Photography: Morning Walk

“Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve found a new walking path near my house which is kinder to my healing hip. There are beautiful old trees, a view of the mountains, lots of birds, and a pond with ducks. I’m grateful for the beauty it contains and the gentle slopping path I can walk and think.

My childhood best friend lost her father recently. He was like a father to me too, a loving and beautiful man who loved to fix and collect things. I’m working on a poem to honor him, but it’s not ready yet. Instead, I decided to do another photo post this week and share my special place with you.

May you find a moment of peace today.


  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW

Inside the Trees | A Short Story

The orange trees killed my father. It wasn’t their fault, not really, but grandmother says she can’t forgive them for allowing her only son to fall from their twisting branches to the hard ground below. After the windowless van takes away dad’s unmoving body, she lugs a huge ax from the old woodshed and hacks away at the trees until nightfall. Ker-chunk. Ker-chunk. Ker-chunk. She piles all the bright, round fruit and glossy green leaves in the center of the yard and lights them on fire with a red jug of gasoline from the garage. I watch her from my bedroom window as a slight breeze licks the flames and grandmother dances around them. When the smoke clears I see a thick, fuzzy white mold growing on her skin. It spreads quickly, growing thicker and darker. I smell the sickly scent of rot and decay from inside the house, but mother won’t let me run to grandmother—even after she screams. As the sun rises and turns the sky golden pink, we hear her curse the trees with her last dying breath.

***

I didn’t mean to break free, not really. The ancient ones taught me how to flow from one tree to the next, how to coax the leaves to turn toward the light, and how to root myself deep when conditions are harsh—but I’m curious. And restless. When the fire starts, I squirm and fight. I don’t want to do the same thing as always, to snuggle deep into the earth and stay dormant in the suffocating darkness of the soil until I find another tree to crawl into. No, I want to burst free, to fly and soar, and to experience sensations I’ve never felt before. On a whim, I jump and catch a breeze and find a new home in an old woman’s skin. At first, the softness and warmth are divine. I move with her and through her. I dance and sway, but she fights our connection. Her blood boils and churns. She screams. I feel myself changing from a tiny life force of trapped light into some combination of the woman and me, but her body gives out and she falls lifeless to the hard ground. I burst forth as a crackling mist of tiny flickering particles. I move with the wind and spread myself out in all directions, becoming one with everything I touch. I’m free. I may have transformed into a killer, but it feels too wonderful to stop.

***

My grandmother is the first to succumb to the mysterious sickness, but not the last. It spreads quickly and soon it isn’t just orange trees we fear, but all trees. No longer can we collect acorns in our pockets and sit with our backs pressed against the rough bark of the towering old oaks, or listen to the golden songs of the marsh wrens while hiding beneath the sweeping thin arms of the willows. Trees are dangerous. Rustling leaves are death rattles, warning us to run. The poison travels by leaf and by seed until the tree itself becomes nothing but mold and ash—like the body of my mother, my neighbors, and all my friends from school. Those of us still alive cover our skin with thick layers of cracking mud and crawl into rock caves or underground bunkers, anywhere the tiny particles can’t find us. We learn to run and we learn to hide. I’ve gone from the loving center of my family of three to a homeless orphan in a world where shade means monsters and a fragrant breeze means death.

***

Spring becomes summer and the winds stop blowing. I settle all over the earth as a yellow dusting—a thin layer of fine pollen. The animals rush through me and I catch rides on their fur, but they always wash or shake me free and I’m left laying at the bottom of a river or on the hot ground. Stuck. Although I am abundant, bountiful and many, a singular emotion forms within me—restlessness. I want the adrenaline surge of newness again, the thrill of excitement I had when I boiled in blood for the first time. I want more. I catch a ride on the back of a tiny mouse and plan on moving into a ripe red strawberry, but on a whim, I move into the furry creature instead. Its body reacts—spinning, boiling, transforming. I sing with the feeling and rejoice. I’ve found my new playmates.

***

In the middle of summer, the sickness moves to the animals. We find their bodies everywhere. Some are covered in sickly sweet-smelling white mold, others in spidery green threads that crisscross and pin the lifeless bodies to the earth. The sickness seems to grow inside and burst free, or perhaps it grows on the outside and bursts in. Nobody can tell. The occasional bird or mouse darts quickly past, but sightings of larger animals have stopped altogether. Life seems to be dying off and it makes me think of dinosaurs and extinction. Will my bones become a fossil for some future scientist to ponder? The family I’m traveling with leaves me beside the road because food is running scarce and they are scared, but I’m a fast runner and I’m good at hiding. I climb up a mountain and find an abandoned cave to make my home. Despite the soaring temperatures outside, it’s nice and cool inside. I lay as still as I can listening to the brisk silence. It’s a crisp, bare sound and I grow to appreciate how it echoes around me noiseless and clean. It’s far better than the hot silence outside the cave—the thick, deadly stillness that whispers “death is coming for you” without making a sound at all. I try not to listen to the growing panic inside me, but as my cans of food dwindle I’m finding it harder and harder to live alone in my cave of silence.

*** 

The harsh stillness of summer gives way to the blustery winds of fall. After months of being unable to dance in the breeze, I’m overjoyed at the thought of twirling through a cloud of colorful leaves. I grab hold of the first big wind and soar effortlessly across a cloudless sky looking for a tree or creature to explore. I find nothing. No birds. No trees. No sounds. The land has become barren and flat, covered only in the moldy remains of those I’ve touched. Rolling emptiness spreads off in all directions and the marred remains create an unfamiliar ache within me. It’s a conflicting sensation of triumph and loss. I’m a creature of light, but this feels more like darkness. How did I become the opposite of life? The currents lift me and I travel over the crumbling rocks remembering bird songs and children climbing trees. I search for signs of anything left, but I fear this realization comes too late. What have I done?

***

Winter comes without a sound. I watch as the snowflakes fall. I’ve scavenged everything I can and it’s not enough. I’m not going to make it. Crawling to the edge of the cave, I push my hand out into the air and a chill travels through me. Shivering, I see a fleck of orange on my palm. I scream and rub it on the rocks, but I fear it’s too late. The sickness has found me at last. A voice speaks inside me, a soft whispery sound I’m certain means madness, but I listen anyway.

“I’m sorry dear child. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”

“I’m going to die,” I say to the voice. “Like my mother, my grandmother, and the birds. I’m going to die in this cave alone.”

“You aren’t alone. I’ll stay with you.”

The voice brings warmth. It wiggles through my body and I crawl toward the center of the cave and fall asleep.

***

Redemption. The word rings through me and I cling to it. Riding on the breezes, I gather all the scattered parts of myself and cover the child with a thick blanket of life. I don’t try to become her, I try to heal her. I breathe air into her lungs and move blood through her veins. Outside the world is covered in white but inside I’m remembering my purpose and I remake things. The strength of the ancient ones flows through me and I hope it will be enough. Everything I am, all my many multitudes of particles and energy, I pour into the small child on the stone floor. Cracking the rocks, I break the ground into tiny pieces and regrow life. It ebbs out from the child and from me like rivulets of liquid stars. The earth shudders and shakes, moving with us, becoming a new land—a new start. The moon watches, winking above, singing her soft lunar lullaby and nodding her approval.

***

A honey smell tickles my nose and I wake in the cave but find it’s no longer the same. Silence has transformed into bird song, rocks into towering trees, and the bleakness of winter into spring’s happy sun. Rested and calm, I stand on strong legs and spin in a circle. The air sweetly dances with me. I’m alive. Above me towers a beautiful tree, covered in delicate white petals and round ripe fruit. I climb into the strong branches and reach through the glossy green leaves to snap off a bright shiny orange. The rich citrusy smell makes my body shudder with joy. Sitting within a curve of the tree, I peel the sticky fruit and throw the thick peels to the soft ground below. The first bite bursts with juice and it drips down my chin and through my fingers. A fuzzy yellow and black bee buzzes around my head and I think it speaks to me of second chances, but I can’t be sure as the marsh wrens are calling and I feel the urge to run.

Author’s note: This piece was inspired by the orange trees in my grandmother’s backyard and was written as an assignment for a class I’m taking called “Exploring Your Aesthetic.” The challenge was to play with form and story structure. I found the assignment challenging, which probably means it was the exact thing I should be doing. Let me know what you think of this story, particularly if the format feels different enough and if you found the story engaging. Thank you for your continued support!

52 Photo Challenge: Week Five

“When I was a kid I believed everything I was told, everything I read, and every dispatch sent out by my own overheated imagination. This made for more than a few sleepless nights, but it also filled the world I lived in with colors and textures I would not have traded for a lifetime of restful nights.”
― Stephen King

Welcome back to the 52-week photo challenge. This week our assignment was to capture texture, which is something I naturally look for when taking photos. My daughter and I visited a park near our house and the sun was really too bright. While I got a variety of shots, I was ultimately disappointed with my offerings. The colors were either over-exposed or simply too bright. The images below are the ones I could salvage and edit.

I can only share one photo with the challenge group. I’m leaning toward either the lichen or the oily water shot. Which photo do you think best illustrates texture? Thanks as always for cheering me on and have a wonderful week.


NOTE: To my regular followers, life has been a bit on the stressful side lately. As a result, you may see me posting two posts a week for a while instead of three. Thank you for your love and understanding.

  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW
  • If you want to join the 52 Photo Challenge, you can find all the information at nicolesy.com.

Poetry: The Door

Syn stands softly illuminated
in the shadowy doorway
between our worlds. “My
child,” she says soothingly

sweeping stray strands away
from wet cheeks. Tenderness
drips thickly—honey-sweet
sympathy for mortals stuck

between justice and wintery
injustice. Her pale eyes
see what fleeting control
looks like—its slippery

eel texture slithering deep
below angry waters. Desperate 
hands grasping slimy weeds 
pulling pulling pulling toward 

bright metamorphosis or crimson 
death. Knowledge lays within
clear moonlit waves, torn
by ravenous ravens screaming

mine, mine, mine. Ancient
battles. Wood grains worn
from violent pounding, brass
doorknobs forcibly turned. Set

against it, Syn pushes
back. Roaring, she melts
man’s killing machines, burning
trigger fingers, plucking prideful

plumage, tearing it apart
piece by piece. No
mercy for hateful truth
slayers—Syn doesn’t forget

weeping mothers or irate
fathers who hide clenched
fists behind unshaven blank
faces. “Be still,” she

whispers, standing inside cracked
door frames, palms held
in silent prayer. Forever
guarding mortals from ourselves.


*Syn is the Norse goddess of watchfulness, truth, and doorways. She guards the door of the Fenislar (Friggs palace) refusing entrance to those unworthy. This poem is my latest attempt at processing the injustice around gun laws and mass shootings.

52 Photo Challenge: Week Four

“Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” -Neil Gaiman

Welcome back to the 52-week photo challenge. This week our assignment was to photograph motion blur, which was something I’d never attempted before. I was required to get more comfortable with using my camera in manual mode and to use a slow shutter speed. Mistakes were made. Lots of them.

While most of my photos were an epic failure, I did learn a lot. Next time I’ll need to buy or borrow a tripod and perhaps a flash. So many of these images are so close to being good but are blurred in places I don’t want them to be. Not quite there. I went out twice (once during the day and once at night) and these are the best images I was able to capture. While I love the one with my daughter, I think the one with the fire is the best example of motion blur. Let me know what you think.

Thanks as always for cheering me on and have a wonderful day!



Here are some bonus photos not using motion blur also taken this week:

  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW
  • If you want to join the 52 Photo Challenge, you can find all the information at nicolesy.com.

The Mask | A Short Story

Katie doesn’t like this house. It smells of cigarettes and all of the windows are covered with thick, dark brown curtains. Her father drinks a beer with his new boss Terry at a round, wooden table covered in glass ashtrays and tall bottles. She sits underneath with her legs crossed staring at her father’s boots.

Her mother gave her strict instructions to be on her best behavior, and she’s trying, but the house doesn’t seem to like her either. The off-white tiled floor burns icy cold beneath her thin dress and shadows creep along the walls with spidery quickness. She wraps her arms around her father’s warm leg and hopes they can leave soon.

A sharp scratching interrupts the dull sounds of the men talking and Terry stands to pull back one of the thick curtains. A huge, black dog barks and jumps at a muddy sliding glass door. Katie yelps and climbs onto her father’s lap as Terry unlatches the door and pulls it along an uneven track to let the dog inside.

Katie’s seen many dogs in her 5 years of life. Tiny dogs with watery eyes peeking out of the purses of old ladies at the grocery store. Big brown dogs chasing after tennis balls with long wagging tails at the park. Old scruffy dogs who sniff the air when she walks by their yard.

This dog isn’t like any of those. It’s large and hairy and smells exactly like the old mud puddle behind her kindergarten classroom. Foxtails poke out all over its matted fur and it’s got a deep growling bark reminding her of a bear or a lion. Its movements are quick and jerky. Suddenly, it darts at her.

With a snarl, it tears off a strip of lace from the bottom of her pink dress and runs with the fabric in its mouth to a spot in front of the refrigerator. It rips and tears and growls. Katie curls up as small as she can on her father’s lap and tries not to cry. He rubs her back in a circle with his large, warm hand.

Terry laughs loudly and harshly, a sound Katie dislikes as much as the dog’s bark. He grabs her father’s shoulder and leans close enough Katie can see he’s got yellow teeth and small grey eyes with flecks of crust stuck in the corners.

“Say hi to Fluffy,” Terry says. “I think she likes you.”

Katie knows she’s supposed to do what adults say, but she doesn’t want to. Her father stays silent, which Katie understands means she must listen. Mother said it’s important for Terry to like her father. Be on your best behavior. She looks in the direction of the scary dog and speaks as low as she can hoping it doesn’t actually hear her.

“Hi, Fluffy.”

The dog responds with a large bark and a lunge. Katie jumps from her father’s lap onto the table, knocking over several empty beer bottles, one with beer still inside. The mess spills and drips onto the floor, but none of the bottles break. Terry laughs and grabs the collar of Fluffy who snarls and snaps at the air while wagging its long tail.

Katie stands in the center of the table in her black patent leather shoes almost as if she might do a dance. Terry pulls the dog over to the counter and rummages around in a drawer until he finds a large rawhide bone. The dog rips it from his hand and runs off into the darkness of the house. Katie doesn’t like not knowing where the dog went but allows her father to lower her back onto his lap.

Terry returns his hand to her father’s shoulder and smiles at Katie. It’s not the sort of smile Katie likes. It reminds her of the boy in class who put a beetle in her lunchbox and pinched her arm hard enough to leave a bruise when the teacher wasn’t looking.

“Katie, I want to show you something special. It’s not like anything you’ve seen before and you are going to love it.”

He laughs again, this time it’s a short hard laugh. Her father doesn’t say anything, but he stands and sets Katie on the floor. She looks at Terry’s bare feet and notices his big toes are covered in thick black hair. My father works for a monster, she thinks, and now we have to follow him to his lair. 

Keeping her eyes peeled for Fluffy, she and her father follow Terry through a curtain of clinking, brown beads into a short hallway without any light at all. She grabs her father’s hand and he squeezes it. Her stomach burns and aches. No, she thinks. My dad needs this job.

Terry opens the door with a flourish saying “voila, my study!” as if he’s a magician instead of a monster. Katie knows some people can be both. She squeezes her father’s hand tighter.

Lit by a single green lamp in the far corner, the room consists of a large wooden desk cluttered with paper, two shelves filled with old books, and an orange couch covered in black dog hair. Terry pulls a bottle of dark liquid and two glasses out from a drawer in his desk and fills each about halfway. 

“Whiskey makes everything better.”

He hands her father a glass and the two men clink them together and drink. Terry appears to have forgotten what he wants to show Katie and, for a few minutes, the two men talk about work while Katie stands near the couch with her eye on the half-open door in case Fluffy decides to make another run at her dress.

After a few minutes, Terry’s eyes land on Katie and he gives her the same smile as he did in the kitchen. She runs to her father’s side trying to disappear under his plaid woolen jacket and Terry laughs. His belly moves up and down as he does.

“I almost forgot! Katie, come here. I want you to meet someone.”

She shakes her head, but her father pulls her so she’s standing in front of him. Terry moves behind his desk and points at a purple cloth hanging on the wall. It’s covering a lumpy, dark shape and Katie feels the burning in her belly turn into a living thing. Fear.

Before she can react to this change within herself, Terry grabs the cloth with a quick, exaggerated flourish and throws it into the air. It floats to the floor. Magician and monster.

On the brown wood panel wall sits a horribly ugly mask—an old witch with huge bulbous eyes, stringy white hair, and bright orange lips. Dark wrinkles line its too-real face and Katie screams and hides behind her father. Her fear grows fangs.

“Don’t be scared, Katie. Helga’s an old friend of mine and she wants to say hello to you.”

Katie feels exactly the same way she did the day a boy at school pushed her off the swings, a horrible soaring feeling she knows will end with pain. Her father pulls her to the front of him, lifts her into his arms, and places her on the desk facing the mask. Katie keeps her eyes squeezed tightly closed. Fear growls.

“I don’t want to see it! I don’t like it!”

Her father keeps his hands on her shoulders, aiming her at the mask. Terry touches her on the arm and she tries to jump, but her father won’t let her move. Her body shakes and fear rattles around inside her. It rumbles.

“Don’t be rude to Helga, Katie. You are a guest in her house.”

Terry sounds mad and Katie decides she has no choice but to open her eyes. The witch instantly comes to life. It blinks its eyes and laughs a terrible  “cackle, cackle, cackle” then does the most horrible thing Katie could have imagined. It spits water in her face. 

“Stop!” she screams.

It’s at this instant the fear inside her leaves. She’s not sure how it gets out, but she feels it wiggle free and move across the room. Terry is laughing so hard he’s bent at the waist, gasping with the force of it. Her father isn’t laughing, but he is looking at Katie. He knows exactly what happened.

With a gentle movement, he pulls her off the desk and says they must be leaving. Terry looks angry and says “it was just a joke,” but her father doesn’t respond. In fact, neither of them speaks until she’s buckled into her booster seat.

“I’m sorry, daddy. I really tried.”

His hands are shaking and he’s got tears in his eyes.

“It’s okay, Katie-Bear. He had it coming. I can find another job.”

***

Terry slams the door and finds Fluffy curled up in front of the now dead fireplace, chewing on her bone. He’s angry at how things went with his co-worker. People can’t take a joke these days. Soft. Weak. Snowflakes. He shouldn’t have let him bring the kid.

He goes into the garage and gathers up several Duraflame logs and throws them into the fireplace. Using the zippo from his pants pocket, he lights the fire and pats Fluffy on the head. 

“Good dog,” he says.

Returning to his office, he pours himself a large glass of whiskey and stares at the Halloween mask he got last year at a discount store. It’s his favorite thing. You pull the scarf and it spits. It’s hilarious. The stupid kid isn’t going to make it in this world being so jumpy and weak. Her dad better start smacking her around a bit. Toughen her up.

He raises his glass to the mask before settling into his chair to work on invoices for Monday’s big merger meeting. He’d hoped Greg would help him, but now he will have to fire the poor bastard. Can’t have someone soft on the payroll.

A blast of water suddenly hits the back of his head and he spins around. The witch mask blinks, the mechanics sounding louder than usual, and laughs. He laughs too.

“What the fuck, Helga!”

At first, he thinks he must have snagged the scarf with his chair and set it off, but the mask continues to laugh. Terry looks around the room, thinking maybe he’s being pranked, but he lives alone and nobody’s around. He swallows the rest of the whiskey in his glass and stands up.

The mask blinks at him and continues to laugh, but the sound has changed. It’s no longer the same “cackle, cackle, cackle,” but rather more like a human laugh. A child’s laugh.

“What the fuck!”

Terry stares at the witch’s bulging eyes as they grow bigger and rounder. He’s about to grab the mask from the wall when it spits in his face. Not a short blast of water, no. A steady stream of dark, red liquid. It drips onto his white t-shirt and then onto the floor. It’s warm and he has the horrible feeling it’s blood.

Roaring in anger, he grabs the mask off the wall and smashes it to the floor. He stomps on it over and over until the laughing stops and he’s out of breath. He slinks onto the floor and feels a tingly burning sensation crawling up his arm and into his mouth. He tries to spit it out quickly, but it’s too late.

Fear has crawled inside Terry and he falls onto his side and cries as it sings to him of all the darkness of the world. He’s a speck of nothing in a vast universe, an old piece of stardust rotting in the night. Every moment of pain he’s inflicted on others plays through his mind, poking at his heart until it seizes up, and stops. Terry lies motionless on the floor. Dead.

***

Katie wakes in her bed as the piece of fear crawls across the dark room and lands on the pillow beside her. She knows she should feel bad, but she doesn’t. Instead, she scoops up the little spark, swallows it, and goes back to sleep.

Author’s note: This story idea came from a real-life incident from my childhood. I decided it was time to take back my fear and grow from it. If you are interested, here’s the actual mask which still haunts me today.

Poetry: Inside the House

through multi-colored glass
down simple carpet floors
white walls turn brass
tears transform into doors

shadow trees grow there
lightening flowers do too
whispers come for repair
howling monsters to spew

creaking boards hold ache
light bulbs illuminate pain
rafters rattle and shake
trauma flows like rain

lose yourself, my child
within safe caring walls
connect with inner wild
listen to phoenix’s calls

for inside healing house
nothing stays for long
come in quiet mouse
leave brave lion strong


*This poem was inspired by a comment left on my blog by Grounded African and is dedicated to everyone attempting to enter a building like this to heal and connect in therapy, especially my darling daughter. May you find your way through the dark.

52 Photo Challenge: Week Three

“January is the month for dreaming”― Jean Hersey

Welcome back to the 52-week photo challenge. This week the assignment was to photograph something in black and white. Since I was already in downtown Sacramento this week, I went on a hunt for things I thought would translate well to black and white. I looked for interesting lines, shapes, and buildings I thought looked out of time. While some of the images really didn’t work, I did find some I felt good enough to share here.

As I can only submit one photo to the challenge, I’d love to know which of these is your favorite. My favorites are the first three images and I’m leaning toward the train station. What do you think?

Thanks as always for cheering me on and have a wonderful day!



Here are a few bonus photos I liked better in color:

  • Photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D and edited with ON1 Photo RAW
  • If you want to join the 52 Photo Challenge, you can find all the information at nicolesy.com.

Waiting for the Bus | A Short Story

Someone watches me from within the shadows of the curving metal archway of Hotel TwentyThree across the street. Although all I can see is a vague dark shape, I’m sure of two things—it’s a man, and his eyes are fixed on mine. Protectively, I pat the stack of freshly printed pages tucked in the inner pocket of my black, woolen coat and lick off my peppermint lip gloss.

The icy rain has turned the sky into a hazy, vertical river and I press my back into the farthest corner of the tiny bus shelter and hope the man can’t see me. The next bus won’t be here for another 20 minutes, perhaps longer due to the storm. I’m running out of time.

A car drives through the gutter creating a small tidal wave of grey water which soaks into my soft leather boots. An old oak tree scrapes its branches against a third-story window of the hotel and raindrops thunder against the bus shelter’s metal roof. I pull the edges of my black woolen cap further over my ears and try to disappear.

Time folds around me, an odd constricting as if I accidentally wrapped my checkered scarf too tight around my neck. Several people come and go through the doors of the hotel, but I stare at the dark shadowy shape of the man willing my instincts to be wrong. A dog barks. Another dog answers.

The rain stops for a brief minute and the sun casts a single ray of light onto the shiny wet pavement in the center of the street. It’s at this moment the man reveals himself by taking two steps forward. He’s tall and thin with a sharp, angular face. I wrap my arms around myself and take tiny sips of the too-cold air. 

He’s found me again. His piercing blue eyes meet mine and I’m falling. The deepest part of the ocean. The dark spot on the moon. Chaos.

It doesn’t matter how much time goes by or how far I travel, he finds me every time. My body can’t decide how to react—it flushes hot with anticipation and shivers with fear. He makes me crazy. I look for a place to run, but it’s pointless. He’s already spotted me.

Without breaking eye contact, he crosses the small foyer and steps off the curb. His careful, graceful movements suggest he might be kind and gentle. He isn’t. He’s a fierce rushing river. A smooth, hard stone. A prowling, sleek panther.

The rain returns, but he’s unfazed by the water falling onto his curly, thick, black hair. He walks straight into the road and past the spot the sun touched moments ago. A battered grey truck almost doesn’t see him, but slams on its brakes at the last second honking madly. He doesn’t look up but instead keeps his eyes fixed on mine. An invisible cord pulls him closer and I wonder who controls it—him or me.

A raven cries out and my legs stop working. I fall sideways into the glass wall of the bus shelter and see the word “rouge” written in cursive red letters. I close my eyes and his scent reaches me—saltwater, driftwood, and wet paper. The day we met, more than 20 years ago, plays as it always does when he arrives.

Mother didn’t want me to come on her beach vacation, but my father didn’t want me either. I sit with my back pressed against a large piece of driftwood writing in a notebook my 7th-grade English teacher gave me on the last day of school. It’s got a field of bright sunflowers on the cover and I love it.

I’m trying to ignore the sounds my mother and her new boyfriend are making under the stripped umbrella off to my right, and the fact his hands are under her bathing suit again. It’s slightly overcast but the beach is packed with families. I wish I’d been allowed to stay in the hotel room.

My teacher says I have a natural writing ability and I’m trying to prove myself worthy of her compliment by writing a poem about the ocean. My words flow slowly and I’m concentrating so hard I don’t notice the boyfriend until he’s ripped the notebook from my fingers.

“What do we have here?”

“Please, give it back!”

My voice sounds desperate and it makes him smile. I hate the look on his face. My mother isn’t around to see what happens next. How he stands with one hand on his hip and holds the book up high with the other. How with a ridiculous screechy voice meant to imitate me, he reads my words loudly for everyone within earshot to hear as I run around him grabbing at the book.

Flowing, like my breath, the waves whisper
my name. “You aren’t wanted here,” mother
said, but the wind tells me another story.

The boyfriend laughs, as does a mother and son sitting on a beach towel a few feet away. Others join in and by the time my mother returns, the boyfriend has thrown my notebook into the ocean. It bobs up and down in the waves erasing my words, sucking the ink to the bottom of the sea.

My mother tries to comfort me, but I run from her, diving into the cold churning water. I fish out my soggy pages, cradle them to my chest, and run along the beach until I find an empty rock cave. I sob into the echoing space, listening as my pain becomes its own kind of thundering wave.

It’s in this moment of sorrow, as I tell myself writing doesn’t matter anyway, the man appears. At first, he’s nothing more than a silhouette in the cave entryway. A shadow I tell myself is an illusion or a trick of the light, but then he comes closer and I feel his warmth. His blue eyes meet mine and I fall into them, the color of sapphires or the hottest part of the flame.

I’m scared of him at first, but he stays with me for the rest of the trip. He speaks to me of love. He tells me to trust him. When I get home, I pack up all my books in a box and shove them into the back of my closet. I don’t need words anymore.

Opening my eyes, I see him staring at me. He looks exactly the same today as he did in the cave—fiery blue eyes, black leather knee-high boots, tight grey pants, a flowing white shirt, and a gold brocade jacket with a high sweeping collar. A medallion sits on his chest, a silver circle with a large blue stone. I resist the urge to touch it, as he presses closer. A soggy cigarette hangs from his perfect pink lips.

“We meet again, my love.”

I want to argue with him, to scream “I’m not your love,” but I’d be lying. Every part of me wants to dive into his arms and let him smother me with suffocating kisses. He knows this and presses close enough to warm my lips as he speaks.

“It’s been a while and I see you have written more. Still struggling, are we? Still fighting to be heard.”

I don’t like these words. Standing upright, I place my palms on his broad chest and push hard. The heat of his body moves through mine. He takes the cigarette from his lips, tosses it into a puddle, and pushes himself into my palms. His muscles tighten beneath my hands and my words come out far weaker than I intend, fading to barely a whisper with the last word. 

“I’m fine. I don’t need you. I prefer the struggle to you…”

He steps back, pulls my hands from his chest, and kisses each fingertip. Shivers of memory come with those delicate, breathy touches—decades lost in his seductive embrace. I’ve missed him. As he speaks, he unwinds the scarf from my neck.

“Come with me, my love. I have a room across the street covered in candles, waiting for you. The bath is drawn, warm, and smelling of lavender. You only have to let the pages go, take my hand, and we can spend eternity together. Isn’t that what you really want?”

Dropping my hands, he grabs tightly to my waist and snaps my body to his. The pages flatten between us as his mouth finds the spot on my neck marked years ago by him. He kisses it softly, using his lips and tongue. My body screams in response, begging me to surrender. His voice oozes around me, through me, invading every cell.

“Aren’t you tired?”

His lips are on mine now. Honey. Buzzing. Madness. I’m slipping, but he holds me in place with his strong arms. It would be easy to be his again. Isn’t this what I want—to be loved? Pulling back he cups my face with his hands. His eyes are madness maddened—swirling pools of intensity.

“You’ve tried so hard, but you aren’t very good, are you? It hurts me to see people laughing at you. They don’t know you like I do. I’m the only one who truly sees you.”

Tears fall instantly at these words and his large hands move from cradling my face to circling my neck. His thumbs press into my throat, trapping my words, making it hard to swallow. He drips more warm poison into my ears and I think of Hamlet, and then Ophelia.

“You know all those people who say they like your writing…they are being nice because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. They are lying to you. I’d never lie to you because I’m the only one who loves you. I’m the only one willing to tell you the truth.”

While still speaking in the soft tone of a lover, he takes one hand off my throat and unbuttons the top button of my jacket. He’s going to take my words and throw them into the puddle with his cigarette. They will become mushy garbage. Aren’t they already?

“You’ve given it a try and it didn’t work out. The time has come to stop trying. Writing and creating isn’t who you are. They are a thing you tried and failed at. It doesn’t have to define the rest of your life.”

He’s at the second button.

“You deserve a life of ease and comfort. No more waking up early to write or trying to make deadlines nobody cares about. You can sleep in. You can throw away all those pesky books and notepads. You can stop thinking so much. All we need is each other to be happy.”

He’s at the third button.

“You are a fraud, my love. It’s only a matter of time before everyone knows. It’s best you stop now and give up this silly, childish dream. Honestly, it’s foolish to cling to dreams at your age. Aim lower. Be content with less. I’m all you need now. Let me be your dreams.”

His hand slips into my jacket and his fingers touch the stack of freshly printed pages. Dreams. Dreams. Dreams. The word becomes a hole and I’m falling, falling, falling. I land at the bottom and sit in the blackness. It’s cold and scary, but I know this place. I’ve been here many times before.

I light a match and stare at the tiny dot of warmth in a sea of nothingness. I watch it with fascination as it grows and grows. Images come into view in the flickering light, words too, they dance and play—cave drawings, ink on parchment, a typewriter in a back room, a glowing laptop.

I’m surrounded by a sea of sunflowers. The bright golden blooms move slowly with the setting sun. I’m not alone. Characters stand around me, a bit hazy and unclear, but they are speaking to me. A tiny fairy who doesn’t like flowers. A teenage girl stepping out of the shadows of a dark family legacy. A world where art has become weaponized.

What will happen if I quit writing? Will he truly love me and care for me? He’s left me before. Once I give him my words to destroy he disappears. Without the struggle, he doesn’t want me.

I’m Alice sitting across the messy tea table from the Mad Hatter. “First you lose all hope, and then everything is arranged in the best way.”

I’m Dorothy standing beside Glenda the Good Witch in the courtyard of the Emerald City. “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”

I’m Anne sitting across from my friends discussing exams. “I’ve done my best and I begin to understand what is meant by the ‘joy of the strife.’ Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.”

His scent surrounds me and pulls me back. The smile on his face has left and he’s gripping the pages within my pocket hard and pulling at them. They won’t budge. Not an inch. He’s breathing heavily and the hand holding my neck loosens at the sound of the bus approaching, its hissing brakes sound like a freedom bell.

I grab his hand and pull it out of my jacket. His eyes are darker now, grey storms in a sea of blue. The bus door opens as I’m buttoning my coat closed.

“I’ve got to meet my editor,” I say. “It was nice to catch up.”

His cheeks redden as he reaches a weak hand toward me. I sidestep it easily. The power he held over me has temporarily lifted. Even if his words are true, I’m going to keep writing. My characters need me and I need the struggle. Life isn’t about easy.

The bus driver and I exchange pleasant words as I pay my fare and take a seat in the back near a window. When the bus is pulling away, I look at him. He’s the same as ever, beautiful and scary. Our eyes meet and in them is the familiar “see you later” look. He will return. Nothing about him ever changes, but I do. I’m getting stronger.

“You have no power over me,” I whisper as he becomes a blurry image lost behind swirling raindrops.

Author’s note: I’ve another short story for you this week. I’m taking a writing class called “Exploring Your Aesthetic” and the assignment was to personify one of the plagues of being a writer. I chose Imposter Syndrome and made him into a lovely little homage to David Bowie’s Goblin King. It was supposed to be a short writing exercise, but I spent days on it and decided to share it here. Let me know what you think and have a wonderful day!

Poetry: Roots

*trigger warning: mentions self harm

Cover her new scars
with your hand. Softly
remind her of monkey 
bars—how she magically

turned fear into calloused 
palms. It all seemed
simple then, tending those 
wounds. Band-aids, hugs, mommy

kisses. But you can’t 
help the same way—
palms have grown. Stars
have shifted. Instead, tell

her about rooted madness—
about pulling yourself free 
from ancient bloody soil
with trembling fingers. How

hope once flowed away
from you as fast
as a river, but
you didn’t drown. You

survived. Give her crystal
pools of fresh moon 
water, whirling seed pod
wings. Give her permission

to root herself differently—
for her path doesn’t
have to resemble grandmother’s
or great-grandmother’s or

anyone. Kiss her wounds
still. Let her sink
deep into your safe
ground and fall into

your familiar warmth. Sing
honey songs—bumble bee
whispers, fairy wings. Believe
her. Touch her scars

with sacred knowing fingers—
remind her not all
scars are visible. Wrap
her in thick layers

so strong she can
stand in any soil—
firmly rooted. For when 
harsh cold winter winds

bring hoards of lying
fanged monsters to roar
and rage and tear—
she’ll hear your voice

reminding her of small
hands on monkey bars—
how she magically turned
fear into calloused palms.


  • My daughter gave me permission to share this very personal poem.
  • “Roots” is inspired by “Whipping” by K.D. Harryman