Who’s at the door?

Pandemic. Armageddon. Doomsday.

These were words no one really believed they’d hear in their lifetime, but here it was, all around them, changing life as they knew it.

Miriam was pretty much of a homebody, so the first decree to stay indoors wasn’t all that different than any other day of her life. She rarely went to restaurants or bars, and wouldn’t step foot in a gym if you paid her. But, she did like her morning and evening walks. Those she did miss, when, slowly, things had gotten so bad, that even walking outside was a felony.

The electrical blackouts got worse, until now there was none at all. The water, slowly turned a decaying brown, no matter which faucet she used, until, that too was little more than a trickle. Garbage piled up. Mail was no longer delivered.

Miriam sat in front of her dark-screened entertainment wall, wondering what can of expired soup to open for dinner.

She sighed. Maybe it was time to give up and just fade away. She never looked out of the drawn curtains anymore. By now the trees must be bare branches, the lawn, shriveled brown grass and dry dirt. She knew nothing lived out there anymore. Nothing moved.

Out of nowhere came a melodic three ding song. Miriam looked up in confusion. She hadn’t heard that sound for a long, long time. It was the doorbell.

She tried to ignore the summons, but it was persistent. Finally, and with trembling hands she went to the door. Her rusted voice could barely whisper through the boarded-up pane.

“Yes? What do you want?”

The voice on the other side of the door was kind but firm. A female voice. “Mom? Mom? Are you there?”

Miriam shuddered. What was this new terror? Her children were gone. Long gone. Dead and gone.

“Who are you,” she said, a little stronger. “What do you want?”

“Mom,” the unfamiliar voice continued. “It’s over. It’s been over for a long time, but we couldn’t find you. Nobody knew you were here. They thought the house was abandoned. Mom? Please open the door.”

Despite her fear, a tiny inkling of hope squeezed her heart. Could it really be over? Could this really be one of her children?

She couldn’t begin to believe it, and yet, even if it was the devil himself, come to steal her soul, she had nothing left to give and nothing else to lose.

Slowly, she undid the locks. Even more slowly, she opened the door…

Why do I write?

I have always liked words. I remember constantly asking my Mom what does this word mean, what does that word mean. With 5 of us running around driving her crazy, her usual response was, look it up in the dictionary. I would go get the huge red Merriam dictionary (not sure if it was Merriam Webster at that time in the 60s), and sit for hours reading all kinds of words. As an aside, I always thought it was kind of funny when I would ask her how to spell something and she would say the same thing, look it up in the dictionary. But how could I do that when I didn’t know how to spell it!!?? (thus, the lot of extra reading).

Anyway, I wrote stories and poetry from an early age. I even won both the prose and poetry contest in 8th grade. (I’ll have to go find those again. They are probably terrible, but for a 13 year old, maybe not too bad! I do remember the story was about a bull fighter, and the poem was something flowery.)

I have also been an avid reader, once reading through the entire shelf of kids sci fi in a summer. And, of course, I would read the Lord of the Rings (including the Hobbit) every year as well.

Although I didn’t start novel writing until much later in my life, I used to write little poems for the Wisconsin Electric and the Xerox newsletters when I worked there. Some were silly, some were pretty dark, but people seemed to enjoy them.

So, why do I write, other than I always have? Putting words down on paper, moving them around, getting them just right is kind of like making music, or jigsaw puzzles. I like to see the disjointed pieces come together in a meaningful pattern. And I enjoyed sharing my thoughts. I think I like to surprise the reader or touch them in some way.

But, more than anything, I write for me. I write what I would want to read, sharing thoughts with myself by seeing them on paper (or on a screen these days!).

I tend to write my best poetry when I am feeling a deep emotion. The words connect me with the human condition and somehow they come from that same unknown place.

My novels/short stories I write because I love to read them. Once they are on paper, they don’t seem to have come from me anymore. They become their own creations that I can love (or hate) just as much as my readers.

I may go days or weeks without anything creative leaving my pen (or keyboard), but I am always drawn back, sooner or later, to poetry, prose or just random thoughts in my journal.

So I write. Mostly just to write. And if I can share a little of my insanity with like-minded souls, so much the better!

What Zoo Animal Would I like to Be?

I could compare myself to many zoo animals. Tall, like a giraffe, Round, like a hippo, Fierce, like a snapping turtle. Waddly like a penguin. I can sleep like a koala. Screech like a monkey. Swim like a seal. And eat anything that lands my way, like the wild squirrels and chipmunks scarfing down lost popcorn.

But, if I had to pick a favorite, I guess it would be the big cats. I have always had an affinity for lions and tigers and cheetahs (ha! no, not bears, oh my).

And my favorite of the big cats has always been the panthers (which, come to find out, are actually leopards or jaguars). I remember reading The Jungle Book as a young girl and wanting to both be friends with and be Bagheera, the black panther who protected little Mowgli.

Black panthers (which aren’t really solid black at all, they just have very dark leopard patterning) move smoothly, gracefully. They seem self-assured, in control. To be protected by one would be the ultimate in safety. To be able to protect something small and innocent like Bagheera did would be the ultimate in compassion. To a shy, clumsy little Catholic girl, those seemed like the perfect qualities to have.

I would go to the zoo with my family and stare into the yellow eyes of the big cats, feeling like I had a special connection, like we were telling secrets to each other. I guess I had a vivid imagination even back then.

The irony of my love for the cats is that I am allergic to them (or at least to house cats). I can’t even hold one on my lap for any length of time without sneezing and sniffling. So, if anyone says they found me dead in a houseful of cats, I was murdered and the body had been moved.

So, I would be a black panther, not the superhero, not the political movement, but just a jungle cat, being wild and free.

By the Light of the Slippery Moon

It is a dark and stormy night. Scratch that. Too cliché.

It is a misty night, the full moon and the fast moving clouds slippery with waning and waxing shimmers of light. There, that’s better. That sets the right scene!

A tall, thin shadow peals away from the cream brick wall in the dark alley. The ghostly figure brushes away the mist as it glides across the pavement and slips between the parked cars. It moves across the street, stopping beneath a street light which drops an amber globe over the sidewalk.

He is dressed in black, from the shiny patten shoes to the stiff top hat. The only stripe of white is in the narrow space between the bow tie and close line of the sweeping cape.

Maestro. Both his occupation and his name. His parents were funny that way.

In his claw-like hand, clasped with a delicately firm grip, he holds, not a musician’s baton, but a fencer’s rapier. He swishes it through the air like a conductor warming up the orchestra. Then he jabs it into the gathering fog.

He seeks satisfaction. He seeks revenge. He seeks…murder.

A Heart in a Box

Cracker Jack boxes had little plastic toys and games. Cereal boxes had trading cards and sweepstake entry forms. Gum wrappers had comics. And, at one time, even laundry detergent came with towels and dishware. But the best thing that ever came in a box, was chocolate.

My Dad was a candy lover, a quality I was destined to inherit. And once in a while he would buy a big box of mixed chocolates. There were square caramels, lumpy peanut clusters, milk and dark chocolate drops of cream and jelly. And almost always there was one, and only one, heart shaped piece all wrapped in red foil. I never quite understood why only that one piece was wrapped, but it made it the most unique piece in the box.

Maybe I was a slow learner, or maybe I was just a hopeful optimist, but when everyone had had their pick, and all that was left in the box was a maple cream with a fingerprint hole in it where someone had “tested” it, a badly shaped dark chocolate swirly one, and the red heart, I would grab the red heart. The kid in me was sure that this time there would be a bit of cherry filing, or a dab of mint. But no, it was always solid milk chocolate, not the wonderful smooth Dove kind, but waxy, hard, old Easter Bunny kind.

Looking back, it seems sad that the pretty red heart was almost always left for last, not because it was special, but because it was a broken promise. It was like so many other things we have to admit to as we grow up and grow old. The perfect job that isn’t, the sparkling relationships that fade, the friendships that should last forever, but don’t.

Cracker Jack toys are really cheap now, and you have to log on to websites to get cereal rewards, and laundry detergent comes in little packets, but every once in a while I will buy a box of chocolates, look for that heart shaped foil, and hope.