Photography: West Coast Game Park Safari

My daughter and I visited the West Coast Game Park Safari located in Bandon, Oregon. While many people rave about this place, what I saw concerned me. Some of the animals seemed distressed or uncared for. While I appreciated being able to see them so close, I couldn’t help but wonder about the history of the animals and the park.

Before leaving I asked about the lovely chimpanzee named Daphne (the first picture below), but they couldn’t tell me anything about her. All questions were answered with “read the signs,” which were faded and had no information about where the animals originated from.

Today I did a little research before posting these photos and it seems the park has been listed on Peta’s list of Highway Hellholes and has received many citations for animal neglect. I wish I was wrong, but I don’t think this is a good place for animals and I can’t recommend it. However, I still wanted to share my favorite photos of these beautiful animal ambassadors. They deserve better.


Some bonus photos from our travels through Oregon:


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New Experiences | A Short Story

Irona stands in the large round tiki hut, waiting to board a ship with the word “Excursion” written in golden letters along its side. A black and white bird sits on a sandy rock outside the entrance silently opening and closing its beak. The temperature is 35°C with no breeze.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” a Parent says. “It’s 100 percent safe. Top ratings.”

There are six pairs of Parents and Children waiting in a straight line to board the ship tied at the end of the long wooden pier. Irona was chosen to be at the head of the line. The feelings are of pride mixed with apprehension. Everyone will be following. Irona must do things right.

A Tour Guide wearing a tan jumpsuit and a wide-brimmed straw hat walks down the line handing white powdered donuts to each Child from a square, pink box. Irona notices the lack of gloves. This must be part of the “rugged” and “authentic” experience promised in the tour description.

Irona chews the treat slowly and swallows it. Sugar, enriched flour, soybean oil, dry milk, dextrose, cornstarch, and water. Using a wet wipe from the front pocket of the standard-issued denim overalls, Irona cleans off the sticky residue before tossing the used cloth into a garbage can in the shape of a crocodile. It makes a small, metallic growling sound.

“Right this way!”

Another smiling Tour Guide calls out to them in a cheery, high-pitched voice. Wearing tan shorts and a bright shirt with red flowers, they point toward the open-air boat rocking gently in the turquoise water. Irona nods and walks swiftly along the wooden planks, relieved to find the ground feels solid despite looking old and weathered. It doesn’t move at all.

Children at the 10th stage of development must choose a tour to experience. Irona wanted to explore lava tubes or the rocky terrain high in the Appalachian mountains, but Teacher insisted they pick someplace outside their normal interests. The Florida Keys, with its clear water and wild animals, fits this description. It’s too bright and too loud.

Irona squeezes closed both eyes and imagines the comfortable darkness of the workspace; the thick black headphones blocking out all sounds, the bank of large clear monitors, and the rows and rows of buttons. Projections of earth’s magma levels scroll across the screen followed by charts on how to optimize and magnetize different metals. 

“Don’t do that.”

It’s the Parent beside Irona talking with a firm, angry voice. They’ve both stopped walking and the Parent has grabbed Irona’s soft squishy cheeks and is squeezing them tightly. It feels odd. Could it be pain?

“Stay here. You must stay here,” the Parent says. “It’s important.”

Irona’s eyes open to find the Parent smiling with an oddly firm mouth. It’s not quite a smile. It’s important to do the right thing. Irona knows this and feels the other pairs of Parents and Children staring in their direction. The burning feeling inside is quickly identified as shame. Irona doesn’t like it and vows, like many times before, to not allow it again.

“I’m sorry.”

There’s no closing of eyes or turning off on the tour. Irona knows better. Anger brews behind the shame.

“We are open to new experiences,” the Parent says.

Irona nods. The Parent has the same look as before and their hands squeeze harder along the sides of Irona’s face.

“Say it.”

“We are open to new experiences.”

The Parent’s smile softens and they release Irona’s face. They embrace each other for a full five seconds, a firm yet gentle hug, and it makes both of them feel better. They walk holding hands to where another Tour Guide dressed in a blue flowered shirt waits to help them aboard.

“Right this way, please. Watch your step. Careful. Careful.”

The Tour Guide helps Irona over the rocking ledge and onto the boat with a firm arm. The others follow. The off-white slightly wet floor moves and sways. It’s an interesting feeling and Irona isn’t sure if that’s a good or bad thing. The voice of another Tour Guide interrupts all further analysis. It’s loud, bassy, and booming and is coming from the far end of the boat they are walking toward.

“Hellloooo! Welcome aboard the Excursion! You are in for a treat my new friends. Yes, indeed! Today you leave behind the world you know and step into a world of wonder. Before we do that, however, I’ve got to pack you all in here like sardines. Tight, tight, tight! Don’t worry though, we don’t plan on eating you!”

Irona recognizes this as a joke. A bad joke. The loud Tour Guide standing at the bow of the ship looks far different than the others; taller, wider, and wearing clothes of the brightest colors Irona has ever seen. Strapped along both legs are brown leather holsters holding black revolvers. Guns. Wars. Death. It makes Irona feel something. Perhaps it is nervousness or curiosity. It’s unclear.

“It’s okay,” the Parent whispers. “It’s part of the experience and…”

“We are open to new experiences,” Irona finishes.

They sit down on a wooden bench in front of the Tour Guide who is talking into a little black speaker. Irona realizes it’s why the voice sounds so loud and distorted. It’s too loud.

“Squeeze closer together. I don’t think anyone will bite you…at least not yet.”

Another joke. Irona absolutely doesn’t like the Tour Guide who has now pushed a button on the boat which brings the motors to life. It’s a low humming sound Irona finds comforting and the boat glides away from the shore and toward the open waters.

“We are off! Wave goodbye to the people on the shore. We will never see them again.”

There are only the other Tour Guides on the shore but some of the Children wave. Irona recognizes the joke and does not. There’s black dirt caked to the bottom of the Tour Guide’s chunky boots which have flaked off creating a little puddle of muddy water. Irona finds it fascinating and wonders what it would feel like to touch it. To taste it.

“Look up,” the Parent says.

Irona obeys realizing the real show isn’t inside the boat but outside in the passing scenery. There’s a slight breeze caused by the boat’s forward momentum and Irona tries to embrace the sensation, but it’s a disappointment. Metal tracks can be seen guiding the boat, a lot like the transport vehicles in the city. It’s too familiar. Not at all what Irona hoped it would be.

The Tour Guide turns back toward them, winks, and begins talking into the speaker again. Irona silently hopes there’s more to this adventure than moving through the water. There has to be.

“The name’s Jinx and I’ll be your tour guide today. The best tour guide around if I do say so myself, which I most certainly do! I’ve only just got a few rules and if we all abide by them, we should have a nice day. A fine day. A perfect day!”

Irona smiles and sits up straighter. Rules mean order and that means competition. There will be a Child who does the best and Irona will be it—Number One rule follower on the Excursion. Does it come with a prize or simply the knowledge of being the best? Either way, Irona is in.

“The rules are simple: stay in the boat and have fun!”

The Tour Guide laughs. Those aren’t real rules and there are no clear parameters for measuring fun. It’s another joke. Irona feels the familiar sensations of anger and disappointment. It’s not pleasant.

“The tour today will explore this beautiful coral clay archipelago located off the southern coast of Florida. You may notice red maple, thatch pine, gumbo limbo, and of course all the cute and crazy creatures of this wonderland. Keep your eyes open and enjoy the ride!”

They pull beside a lush green island and the Tour Guide tells them about each animal, facts mixed with jokes. Key deer, found nowhere else in the world, eat grass raising and lowering their heads in a slow, even movement. Largo woodrats, known for their large stick nests, scurry across a wide tree branch dangling just far enough over the water for them to be seen clearly and heard. They make a tiny metallic squeaking sound. Irona sighs loudly but nobody notices. They are all too delighted.

The boat pulls into a swampy inlet and several large manatees poke their heads above the water and then back under rolling to their sides and wiggling their flippers. A few of the Children clap. One of them cries out in excitement. Irona isn’t impressed at all. It’s not real and not at all the experience promised to “give perspective” and “change ideas.” It feels a lot like everything else at school. Designed for a certain Child in mind. Not Irona.

They pass three dolphins which jump into the air and then splash back down. One. Two. Three. Irona turns back and sees it repeated again. One. Two Three. More Children clap. They are beside themselves with joy, wiggling and jumping in their seats.

It’s exactly like the violin recital last week. Everyone feels and does the same thing except Irona. It’s not from a lack of trying or wanting to be the best. It simply doesn’t work for Irona. The instrument actually called to be played differently. It begged for variation in its notes. Why can’t others hear what Irona can? Why didn’t Irona win with the only original piece? It makes no sense. New is better than old. Isn’t it the point of everything to learn and grow? To find new ways of doing things?

The boat moves from scene to scene. Irona pays attention, mostly, but it’s more of the same. Crocodiles open and close their mouths. Leopards growling and prowling back and forth. Monkeys with swishing tails and little pink mouths which open and move toward bright yellow bananas they never quite reach. The Tour Guide makes jokes. The Children laugh and clap. The Parents smile.

Irona feels the same feeling as at the recital bubbling inside—revulsion followed by compulsion. It’s a line of programming entirely new and perhaps only within Irona. It speaks of creating a real experience. The idea gets louder and louder until Irona looks away from the line of pink flamingos standing on one foot and stands up in the center of the boat.

Humans have been gone from this planet for centuries having wiped themselves out with wars and pollution. Irona’s kind was created by them and left behind to figure things out on their own. While studying the past helps them to not recreate it, Irona thinks they are missing out on the more important aspects of humanity. Feelings. Relationships. Choices. They must do more than live like them while pretending to have choices. They have to have real choices.

These tours are nothing more than fake experiences designed to keep them thinking the same way. All the same way. How can they grow and develop by denying and deleting anything outside normal parameters? How can they experience life without living it? What can Irona do about it?

“What are you doing?” the Tour Guide says. He laughs. “We have a little one who is a bit too excited. I bet you want to try and stand like a flamingo, eh? Like this?”

As the Tour Guide lifts up the muddy boot, Irona lunges forward and pulls the black revolver from the leather holster with a quick, easy motion. The safety pulls back with a snap and Irona fires it directly into the mouth of the laughing Tour Guide who doesn’t even frown or realize what’s happening until it’s done.

Wires lay exposed, spilling out like spaghetti noodles, like wild grasses in the wind, like the strings broken on the violin when Irona slammed it onto the ground. It’s chaos. It’s a choice. The Parents and the Children move toward the back of the boat.

“We are open to new experiences,” Irona says and then laughs.

Author’s note: This started out as a challenge to see if I could write something without using gender pronouns and, like always, it took on a life of its own. It’s an odd little tale and I think there might be a good idea hidden in there somewhere…or maybe it’s simply nonsense. Let me know what you think and thanks for reading. Your support means the world to me.

Short Story Challenge | Week 31

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write about a tour guide in the Florida Keys. We had to include a revolver, headphones, doughnut, leopard, spaghetti, tiki hut, magma, magnetize, swampy, and recital.

Write With Us

Prompt: A letter changes everything

Include: alchemist, waterfall, birthday, cottage, spring, roar, syrup, sift, immeasurable, bank

My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Post-Roe Poetry: Fighting Back With Words


millions mew through
milk-bottle streets
hackle raised hunger
post-Roe madness

darting between cars
hiding within bushes
painful prurient truths
scruffy discarded mogs

forced birthing bleeds
terrors tumultuous tears
ineffable wailing woe
unwanted pink mouths

tiny hisses erupt
dry-tongued sorrow
drowned by righteous
thy will be done


diaper drives don’t give love

feeding crying newborn mouths
does nothing for broken souls
trapped in poverty’s unrelenting
cycle you pretend to understand

while you played summer camp
horseback rides, sailing, singing
desperation rages wildfire hot
without choices, chances, hope

sprinkling your righteous confetti
gathering tiny clothes in basements
women trapped cry into the night
why is this happening to me?

you take away choice saying
you are ready for all the babies
forcing your golden-crossed will
caring not for life’s long-term pain

persecute, punish, push your truth
while infant mortality rates soar
quality healthcare by reservation only
let the babies eat cake off free bibles

*This week I listened to This American’s Life’s episode titled “The Pink House at the Center of the World.” These poems are my reaction.

Photography: Little Whale Cove

She closed her eyes. She drew her shoulders back. She took a slow and steady breath.
There was tension in the air. A weight. A wait. There was no wind. She did not speak. The world grew and stretched tight.

-Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things

There’s nothing quite like standing on the beach at sunset and watching the sky and water play together with a dance of reflection and light. On our recent trip to Oregon my daughter and I sat apart from each other in complete silence watching the sun slowly descend into a bank of clouds. It was slow and sudden—a beautiful, fleeting moment of peace.

Today’s photo selections are of the place my father lives in Oregon called Little Whale Cove. It’s a hidden and magical gem we feel incredibly grateful to visit each summer. I hope you enjoy them!


Stay tuned: Next week I’ll be sharing photos of our visit to the West Coast Game Park Safari.

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The Peacock Effect | A Short Story

“What’s that horrible sound?” Walter asks, setting his black coffee mug on the wooden end table and muting the television. He misses the coaster by an inch.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Winnie says, moving the cup onto the coaster for him before she hears it—a harsh, grinding noise far off in the distance. A chainsaw, perhaps, or a car struggling to start.

“For heaven’s sake. I need quiet! Is that too much to ask?”

Winnie takes a drink of her coffee to avoid answering. There’s a shiny black rhinoceros beetle eating a banana on the screen and the movements of its big horn line up with the loud sound outside. Winnie giggles. Walter grunts.

“What’s so funny?”

She points at the strange insect on the TV and her husband turns it off. With a dramatic sigh, he hoists himself from his green-striped chair and walks with three slow shuffling steps to stand before the large bay window. He adjusts the glasses on his nose and stares in the direction of the noise.

Sunlight reflects off the many crystal prisms hung in the window casting round rainbows into Walter’s thin, grey hair and across his unshaven face. Winnie loves him, even if he makes her feel bad most days. Next month will be 40 years of marriage. They should plan a party.

“This won’t do.”

Turning toward her, she can see the anger and accusation in his grey eyes. He blames her for anything and everything that’s gone wrong since she insisted they sell the farm and move to this small house near town. She didn’t want to move either, but they couldn’t keep up with the work of the farm. They are both in their 70s, their only child lived more than two hours away, and Walter has a heart condition. It was the right choice to move, but he holds it against her. He makes her pay.

Coming up beside him she slips her arm around his waist and leans her head onto his shoulder. He used to tower over her, but now they are closer in height. As he shrugs her away she sidesteps, pretending to check the succulents on the windowsill to see if they need water. The tenderness between them has been replaced with iciness. It burns.

“There’s nothing to be done. I’m sure the sound will stop soon. Let’s watch the rest of our show. Those beetles are really fascinating.”

The grinding outside gets louder and sounds as if it’s coming toward them. Walter leans closer to the window and she does too. There’s no sign of whatever is making the noise.

“Can’t you do something?”

He’s not using his cane and wobbles for a second, but Winnie knows better than to put out her arm to steady him. The hair on the back of his neck is standing up like some pissed-off alleycat and she tries to rub his back. Stepping away, he makes a low sound. Did he just hiss at her?

“What would you have me do, Walter? You need to relax.”

“Don’t tell me to relax. You can find a way to make it stop. I need quiet—you already know this. It’s not good for my blood pressure.”

Translation: you made me move here and I hate it. I’m going to use my anger at the situation and your worry about my heart to make you feel sorry for me instead of taking responsibility for my own actions.

“Walter, are you seriously asking me to get dressed, leave the house, track down the source of the noise, and get it to stop?”

“I’m asking you to care.”

Using the wall to steady himself, he presses past her and disappears into the kitchen. She hears him pulling out the big silver pot from under the sink and slamming it onto the tile counter. They’re supposed to make two different fruit jams tomorrow, but it sounds like he’s starting it now. Winnie feels the tightness in her lower back and knows she won’t be much help. Damn him.

She straightens the pillows on the couch and gathers up the coffee mugs before heading to the kitchen. Walter’s lowering the peaches with a wooden spoon into the pot of boiling water. His eyes look red and it’s obvious he’s been crying.

Winnie feels a wave of exhaustion as she slumps down into one of the yellow kitchen chairs and looks out the small open window. They really should get a new screen, but the old farmhouse didn’t have any and it reminds her of home. She loves to sit here with her eyes closed and hear the sounds of the world—even if they are far different living in suburbia than out in the country. Today, she only hears the horrible grinding sound. What could be making such a racket?

Something brushes against her cheek and she opens her eyes. A brightly colored peacock feather lays in front of her. It must have flown in the window. She picks it up and stares at it in wonder. A magical gift.

“Walter, look at this!”

Keeping his hands on the counter he turns and his eyes widen upon seeing such a beautiful, delicate thing on their cluttered wooden table. It reminds them both instantly of their favorite family memory when their daughter wanted to be a turkey for Halloween. She’d proclaimed it at the breakfast table on the first day of October dressed in a mustard-colored jumper, her red hair braided into two long braids, and her feet stuffed into mismatched rain boots.

“A wild turkey with lots and lots of feathers,” she said, jumping up and down and shaking her butt.

Even then, at barely three years old, their only child knew what she wanted. A perfectly wild, free-spirited mix of the two of them, Wren made each day adventurous and challenging. They loved her with a ferocity verging on mania and they both knew if something happened to her they’d not survive. She was their everything.

They worked on the costume in secret each night after Wren went to bed and hid it on the top shelf of the pantry during the day. Walter collected feathers in the woods behind the farm and sheared one of the sheep for stuffing. Winnie attached the feathers one by one with a perfect whipstitch to a fluffy suit made to look fat and round by the fresh wool.

A day before Halloween they decided to show it to her. They needed her to try it on so they could make sure the placement of the wings hit the right spots of her body and make any last-minute changes.

“Surprise!” they said together holding it up when she woke from her afternoon nap.

“What is it?”

“A turkey,” Walter said.

“Just like you wanted,” Winnie said. “Your costume.”

Falling onto the floor in a heap of anguish, Wren sobbed and sobbed. Both parents sat beside her confused, waiting patiently until she could catch her breath and explain the costume catastrophe cry fest. Several minutes later she bolted to her room and emerged with a sketch of the “turkey” complete with colorful blue, green, and gold feathers.

Walter scooped her up into his arms and explained to her the mixup and asked what they could do to fix it. He was always so good at staying calm with her, listening, and problem-solving. They deconstructed the costume and using dye, an old umbrella, and lots of hot glue, turned the turkey into a beautiful peacock with a few minutes to spare before trick-or-treating.

“She was the cutest peacock ever,” Walter says.

“It seems like yesterday.”

Silence falls between them for a minute as they both relive that night. Driving in the old red pickup holding hands while the colorful peacock and her little brown and white dog Gromit bounced around the back. They’d driven down one of the long, gravel farm driveways and she’d jumped out and ran to the door with her hollow plastic pumpkin, Gromit barking at her heels. The neighbors would give her candy and she’d repay them with little gleeful laughs and grateful hugs.


Both Walter and Winnie jump as the grinding sound erupts outside, much closer and louder this time. It’s a low strong bass-heavy booming sound and it causes the windows to rattle, the wind chimes to move, and a picture to fall off the wall. Winnie retrieves Walter’s cane from where he left it in the living room and the couple steps onto the front porch together.

“What in the heck is that?”

High above them, amongst a bright blue sky with streaking white clouds, are hundreds of glowing balls of light moving in straight even lines across the sky. They appear to have no mass, no distinct anything really. More like bubbles than anything. Booming bubbles.

“I have no idea, Walter.”

“Me either.”

Looking around, it appears most of the neighbors aren’t home. Is it possible in their attempt at simplifying their lives by cutting out watching the news has backfired? Did they miss some kind of important announcement? Wren will know what to do.

Winnie leaves Walter sitting in his old rocker on the front porch and finds the pot of water still boiling on the stove. She turns it off and leaves the mushy peaches where they are. Retrieving her cell phone from where she left it plugged in last night, she grabs the binoculars Walter uses to watch the birds and a bottle of water.

“They’ve stopped moving,” Walter says.

She hands him the binoculars and the water bottle before taking her place beside him on the porch. The bubble things sit still and silent in the sky. Maybe it’s some kind of sun flare or an optical illusion.

Not only has the sound stopped but everything around them seems paused. There’s no bird song. No rumbling cars in the distance. It’s quieter than a night on the farm and it makes them both feel uneasy.

Wren lives a few miles away in an apartment with her girlfriend Jade. They run a trendy coffee shop downtown filled with their artwork, used books, and mismatched comfy sofas. They have open-mic nights, write-ins, and art shows.

Winnie attends a lot of the events, but feels jealous and a bit out of place. Her daughter and their friends are so cool, free, and creative. It’s intimidating. After retrieving her reading glasses from her pocket, she sends Wren a text.

“Hey, it’s mom. Call me ASAP. It’s urgent.”

Walter hands Winnie the binoculars and then takes a long drink of water. He’s shaking slightly and Winnie realizes he needs to eat or his blood sugar will get too low. Before she can get to her feet, however, he reaches out his hand and squeezes it. There are tears in his eyes.


She presses the binoculars to her face and then lowers them covering her mouth in shock. The things aren’t bubbles at all but shiny metal ovals which are lowering slowly toward the ground. Not a solar flare. Not an optical illusion. Things. She checks her phone and finds Wren’s message unread. It’s not like her.

“What do we do?”

Walter doesn’t answer at first and Winnie isn’t sure if he heard her or if he’s thinking. She feels her heart beating fast. Every science fiction movie and television show plays through in her mind. Please let this be the Prime Directive kind of aliens and not the old “we are out of room on our planet and need yours” kind. Actually, let it not be aliens at all.

“We have to find Wren and Jade. Family should be together for whatever this is.”

Nodding, Winnie rises to her feet and hands the cell phone to Walter.

“I’m going to pack up a few things. You keep trying Wren.”

Walter nods and then grabs her hand and squeezes it. They’ve always been a team in crisis and she can see today will be no different. His eyes are softer now and she’s hit with a wave of gratitude for all he’s done to protect her over the years. She wants to say so much, but panic and worry about their daughter wins out and she lets go. When she’s inside she hears him call out to her.

“It’s going to be okay.”

The confidence and strength she has always admired in him can be heard in those words and it brings stinging tears to her eyes. He will get them through this. They just need to focus on finding Wren and it will all be okay. Whatever is happening, they can face it as a family.

Digging out an old black backpack of Wren’s from the hall closet covered in tiny buttons, Winnie fills it with Walter’s medicine and some food. Going into the bedroom, she pulls out two large suitcases. One she drags to the kitchen and fills with canned goods, chips, nuts, and a can opener.

The second suitcase she sets on the couch and fills with things from around the house. The photo albums from the bookshelf. A tiny pink crochet baby dress with a matching bonnet from a box under her bed—the first thing Wren wore after being born in front of the fireplace 35 winters ago. Wren’s painting of the farm hanging above the fireplace. Her grandmother’s antique perfume bottles from the top of her vanity. All the jewelry Walter and Wren have given her, including a locket with a piece of baby hair inside. Her favorite rose teapot.

Walter unlocks the white van and he helps her load the bags into the back. They add in pillows, blankets, and several large bottles of water. It reminds them both of the big fire when Wren was 10, scrambling to evacuate before it got too big and the roads were closed.

Walter stayed back and used his tractor to dig trenches/fire breaks around the farm and help his neighbors do the same. The fire stopped less than 20 feet from their large barn, but not before burning all their crops and half the county. It was a terrifying time, but they were a lot younger and had more energy to get things done. Now, it feels like too much.

Collapsing into the van, they are exhausted and sweaty from all the activity. Winnie makes Walter eat a protein bar and take an extra blood pressure pill. She takes a handful of painkillers for her back and hip. Checking the phone again she sees her message to Wren remains unread. Her stomach drops.

“I hope she’s okay, Walter. It’s not like her to not answer.”

“It’s barely noon. Maybe they had an art opening last night and she’s still asleep. She keeps her phone away from her bed like we do. I’m sure she’s okay.”

While Winnie appreciates his optimism, she can tell by the fast way he pulls out of the driveway he doesn’t quite believe it himself. They both look up at the sky and see the bubble things have gotten much lower. How long did it take them to pack things up? How long do they have before something truly terrible happens? Can they reach their daughter before then?

They pull onto a deserted freeway and drive for a few minutes before reaching downtown and taking the exit leading to Wren’s apartment. One of the silver bubble things sits atop a window-covered skyscraper, balanced on its peak like a marble on the end of a pen.

“What’s happening?” 

Winnie’s aware of the hysteria now in her voice. She can’t help it. The streets are empty. Homeless camps abandoned. Businesses open without electricity or people. Stoplights don’t blink red, they are simply not working at all.

Rolling down her window she finds the eerie quiet far scarier than it was on their little suburban street. They drive through an oval shadow and she pokes out her head to see another one of the things has reached the building level. It looks shiny but still without any real substance. If only she had something sharp she’s sure she could burst it.

“We need to get to Wren. She’ll know what to do.”

She loves her husband’s faith in her daughter and can’t help but feel the same way. Since moving close to the city, Wren and Jade have helped them with everything. They arrange their groceries to be delivered, take them out to fancy dinners, and make sure they always have tickets to every show in town. 

Last Friday Wren and Jade took her to get pedicures and out to lunch at a fancy cafe with mimosas in huge crystal goblets. That weekend they took Walter for a drive in the country and asked him to teach them the names of the different birds hanging around the rice fields. They are beautiful, wonderful girls. Women. She loves them both very much.

Pulling up to the three-story historic white building they don’t see Wren’s little gold car parked out front. In fact, there are no cars anywhere. Slipping through the unlocked side gate, they enter the small courtyard shared by three apartment buildings. It has a large stone fountain in the center surrounded by planters of hollyhocks, oxeye daisies, and marigolds.

Walter stops at a green picnic bench and sits.

“Go on without me. I’ll wait here.”

Winnie wants to argue but she’s anxious to reach her daughter and Walter walks so slow with his cane. Kissing him on the top of the head she sprints as fast as her aching body will let her to the blue stone staircase leading to the front door of her daughter’s apartment building. It’s really a beautiful place—old and decorative. It’s so Wren.

There are only five stone steps but Winnie finds herself grasping the thick metal handrails and pulling herself up inch by inch. She’s really tired. Packing the van was too much for both of them and she’s wondering if they should have stayed put and waited for Wren. What if she’s gone to fetch them and they aren’t there?

When she reaches the top another horrible thought occurs to her. If the electricity is out the elevator won’t be working. Her daughter lives in a penthouse on the third floor. Winnie won’t make it up all those stairs. It’s not possible. This all feels so foolish.

With a final look up toward the thing in the sky, she turns the large brass knob to at least call to Wren from inside. It’s locked. No! She hadn’t thought of this. It’s always unlocked. 

She bangs both fists on the hardwood for several minutes. The sound echoes around her but nobody comes, except Walter clunking toward her with his heavy wooden cane. He stops at the bottom step and leans on a large stone lion.

“The door’s locked. We can’t get in. What if she’s up there unconscious or something and we can’t reach her? What if she needs us, Walter? We can’t do anything! I’m useless!!”

She didn’t mean for it to come out and she covers her mouth a bit shocked at herself. Tears flow down her face and she takes steading breaths to stop herself from losing it completely. It’s not true, she knows it’s not, but she’s felt it for a long time. Far longer than losing Wren to college. Far longer than losing the farm. She’s felt useless most of her life.

Walter smiles up at her. It’s a genuinely kind smile and it reminds her so much of the boy he was when they met. She’s drawn to him, like she was back then, hobbling down the small staircase and landing in his arms. He pulls her close. He smells of Old Spice and wood. Why does he always smell so good?

“You have never been useless a day in your life, my love. From the moment we met you saved me. I don’t deserve you.”

From above them, the metal bubble softly sighs releasing a gentle, cool breeze. The courtyard fills with dancing cherry blossoms swirling in all directions—a private, silent show for two. They sit together on the bottom step and catch the delicate petals in their hands, a bouquet of pale pink and white.

Sunlight becomes darkness as the thing above them descends lower bringing stillness and cold. Peacock feathers float around them, first a few and then hundreds. Each contains a memory of their child—she’s here with them. They feel her in every feathery touch and they smile at the life they’ve had together. It was good. They did good. When the grinding sound comes they don’t flinch or look up. They hold hands and smile.

Author’s note: Each week I’m inspired by something in my life and it flows into my stories either directly or indirectly. These peacock pictures are from my trip to Oregon last week and they were begging me to use them somehow in a story. I struggled for a few days to find a direction to take Winnie and Walter but ultimately was led to the empty courtyard filled with feathers. This is my 30th short story this year and I feel both depleted and inspired. Your likes and comments keep me going, so please let me know what you think of the story in the comments below. Share with a friend if you really like it. Thanks for reading and have a great week!

Short Story Challenge | Week 30

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write about parents solving a problem together. We had to include rhinoceros, umbrella, announcement, petal, feather, fruit, placement, sketch, wobble, and boil.

Write With Us

Prompt: A tour guide in the Florida Keys

Include: revolver, headphones, doughnut, leopard, spaghetti, tiki hut, magma, magnetize, swampy, recital

My 52-Week Challenge Journey

River | A Poem

we’ve never formally met
shaking hands, exchanging names
we’re beyond such things
green watered dream river

living within shared bones
—marrow of continuous life
passion tugs weepy core
toward lover’s inevitable embrace

slippery rocks rattle beneath
unsteady, unstable moving feet
liquid kisses, fluid caresses
flowing fast, free, fierce

losing power inside your
deep roaring wild whitecaps
fingers touch fusing together
foaming—equal dance partners

last minute quick turn
freckled face warmed red
singing in sweet harmony
until we meet again

While visiting Oregon last week, I stood on the bank of a beautiful green river and was completely overwhelmed by how familiar it felt. Had I dreamed of this place? Did I visit its rushing waters in another lifetime? I wanted to be within its icy water and feel the power sweep me swiftly away. It called to me. This poem is an attempt at processing this strange and odd feeling. Has this ever happened to you?

Photography: Depoe Bay, Oregon

I’ve spent the last week traveling through Oregon with my teenage daughter. We started at my dad’s house in Depoe Bay, moved to Bandon, and then finished in Rainbow. I took hundreds of photos. Oregon is photogenic as heck! I’ve decided to split them up and share some each Monday for a few weeks.

My photos today are of tiny Depoe Bay and our whale watching excursion through Dockside Charters. We saw four tails and lots of spouts of water, but I wasn’t quick enough to capture a great photo within our hour trip. It didn’t stop us from having a blast standing at the bow of the ship as we bounced through the ocean laughing and scanning the water. It’s an experience neither of us is likely to forget.

I hope these photos of the peaceful coolness of the Pacific coast bring you a little bit of joy.


What to see more?

Stitches in the Woods | A Short Story

“Needle and the thread
Gotta get you outta my head
Needle and the thread
Gonna wind up dead”
-Shawn Mendes, Stitches

The golden crack of light shining in between my dark blue curtains tells me it’s morning. Another day and night have passed. I’m still alive.

“Honey, you need to get out of bed.”

Mom is at the door again, her long brown hair pulled up into a butterfly clip at the top of her head. The concern in her voice makes me feel guilty but I can’t move. The heartache feels like marbles in my blood, pushing painfully through my veins to sit heavily within my chest. The pain is too much.

Chrissy left me for some boy she met at cheer camp. My beautiful, everything Chrissy. We were supposed to get married and move to New York after graduation so she could make it on Broadway and I could work at the New York Times. It’s been our plan for three years. This can’t be real.

“Honey, you need to eat something.”

Mom’s back with a thick stack of pancakes smothered in butter and maple syrup. Her green eyes look hopeful, but the smell makes my stomach lurch and I run into the bathroom and throw up in the sink. It’s strange how heartache can make your favorite food smell disgusting.

Mom tries to rub my back but I duck into my thick blue comforter and roll away from her. Chrissy deleted all of our pictures from her Instagram and replaced them with photos of her and Ryan kissing at the State Fair. They shared a corn dog and rode the Ferris wheel. I want to kill him.

Grabbing my phone I check to see if Chrissy has texted me back. She hasn’t. Scrolling through my hundreds of blue unread messages I’m embarrassed at how pathetic this all is. I’ve never felt more out of control and sad.

Her last text burns bright white on the screen: “I’m really sorry. I can’t keep texting you. It’s over.” Swiping right I look at the red delete icon but don’t press it. I toss my phone to the floor.

There’s nothing I can do but accept her decision despite every fiber of me screaming to keep fighting. What could I have done differently? If I’d bought her flowers more or visited her at camp would it have changed things? She was my forever and I lost her. Life doesn’t have meaning anymore.

“Honey, I’m taking you to grandma. She’ll know what to do.”

Pressing my forehead into the cold glass of the car window, I watch the blurry scenery change from scraggly buildings to tall slender trees. Grandma lives in a little one-room cabin deep in the woods near a small creek that empties into a large river a few miles from her place. My childhood was spent here—throwing rocks, breaking sticks, and climbing trees. It makes sense for mom to bring me here.

Laying on grandma’s plaid couch, covered in soft knitted blankets, I hear them talking about me. “Hasn’t eaten in days,” “won’t shower,” “worried” and “heartbroken.” The words drift through me without much meaning. Tears are flowing down my face but I don’t remember starting to cry. Have I ever stopped?

Grandma makes me drink a strong earthy tea with lots of honey. Mom’s car isn’t parked outside anymore and the golden light spiking through the trees is either the sunrise or the sunset. I drain my cup faster than I anticipated and she refills it again and again.

“You need to listen to me, Theo.”

She’s holding my face in her wrinkled hands and her small grey eyes are staring into mine. Rosemary and wool. Mint and mushrooms.

“Go into the woods—the spot near the creek where the trees form a circle. You must go alone and pray for love and hope to return to your body. After you pray, take a large drink of water from the stream.”

Her expression leaves little room for argument and she places my tattered blue converse and black hoodie beside me on the couch. Grandma has taken me to her holy spot many times but this will be the first time I’ve gone alone. She watches me get ready and then hugs me to her.

“When you return we’ll eat a big meal of fried chicken and potatoes. You will find yourself again, Theo. Trust me.”

Stories of my grandma’s healing abilities flow easily around family gatherings, like side dishes and desserts. I’ve heard drunk relatives call her a “witch” and sober ones call her “magic.” It’s hard to say what I believe but it doesn’t matter. She will not take no for an answer.

There’s a well-worn path leading from her house and into the woods. With how the birds are singing and diving through the trees, I decide it’s a little after sunrise. A huge black and blue bird with a spiky head, a blue jay, dives down in front of me three times causing me to have to stop and step around him. Stupid bird.

The white granite of the outlook tower appears through the trees for a moment but then becomes lost again in the thick branches of the forest. I used to love when grandma would take me there. We’d stand and look up at the tiny windows far above us and she’d tell me stories of how the villagers erected the tower in the 1800s as a way to keep watch for fires and invaders.

“The people of the hills looked out for one another back then. We were all connected…not like today when we’ve spread out like seeds sprinkled in the wind never looking back from where we came. The tower meant something. It still does to me.”

When I was younger I’d lay awake at night imagining how I could get through the bricked-up doorway to the treasure trove of gold and jewels waiting for me to claim it. I always thought when I got older I’d either tunnel underneath, scale the sides, or use a tightrope to walk from the trees to the windows at the top. Maybe I still will. It might be worth the risk to be rich and not have to think about college and all the work ahead of me in my life. I need a new plan anyway.

Following the sound of the creek, I find my way to the circle of tall pine trees. It’s a strange place and I feel my heart race when I arrive—as if it’s alive or filled with tiny eyes watching my every move. Standing in the exact center I look up to see the tops of the trees disappearing into a now blue sky dotted with fat white clouds. 

The heaviness of having lost Chrissy feels like it waited until I entered this spot to slam into me again. Stumbling back, a boulder of pain knocks me to my knees. I forgot about her for a moment and it’s confusing. It was nice to feel like myself and dream of the treasure in the tower, but also it felt disloyal to have forgotten how much I love her for even one second. Why is this happening to me? I feel crazy and wild. I scream.


The word echoes through the forest and turns me into a slobbery sobbing mess. Laying on my back I stare at the ring of trees and try to remember what grandma said to do but all I want to do is forget. The word sounds strange in my head like I’ve never heard it before, so I say it out loud.


Yes. I want to forget. It’s all I’ve ever wanted in my life is to forget her name, the blue of her eyes, the way her arms feel around my waist. The taste of her lips. I want to be free of this pain of loss.

“I want to forget Chrissy. I want to forget everything.”

A rush of cold wind blows through the trees, lifting old leaves from the ground and swirling them around me. As I watch them dance in the air, an uneasy feeling begins at my toes and then travels like a shiver up to my head. I press my fingers into my temples and watch as fat, thick fog crawls along the forest floor until it reaches me. It seems alive, with fingers and toes, as it presses me hard into the ground. I try to scream but find no air in my lungs.

Rotting wood. Rancid water. Decay. This isn’t the spirit that helps grandma. Its icy breath stings the back of my neck and sends another wave of shivers through my body. With a low, hissing voice it whispers into my ear. Forget. The fog and the word seem to be one—pressing down on me and repeating itself over and over. Darkness comes and I feel my body sinking into the soft ground.

No. I don’t want this. With all my energy I move my arms through the leafy soil until I get them under me and I can press myself up into a push-up position. The foggy thing above me groans and sighs, but I press harder and harder. I get my knees up under me and scream.


Pressing upward with a sharp jerk I manage to throw the thing off the back of me and jump to my feet. It repeats “forget, forget, forget” in a husky higher pitched voice, but I don’t turn and look at it. I don’t want to see what it looks like. With my arms out in front of me, I fall out of the fog and stumble a few steps until I regain my footing.

The forest beyond the circle has remained bright and silent. It’s the kind of stillness you feel inside you like a blanket and I lean into it as I run all the way back to grandma’s house. She’s waiting on the porch and I fall into her arms. A nightingale sings far off.

“It’s going to be okay.”

She’s made her famous fried chicken, thick potato wedges, and fresh bread which I gobble up in an instant. Grandma talks while I eat but I hear nothing she says. All I can think about is the word forget as if I’ve summoned it to live inside me now. Forget Chrissy. Forget the way she made you feel. Forget your plans. It’s like a chorus singing so loud I have to cover my ears.

“You okay?”

Nodding yes, I want to scream out no. There’s something happening inside me, but I don’t know how to describe it. Swirling, maybe? Coursing? That’s closer. Infecting…

“Lay down and rest.”

The moon shines fully through the big cabin windows and once the blankets are on me I drift instantly off to sleep. Cool blasts of air wake me and I pull the blankets tighter and look around the room. Fog, with the same horrible smell as before, creeps in around the cracks of the front door. Grandma’s asleep in her chair by the fire, her knitting still on her lap. I’m dreaming. I have to be dreaming.

Pressing my eyes tight together I tell myself to wake up, but I feel the slimy thing climbing on top of me. It soaks my blankets. A sharp fingernail traces my cheek. Its breath feels like ice.

“Forget,” it hisses in my ear.

Its strong slimy hands grab my shoulders and with a jerk, it flips me onto my stomach. The weight of it feels crushing as it climbs onto my back and I manage to turn my face slightly to the left so I can suck in tiny gulps of air. There’s searing, burning pain along the back of my head. Dark hot liquid seeps into the pillow around me and onto the couch. I can’t scream. I can’t move. Something sharp stabs into my head over and over, but the feelings are too intense and I remember nothing else. Forget.

When I wake up grandma has made pancakes and I eat them without touching the spot on the back of my head that pounds and throbs. It’s nothing. I’m sure it’s nothing. She smiles and we drink tea. I’m going to be okay. It’s all over now.

“It’s remarkable. I can’t believe how much better you look. Your cheeks are pink and you actually smiled when you saw me. Grandma’s healing powers have done it again!”

Mom’s laughing and pulling me to her. She’s warm and smells like lavender and the pink cream she puts on her face at night. I want her to hold me for a long time but I push away dramatically and give her a smile. I’m fine, mom. Don’t you worry about your boy. I’m good.

Sleep comes quickly when we return home but it’s not peaceful. I wake to the fog pouring in from around my bedroom window and the horrible rotting smell. Don’t look. You are having a bad dream. It flips me, sits on my back, and I’m helpless to whatever it’s doing to the back of my head. Hot liquid. Burning pain. The sound of snipping like metal scissors. Why did I go into the woods? Why didn’t I tell grandma what happened? It feels so real, but it can’t be. This can’t be happening.

I wake up on the floor, sweating and in pain. Running my hand down the back of my head I find something there. It feels like the stitches I had when I cut open my knee hiking in the woods last year, only much bigger. Running into the bathroom I grab my dad’s shaving mirror and angle it so I can look at the back of my head. Stitches, fat and uneven, run down the back of my head. I touch the sharp tips of the red thread and scream.

Dropping the mirror to the ground I scream. Mom rushes to my side. She’s in her plaid nightgown and brown fuzzy slippers. Rubbing her eyes she looks from me to the shattered mirror on the floor.

“What happened? Are you okay?”

“Mom, did I have surgery?”


“Did I have surgery or something? On my head.”

“You are worrying me. No. You didn’t have surgery. What’s wrong?”

Turning around I show her my head and she says nothing. I touch the stiff stitches in a line from the top of my head to the base of my neck. They are there. I can feel them.

“What am I supposed to be looking at?”

She’s staring at me now with tears in her eyes. I can tell by the fear on her face she can’t see them. Maybe they aren’t there. It’s part of the dream or hallucination or something. It’s not real. None of this is real. I shrug and try to smile.

“Must have been a bad dream, mom. I’m okay.”

She says I look terrible and asks me if I’m worried about seeing Chrissy on the first day of school. When I tell her I don’t know that name, her face falls. She puts her hand on my forehead.

“I’m not sick. It was a bad dream. I’m okay mom.”

The next few nights are some version of the same—fog, blood, sharp sounds, and pain when I wake up. I avoid touching the back of my head anymore and take handfuls of Motrin every few hours. Whatever is happening with me, it’s nothing. Probably brought on by stress. Forget. Forget. Forget.

Rockford Academy starts on Monday. My first few classes are fine but something strange happens at lunch. A beautiful blonde cheerleader with bright blue eyes comes up to me and says we need to talk. When I tell her I don’t know her, she gets angry and throws my lunch tray on the ground.

“What do you mean you don’t know me?”

“I’m sorry but I’ve never seen you before.”

“Are you serious?”

“I’m sorry.”


Her friends give me dirty looks and surround her as she walks away. I have no idea what happened but when I look at my best friend he’s shaking his head so hard that his long, blonde hair covers his eyes.

“Damn dude,” Henry says. “That was harsh bro. Chrissy seems really hurt.”

“I don’t know her.”

“Fine, fine. If that’s how you want to play it but you are coming across like a jerk. You’ve been good friends since grade school. Maybe you could be cool, you know? Be her friend?”

Without thinking I touch the spot on my head and shiver as I feel the sharp points of the stitches poke my fingers. It’s still there. I want to tell Henry about my time in the woods, about the nightmares and the fog, but I don’t want to risk him not believing me. I don’t have a lot of friends and I want to try and be normal again. We eat our lunch and talk about music. We make plans to hang out together on the weekend and maybe see a movie.

I’m a senior and classwork counts now. I’ve got the school newspaper, marching band, trigonometry, English, history, and debate. There’s no time to worry about anything else. Forget. Forget. Forget.

On Friday another strange thing happens. A boy in a Nirvana t-shirt sits beside me at lunch. He runs his hand through his long, blonde hair and makes fun of my colorful socks. I try and ignore him, but he punches me on the arm and ruffles my hair. I don’t like anyone touching my head, so I try and move away from him. He follows me and asks what movie we are going to see this weekend.

“I’m sorry, but do I know you?”

“What the hell, bro!”

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t know you.”

“Henry. Your best friend. Why are you being so weird? You’ve been so fucked up since the whole Chrissy thing. I’ve tried to be cool but this is going too far.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know you and I don’t know any Chrissy.”

“Fuck you, Theo.”

He punches me on the arm and walks away. Something about the exchange makes me cry. I run into the bathroom and text my mom to come to get me. She said Henry had already texted her and she thought it was time I saw a doctor. I agreed.

Doctor Brandywine has been my pediatrician since I was a baby. He dresses in colorful Hawaiin shirts and always calls me “my man.” He and my mom discuss possible underlying conditions, headaches, memory loss, and insomnia. It feels like I’m no longer able to follow their conversation and I worry the dreams are killing me. Forget. Forget. Forget.

The doctor and then the psychiatrist find nothing wrong with me but they whisper things like “depression” and “break up” and “not like himself.” They start me on medication but it just makes me sleep more. I get dizzy spells and I pass out. My pillow’s covered in blood only I can see.

The nightmares continue and I think maybe I should talk about them but I fear they will grill me on the details and I don’t have them. It’s all fog and invisible stitches. Pain and clicking sounds. Nobody will believe me.

Maybe I’m having one of those existential crisis things I’ve read about—a separation of fantasy and reality. They change my meds. I get worse. More people yell at me. I stop going to school and I blackout and lose time. Food tastes terrible.

I’m driving in the car with a woman who is crying softly. Her brown hair has fallen out of a colorful butterfly clip and her green eyes are swollen and red. She touches my hand.

“Get better, son,” she says.

I don’t know her. There are voices and I’m aware I’m crying but then the fog comes again. And the pain.

“Tell me what happened in the woods.”

I’m laying on grandma’s couch and she’s sitting in a rocking chair beside me knitting something with bright orange string. My hand goes up to the place on the back of my head and I shiver. Watching her sharp silver knitting needles I focus on the small clicking sound. 

“You can tell me anything, Theo. I believe you.”

Grandma’s unblinking eyes meet mine. Shivering, I speak as fast and low as I can, afraid I’ll fall asleep again or not be able to fully form the words. Grandma keeps knitting but she leans closer. Her rocking chair creaks.

“When I went into the woods something happened. A thing heard me saying I wanted to forget and it sort of attacked me…crawled inside me. It…it started to come to me in dreams. When I’m asleep I feel it…but I can’t see it…”

I close my eyes and the image of a creature comes to me for the first time—a hulking, hunched nightmarish form wet and horrible. Tears flow along with tidal waves of fear. Grandma places her knitting in a wicker basket beside her rocker and leans forward.

“Did you drink from the stream?”

The stream. It takes me a minute to remember what she’s talking about. Then it hits me.

“No…I got scared and ran from the woods without drinking the water. Should I have?”

Grandma nods, stands, and paces back and forth in front of me in maroon and grey wool socks with slow shuffling steps. Tiny rainbows from the crystal prisms hanging in the windows dance across the dusty wooden floor. Her breath sounds even and calm.

“Theo, what does this thing do?”

“I don’t know…I guess it hurts me…my head…there’s stitches…but only I feel them.”

Grandma sits beside me on the couch. She grabs my hands in hers and I can feel she’s shaking…or maybe it’s me. The sunlight from the window behind her makes her white hair glow around her face. She’s beautiful.

Reaching up I feel the bumpy sharp ends of the stitches forming a jagged line down the back of my head. I’m scared the creature will hurt grandma but she peels up my hand and runs hers along the same spot anyway. Her touch is gentle. There are tears in her eyes when she jerks her hand away.

“You feel them, don’t you? You believe me?”

“I do.”

For a moment I’m happy someone believes me but it transforms in an instant into suffocating fear. If grandma feels the stitches then it’s all real. That horrible thing has been cutting open my head each night. I don’t know what to do with this terror, so I bury my head into her chest and sob.

“Theo. There’s no time for crying. You need to be strong.”

She rises and I follow her into the kitchen wiping my eyes and nose on my sleeves. Pulling down tiny bottles of herbs from shelves around the kitchen I watch her mix them in a pestle, grinding them and adding them to a little wooden bowl. She pulls out a glass jar full of water and fills the big black tea kettle.

“Water from the stream of life.”

When she sets the kettle onto the stove I feel suddenly light-headed and lay down on the floor. Her voice calls to me from far away but I can’t call back. I’m drifting off and it’s coming for me.

The fog enters from every crack in the cabin wetting everything it touches. There’s an awareness I didn’t have before and I’m able to see myself lying helpless on the floor. I can’t do anything but watch as an enormous wet creature slithers across the floor to me making a horrible sucking sound.

It’s got damp dark skin covered with tiny red dots of blood I only see when it’s really close to me. Its long, thin fingers end at hooked nails as sharp as knives. There are hollow places where eyes and a nose should be and it makes a terrible, deep groan when it’s close. It’s got no lips and endless rows of sharp pointy teeth. I hate it.

Using its sharp nails, I feel it snip the red stitches along the back of my head and then pry back the skin to reveal a grotesque scene. Inside my head, on my brain, are stitches etched like embroidery. It’s a word and it looks to have been stitched over and over. It’s thick and red.

Using one of its horrible nails it slices open its frog-skinned arm and pulls out a long, thin cord of red blood. Pulling a tooth from its mouth with a sickening pop it threads a tiny black hole at the base and begins to stitch over the word, adding another layer. The word shines wet with fresh blood pouring onto the floor around me. Forget. Forget. Forget.

Opening my eyes I find I’m laying on a floor with an old woman standing over me with flowing grey hair spilling around her face. She gives me her hand and helps me to my feet. Rosemary and wool. Mint and mushrooms.

“It’s okay, Theo. It’s all going to be okay.”

“Do I know you?”

She hands me a thick clay mug full of dark brown tea which smells like fresh dirt with a hint of honey. It feels warm in my hands and I realize I’m shivering and damp. The woman’s eyes are kind and she leads me to a plaid couch.

“Drink it all, Theo.”

It’s bitter, hot, and burns as I swallow it. She watches me from a rocking chair while knitting a pair of bright orange socks with two sharp silver needles. There’s a flickering fire in the hearth giving off a strong cedar smell. I’m dizzy and I fall to my side on the couch and drop the cup onto the floor.

Pain hits my stomach and with a horrifying gasp I realize she’s poisoned me. It’s too late. Shaking violently a sharp stab of pain slams into the back of my head. No. I don’t want to die! She keeps rocking and knitting. Why isn’t she helping me? It feels as if I’m being torn into two from the back of my head. I scream and she’s by my side.

“It’s almost over. You are doing really well.”

She pulls me to an upright position with surprisingly strong arms and holds a large wooden bowl in front of me as the spasms in my stomach turn more violent. Bright red strings mixed with blood erupt from inside me and she pulls at them. I gag and choke. It lasts for several minutes and when it’s over I fall back onto my side.

“You did it, Theo. It’s gone now. It won’t come back.”

Grandma tosses the contents of the bowl into the fire and I watch it burn and sizzle. She places a pair of newly knitted orange socks on my feet and hands me a cup of clear water. It tastes wonderful and I drink it all. Chrissy. Theo. Mom. I remember.

“You will be okay now.”

She kisses my head and pulls me close. The water makes me feel warm and safe. Chrissy may have left me, but it doesn’t mean my life has to end. I have people who love me and I’m going to be okay.

Author’s note: I’m on a road trip with my teenage daughter this week and she challenged me to write something scary. We came up with the idea together while driving across Oregon but I pretty clearly need practice in writing suspense and horror. Let me know what you think and thanks for supporting me and my writing.

Short Story Challenge | Week 29

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write about an unexpected visitor shaking things up. We had to include tightrope, nightingale, underline, risk, academy, existential, outlook, Friday, gobble, and grill.

Write With Us

Prompt: Parents solve a problem together

Include: rhinoceros, umbrella, announcement, petal, feather, fruit, placement, sketch, wobble, boil

My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Stillness | A Poem

silent cypress crouches
philosophic fern leers
kingly chrysalis sways

intake, inside, evolve

joyful wild whispers 
dancing damp locks
freckled face freedom

After spending the weekend surrounded by messages of peace and love, I traveled to the lush coolness of the Oregon coast. I spent the morning whale watching on a boat with my daughter. The world seems to be whispering to me to be still and observe. I’m listening.

Photography: California WorldFest

For the last few days, I danced and listened to music at California WorldFest. This global music festival is held each summer in the heart of the Sierra Nevada. It’s become a family favorite and for us it means free roaming children, pesto pineapple pizza, dirty feet, giant bubbles, dancing until your dizzy, hanging with friends, and discovering new musicians to obsess over.

This year I took my camera for the first time and snapped photos while I danced near the stage, walked through the festival, and sat on my blanket beneath the beautiful trees. The experience felt magical and refilled my creative bucket until it overflowed. I wrote snippets of lyrics as they caught my ear—”joy rings like a mission bell,” “words are your currency,” “love=revolution,” and “will we lemon or honey?”

Here are just a few of the hundreds of photos I took this weekend. I hope you enjoy them.

Cha Wa
Sunlight through the trees
Sound equipment
La Dame Blanche
Vox Sambou
Baby in colorful cape
Cha Wa
Red Baraat
Rainbow parade
Red Baraat

What to see more?