flaming red welt doesn’t prove anything- except that I’m a raving lunatic with an allergy to bee stings.

In defense of Larry’s skepticism, it seems logically impossible for a woman my size – five feet-six inches tall, one-hundred-forty pounds…. okay, five-foot-four; one-hundred-sixty pounds- to be able to fit inside even the largest of hives. Near as I can figure, the bee sting must’ve shrunk me in some way and they carried me in.

I made the mistake of supposing this scenario to Larry.

One eyebrow raised, he’d studied me for a few seconds. “You seriously believe bees carried you into a hive. Just how many bees did it take to do this?”

***          ***          ***

He looks up at me and reaches for the phone, left index finger marking a number on the yellow page.

The light in the room dims and we both turn toward the window behind him.

“What the-” Larry’s jaw hangs slack.

I walk to the window, almost in a trance. I place my palms on the dual pane glass separating me and the thousands of bees. “They came back,” I murmur.

I hear the chair scrape on the tile. The window grows warm beneath my palm and outstretched fingers. Burning, as if a flame flickered beneath my bare skin.

“Hi, yes, I would like to have my wife evaluated.” Larry pauses. “Well, she says she was in a bee hive last night.” Another pause. “Yes, inside the hive.”

The heat radiates up my arm. I want to scream.

“Um, yeah, that’s her.”

I must have screamed.  His voice is more audible, so I know he’s turned toward me.

“I’m not sure what’s happening,” Larry says in a quivering voice.

I want to tell him it’s okay, but I sense otherwise. I gasp for breath.

“She’s collapsed on the ground clasping her stomach.” Another pause. “Yes, I’ll call 9-1-1.”

“What the-?”

I hear the phone drop to the floor before I cry out in agony.

For a second time, words escape  him. I hear his footsteps retreat and the front door slam. The skin on my abdomen tingles so I rub my hand across it. Puzzled by the moistness, I look and am shocked by the smear of blood and the dozens of bees clustered around my fingers. Gasping for breath, I crane my neck to get a better look.

Hundreds of bees pulse in my abdomen, visible through several holes in my skin. As their energy increases and they venture further from me, my strength weakens. I’d read about the spread of hybrid cleptoparasitic bees in an article on MSN but chalked it up as sensationalizing to get clicks (it worked.)  Now, I know the threat is real.  They have chosen me.

I also know it will be a matter of time before they leave me an empty shell.

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This was a story I started for a writing contest, but missed the deadline. This week of Christmas, you might expect a feel-good story… which is why I decided to finish this creepy/bizarre tale. I’d hate to become too predictable :)

Inspiration:  A few fears came together for this one.

First, there is my fear of bees in general, heightened by the increased presence of Africanized honeybees (a result of hybrid breeding), which are generally more aggressive than European honeybees.

Second, in doing some research on bees, I read about some cleptoparasitic bees, which use a host bee’s nest to thrive, eventually killing off the host.

Third, I remembered the horrifying ways of the tarantula hawk. This wasp actually overtakes the tarantula and lays the egg in the spider’s abdomen. Several months ago, I’d watched some YouTube videos of tarantula hawk wasps in action, and found a National Geographic video that gives me nightmares. (Click the link, if you dare… bwahahaha!)

Bringing all these fears together, I wondered, “since humans like to muck around with nature, what if further cross-breeding resulted in bees that thrived in human hosts?”

Normal people don’t think this way, do they?

On that note, have a wonderful holiday! I may not be online much for the rest of the year.  Just wanted to warn you that any absence is only temporary.  I will refrain from typing the obvious 3-word Terminator catch-phrase.  (You’re welcome.) :roll: