What Remains

Running low, but not dry yet....
Running low, but not dry yet….

As I was running one morning, this drainage area caught my eye.  At the time, I didn’t know why, but I stopped to snap a quick photo.  For nearly a week, this photo came to mind as my thoughts gathered regarding its significance.  Then, it finally occurred to me…

During heavy rains, this culvert fills with rushing water.  Ducks come to check out the new vacation spot and weeds flourish as the abundant moisture soaks their roots.  As sunny days pass by, the water level depletes until all that’s left are eroded indentions cradling the last evidence that a river temporarily existed.  Eventually, only hardened dirt remains, supporting the most stubborn weeds.  This “barely existence” goes on until the next rain, when the process begins again.

I realized I was drawn to this photo because it is a naturally occurring representation simulating life itself.  Specifically, how I’ve felt for a while now:  drained, like I have just enough energy to exist, and no nourishment for parts of my life that used to thrive.  I’m putting more effort into to finding “rain”- seeking out things that provide sustenance to counterbalance the demands being made of me.  This means devoting time daily to prayer and reading, embracing laughter, and taking in the beauty of nature around me.

More sleep needs to also be part of this. I’m working on that.  Baby steps….

Do you ever feel like this?  What is it that makes you feel alive?

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If I normally visit your blog and I haven’t, or if you have subscribed to my blog in the last three weeks  – please know that I will visit your blog eventually :)  I have over 200 unread emails that speak to my recent neglect, but other demands have cut into my blog activity.  I am crossing my fingers that I will have an hour each night to begin catching up… before I’m completely lost in the monster that is my email!

Thanks to everyone for the prayers and patience.  I feel stronger each day.

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.

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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.

It Is Done – Poetry and Blog Hiatus

Nature's representation of my life at the moment...
Nature’s representation of my life at the moment…

I just let go-

my last precarious hold

on my final shred

of battered sanity.

My soul sinks low,

 a free-fall plummet

to the depths

of I-don’t-know where.

I’m so alone,

fearful, uncertain-

my anguished prayer

is that misery isn’t forever.

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Here is where I usually provide my inspiration for the poem.  About all I can tell you is that I wrote this poem on Saturday after a particularly gut-wrenching event.  I still cry whenever I think about it, which is quite often.    Beyond this, I have to leave you to your own interpretations, as it would reveal too much.  This brings me to the real point of this post…

For almost five years (in March) I’ve posted regularly, at least twice a week, except for maybe a week off here or there.  Circumstances are such that I need to take a longer break.  I don’t know if it will be a matter of weeks or months at this point, but I will be back.  I love this place and it makes me sad to do this, but with what’s going on, I can’t chance posting my emotions “real time.”  I fully intend to fill in some of the details when I’m on “the other side.” Even though I can’t see the other side through the darkness I’m in right now, I expect I will get there.  I don’t know who I’ll be at that point.  God willing, someone stronger.  Maybe more confident, too.

I hope you don’t forget about me during my absence and are willing to get re-acquainted with me when I return.  I have many regular readers that I consider friends and I will miss you!  I will try to do some reading, but may not comment much.  I look forward to the time when I can experience some sort of happiness again and can share it here :)

If you are the praying type, I could really use your prayers right now.

JannaT.

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? :)