Prompt: Snippet

Hello Wednesday,

I am immersed in finishing NaNoWriMo before tomorrow (November 30) and so have drawn up a random snippet of the book to share. This is not a wonderful snippet, or representative of the book, but here you go. Cartoon to follow. 🙂

Ivy opened her eyes. Had she died, again?

No. While it hurt to breathe, she could smell leaves and mud, and hear birds arguing in the distance, and what she saw, straight ahead of her, was a cloudless blue sky.

She heard a snort. It was her horse, Barnaby, probably nearby, contentedly feasting on shoots of fescue and wildflowers, instead of returning back to the ranch riderless, thus alerting Sable and Mr Clarence and Dean and all the others that there had been an accident, that there was an emergency.

And there had been an accident. Ivy felt like she was hanging upside down, and while she couldn’t move, she could see that she lay on a steep slope, a rocky slope with persistent white flowers and creeping horsehairs that grew from every crevice and crack. She could move her right hand, and her fingers wrapped around a handful of gravel.

“Barnaby— shoo!” she cried, but her voice was ragged and raspy, and barely above a whisper. She heard him snort. He was a nice horse, a handsome horse— a glossy coat speckled with white, grey, and soft brown— and a good horse, but he wasn’t hers. They hadn’t bonded the way Dean had bonded with his working horse, or Clarence with his old mare, and even Sable and her lively stallion seemed to have a special connection.

She was Barnaby’s temporary burden, and Barnaby was her temporary mount, or he would have sensed that she was in grave danger, and raced back to the ranch instead of hanging about, taking a break, snacking on sweet grass, enjoying the sunshine, with no one pulling at him this way and that way— someone inexperienced, green, and who pulled too hard or not hard enough, jostled on his back like a sack of rocks, and almost strangled him when they dismounted.

Barnaby didn’t know she was injured, in trouble. For all he knew, she was taking a pleasant break in a rather harrowing ride, just as he was.

For she had ridden him hard, across the meadow and through the river, anxious to prove herself to Dean and Sable, because she wanted to enter the race. The race was all anyone talked about. Even Mrs Donovan’s pregnant ladies, when Ivy accompanied her on her rounds, talked about the Nettle River Cross County Race.

If you were underage, as Ivy was, you needed a sponsor. Mr Clarence, Dean, the ranch manager, and Sable agreed she wasn’t ready. She’d made good progress! She’d graduated from the corral to the trail quickly, and what she lacked in innate skill she made up for in determination.

Of course, neither Ivy nor Sable told Dean or anyone that she was learning to ride so she could go with the other Immortals on a grand, dangerous adventure. They were to join an army, Sable said, an army on horseback. They would travel across country, camp in tents, learn to protect themselves with swords and agility, defend the weak against the powerful. Sable said it was a lark for the ages. Sable said they would live on their horses, and Ivy needed to learn to ride, quickly and very well.

It was crazy that they wouldn’t let Ivy race. She could handle Barnaby. Barnaby was fast, when she let him. She was smart enough to give him free rein across the wide spaces, and to let him pick his way through a narrow path on the side of a mountain, and to let him choose the safest route down a steep incline— but wait.

The long meadow ended just beside Peggy’s Rock. They flew over the edge of the cliff, because that’s what all the riders did. The drop looked steeper than it was, and the horses gained their footing quickly. The trick then was to lean back, keep the reins loose, and let the mount fly down the hill, then take control again at the bottom.

Ivy got scared. Yes, that’s what happened. She knew the cliff was less fearsome than it appeared, but as she and Barnaby approached, she was reminded of the cliffs at the plateau, the ones that surrounded the cave, and how the drop from those ledges was a drop into nothingness, to mist, to death.

So she pulled up on Barnaby. In a panic, she pulled on the rough leather reins with both hands as they cleared the ledge and, for a few seconds, they seemed to float. Barnaby was off balance though, and instead of landing cleanly he faltered, tripped forward, and there were several moments of sheer panic as the horse tried to regain balance, before Ivy was thrown.

Then the blackness, then the awakening to a sky.

Ivy felt a sudden stab of pain in the back of her neck, then her left shoulder blade. She realized her left eye was closed, and there was something wet on her cheek and neck.

She could just make out Barnaby from the corner of her eye. He was not bothered by the steepness, he relaxed his legs and lowered his elegant neck and pulled vegetation from between the rocks with his teeth. His tail swished.

With all the strength she could muster, she lifted her right hand from the ground. It trembled, it resisted, but she heaved the handful of gravel as hard as she could at Barnaby’s rump.

“Go!” she tried to shout. “Shoo!”

The small rocks landed near Barnaby’s hind hooves, and he lifted one as if in acknowledgement of a small distraction, then continued to feed on the grasses.

Ivy couldn’t see her hand, so she opened it flat and groped and scratched blindly across the earth until her palm found a rock about the size of a ping pong ball. She gasped with a new pain as she raised her right forearm again, and taking as deep a breath as she could, flung the stone with all her might.

The rock found its target. Barnaby felt an intense sting on his rump, kicked, and if suddenly snapped from an idyll, he shook his head and started scrambling up over the ledge, where he disappeared.

Where there had been no pain, a blanket of agony slowly began to cover Ivy with its heavy warmth, and she started to cry like a child.

cartoon horse jumper



Prompt: Express

Crossroads In The Forest

“Are you sure you understand what we are about to do?”

Ivy nodded her head. She looked down the narrow path that wound among tall, leafless trees until it disappeared into a yellowish fog.

“Nodding isn’t good enough, Ivy,” said Sable. “Do you understand your choices? You have to tell me clearly. I know you are only twelve but I can’t make this decision for you.”

“Yes,” said Ivy peevishly. “You’ve told me a hundred times. I can go back if I want to, instead of staying here. I don’t want to go back. My grandmother is dead.”

“And your parents? Your friends?”

Her cat was her greatest friend, and he was wandering somewhere in the cave or in this strange, misty landscape. He would come find her.

As for her parents, she had a sudden snapshot image of them— her mother in front of the mirror at her dressing table, applying impossibly crimson lipstick, and he with his hand on her shoulder, wearing that ring, the gold one with the square cut emerald.

The snapshot turned into a moving vision, and her mother turned her gaze slightly in the mirror until her eyes were locked with Ivy’s.

“I don’t want to go back,” said Ivy.

“You can’t change your mind, after this,” said Sable.

Ivy sighed. How many times?

“And,” said Sable carefully, “the dying. To come back here again, and we must, you will have to die again.”

“It didn’t hurt,” said Ivy.

“It might this time,” said Sable. She reached out and touched Ivy’s freshly cut hair, short and practical, like her own, but without the curls.

“I don’t have any choice,” said Ivy. She frowned. Couldn’t they just get on with this?

“You do, honey,” said Sable. “You could stay here.”

Here? What here? An endless cave, lit by distant fires, smokey, barren, lifeless— or this plateau, with an invisible landscape, colourless, stifling?

Ivy said, “Can we go now? I can’t breathe here. Can we just go?”

Sable burst into a broad smile. “Let’s go have some fun.”

They started down the well-trodden path. “We’ll arrive just outside Nettle River,” said Sable. “We can hike into town, find the outfitters and get directions to the ranch.

“It’ll be a lark.”

Another Kind of Heaven

Prompt: Passenger


When he opened his eyes, the first thing he noticed was the smell. He smelled clean grass, and the pungent bark of trees, and he smelled the river. Yes, the scent of smooth rocks bathed by flowing water, the wet soil and sand of the river bank, and the roots of trees and the floating leaves and fish and frogs.

He coughed, and wiped something black from his lips, and remembered what he now did not smell: smoke, ash, gunpowder, blood, shit, fear, and decay.

Across from him, Sam sat awkwardly leaning up against a tree trunk, staring at his hands. Turning his hands over and examining the palms, and then the backs again, his fingernails lined in black like kohl on a whore. He was filthy, bloody, and thin.

“What happened, Sam?” he asked, his voice hoarse. “Where are we?”

Sam looked up. “I don’t know, Peter,” he said.

Wherever they were, Peter suspected Sam had got him there. He had a good idea of where they might be. Where they came from was hell. What could this be, but heaven?

“Can you hear the birds?” asked Sam.

Peter shook his head. The last thing he remembered was the thudding sound of artillery as he crested the ridge, bayonet in hand. Perhaps a shell had hit its mark. Perhaps he was blown to bits.

“Are there birds?”

“Yes, finches, meadowlarks,” said Sam. “There was a fat robin.”

“I can’t hear them.”

“Can you hear the river?”

“No, is it nearby? I can smell it.”

They were in a small copse of birch and poplar and pine, in a wide meadow of tall grass flanked by a forest, beyond which were hills, then mountains, then mountains dusted with snow.

His left calf was wrapped in strips of bloodied cotton sheeting. He wondered why he felt no pain. He did, suddenly, feel hungry.

Sam said, “I’ll get some water, and find something to eat, in a moment.” Then his head slowly nodded and his chin fell to his chest, his mouth partly open, snoring quietly. Both of them were intimate with exhaustion, and falling asleep instantly the minute it was quiet and safe was a survival strategy.

Peter was exhausted, but he wasn’t sleepy. He turned his head and felt the rough bark against his cheek. He pulled a handful of grass and weeds and brought it to his nose, inhaling deeply. He coughed again. He stared at Sam. He looked up at a cloudless sky.

Sam had brought him to this place, this heaven. Sam was a good man. The gates of heaven would be open to Sam.

Peter was a murderer, a thief, and a liar. How is it he was allowed to sit in the cool shade, breathing, alive?

He tried to get up, but collapsed against the tree again. He watched Sam, for an hour, or maybe two, until his own eyelids fluttered shut, and he was in another kind of heaven, the heaven of dreamless sleep.

The Perfect Way

Prompt: Quicken


“Only you make my heart quicken,” said Kenneth, sitting on the edge of the bed. He had loosened his tie, and his shirt, a size too big in an attempt minimize his weight gain, bunched around his abdomen. He was pale and white.

They were in the Presidential Suite at the Four Season’s Hotel. Outside the windows, city lights twinkled and dimmed. Lydia was seated in a dove grey, faux suede sectional couch, long legs crossed. She was, as usual, fresh, fragrant, and immaculately groomed.

“Thank you, Kenny,” said Lydia. “Will we be in bed tonight, or simply talking as we did last time?”

“In bed, Lydia,” said Kenneth. He went to the bar and poured them both a vodka, brilliantly clear over brilliantly clear, crystal, half-melted ice cubes. “You know my story. I’m in danger.”

“I do,” she said. She stood and walked to where Kenneth sat on the crisp linen bedspread. She stroked his thinning hair. “How is Magda?”

“She’s good, the kids are good,” he said. “Everything is good.” He then spoke quietly and precisely, as if he’d prepared a speech. “If you leave quietly later on, so much the better.”

“I understand,” said Lydia. “But I’m not sure.”

“I can’t think of a better way.”

“For you.”

“Yes, for me, but I am also sparing Magda,” said Kenneth.

Lydia raised her eyebrows as if to say, Now?, and Kenneth had the perception to blush. It had been a difficult six months. The salacious scandal, the humiliating reveals, the financial losses, the intense stress, the devastating health problems, and the loss of face and reputation, all while clinging to the deadening belief that enough lies would temper the pain.

They made athletic love in the king size, pristine white-sheeted bed. If the dead have memories, then Lydia provided lots of those. He left in the perfect way that only those who choose can know. His heart quickened, and he died.

The Chicken Coop History

Prompt: Border


Sophie’s mother was the one who called Andrew. He was at his grandfather Bernard’s house, helping him put in a new screen door at the back. Bernard’s place was closer to Sophie’s house than Andrew’s, and the bus ride only took fifteen minutes. Andrew fidgeted and looked out the window, wondering if it would rain.

She was sitting at an old picnic table in the back yard, near the chicken coop. The chickens were fussing and scrubbing around in the dirt and yellow grass, possibly sensing a storm ahead. Andrew brought out a worn leather jacket that her mother had handed him. The heavy, grey clouds cast the day in deep shadow, and a chill wind was gusting. He approached Sophie and put the jacket around her shoulders. He felt her shiver.

Sophie was watching the chickens. “They were free range at first,” Sophie said to him as he sat beside her. “They roamed all over the yard, because that’s the way my grandparents raised chickens in the old country, on the farm.” Her mother found it unsanitary, and there were complaints from the neighbours, and from the Chevron station that it bordered, so Sophie’s father and grandfather built a wire enclosure.

The enclosure wasn’t really sufficient to contain them, as it turned out, since Sophie was such a devoted chicken caretaker (it was her daily chore to feed them and sometimes to collect eggs), and spent so much time with them, that a couple of the chickens would flutter out of the coop and follow her to the house. She had to take them back again and again. And chickens were disappearing.

“They said it was foxes, or coyotes, or something,” Sophie said. “But I think I finally clued in to what the source for grandma’s braised chicken stew was.” Andrew listened.

She went on a hunger strike, which everyone seemed to laugh at, but she was a stubborn child, and her grandmother eventually took her side. She said they didn’t need the chicken meat, there was lots of chicken at the Safeway, it was good chicken. But there was nothing like fresh eggs, so Sophie’s chickens got a reprieve.

They put a wire “roof” over the chicken yard, to prevent the chickens following Sophie, and protect them from alleged foxes and coyotes. The whole thing looked ticky-tack, Andrew thought, with different gauges of wire fencing used, sometimes held together with twist ties, and an unpainted, two story coop that leaned sharply to the south. But Sophie gazed on it with great fondness, as if it was a glimmering fish pond surrounded by flowers and waterfalls, instead of a rather chaotic, dusty compound that smelled strongly of barnyard.

“That one there,” said Sophie, pointing to one white chicken who looked exactly like the others, “That one is called Creamy. Not the greatest name, right? My grandma named her, when I begged. She had never named an animal before. She had no idea, and her English was never any good anyway.”

She leaned into Andrew’s shoulder. She became silent, and Andrew put his arm around her. He didn’t look at her face, because he was afraid it would make him cry. He didn’t want to cry just now.

“I’m sorry about your grandmother,” he said. He felt Sophie nod her head, still silent, and he started to cry anyway.

The Enforcer

Prompt: Confused

vintage robot

The aliens sent down a thing called the “Enforcer”; metallic silver, impenetrable, vaguely man-shaped but smooth and rounded, this huge robotic creature’s fingers shot bullets out, like ten little machine guns, and simply mowed down anything within vision. There was fear and panic, though some people felt there was no point in resisting, and walked directly into the line of fire.

Other people fled the city and ran up the hill. People on the hill didn’t believe their stories about this alien “Enforcer” and laughed, even though they could see fires and smoke from their vantage point on the hill. There was no convincing them.

Meanwhile there were people in the city who chose to Stay. These people did not hide or offer resistance— they just Stayed.

I wonder: did the aliens have many of these Enforcers, dropped down into many cities? Or was one Enforcer tasked with wiping out the human race, very slowly and over time? Would the one Enforcer seek out every hiding place, every bunker, every place on the planet, on land or sea or in the air? Perhaps the aliens were very patient?

Would an atom bomb or other extreme weapon eliminate the Enforcer? There seemed to be no organized response to this invasion. Perhaps those people not within killing range of the Enforcer simply and universally did not believe such a thing existed, including law enforcement, military, and government. I wonder?

Dreams can be so confusing.

You and the King of Siam

Prompt: Worst Case Scenario
Of all the awful possibilities, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen to you today? Now, what about the best?


Just because I’m gonna talk about death doesn’t mean you have to be afraid. These are words and words can’t hurt you. The thing is, I’m wondering if dying is always the worst case scenario.

Did you know that doctors, when surveyed, said their death of choice would not be a heart attack, or car accident, or anything quick and accidental? They chose cancer. Cancer! Why? Because cancer takes time, and that time can be used to be with loved ones, say the things you always meant to say, to ponder your life, and to put your affairs in order. They meant no disrespect to those people and their family members who struggle in great anguish with a terrible disease. Doctors have fantasies too, and I guess their cancer death fantasy involves drifting away peacefully and painlessly. The point is, that death itself is not fearsome. The manner of death, however, is.

So I am with the doctors in one respect. I fear death as much as anyone— we are wired to fear death— but what I truly dread is twofold: dying by accident, and dying in pain. The first is a truly foolish and unproductive fear, as most are, since there is nothing I can do about an accident. Accidents are unpredictable. They are accidents. Maybe I should be prepared to poof at any second. That is, burn my diaries, clear my hard drive, tidy the bathroom, wear clean new undies at all time. Would that help, I wonder?

Those TV and film scenes where a woman is captured, tortured, sexually assaulted, and horribly murdered represent the worst case scenario. (Why are there so many of those fucking plot lines, so lovingly detailed? Why are such atrocities perpetrated in times of war? It is upsetting, but I digress.) As a very young woman I did live in some degree of fear— those kinds of stories are very hard to dismiss— and now I live in less fear of such an end. Having seen death, been with the dying, my fears have shifted a little. But I won’t word it in that way. This post is grim enough as it is.

So, my goal, not my fear, is to die “awarely”, voluntarily, without pain, and with dignity. Dying is not the worst case scenario. I won’t say it is natural so beautiful, or the start of a new “adventure” (sorry that I just did), but anyway that it is inevitable. It is universal. It is what I share with a child soldier in Burundi, my grandmother, the chef of that three Michelin star restaurant, the man without shoes, the teenager locked in their room, the King of Thailand, and you.

I wish you a good life, and an even better death.