Word Sprint #7 Hufflepuff at Hogwarts

(Parameters: Random word generator Use as many as possible, Format: Letter, time limit: ten minutes Partner: Owen <3)

WORDS: herbs, skinny, offend, broom, badger, planet, fragile, addle

Dearest mother,

Hogwarts is the coolest place on the planet! I live in a castle! Can you believe that! A Mainord in a castle! The first thing we did was get sorted into our houses. They put this smelly hat that talks on your head and it tells you where your aptitude is. I got Hufflepuff, who’s animal is a honey Badger. We get to have dorms right next to the kitchens and as I understand it, we’re the “Support class” house. But I don’t mind. You know I love being in the kitchen anyway.

My favorite class here is Herbology. There are so many different other herbs than the ones they sell in London. Some are poisonous. Some we have to wear ear muffs for. Some we can eat straight away and they do funny things to us! One stupid guy ate some Hortense herbacia and he addled his brains for a week. He’s never going to live that down, I just know it. I like working with the fragile herbs the best. Even the teacher commended me on my steady hands. She said that I would make an excellent Potions master some day if I could survive Professor snape.

I’ve made a friend already mum and it’s only the first week. She’s not what you think though. In the kitchens, we have creatures called house elves. They make the food and clean up the rooms and stuff. If you sneak in after hours sometimes they’ll even bring you sweets and tea. Huffles have the advantage of being so close to the kitchens so naturally we’re regular visitors. Well, I came one night to get some tea for my insomnia (I found an herb for that!) and a skinny house elf holding a broom came to my elbow and started asking questions. The other elves seemed very offended with this but I insisted it didn’t bother me. I liked the company. Her name is Willa and she seemed very young.

She asked how it was to do magic and take classes and have homework. I told her that magic was scary because it was a big responsibility but also fun when you master it. You can use it for entertainment and protection and even cleaning (she gasped when I performed a simple charm to clean up the tea I spilled on purpose). She is very sweet and charming and I am happy to share my evenings with her. I asked her about her story and how she came to work at Hogwarts but she doesn’t trust me enough yet. It’s okay. I’m patient. You said I could make friends with anyone and now I’ve made friends with an elf!

Well the tea is setting in now mum. I’m getting sleepy. I will write again soon. Ta!

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Word Sprint #6 “Burning Man”

(Paramaters– Subject: Random Setting Generator Format: Free Write, No editing Time: No limit, Second person POV)

Burning Man

It’s late afternoon.

There’s a heavy band of clouds on the horizon.

You’re in a desert. 

There’s a lively feel to the place. 

You heft your back pack higher onto your shoulders, the weight of it digging into your skin and making your cotton tank bunch and tangle underneath the straps. You feel the sweat smear across your back and cringe. Who’s idea was this trek anyway?

Oh yeah. It was HIS. Trenton, your soon-to-be Ex boyfriend if he didn’t ease up the pace and give you a break.

Two weeks ago:

“I’m going to take you somewhere amazing, Viv but it’s a bit of a hike. Say you’ll come.”

You look at his cute face, tanned from his Ranger job at the local camp ground and the hikes he’s always gallivanting off on. His eyes were more sparkly than usual, a sure sign that he was going to be charming and persistent until you say Yes. You grab his streaky golden brown hair and plant a kiss on his lips and give in immediately. He’d been wanting to take you on a hike for so long and you always said no. A country girl you were not.

Now you wish you had taken his suggestion and practiced going on smaller, easier hikes with him before the big trip because this was a miserable trek through the desert. On top of the sweat, you felt a sun burn deepening with every minute, despite the SPF 50 and your hiking boots (newly purchased) were giving you blisters and bogging your steps down with accumulated sand. You were too proud to say anything, since not practicing was your fault but the longer he laughed and joked and had a good time out in the giant litter box of Hell, the more irritated you got.

“We’re almost there. Hang in there okay? Maybe ten more minutes.”

He looked back at you and smiled and you forgave him a little bit. You even managed to smile back and took another swig of warm water. You would have to pee soon. Thank god for Femme Funnels. No way you were squatting in a hole in the sand. You’d probably pee on your new shoes. Gawd it was freaking hot. Luckily, distraction came in the form of a familiar face, and a welcome one.

Just over a small sandy hill, another pair of hikers came into view and you gasp.

“Carrie! Josh!”

“Vivie? OMG!”

Irritation forgotten you rushed past Trent and into the sweaty arms of your bestie.

“Salvation!”

“Lawdy Viv can you believe these fools? Dragging us city girls up here? I’m ready to de-nut mine. You?”

“I considered it a time or ten.”

The men fist bumped and continued to walk slowly up the hill, talking animatedly about the hike and other guy things. The girls followed leisurely behind, complaining and griping to each other although with considerably less malice.

“Do you know where we’re going?” You ask, wiping sweat from your nose.

“Nah. The other half has been close-lipped except that it’s not what I expect.”

Carrie flipped a braid over her shoulder and readjusted her back pack, also stuffed to the gills.

“Come on ladies. Our ride will be here shortly. Look for the Trojan Horse.”

You and Carrie exchange a surprised look.

“What the hell?”

Carrie gives an “idk” face and she hurries to catch up to the men, questions spilling from her mouth. You hang back and frown at the sand that you notice has become less loose and more compacted. Trojan Horse? An actual replica or a metaphor? You watch the trio laugh and joke together merrily and then your eyes focus beyond them. Was that….was that a rainbow? On top of a van?

“Trent–?”

He looks back at you and then forward again where you point.

“Oh ho! Here they all come! There’s the LESGO Dream Machine! Stand together and put up your face shields. The dust is gonna be killer!”

You obey and tie on your bandana, your eyes scanning all around for more wacky cars and a Trojan horse. LESGO Dream Machine? What the hell did he drag you into? Josh reached into his bag and pulled out a few lengths of pvc pipe and some connectors. He attached them together, creating a long 9 foot pole and then Trent brought out a flag, which he unrolled and secured to the top. Then he added bright red strips of cloth down the length of it.

“For Sparta,” Carrie read out loud.

Trent grinned back at you and you burst out laughing. Trojan Horse. Queen of Sparta kidnapped by Paris of Troy. The Greeks use the horse to get her back. “For Sparta.” HA! That was clever, if slightly inappropriate. Josh hoisted up the pole and let out a loud holler of excitement.

You pat Trent on his sweaty back. He bends down and gave you an Eskimo kiss through your bandanas. You watch as a fleet of absurd and completely normal vehicles come rolling your way. The rainbow van was almost tame in comparison to some others. There was one car that was covered entirely in mirrors and everyone shielded their eyes when it passed. There were a few vans that had been painted in detail to look like Gypsy Caravans and large trucks that looked like they were decked out for Zombie Apocalypse with spikes and grills and fake weapons strapped everywhere. One looked like a giant scarab beetle and yet another had a giant unicorn horn sticking out from the hood and the entire front end was sculpted to look like the head. One had paper butterflies covering every inch of metal and was admittedly a little creepy to watch them move in the wind. Everything looked incredible.

Finally, towards the end of the initial rush, came the Trojan horse. It was being pulled on the back of an over-sized trailer bed and was, indeed, made entirely out of wood. The driver of the semi hung out the window and whooped and hollered seeing the flag.

“Is that Elliot?” you hear Carrie ask.

Of course. Elliot. The history nerd and the tinker extraordinaire. Which also means–

“Hey there’s the Myth Boosters riding in the back! And Jennifer with her harem!”

Carrie started to whoop now too and jump up and down, waving her arms wildly. Elliot was part of a nerd group that was made up of high school boys in men’s bodies. If they think it, no matter how ridiculous it is, they do it. Wanna see if coke and pop rocks can kill a person? They’ll try it. Were you ever curious about how Ben Franklin discovered electricity with lightning? They’ll get the answer. Ever want a hand carved wooden loom? They’ll make it for you. They didn’t BUST myths. They BOOSTED them. Hence, Myth Boosters.

Jennifer was the art to Elliot’s science and her “harem” consisted of the wives and girlfriends of the men in Myth Boosters. They’d all been friends with Trent and Josh for a long time. You and Carrie were the most recent additions so naturally, you’d been absorbed into the harem as well.

The Trojan Horse had barely come to a stop when the horde of people jumped down and you were swamped with sweaty happy people.

“For Sparta!” Jennifer laughed and roped you into a tight hug. Her outfit tinkled and jangled from the coin scarves she’d layered on and her grey-brown hair swirled around them crazily.

“What is all this?” you ask, hoping to finally get some answers.

“You haven’t guessed yet?” Her blue eyes sparkled mischievously.

“I haven’t had a moment to think between melting under the sun and the need to pee for an hour.”

“What is the one thing the Myth Boosters do every year around August out in the middle of the desert that is the biggest raver-slash-art show you’ll ever find on the west coast?”

One of the Boosters guided them to the back of the truck and helped you up onto the bed. Jennifer sat between you and Carrie and handed you each a baby wipe for your faces and to be refreshed. Ever the mama. You pieced the puzzle together as the truck roared to life and the truck accelerated. You pull down the bandana to take a drink of water and rest your head against the back of the truck. You’d never been more relieved to see a horse, fake or real, in your life. You close your eyes and let your mind float over the evidence.

August. Art show. West coast. Desert. Wood. Rave. Strange vehicles. Myth Boosters. Elliot talking about a village last week. Talking about a theme; a Greek theme. Tickets. The Harem making “tokens of thanks” all week, beautiful tree pendants from wire and beads. Hundreds of them. Trent over-packing their bags for “just a day’s hike”, something he never did. Art, desert, party. Wood. Wood for burning? Burning—

“Oh. Oh wait–”

“Here she comes. Now she’s getting it.”

“We’re going to Burning Man?!”

There was a round of cheers from the group and someone hands you a flask.

“Monkey gets a shot of home-made brew!”

You look up at Trent who grins broadly and gives a thumbs up confirmation.

“Oh my god we’re going to Burning Man! Yaaaahhhhhhh!” Carries squeals and crows with joy.

Her enthusiasm spurred the rest of the group and soon there was a mini party going on with alcohol and joints being passed around. When you tried to decline both Jennifer took hold of your wrist and looked you in the eyes.

“There are rules for Burning Man that you’ll have to learn later but there is one rule here for the Trojans and it’s Let it happen if you want it.”

She hands you the joint again and you look at Carrie, who raises her eyebrows. Vivian, straight-laced, one glass of wine a week, never go crazy, home-body real estate agent having a joint? Did you want it?

You think back to all the times together with the Myth Boosters and the Harem and how much fun they had just chilling around a bong. They looked so mellow and happy. You always passed when the ornate glass cylinder was offered, content to be there with friends. But you admit you’d been tempted after a long day at work or a day crunching numbers for the budget. You wanted to feel how they looked sometimes.

From what you heard of Burning Man, it was like those times around the bong, only better. Every year your friends came back exhausted from a week in the desert and you were entertained by their stories. People they met, amazing art pieces they traded for, experiences they had with various substances. The intense heat and cold of the desert climate. Learning to survive on just what you bring and then leaving no trace of yourself behind. Falling asleep in the middle of the day in a random person’s tent and feeling totally relaxed and loved around complete strangers.

The tone in their voices seemed so reverent. You could almost believe they has some sort of transcendent experience there and every year they brought back something different from it. The fact that Trent went every year, your healthy, granola-eating, hiker boyfriend, really said a lot to sell you on the idea. You never asked to go in the three years you’d been together because you felt it was HIS thing; something he needed to do with his friends and that was that.

“You can let go of everything there Viv,” he explained the night after he got home last year. “You can be whomever you want. I can wear a mask and not be Trenton, Park ranger. I can walk into an outdoor hookah lounge and be totally accepted, no questions asked. I can juggle on a unicycle and recite some improv poetry and people would cry and thank me. I can go sit in the temple and listen and just BE. It is the best high you can get without a single thing passing through your lips. ”

“Have you recited poetry juggling on a unicycle?” you ask, giving him a smile.

He smiled back but didn’t confirm or deny it. It seemed to be a kind of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” kind of mentality amongst the Burners (what you call people who attend Burning man). They can give you specific memories and show you amazing art but what really happens either they don’t have words for or they want to keep close to their chest.

If you were honest with yourself you’d admit you were jealous. Who doesn’t want to have a totally mind-boggling week with friends at an awesome Art party and go legit crazy? But someone had to stay and work. Someone had to feed the cats and water the plants and worry at home.

You were so excited when Trent urged you to take a vacation after Christmas, that he wanted to go somewhere with you to relax and be together. It seemed so casual and logical to schedule it during the summer when the real estate market started booming because of vacationers and kids being out of school.

“Leave the work to them for a change,” He said. “The place won’t burn down around their ears if you’re gone for a week to an art show or something.”

“It can burn and I would rejoice,” you say with some malice.

“Well there ya go. Let’s go burn some things on our vacation then and rejoice.”

Gawd he even mentioned burning. He gave you so many huge hints! And now he was bringing you into the inside of his group. He wasn’t just giving you a vacation; he was giving you insight into this part of his life. He was trusting you completely.

You bring the burning stub to your lips and take a small drag from the joint. Carrie whistles and you hand it over to her, blowing out the smoke and trying to cough discreetly into your elbow. And then you took a swig of something sweet and spicy from the flask. You don’t know exactly what you want out of the vacation but if there were ever a time to try something and be an idiot, it was out in the middle of the desert among your best friends.

Half an hour later the substance hits you and you feel energized enough to stand and scream with the others as you enter the Burning man playa. You see the head of the wooden man first and your stomach does a flip of excitement. Everything already looks so colorful and enticing and you can’t wait to see everything.

A day later, amidst the throngs of costumed Burners and the loud music, you’re  walking around in a white robe calling yourself Helen of Troy and handing out mini origami paper cranes in exchange for kisses and items for a scavenger hunt.

Three days later you’re crying silently in the Temple next to Trent as he holds your hands and the music from the harp moves you both so completely you feel weightless except for his skin on yours. Or it might have been whatever was in that tea you drank earlier.

A week later, you find yourself married to Trenton by an MMA fighter Indian Chieftain (ordained online), tattooed by a mostly naked Santa, and a back pack full of tokens you can barely remember getting. Also, you quit your job. Because life shouldn’t be survived. It should be lived. (This was from an old Japanese woman who wore a show girl costume and had the best legs you’d ever seen.)

The night after you’d gotten back you were on the couch with your husband (!), having a mug of tea and trying to detox.  You sit side by side in silence, but not uncomfortably.

“Worth it, wife of mine?”

You look down at the raw diamond ring cast in gold on your finger, and the Burning Man tattoo still raw and peeling on your wrist surrounded by colorful swirls of fire and flowers. You smile at them and then up at Trent, who understood without you saying anything.

“Absolutely. Thank you.”

Thank you too, Burning Man.

“Will you Marr—“

“No.”

The kneeling man at my feet snapped his jaw shut in surprise, his hands fumbling the black velvet box and folding the lid down. I didn’t even look at the ring. The symbol of slavery.

“Wow. Cut down before I could even pop the question. Is that a new world record? Can someone check?”

His stupid sarcastic smile ratcheted my irritation up fifty degrees. I crossed my arms and jutted my hip out.

“Look at me you idiot. Does this look like the face of a happy dewy-faced virginal teenager swooning over romantic gestures?”

“No. But–well–”

“What did you THINK was going to happen? We’ve discussed this. At length.”

Dark brown eyes surveyed the frown lines between my eye brows and the hard set of my lips before looking away and standing up, dejected. I knew I should have been more sensitive. I knew it took guts to propose to your cranky girlfriend. But if he had been any sort of observant boyfriend, he would have known all this time that I would say no. Without hesitation or doubt. He embarrassed himself thinking I would change my mind when faced with this moment. This was in no way my fault.

“So that’s it then?” he asked, pocketing the box.

“That’s all she wrote,” I agreed, ready to shoot down all his arguments and negotiations and logical factoids.

He snorted and glanced at me, a glimmer of hope still in his eyes. Is this a joke? they asked. No, it’s not. Is she going to burst out laughing and hug me and say ‘just kidding! Of course I’ll spend the rest of my life with you as your devoted wife!’ That’s a Hell No right there buddy. Is she really going to leave it like this? You betcha!

“I got work Stefan. I’ll see you later.”

I whipped my long red hair out of the way and swung my bag onto my shoulder, a practiced move. And I walked away.

“What?! Rory, come on!”

“Byyeeeeeee!” I gave a half hearted wave.

Great. My lunch break was wasted now. I stormed down the walk way, taking long strides back toward the business district. I wanted to take off my four inch heels as they pounded down the cement and stab the eye balls of every male within striking distance who so much as looked at me. I was expecting sub sandwiches on a park bench fifteen minutes ago so I skipped snacking on my break and did a mini work out instead, boosting my metabolism and psyching myself out for the sandwich and a some kisses. So not only was I hangry but now I had the added stress of an ego-bruised boyfriend to deal with at the end of the day. Did the day start out good? I can’t even remember. The haze of crimson dulled my brain functions.

Stupid idiot.

“Miss? Excuse me–”

I turned, my eyes glaring at the young man walking toward me in a hurry. He had on a dark blue suit that brought out the electric shades of blue in his eyes and a gorgeous paisley tie in shades of metallic silver and red. And he was British. Or maybe Aussie. Naturally tan with a more-than-pleasant looking face. I might have appreciated him a little more if the universe wasn’t so hell-bent on me having a shit day.

“What?” I snapped.

Mr. Blue eyes hesitated, not expecting such an unwelcome response. He fumbled in his jacket pocket and held out my work badge. There was the normal me, all smiles and pink glowing cheeks in the thumbnail photograph. What a contrast.

“Ah crap,” I muttered, taking the plastic from his outstretched hand. “Thanks. And sorry.”

I tacked on the last part quickly.

The badge must’ve unclipped from my bag when I whirled around and made my dramatic exit. My face heated in a tomato blush and I turned away, ready to go back to my office and look over photos and fonts and edit articles. Bury myself in work and forget the outside world existed.

“Wait! Miss um–”

I gave him a side ways glare, my red face going redder. We’re all men stupid today?

“Sorry.”

He did actually look properly sorry.

“My grandmum. She saw the um–she saw what happened. She wanted to talk to you.”

Oh this day just keeps getting better. Mr. Blue eyes winced, clearly uncomfortable facing a vengeful harpy such as myself. Now I had to deal with an elderly woman trying to “talk some common sense into me” by foisting her traditions and wisdom on the younger generation.

“I don’t have time. I’m going to be late for work and I still need to get something to eat.”

“Please.” He held out his hands to me palms up; a gesture of pleading and subservience. “We have a picnic set up in the park. Tea and biscuits and sandwiches. We have more than enough and we’re very happy to accommodate you.”

Damn Brits and their damn tea and suave mannerisms.

“I’m not exactly good company right now,” I said.

Clearly. He was startling to look frantic now and the part of me that had horns and a pitch fork basked in glee that someone might be having a worse day than me.

“She insisted. I–just–please? It’s incredibly awkward to beg in public to a brassed off stranger but she’ll be disappointed if I couldn’t convince you.”

I gave him my “Yeah right” eye brows and a glib stare. He looked at me dead serious.

“She very stubborn you know. She would come after you herself.”

The eye brow cocked.

“She knows where you work. Well, I do but I would be forced to tell her.”

He pointed at the badge in my hand and I blinked, my inner tirade momentarily silenced. Well Crap. If she wants to talk that badly…

“I have to admit having an elderly stalker is an amusing story but I’d rather not have to pay a hospital bill for a broken hip from her chasing me.”

“Thank you.”

The relief in his handsome face nudged a tiny bit of the chip off my shoulder. Oh fine. What could it hurt? At least I’ll be fed and I can spend a few minutes enjoying the craptacular afternoon.

I took out my phone and texted my boss, saying I stumbled onto a good story and would be late back in. She wouldn’t care. I was the best employee she had and rarely stepped a toe out of line. When I did, it really was for something good and she grew to trust my instincts.

“I’m Benjamin by the way,” Blue eyes said, holding out his elbow for me to take.

“Really?” I asked, eyeing the appendage offensively.

“Chivalry isn’t dead everywhere you know.”

“Just in America,” I said but took the elbow anyway. “I’m Aurora.”

“How beautiful. It suits you, this name of many colors.”

“Call me Rory.”

He smiled at me, showing perfect white teeth. I ran my tongue self-consciously over my one crooked tooth. Man I really should have gotten braces as a kid.

“It also suits you.”

We started to walk back the way we came. I felt so lame walking in my green pant suit with my hand tucked inside Benjamin’s arm. Weren’t manners like this reserved for fancy galas and High Teas at the palace or something? Or for young couples at Prom?

We crossed onto the grass and I looked out at the meandering groups of park-goers, wondering which way Stefan went. Where was he going to go to lick his wounds? The fitness center? His class room? A hike in the woods? I had no idea. I didn’t want to deal with him sooner than I had to so hopefully he wasn’t still in the park.

“There she is.”

I looked around for an old lady in a wheel chair or sitting in a collapsible chair but the only elderly person I saw was sitting on a thick plaid blanket and she had bright purple hair. Her legs were tucked neatly underneath her in creamy palazzo pants and a soft blue cashmere sweater. When we got closer I noticed her bare toes matched the color of her hair.

“That’s very purple,” I whispered, leaning in close.

“She was going for more of a lavender color but the color took too well to her hair. She’ll give it a couple washes to tone it down.”

“And this is a normal thing with her?”

Benjamin chuckled and the inner girly part of me deep down underneath the irritation sighed appreciatively.

“Oh yes. Last month it was emerald green for St. Patrick’s day.”

“Your granny is sublime,” I said and stopped at the edge of the blanket, releasing Ben’s elbow.

“Why thank you young lady, I appreciate you saying so.”

A barely wrinkled face covered by a large pair of designer sunglasses beamed up at me, showing me a smile that let me know good dental genetics ran strong in Ben’s family. I could feel the calm confidence radiating off this woman and I liked her immediately. Definitely not the lecture-y type and I knew women types.

“Grandmum, this is Aurora.”

“Rory actually.”

I held out my hand and she gripped it firmly for a moment.

“Rory, this is my grandmum Dame Leslie.”

“But you may call me LeeLee. The Dame ages me immensely.”

“Terrific,” I said, trying to edge out the sarcasm in my voice but not succeeding.

“Please sit. We have ham and cucumber sandwiches, a fruit and cheese platter, petite fours, tea…make yourself comfortable. And do take off your heels dear. I know you must’ve struggled crossing the lawn in those gorgeous monstrosities.”

My calves were indeed killing me, standing on tip toe to avoid aerating the lawn and soiling the heels on my $400 Prada.

“Thanks.”

Ben sat next to me and kicked off his shoes as well, stretching out and grabbing two thermoses.

“Iced Jasmine green or hot Darjeeling?”

This isn’t weird, having tea out of a thermos. No fine china for a High Tea at the park with a Dame and her grandson?

“Iced please.”

Benny boy busied himself pouring out drinks and the purple haired LeeLee took it upon herself to make me a plate of snacks while I looked on curiously. I took a dainty sandwich and put the whole thing in my mouth. Not exactly the sub sandwich I was hoping for but food was food.

“This is good. Thank you.”

I tried to make nice. It came out a little stagnant but manners were manners. I tucked my hair behind my ears and ate another sandwich.

“It’s our pleasure,” LeeLee said generously. “Now Rory, why did you turn down that young man’s proposal? It’s very unusual to see a young woman turn down a man on his knees.”

“Grandmum!”

I choked on a piece of unchewed cucumber and set down my plate, taking a gulp of the tea Ben handed me in a glass.

“How did you even see that from all the way over here?”

“We witnessed it as we were crossing the green,” Ben replied in a low embarrassed voice.

Right to the point. Don’t Brits usually sugar coat things? Perhaps not purple haired grannies. Maybe they learn not to waste time as they near the end of life.

“I’m merely curious Benjamin.” LeeLee defended herself in a voice tinged with amusement. “She doesn’t have to answer if she doesn’t want to.”

Her tone and her words didn’t match at all. Her words were polite but her tone said ‘I am the purple-haired woman who sent my grandson to prostrate before you to have lunch with us to satisfy my curiosity.’ Yikes. I answered her frank question with a frank response.

“Because I don’t believe in legal slavery.”

There was a moment of shocked silence and then gales of laughter from both of my lunch hosts.

“Marriage isn’t slavery–” “Oh how right you are my dear!”

Now grandmum and grandson faced off, one aghast and the other grinning and patting my knee.

“How can you say that grandmum? You were married for 48 years!”

“And now I’m free, my boy. Free to be whomever I wish without having to compromise or apologize.”

Ben looked down at his hands and I felt that a little corner of his world shifted irrevocably. His shoulders hunched forward and he bowed his head low, trying to absorb the blow.

“I take it for 48 years your hair was never any other color than natural?” I asked, popping a grape into my mouth.

“Never.”

We took a moment to reflect and drink some tea, waiting for Ben to recuperate a little.

“I think we’ve shocked him,” LeeLee said quietly to me. “Why don’t you go ahead and explain while he recovers his wits.”

I took another swallow of tea and cleared my throat.

“There’s one thing I want to say before I explain,” I said. “And that is that I do love Stefan. He is one of the reasons my heart beats every day and I would give my life up in a second for him.”

Ben looked at me, disbelief and relief warring on his face. He looked at his grandmum and she nodded, agreeing with his silent question.

“But I won’t marry him.”

LeeLee picked up a piece of watermelon with a small fork and smiled gently before she ate it.

“Why is that my dear?”

“The tradition is antiquated and irrelevant for one,” I explained, settling into the rant like a well worn couch that had my butt print permanently embedded in it. “Marriages were contracts between political and royal families to broker alliances and gain land and trade rights. It was also a religious commandment that man and wife should join in holy matrimony and breed like bunnies to continue humanity and the all-important royal genetics. Clearly. You Brits should know this intimately.”

“Long live the Queen,” LeeLee chuckled at this and I kept going, ignoring Ben’s scoffs.

“There’s also a difference between a wedding and a marriage. Weddings are lavish parties to celebrate the union of two people, two lands, two houses, two families. The reception was used to mingle the guests and show unity and provide entertainment and drink so people would forget they hated each other or whatever the case may be.”

“Not that much difference between now and then,” Ben muttered, biting into a sandwich forcefully.

“Marriage though; marriage is what comes AFTER the wedding.”

I stretched out my legs and took a sip of tea. I needed to repaint my toes.

“Most people don’t really think about after the honey moon. They get this fluffed up version of marriage from books and tv shows. They see these perfectly happy, perfectly in love couples that lovingly divide up the chores and go to work and come home to a horny partner that wants to shag them into the early hours of the morning and then make them breakfast afterward.”

No bitterness there. Nope. I shrugged a shoulder.

“It might be true for a couple of months. Maybe a year if you’re lucky. And then something happens. The car breaks down, there’s a pregnancy scare, a parent dies, a partner starts to snore at night, the sex starts to get boring but no one wants to say so out of fear. Suddenly the rose-colored glasses crack and the glass starts falling away to reveal what marriage truly is.”

I paused for dramatic effect and he couldn’t help but take the bait.

“And what’s that?” Ben asked, an edge to his voice. He’d been drinking his tea sullenly, all jovial humor gone from him now.

“Work.”

I know that’s not what he expected me to say and I could see the clouds of arguments wafting off of him. He was struggling to hold it in, his strict Brit manners binding him into civility.

“What if the work is worth it?” he finally got out, biting back the words he really wanted to say.

“How would you know?” I shot back.

He faltered. “Well I don’t have first hand experience but I imagine we’d talk about it of course.”

I smiled, predicting his answer. Like cocking the gun back to set up the kill shot.

“You’d talk about it? When?When is a good time to talk about if marriage is worth it? When are you going to sit down with your partner and really ask them what marriage means to them and what you’re hoping to achieve by legally binding yourself to another person? Before you say ‘I Do’? After your first fight? After your first kid?”

Ben and LeeLee were both silent, one dreading and one expectant.

“The answer is, you don’t know. How old are you Ben?”

“I’m turning twenty-two in June.”

The pride he had in his voice ticked me off. So proud of being ‘a man” now eh? College graduate and ready to take on anything. My god how I wanted to knock him into the real world.

“I take it you look so angry because you already have a marriage proposal in the works, am I right?

His silence and glare was enough of an answer and I gave a cruel smile. I wanted to save his innocent soul from the jaws of holy matrimony but I knew in his current state I wouldn’t be able to reach him. In a moment of brilliance I understand now why I was here. I looked for confirmation at LeeLee and she nodded over her tea and flicked a pinky at her naive progeny as if to say “Break him. Be my guest.”

“Ben, I know you really don’t like what I have to say because you want to cling to the rose-colored glasses. I get it. You want the fantasy, the dream, the white doves and the rose petals. You deserve it. But can I ask you one question?”

“I suppose.”

I was his least favorite person in the world right now, second only to his grandmum, who had just revealed a life-altering lie. As much as I wanted to force him to see the truth of the thing and hear me out, there was no way a lecture was going to move him. My ire drained out of me and my fighting muscles relaxed. My voice grew gentler as I threw the ball in his court.

“Can you do all that without a marriage contract?”

I don’t know if he expected that question but he blinked down at his tea cup and then looked up at me, cocking his head to the side. His eyes burned into me, lightning blue. He’s rallying, I thought. He’s turning his anger into logic and fighting back.

“You want me to say the obvious answer and I’m not inclined to because it’s unfair. You’re basing your question on the larger picture and you can’t do that. You have to take into consideration many factors like religious preferences, parental input, moral beliefs and modern stigma. Many couples get married solely on the fact their faith says they must.”

I leaned back on the blanket, supporting my body against my outstretched arms, my belly somewhat satisfied now. The raging redhead temper was quenched at least on one front.

“Does yours?”

He pursed his lips and I felt a flicker of satisfaction at his answer.

“No.”

He was annoyed at giving me that small win.

“Does hers?” I asked. “Or his?” I tacked on delicately.

She is not affiliated with any church organized religion.”

I nodded once, acknowledging.

“Do your parental units vehemently disagree with you loving and living with a woman without a marriage first?”

LeeLee waved a hand at us and chimed in.

“This parental unit has no qualms.” She turned to me and explained. “Both his parents were killed in Iraq when he was younger. His grand pappy and I raised him since.”

Oh crap.

“I’m sorry for your loss Ben.”

He gave a sad heartless smile. “Thanks. Grand Pappy would have insisted on a marriage Grandmum and you know it.”

Poor cornered Ben. Trying to garner support from the dead.

“And you would have used him as vindication to be right rather than listen to reason and experience? Shame on you for being so narrow-minded. Like a little boy pointing and yelling ‘see I told you!’ just for the sake of being right.”

Her glasses hid her eyes but I could tell her eyebrows would be down cast and her eyes filled with disappointment. Ben looked properly scolded. I felt the shadow of being a guest over-staying her welcome creeping up on me so I hurried through the rest of my questioning to get to the point.

“Do her parents need her to be married before she lives with you?” I asked, breaking up the tense silence.

He opened his mouth and then clicked it shut. I could tell he was running through the rolodex of facts in his brain, trying to remember if they did or didn’t care.

“Do your moral beliefs or hers say you need a big fancy wedding at this point in the relationship just to prove to everyone you belong together and are happy?”

Fed up, Ben threw up his arms.

“No, okay? No to everything!”

“Wait now,” I said, leaning forward again and putting a hand on his, getting his attention. “One last question and this one is easy.”

He waited.

“When was the last time you truly enjoyed yourself at a wedding?”

I heard LeeLee hum lightly and pick up a grape to hide her smile.

“I—well—There was Brad’s…no. Maybe Amelia’s? That one was okay but the food–maybe not. Definitely not Tom’s. Gawd–”

Ben physically shuddered and grimaced.

“Weddings are expensive Ben. To throw a really nice party, you gotta have the money. Young people are always in a rush to get married because they thing it’s romantic and will somehow enhance the quality of life together but really, all you end up with is debt. Who wants to start their lives as a married unit in debt? Why don’t you guys save up and throw a really nice party that everyone will remember as the one to beat? Or buy a house and have a beautiful back yard reception, celebrating your accomplishments as a couple and how strong you’ve become?”

It was a speech I had said probably a thousand times to eager friends and clients who wanted a shot gun wedding. Most of them didn’t hear me with tulle and rose petals dancing in front of their eyes but I never stopped trying. Ben looked like he would be one of the hopeful few that might take my advice into consideration, once he got over his need for tradition and the romantic fluff he was spoon fed since childhood.

I shifted to the edge of the blanket and grabbed up my shoes, preparing to rise and take my leave. I glanced over my shoulder and looked once more at Ben, who looked haggard.

“It is my staunch belief that if a couple decides to be together, dedicating their lives to enhancing themselves in order to be a better partner and person, that it is infinitely harder and more commendable than doing it because of a contract. To choose that person over and over, every day by a conscious and willing decision says so much more than a piece of paper.”

I struggled to my feet and picked up my purse, throwing my hair back to settle it on my shoulder. Ben, ever the gentleman, rose as well.

“I love Stefan today and although he pissed me off, I’ll forgive him and love him tomorrow too. We’ll come to a compromise on the whole wedding thing eventually and if that takes a year or five years or twenty, that’s okay. There also may come a day where one or both of us decide we don’t want to choose the other any more and that’s okay too. A least less expensive than a divorce. Marriage is work forged from a contract. A partnership is work forged from your own choices and desire.”

“But the only thing separating the two is a piece of paper and thousands of dollars,” LeeLee said, finishing the monologue gracefully. “Rory, it was a pleasure to have you for lunch. It was very insightful.”

She took my hand and rubbed it between hers.

“I hope that your Bridal Magazine does well this quarter.”

“Thank you. I hope you can find the perfect shade of lavender.”

I turned to Ben and offered my hand, unsure if he would be willing to take it after ripping his beliefs apart at the seams.

“You know, you would be a decent divorce lawyer. I may have an opening for a partner for you if you’re willing to take the Barr exam.”

I threw my head back and laughed loudly, genuinely amused.

“Is that what you’re training to be? Oh Ben, I may have a job for YOU if you flunk out of divorce court. You’re a romantic at heart. You know where I work. Look me up.”

“See you then Rory.”

“Thank you for lunch Ben. Take care and think carefully.”

I didn’t put my shoes back on as I walked through the park back toward my building. Maybe after work I’ll pick up some Pho and some potted flowers from the nursery down the street. I DID make my beloved boyfriend look like an epic fool in public. He was still an idiot for hoping but I loved him. My last thought before switching into work mode was “I wonder if I would be invited to Ben’s wedding?”

Word Sprint #5 “Then and Far from Now”

(Parameters: 6 paragraphs 3/3, Random scenario generator: “Two families having a picnic, one 50 years in the past and one 50 years in the future”)

Then and Far from Now”

50 years ago, under the ancient oak tree, there was a family having a picnic, like they did every Sunday after church. There was a checkered blanket, a gently used wicker basket brimming with home-made delights and a lovely family surrounding it. The boys would run ahead and set the blanket down on top of the prickly oak leaves after a fun quick round of tug-o-war. The girls followed more sedately, carrying pitchers of lemonade and fruit punch, dutifully helping mother while trying to keep their dresses clean. Father carried the basket and mother carried a bouquet of sweet lavender and mint to set on the edges of the blanket to discourage bugs.

When they settled they held hands and bowed their heads, and father said a prayer for forgiveness, health, love and strength for the coming times. Then the meal was brought forth, juggled from hand to hand and settled on the blanket, a smorgasbord of mother’s fine cooking. The boys ripped through their sandwiches, orange slices and cookies, eager to play after hours of being forced into stillness at church. The girls preferred to chat quietly first among themselves, savoring the meal and the reprieve away from annoying brothers. But eventually even they couldn’t resist the beautiful day and were soon running through the flowers and playing as children should.

Mother and father sipped lemonade, touching shoulders as they sat back on the grass and enjoyed their day of rest, thanking the Lord in their hearts for a bountiful meal and beautiful children, knowing that so many had much less. When the children were distracted, they shared a kiss and a secret smile, still as in love now as when they first met. “Till Death do Us Part” was a serious vow but it wasn’t a burden. Not for them, the forever young couple who believed it took three to hold a marriage together.

The Oak tree heard it all. It remembered the pitter-patter of little feet turning into the loud thumps of adults coming to and fro, doing chores and going to work. It remembered fevered lovers conversations, tearful fights, mournful grievances and all the elderly advice given to younger generations. It also heard the hum of technology and felt the electrical current of the world increase. The world became white noise, dulling the senses and distracting from the beauty of nature.

Instead of visiting nature to be in it, 2068 observed it from behind a fence. “For preservation”. A museum collector’s item instead of a connected piece to the puzzle called Mother Earth. Disinterested eyes glanced over its mighty branches and craggy bark. The whisper of its leaves in the wind fell on deaf ears, plugged with head phones that funneled in noise directly to the brain. The families didn’t interact with each other now, but with their gadgets and phones, taking selfies and sending them to friends thousands of miles away; getting likes on social media for visiting “the oldest tree at blah blah museum and recreation!”. Even the youngest ones were plugged into tablets, scrunching their chubby cheeks in concentration over the cacophony.

There were different kinds of picnics held there under the shade of the tree now, ones full of lights and sleek black boxes blinking lights that offered a full entertainment experience. Music, movies, and video games, all played out in nature. With the click of a button, suddenly Abraham Lincoln was there, talking and interacting with humans as if he had never been dead. Trevor Noah joined in the conversation, cracking jokes and truths like a modern-day Jester as did Stephanie Meyer and Freddie Mercury. Donald Trump joined in briefly, said two words and was quickly eliminated to the groans of the crowd. They ate the food as an after thought, mostly synthesized to preserve resources and enhanced with vitamins, then continued to push buttons and smile into the artificial lights of their rectangles.

 

If I see it, it shall Crack

If I see it, it shall crack.

If I touch it, it shall break.

 

I thought my walls were mortared brick. Barbed wire and galvanized steel. I watched you at the base of them, staring up. You, this skinny waif. What could you do? I’d rain acid on you and you stood there unmoving. I’d send volleys of sticks and stones and you endured, sloughing off the debris with a shrug of your bony shoulders.

When you reached your hand out, I held my breath. You looked at me and I cannot fathom what you saw but I exhaled when you lowered it again. Always with relief. You can’t do that.

Don’t do that.

You told me stories, juggling words and images like a jester. My lips stretched into a smile while we played together far apart, you looking up and me looking down. I didn’t notice, or maybe I pretended not to notice, but my line of vision narrowed to the exclusion of everything else.

You were rooted inches from me; like the trees you were so fond of and you insisted you had no desire to leave. Why would you, you asked. You had sunlight and shade and rain all in one place. You would grow strong here. Not could. Would.

What? Don’t say those things.

I couldn’t keep you. Don’t you see?

You showed me bright flowers. Spots of lovely color down on your level of the world. You pointed out furry fauna in the distance and I became enamored with the look of innocent merriment on your face. I opened my mouth and colors would come out to swirl around you and make you smile. Sometimes to make you cringe and I regretted those times. Regretted relying on you so much but I couldn’t help it. You listened and sympathized and I craved your wisdom; that of an old man thrice your age.

You coaxed me down from my parapet, step by reluctant step. Damn you. I didn’t even notice.

 

I always thought I was the flame.

Seeing you in front of me, I understand now I was the moth.

 

If I see it, it shall crack.

One day, after a long and painful and wonderful dance between us, I reached for you. I unlocked the door at the bottom and I pushed it open slowly, hand trembling, storms and tempests forgotten. I leaned against the door and closed my eyes, taking a breath before proceeding. I willed your hand to raise to me again. I promise I’ll catch it this time!

My heart was in my throat. It throbbed, adding to the desperation to get them out. But for a second, when I caught your eye and opened my lips to speak the pulsating words that would set us free, you looked away– For a moment, you turned away, distracted by a flash of color beyond my vision. It wasn’t the first time but this was the most important time.

If I touch it, it shall break

Everything shattered. Not brick and steel but the most delicate of glass, the bell jar that had been surrounding us until now, keeping us cocooned in our intimate dance. It rained down on us, cutting skin and making me scream. Not from pain. How DARE you look away?! Love turned to scorn in a flash and I flung my scorched blood in your eyes when you turned back around, bewildered and scared.

I tried to take a step. I don’t remember if it was forward of back but your hands flung open the door. They stopped me. I heard something snap and I gasped, vision blurred as the world went soft.

Oh God…

Not on the outside, but on the inside. It wasn’t bone or a muscle. Something intangible. I was flooded with molten sunlight like a break in the thunder clouds. It was then that I knew that if you started to walk away from me, I would have crawled over the shattered glass of my own making, naked on my belly, shredding my outer person to ribbons if it meant I could follow you.

Not that you would let me. No, you didn’t let me walk the path of pain in pursuit of you. Not now, not then. You would rather I walk across you as a bridge than harm myself further. Instead, you brought my face up to yours and breathed life into me, waking up seeds long dead and whispering to them in a secret language I barely remember.

You grew happiness in me and it bloomed slowly into something bright and real. Vibrant petals that shyly opened their faces to you. Fluorescent pink, speckled orange, palest beautiful yellow. Colors you waited for.

You, with your patience and your scars. You, whom I could not take my eyes off of, even sitting atop my walls. I was the arrow and you were my magnet, pointing steadfast north. I didn’t wiggle or waver such was your pull for me.

If I touch it, it shall break.

It wasn’t you that broke. I assumed it would be you because I’m me and that’s what I do. I hold things tightly and I break them. But you are deceptively strong. Your bones are thin but they are steel and your heart beats valiantly for the adventure ahead of us. You hold my hand confidently but when I want to run back to my tower, you let me because you know I’ll come back to you. The face you show me shines with hope and I’ve become addicted to it.

You dodged past my cynicism and doubt and you broke me with your gentleness. I lay comfortable in your arms now, surrounded by color and the tendrils of love wrap around us, binding us gently but firmly.

“I love you.”

Word Sprints #4 “Girls, Garlic and Fangs”

(Parameters: free write, Format: First Person POV, Subject: Three Randomly Generated Nouns–“Garlic, Hell, Car”)

Goddamn vampires.

Can’t a girl go out and buy groceries without being mauled? Seriously. The older ones know better. They’ve long since sloughed off their dramatic antics and instead they choose their victims with dignity, lying in wait and searching for a greater challenge. These newly turned ones though. They fly at you out of nowhere, going straight for the jugular. Assholes.

It’s my belief that when humans get bitten and turned, some of their brain cells die. Technically they die everywhere and come back to life but not all of the brain does. It’s the only explanation I have for these nublets forgetting that humans aren’t surprised by the existence of the supernatural anymore. There are stores that sell garlic scented jewelry and silver nail polish. There’s holy water cologne and earbuds to negate banshee shrieks. Going for the seemingly defenseless human in a darkened alley way will get them castrated more often than get them a meal. In my case, it gets them a one way ticket to Hell on Wheels.

“Quit yer bitching” I snapped at the teenage vamp hissing and spitting behind me. My boots clomped across the pavement at a determined pace as I dragged him through the streets. People made way for the cranky blonde with the barbed whip wrapped around the nublet vamp’s neck. I had a ripped back of groceries swinging from the other hand. My bananas were bruised and my Nilla Wafers were crushed from his sudden attack. There goes breakfast for the week. I wish I had the time to make him pay myself but I had other obligations that night.

“Where are you taking me?” he spat, yanking with all his feeble vampy strength. I yanked him forward and he stumbled into my back, getting a face full of the silver spikes on my jacket. He yelped and started to whine. Stronger than humans these supes were not. Becoming a vampire was more like an ad for dieting. “Get undead now and become super gorgeous, super strong, and have thrall over the human race! Call today and one of our representative would be happy to service you!” We were so over it. The ones stupid enough to fall for it deserved to get whatever was coming for them be it stake, beheading or in my case…

“Hey Zan!” I had to shout over the roar of the engines and the crowd to make myself be heard. “I got a volunteer for you got tonight’s derby!”

I handed my whip over to a large muscly bouncer manning one of the side doors of the arena. He looked at the whip, the bloody nublet vamp, and then me. He cocked an eyebrow.

“Tried to fang me. Bruised my bananas.”

“Sounds like a good time.”

I smirked. He would know. I’d bruised his banana plenty in our shared past.

 

“I guess he’ll find out.”

“So what’ll it be? Derby? Obstacles? Gush Mob?”

“I say tit for tat is fair punishment.”

“Derby it is. We’ll strap him in next round and bang him up a bit. We appreciate your contribution to the festivities.”

I enjoyed the look of abject horror on the fanger’s face hearing this dialogue. He started gibbering when money exchanged hands and I saluted him.

“Always a pleasure. I’ll be back for my toy later.”

“Take it by force and it’s a date.”

I gave a backward wave, ignoring the pleading and the cries, and sashayed back through the cars, folding the bills and putting them into my bra. Hell on Wheels: Entertainment for humans, Monster Truck Gladiator style. Some supes were paid to work the trucks, some were drafted and some, like my nub, were brought in for attempted violation of my sacred white girl skin. He would think twice about fanging someone in a dark alley once he’d been in the pit with 13 other criminals all hell bent on being the last survivor, ensuring his freedom.

Goddamn vamps. At least I could get more bananas now.

Word Sprints #3 “Sin for Good”

(Parameters: Time: 15 minutes, Format: “Villain POV” Prompt: random dialogue generator)

“You did a bad thing for a good reason.” 

The words were almost lost to the roar of the flames. I barely heard them. The three of us stood above the fiery inferno on our cliff, watching the smoke puff thickly into the night sky. The stars were obscured, as was the dim light of the moon. This was good for us. We planned well.

“It wasn’t a good reason,” I said. “But it was necessary. They wouldn’t listen.”

“Same diff. Let’s go before the po po get here. Good or no, we’ll be blamed if we’re caught standing around and I don’t intend on going back to prison.”

Mal was our muscle. She’s the one that hauled the charges all the way into the forest and lashed them to the trees. She knew the forest best, having hid there for months before we found her as we fled for our lives. Trick gave a cover story for all of us, using his charm and silver tongue to dissuade any suspicion. He used to work for them, until I came. I was the one that hit the button. It was my plan after all, the mastermind. The victim.

They were hiding in there, the kidnappers. The Cannibals. We’d read the papers. We feared for our friends and neighbors. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. I had holes in my thighs shaped like teeth. One of them was from Trick but only because he had to. I forgave him because he got me out. And now, this was our retribution.

I took one step forward and then turned. I looked Trick in the eyes and he gave me a cocky grin.

“I’m sorry. Maybe I don’t forgive you.”

With a quick rush of adreneline to my arms, I shoved the thin boy off the cliff. He teetered and scrabbled and yelled for his life. My finger touched the edge of his hole as he went over the edge and his voice was lost to the fire. Too bad cannibals liked it raw. He wasn’t much of a meal anyway. Mal straightened when I looked at her, daring me.

“No beef,” I said and we walked into the shadows of the trees where three back packs waited for us. We took ours and left Trick’s. He’d be our fall guy. Haha, get it? Fall.

“No meat at all, thank you very much. I’m vegan after this. Sick fucks.”

“Indeed.”