And Everyone Loses Their Minds

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I had a strange upbringing. It wasn’t bad–I liked it for the most part–but if you didn’t experience it, you would have a hard time understanding it. I was homeschooled, grew up with a stay-at-home mom and three siblings, as well as the kids that attended my mother’s home-run daycare. I took ballet, was a proud 4-H member, and played flute in a homeschool band. All of that was pretty normal; it was my church that was a little on the weird side. 

I grew up in an independant Baptist church that preached that women should wear skirts, movie theaters are evil, and any music with a drumbeat is satanic. (I am exaggerating, but that’s what it often felt like.) My parents didn’t buy into a lot of those things, though I did grow up wearing skirts and dresses because my dad liked the modesty, and I liked the pretty, flowy fabrics. But we still went to the movies; every time a Disney movie hit theaters, my uncle would take my siblings and I to go see it. We listened to Christian contemporary, and our homeschool band had loud drums and a jazz band counterpart. There were other things that my parents believed: tattoos were for criminals and destroyed your body, girls should have long hair, and Harry Potter was a gateway to witchcraft. However, my parents raised us to think for ourselves, and as we grew, we came to our own conclusions: tattoos are a personal choice and there’s nothing wrong with them, a girl’s hair is her own, and Harry Potter is awesome. Despite these weird, personal biases and beliefs, we all agreed that the actual BIBLICAL principles our pastor was teaching was worth staying in the church. 

Then, two years ago, my childhood pastor stepped down and handed the podium over to his son. His son had spent years studying abroad, learning everything he could about the scriptures and the origins of the Bible, and he had spoken at our church on several separate occassions. As a congregation, we voted to accept his son as our new pastor, and he took over the church while his father went to pastor another church in the mountains. The first year with our new pastor was interesting. There were a lot of hiccups in organization, a lot of problems with communication, and there were plenty of difficulties leaving old habits and traditions behind. Our new pastor introduced the congregation to “new” songs (they were actually older than the Martin Luther songs we had been singing), opened the church up to new translations of the Bible (moving from the KJV to the NKJV or whatever translation is easiest for the reader to understand), and told everyone that tattoos, rock music, Harry Potter, and women wearing pants aren’t sins. His main point was that the pastor’s job is only to help us understand the Bible better, and that we are to use our understanding to determine our convictions. It is up to us to discern how God is leading us, and if we make a mistake, it’s okay, because He has already forgiven us. We actually had a couple of families leave the church because they couldn’t reconcile with the changes. They left peacefully, and everyone in the church remains on speaking terms with them. I admire them for leaving. They knew what their convictions were, and they stuck to them.

I have more of an issue with the people who stayed. I don’t mind that they stayed; I love the people in my church, and I don’t want them to leave. My problem comes from how they turned on a dime. The new pastor comes, says tattoos and pants are okay, and suddenly, everyone who grew up “believing” in no pants and no tattoos are wearing pants and getting tattoos. My childhood friend that used to have heated debates with me over the evils of the movie theater is taking his girlfriend to rated “R” movies. The old pastor’s daughter (new pastor’s sister) is wearing leggings to church. Men are organizing poker games (held at the church) and bragging about how many alcoholic drinks they can knock back before they feel buzzed. None of those actions are inherently wrong, but it’s like no one ever had any personal convictions; they just did whatever the pastor told them, and now that everything is “fair game,” they’re going crazy! I love them, but I can’t trust them.

I can’t say that I didn’t see hints of this fake Christianity before. I saw it mostly in my older sister while she was in our church’s youth group. She would go to youth conferences and teen camps and come back with strong convictions. She would swear off watching TV, even going out on the porch to avoid watching “Touched by an Angel” with the family. She would purge her piano music collectioin, donating Disney and Broadway fakebooks to Goodwill, or selling them at a yardsale. If it wasn’t “Christian,” it was gone. Then she would have to buy it all back again three weeks later when she decided it wasn’t worth sticking to those convictions. I just didn’t realize the magnitude of the fakeness.

Now, the older families of the church seemed to have maintained their image. They still come to church in their suit and ties, high heels, and nice dresses, and read out of their KJV bibles. I do know some of them wear pants at home and work, but they always have and they’ve never pretended that they didn’t. My point is they didn’t change just because the new pastor took “the rules” off the table. They had their convictions and they stuck to them.

I don’t have problems with people who drink alcohol. Do I drink? No. I think alcohol tastes nasty, and it’s not a taste worth acquiring just to fit in. I don’t have problems with women wearing pants or having short hair. I just personally enjoy wearing skirts, and I love keeping my hair freakishly long. I don’t have problems with tattoos. I think they’re cool, but will probably never get one because I don’t like needles and I don’t generally trust people. I don’t have issues with rock music. I like rock music (and some metal), but I don’t personally care for rap. I like Harry Potter (I’m a Gryffindor), I like going to the movie theaters, and I read the ESV translation of the Bible. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or how I live my life, and I’m not going to try to force anyone to follow my lead. 

I have no problems with my friends who now (suddenly) drink and are getting tattoos, just as I have no problems with sheep. The fences around their pasture have been torn down, and now they’re running amuck. I just pray that no one falls off a cliff.

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The Rose and the Dove

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Clarisse and Amanda dashed into their father’s study shouting, “Papa! Papa! Can we have a doll, please?”

King Henry looked up from the numerous reports on the kingdom and smiled at his two daughters. Clarisse was nine, with vibrant red hair and glowing blue eyes. Amanda was seven, with bouncing blonde curls and shining brown eyes. They wore matching green dresses trimmed in gold and diamond tiaras in their hair. Clarisse wore a gold necklace with a ruby rose pendant while Amanda’s pendant was a diamond dove. The two girls were more precious than those gems to him, and he was only too glad to turn his attention to them. “A doll?” He asked, laughing as they skipped around him. “You want a doll?”

“Yes, Papa!” Amanda begged.

“A doll, please!” Clarisse added.

He sat back and considered the request. “My two girls want a doll. I suppose it couldn’t be just any doll, could it?”

The girls giggled and shook their heads. “Nope!”

“I want a special one!” Amanda said.

“With pretty yellow hair!” Clarisse said.

“Made by you!”

King Henry stroked his red beard thoughtfully. “Made by me? Are you sure?”

“Yes, Papa, yes!”

“A good doll will take time. Are you willing to wait?”

“Yes Papa! We’ll wait!” Amanda assured him.

Clarisse was silent, but she nodded when her sister nudged her. “Yes, Papa! We’ll wait!”

“All right! Then I shall make you dolls, and I promise they shall be the best in the land!”

The girls squealed delightedly. “Thank you, Papa!” They climbed onto his lap, peppered his bearded cheeks with kisses, and ran out of the room laughing with giddy excitement. Their happiness was contagious, and King Henry laughed pleasantly as he turned back to his work.

Clarisse and Amanda ran back to their nursery. Like everything else they owned, it was  beautiful, made specifically to be the best for them. Their father had made it himself, painting the walls blue with scenes of pretty pink castles and frolicking unicorns over which soared a shining rainbow. The room was filled with little white furniture, chairs and a table with a porcelain tea set, a chest filled with handmade toy animals, two rocking horses, and a small bookcase filled with picture books.

“Papa’s going to make the bestest dolls ever!” Amanda said contentedly as she grabbed a picture book and sat down on the lavender carpet.

Clarisse climbed onto her rocking horse and began riding it. “How long do you think we’ll have to wait before we get them?”

Amanda shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“I don’t want to wait, Mandi. I want my doll now!”

Her sister looked up at her in shock. “But, if you get a doll now, that means Papa didn’t make it. And if Papa didn’t make it, then it’s not the bestest doll ever!”

“I don’t want the bestest doll ever. I just want a doll!”

“But Papa will make our dolls pretty and beautiful and gorgeous and the bestest dolls ever!”

“But I don’t wanna wait, Mandi! Maybe Nurse will make me one now!” Clarisse brightened at the idea and started to climb off her horse.

“But Nurse isn’t good at making dolls. Then we won’t have the bestest like Papa wants us to have.”

“I want a doll now!”

Amanda pulled at her sister’s arm and whined, “Please wait, Clari? Papa won’t take too long!”

Clarisse looked at her sister for a moment and then pouted. “Fine. I’ll wait. But it better be the bestest doll ever!”

“It will be! Just wait! You’ll see!”

Clarisse climbed back onto her horse and Amanda went back to her book.

 

***

 

Days passed, and weeks followed. Clarisse and Amanda begged King Henry every day for their dolls, but he lovingly encouraged them to keep waiting because they weren’t finished yet. It was becoming increasingly difficult for little Amanda to get her sister to wait, and the little princess herself was getting a little discouraged at the long wait. Finally, Amanda made her way back to her father’s office by herself to find out what was taking so long.

King Henry smiled patiently when his little child came to him. “Am I taking too long, Amanda?” he asked, his rich voice gentle and understanding.

Amanda scuffled her feet and avoided her father’s eyes, embarrassed and slightly ashamed. She managed to muster enough courage to meet his steady gray gaze and squeak, “Why does it take so long, Papa? Aren’t the dolls finished yet?”

“Not yet, my child. The best things take time to make.” He went over and knelt in front of her, lifting her quivering chin so that she would look at him. “Be patient, Amanda.”

“Yes, Papa.”

He smiled and stroked her hair. “Thank you. To help you wait, would you like to see yours?”

All sadness abandoned Amanda and she nodded eagerly. King Henry took her small hand in his and led her over to his work table. He helped her climb onto his chair so she could see, and he pulled a brown box to the front. She leaned on his arm, watching the box intently. He lifted the lid and tilted the box toward her so she could see inside. She gasped in delight. The doll’s head was made of porcelain, with fine, gleaming blue-black hair. His face wasn’t painted, and he had no clothes yet, his half-stuffed white cotton body glowing dully in the candlelight, but Amanda could tell that her father was making her something beautiful.

“Can I have it now?” Amanda asked, reaching out to touch it.

King Henry gently pulled the box away. “It’s not ready yet.”

She turned her chocolate brown eyes to him, letting them grow large and moist. “I’ll still love him anyway.”

“I’m sure you would, but he’s just not ready yet. You’ll love him more when I’m done, Amanda. I promise you.” He shut the lid and pushed the box to the back of the desk.

Amanda looked at it longingly, but she nodded obediently. “Okay, Papa. Will we get them soon, though?”

“When it’s ready, and not before.”

She nodded reluctantly, and her father helped her climb down from her chair. “I love you, Papa,” she said as he led her to the door.

He kissed the top of her head. “I love you, too, Amanda.”

Amanda scampered back to the nursery to tell her sister the good news.

“Clarisse! Guess what!” she cried, bursting into the nursery at full speed. She skidded to a stop when she saw her sister, and she stared at Clarisse in confusion. Clarisse was playing with a doll. It was cloth, with green buttons for eyes, a red stitched smile, yellow yarn for hair, and a patchwork tunic and breeches. “Did Papa make you that doll?” she asked.

Clarisse shook her head vigorously. “Papa was taking too long, so I asked Nurse to make me one instead.” She reached beneath the folds of her fluffy dress and retrieved a second doll, just as ugly as the first. “Look! Nurse made one for you, too, just like I asked her to! Now we can play together.”

Amanda looked at the doll hesitantly. She knew her sister meant well, but she couldn’t help comparing that doll with the unfinished doll her father was making her. “We were supposed to wait for Papa.”

“Papa won’t mind. It’s okay. You can have it. Or you can have mine if you like it better.”

Amanda shook her head. “No, thank you, Clarisse. I’ll wait for Papa’s doll.” She went over to the bookcase and grabbed a book as her sister shrugged and began to play with both dolls.

 

***

 

Two weeks later, King Henry called the girls to his study. Amanda bounced excitedly all the way to the study, forcing Clarisse to keep pace with her.

“Maybe our dolls are ready now!” Amanda said, grabbing her sister’s arm and pulling it giddily.

Clarisse shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m tired of playing with dolls. The other toys in our nursery are just as good as any doll.”

“But Papa made these dolls just for us! They’re going to be so beautiful and pretty and perfect!”

“They’re just dolls, Mandi.”

Amanda decided to ignore her sister, and they hurried into the study. Their father immediately scooped them up into their arms in a bearlike hug and swung them around. The girls squealed with delight, and they squirmed when he set them down only to cover them with kisses. Then he took them over to his desk. Amanda was bouncing on her toes, unable to contain her excitement. Clarisse just stood there, hands clasped patiently behind her back as she waited for her father to give her the doll and let her go back to play with her toys.

King Henry took the first box and brought it down to his daughters’ level. Amanda gasped in delight. The last time she had seen the box, it had been quite plain. Now it was stained a deep red, with a grand crown in the middle, surrounded by lilies and doves. Clarisse accepted the box when he held it out to her, and she opened it. Amanda waited for the look of astonished wonderment to etch itself on her sister’s face, but no such look came. Clarisse just smiled and pulled the doll from the box. His silken hair was golden blonde, his glass eyes were a shining sapphire blue, his lips were parted in the most beautiful smile, and he was dressed in the satin clothes of the highest prince. Clarisse hugged the doll mandatorily and then hugged her father.

“Thank you, Papa! He’s beautiful!” She kissed King Henry’s cheek, tucked the box under her arm, and scampered back to the nursery without waiting for her sister.

Amanda watched her father’s face fall with disappointment and tugged his hand. “Papa?”

King Henry looked down and smiled distractedly. “Oh, of course, Mandi. It’s your turn now.” He pulled the second box from the desk and handed it to his daughter.

Amanda opened the box eagerly and squealed in delight when she saw her doll. He had rich brown eyes and a cocky smile now, and his clothes were similar to Clarisse’s doll. Amanda hugged him and then jumped into her father’s arms. “Thank you, Papa! This is the bestest doll ever!”

King Henry laughed and squeezed her lovingly. “I’m glad you like him, my child.”

“I love him, Papa! Love him!”

He kissed her cheek. “Good.” Then he set her on the ground and patted her head. “Now, go join your sister in the nursery. I’m afraid I have more work to do.”

“Yes, Papa.” Amanda obediently skipped to the door, but she paused and looked back. Her father was standing at his desk, holding the chisel he had used to personally craft each of the dolls’ faces. He looked so sad, so discouraged that Amanda said timidly, “Papa?”

He looked up. “Yes, Amanda?”

“I’m going to name my doll ‘Henry,’ and he’s going to be just like you.”

King Henry’s smile returned. “Thank you, Mandi.”

Amanda grinned and then dashed off to join her sister.

 

***

 

Eleven years later, Clarisse and Amanda had grown into two beautiful young women. Clarisse’s red hair danced like fire in the sunlight, and her blue eyes dazzled any who looked into them. She was renowned for her intelligence and quick wit, and she was a masterful pianist. Amanda’s hair shone like a waterfall of gold, and her brown eyes could melt a mountain’s heart. Her kindness and sweet temper had brought her the love of all the people of the realm, and every night she would entertain the people of the court with her beautiful voice. King Henry’s pride and love for them grew with each passing day.

Kings and princes from the surrounding kingdoms flocked to the castle to court them and make them their queens. They would bring gifts of gold, jewels, horses, and palaces in hopes of earning their favor. Unfortunately, every noble that arrived at the gates in hopes of winning the princesses was turned away by King Henry.

Clarisse and Amanda stood at the window, watching as yet another king was turned away.

Clarisse pounded the windowsill angrily and marched away. “I can’t believe this! How many suitors is he going to turn away? He’ll have turned away every king and prince in this world if he’s not careful, and then where will we be? Old maids and spinsters, that’s where!”

Amanda turned away from the window, just as disappointed as her sister. “I know, Clari, but Papa knows what he’s doing. He’s just waiting for the right ones for us.”

“According to him, no one’s good enough for us. He won’t even let us meet any of them! I don’t want to be an old maid, Mandi! I want to have a beau! I want to get married! And I don’t want to be forty when I do!”

Amanda was silent for a moment and then she suggested, “Why don’t we ask Papa?”

Clarisse scowled. “He’ll only tell us to wait, like he always does.”

“Come on, Clari, let’s just ask him. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

Clarisse groaned, but she followed her sister out of their room and up to their father’s study. King Henry was standing by the window in his study, and he turned and smiled when he saw his daughters.

“My girls!” he said, holding out his arms to them.

Amanda ran to him and gave him a hug, but Clarisse hung back.

“What was wrong with King George?” she asked. “He’s kind to his subjects, treats his family with respect, has a lot of money, and he’s considered to be a very wise and strong man. Why wasn’t he good enough for us?”

King Henry frowned. “Nothing was wrong with him, Clarisse. King George is a good man, but he’s not the man I’ve picked out for you.”

“Do you have a man picked out for me, Papa?”

“Of course, my child.”

“Then where is he? Why I can’t I meet him and get to know him?”

“Because he’s not ready. You have to give him time and wait.”

Clarisse threw up her hands in disgust. “Ugh! I told you, Mandi! He wants us to become old maids!” She spun on her heel and stormed out of the study.

King Henry’s shoulders sagged as his daughter left him, his eyes watering slightly at her departure. Amanda looked up into her father’s sorrowful face and squeezed him tightly, trying to comfort him as best she could.

“I’m sorry, Papa, but you know how Clarisse is. Don’t mind her.” She paused and then asked, “Do you have a man picked out for me?”

He looked down, smiled, and stroked her hair. “Yes, of course, my child.”

“Is he a prince or a king?”

“Neither yet.”

Amanda looked at her father in surprise. “Then what is he?”

“He’s a servant.”

“A servant?”

“Yes. Come to the window and see.” He retrieved a spyglass from his desk drawer and guided his daughter to the window. “Look down in the courtyard.”

Amanda put the spyglass up to her eye and looked down. There in the courtyard was a young man with blue-black hair and a cocky smile helping an old woman carrying baskets of bread to the kitchens. His clothes were filthy, and his hair was matted, but he carried himself better than any king. When he finished carrying the baskets, the woman thanked him profusely, and he went back to the stables and picked up a pitchfork.

Amanda lowered the spyglass and looked at her father. “He works in the stables, not the kitchens?”

He smiled and nodded.

“Yet he stopped to help the old woman anyway.” She looked back toward the stables and watched as he started cleaning out the stalls. “And he’s not ready yet? He seems perfect!”

“If he seems perfect now, wait until I finish him, Mandi.” King Henry gently pulled the spyglass from his daughter’s hands. “Now go back and join your sister. He’ll be ready soon, I promise.”

“Yes, Papa.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek before walking out of the room.

Her steps were light and thoughtful. She was excited by the promise of love, but she was a little disappointed that she had to keep waiting for it. However, the man her father had shown her, had promised was going to be hers, looked like a man worth waiting for, even he was just a stable hand. He had been kind enough to help the old woman take those baskets to the kitchen, and he had went back to his filthy job without the slightest hint of complaint. He truly seemed amazing, and her father said he wasn’t done with him yet! Amanda rolled back her shoulders and determined to wait for the man her father had picked out for her.

Amanda was so distracted by thoughts of her future husband that she almost crashed into Clarisse. Clarisse and Amanda yelped in surprise, and Amanda stepped back to see the situation. There was a man with her sister, well dressed and finely groomed. He had red hair combed away from his piercing blue eyes, and they had a hard glint in their depths that accented the self-satisfied smirk on his angled face.

“Clarisse,” Amanda said, unable to look away from her sister’s escort, “who is this?”

Clarisse smiled somewhat guiltily. “Amanda, this is Derrick. He was a prince in King George’s court. He came to meet us.”

“Papa sent King George away.”

“Yes, milady,” Derrick said, bowing reverently. “But I have heard much of you and your sister’s beauty, and I just had to see you for myself. And I must say, the rumors were quite wrong about both of you. You’re a great deal prettier than I’d heard.”

Amanda smiled hesitantly at the compliment and looked to her sister. Clarisse smiled winningly at Derrick and said, “Please excuse me for a moment.” She grabbed Amanda’s arm and dragged her over to the window where Derrick wouldn’t be able to hear them easily.

“Papa said to wait, Clari!” Amanda hissed as soon as her sister had released her.

“Easy for you to say,” Clarisse hissed back. “You’re only eighteen! You have plenty of time to wait! All my friends are married or at least have beaus and suitors! What do I have? Nothing! Why? Because Papa keeps sending them away. Now one has finally sneaked in to reach me, and don’t you dare tell Papa about him or you’ll ruin my chances at love and life!”

“I wouldn’t be ruining anything! Papa has someone picked out for you, and he’s training him to be perfect for you even as we speak! You just need to wait or you’ll ruin your own chance for true love and a happy life!”

“You’re still a child, Mandi, still playing with your silly dolls. You need to grow up and look out for yourself. Papa can’t do everything, and he doesn’t know everything. He doesn’t know what’s best for me, I do. I’ll make my own choices, and you and Papa can just get out of my way.” Clarisse spun on her heel and glided back over to Derrick. “Sorry about that,” she said smoothly. “She won’t bother us again. Now come, and I’ll show you the Grand Hall.”

“I’d be delighted.”

Smiling, the two walked down the hall, arm in arm, leaving Amanda by the window, fighting tears. Amanda sniffled and brushed the glistening drops from her eyes. Then she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder and turned to face King Henry. He was watching his eldest waltz down the hall with the prince, and there were tears in his eyes, too. Amanda hugged him.

“Why won’t she wait, Papa?” Amanda asked. “You know what’s best for us. Why won’t she wait?”

He stroked her hair comfortingly. “Clarisse has to learn the hard way that the best things don’t always come right away. One day she’ll learn to wait. One day she’ll learn that I do have only the best for her on my heart. I just pray that she won’t learn too late.” He hugged his youngest and then gently pulled her away. “We can’t give up on her, my child. I promise, sooner or later things will be right again. Until then, will you wait?”

Amanda sniffled and accepted the silk handkerchief her father held out to her. “Yes, Papa. I’ll wait, I promise.”

He kissed her forehead. “Thank you. Now, be on your way. I’ll take care of Clarisse.”

Amanda nodded and obediently turned. She made her way back to the room, retrieved the doll her father had made for her so long ago, sat on the window seat, and waited.

All is Fair

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In 3323, Bellona 5 was invaded by Rifters, cat-like humanoids capable of traveling through dimensional rifts. They made intentions their clear: they were going to obliterate every Earth colonist on the planet. At first, it looked like the Rifters were going to do exactly that; the colonists were not equipped to fight them, and were slaughtered like lambs. Then they began to learn about the invaders, and they were able to fight back. Over fifty long years, the Rifters threw their greatest warriors at the settlements, and the colonies faced them with hero after hero.

Now, the Rifter armies are depleted, but not destroyed. Packs still thrive in the wastelands and ghost towns of settlements long since abandoned as the colonies try rebuild their civilization. The surviving Rifters capitalize on the disorganization, raiding settlements for food and driving the colonists out. That’s why the Rogue Squadrons stepped in. The Rogues travel the outer settlements, fighting the Rifter packs to bring a lasting peace. The war is over, but the battles continue, and their people still die for freedom.

 

The dust started to settle around the recently abandoned New Baltimore. The twelve surviving members of Rogue Squadron 3 reloaded their sidearms as the eyed the deserted horizon. They didn’t bother to ask if another attack would come. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when.

Marlene “Mars” Anderson quickly brushed the black strands that had escaped her ponytail out of her face. Her face was covered with sweat and dirt, and she was breathing heavily, but she wasn’t thinking about herself. She turned her brown eyes to RS3, quickly counting heads. She sighed in relief when she spotted the head she was the most concerned about, the head of Jason Wilder, pulling Jaimee Bennett out of the dirt. Jason and Jaimee quickly dusted themselves off, taking a quick stock of the situation. Jason, designated leader of RS3, did his own head count before stepping forward.

“The Rifters will be back. We’ll regroup in the abandoned militia compound,” he said, jerking his thumb in the compound’s direction. “Collect our fallen comrades, resupply, and rest a bit before they come back.”

The squad nodded their affirmation and obeyed his orders without complaint. Mars kept her eyes on the horizon, watching for the tell-tale shimmer of a dimensional rift. Jason jogged up to her after a few minutes, and they kept watch together silently for a moment.

“That was one of our rougher skirmishes,” Mars said, breaking the silence and looking over at him. “I’m glad you made it alive.”

He grinned and quirked an eyebrow at her. “Getting soft on me, Mars?”

She snorted derisively. “Showing concern for a comrade is getting soft? I thought it was being human.”

He laughed and squeezed her shoulder. “Of course it is. I’m glad you’re still alive, too. Alive and beautiful, like always. But we should get inside. I don’t like leaving my men exposed—especially when some of my men are women.” He stepped away from her and jogged toward the compound.

Mars took a final, wary look at the horizon before following. Jason had to be one of the last gentlemen on Bellona 5. Despite having three fully capable female fighters on his squad, he always took time to compliment them, help them, and generally look out for them. At first, it had irritated Mars, but then it had grown on her—just like he had. In a time of war and uncertainty, it was nice to be reminded that she was a woman, and to be treated like it. Mars had fallen in love with Jason, and she knew it.

It was dark inside the compound. Donovan O’Malley, their engineer, quickly got the lights working as the squad positioned themselves around the room. Mars found herself a perch on top a pyramid of crates where she could see the entire room. What made the position better was Jason sitting at the pyramid’s base, wrapping the gash on Jaimee’s arm. Not only could Mars see everything in the room, but she could hear Jason’s quiet voice as he made easy conversation with Jaimee.

He made small talk at first, telling jokes from the ancient days on Earth, just like he did with everybody. Then he asked Jaimee about her family and asked about her childhood memories. Mars listened with a smile as they shared memories of playing with other children and being happy, despite the carnage of the war raging around them. It was a conversation much like the ones Mars had with Jason on occasion, which is why it surprised her when Jason suddenly asked, “Do you think—a-after this war is finally over, that is—do you think we could start a life together?”

Mars’s heart almost stopped when Jaimee smiled and answered, “Nothing would make me happier.”

A bashful smile creased Jason’s face, nearly ripping Mars’s heart from her chest. She quickly scrambled down from her perch, jumping over the new couple.

Jason straightened in concern when he saw her rush pass. “Hey, Mars, is everything all right?”

She threw a forced smile back at him. “Yeah, just feeling a little sick to my stomach. I’ll be okay.”

Mars raced into the bathroom and staggered over to the sink, gasping for air. She didn’t want to think about what just happened. Thinking about it was admitting it had happened and wasn’t a nightmare. She gripped the sink angrily, taking deep breaths as she tried to quell her raging thoughts and emotions. She didn’t understand what had just happened. Why did he prefer Jaimee over her? She and Jaimee were both beautiful, tough, skilled, and they each had saved his life on occasion, so what made her better? Why hadn’t he picked her? That last question drove Mars over the edge. She slammed her fists into the porcelain sink screaming, “Why not me? Why not me?” She then whipped out her sidearm and fired twice at the already cracked mirror.

A few minutes later, Jason and Jaimee rushed in, their own weapons cocked and ready to fire. Mars lowered her weapon and looked at them calmly. They frowned when they saw her alone, and they hesitantly relaxed their guard.

“We heard screaming and shots fired,” Jason said.

Mars shrugged. “Yeah?”

He looked at the shattered mirror and then at her. His frown deepened. “You’re crying.”

She touched her cheek, feeling the wet of tears on her fingertips. “Am I? That’s stupid.” She holstered her weapon and made for the door.

Jason grabbed her arm as she passed. “What’s wrong?”

She smiled and pried his hand off her arm. “Nothing. Stupid girl emotions. You know the drill.”

She pushed past them, and they looked at each other in confusion. Jaimee shrugged and followed her out. Jason took a look back at the mirror, his brow furrowing thoughtfully, but then he turned and followed the girls out.

Suddenly an urgent cry reached the trio: “Rifters!”

Instantly, the three drew their weapons and charged into the main room. The rest of the squad had already open-fired on the intruders, and the Rifters were jumping in and out of their rifts to attack their foes. Jaimee, Mars, and Jason instantly ducked behind the nearest stack of crates and began firing at the aliens. Jaimee started inching out of the barricade, trying to get a better shot at the Rifter attacking Donovan. Mars caught sight of a rift opening behind the other woman and shouted a warning. Jaimee turned in time to get her weapon knocked out of her hands. The Rifter grabbed her and threw her against the crates, knocking the wind out of her. Jason instantly turned his sights on the alien, but the Rifter grabbed Jaimee, using her as a shield. That didn’t stop Mars. She holstered her own weapon and tackled the Rifter. The Rifter released Jaimee and grabbed at Mars, clawing at her as they fell to the floor. Jaimee grabbed her weapon the instant she was freed, but neither she nor Jason could get a clean shot as Mars and the Rifter grappled with each other. Mars finally managed free her sidearm, and she blasted him. Jason and Jaimee rushed over to her as the squad polished off the rest of the pack. Mars pushed the corpse off her and started to stand. Donovan and the others rappelled down to them as she suddenly staggered. Jason caught her, his brow furrowing with concern as he felt a wetness spread across her side.

“No,” he said, gently lowering her back to the floor. “There aren’t any medic kits left. You did not just get yourself killed on me!”

Mars laughed painfully. “Sorry. Looks like I did.”

“You should have known better. Shooting a mirror is bad luck.” He brushed back her hair gently, forcing himself to smile down at her.

“I know. But it—” she inhaled sharply and then finished, “it needed to be shot.”

He glanced at Jaimee and then back down at Mars. Something seemed to click in his mind, and his eyes widened. “You didn’t have to do that,” he whispered.

She looked at him, her head lolling to one side as she smiled. “Yes I did. Yes I did.” She took another deep breath, and Jason blinked back tears as he watched her brown eyes begin to cloud. She grabbed his hand weakly and looked over his shoulder at Jaimee. “T-take care of him,” she gasped.

Jaimee knelt beside him, placed her hand on his shoulder, and took Mars’s hand. “I will.”

Mars blinked once, and then the cloud covered her eyes completely. Her grip lost its strength, and her head fell back. Jason closed her eyes and wept as he cradled her in his arms. Mars was dead.

 

Fear of Flying

This is a personal essay I wrote for a class at college. My teacher enjoyed the essay and recommended that I submit it in the college’s writing competition. I don’t know how many pieces this essay went up against, but I do know that it came in second place.

It was judging day at the Maryland Anne Arundel County Fair. I was ten years old, helping my family in the Farm and Garden department at the front of the exhibit building. My mother was having my brothers and I tie ribbons on to the plates of produce as the judges made their decisions. I remember the warm sunlight filtering through the large doorways, striking the plates of peppers, potatoes, and peas. The red tomatoes, orange pumpkins, yellow sunflowers, green string beans, and purple eggplants covered the shelves, lending the scent of clean dirt and freshness to the air. I remember tying a red ribbon to a plate of jack-o-lantern pumpkins when my friend Kristin came up to me.

“Debi, did you hear what happened? Two planes have crashed into the Twin Towers!” She sounded agitated, and her brown eyes were wide with excitement.

I stared at her, not understanding what she said. I didn’t really know what the Twin Towers were, so I didn’t get the world-changing significance of the news.

Then a woman announced over the loudspeaker with forced calmness, “The fairgrounds will be closing due to emergency conditions. Everyone needs to leave now.”

Kristin disappeared, and I looked around as everyone began packing up to leave. What was happening? What did Kristin mean “two planes crashed into the Twin Towers”? It was an accident, wasn’t it? Didn’t these things happen all the time? Why would the fair close because of some plane crash?

Then my mom came up to me. She seemed really tense as she guided me away from the pumpkins. “Come on, Debi. We need to get your sister.”

Obediently, my brothers and I piled into our family van to pick up our sister from her class at the community college. I felt the fear pulsating in the air around me, but I didn’t understand what was happening until my mom calmly explained the situation to us. Terrorists had purposefully flown planes into the Twin Towers, killing thousands of people. It could happen again. At any moment, another hijacked plane could soar through the skies and demolish schools, churches, fairgrounds—anywhere with a dense population. I thought of my sister, Beckie. She was at the community college, a place with a dense population. She could be next. And I was scared.

We picked Beckie up; she looked pale and panicked, but we all were safe. We went home and waited. Another plane hit the pentagon, and a fourth plane was reclaimed by its passengers, who drove it into a hillside in Pennsylvania rather than letting it hit the White House.

The weeks following the attack were filled with eerie silence. Our house is just a few miles from the airport. We used to bike to the observation park and play on the playground while watching planes take off and land. At home, our conversations would be interrupted by the roar of the plane engines as they passed overhead, and we would have to wait for them to pass before we could continue. Now there were no planes. Only the birds flew overhead. And I was scared.

War was declared against the terrorists, and the airports re-opened. There were tighter security procedures now, making it difficult for terrorists to get through—difficult, not impossible. I had seen enough movies to know that bad guys always found a way to hurt people. Only this time, there was no Batman or Superman to stop them. I was glad we went to war, but I was still scared. Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were still out there. They could still hijack planes and hurt innocent people. They wanted to kill all Americans and all Christians. I am both American and Christian—they wanted to kill me and my family. I did not want to get on a plane. I did not want to fly.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to fly. I could stay home and play with my toy plane, where any terrorist that came aboard was defeated and the plane was brought safely to its landing point. Then in 2007 I won the state bicycling competition, and I was expected to fly with the rest of the Maryland team to Lafayette, Indiana. I was expected to get on a plane. I was expected to go into terrorist territory. I was scared.

Six years after that terrifying attack, I found myself standing at the airport, facing a long flight with a group of strangers. My parents hugged me, wishing me luck as they promised to pray for my safety. One of the other team members came over, introduced himself as Phil, and helped me get my bike checked in.

Phil was tall and a little bit chunky. He was my age, had red hair, freckles, blue eyes, and a silly grin that helped ease some of my fear. “You ever fly before?” He asked.

I shook my head. “No. This is my first time.”

“You scared?”

I nodded vigorously. “Yes! Most definitely!”

He smiled. “Yeah, I was scared my first time, too. But hey, you can sit next to me. I’ve got a pack of UNO cards, and we can play while we’re flying. Do you know how to play UNO?”

“Yeah, it’s one of my family’s favorites.”

We began discussing our different house rules as we went through security. Phil played doubles and stacking, and I played blitz. We began making compromises to our rules, and when we had agreed, we sat down in the waiting area and began to play. Phil kept me distracted from the impending flight, and I forgot that I was scared.

“Flight 3327 nonstop to Lafayette, Indiana, now boarding zone one.”

We put away the cards, and my fear returned at full force.

Phil walked in front of me, going first into the long, lighted tunnel toward my doom. Tall walls, narrow hall, rickety tunnel—it felt as if I was being herded to a slaughterhouse. The people around me walked forward nonchalantly, pulling their carry-ons behind them as they chatted on their phones.  My heart was pounding as we drifted toward the plane. Phil paused outside the plane entrance and touched the outside of the plane.

“For good luck,” he told me.

I used the outside of the plane to brace myself so I could get into the thing.

Once inside, I followed him to our seats, mumbling apologies to anyone I hit with my carry-on as I squeezed down the main aisle. My heart tried to jump out of my rib cage as I went farther and farther down the aisle. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to kick, scream, even cry! Ironically, I was too scared to do more than take that next step forward. Then we reached our seats at the back of the plane.

Phil helped me get my bag into the overhead department, and then he scooted into the window seat and I sat beside him. He pulled his cards out of his backpack again so we could play while waiting for the plane to take off. My mind wasn’t on the game this time—I could see the runway out the window. I could feel the seconds slip by me, counting down my thudding heart beats until we were up in the foreboding sky.

The flight attendant closed the door, trapping me inside the plane. She reached for the microphone and began giving instructions on what to do if the plane crashed. I peered over the heads of the bored passengers in front of me, watching attentively as the flight attendants demonstrated the various life-saving techniques. Phil gave up trying to play with me, distracted as I was, and fixed the tray tables and put away his cards. The flight attendants put away their visuals and began making the final preparations.

I slumped back in my seat. I could barely remember anything they had said. “I’m going to die, I know it.”

Phil grinned and reached into the pouch on the seat in front of us. “Here,” he said, pulling out a pamphlet. “This has everything they just said. Now you can save everyone’s lives.”

I seized the pamphlet and went over all the life-preserving instructions nestled within its folds. Crash landing on land, crash landing in water, oxygen failure—it was all in there, except what to do if terrorists hijacked the plane. I glanced at my purse resting at my feet. The only weapons I had were about fifty pens and five books. I could stab the terrorists with my pen or bash them over the head with my purse, but I doubted either option would do much good. They would recover and just shoot me and everyone else on the plane. They would probably shoot me before I even had a chance to jump from my seat.

The plane started moving, rumbling as its mass pulled away from the loading dock. I jumped at the sound and looked around wildly. Phil was sitting back in his chair, looking quite relaxed. He looked at me and raised one red eyebrow. “You doing okay?”

No, I wasn’t. I could tell we were turning; I could see the pavement moving, but I couldn’t tell anything beyond that. I couldn’t see the pilot or the co-pilot. I didn’t even know what they looked like. They could be terrorists for all I knew. But I forced myself to dismiss such thoughts as irrational, and I nodded.

Even though he had just met me, Phil could tell I was lying. He took the safety pamphlet out of my hands and tucked it back into the pouch. “We’re going to be fine,” he promised.

Something rumbled, and the plane creaked. I looked around, expecting a bomb to go off.

“That would be the plane flaps lowering,” Phil explained, pointing at the wings outside the window.

I nodded, relieved that it was supposed to creak. The plane jumped, and my head bounced against my headrest. I gripped the arms of my seat and gritted my teeth together.

Phil smiled. “We’re getting ready to take off. Watch. Here we go!”

Gravity pressed itself against me. Too terrified to fight it, I closed my eyes and melded into the blue seat. I could feel when the landing gear left the asphalt. My heart leapt to my throat as I was detached from the land and whisked away into the air. Pressure built up in my ears, muting the sounds of the world around me. I wriggled my jaw and winced when the bubbles popped. The plane rumbled again. I opened my eyes, certain that the terrorists had finally showed themselves.

“That’s just the landing gear being raised,” Phil explained. He glanced out the window and then looked at me with a challenging grin on his square face. “Want to look?”

Silently, I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut again. A few minutes later, I felt the plane begin to even out, though I could tell we were still going up. I slowly opened one eye and then the other. Phil was looking out his window, his head occupying the entire breadth of the small window. He looked over his shoulder at me and sat back, letting me see what was outside. I quailed at first, but curiosity got the best of me and I leaned over to look.

Below me was a patchwork quilt of dark green grass, light green fields, and brown plains of dirt, stitched together with thin freeways, highways, parkways, and side roads. I watched in fascination as the minuscule cars zipped back and forth on the shrinking gray roads. If there were people down there, they were no bigger than specks of dirt. Then we pierced the clouds and entered the whole new world of Aladdin. The glow of the sun laid pink and purple tints across the sea of clouds as they rose, swirled, and fell. There were castles up here, and mountains and valleys and seas! I wished I had a camera to capture the magical world I was seeing, but I knew that nothing could recreate this scene.

As I looked at the world below me, I felt different, as if I were in a berth of safety. The height was unreal, but it showed me what I had been missing all this time. Who could create something so beautiful? Only God. He had created the valleys, the mountains, and the clouds. If He could create all that, He could protect me from Bin Laden himself. God had to pull me into what I feared to show me that I didn’t have to be afraid.

“Pretty awesome, isn’t it?” Phil asked.

I looked at him, smiled, and nodded.

He grinned and lowered the tray tables again. “They’ll come around with drinks and peanuts soon. Want to start our game again?”

“Sure,” I said, but it was a lie. As fun as UNO was, I didn’t want to stop looking out the window. I didn’t want to forget what I was seeing. I looked out at the sun-bathed clouds as complete peace settled over me.

I wasn’t scared anymore.

The Great Cockroach Slayers – A True Story

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Someone screamed. My friend Karis and I looked up from our homework as another scream ripped through the walls of our dorm. Megan, my roommate, strode nervously into our room.

“Does anyone have a disposable cup or bowl?” she asked looking around.

We shook our heads.

“What do you need it for?” Kim, my other roommate, asked from her place at the desk, books piled high around her.

Megan looked around the room. “Is anyone here not afraid of cockroaches?”

“There’s a roach in our bathroom?” Kim squealed in alarm.

I pushed my laptop to one side and stood up.

“I’m not afraid to kill it,” I told Megan. Last semester, I had bought two bags of plastic cockroaches to play a prank on my roommates. The roaches had become a favorite toy of mine. Because of that, I was more fascinated with the creatures than I was scared. That did not mean I wanted one on me, but I could smash it.

Megan blinked in surprise. “You’re not scared?”

I bent down and grabbed a shoe from under my bed. “Where is it?”

“You’re seriously going to kill this thing?” Karis set her notebook on my pillow and stood beside me.

I brandished my shoe, grinning in what I thought was a cocky manner. “I killed one yesterday, smeared its guts across the sidewalk.”

“Eww!” Kim cried.

“You’re seriously not scared?” Megan was still in shock.

“Lead me to the roach!” I cried, waving my shoe.

She eyed my “weapon” dubiously. “You’re going to squish it on the ceiling?”

I dropped my shoe. “Oh, it’s on the ceiling?” Now, that could be a problem.

Megan started for the door, and I followed her out into the hall with Karis close behind me. I was beginning to realize that I had underestimated the situation.

As the door to our room slammed shut, I saw a group of girls huddled outside the room three doors over. Lauren, one of my floor leaders, was peeking out from another student’s room, other girls hiding behind her.

“Hey, Debi’s gonna kill it, you guys!” Megan announced proudly.

Charity, my other floor leader, came over to me with a gray plastic bag in one hand.

“Okay,” she told me fiercely, thrusting the bag into my hands, “this is your weapon. Trap the roach in the bag. We’ll tie a knot in the bag, and suffocate it!”

Her eyes grew large, and her hands clenched, as if she were personally strangling the bug.

“Why can’t I just smash it?” I asked dubiously, a little disturbed by her vehemence.

She gave me a hard look. “Roaches fly.”

That was a disturbing thought because that meant that the roach had free range of the room.

The easily visible roach was contentedly standing on the ceiling tile over some poor girl’s bed. Someone had put a chair by the bed. It was the fastest way up, so I took it.

It was a bit difficult getting onto the bed since the silky bedspread was slippery. When I had wriggled a safe distance onto the bed, I sat up and warily looked the roach in the eye. The roach was a beautiful shade of dark red, and it was huge. It looked back at me with an amused expression.

I was in position, and the bag was ready when a thought occurred to me. What if I missed? That thing would fly right into my hair. For some reason, bugs seem to like girls’ hair. My hair happens to be super thick, and I have had several bugs become severely entangled in it as they struggled to get out. I sat there, eyes locked with the roach’s, figuring out how much time I had to trap it before it flew away.

“You know what you could do?” Karis offered from the floor, “You could reach up, put the bag around it and–”

“Come on up,” I told her, making room on the bed.

She paused indecisively, and then climbed onto the bed beside me. I handed her the bag, and then I ducked behind her, still eyeing the roach.

Karis’s hand shot out.

Girls in the doorway screamed. Some of them, including Charity, ran for cover. Karis’s hand held the bag against the ceiling, and we all held our breath. Where was the roach? The ceiling tile had lifted when Karis’s hand hit it, so the cockroach had an exit. Immediately, my hands went to my hair, searching for the creature, but thankfully it wasn’t there.

Then the bag moved.

“I got it!” Karis cried triumphantly as she closed her hand around the top of bag sealing the roach inside. We climbed off the bed, and she examined her prize. “I think I got it,” she said, peering into the bag. She yelped holding the bag away from her face. “Yup, it’s in there. It’s right next to my hand!”

“Okay,” Charity said, creeping up from behind me, “now we’ll tie the bag and suffocate it!”

“You can’t suffocate it!” one of the girls objected in horror. “Those things can live for weeks without a head!”

I rolled my eyes. “Let me see it,” I commanded. Karis held up the bag, and once I caught sight of the roach’s red shape through the gray plastic, I pinched it between my fingers. Girls shrieked as its exoskeleton cracked. A look of pure disgust settled on Karis’s face as she handed me the bag, and I crumpled it around the cockroach, making sure it was dead.

“You guys are heroes!” Charity said triumphantly as we walked out the door.

I nudged Karis. “We’re going to be famous because we killed a bug!” She laughed, and I continued dramatically, “We shall be known as ‘The Great Cockroach Slayers of 3908’!”

Karis followed me to the trash chute, and we watched the bag hurtle down the black hole, never to be seen again by anyone except the trash men.

 

Burn

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Jag slipped out of the ventilation system into the dim hallways. His grey eyes flitted from corner to corner before giving a quiet whistle and rolling to the side. Three figures dropped out of the vents, landing silently on the floor. Like Jag, they were dressed in black with only their eyes showing. Each had a black satchel slung across their backs, holding their tools for the mission. Two of the figures were men with nearly identical build. The only way he could tell them apart was Ron had brown eyes and Crag had blue. The third figure, Fia, had violet eyes, and what little skin you could see around the eyes was onyx black. They joined him at the wall, Fia beside him with Ron and Crag behind her. Jag double checked the passages ahead and behind before moving forward.

They stopped whenever they heard the whir of a camera or caught the gleam of a lens and pressed themselves against the wall. Crag would quietly slip from the group and make his way to the camera. He would position himself directly under it and shoot a small, spider-like gadget from his wrist onto its silver box before rejoining his companions. Jag would count to five before continuing forward. The gadget was designated as a looper, and it would record a short segment of the empty halls and burn it into the camera’s mainframe. The video would then be put on a continuous loop so that all security would see was an empty hallway. If they encountered any guards, Crag would either shoot them with tranquilizers or hit the back of their heads. All threats eliminated, the group would continue forward.

Jag led them straight to the compound’s control room. The group paused outside the door, peeking in to study the situation. The large supercomputer dominated the center of the room, a fiery magna core contained in a cylinder glass chamber. The core pulsated with immense power, its liquid orange and red fires oozing between the islands of concentrated black fire. Forty-two white consoles had been strategically arranged around the core, and bustling around them were eighty-four engineers in black jumpsuits, with blasters at their hip and laserblades in their boot. Thirty-five stoic guards stood around the room, laser rifles primed in their hands, a blaster on their hips, armored vests, helmets equipped with night vision, and flash grenades on their belts for added insurance.

Jag looked at his companions. They nodded their readiness. All of them had been equipped with a small blaster and a diamond knife in case of extreme emergencies—all of them except for Fia. She didn’t need any weapon; she was a weapon. Jag gave the signal for them to start.

Ron stood and turned to the wall beside the steel door. He pulled out his diamond knife, sharp enough to cut through three feet of stone like butter, and sliced into the wall, exposing the labyrinth of wires. His gloved hands danced across the reds, blues, and greens, crossing some, cutting others. The lights in the control room flickered once, then extinguished. Two seconds later, the doors hissed open.

While Ron was busy with the lights and doors, Crag was busy working on his part. He whipped five marble-sized orbs and a larger orb from his satchel. Juggling the five marble orbs in his palm, he twisted the top of the larger orb and then ran his bared fingers across its circumference. Circular lights glowed in response to his touch. When the door hissed open, Crag threw the marbles into the room.

The guards had gone on alert the second the lights flickered, while the engineers worked frantically to regain power. The five marbles rolled across the floor and erupted in flashes of blinding light. Crag sent in his larger orb, and his companions donned masks as a thick fog billowed out of the orb. Sounds of painful hacking and coughing came from the room, and then there was silence.

Jag and Fia slipped into the control room. As Fia went to examine the magna core, Jag went to the primary console and attached a scarab-like object to its side. The scarab was officially classified as a HACKER, programmed to crack into any computer, no matter its planet of origin. The HACKER accessed the database, scrolling lines of code onto the monitor for Jag’s immediate appraisal.

Jag leaned forward and frowned. “If I’m reading this right, the core would have given the bomb enough power to obliterate three planets. All three targets were primary members of the Karatel Quadrant Alliance. If they had succeeded, it would have left the third world planets of the quadrant open for invasion.” He looked up at his partner with concern. “Can you disarm it?”

Fia touched the thick glass barrier that stood between her and the magna core. “I’ll do what I can, but I’ll have to release some of the excess power into the compound.”

“What will that do?”

“Burn it to the ground.”

“What about you?”

She shrugged. “I’ll either burn with the compound, or walk out without a scratch. It’s hard to tell.”

He grabbed her arm. “Tell me it’s going to be the second option.”

She turned back to the core and removed one of her gloves. “Get the others out.”

Jag hesitated, not wanting to leave his partner, but there was no other choice. It was either Fia, or three worlds and billions of people. He nodded reluctantly in agreement and quickly downloaded key files from the mainframe to the HACKER. He slipped out of the room and signaled to Ron and Crag. They looked back into the control room in confusion, but then followed their leader.

Fia waited for them to leave before smashing a hole in the glass chamber. The temperature rose dramatically as the core started flaring, but Fia didn’t notice. She calmly stuck her bare black hand through the hole and tensed as the core responded to her presence. Her body went rigid as the awesome power flowed into her, and she bit her lip to keep from screaming. The last of the fires poured into her, and she collapsed against the empty core chamber.

The guards and engineers began stirring, moaning with clouded pain as they sat up and looked around. Fire was already dancing around Fia’s fingertips as they trained their blasters on her.

Fia smiled as she showed them her hands. “Run.”

They took her advice, dropping their weapons and dashing toward the door. Fia laughed as fire started seeping from her pores. She spread her arms and screamed defiantly as the fire ripped out of her, instantly melting glass, metal, and stone.

Jag watched the destruction from a distant hill. He, Ron, and Crag waited silently as the survivors crawled from the melted ruins. He raised his binoculars and scanned the wreckage, looking for any sign of Fia. All he could see was smoke and ruin. He was on the verge of giving up when a black figure parted from the billowing smoke. She walked past the survivors without a limp or falter, her black clothes untouched by the fire. Ron and Crag shot up in excitement as Fia crested the hill.

She laughed at the relieved comments of her companions and looked at Jag. “Well,” she said, “that was refreshing.”

Fia

Busy Little Snowball

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Ever feel as though your life has sudden spikes of overwhelming busyness? When it seems as though you have so many projects and duties that you have no time to breathe? The end of August and beginning of September is such a time for me.

School is ready to begin again. As a preschool teaching aide, I start prepping my classroom this week. The kids’ first day is Monday. The first week of school is always a little more crazy; we have to get our three-year-olds used to the routine, the rules, and to spending their day without Mommy or Grandma. Naptime, the time usually dedicated to catching up on work and eating lunch, will be especially rough, since there is nothing to distract them from Mommy’s absence and the dark is scary. They won’t trust or love me yet because they won’t know me well enough. I will have to earn their trust and love through kindness and laughter, and it will take time before they run to me, giggling and singing the songs I teach them. As crazy and tear-filled the first week of school will be, it will be worth it to earn their love. I so cherish the time I get to spend with “my” kids, and I look forward to another year with another class.

September brings a new challenge. When my father was a child, my grandparents took over the Farm and Garden department at our county fair. Every year they would sit in the department on entry day, organize the entered produce neatly, answer questions, and file paperwork. The next day they would work with the judges, filling out more paperwork for awards, and tying ribbons to the winners. The day after, the fair would open, and my grandparents would stay in their department, keeping the area clean, answering visitor’s questions, and throwing away any produce that rots. Then the fair would close, and they’d still be in the F&G department, doing the final clean up, returning any produce that survived fair week, and correcting any paperwork errors. My father grew up in that life, and when he got married, my mother began helping her in-laws run that department. Both grandparents have since died, but my mother has continued to run the F&G department with my uncle, and my sister has stepped up to continue the legacy. I join them at the fair after the school day ends, helping them through the entry day rush. It makes for a very long day, but I do enjoy it. It helps me feel close to my grandmother, who died when I was eight, and it gives me a connection to my grandfather, who’s Alzheimer’s kept me from ever getting to know him.

I also have a wedding in September. Not my wedding, but my friend asked me to be her bridesmaid. That means I have to be there for dress fittings, cake tastings, bridal shower planning, bachelorette party planning, and wedding planning and decorating. Plus I have to make sure my bridesmaid dress fits. Weddings are hard and stressful, but I’m truly happy to make the sacrifice to help my friend have that “perfect” day.

Then, of course, there’s my book. Forged has been sent out to two agents, and I’m expecting their rejections during the beginning of September. If they give me suggestions on my pitch, synopsis, or story itself, I’m going to want to utilize those suggestions and make Forged better for the next round of agent rejections. This book is my life, and I will make time to devote to it.

All this to say, my blog will more than likely consist of pre-written short stories for the coming month. I hope you will continue to follow me during this hiatus, and that you will enjoy the stories I post. If you actually like the unfocused rants I usually post, they will probably return sometime in November. Just in time for Thanksgiving.

See you then!

The Storm That Never Was

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On August 12, 2017, a few neighborhoods in Glen Burnie were hit by a severe storm. At least two power lines were knocked out by fallen trees, a garage was crushed, siding was ripped off houses, three trees were uprooted, and that was just on my street. BGE arrived very shortly after the storm ended, needing to tend to the wires sparking in the middle of the road, and it took them them several hours to restore electricity to our street. My house lost power around 6:15pm, and we didn’t regain it until a little after 3am the next morning.

Strangely enough, that Saturday didn’t seem like it was going to be anything special. My siblings came over for pizza and games, bringing four dogs to add to the three already living at my house. The temperatures were mild, but the humidity was atrocious! The dogs would take turns diving in our kiddie pool before chasing each other around the yard. Once they’d tired themselves out, we went inside for dinner. We didn’t notice when the rain started, but we couldn’t ignore the storm when the lightning and thunder began. Our bay window points out to the street, but we couldn’t even see the yard. It was raining so fiercely, the only thing we could see was a dripping wall of silver grey. Then the lights went out.

Our street doesn’t go black very often. There’s only a few times in my two decades living there that I can remember the lights even blinking. Even though it was a novelty in my youth, it still meant it was a serious storm. My siblings wisely decided to wait out the storm in the safety of our childhood home, and my brother moved away from the windows. The rain was propelled under our porch roofs and through the door. The carpet around our front door was soaked. Both sides of our back door were dripping wet. It was a few hours before the weather calmed down enough for my siblings to be able to leave.

My brother left as soon as he could, eager to go home and check on his wife. He called from his car to warn the others that the roads were trashed with debris and an electrical line was lying in the middle of the road. Everyone went outside to see the damage.

Even with our flashlights, it was hard to see, but the streets were covered with branches, tops of trees were twisted off, our electrical post was broken, and wires were being pulled from our house. My home was extremely lucky; the only damage we suffered was the loss of electricity and a branch took out our garden fence. One neighbors weren’t so lucky. Our neighbor’s tree crushed their fence and left a deep pit in their backyard. Another neighbor had a branch penetrate their roof. A nearby church had several trees fall, barely missing the actual building, but crushing their handicap ramp. A shed at another house was flattened. The next day, I took a walk around the neighborhood and took pictures of the damage, but clean up had already been in progress for several hours.

Several people in the neighborhood have speculated that a tornado touched down on our street, but I haven’t been able to find any news reports saying it was even a severe rainstorm. Because of the power outages, we couldn’t watch the news as it was happening, so we have no idea what hit us. There were gale force winds, heavy rain, thunderstorms, but I can’t find any record of what it was officially. The closest I’ve found is a history report from a nearby radar, but that lists the winds as only 37mph. I’m no meteorologist, so I could be wrong, but that doesn’t sound like strong enough winds to take down three healthy oak trees.

I know my neighborhood didn’t suffer any kind of special catastrophe. The local news reports are swamped with the riots in Charlottsville, and I agree that the tragedy needs to be covered. The KKK, Nazis, and white supremacist groups should be eradicated, because they’re no better than ISIS terrorists. But just because there was tragedy doesn’t mean other people don’t exist. I still hear chainsaws and beeping work trucks around my house. There are still some people with zero to partial electricity. Do they not exist because the KKK are feeling empowered? I just want to know what hit my home. Was it a tornado? Or was it just a freak severe storm? I might have been in the middle of it, but I couldn’t see it, and I want to know!

If you find anything about the storm that hit Glen Burnie, Maryland on August 12, 2017, please link the article or report in the comments down below. I sincerely can’t find anything, and I hate not knowing.

*** The KKK, Nazis, and White Supremacists are human trash. ***

Something Old, Something New

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In honor of Book Lover’s Day (which is apparently today), I’ve decided to recycle one of my old book blogs. I used to have a blog about book suggestions called “The Bookwyrm’s Bookshelf,” but I couldn’t keep up with it. Still, there were a few good books I was able to put out there. Here is one of my favorites, “Now You See It…” by Vivan van Velde.

This book has a special significance to me. After my grandfather died, I sought this book out, digging through the Barnes and Nobles online marketplace to find a gently used copy, since it’s apparently out of print. The book is about Wendy, a modern high school girl with glasses, and a grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Can you see where I find the appeal?

Now You See It… begins with Wendy’s mom, Jeanette, driving her home from her eye doctor’s appointment. Wendy stubbornly refused to wear the paper sunglasses the eye doctor gave her to help with her dilated pupils and is essentially stumbling around blind as she tries to peek out from under her lids to get indoors. That’s how she catches the glint of something in her lawn and finds a pair of mirrored sunglasses that fit her prescription exactly. Her mother packs the tacky glasses in Wendy’s school bag the next day, and it’s a good thing since Wendy’s bus gets caught in an accident-induced traffic jam that sends Wendy’s glasses flying under a boy’s Adidas.

Forced to wear the tacky glasses to school, Wendy begins seeing weird things, starting with dead people. She sees the woman from the accident get up and walk into the light, then sees the spirit of another accident who starts talking to her. Of course she doesn’t quite comprehend what’s going on at first, but the starts thinking that it’s some kind of government secret service gadget. Until she sees little blue people wreaking mischievous havoc at her high school and sees the head cheerleader, the most gorgeous girl at school, become a hideous hag. Then she thinks she’s just going crazy. She goes to the nurse’s office to catch a breath and ends up talking to Julian York, an average and kind student, suddenly realizing that he looks so much more attractive under the influence of the glasses. That’s when she sees his pointed ears. Things get worse when Tiffanie, the cheerleader crone, sees how she looks through the lenses, and Wendy sees her talking to Julian about it.

When Tiffanie and Julian try to get on Wendy’s bus, Wendy quickly ditches before they can follow her and joins her step-sister Gia on a different base. There she takes shelter at Westfall Nursing Home, lurking in the background as she and Gia visit their grandmother, Helen. Wendy gets caught reminiscing of when her grandmother was younger, unplagued by Alzheimer’s, and she can’t stand being in the same room with the old woman who stares blankly at the wall. She goes down to the lobby to recover from the pain and sees Julian enter, and she panics. She runs into the nursing home’s yard, followed closely by Julian, and she runs through a stone archway. She’s surprised to find herself suddenly in a thick wood and ducks off the path to hide. Julian is not too far behind her, but he gets ambushed by a group of elves. Wendy watches in quiet terror as the elves start dragging away a very badly beaten Julian, then trap/kill one of the tiny blue men that tried to mess with them.

Once the elves drag Julian away, Wendy comes out of hiding to see if the little blue man had really been killed or just badly wounded. He turns out to be perfectly fine, if a little rude and crude, and he introduces himself as Larry the spreenie. He becomes the unwanted but useful companion, giving Wendy half-understood explanations of how the stone gateway works and half-heeded instructions on how to get back home. Wendy lets her mind wander as she crosses the threshold and ends up walking into a street in 1953. A beautiful, brave girl pulls her out of the way of an oncoming car, but the yank sends Wendy’s sunglasses flying into the path of the car and they break. The girl introduces herself as Eleni, the Greek form of Helen. Wendy is shocked when she realizes that Eleni is her grandmother as a teenager, but wisely decides to remain anonymous. Eleni is clever enough to guess that some kind of time-travel was involved in Wendy’s appearance, even guesses that Wendy is somehow related to her, and names Wendy “Jeanette” since Wendy refused to give her real name. Wendy tells Eleni as much as she can about the situation, and Eleni suggests that Wendy was wrong to abandon Julian, and that he may not have been the bad guy.

Upon hearing this, Larry, who is invisible without the sunglasses, uses a water fountain to signal Wendy of his presence. He returns the single surviving lens but becomes unfortunately infatuated with Eleni. Eleni and Larry convince Wendy to go back to rescue Julian, and they go back to the portal at the non-existent nursing home, attracting a particularly nasty German Shepherd. The dog chases the three through the portal, where they literally run into Tiffanie. Tiffanie freezes and lectures the dog, befriending him and convincing him not to eat any of them. Tiffanie freaks when Wendy tells her that Julian has been taken captive, and she becomes the moving force in rescuing him. Tiffanie quickly fills Wendy and Eleni in on the recent elf history of the royal house, revealing Julian to be the elf king’s son and heir. Larry tells them as much as he knows about Julian’s kidnapping, including that it was Julian’s cousin, Berrech, who kidnapped him, and how Berrech had set up shop in Dragon’s Cove. They unfortunately assume that that’s where Julian is being held captive, and they begin their journey to rescue the elf prince.

They travel through the fairy realm, which Larry tells them is called Kazaran Dahaani, disguised as three beautiful shepherdesses (Tiffanie being the most beautiful), a barking sheep (the dog, Brave Heart), and a wren. They make it without too much incident to Dragon’s Cove and quickly concoct a plan. Larry goes to spy on the elves, coming back to give the girls what they’re up against, which is six elves, including Berrech and his father Vediss, and an imprisoned dragon. Tiffanie disguises Wendy as a shadow and she sneaks into the cave to convince the dragon to help them as well as unlock the cage Julian is trapped in while the others separate the other elves using various decoy maneuvers. The dragon spots Wendy almost immediately, and he figures out her plan just as quickly. He silently proves that he is willing to cooperate with them, even covering for her when she accidentally draws the enemy elves’ attentions. Unfortunately, all their plans fall apart when Larry catches sight of Berrech using another pair of sunglasses to disguise himself as Julian. The spreenie gives the whole plan away, then, realizing his mistake, flees. The dragon flames at the elves to keep them away while Wendy finds the key, but before she can unlock either dragon or prince, one of the elves returns with a knife to Eleni’s throat. Brave Heart leaps in, giving Eleni the chance to break free from the elf’s grip. Wendy tosses Julian the key to his cell, and he tackles his cousin, wrestling for possession of a knife that was thrown at Wendy. The tussle ends when the dragon is finally freed and he offers to eat Berrech and Vediss as punishment for their traitorous crimes. Julian convinces Wendy to keep the dragon from feasting, and instead, the dragon takes the two elves to muck out the dragon’s caves.

They all go to return to their own times, Tiffanie escorting Eleni back to 1953 with the hopes of buying Brave Heart. Meanwhile, Julian escorts Wendy back to her time, and he goes with her to visit her grandmother, Helen. The ending of this book makes me cry, and I don’t want to ruin it for you, so go read it yourself.

This book is set in a modern high school mindset, so there are some minor sexual inferences (like old crone Tiffanie not wearing a bra) scattered throughout the tale. The d-expletive is also used twice, and the character Larry is rude and crude (but also very sarcastic and very funny). The story itself is sound and powerful. I first read it when I was 16, and it meant enough for me to hunt it down almost eight years later. If you’ve never read it, check it out!

Van Velde, Vivian. Now You See It… Orlando: Magic Carpet Books, 2005.

Author: Vivian Van Velde

Genre: Fantasy

Recommended Reading Age: 12+

Pages: 276

Favorite Character: Eleni/Helen

Favorite Scene: When Wendy is sneaking into the cave to talk to the dragon, and the dragon has already figured out the plan and is trying to convey his willingness to help without tipping off Berrech and Vediss.

Favorite Quote: “No,” Larry said, “baby dragons grow on baby dragon bushes and are plucked by storks, then delivered to happy dragon mommies and daddies. No dragons involved. Nuh-uh. Rated PG. Definitely.”

 

Great Aspirations

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These last few weeks I’ve been a little busy with the finishing touches on my book. I’ve been working on this book for ten years, and it’s just about ready to send to agents! I’m currently going through it line by line, catching any spelling errors I can find and tightening sentence syntax. Once that’s finished, I have a list of agents I plan to send it to. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy a short story that directly pertains to the book I’m working on. “To Be a King” is pure backstory for one of the main characters, Prince Miaku (pronounced Me-ah-koo), and also contains another main character, Prince Karran (pronounced Kah-rahn). As soon as my book is agent ready, I’ll be back to writing my normal blogs.

TO BE A KING

 

 

 

“Hey! Give it back! I need to practice!”

Miaku, Crown Prince of Rafferty, watched as his brothers, the twins Mekrik and Ravin, tormented their cousin Karran. The twins had stolen Karran’s practice sword and were shoving it in the dirt, smacking it against rocks, and generally abusing it as Karran struggled to reclaim it. The twins started playing keep-away, tossing the sword to each other as they pranced around the courtyard. Karran kept trying to intercept the exchange, but he was always just too late. The twins laughed mockingly every time the boy missed, making their sport crueler.

Miaku looked away, feeling guilty for not intervening on Karran’s behalf. He didn’t blame his brothers for picking on him, but Karran didn’t deserve it either. The boy had enough tragedy in his life. Both of his parents had died before Karran was even an hour old. Miaku’s father, King Zesiro, had taken in the boy and raised him. Karran was only five when they discovered he was a prodigy swordsman, and he was immediately shipped off to an elite academy. Three years later, he was shipped back, having learned all they could teach him there. King Zesiro brought the best tutors in all of Oran to train Karran and had seen to his tutelage personally. The special attention Karran was receiving from the king had made several of his sons jealous. Their father didn’t have a lot of time to spare, and that he was spending most of it with his nephew infuriated them. Thankfully, only the twins had turned their bitterness into action. Miaku had no problem with the boy, but he didn’t feel a strong urge to protect him either.

King Zesiro walked into the courtyard. He gave his sons a hard look, causing the twins to stop tormenting Karran long enough to pretend that he was their best friend. The king shook his head despairingly and continued on his path toward his eldest.

Miaku bowed respectfully as his father approached him.

“Miaku,” the king said, “walk with me.”

“Yes sir.”

The two turned and walked toward the battlements as the king began to speak. “Miaku, tell me something: if a man sees that a younger, poorer man knows something that he does not, and doesn’t stop to learn it, is he a fool?”

“Yes sir. Knowledge is important, and anyone who rejects the chance to learn is a fool.”

“So why haven’t you asked Karran to teach you the Kavin Disbarment maneuver?”

“Sir?”

The king smiled knowingly. “I’ve seen you watching him practice. You’ve been trying to figure out his technique, but you haven’t been able to, have you?”

Miaku shook his head silently.

“You’d master it if you’d have Karran teach you. After all, he developed that maneuver himself.”

Miaku stared at his father in shock. “Karran’s just a kid! There’s no way he’s developed his own techniques, no matter how good he is!”

“Why do you think it’s named after his father?” King Zesiro continued  as Miaku looked away sullenly, “When the whole world is against you, you have to be a fast learner. He didn’t have any friends at the academy. The children there resented him as much as my own children do.”

“I don’t resent him.”

“Then why do you torment him?”

Miaku jerked away from his father indignantly. “It’s not me! It’s Mekrik and Ravin!”

“But you let them.” Miaku looked down guiltily, and the king put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Not stopping an injustice is the same as doing it.”

“They’re just kids,” Miaku muttered. “It’s not like it means anything.”

“It doesn’t? Karran will never forget what they did to him. He’ll never forget that no one defended him, either.”

“Then why don’t you do something? The twins will listen to you.”

The king looked at his son sadly. “If I punish the twins for tormenting Karran, they’ll just blame him and make him pay for their punishment. There’s nothing I can do for him.”

Miaku frowned stubbornly as he avoided his father’s gaze.

The king sighed and took a step away, signaling that he was about to leave. “I won’t force you to do anything, but think about this: the greatest friends are made when one puts himself in harm’s way for the other.” As he turned to go, he added, “Be thankful for your friends, Miaku. Karran doesn’t have any.”

The king left his son on the battlements to think. Miaku stared out at the kingdom around him. He knew that his responsibilities started at home. If he could be a good king to his family, he could be a good king to his people. He wanted to be a good king like his father.

Shouts came from the courtyard. Miaku turned to see that the twins had pinned Karran to the ground and were beating him. For the first time, Miaku understood that Karran really had no friends. Suddenly furious, he stormed down the battlements and into the courtyard. He grabbed his brothers by their collars and pulled them off their cousin. Karran sat up and watched in surprise as Miaku threw them back. Mekrik and Ravin glared at Miaku, and he glared back.

“What, are you protecting the brat now?” Mekrik snapped irritably.

“Yes, I am.” Miaku folded his arms over his chest.

“You can’t protect him all the time!” Ravin pointed out.

“I don’t need to, because you’re going to stop messing with him.”

“Who says? Future King Miaku?” Mekrik asked.

“What are you going to do?” Ravin added with a derisive laugh. “Lock us in the tower?”

Miaku shrugged casually. “I just thought I’d tell Mother how a dead frog ended up in her dragonberry pie.”

“You can’t prove that we did that!” Mekrik sputtered.

“You think they won’t believe me?” Miaku smiled knowingly when they didn’t answer. “If I ever hear of you picking on Karran again, I’ll tell the entire staff how an army of frogs got into the kitchens.”

The twins didn’t need to be warned twice. They scurried away, casting suspicious glances at their brother over their shoulders. Miaku nodded in satisfaction and turned to Karran. Karran had retrieved his sword, and was cleaning it with a cloth from his pouch.

The boy looked up at his cousin, his black hair falling across his pained blue eyes. “Did Uncle Zesiro make you help me?”

Miaku thought about denying it, but he didn’t see the point. “He suggested it, but I wanted to help.”

“Why? You never have before.”

“No, but I think I just realized that I needed to.”

Karran grunted and checked his sword. It glinted in the bright sunlight. He nodded in satisfaction as he sheathed it. “Well, thanks. I’ll go find somewhere else to practice.”

Miaku suddenly had a hard time believing that the little kid in front of him was only eight. He smiled dryly. “I was actually hoping you’d teach me that Kavin Disbarment maneuver you developed.”

Karran glanced at him skeptically. “Really? You want to learn from me, your ‘brat’ cousin? Is this some kind of joke”

“No. It’s a good maneuver. I couldn’t figure it out on my own, so I thought I’d go to the only person who could teach me.”

The boy hesitated.

“You teach me that maneuver, and I’ll give you some wrestling pointers. Maybe then you won’t end up at the bottom of a dog pile.”

Karran smiled, and drew his sword. “Deal.”

As if on cue, Miaku drew his own sword, and the lesson began.

“Until You Can Say…”

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It comes when I’m tired or when I’ve talked too much or too fast. It comes during competitions when I’m nervous and when I’m trying to make a point. Sometimes it comes while I’m with my friends and family and I’m just trying to have a good time. Most people don’t notice it, but it’s there waiting to come out. I try to control it, keep it caged, but it escapes. It is my tongue. It is my teeth. It is my lisp.

My first word was “shoo,” but now I wonder if baby me was trying to say “chew” instead because I couldn’t pronounce the ch sound as a child. Whenever I tried, it would come out sh. I couldn’t pronounce s’s properly, either. My tongue refused to stay behind my teeth and would snake out between them to create a th sound.

Thankfully, my Mom didn’t let me live with my lisp and took me to a speech therapist when I was five years old. Even though the therapist didn’t think it was serious enough to bother with, Mom decided that she’d be my therapist. I remember driving home with her in our van and asking for some gum, my favorite candy.

“You can’t have any gum until you can say ‘peach,’ ‘church,’ and ‘chewing gum,’” she told me.

“But I can say ‘peash,’ ‘shursh,’ and ‘shewing gum’!” I protested.

She looked at me and smiled knowingly. “Keep practicing.”

I sank down into the brown van seat and sulked. “Peash-ch,shursh-ch, ch-shewing gum.”

“Pea-ch, ch-ur-ch, ch-ewing gum.” Mom enunciated the ch pointedly.

“Peash-ch, ch-shursh-ch, ch-shewing gum,” I repeated.

It took a few months, but I eventually mastered the ch sound and got my gum. Unfortunately, my s’s continued to come out sounding like th. By concentrating really hard, I could force my tongue to stay behind my teeth, but then would end up hissing like a snake.
Still, I managed to subdue my lisp significantly so that I could pronounce s’s followed by hard consonants such as k’s and t’s and liquid consonants such as l’s and d’s. But when there was an s pressed against a vowel, I struggled.

I would have stopped bothering with my lisp if it hadn’t been for speech competitions with 4-H, a youth organization where I met kids my age and learned to do things like act, cook, sew, and make crafts. At first, I did my best to avoid s’s in my speeches, but after a while, I gave up. There were just too many s’s in the English language. To win any prizes, I had to work on my lisp and became a frequent champion on county and regional levels. The lisp was my downfall at the state levels, and I walked away with only a reserve champion. But I didn’t let losing bother me and I learned to enjoy performing in front of crowds. People only knew I had a lisp if I told them.

One day at band practice, while in the practice room putting my flute together, I told my friend Cadence about the 4-H speech competitions and my frustration at never making state champion.

“Why don’t you think you can get champion?” Cadence asked.

“Because of my lisp.”

“You have a lisp?” I frowned at her sudden interest and excitement. She had a look in her eyes that reminded me of the look my siblings got whenever they found something new to tease people about. I chose my next word carefully, avoiding all s’s. “Yeah.”

“Say something with an s!”

“No.”

“Come on, Debi! I want to hear your lisp! Say something with an s!”

“No!” I grabbed my flute and music stand and started to leave.

She followed me, grabbing my long, brown ponytail and tugging it. “Come on, Debi! Just one word!”

“No.”

She tugged my hair again. “Please? Please? Please? Please?” Each “please” was accompanied by another tug.

My head was starting to ache; I grabbed my pony tail and yanked it away. “Cut it out!”

“Please?” She grabbed my hair and pulled it again, hard.

“Cadenthe! Thtop it!”

She released my hair, laughed, and clapped her hands in delight. “Say another s-word!”

“No!” I dropped my stand and dashed into the bathroom, bolting the door behind me. I sat on the floor, holding my aching head, and waited for Cadence to stop pounding on the door. She stopped after a few minutes, but I waited a little longer just to make sure. I slipped out, retrieved my stand, and hurried down into the band room where I would be protected by the teacher. Cadence hadn’t hurt my feelings that day; she’d only annoyed me—and given me a headache. But I didn’t let the teasing bother me even when a fateful incident made my lisp the brunt of a family joke.

My grandfather had treated our family to dinner at Texas Roadhouse, shoving us six Overstreets into the raised wooden booth. I ordered my normal eight-ounce steak, medium rare with onions; a loaded baked potato; and my favorite side Caesar salad.  After the waiter left with our orders, my mother noticed my siblings, Beckie and Simeon, were snickering behind their menus.

“What are you two laughing about?” Mom asked suspiciously.

“Thide thaethar thalad!” Beckie said. Then she and Simeon burst out laughing like only an Overstreet could.

I frowned. “I said ‘thide thaethar thalad,’ not ‘thide thaethar thalad.’”

They laughed louder.

I realized what I had said and tried again. “Thide thaethar thalad!”

They were red in the face by now, and Beckie started to turn purple.

I huffed in exasperation and didn’t try again. “Thide thaethar thalad” was stuck in my mouth now, and I probably wouldn’t be able to say it correctly until we got home—and by then it would be pointless. Folding my arms across my chest, I glared at them.

Mom leaned over to me. “You can smack them if you want to.”

I won’t lie, it was a tempting proposition. But—mother’s permission or no—if you smack a sibling, be prepared to get smacked back and harder. Since I didn’t feel like adding a stinging arm to my stinging ego, I said very purposefully, “Thut up!”

If they had died then, they would have deserved it. Now it doesn’t matter if I say “side Caesar salad” or “thide thaethar thalad,” they laugh just as hard either way. I just tell them to “thut up” and move on with whatever I’m doing.

Sometimes people refer to my lisp as a speech impediment to keep from hurting my feelings. My lisp doesn’t impede me; it just gives me one more mountain to conquer. I realized this one Friday dinner during my senior year at college.

Sitting at a table to my left, another student I had never met caught my attention and pointed to his friend. “This guy can’t pronounce his r’s. They come out like w’s, like ‘sowwy.’ Do you feel sorry for him?”

I wondered if this was a joke, but instead of lying and saying “yes” to spare his feelings, I told them the truth. “No.”

He was taken back. “Why not?”

I knew I’d sounded like a jerk and my reasons probably wouldn’t help, but I explained anyway. “I have a lisp, and I’ve never wanted to be pitied. I’ve never pitied anyone with any kind of handicap. I admire them. They have to work to get past their handicap, and by doing so, become better than those without a handicap.”

“Oh. I’m sorry about your lisp.”

It was then that I realized I actually feel sorry for those without one. I admire those with severe handicaps who, in trying to keep up with the normal world, surpass “normal” people. In trying to be Clark Kent, they become Superman. The difference for some people is how they react to the handicap. People need to wait until they can say “chewing gum” before they can have their chewing gum.

By Any Other Name

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I have had a social profile on Facebook for eight years, listing myself under my self-given pen name of Dragonness Wyverna. It was harmless fun. My friends and family knew who I was, and those that didn’t had no idea who to look for. My intent was to avoid people I knew but didn’t want snooping around in my personal life. It worked well, keeping those who were put off by my ecccentricity away while still welcoming those who weren’t afraid of my oddities. Then, last week, Facebook let me know that they had been alerted that my name was unsuitable and insisted I either prove it was actually my legal name or change it. When I wasn’t able to provide proper validation, they locked me out of my account until I submitted a more acceptable name. I did try to just re-enter “Dragonness Wyverna,” but they threatened to lock me out of my account permanently if I continued to insist upon my false name. I was forced to bite the bullet and submit my birth name.

It’s a bit ridiculous on both sides when you step back from the situation. I wasn’t causing any emotional, physical, or monetary harm by operating under the name “Dragonness Wyverna,” so there was no need for Facebook to insist on my changing it. If I was a terrorist, pedophile, hacker, or some other felon with a grand plan, eight years would have been more than enough time for me to cause whatever trouble I had planned. On the flip side, it was just a screen name, a pseudonym, so there was no reason for me not to change it. There are plenty of dumb technical reasons for Facebook to insist I use my real name, and it would make me easier to found by lost childhood friends. The problem only comes when you take into account how attached I am to “Dragonness Wyverna.”

When it comes to names, “Dragonness Wyverna” is about as dumb as they come. I created it when I was thirteen as my screenname for the dragon oriented art website dragnix.net by feminizing “dragon” and  the dragon-cousin “wyvern.” I made “dragoness” more of a name by adding an extra “n,” and “Dragonness Wyverna” was born! Naturally, I had a dragon avatar to go with the name, and I spent several years on dragnix befriending several other dragon-loving teen artists. I grew attached to the name because of the friends I had made with it, and I decided that I was going to publish my future books under the name “Dragonness Wyverna.” When I joined Facebook, I went ahead and made it my official name, then carried it over to my Instagram and Twitter profiles. As the years went on, it became my name more than my actual name. It better represented my eccentric personality and passions. When I went through college, I earned the name thrice over, being called “Dragonness,” “Dragon Lady,” and “Dragon Girl” by random students who noticed my extreme personality. I loved it! I loved being Dragonness. It was a badge of weirdness I was so proud to bear, aand my friends shook their heads and laughed fondly at my peculiarity. 

I’ll admit, filling out the neccessary paperwork to legally change my name to “Dragonness Wyverna” crossed my mind more than once. Unfortunately, I’m not so far removed from reality to think that it is an appropriate name in the normal world; Princess Consuela Bananahamock would be more appropriate. Any profession outside of entertainment would not hire a “Dragonness Wyverna.” I could see how such a name would effect my current position as a K3 teaching aide. If I were a parent, I would admittedly think twice before entrusting my child to any weirdo calling herself “Miss Wyverna” or “Miss Dragonness.” Professions aside, I think my parents would be hurt if I discarded the name they gave me. It might sound strange for a twenty-six-year-old to care what her parents think about her name, but I respect them. They’ve done an excellent job raising me, though I make no claims of being perfect. And while I don’t care for my first name, I appreciate where it came from. I’m also quite proud of my family name; we have a strong reputation for hard work, which has earned me more than one job. I also don’t actually see anyone other than my best friend calling me “Dragonness Wyverna” in real life.

When Facebook made me change my name, I was lost in a depressed funk for two days. It felt as though I had been stripped of my identity, as if who I was wasn’t good enough. However, after dwelling on the problem, looking at it from all angles, and seeing how my friends loved me no matter what name I was forced to bear, I came to accept the truth. Who I am is more than a name. I could be named Regina Filange, and it wouldn’t change my dreams, my passions, or my beliefs. It’s just a name, and there are people with worse names out there. When I am finally published, and my books are being as well read as Harry Potter, I can have whatever name I want, no matter how ridiculous. 

Dragonness Wyverna is me.