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2015 - ENCORE POSTINGS

Friday, January 30, 2015

Iris, Goddess of Rainbows, Meets the West Wind By Diana McCollum

Copyright 1/30/2015

Iris plopped down on her white cloud bed only to find it lumpy and hard.  She stood up and waved the clouds aside to reveal her sisters the brats, uh, harpies, Aello, Celaeno, and Ocypete.  They tittered and laughed and flew up to the corner of the room out of her reach.

Iris unfolded her wings and waved them back and forth creating a breeze strong enough to blow the harpies out of her room.  Before Aello left the room she shouted over her shoulder, “Father wants to see you now, Iris.”

Summoned by her father, Thaumas, one of the sea gods, meant one of two things.  Either he had found her future husband or something was wrong in the mortal world.  It didn’t matter which it was she was screwed.  Her father and mother, Electra patron of Gilly pond in Ireland, insisted the time had come for Iris to marry.  Her mother wanted grandbabies and her father wanted her settled and living in her own household.  Father’s hands were full trying to rein in the hyper-active triplets. 

The mortal world should be in good stead.  Let’s see she had watered the appropriate clouds for rain, she had placed the proper number of rainbows, and had delivered all the messages left in her in box by the various gods.  This time she had remembered to change to mortal form when delivering the messages from the gods, so she was good there.  Nope, she couldn’t think of any reason for father to be upset with her.

The blue sea motif on the walls of the hall way and the cool tile on her bare feet sent a chill through her as she descended the length of the passage way.  One more level down and she would be at her father’s chambers.


***

“Cian Boyle is in charge of the leprechauns at Gilly pond, and the leprechauns are having problems with the fairies.  This is upsetting the balance of Harmony in the Fairland’s meadows and forests surrounding Gully pond.  Oceanic Electra, what are you going to do?”  Thaumas boomed, striking his staff on the floor for emphasis.
“I’m sending Iris with a message for dear Cian to come for an audience with us.”  She moved to his side and stroked his arm, hoping to quiet his ill temper.  “I think you and I can kill two birds with one leprechaun.”
“Speak plainly, wife.  I’ve no patience for riddles.”
“Cian needs our help.  And we need his.  He is a close friend with Zephyrus, god of the west wind.  You remember at the banquet last week, the young man who asked for our Iris’s hand in marriage?”
“The same young man that Iris said she would give her wings up rather than marry?”
“The very same one.” 
“Yes, yes, go on.”  Thaumas entwined his hand with Electra’s, pulling her closer; he kissed the back of her hand.  “Pray tell wife, what devious plan are you cooking up?”


***

Iris straightened her robes, tied the gold cord belt around her waist into a pretty bow, and knocked on her father’s door.
“Enter”, Thaumas bellowed.
“Good Eve, father.”  Iris curtsied, still perplexed as to why she was summoned.
“Iris we have an important errand for you.  We need to speak with Cian Boyle.  You must fetch him here.  The leprechauns and fairies are at odds and Fairland and, your mother’s Gilly Pond are in danger.  The balance is off and something must be done.”  His tone left no room for argument.
“Yes, father.  I’ll leave immediately”.  Iris would never disobey her father.  Even if all she wanted to do was take a nap on her cloud bed.  As she turned to leave her mother reached out and touched her sleeve.
“Leprechauns are tricksters.  Be careful dear, and bring only Cian, and bring him directly here.”  Electra smiled at her eldest daughter.


***
Iris led the short little man down the long hallway.
“I’m not liking being here.  The gods, egad, I cannot believe I’ve been summoned.  Tell me missy, where is the goddess Electra?  I know her, she is kind.  I’m not so sure about the rest of them egotistical gods and goddesses.  They might just put me on a platter, serve me up!”  Cian wrinkled his bulbous, red nose as much as was possible.  He stroked his gray beard, took his hat off and then put his hat back on.
“Really Cian!  No one is going truss you up and bake you.  Mother and father just want to talk with you.  They understand there are some problems in Fairland.”  Iris folded her wings in and patted the little man on the head.  “I promise, no harm will come to you.”
She knocked on Thaumas chamber door. 
“Enter.”
“Cian!  Dear friend!”  Electra took his small hand and led him over to Thaumas’s throne. 
“That is all daughter, we’ll see to Cian’s return to Fairland.”
Iris took her leave, closing the door behind her.


***

The next morning Iris was awaken by the harpies.  Aello tickled a feather across Iris’s nose causing her to sneeze which sent the small harpies scattering across the room.
Celaeno and Ocypete buzzed back over to where Iris lay and dove at her like oversized bees. 
“Get out!  Don’t you have some flowers to pollinate or something?”  Iris threw a pillow at Ocypete as she made a dive knocking the small robust harpie across the room.
The mad laughter of the harpies echoed down the hall as they made their escape.
Aello buzzed back, “Father wants to see you, right now Iris!”  She tittered.
What now?  Iris wondered.

“And so there you have it, daughter.  You must settle the feud between the fairies and the leprechauns, and while you are in mortal form.”  Thaumas stroked his long beard. 
Iris had never seen such a sparkle in her father’s eyes before.  Well, if it was that important to him she would do her best to solve the feud. 

Iris landed at the edge of Gilly Pond and placed her clothes and wings behind a bush.  In her mortal form she’d have no use for them.  She summoned her magic and covered herself with mortal clothes.
“Cian?”  She called. 
 “Cian?” Exasperation laced her voice.
“Ah-h, girly, I’m right here.”  Cian stepped from behind a fallen oak tree, leaves crunching under his black buckled boots.  “Do not be so loud least them treacherous fairies know ye are here.”
“So what’s the problem between the leprechauns and the fairies?”
“They are claiming we stole the gold from beneath the rainbow.”
“And did you, steal the gold?”  Iris knew how much leprechauns valued gold, and how they were known to steal or trick you out of your gold.
“It was given to us, by the head fairy himself.”  Cian brushed some dust from his coat sleeve, not making eye contact.
“Given willingly, or did you trick him?”
“I say he gave it eagerly, but if you asked him he might say he was tricked.”  He scraped his boot over the leaves.  “We leprechauns just want to be taken seriously.”
“Then you must stop tricking the fairies.  I want to give the leprechauns a very special job.  You can’t use trickery and you must guard it with your lives.  It is a very important job.  I’ve already talked with the fairies and they’ve agreed.”  She smiled at the nervous little man.
“Is it really important, will we garner some respect from it?”
“Yes.  Whenever I place a rainbow at Gilly pond, the fairies will place a pot of gold at the ends of the rainbow.” She poked him gently in the chest, “And you and your fellow leprechauns will be the security detail.  You will guard the pot of gold until the rightful owner follows the rainbow to the end and claims the pot of gold.  This is an important job that only a trusted leprechaun can do.  Are you all willing to accept this mission?”  She spoke louder so that the leprechauns hiding in the forest would hear her words.
A chorus of 'Yes!' rang from the forest.
“By Gilly, by golly I think you’ve solved our problem.”  He started to waddle towards the forest.  But stopped and turned, “Iris, I have a bit of magic me self.”  He waddled back and handed her a small round stone.  “The very next time you meet a west wind, you must place this stone on the ground before you and face the wind.  Repeat three times, ‘There is good fortune in the west wind, show me your true nature.’.  Then give this stone to the first person you encounter.  I promise you will not regret it.”
What an odd little man she thought, and slipped the stone into her pocket.  She picked her way through the meadow towards Gilly pond.  Rounding a huge boulder a gentle west wind caressed her face and gently lifted her hair.
She fingered the stone.  What the heck?  It was growing warm.  Pulling it out she lay it on the ground before her and repeated what the Leprechaun had said.
The wind picked up speed and twirled around forming a whirlwind.  The dust and leaves blew about and in the middle of the whirlwind appeared a form. 
Her heart beat faster and her throat tightened.  The figure emerged and held out his hand. 
Zephyrus!  Iris picked up the stone and when she placed it in his hand his fingers encircled her hand and the deal was sealed.
Iris belonged to the west wind, and Zephyrus belonged to her.
Once her clothes and wings were back on, she rose hand in hand with Zephyrus up to the heavens.  Iris looked back once waving her free hand and created a spectacular rainbow on Gilly pond.

(If you enjoyed my story please check out my website:       http://dianamccollum.weebly.com/


Friday, January 23, 2015

The Language of Flowers

by Christy Carlyle

For the third time in as many minutes Violet Taylor reminded herself that she had not accepted the invitation to Milly Wilcox’s garden party in the hope of seeing him. She didn’t even know for certain he would attend. It was true that he was nearly a member of the Wilcox family due to his longtime friendship with Milly’s brother. But that made no odds. He was a taciturn man whose behavior was unpredictable on the best of days.
With no thought to his attendance, she had come because Milly invited her, and it was the perfect opportunity to renew their friendship. Though, as she thought on it more, they had never truly developed a deep and meaningful friendship. Their families moved in different circles. Indeed, the Wilcoxes were the kind of family her mother called “the right sort.” The Taylors, on the other hand, were a few crucial steps behind. But that had never bothered Violet. It kept the penurious men away and allowed her a modicum of freedom to do as she pleased. Unfortunately, it also kept the quite well to do men away, and even one who was simply the best friend of a wealthy Wilcox.
He would certainly not attend a garden party. They were too spritely and colorful for such a dour, mirthless man. Of course, he would not have to spend time admiring the Wilcox’s flowers on this afternoon as the April weather had turned rainy and cool. The drawing room curtains were open so that the handful of guests could admire the gardens, but the glass obscured their colors, running them together like watercolor paints under a too damp brush.
He liked the rain, but disliked gardens. He adored the Wilcoxes, but loathed social gatherings that involved more than a couple guests. No, he would most definitely not attend. Indeed, if he did plan to attend, he was now unfashionably late. But it would be just like him to behave abominably.
“He’s here!” A chill trickled down Violet’s back as if she’d been stripped bare in a cool breeze. Her fingers gripped the delicate handle of her teacup so fiercely that she reached out to put it down before crushing the painted porcelain into dust. Watching her hand as she set the cup down, trying to steady it, she noticed that the dainty thing was painted with purple flowers. Were they violets? Not with those ruffles. Purple carnations. How apropos. They stood for capriciousness, whimsy, unreliability. Just like the man who was going to walk through the Wilcox’s drawing room door any moment.
Milly had taken her hand and leaned in close to whisper. “This is precisely why I invited you, Violet.” 
“Yes,” Violet heard herself speak but did not know how she had formed the word. Her mind was busy, racing through every memory of him: every tender moment, every sweet word spoken, and every tear shed. Milly tugged at her hand, scattering memories. The poor girl was beside herself.
“Oh, Violet, I needed you here in case he came. I cannot believe he accepted my invitation. Violet, what should I say to him? I simply have no notion what to say.” In the face of Milly’s high-pitched giddiness, the haze of memory continued to fade and Violet considered the young woman’s words. She could not mean him. He was a frequent, almost constant guest of the Wilcoxes. His presence might set her world off kilter but it would not be cause for Milly’s rapture.
The Wilcox’s elderly butler appeared, silent as a wraith, at Milly’s side. “Miss Wilcox, Lord Greville has arrived.”
The man himself followed the announcement, striding into the room as if he meant to plant a flag and claim it for England. “Do forgive me, Miss Wilcox. I am unforgivably late.” The assembled guests could not take their eyes off of him and his presence was such that it encompassed the entire room. Thomas, Lord Greville, was not only the handsomest man in the county, but also one of the wealthiest. He would be forgiven anything. In two giant strides, he stood before Milly and gallantly took up her hand to brush a kiss along her knuckles. Violet felt the girl’s shiver through her glove, where Milly still clung to her.
As Greville turned away to greet the other guests, Milly found her voice and rasped out a plea. “Violet, please go and fetch Will. He and Edmund are in the billiards room. Do tell them they must put down their silly game and make Thomas...Lord Greville, that is, feel welcome.”
Now it was Violet’s turn to shiver. He was here. Edmund Carrick. The most appealing and maddening man of her acquaintance. The man who’d held her heart, her very future, in his hands. Until he’d changed his mind. Without a word, an explanation, or even an excuse, their courtship had ended. But the questions in Violet’s mind never ceased. They all began with why or what if, and she never found satisfactory answers. Only he had the answers. And now she’d been tasked with fetching him like a nanny chasing after an errant schoolboy.
Violet wasn’t even certain where to find the billiard room. How long had it been since she’d last visited the Wilcoxes? As she exited the drawing room as inconspicuously as possible, she guessed that the faithful butler, Higgins, would surely appear and send her in the right direction. The dining room snagged her attention as she passed. Two maids and a footman circled the table, placing gleaming plates and sparkling crystal just so. They spied her and finished quickly, leaving the room to her in all its glory. Spring flowers spilled from silver bowls and a grand chandelier lit every surface with an amber glow. Even the name cards at each place setting were gilded around the edges. She couldn’t resist looking down the row for Edmund’s card. That’s when she saw it.
A single sprig of flowers lay on one of the plates. Forget-me-nots. Tiny, perfect five-petaled blooms stared up at her with their bright yellow center eyes. They were a stunning blue, as bright as a robin’s egg and lighter than periwinkle. She stepped closer and read her own name on the card in a looping, elaborate hand. Who would leave flowers on her plate? And not just any flowers. These flowers represented true love and constancy. Her pulse began to flutter and she felt suddenly breathless, as if she’d run all the way across the heath. Edmund? Could Edmund have left these flowers as a declaration?
“Miss Taylor, you’ve found my offering.” Violet jumped at the sound of Lord Greville’s smooth, deep voice. She turned, her skirts brushing against his legs. He stood shockingly near.
“Lord Greville. I...” Her voice came out as a squeak, laced with as much panic as Milly’s had been just moments before.
Greville grinned down at her with the most dazzling smile she had ever seen. “I missed my mark, Miss Taylor. You see, I meant to leave those on Miss Wilcox’s plate, but that butler of theirs is quite too efficient. He swept me into the drawing room before I knew what I was about.”
He reached around her and took up the pretty blooms, moving them to a plate near the head of the table. “There. My deed is done. Do keep my secret for now, Miss Taylor. Will you?”
“Of course, my lord.” Based on his status, Violet could deny him very little, but his blue eyes, a deeper shade of forget-me-not blue, were persuasive in their own right. Good for Milly. Now, if only the girl could manage a few coherent words to the man.
Just as Greville took her hand to drop a perfunctory kiss of gratitude, another voice rang through the dining room. Deeper than Greville’s, with a distinctive rasp and a complete absence of Greville’s easy joviality, it was a voice Violet could never mistake.
“Greville. Welcome. Tom will be along soon.” The man hadn’t changed a bit. If anything, the intervening months had brought more character to his face. His dark hair was longer, but it suited him. And for a man of such height and bulk, Violet couldn’t help but notice Edmund Carrick’s grace of movement. Nor could she stifle a tiny gasp as he moved toward her. Though he had spoken to Lord Greville, his eyes were on her, boring into her, looking beyond her plain chestnut hair and pale green eyes, into her essence. She had always felt that he, more than anyone she had ever known, saw her, Violet, for who she truly was. Who she wished to be.
He cut her off, positioning himself so that he faced Greville and was neatly situated between them. “Miss Wilcox must be missing your company in the drawing room.” He paused as if expecting Greville to jump at his command. “I will escort Miss Taylor back. We are old friends.” Old friends! Violet’s mouth fell open and she snapped it shut, stifling the urge to let out a very unladylike scream.
The moment Greville strode from the room, Edmund turned to face her. Before she could speak a word of her hurt, her anger, or her many questions, he cut her off. “I have missed you, Violet.” Instantly warm syrup filled her veins and she opened her mouth to speak words of affection that had been bottled up with her pain. He reached his hand up to touch her cheek and she turned her head slightly, pressing against his warmth, relishing his familiar scent. Then, ever changeable, he snatched his hand away. Her cheek burned where he had touched her.
“What on earth were you doing exchanging flowers with Greville?” His voice was as angry as she’d ever heard it and possessive, as he had no right to be.
“We weren’t exchanging flowers.” Her tone was meant to be dismissive, but she heard it waver and felt the sting of tears she’d stifled too long. “I thought they were from you!” She shouted the final word and the release felt glorious.
He moved closer and looked toward the door, as if he feared they would be overheard. When she looked up into his eyes, she saw that their brown depths were tender. “Why did you think they were from me, Violet?” His voice had lost all trace of anger.
He reached for her again and she moved away from him. “I have no idea. It was a silly notion considering what they symbolize.” All the anger of his abandonment began to simmer, threatening to bubble over into words she could never take back.
“Symbolize? What do they symbolize?” She watched his eyes as he turned to glimpse the lovely cluster of forget-me-nots. “I would guess their name tells the meaning.”
“Yes. They mean ‘stay true to me’ and ‘don’t forget me.’”
“I could never forget you, Violet.” His deep voice was soft now, seductive. But she would not give in.
“They also symbolize constancy. So you can see why I was foolish to think them from you.” She expected him to wince or retort in anger. She was certain her arrow would sting. Instead he moved closer, his voice still low.
“What flower would you have me give you, Violet?”
“I am long past wishing for posies from you, Mr. Carrick.” If she called him Edmund, she would break. She would melt into him and lose herself again. Her anger protected her like armor, and she could not let it slip.
“Come, my lady, you know the language of flowers. Tell me what flower I should give you to say...” He paused just when she needed him to continue. “To tell you what you must already know, Miss Taylor. I am a fool.”
Violet’s throat burned with unspoken words, all of them flooding to get out, but he gave her no time to speak. Instead, he stepped forward and clasped her hand, his long, firm fingers curving into her palm. He tugged and she followed. They crossed the room and he opened the French doors along the wall. Like the drawing room, the dining room looked out onto the Wilcox’s expansive gardens.
The rain had stopped but the grass and every shrub and flower was drenched from the day’s showers. The air smelled rain-scrubbed fresh and even in the waning afternoon light, the array of colors was breathtaking.
He left her standing on the low balcony beyond the French doors and made his way into the garden. When he was knee-deep in blooms, he called back to her. “Which one, Miss Taylor? Which would you have me give you?”
The other guests in the drawing room must have heard his call as Violet saw the window slide open out of the corner of her eye. She recognized the voice of Tom, Milly’s brother, as he shouted to his friend. “Give her a rose, Carrick. All ladies love roses.”
Edmund shot her a questioning glance. “No,” she answered. She did not want a rose. Based on its color, the meaning might be lost, and the only bud visible this early was a bright pink. A rose that shade symbolized passion and desire. She wanted more than that from Edmund Carrick.
He moved onto a lovely jonquil, it’s sunny trumpet bowed by the rain. Its message was “return my affection,” but her affection for Edmund was never in question. She shook her head and he moved away, nearly tripping over a clump of poppies. Their papery petals had been battered by the rain, but a few had recovered, the bold red cup of their bloom revealing only a glimpse of their silky black center. He leaned down toward one of the tall, brazen poppies, but Violet stopped him again. Red poppies were beautiful and exotic, but they symbolized only pleasure. She wished for pleasure with Edmund, certainly, but still more.
He began to move further into the garden and nearly overlooked a neat row of graceful tulips in a variety of colors. They had held up well in the rain and stood tall, like little sentries guarding a sharply trimmed hedge of boxwood. She called out to him. “Wait. There. The tulips.” She saw his mouth shift in a momentary grin, his full lips broadening across his handsome face.
            He reached down for a yellow one and then picked another. He stood as if to return to her and she stopped him. “One of the red, too, Mr. Carrick.” Though the Wilcox’s gardener would probably be appalled at Edmund’s raid on his fine work, the assembled guests seemed to take great pleasure in the spectacle he was making. Violet glimpsed Milly leaning out the drawing room window and the girl shot her a knowing smile.
      
      In a moment he was before her, holding out the vibrant red and yellow tulips as an offering. “Now you must tell me what they mean, Miss Taylor. I hope they mean forgiveness. Perhaps even a second chance to put things right.”
      Violet reached for the tulips, but he would not release them. Instead he covered her hand with his own. “Will you forgive me, Violet?” His voice was so lovely, deep and strong. It rumbled through her, though he spoke softly. She felt his warm breath skittering across her cheeks and realized she was breathing as heavily as he.
            She swallowed hard, sifting the sentiments bursting the seams of her heart. “The yellow tulip symbolizes hopeless love. That is what I have been since last we met. Quite hopeless.” A hot tear slid from the corner of her eye, but she could not stop the words she needed to say. “The red tulip stands for undying love. That is what I feel for you, Edmund.” On a broken whisper, she finally said, “And what I wish from you in return.”
            When he pulled her into his arms, it was an intoxicating relief. Like lead weights, the pain, anger, and hopelessness fell away and the love she’d always felt for him could lift its head once again, as vibrant and strong as the tulips she held in her grasp. She fit with him, against him, as if his body was fashioned with spaces only she could fill.
            He pulled away enough to look down at her, wiping her tears away with the pad of his thumb. “You are named after a flower, my darling Violet. Tell me what a violet symbolizes.”
            Violet took a long breath and closed her eyes, savoring the feel of him, the scent of the rain-soaked garden and the fresh cut tulips, imprinting the moment on her mind and heart. When she opened her eyes, she saw all that she hoped for and needed reflected back in his own dark eyes.
            “Faithfulness.” She spoke the word quietly, reverently.
            His jaw tensed and she saw a flash of pain in his eyes. Then he lowered his head, his lips just inches above hers. “I should have known.” The words had barely left his mouth before he pressed his lips to hers. Her whole body reacted, tautening like a tightly drawn bow, but he gave her only a taste before pulling back. “Will you still have me, Violet? Will you be my wife?” Her eyes widened at his words and he added, “We have wasted enough time, Miss Taylor.”
            Violet pulled back and offered him the red and yellow tulips. With her eyes and the wide smile on her face, she echoed their message: hopeless and undying love.

The language of flowers was a means of communication, particularly popular in the Victorian-era, by which individuals sent coded messages to share secret feelings or express what could not be spoken.



Friday, January 16, 2015

By Robin Weaver

    “Holy hell!”

     Baggy was yelling, but all my neural processing focused on the giant hearse headed straight at my borrowed import.  On the wrong side of Highway 62. 

     My brain went into neutral, but my body responded without me.  My arms steered frantically, guiding the vehicle as far right as possible.  We avoided the careening coffin-mobile, but landed with a thud in a ditch.

     The big Caddie swerved, ramming into the embankment behind us.  I let out a swoosh, feeling the relief one feels to be still breathing after seeing your life flash before you.   We couldn’t afford any delays but I couldn’t help thinking we’d finally gotten a bit of good luck.

    Then I looked in the rearview mirror.  Mistake.

     Because of the incline, the back doors of the hearse flew open.  I watched the coffin tip and then slide out of its Father-Death-ship.  The big steel box skipped over the pavement and crashed into our trunk.

      “Crap.”

      A Lurch-type character jumped out of the hearse.  “My brakes…”  He caught site of the overturned casket and went totally berserk.  A series of  “Oh, Gods” echoed over the countryside.

      Baggy glared at me.  I knew what he was thinking.  If I'd been driving, we wouldn't be delayed again.

     “Shut up.” I snapped before he had a chance to speak.  “If you hadn't been snoring, I might have seen the damn sarcophagus bus sooner.”

“Great.  Now traffic will be deadlocked.”  Baggy's pun was intentional.

Since there wasn’t another car in sight, we cracked up, our cackles a fitting contrast to Lurch’s caterwauling.  We shouldn’t have been laughing.  The cargo in our trunk, assuming there was anything left, had a time limit.  If we missed the delivery time, we didn’t get paid.

Lurch calmed down and called in the accident.  Valuable time ticked away as we waited. We’d been behind schedule before the accident and stood to lose twenty grand.  Baggy and I needed that money.

A half-hour later, my deodorant stopped working when the officer came over and told us to get out of the car.  “I ran a check on your plates.  This car’s been reported stolen.”

           “My cousin lent me the car.”  I pointed to the registration, fighting back tears.  “Look.  We have the same last name.  Just call him.  Here's his number.”  I quickly scribbled Lenny's digits.

“I'm sorry, Miss.”  The officer puffed out a loud breath.  I think he wanted to believe me. “As soon as we take care of the, eh, err, the remains,” he looked distastefully at the coffin, “I have to take you back to the station.”

I remained quiet because I wasn't entirely sure the item we transported for Duke was legit.  We rode in the squad car seats with the childproof doors while a police wrecker towed our car.  At the station, the cop I dubbed Officer Dibble tried to contact Lenny.  Baggy sat calmly, sipping coffee and inhaling donuts while I paced like an incarcerated hyena, jealous he could eat at a time like this.

           Two weeks had passed since Duke first offered us this job.  He said all we had to do was pick up a package in Versailles, Kentucky, and drive 520 miles to Duke's ranch.  Unfortunately, Duke's man, Lange, didn't provide the goods as planned.  For ten days, we waited.

          Every Day, Lange assured us: “I'll have it tomorrow.  For sure.” 

Baggy and I hadn't planned on sleeping in the car that long.  Our grocery fund dwindled until our cupboard was bare.  Then suddenly, the waiting ended.

Lange rushed to the car and shoved a cooler at us.  "Here.  Get this to Duke within twenty-four hours.  Got to go.”

His urgency spurred us into action.  Convinced the package hadn’t been acquired by the letter of the law, we fled.

And ended up in a police station.

As I paced, my stomach growled.  “You think it'd be all right if I took a donut for later?”

Baggy laughed.  “You want to steal donuts?  From cops?”

I was not amused.  After Dibble confirmed the car wasn't stolen, we were released.

“Guess mom’s home cooking is out of the question.”

I nodded.   Earlier, Baggy suggested we stop at his mother's house for a meal and a loan.  Since the accident had cost us six hours, we didn't have time for a detour.  Instead, Baggy made a call and we stopped at a plasma center.

Two hours later and a quart short, we gassed up and Baggy went to see a man about a horse.  I’d just finished filling the tank when I heard the alarm.  It took me a moment to realize the station was being robbed.  The guy with the ski mask and the gun gave it away.

The robber came straight at me.  “Gimme the keys, bitch!” 

Overcome with stupidity, I threw the keys in the opposite direction and ran.  I peered around the dumpster and saw Baggy crawl into the backseat just before the masked man grabbed my keys.  The car sped away and I cursed myself for throwing like a girl.

Twenty minutes later, Officer Dibble and I became reacquainted.  “I told you the car was stolen,” he joked.

I wanted to hit him.  He promised to let me know as soon as he heard anything.

Three hours passed before Dibble returned with news.  “The hoods ditched your car near Radcliff. Your partner got into the driver's seat without knowing the car’d been reported stolen again.”

He laughed.  I didn’t.  A local deputy stopped Baggy and was holding him at the sheriff's office.

“I’m driving over to straighten out the mess.  You want to ride along?”

After that, I called Officer Dibble by his real name.

While he drove, I re-calculated the time.  If we left directly from Radcliff, we could still make our delivery on schedule.  I wasn't sure what the deadline was all about, but I assumed our cargo had an expiration period. 

When we arrived in Radcliff, Baggy gave me a big hug.  I showed my relief by yelling at him.

“Don't ever pull a stunt like that again.” Baggy instinctively covered his crotch.

We left and made good time.  Until the car swerved.

Baggy somehow regained control and steered into the breakdown lane. “Shit.  The tire's flat.”

“Well change it.  That shouldn't take long.”

“Did you forget that we took the tire out to store the cooler?”

I had.  It was a gi-normous cooler.  “Shit,” I repeated.  “We can't even be late on time.”

It took forty-five minutes to hike to the nearest station only to discover we didn't have enough cash for a new tire.  Baggy threw up his hands but I had an idea.  Old WWII vets like cousin Lenny always have an auto-service.  I called him and he called roadside assistance.  Two hours later, we were once again in pursuit of the twenty grand.

After driving most of the night, we arrived at Uncle Duke's ranch with about twenty minutes to spare.  Duke's veterinarian came running toward us.  “Rowena, do you have it?”

“Nice to see you too, Sam.”

“The sperm.  I need the sperm.”

“Sperm?”

Baggy spewed our last soda all over his shirt.  I made a mental note to buy him a sippie-cup.

Feeling woozy, I pointed to the trunk.  Sam grabbed my keys and took the cooler.

Baggy mused, “Let's hope Mr. Ed wasn't shooting blanks.”

As we headed for the house, I wondered if Mr. Ed had been a willing donor.

Baggy whistled.  “Some digs.  You didn't tell me your uncle was rich.”

“He's actually my great uncle.”  Because I would never take a handout, he'd always had a job for me.  Back then, he had cattle.  I looked at the pastures surrounding his mansion and saw nothing but horses.

When the double doors opened, I barely recognized Duke's granddaughter, Sissy.  She hadn't aged well.  Behind her was a sour-faced man I presumed was her brother, Derek.  Except for Cousin Lenny, Duke and his grandchildren were my only living relatives.

“It's about time you got here.  We've been trying to get in touch with you for two weeks.”  Sissy spat as she spoke.  Her spray could have been intentional. 

I frowned at the twosome who had spent summers in the pool while I wadded knee deep in cow shit.  “Why?”

“It's bad enough you missed the funeral, but for some ridiculous reason, Spencer won't read the will without you.”

“Duke’s dead?”

When Sissy made no denials, my knees buckled.  Grief engulfed me.

My great uncle, the closest thing I’d ever had to a father, died the day after I talked to him about the delivery.  I was still crying when the lawyer arrived.

Baggy tried to protest on my behalf, but Sissy and Derek insisted Spencer read the will immediately.  They probably needed Botox money.

A half-hour later, I sat stunned.  My cousins fumed.  I’d inherited the farm and most of the money.  Me, the great niece.  Not the grandchildren.

They stormed off, threatening to sue as they climbed into matching BMWs.

            Six months later, Baggy and I had settled in the old mansion.  You might think our luck had changed, not so.  Sissy and Derek sued, but that was the least of our problems.  If we were able to sell the new foals, we might be able to pay Uncle Duke's back taxes.  Lenny was still bitching because I hadn't returned his car and a tornado damaged the barn roof.

          I worried constantly, but on the ranch, Friday was a half-day, so I headed for the pool.  I dove in and joined Baggy.  He gave me a deep kiss.  “Love you, hon.” 

Well, maybe we did have a little luck.

“Oh, Rowena.  Remember that sperm we delivered?  I just heard Lange’s been arrested  and—”

Not wanting to hear anymore, I planted another kiss on his mouth.  Maybe we didn’t have much luck, but we had each other.

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Friday, January 9, 2015

An Ill-Advised Experiment by Sarah Raplee

Dr. Franklin Stein peered over the rim of his spectacles and squinted at the display on his latest invention, a Physio-Energetic Transposer, or PET, device. The numbers and needles on the dial were a blur, as if they were swimming in lard. Frustration expanded his chest as though it were a balloon on the brink of bursting. He slammed a fist on the laboratory bench and let loose a string of expletives not meant for delicate ears.
He could not work, and it was his own bloody fault! How could he have neglected to order new spectacles? How could he tell President Grant about the delay?
The President would not be pleased with the man his Cabinet members had nicknamed Pet Scientist in Chief. Franklin hated to disappoint the one man who had staunchly supported his wide-ranging research efforts over the past five years.
A soft rap on the door made his stomach clench. He’d believed his new bride, Prudence, to be outside in the garden when he had given into his frustration. Had his coarse language offended her? If only his unique intelligence allowed him to navigate the intricacies of human society with a modicum of grace. But he was the metaphorical bull in the China shop of Society.
Heaving a sigh, he crossed the laboratory in two long strides and flung open the door. The sight of Prue’s beatific smile eased the tension in his shoulders. She seemed unaware of his recent fit of temper. She wrapped her arms around his neck, rose onto her tiptoes and then kissed him with lips as soft as butterfly wings.
As always, she took his breath away.
When she pulled back and gazed up at him through her lashes, laughter danced in her lovely violet eyes. “May I be of help, husband?”
She pressed her lips together instead of smiling, which confused him. Sometimes he felt completely at a loss with her, as if they spoke different non-verbal languages.
Several tendrils of chestnut hair had escaped her chignon to curl alongside the white column of her neck. Franklin found himself imagining what it would feel like to lift them away and kiss her where they had caressed her soft skin. Then he would sweep her off her feet and carry her into the library—
Prue tipped up her chin and raised her brows. “What in the world are you thinking, sir?”
He grinned. “Scandalous thoughts, m’dear, scandalous thoughts.”
Color rose in her cheeks. She folded her arms across her breasts and gazed at him askance. “I only wanted to help, not to distract you.”
He pulled her close, inhaling the calming scent of her flowery perfume. Lord, what did I do to deserve such a woman? She was not a typical female, frail of sensibilities and faint of heart. She helped him when his faults were a hindrance. Otherwise, she overlooked them. No longer a girl like the silly chits who’d hoped to wed him, she had come to his bed with an eagerness and generosity that had astounded him. One taste of her and he was lost forever.
“Well?” Prue said.
Franklin sighed. “I cannot read the transposer dial. I should have ordered new spectacles before the wedding.”
She smiled. “Then I can be of help. I’ll read the instruments for you so your work will not be affected. You can order the spectacles this afternoon.”
He opened his mouth to protest the need to run the errand today, but Prue’s smile melted his thoughts the way sunlight melts butter. Besides, his bride was not afraid to reveal her iron backbone when his well-being was at stake. There was no point in arguing about the spectacles.
She looped her arm through his and they walked toward the PET. Prue stopped unexpectedly and cast a puzzled glance up at him. “What happened to your seawater desalinization project? President Grant expects the results in three days.”
Franklin smiled. He enjoyed having someone intelligent with whom to discuss his work. “Not to worry. I perfected the process two days ago. The President already has my report.”
Her expression cleared. “I must visit the laboratory more frequently. What is your latest project, then?” She bent down to peer at the dial and switches on the PET’s central unit. Bundles of insulated electrical cables protruded from either side of the box for more than a yard before ending in shiny silver helmets.
“I call my new invention a Physio-Energetic Transposer, or PET. The basic idea came to me while I studied at Yale, but my experiments failed repeatedly. I needed a chemical compound with the proper biological and energetic properties for test subject preparation in order to be successful. Unfortunately, I failed to find one at that time.”
“But you’ve discovered one?” Prue said, her eyes shining.
He nodded. “The recent measles outbreak in Baltimore induced me to investigate Native herbal remedies. While searching for a plant to strengthen a person’s resistance to illness, I stumbled onto an herb known as datura. Priests and priestesses of the Indian tribes who live at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers use datura to allow their spirits to roam free of their bodies. I believe datura weakens what I call the physio-energetic bond. This may be what I need to transpose minds.”
His excitement dimmed in the face of her shocked expression. He replayed their brief conversation in his head, but could recall nothing to explain her apparently negative reaction. His shoulders slumped. “What is it?”
Prue composed her features into a smile and laid her palms against his chest. Her warm brown eyes peered up into his. “I’m sorry; I thought you said you were going to transpose minds.” She laughed as if she had told a joke.
In response to Prue laying her hands on his chest, he slid his arms around her supple waist. This was a ritual they had developed to ease them through impending disagreements. The close physical contact helped him to remain calm when he felt confused.
In this case, her reaction to his invention was not at all what he had expected. What the devil did it mean? “That is exactly what I said. The president believes the ability to transpose minds between bodies may serve the country well. That is a direct quote.”
Prue blinked. She studied him for a moment and then shook her head. “Politicians are ambitious men, which sometimes makes them shortsighted.”
Franklin blinked. His fingers tightened on her waist. It had never occurred to him that the President of the United States of America might have faults like any other man. The implications were mind-boggling. His lungs compressed.
Prue cupped his jaw in her warm, soft hand. “Don’t look so horrified, Franklin. Only God is perfect.” She dropped her gaze to the rise and fall of his chest for a moment. “You must remain calm, my dear. Breathe slowly and deeply.”
He did as she instructed. His chest gradually opened up.
She grinned, and he knew she had thought of a way to help him understand her concerns about his project. He relaxed a little.
“Better?” she said, still smiling.
He hadn’t a clue as to what was coming next, but her smile was reassuring. He smiled back. “Much.”
“Help me to understand why you want to transpose minds, other than that the President is in favor of your research. What specific good do you foresee will come of it?”
Prue would wait patiently for his answer. She understood that these sorts of questions were difficult for him to answer. He thought back to the beginning of his quest, back to his time at Yale. He couldn’t remember ever giving the outcome of his work any thought. Why was that? “Predicting the effects of my work in society is impossible.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I disagree. You may find yourself ill-equipped to do so, but I believe I can safely predict little if any good will come of these experiments.”
Franklin didn’t know how to respond. He lifted his gaze to the blank wall and processed her words. Prue believed his work would cause only harm. It was logical to assume she wanted him to quit the PET experiments—forever. The thought alone made him break into a cold sweat. Once he began a project he was like a dog with a bone until he had his answers. He could not bring himself to give up the quest when he was so close to accomplishing his goals. Could he?
Franklin searched his wife’s loving eyes for an answer. Prue had never interfered in his work until today. Nor had she given him bad advice or claimed to have skills or knowledge she did not possess. She must feel strongly about this. She loved him, therefore she wanted what was best for him. “What do you suggest?”
“How far along are you in your research?” In a rare indication of nerves, she briefly worried her full lower lip.
He focused on her mouth while he considered her question. “I have determined the PET is safe to use on guinea pigs. They seem to suffer an hour of confusion before settling into their usual patterns of behavior. But that doesn’t prove their minds were actually transposed. Guinea pigs are very similar in their general behaviors.”
The pink tip of her tongue darted out to lick her lips. He lost his train of thought.
“I suggest we purchase two dogs of differing breeds with very distinct behaviors, one well-trained to follow commands and one totally undisciplined. After we take time to become familiar with the dogs, you may attempt to transpose their minds. If you are successful, their behaviors will offer proof of success. And I have no doubt you will find my negative prediction has been verified”.
He frowned. “But you don’t approve of the PET experiments.”
“I want you to trust my judgment in these matters without reservation. Only hard experience will enable you to accept my advice. Besides, once you’ve begun a project, I am convinced you will fall ill from curiosity if not allowed find the answers you seek.” With an affectionate smile, Prue brushed a lock of hair off his forehead. “I have only one request, Franklin.”
“Of course.”
“When you realize the wisdom of my prediction, will you destroy the PET device along with your notes, and then report that the experiment was an utter failure?”
He drew his brows together. “You want me to lie to the President?”
She shook her head. “If transposing minds causes nothing but problems, then the experiment is a failure for all practical purposes, don’t you see? Just because mankind can do something doesn’t mean we should.”
Prue’s explanation left Franklin breathless, as though he were on the brink of an epiphany but couldn’t see the next step. He was certain of only one thing. He could not stand for her to be unhappy.
“I will do as you ask. You have my word.”
Her eyes shone. “You are the dearest, sweetest man God ever put on this earth.” She pulled his head down for a kiss that burned away all logical thought.
#
A month later, Franklin waited in the laboratory for Sparky and Bruno, the dogs he and Prue had purchased three weeks before, to awaken from anesthesia. Each dog slept on his own pillow on the laboratory floor. Each wore a collar and chain attached to a ring set in the stone wall. They would be able to see each other, but not reach each other.
After completing the transposition, he had removed the silver helmets and tried to make the dogs comfortable. His Physio-Electric Transponder readings had indicated the datura loosened the mind-body connection in both dogs enough for the transposition to be successful. Things seemed to have gone smoothly. Only time would tell.
A soft rap on the door announced Prue’s arrival. Franklin opened the door.
His lovely wife swept into the room bearing a silver tray holding two cups of fragrant tea and a small plate of cookies. She set the tray on a workbench and then handed him a steaming cup. ““I’m so excited I can hardly breathe. Perhaps the tea will calm my nerves.”
Prue chattered when she was nervous.She had told him so.
“What about you, Franklin?” she said, smiling at him over the rim of her teacup. “Are you excited to find out if the transposition worked?”
He considered the question. His stomach was queasy. His muscles felt wound up as tightly as clock springs. His gaze dropped to Sparky’s small, inert form. His heart skipped a beat. What would the incorrigible terrier be like when he awakened?
He had never before owned a dog. The animals' companionship had been enjoyable. He and Prue played fetch with them every morning after breakfast. Bruno was the calmer of the two, obedient and prone to napping. Franklin found stroking the mastiff’s smooth coat quite soothing. Sparky’s antics made him laugh, and the little rascal had turned out to be a champion ratter. Their groom was delighted to have the terrier visit the stables.
Soft fingers grazed his cheek. He started, then offered his wife a sheepish smile. He had become lost in thought and forgotten to answer her question. “I don’t think I’m excited. I feel—twisted up inside.”
Prue sighed. “You’re worried, Franklin,” she said. “You’ve grown attached to the dogs.”
Before he could formulate a response, Bruno’s paws began to twitch.
#
Twenty minutes later both dogs were awake and pulling at the ends of their chains. Bruno, no longer obedient, would not stop barking and jumping around. Franklin wished he had used a larger gauge chain to secure the big dog. This one might not hold much longer..
Little Sparky had staggered around for a few minutes, stopping periodically to blink at Franklin with what felt like reproach. Then he flopped on his side on his pillow and closed his eyes.
Prue laid a hand on Franklin’s arm. She had to shout to be heard over Bruno’s barking. “I believe we have enough behavioral evidence to prove the PET device worked. The noise in here is giving me a headache. Let’s go sit in the garden.”
Franklin let her lead him outside. They sat on a warm stone bench. The air was infused with the scent of roses. Bruno’s muffled barks were clearly audible, but at least he could think again. He removed his spectacles and scrubbed his face with one hand.
Prue’s prediction had been accurate. He would never again doubt her advice. Switching the dogs between bodies was possible, but inadvisable. Dog’s emotions were relatively straightforward and thus easy for him to read. The animals were obviously unhappy. Knowing that made his heart ache. They were also ill-suited for their new bodies. Sparky-the-terrier was an incorrigible mite, while Sparky-the-mastiff was a danger to himself and others. He shuddered to think what might happen if the mastiff got loose.
Transposing people was no doubt possible, but the end result would at best break their spirits. At worst it would drive them insane. He no longer felt driven to continue with these experiments. He did not want to hurt anyone.
He donned his spectacles and then turned to his wife. The love that shone in her eyes made him feel that everything would come out alright. “I would appreciate your assistance in choosing future projects,” he said gravely.
Prue grinned. She began to unpin her hair. To his surprise, he knew exactly what she was thinking. As her hair came down, his blood heated. When the last pin came out, she rose and offered him her hand. “Transposing Sparky and Bruno back into their own bodies can wait until tomorrow. I suspect they need some rest before undergoing a second procedure. Let’s have a lie-down before dinner.”
He kissed the back of her hand, pretending he had misunderstood her intent. “You never take naps.”
She arched her brows at him and slowly unbuttoned the high collar of her white blouse, then the next button, and the next. Franklin swallowed. He could see the shadow of her d├ęcolletage and hear his blood rush in his ears.
“I do not plan to sleep,” she said.
He surged to his feet. “Neither do I.”
With that, he swept her into his arms. Her smile swelled his heart to bursting with love. As he carried her to the French doors that led to the library, he kissed her nose, her eyelids, her chin. After opening the doors, he carried her inside and deposited her on the brocade-covered settee. The air was heavy with the odors of leather and old books. He closed the doors and the heavy drapes for privacy.
“Why Dr. Stein,” Prue said from the shadows. “I do believe you have compromised me.”
“Not yet,”he said, “but I am about to, Mrs. Stein.”

© 2013 Sarah Raplee All rights reserved

Friday, January 2, 2015

We will close Free Reads from the Genre-istas to story posts in February of 2015.

This free original short story blog has had a wonderful run. Thank you, Dear Readers, for reading our stories, and for any feedback you have given us. We hope you've enjoyed them. For many of us, posting a story here was our first opportunity to get our work in front of people not connected to us. Believe me, we were thrilled when you showed up!

As a farewell we will do Encore Postings of a story each Friday beginning Jan. 9th and continue until we close. Thank you for your interest and support!

We will leave a page up on the blog with links to our websites. Each of us would love for you to stop by.

Happy Reading!