The Wheels on the Bus | A Short Story

There’s a massive maple tree outside Nudgee’s new house that’s covered in golden orange and yellow leaves nearly as big as his wicker lunchbox. With wide brown eyes, he stares up into the twisted branches trying to locate the source of an odd clicking sound he’s been hearing since they moved into this small, yellow house two weeks ago. It’s driving him crazy.

He catches a brief glimpse of something shiny and black, but a gusty breeze makes the leaves wiggle and sway and he loses it. Shoot! This place isn’t anything like his real home. He picks up a small rock and throws it at one of the branches, but he’s small for his age and it doesn’t go very far.

“I know you are up there!”

“Who are you talking to?”

Holding her favorite “Live, Laugh, Love” coffee cup with both hands, his mother appears in the doorway wearing her old faded blue bathrobe. Her thick, black hair is rolled up into dozens of pink foam curlers and she’s wearing a pair of dad’s old, grey socks which are too big and floppy. Nudgee thinks she looks like an alien and wishes she’d go back inside.

“Nobody.”

“It’s going to be okay, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“First days are hard, but you got this.”

“I know!”

His mother’s neon blue nails flash in the morning sunlight and Nudgee stomps away in his brown, leather boots to the end of the driveway. He’s 11 years old and that’s old enough to know his mother can’t be sure things will be okay. Why do adults insist on saying things that aren’t true? How about being more honest by saying “I hope it will be okay” or “it might not be okay but you are strong and can handle it.”

Ding! Dong! Ding! Dong! Ding! Dong!

Nudgee turns around to see his mother leaning against the small rectangular doorbell. With a kind of stumbling shuffle, she steps back and spills her coffee down the front of her robe. Her big blue eyes look droopy with dark smudges of yesterday’s mascara. Nudgee’s worried she might start crying again.

“Ouch! Damn it! Shit! Sorry, lovebug! I’m okay.”

Go inside. Go inside. Go inside. Nudgee turns away from his mom and chants the words like a magic spell and when he doesn’t hear anything for a few minutes he turns back around to find she’s gone. It worked.

The familiar rumbling sound of a school bus turns his attention forward. He straightens out his green plaid jacket and tucks his thick, tawny curls inside a bubble-shaped tan hat. A fluttering of nervous energy makes him feel jumpy and he considers simply running down the street. How long would it take to run 100 miles? Didn’t his best friend’s mom say he’d be welcome back anytime?

All morning Nudgee didn’t actually think he’d be going to school. Things have been terrible since his father left, and part of him expected his dad to show up in his black El Camino saying it was all just a big misunderstanding. Yes, mom cheated, sure, but dad wouldn’t leave his little “pollywog” behind forever. He loves him. Right?

The yellow school bus door opens outward with a loud swooshing sound and a lean man with small, round glasses stares down at Nudgee blinking softly. He’s got grey hair, a large bushy mustache, and pale pink lips. Tipping his colorful plaid hat with a gloved hand, he gives the boy a wide warm smile.

“Are you Nudgee?”

He pronounces his name perfectly with a smooth, deep voice, and Nudgee nods. There’s a small golden pin on the collar of the bus driver’s blue shirt in the shape of a snail. Nudgee’s old neighbor, Mr. Arnold, used to pay him a penny a snail to collect them from his garden and destroy them, but he always let them go in the park instead. He liked their weird stalky eyes.

“Oh, good. All aboard!”

Drawing out the last word like an old-timey train conductor, Nudgee smiles. He likes this bus driver. His feet, however, don’t want to cooperate. It’s as if he’s been cemented to the sidewalk and all he can do is look at his boots in frustration while picturing all the kids inside the bus staring at him and making the determination if he will or won’t fit in. His stomach hurts.

With smooth, careful movements the bus driver gets out of his seat, walks down the three stairs, and reaches his gloved hand out to Nudgee. Before he can really think about it, he’s followed the old man onto the bus. He walks down the narrow aisle, staring at the creased lines of the black floor toward the rear of the bus while trying hard to not make eye contact with anyone.

There are no strange whispers or points as he walks, just the regular sounds of kids talking and laughing with each other. It makes Nudgee feel better. As he reaches the rear of the bus he looks up to see two girls playing on some kind of touch screen to his left, and a large boy with fluffy blonde hair sleeping to his right. With a red, white, and blue sweatband around his head, the boy hugs his backpack like a stuffed animal and snores slightly. Nudgee almost squeezes in next to him, but a low calm voice stops him.

“Don’t do it. Roger will drool on you. I, unfortunately, know from experience. It’s a bad idea. ”

Taking a step forward, Nudgee finds a small-framed boy sitting alone against the window of the very last seat with his hands folded on his lap. He’s got shiny black hair, cut short, and small dark eyes. With a wink, he motions to the seat beside him and Nudgee sits down.

“Do you know what Krav Maga is? I didn’t either until I looked it up. It’s some kind of fighting thing the Israeli military uses in battle. Well, Roger says he studies it, but I doubt it. He mostly sleeps and grunts. I think he’s sad.”

The boy points at the seat in front of them and gives a sort of pained look. He’s got deep dimples, dark thin eyebrows, and delicate small hands. The boys smile at each other.

“Oh, thank you.”

The boy puts out his hand and Nudgee shakes it. There’s something familiar about him as if they’ve met before, and it makes the jumpiness inside him calm down. He sighs and settles back in his seat with his lunchbox on his lap.

“I’m Akiamo but most people call me Aki. My mom says it’s not okay to change your name, but I didn’t exactly change it. I just think it’s easier to have a short name. You know? People can never say my name right anyway. Are you new?”

He’s wearing brown and white striped pants, a brown button-up jacket, and shiny brown shoes. There’s a leather knapsack on the seat beside him which is slightly open exposing books, notepads, and several glass jars. Nudgee nods and sets his lunchbox next to Aki’s leather bag.

“I’m Nudgee.”

As he says his name, he braces himself for the inevitable question “what kind of name is that?” He’s used to having to explain that his parents found it in a book and thought it sounded cool. He hopes Aki won’t mention it rhymes with “pudgy” or “fudgy.”

“Wow. What a cool name! I think I’ve read it before in a book. I’m certain of it. Sounds like perhaps a warrior or an explorer. I bet it looks cool as your signature with those double e’s at the end. Can you show me?”

He pulls out a small pad of yellow paper and a bright silver pen. Nudgee writes his name several times across the paper in flowy black letters. He likes how smooth the fine tip writes. Never has writing his name felt so fun as with Aki. They smile at each other again.

“Our dog had a litter of puppies last night. They’re all fat and white with eyes glued shut. You should come to see them.”

Aki pauses for a moment and looks out the window.

“I sometimes wish my eyes were glued shut, but mom says I shouldn’t say such things. It’s just that sometimes you can see too much. You know?”

Nudgee knows and nods. He remembers the night dad came back from his business trip and found Mr. Lobel in the bedroom with mom. He was naked when he ran out the front door, his white butt looked scary and ghostlike in the moonlight. Then the screaming began.

“Are you hungry? My mom always makes me a big breakfast, but I honestly can’t eat before I get on the bus. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because up until the moment I climb into my seat I’m pretty sure I’m going to get out of going to school. I just expect something to happen, you know? Like a miracle or something. Anyway, you hungry?”

Aki pulls out a small glass jar filled with cut apples. Nudgee takes one and to his delight finds it tastes like honey and cinnamon. It’s his favorite snack.

“Good, huh? My mom gets all our fruit from this organic vendor at the farmer’s market. She knows I have an aversion to anything meat or bread related, so she gives me all these little jars of fruits and vegetables. I used to bring dried seaweed, which is my favorite thing, but kids thought it smelled weird. It’s okay though.”

They finish the apples together in silence as the bus stops several times and more kids get on. Nobody else wanders to the far back and Nudgee realizes why Aki likes it so much. If it wasn’t for the terrible bounciness, it would be almost peaceful.

When the bus stops at a red light, Aki suddenly gasps and points out the window. Nudgee scoots closer, squishing the two bags between them and looks at where he’s pointing. There’s a strange black bird sitting on top of a parked yellow VW bug. It’s nearly as big as the roof of the car. It turns and looks at them with bright red eyes and makes a loud clicking sound.

“What is that thing?” Nudgee says.

“I have no idea, but nobody ever sees it but me. It’s always making that horrible sound. You see it right? You really do?”

“Huge black bird with weird blue beak and creepy red eyes. Yep. I see it.”

It hops off the car and starts walking across the street toward them. The clicking sound increases as it gets closer. Suddenly it swoops into the air and dives toward the bus.

“Shoot!” Nudgee says.

“Yeah, shoot!”

They jump to their feet and work together to pull the big glass window closed. The bird reaches the window far before it closes, but it doesn’t try to get inside. Instead, it just hovers and watches them.

The light turns green and the bus starts moving down the street again, but the bird remains right outside the window, clicking its beak wildly. It blinks, a sort of milky membrane covering its shiny red eyes, and then disappears with a puff of blue smoke. Nudgee scrambles over the two bags and stands in the aisle holding onto the back of the seat.

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. It’s never done that before.”

Aki pulls out a tattered-looking notebook filled with drawings of the strange bird. There are scribbled notes all over the margins. He puts both bags against the window and motions for Nudgee to sit beside him. Shakily, he does and realizes nobody on the bus has even looked in their direction.

“I’ve been seeing the birds for years, but usually they just stare at me and blink. I’ve taken out every book about birds from the library, including mythologies and legends, but I can’t find anything about this particular creature. Nothing at all. Have you seen one before?”

Nudgee shakes his head but then suddenly remembers the sound he’s been hearing since arriving in town.

“Not before now, but I started hearing that clicking sound the day we moved in and I think one was in my tree this morning. What do you think it wants with us?”

“I don’t know. Are you a witch or something?”

“Are you?”

Both boys laugh at the absurdity of the question but quietly consider it. Nudgee knows his family history does include “healing women,” but he’s never really considered what that means. Aki has heard similar things about “mystics” in his own family. Could they be magical in some way?

When the bus pulls into the school, the boys gather up their bags and follow the other kids as they slowly exit the bus. Before Nudgee can take in the enormity of the brick schoolhouse, Aki grabs his arm and guides him away from the front entrance. He doesn’t want to be late to class, but he has a feeling this is more important than school.

They follow a dirt path along the edge of the building behind a row of large, spiky hedges. Aki runs his left hand along the bricks as he walks and Nudgee copies him. It feels cool and rough.

This is not how Nudgee pictured his first day of middle school, but there’s something about this new friend he trusts. After all, they just saw a magical bird together and that’s more exciting than anything he could learn in school today. Aki stops at the sharp corner of the building and Nudgee bumps into him.

“Sorry.”

Aki smiles but puts his finger up to his lips.

“It’s okay but be quiet. Follow me.”

“Where are we going?”

Aki doesn’t answer but instead holds his bag to his chest and sprints across an empty cement courtyard. Nudgee follows. They reach a small grove of scraggly trees with peeling white bark. The ground is covered with chip bags and candy wrappers.

Aki walks through it without pausing, stepping over garbage and through a large row of dense bushes. They climb down a small rocky embankment and walk a few more minutes until they enter a grove of old oak trees. Aki stops to pick up an acorn and hand it to his friend.

“I come here to think,” he says. “I want to show you my favorite spot.” 

“Okay.”

Stepping through streaks of golden sunlight and over dozens of fallen logs, the boys wind their way through a dense forest of tall trees until they reach a small clearing. A narrow creek flows between two large moss-covered boulders making a gentle babbling sound. Dropping their bags, the boys kneel down and put their hands in the cold water. Tiny tadpoles and minnows swim by. Nudgee feels a sudden surge of happiness, the first time he’s felt this good since his father left.

“Wow. It’s beautiful here.”

Before Aki can answer, the sound of clicking fills the air. The boys look up to see the strange black bird perched on one of the boulders staring at them. Without standing, the boys hold hands and listen as the clicks become softer and then start to sound like words. It’s a high-pitched voice wobbly and unclear at first, but then it suddenly shifts and they can understand it.

“Hello, my friends.”

The boys say nothing as another large black bird lands on the second boulder. Both birds stare at the boys. Wind rushes through the forest releasing brown and yellow leaves from the trees to dance around them with a low rustling sound.

“We mean you no harm,” the bird says.

Aki squeezes his new friend’s hand and then lets go. He stands up and steps slowly forward, putting his hands out in front of him. Both birds shift slightly and lower their heads in a small bow.

“We don’t want to harm you either. Leave my friend out of this. What do you want with me?”

“You both need to come with us. We’ve been waiting for you. We need your help.”

Nudgee stands and takes Aki’s hand again, grasping it tightly. They are in this together, and although they are both still scared, it’s hard to not be excited by a talking bird and the possibility of adventure. It sure beats schoolwork.

“Go with you where?” Nudgee says.

“Our world is in danger and you are the only two who can save us. There isn’t time. It might be too late already. Please, we need your help.”

With a silent flapping of their wings the birds swoop down, landing in front of the boys. Tucking their legs underneath their bodies, both birds spread out their massive wings and lower themselves onto their bellies. Aki and Nudgee embrace, giving each other courage and encouragement. One bird speaks quickly while the other makes a series of clicking sounds.

“Climb on, please. We have to go. There’s no time.”

With a final look at each other, the boys climb onto the backs of the giant black birds. Grabbing a handful of the soft neck feathers, they brace themselves as the birds gently stand and soar into the cool autumn morning. With a puff of blue smoke, they are transported to a pink sky over a sea of bright blue. The adventure has just begun.

Author’s note: I was stalled on this prompt for most of the week while my kids both suffered from a pretty intense case of strep throat. For some reason, I was interpreting “magic in everyday occurrences” in a very narrow way trying to make it be a coincidence or perhaps the kind of magic you feel when falling in love. Neither of those ideas was working for me though and I turned to my kids for ideas. 

My son blurts out, “two kids see something magical out a window on a school bus, easy, boom!” Just like that, I was off and this tale was born. Partway through I realized it could also be a nod to one of our family’s favorite children’s books we’d read when they were sick, “Frog and Toad.” That story of friendship is magical in so many ways and so Nudgee (Aboriginal word meaning green frog) and Akiamo (Japanese for autumn mountain) were born.

I hope you enjoyed this story and thanks so much for reading. Your comments and likes mean the world to me. Have a wonderful week.


Short Story Challenge | Week 39

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 a story about magic in everyday occurrences. We had to include the words Krav Maga, touch screen, litter, vendor, doorbell, finish, hungry, aversion, signature, and sweatband.


Write With Us

Prompt: The villain is really the hero

Include: witchcraft, recommend, sand dollar, fisticuff, paprika, eyeball, nightlight, gibberish, infuriating, and dreadful


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

The Blackberry Quest | A Short Story

It isn’t easy to surprise your mother when you are five years old, but Henrietta doesn’t mind doing hard things for the people she loves. For the last several hours she’s been on a hunt for blackberries to give her mother for her birthday. A tiring barefooted quest that’s led her to the very edges of where she’s allowed to go on their small farm.

Despite checking the ditches along the road, the field behind the animal barn, the banks of the small creek, and the apple orchard, her little wicker basket remains empty. Henrietta thought finding the berries would be easy as she’s gone with her mother to harvest them many times, but she never paid attention to where they picked them and now she wished she had.

Mother does so much for Henrietta and she loves blackberries and cream. She can’t go home empty-handed. She simply must keep looking.

Stuffing her left hand into the pocket of her favorite purple linen dress and swinging the basket in her right, Henrietta skips along the edge of the property marked by a two-rail wooden fence. Her thick, blonde braid bounces against her back and she sings a song about blue jays and mockingbirds with a sweet high voice her mother says is “purely delightful” but her new teacher calls “truly distracting.”

Pink-cheeked, she stops abruptly when she spots a dirt path leading into a patch of scrubby-looking old trees she’s never noticed before. Perhaps that’s where the berries are hiding. She stares at it for a long time, wrinkling up her nose and twirling the basket in her hand.

To follow the path means she must break the rules. It’s beyond the border of the wooden fence—the one she swore to never, ever cross. Closing her eyes tight she pictures the joy and delight on her mother’s face when she hands her the basket of berries and the decision is made. She has to go for it.

Hiking up her dress, Henrietta carefully climbs over the fence and lands with a thud on the other side. Her heart races as she sprints to the clump of scraggly trees, certain a huge blackberry bush will be waiting among them. It isn’t. There are only rocks, dirt, and weeds. She picks up a round grey stone and throws it in frustration. The berries must be just a little further.

For the next few hours, she follows several winding paths through a mostly dry forest of thorny weeds. She knows she should turn back but she keeps thinking she sees the dark green leaves of the berry bushes just around the next corner. Just a little further.

The path suddenly ends at a lumpy hill covered in swaying, yellow grasses. With hope still wrapped around her like a tiny silken cape, Henrietta tucks the basket under her arm and climbs on all fours like a bear to the very top. Thorns make her palms and bare feet burn and itch. Just a little further.

On the hilltop, Henrietta watches the dark purple wild lupine flowers sway slightly in the warm breeze of the now late summer evening. Tiny golden hairs escape her thick braid and curl around her ears. Still no sign of berries.

Scrambling onto a small boulder, Henrietta stands on tiptoes and reaches for the puffy white clouds in the darkening blue sky. She’s certain eating one would make things better. It certainly can’t get any worse.

Suddenly her left calf starts to cramp and she yelps in pain, tumbling from the rock into a patch of scratchy brown weeds. Curling into a ball she uses her thumbs to try and massage out the pain but it doesn’t work. Tears from her soft blue eyes make tracks down her bright pink cheeks. It’s not fair.

Rolling onto her back, she lands in a patch of soggy mud and feels it soak completely through her thin dress. Mom will be furious at the stains. She’s stupid and dumb for wandering away and getting lost. A useless baby.

These kinds of thoughts aren’t like Henrietta at all and she wonders if perhaps the wind is saying these awful things to her. She’s simply lost. That’s all. There’s no need for name-calling.

“Stop it wind. Stop being mean.”

As if in response the wind gusts across the hilltop causing the long stems of the flowers to lean almost to the ground. There’s a high-pitched sound, like when mother’s yellow tea kettle is ready, and Henrietta covers her ears and closes her eyes. She isn’t sure she wants to look for berries anymore.

When the wind stops, Henrietta sits up, expecting to see her beautiful mother appear over the crest of the hill and rescue her. When she doesn’t, Henrietta wipes the tears from her eyes with the muddy hem of her dress and sniffs loudly. Being brave is getting harder and harder.

Maybe it’s time to go home and give mother something else for her birthday. Henrietta’s thinking about putting together a bouquet of wildflowers when a horrible screeching sound causes her to look up. Two rather ugly birds sit on the rock she fell from. They are covered in black feathers with bright pink naked heads, hooked white beaks, and intense black eyes.

She scrambles backward further into the mud puddle and the birds laugh at her. It’s a horrid sound and it makes her mad. Jumping to her feet, she places her hands on her hips and stomps her foot sending a spray of mud up around her.

“Go away you mean things.”

“We aren’t mean things. We are vultures. Don’t you know anything?”

They take turns speaking, each saying one word at a time, with matching slow growly voices. Henrietta feels her cheeks heating up and she twists the hem of her dress in her left fist. The birds smell terrible so she plugs her nose, causing her voice to sound strange.

“I know lots of things.”

“Like what?”

“I know how to spell my name and count to 100.”

“Everyone knows that.”

“I know all the names of the flowers in my mother’s garden; pansy, bellflower, iris, candytuft, tulip, wisteria, and hydrangea.”

“Everyone knows that.”

“I can snorkel in the water all by myself and know the names of all the fish in the lake; trout, salmon, bass, catfish, perch, and pike.”

“Everyone knows that.”

The vultures laugh again, scraping their shiny black talons loudly against the rock and clicking their beaks. Henrietta thinks nothing of this warning but instead grabs a handful of mud and throws it at the birds. They dodge it easily and then dive toward her with loud, terrifying squawks.

“Oh, no!”

Realizing a bit too late she’s in danger, she turns quickly and sprints down the far side of the hill. About halfway down she discovers she’s going too fast but can’t stop herself. Instead, she falls forward until she’s rolling like a wild croquet ball spinning towards a field of wire wickets.

“Help! Someone help me!”

Within seconds a mass of blue and white swirls around her, circling wildly with tiny quick moments too fast to fully see. There’s a sweet sugary smell in the air and a low rhythmic humming Henrietta associates with lullabies and bedtime. She’s scared but also very curious.

The creatures move faster and faster until they are able to stop Henrietta’s forward movement and suspend her in midair upside down. She looks from the delicate soft creatures to the sky beneath her wiggling toes and giggles.

“Thank you, but I think I’m pointed the wrong way.”

The swarm of blue and white butterflies lightly laugh, flip her around, and gently ease her dirty feet onto a patch of soft green clover. Holding out her arms and spinning in a circle she dances with them until they eventually disperse and fly off into the darkening forest around her.

“Wow. What was that?”

“Butterfly effect.”

The fast breathy voice comes from inside the branches of a large sycamore tree leaning slightly to the right. Henrietta moves closer and finds a tiny squirrel climbing up and down the branches grabbing acorns from a pile at the base of the tree and then storing them inside a hole midway up the tree’s trunk. Its long bushy tail twitches up and down.

“Did you say butterfly effect?”

“I did.”

“What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“The butterfly effect?”

“Yes.”

Henrietta laughs in frustration but the squirrel doesn’t stop moving and doesn’t add anything further. She leans down to examine the fat brown acorns touching one of the wooden caps with her fingertip. A terrible squeaking sound erupts and the squirrel rushes toward her.

“Don’t you dare! Those are mine!”

Henrietta quickly pulls her finger away and takes a step back.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just looking at them.”

“Had to purge my other spot…got too busy. Too busy. Industry moving in. Those beavers have no scruples I say. No scruples at all. They just take and take and take. These are mine. I collected them. Mine. Mine. Mine.”

Henrietta covers her mouth to stop a chuckle from escaping and then smiles gently at the squirrel who has stopped moving to look at her closer. It sniffs her hand with its twitchy nose and she can see the forest reflected in the shiny black of its small eyes.

“You lost?”

Its voice is slower and softer. Henrietta thinks it sounds worried about her. Looking around the thick forest of tall trees she finds nothing looks familiar. She really is lost.

“I guess I am. I was looking for blackberries for my mother’s birthday and I didn’t find them and then…I kind of got lost. I don’t know where I am.”

The last words bring a few tears and Henrietta quickly sweeps them away with the back of her hand. She feels like she should be tougher, after all, she’s a kindergartner now and can go down the big twisty slide without anyone to catch her at the bottom. The squirrel takes another step toward her with its head turned to the side.

“Can I help?”

Henrietta brightens at this.

“Maybe….do you know the way to my house? It’s the big blue one with the white fence behind it.”

The squirrel shakes its head sadly and they both sit quietly for a few minutes staring at the forest floor. Henrietta feels bad for stopping this kind creature from its work but then she has an idea. An exciting idea.

“Could I help you?”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Of course! We can use my basket to gather up the acorns and then I can climb up and dump them inside.”

Nodding its head vigorously they get to work putting the plan into action. Henrietta climbs trees in the orchard all the time to help her mother get the apples near the top, so climbing with the basket isn’t hard for her at all. Before the sun sets another inch in the sky, they are done.

The squirrel rushes around the tree chirping excitedly and Henrietta feels proud of herself. She loves to be a helper. It makes her heart feel as if it has grown big and full inside her body. Her mother would be so proud.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” it chants over and over in time with its twitchy tail.

Stopping mid-tree, a thoughtful look breaks across the squirrel’s face followed by more frantic running and squeaking. Henrietta laughs hard and this time she doesn’t hide it. Bouncing on its back legs as if ready to spring high into the air and take flight, the squirrel talks super fast.

“I have an idea! I have the best idea of all the ideas in the woods. Will it work? I don’t know. But it’s a good idea. A fine idea. A wonderful idea. He owes me a favor and he has to be able to help. He has to. It’s a good idea. A great idea. I can help you!”

“You can?”

“Yes. I know someone who might be able to help! Wait here!”

With that, the squirrel scampers away at top speed mumbling “great idea.” Henrietta sits on the forest floor and picks out thorns from her dress and tosses them as far as she can. She wishes she’d asked for one of the acorns because her mother loves to draw little faces on them and line them up along the kitchen window. She decides she will ask the squirrel when it returns.

“I’m no snitch. I tell ya. No snitch. You can’t make me talk. No. No. I won’t tell you. I won’t.”

A gruff voice breaks through the woods and within moments Henrietta sees the squirrel walking slowly beside an old, fat, grey rabbit with a slight limp. It’s shaking its head, making its long, floppy ears flap all over the place. Henrietta thinks it’s the cutest rabbit she’s ever seen and has to sit on her hands to avoid reaching out to touch its soft fur.

“See! She’s nice and she needs our help.”

Stopping a few inches away the rabbit stares at Henrietta for a long time. She’s not sure if she should say something to it, and after what feels like forever, it nods once.

“I’m no snitch. I tell ya. No snitch. But I’ll show her the berries. For her mother…”

Henrietta jumps to her feet, sending both the squirrel and the rabbit into a nearby bush.

“Sorry. I’m just excited.”

“It’s okay. I’m no snitch, but let’s go. Don’t tell anyone I told you okay? Nobody. I’m no snitch.”

“Oh, I won’t tell a soul.”

The squirrel rushes to its pile and then returns to Henrietta with an acorn in its tiny paws.

“For you mother.”

“She will love it! Thank you!”

“You’re welcome.”

Henrietta wants to touch its soft fur but decides it might be bad manners and instead blows the squirrel a kiss before turning to follow the grumpy rabbit into the forest. They walk slowly in silence for a long time around fallen logs, through patches of bright green ferns, and around several large colorful mushrooms.

The sky beyond the trees has turned golden orange and purple. Soon the moon and the stars will be out. Her mother must be so worried about her and it makes Henrietta feel terribly upset. By the time they reach a large blackberry bush hugging the edge of a small stream her enthusiasm for picking has been replaced with utter despair.

“Here you go. Now, remember, I didn’t take you here. I’m no snitch.”

Henrietta begins to sob. She can’t help herself. All she wanted to do was make her mother’s birthday special and she missed the entire day, broke the number one rule, and probably won’t ever find her home again. Thinking about her mother’s crying green eyes makes her feel sick as she clutches her stomach.

The rabbit hops into her lap and looks at her with concern in its dark shiny eyes.

“You can pet me if you want.”

Henrietta does and is surprised to find it makes her feel better. The more she strokes the soft, grey fur the calmer she becomes. The babbling sound of the nearby stream draws her attention to the blackberry bush and she feels a renewed sense of purpose. This day can be saved!

“Thank you, rabbit. A million times thank you.”

It hops from her lap and she runs toward the bush and begins picking the fattest, prettiest blackberries she’s ever seen until her basket is filled to the tippy-top. Mother will be so overjoyed she’ll forget everything else. Henrietta pops a few of the berries into her mouth and chews them happily.

“Excuse me…”

A deep voice causes Henrietta to almost drop her basket and she’s shocked when she turns around to find an enormous deer with huge antlers pawing the ground a few feet from where she stands. It occurs to her in an instant that the berries must be his and he’s going to be really mad.

“I’m sorry. You can have them back.”

She’s about to pour the basket onto the ground when the deer laughs. It’s not mocking like the vulture’s cackle but rather a gentle soft chuckle between friends. Tilting his head he nods to her.

“My forest friends have told me you are trying to get home for your mother’s birthday. You are almost too late little one. Mother moon has opened her eyes and her starry children are rushing out to play. The day is almost over.”

Tears reform in Henrietta’s already swollen eyes as all the feelings of the day flood through her again. She falls to the forest floor letting the basket of berries tumble from her hands. Nothing is as important as being with her mother and she should have never left the farm. Love and time together are the most important gifts of all.

“It’s okay,” the deer says. “It’s all going to be okay.”

Henrietta looks up to see all her new forest friends gathered in a circle around her—big deer, grey rabbit, twitchy squirrel, and the swirling mass of blue and white butterflies. They gather the berries for her and return them to the basket. They kiss her on the cheek and help her onto the smooth back of the large deer. She can feel his breath beneath her and her own breathing slows to match his.

“Time to go, little one. Your mother’s waiting for you,” the deer says.

“Thank you!” she calls to her friends who stand waving until she’s out of sight.

The journey takes no time at all and soon Henrietta sees the fence at the back of the orchard. Her mother stands near the treeline with her back to her. She’s wearing a long purple dress covered in tiny white flowers. The moonlight makes her hair look sleek and silver.

“Henrietta! Where are you, daughter? Henrietta!”

Sliding quickly off the deer’s back she kisses him on the nose, leaps over the fence, and runs toward her mother.

“I’m right here! Mother! I’m right here!”

Her mother scoops her into her arms and kisses her from head to toe, the basket of berries falling to the ground beside them.

Author’s note: This was a hard week for our family. We gathered together in my sister-in-law’s home as my strong loving mother-in-law gently faded away from us in her upstairs bedroom. We held her hand, kissed her face, and brushed her hair. We made sure she knew she was loved but also that it was okay to leave us. It was a beautiful and incredibly hard week.

My short story, written mostly in one sitting, was inspired by my love for her and many of the wonderful moments we’ve shared over the years. There’s a little Alice, a little Blueberries for Sal, a nod to family history, and a lot of grief. I’ll miss you forever, Janet. Your loving legacy will not be forgotten.


Short Story Challenge | Week 34

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 interrupted journey. We had to include butterfly effect, vulture, cramp, industry, purge, scruple, snorkel, snitch, warning, and useless.


Write With Us

Prompt: A conversation between artists

Include skull, galaxy, expression, trash can, deployment, visitor, brushstroke, decade, forgot, ponder


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Blood Moon Messenger | A Short Story

Dark goes the atavistic night
Deeply held by mystic sight
Words hang stoney and set
Fate falls within epoch’s oubliette
-Medieval Moon Prophecy

With an arthritic, wrinkled hand covered in thick, golden rings, the ancient Alchemist hastily scrawls with black ink across the water-stained parchment. Wild words of black winds. Stark words of naked truths. Secrets born of a lifetime studying darkness and light.

From its iron perch near the top of the peaked roof, an enormous red-tailed hawk tracks the movement of the feather-quill pen with unblinking amber eyes. Silently it nods in understanding. The end has come at last.

“Boy,” the Alchemist says weakly. “Boy, come here.”

Galdur has been waiting outside the slightly ajar round door for hours, shivering in a light robe of tattered brown, looking at his burned hands in the glow of the blood moon. With shuffling steps, he presses open the door fully then enters and bows deeply. He’s not a boy but feels the title fits him better than other things he’s been called.

“Yes, sir. I’m here.”

Slumped at his desk near the low-burning fire in the center of the room, the Alchemist folds a thick piece of parchment into thirds and doesn’t acknowledge him. The enormous brown and white hawk, however, clicks its beak and opens its wings, flapping silently for a moment. Galdur avoids looking at its four sharp black talons but can’t escape its monstrous shadow cast against the far wall. He shivers.

Colorful smoke drifts around the small circular room and Galdur holds his robe to his mouth to avoid breathing in the sour smells. His eyes water as he makes his way toward the Alchemist by stepping carefully around tall stacks of antiquated books, through little nooks of shadowy space, and around shelves filled with bottles of dark, swirling liquid. Galdur feels the room and the hawk watching him. They are waiting for him to fail. He always manages to do things wrong.

For as long as he can remember, the Alchemist has called for Galdur to fetch him food, clean his wounds, test his potions, run his errands, and take the hits when his frustration makes him moody. He can’t remember life before coming here but sometimes imagines leaving the fear and failure of this life behind in search of something else. Although he isn’t sure he deserves anything else.

Silently he takes his place on a short wooden stool beside the fire and looks at the aging Alchemist’s long, gnarled, grey hair and beard. He can see the dark puffy skin around his faded blue eyes and his crooked sloping back. It appears he’s aged decades since yesterday, but that can’t be. Galdur wonders if he’s looking through a prism or some kind of magical fog. Everything feels heavy and unstable around him. He wonders if he might be getting sick.

Using one of the many stout beeswax candles lit on the crowded desk, the Alchemist melts a square of silver wax onto the fold of parchment and presses a golden moon stamp into it to seal the paper. Clicking its sharp beak, the large hawk swoops down and lands on a wobbly pile of books taking a moment to settle itself securely before presenting its scaly, orange leg. The Alchemist shakes his head slowly with tears in his eyes.

“Not today, old friend. This journey isn’t for you.”

Decades ago, the Alchemist and the hawk met on the sandy banks of the roaring river Thames. Under the light of the full blood moon, the same moon as tonight, tendrils of destiny and time weaved together forging an unbreakable bond. Together, they’ve seen the world reshaped time and time again by the forces of shadow and light, an immeasurable war raging forever behind the faces of man. It’s been a long, exhausting battle. They are both very tired.

The Alchemist strokes the soft feathers on the back of the bird’s neck. This isn’t a moment for nostalgia, reflection, or hesitation. There’s no time for such things. When this night is over, both he and the hawk will be dead and his last act will either save or condemn this world. It’s no longer in his hands and there’s a certain relief in the knowledge he has done all he can. His work, their work, has ended. Only the moon knows what lies ahead.

“Come closer, boy.”

Slipping off the stool, Galdur takes three slow steps forward with dirty, bare feet. There’s a pounding in his head and he realizes the smoke has reached his lungs, making him dizzy.

“Put out your hands.”

Galdur opens both hands palms up and braces himself for the pain which usually accompanies this command. Instead, the Alchemist gently places the silver-sealed parchment into them as if returning a baby bird to its nest. Galdur feels a rush of warmth flood his body followed by a sense of urgency. The Alchemist closes his eyes and makes a deep bassy sound in his throat. The hawk tries to mimic it but it comes out as a haunting high-pitched hoot.

With a shudder, the Alchemist opens his greyish blue eyes and stares at Galdur. There’s a look he’s never seen within his teary eyes. He recognizes it as finality, as a goodbye. Whatever happens next will be the end of their relationship and the beginning of something new. He tries not to smile as fate seems to be on his side for the first time in his life.

“You know where to go. You’ll find the cottage behind the waterfall. She will be waiting for you. Nothing else matters.”

Galdur knows the place he speaks of. For years he’s been made to study maps and travel halfway there and back, but never has he been allowed to leave the forest. The Alchemist has both prepared him and broken him. He wonders if he has what it takes to fulfill this task. It feels too important to be left to someone who fails as much as he has.

“You can do this.”

Not for the first time, Galdur has the sense that the Alchemist can read his mind—an unpleasant and uneasy thought. Even so, the words of encouragement feel as refreshing as the first spring rain and he savors the cool sweetness. He didn’t know just how thirsty he had become.

Staring down at the flickering shadows across the sealed parchment in his hand, he searches for something to say to the man who found him as a child and both raised and abused him. Conflicting feelings fight for dominance, begging like hungry abandoned pups to be heard and acknowledged. He sways slightly.

Galdur’s lived a life shut off from the rest of the world. A childhood without birthdays, syrupy treats, or any trace of kindness. A life of only service, servitude, and solitude. A life designed for a single purpose—to deliver this parchment into the hands of the Lady of the Lake. He feels overwhelmed as the pieces of his life click into place. Each task led him to this very moment. He begins to cry.

“Thank you.”

He’s surprised by his own words and how much he means it. He’s grateful for a life with purpose, even if it’s been difficult and lonely. When he looks up he sees the Alchemist and the hawk have both bowed their heads and closed their eyes. He considers trying to rouse them but decides the time for talking has passed. It’s time for action.

Without looking back, he holds the parchment to his chest and walks swiftly through the room and into the cool night air. There are three things waiting for him draped across an oak barrel of mulled wine: a pair of leather boots, a thick wool cloak, and a small sword. He’s certain none of it was there when he went in, but he knows destiny doesn’t require explanation or belief. It requires faith.

“Thank you.”

The deep brown leather boots and dark green cloak both fit perfectly. The sword, a short silver dagger with tiny gleaming stars etched along the sharp blade, comes with a leather holster and belt. Galdur secures it around his waist and spins in a circle. There’s a sense of all things coming together. A feeling of completion and new beginnings. He laughs.

Reaching inside the cloak he finds several leather pockets. One is the exact shape of the parchment letter complete with a silver button to secure it close to his heart. There’s a pocket with a flask filled with wine, another with a sack of gold, and a final one filled with tiny carved stones each a different phase of the moon.

Sifting through the smooth stones with his left hand he pulls out the tiny full moon and holds it up to the sky. The journey ahead seems etched on its surface, calling him to be swift, to be bold, and to be brave. If he doesn’t deliver the letter by sunrise all will be lost. He turns toward the foggy forest and takes off in a run. 

Destiny awaits and only the moon knows what truly lies ahead.

Author’s note: There’s nothing more fun than a good fantasy adventure. I set out to write one centered around the journey of an important letter but ran out of time to complete the story. Instead, you get the beginning of an epic journey that might someday be made into a novel including shadow monsters, the lovely Lady of the Lake, and a tale of true redemption for dear old Galdur. Thanks, as always, for reading my story of the week.


Short Story Challenge | Week 32

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 letter changing everything. We had to include alchemist, waterfall, birthday, cottage, spring, roar, syrup, sift, immeasurable, and bank.


Write With Us

Prompt: A dinner party
Include: phoenix, canvas, homesick, evening, spicy, rooftop, cicada, orthodox, ding, spruce


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Fighting against the clichés of life

For sure I was going to work with animals. My days would be surrounded with puppies, kittens and horses. I would heal them, train them and love them all. People would be astounded by my abilities and would travel from around the world to see me work my magic.

I’d live somewhere in the mountains surrounded by beautiful redwood trees, but just a short horse ride to the beach. I’d have a house filled with children to share my love and we’d be deliriously happy. My mom would have her own house on my ranch and I’d always have visitors coming and going. I’d be surrounded by people at all times and never feel alone. Ever.

This was the vision. My grand plans for my life.

When your 10-years-old, the world is open to you and nothing seems impossible.

When I look at where I am now, my life is nothing like that. In fact, I epitomize every Lifetime movie special about white middle-aged women.

I’m headed toward 40. I have two kids and live in suburbia with two guinea pigs. I drive a carpool in my minivan and embarrass my children. I volunteer at my kids’ school and am the pizza lady. I’m heavier than I used to be. I’m in therapy for my depression. I’m starting to wear an alarming number of necklaces and scarves. I’ve started collecting little glass turtles. I drink wine and go to a book club. I cry at sappy movies and talk a lot about when my kids were really little. I go on Facebook and try to come up with witty comments so my friends will “like” it. I take an absurd amount of selfies.

I am a cliché.

If my kids played soccer, then the picture would be entirely complete. But since they don’t, I’ll just further my image by saying ridiculous old-people things like “I can remember when gas cost $1.75” or “in my day you had to record your favorite song off the radio if you wanted to hear it over and over.”

Even better, I can start complaining about how fast time goes by and how sad it all is. The children of my two very best friends from high school are 18 and 16 now. Seriously? I can’t even understand that. It’s dumb.

When the depression had its hold on me, this line of thinking would have sent me right back to bed. I’d have pulled the covers over my head and wept at how my life has turned out. I’d try to focus on the blessings, but they would slip through my fingers and fall away. I’d be left lying in the debris of my dreams with an intense sense of hopelessness.

Not anymore. Now, even though I’m aware at how completely formulaic my life is, there is still this enormous part of me that doesn’t believe any of it. This quiet whisper that tells me, “yeah, but there is something special about you.” It cries out to me that my life hasn’t even begun yet.

I carve out moments to think and pray now. I dream about what my life could look like and how I can make it happen. I write a lot of poetry and daydream about love and adventure. I’m filled with a hope that I’d lost before.

I spend a fair amount of time now laughing at myself. This morning, I awoke from a dream about a pink kitten named Cotton Candy. I could almost feel her fur and hear her purring next to me. I made up songs about her and sang them to my children at breakfast.

“Pink kitty, how you make my heart sing
You are the reason for everything
Those eyes are so beautiful and bright
And that sweet purr brings me such delight”

My kids laughed and made fun of their silly mother. I love being childish, vulnerable and open. Life is much more fun when I don’t take myself so seriously.

(NOTE: Just so you know, I’m aware that I’m writing in clichés now. It’s OK. All those Facebook memes are right. Life is too short. Dance like nobody is watching. And so on and so forth.)

The darkness is still there, but I don’t surrender to it as often. As my mother would say, “can I get a whoop-whoop!” There are parts of me that are awakening and stretching for the first time in years, and it feels good.

Damn good.

I am not just a series of stats on a piece of paper. I am not just what you see. Nobody is. Chuck Palahniuk was wrong when he wrote in “Fight Club”:

“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”

There was a time when I believed that whole-heartedly and it almost swallowed me alive. So I now reject that notion. I’m in the “we are all special and unique” camp now. I’m working hard to see the light in everyone and celebrating what I love about people in my life.

I recognize that from the outside, I represent a certain type of white woman in America. You can file me under middle-class, middle-aged, privileged, whining and self-absorbed. I’m not arguing any of that. However, I’m more than that. We are all more than our labels.

I’ve been writing a lot lately, but I haven’t been posting anything here. I think I’m fearful of the types of things I’m writing. Words are flowing, but what is pouring out isn’t focused or even clear. It’s a jumbled puzzle of conflicting emotions and ideas.

Mostly it’s short stories and poems about casting away depression and finding my place. I’m searching for a deeper relationship with God and seeking an understanding of my purpose.

So, with a bit of trepidation and fear, I’m going to share some of that writing with you. Hope you like it.

 

IMG_4624Sky message

I am a child.

I stand in the rain, eyes shut tight, as the drops fall ever faster. Like fingertips pressing down on my head and shoulders, they draw lines down my neck and arms. My clothes become heavy and my body shivers harshly.

I stretch out my arms and try to embrace that which I know I can’t. Tears join the raindrops and at once I can’t stand. My legs give way and I fall to the wet ground. The water pools around me, and the grownup voices yell at me to go inside. Get out of the rain. You look ridiculous.

But I don’t.

I am a child.

I want the rain to grow arms and pick me up. I want it to tell me that I’m beautiful, special and that there is nobody else in the world just like me. I want the words to slip into my ears and run into my brain. The intensity of this longing stabs sharply into my stomach and I wince as the pain spreads and threatens to overtake me.

You are not like everyone else.

These words slosh around me like a living being, vibrating against my head, and I am suddenly lifted. Heavy arms pluck me up like a baby and cradle me in a loving embrace. The rains dripping heartbeat pounds against my back as I bury my face into the bosom of my protector. Soft breath is against my neck and the whispers drip slowly into my ears.

You are safe.

Belief floods me and the shivers cease. The pain runs down my legs onto the ground into a puddle of misery and sadness. I open my eyes to see it reflected below me, the dark and ugly mass of insecurity and loneliness that has clung to me for so long. As I watch, it starts to flow away from me, streaming toward some unknown drain to the depths below.

You are safe.

The words fill me with hope and I cling hard to the arms holding me. Yet even as I try and trust the safety and warmth flooding me, fear creeps in. Am I too heavy? Am I slipping down? How long can this protection possibly last before I am dropped into an even bigger puddle?

I am a child.

The clouds slowly blow away and the sun bursts forward with a strength that takes my breath away. I find myself standing on my own feet, feeling my heartbeat returning to normal. The warm blood of my life courses through my body. I raise my arms to the sky and try to hug that which I know I can’t.

I am not like everyone else.

Nobody is.

Turning bullshit into strength

My body won’t go fast enough and I’m angry at myself for being so weak. As I crest each dune, I have to stop and catch my breath.

“Please let him be OK. Please.”

Dark thoughts circle and I try to push them away, but they scream out at me.

“What kind of mother are you to let this happen? What is wrong with you?”

My eyes scan constantly looking for him. I call his name occasionally, but that causes the panic to rise too much.

“He is fine. He is fine. He is fine.”

When I finally climb over the last dune, the entire beach stretches out before me.

ocean

My eyes search for signs of him, but he isn’t there.

My heart drops.

I was sure he would be right here.

Certain of it.

The tears that I’ve been holding back begin to flow and I walk as quickly as I can to the first two people I see. It’s an older couple cuddling on a blanket.

“Have you seen a little boy? He has brown hair, orange and black glasses and was wearing his pajamas?”

The words rush out and I fight back a sob in my throat. I search their faces as they look back and forth between each other.

“No englash,” one finally says.

In frustration, I march away from them and pull myself together. There is no reason to panic. Nothing to be gained by that.

Stay calm.

As I walk down the beach, stopping to ask everyone I see, it becomes clear to me that he isn’t here and hasn’t been here.

Where could he be?

I spot two lifeguards at the top of the pier and start walking that direction. It is time for reinforcements and that realization frightens me. As I walk, I replay the entire morning in my head.

I spent about an hour after breakfast writing some poetry and a short story in the tent while the children explored. I did not know exactly where they were, but I knew they were fine. We have been to the Bodega Dunes campground about a dozen times now and I feel very comfortable there. Each time we go, I extend the boundaries a bit more.

Camping is one of the few times I feel my kids get to experience that true feeling of adventure and freedom. But it is a tricky balancing act between trusting they will be fine and knowing that it is my duty to protect them from harm. I might always seem very calm on the outside, but I’m often waging a war in my head.

“He is getting really high in that tree. A fall now might be fatal, but he is a good climber. I should trust that, but I’m scared. I can’t watch.”

“The kids have been gone too long. I know they are having fun and they are together. I’m certain they are fine, but what if they are not? How would I know when to look for them? Maybe I’m trusting them too much.”

“She is swimming pretty far out in the water, if she starts to drown now I won’t be able to make it in time. I should call her back…but I want her to be confident. She is doing really good.”

That morning, they came back on their own to check in and I felt very good about the day. We decided to spend the afternoon at the beach, so I needed to pack up some food, sunscreen and towels. I tell my boy to stay nearby and to get dressed for the beach.

“I don’t want to go to the beach right now,” he says.

“Well, that’s not an option. We are all going together, so don’t go too far.”

I busy myself with packing and then realize he is gone. We wait about 30 minutes for him to return and he does not. That’s when I start circling the campground looking for him.

That was nearly three hours ago, and the calm is fading away. The darkness is taking over.

I reach the pier and walk up to the life guards.

“My son is missing,” I tell them without tears. All business.

One man asks me a series of questions and I answer them. He writes details about my boy on his hand.

9 years old

brown hair

glasses

pajamas

missing 3 hours

It’s all so casual, as if I’m ordering up tacos or making a grocery list.

It’s all so slow and calm.

I want to scream.

I want to cry.

I want my boy.

The other man is scanning the beach as we talk.

“Is that him?” he asks.

“Where?” I say.

“Over there, by the water. Looks to be a nine-year-old boy.”

“I can’t tell this far away, looks like an adult to me.”

“Nope. Definitely a kid.”

He jumps off the pier and runs in the direction of the shadowy figure walking with a stick. When he reaches him, he waves at me. It’s my boy.

Thank you God. Thank you.

We walk toward each other. When I reach him, he has been crying, he is covered in sweat and we both hug each other.

“Don’t you EVER do that again! What where you thinking?” I begin.

He stops crying and explains. While our friends planned to drive all the stuff to the beach, the kids and I were going to make the long hike there. He made the decision to just go on his own, so he could explore and continue the game he was playing. He made it there, but couldn’t find us and tried to hike back. That’s when he got lost. He wandered the dunes for a long time and had just made it back to the beach. His plan was now to get help.

“Did you learn a lesson?” I ask him.

“I’m sorry mommy. I love you.”

I want to be mad and scream, but I can’t. I’m so grateful he is safe that I just want to love on him. While we wait for friends to arrive with food and water for us both, I playfully bury him in the sand with only his head and feet sticking out.

“You’re never leaving my side again,” I tell him.

coopinthesandWe play at the beach for a short time, but we are getting sunburned. All our beach supplies are back at the campground. Our friends are driving back, but my boy wants to take the trail and see where he made the wrong turns. I think it could be good closure, so I agree.

I hold both my children’s hands as we head up the first dune. Right away I know this is a mistake. I almost cry when I get to the top as my lungs scream out in protest. My daughter decides to take this moment to fight with her brother about who is going to be second in line. My son then complains that he is hot. They both then start a barrage of whining that makes me vibrate with anger.

I grab the walking stick my boy has been using and bang it against a rock as hard as I can until it breaks into tiny pieces.

“This day is complete and utter bullshit.”

Silence.

“Mom you just said…” my boy begins.

“I know what I said. It’s true. Today has been a bullshit day. I hate today. This is not how I wanted things to go. It’s BULLSHIT!”

I scream it loud and the kids giggle and look nervously at each other.

“Say it,” I tell them. “Scream it!”

“Really?” they both ask.

“Yes, scream bullshit. I think you will feel better.”

We all yell together.

“BULLSHIT!”

We start hiking in silence and occasionally the kids mutter bullshit under their breath. I start to feel bad about this outburst and realize I need to change it. We have lived with that feeling enough.

I stop and turn to them both.

“You know what?” I say. “Today was bullshit, but let’s change it. We are strong. Do you know how much we hiked today? What we have overcome? We are strong. Let’s say that.”

They have skeptical looks, but we do it.

“I AM STRONG!”

It takes some time to hike back and we get turned around. It really is an impossibly complicated maze of trails. But we laugh, have fun and feel strong together.

We turn bullshit into strength.

It’s not perfect and it might seem insane to some, but I’m feeling proud of myself for how I handled things.

Life is filled with so many moments that will just bury you if you let them. You have to dig deep and find it within yourself to focus on the strength.

I could have chosen to spend that hike yelling at my boy and punishing him. I could have made him feel terrible or filled him with shame and fear. I could have allowed my pain to envelope all of us and cloud everything after that.

But I made another choice and for that I am truly proud.

photo

What to do when your tires hit the dirt

I should have known.

Most people would have figured it out in about 10 seconds, or certainly after a few minutes.

Not me.

I don’t like to brag, but sometimes I can be completely and utterly committed to making a big mistake.

It’s not that I seek out these little life lessons for myself. It’s more like I just ignore all signs of warning and logic and just keep plugging ahead.

It’s dedicated stupidity of the most spectacular sort.

Yesterday was a brilliant example.

I needed to make a road trip to Topaz to pick up my darling summer daughter from her visit with grandma. The kids stayed home with daddy and I had the car blissfully to myself.

I plugged the destination into the maps app on my iPhone, followed the prompts and indulged in a mini-marathon of my favorite podcast, NPR’s Snap Judgment.

For about 3 hours I listened to stories of lost loves reuniting, people overcoming fear and families reunited after centuries apart.

Then my tires hit a dirt road.

road

Uh oh. This can’t be right.

I stopped, turned off the podcast and looked around.

The road was very rocky, dusty and quite deserted.

This is wrong.

I looked at my phone and it showed me driving 5 miles and then turning right. I was only 30 minutes from my destination.

So on I drove.

Windows and sunroof open, I put all doubt aside and focused on enjoying the ride.

After a few minutes I found this:

mine

I pulled over and read all about the Golden Gate Mine. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Look at me. Being all carefree and adventurous.

Then I came to a little stream that I had to cross.

creek

Then the road got really steep and my tires were having trouble keeping up with the demands of the trail.

Still I had seen no cars. The only house I’d come across was abandoned and falling apart.

Fear started creeping in and I kept saying to myself, “this can’t be right.”

But I was committed to this route. I couldn’t make a U-turn, because then I’d have to drive all that again.

No going back

The road became gravel for a bit and my turn was only .5 miles away. Way to go Bridgette! You made it.

“Turn right.”

I looked all around. No turns.

No other roads or paths or anything. Just the same rocky dirt road leading further up the mountain.

Then I lost cell reception.

Now I was scared.

I got out of the car and just stood there.

“What do I do?” I said aloud.

I’m lost and all alone. Tears started in my eyes and I felt a rising panic in my gut.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.

Should I turn around or just keep going? What if the road gets worse and I blow a tire? What if it goes on for so long I run out of gas? What if I lose traction and skid down the hill and crash? I have no food, no water and it’s hot out.

The smart choice was to turn around and head back to the main road.

But that wasn’t fun and I just had to see this through. I’d come too far to turn around.

Dedicated stupidity at it’s finest.

I got back in the car and continued the climb.

Over another stream. Around and around and up and up. I knew I was going to be late now, but I had to see where this went. I kept thinking, the next turn it will become a paved road again.

Nope.

After another 10 minutes of driving I reached the top of the hill. This is what I saw:

mountaintop

I got out of the car and the air was filled with the most gorgeous smell of pine. A breeze blew through my hair and I actually laughed.

Groups of people on horseback were just disappearing into the woods. I walked over to a woman in jeans and a t-shirt that had a surprised look on her face.

“I’m lost,” I told her and realized how funny I must look in my mommy SUV and flip-flops.

“You sure are,” she replied with a little laugh.

She had a beautiful smile and she gave me a big hug.

“You’ve reached Little Antelope Pack Station,” she said. “Welcome.”

sign

She told me about a summer camp they were running for underprivileged kids. The kids get to ride horses, shoot BB guns and learn about nature.

“Want to ride a horse?” she offered. “Something brought you here.”

I used to ride horses all the time and I yearned to take her up on it. The thought actually brought tears to my eyes.

But people were waiting for me.

I have to be responsible.

She told me that I’d have to drive all the way back to the bottom.

No other way out.

I took a few pictures and hugged her goodbye.

“Come back when you have more time,” she said and waved to me as I pulled away.

The drive down the hill was easy and fast.

As I passed all the markers from before, I could remember all the emotions I felt at each spot; fear, excitement, doubt, joy, disappointment and happiness.

Now it all seemed so silly, pointless and wasteful.

I’m very lucky. All that came of my little escapade was a very dirty car and a flat tire (that happened a few hours later).

Things could have been so much worse.

I am tired of moving blindly and innocently forward without questioning things or listening to my instincts.

I’m so stubborn and my craving for adventure and excitement is ridiculous.

It is causing turmoil, pain and regret.

While the beauty I experienced yesterday is something I will always treasure, hopefully this will be a lesson learned.

I am a mother. People are counting on me.

Diversions can be dangerous.