Short Story Sunday: Take Me Away

February 28, 2021

It wasn’t as if she needed to go out. It was that connection with the surface and letting the cold air on her skin wake up all of her senses.

As she put on her camouflage jacket she thought about how as a child she’d never been able to go out on her own. The adults had been so overprotective. There was nothing out there to be afraid of. One outside she walked along her usual route, taking in the sun and imagining what it was like to be somewhere else. Anywhere else would do right now.

Somewhere else. Jack had broken her heart, along with smashing her dreams to oblivion. Every secret of her heart was smashed by his cruel words. He’d called her unrealistic and unpractical. He told her she could never leave, but that she’d never have his heart. The more she thought about it the more she realized that this perfect man was nothing but imperfect. He was a fraud. He was an uncreative, selfish, and boorish prick. Good riddance.

After several hours of hiking she stopped for a snack, and a quick look at her map. Then out of the corner of her eyes she caught motion. WTF? Nothing should have been out here. Nothing.

About a hundred feet away was a machine. It had wheels on the ground. How odd. It was about ten feet long and almost the same across. Approaching it without caution she thought about Jack. That jerk-off was afraid of everything. Sure he pretended to be tough and a big man but underneath it all he was afraid of anything new. He lacked curiosity. Everyone she knew lacked curiosity. It made her sick to think that she was considered the weird one. Everyone else was weird to her. She was stifled by their attitudes and smug sense of complacency.

As she walked up to the machine she suddenly wondered if there was life on it. Where did it come from? More like who did it come from? She knew where it was from.

“Hello?” she said quietly as she approached it, the same as if she was approaching a wild animal.

It moved. Ahhhhhhh she thought. Cameras.

This strange new machine was adorable. She moved closer and looked straight into the lens. Pushing her hood back off of her head, and then smiling she said, “Come get me. I want to leave this place. I want color, and the warm sunshine on my bare skin, and everything you take for granted. I want the freedom to think my own thoughts without being told I’m crazy. I want to know who you are, sing your songs, eat your food, and listen to your stories.”

On the side she saw letters, then took her gloved hand and wiped off the reddish brown dust. In a blue circle was a name. NASA.

“Take me away,” she said. “I want to walk on your beaches. I want to feel sand in my toes. I want to look up in the night sky and see where a glowing red dot and know how wrong everyone was about me.”

136.73 million miles away in Pasadena, California, on the planet Earth, someone yelled out in excitement, and almost knocked over her coffee. “OH MY GOD. You have to see this. YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS.”

Back at the wheeled rover she smiled again. “I’m here. Take me away.”

~ end

Howling Wind

Tonight the wind is howling and blowing like a hurricane. Unfortunately it gave me a Scorpions ear worm.

This afternoon while I was taking out the garbage (tomorrow is garbage day) a ladder almost fell on me. I’m fine. My garbage can is fine despite a huge ladder falling on it.

I worry about the birds out there from eagles and hawks, down to the tiny little humming birds. I worry about the squirrels in the trees. The squirrels have been jumping all over the house trying to get up into the attic, Nooooooooo, They’re cute but not in my walls.

It seems like a night for demons to come out but even they’re staying in bundled up in thick plaid shirts and keeping their tails underneath fuzzy throw blankets. OK, not all of the demons. Just the ones who don’t like their jobs and are looking for something else to do. One no longer has to be defined by the family they were born into.

The howling sound of the wind is what makes it seem like a living breathing demonic thing outside of my windows. In the morning I’ll check for downed branches. The streets will be littered with twigs, leaves, branches, and maybe even bits and pieces of roofs, witches, and stuff from blown over garbage, green waste, and recycle cans. I mention witches because, well, sometimes they fly. I don’t like them or deal with them, or even mention them much, but I’d hate to see what this wind might do to them. You know how it is when you become a parent – you start to worry about everyone.

My kids are in Southern California, about 425 miles south of here. They have to deal with the Santa Ana winds. Thank goodness it is not fire season right now. The fields are green and a little muddy. I hope it lasts for a while. In fact I bet the wind hasn’t even bothered the frogs in the seasonal creeks and ponds in my neighborhood.

So before the Internet goes out again I need to say a few words. Stay safe. Stay warm. Wear a mask. Be kind. Talk to your kids. Keep your dogs and cats inside at night. Don’t be a dick. Check in on those who are elderly, alone, or need extra help. And of course, no matter what the weather brings, kiss a Vampire. You’ll thank me for it later.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Free Reads…Because Why the Hell Not?

Something new to read on those cold winter nights!

Dysfictional

It’s free ebook time again. Because why the hell not? A lot of us are stuck at home due to the pandemic and shitty winter weather, so why not grab something to read? I have a couple of short stories available for FREEEE right now, and several collections coming up in the next few weeks. Let’s start with these:

The Dark Side of the World:

Humans evacuate a dying Earth to start over on a distant planet. When familiar social patterns emerge, it becomes clear that they have learned nothing. FREE download until Feb 22: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084V23P57

Just One Kiss:

The day her brother tore his own head off and didn’t die was the day Johanna first suspected that all was not right with the world.
A teenage waitress and her sister find their world turned upside down when men start behaving strangely, trying to woo every woman they see, spouting…

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Short Story Sunday: Lighthouse

Lighthouse

A story I’ve told before. I will tell it again tonight.

1880

He’d been found in the ocean, wearing a formal jacket with tails and clinging to the top of a grand piano. Underneath the man was a large gray wolfhound.

The captain of the ship that had picked him up said that he didn’t seem to remember much, or maybe did not want to remember. The dog, named Delilah, wouldn’t leave the side of her master.

At first they thought it was a ship wreck but it ended up being a complicated and strange mystery. The ship, a 200 ton brigantine had left Port of Talcahuano, in Chile three months before the mysterious man had been found in the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. Not a soul was on the ship, except the Captain who’d been found with a gun in his hand and what looked like a fatal self-inflicted bullet wound in his head. The life boats were still on the ship, as well as a cargo of wine and explosives, and the personal belongings of the few passengers and crew.

A break in an unusually strong and violent series of storms allowed them to dock and drop the man on the piano lid and his wolfhound off at the home of the lighthouse keeper’s family.

The lighthouse keeper checked in on the man who was sleeping in his guest room, dog curled by the bed. He could tell the stranger was wealthy by the quality of his clothing, the expensive watch and ring, and the formal refined way he’d spoken. His locked trunk had been recovered from the abandoned ship and now was at the foot of the bed.

The stranger said his name was Maxwell. He told them to call him Max. The first night there he’d drawn exquisite pictures for the light keeper’s wife of palm trees, and of beautiful women in fashionable dresses, and native women of South America with unusual hats and full colorful skirts. Over brandy he told them that he was 31 years old, born in 1849 when his pregnant mother had come out with his father for the California Gold Rush. Now he resided in San Francisco.

“What is your occupation? “The lighthouse keeper’s daughter Jayne asked the stranger,  fully well expecting him to say he was involved in a rich family business, or lived off of the wealth of his forebears.

He looked at her with hazel eyes, that she would have sworn were dark brown earlier that evening. “I am in law enforcement of a sorts, like detective, or a marshal. I seek out those who are particularly evil. I had apprehended a ruthless and violent fiend in South America and was on my way home. Unfortunately on the ship…” he paused and glanced up for a second, then back at the family of the lighthouse keeper. “On the ship I found myself taken by surprise and overwhelmed. It is a story I will tell you later, but now I must sleep, or I’ll end up under the table here.”

So he retired for the night. That was two days ago. He still slept as quiet and cold as death, but not dead. The dog lay by the foot of the bed thumping her tail whenever anyone came near.

A storm raged outside. The weather didn’t allow anyone to go get a doctor. His wife assured him that the man called Max just needed to rest. It made sense considering the man had been clinging to a piano lid and floating in the freezing ocean for days before he was picked up.

Despite the storm Lighthouse Keeper’s wife climbed up a ladder to fix a shutter that was almost ready to fly away with the wind. As she reached the window the ladder fell and she crashed to the ground below. All went black except the feeling of being carried inside.

Max put her down in a large chair by the fire and took her broken arm in his icy hands. “Close your eyes,” he whispered. She could feel his hands heat up and warm her wrist. The pain turned to numbness. She opened her eyes and could see a look of pain on his face, then he smiled and kissed her forehead.

“You’re arm is still broken, but the bones have started to mend enough for you not to need a splint.”

“You? You healed me,” she said.

“Yes. It is a gift. Keep the knowledge to yourself or people will think we are both insane.” He then touched a forming bruise on her forehead, making that pain, along with the bruise go away as well.

During the night the storm broke up. Sunshine came out between the clouds. Jayne convinced Max to walk down to the docks to pick up some fish for the night’s dinner.

She held his arm as they strolled along the road.

“Your glasses are so dark. I noticed your eyes turned from hazel to brown when we went outside,” said Jayne.

“My eyes are sensitive to the sun. I have three younger brothers, and a younger sister. Two of them have eyes that do the same as mine, that is change color,” he said, then changed the subject. “Do you like living here Jayne.”

“I love my family. I love the ocean. I don’t being in a small town with nothing but fish and lumber. I’d like to see more of the world before I’m expected to find a husband.”

“Do you want to be married Jayne?”

“Maybe,” said Jayne, “I can move to Utah and take two husbands. Women can vote in Utah and Wyoming. Why not here?”

“Because men are ignorant and barbaric my dear Jayne. They’re afraid that if you vote you’ll be smarter and more just than they are. The don’t want to give up their power to someone who might do a better job. By the way, men of a certain faith may have more than one wife but I do not believe a woman is allowed two husbands in Utah. You would have to go to Tibet for that.”

Jayne laughed. “To be truthful, even one husband would be too many for me right now. I don’t need anyone to own me right now.” She tugged on his arm. “You’re so different.”

“How am I different? I’m just like any other man.”

“You healed my mother’s arm. You survived almost a week in the icy ocean’s water hanging onto a piano top with nothing but the clothes on your back and a dog. Your eyes change color. Your skin feels like ice. You are unbelievably attractive. I am stating a fact about your looks. But I only want your friendship. Even with the oddness I like you. I feel as if we have been friends for a long long time. Where are you really from Maxwell? Who are your people?”

He smiled and took off his glasses. His eyes were hazel again. “Where I come from men and women are equal. We live quietly. We live honestly among each other. What I am about to tell you will sound strange, but we live on the edge between life and death. We walk in the world of sunlight, but also walk in the land of the shadows and do not fear death or God.”

“I would like to go there with you. I would earn my way. I could be a lady detective.”

“It is not easy to live in my world Jayne.”

“No world is easy Max,” she said then smiled and pulled the comb out of her hair letting it blow in the wind. “Do you have a sweetheart at home?”

Max hesitated then spoke. “There is a woman I have a strong connection with, but I will never love her.”

“Is she married?”

“No. It isn’t like that. We met when I was at the University. So was she, which is odd unto itself. She knows my thoughts. She knows my desires. But she is not the one. What about you Jayne?”

“I was engaged to a man who knew neither my thoughts or desires, and had no intention on learning either. He thought I belonged to him body and soul, not in the way of love, but as property to be owned and controlled. He was jealous to the point of rage if I would speak with another man. He was even jealous of the boys I teach at the school and demanded I quit my teaching job. I would rather die than live a life where someone else controlled my body, my thoughts, my job, and my every whim. That is why I am no longer engaged to him.” Then laughed and ran to the end of the pier and let the wind blow through her hair and laughed some more.

Max marveled at the way she was so free thinking and full of life. He saw so much death and sorrow in his line of work that now with Jayne he felt renewed. She was sunshine in his dark world of shadows and night.

Hours later in the quiet of the night, the wind died own, and the moon hung in a thin crescent in the sky. Max walked along the beach with his dog Delilah. The taste of fresh blood and wine was in his mouth and the cold comfort of the night had settled into his soul. Delilah ran ahead, then the dog started to bark. Ahead of him Max saw a bloody figure crumpled on the rocks. His heart sank. It was Jayne.

Max picked her up and carried her home. He knew what had happened. She’d gone out to look at the stars and was attacked by a man she’d jilted. She’d spoken briefly about it when they’d walked earlier in the day. She had turned away the advances of a hot headed man who wanted her as his own. In the afternoon the man had walked past them, giving Jayne a look like a mad dog when he saw her holding Max’s arm.

He put her on her bed as her parents and brothers gathered around. As still as death, and as cold as the sea, they watched life drained out of her.

Jayne’s mother put her hand on Max’s arm. “Can you heal her, like you healed me?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “If I do she will never be the same, not like she was before. She won’t be crippled or lose herself, she will be… she will be like me.”

“Save her, then find the man who did this to her,” said the Lighthouse Keeper.

“You do not know what you ask,” said Max.

“You put a spark back in her eyes I have not seen in ages. Please save her if you can.”

“Let me be alone with her and she will not die.”

In the morning a man’s body washed up on the beach. It looked as if dogs had torn out his throat. His face was a mask of fear.

Two weeks later Jayne kissed her family good-by and went with Max on the next ship to San Francisco.

2017

Max stood in his living room with a glass of wine in his hand as he looked at the view of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge. He couldn’t imagine getting tired of it. He glanced over to see Jayne, wearing a short black dress and looking gorgeous as always, coming towards him. He kissed her cool cheek. She smiled with just a touch of fang showing.

“Are you staying with Pierce tonight?” Max asked.

“Of course I am. I take it Mehitabel is staying here,” said Jayne.

Max glanced at a small pretty woman across the room. He suddenly thought of what he’d told Jayne about her so many years ago on the walk to the docks. Odd that when he was out in the ocean, clinging onto a piano top of all things, he had thought of Mehitabel. He might ask but he was never sure what she would say. No, he wouldn’t ask, he’d just wait to see what would happen, but he was sure she’d stay.

“I’m sure she’ll stay,” he told Jayne.

They talked for a while longer, about work, about friends, and about how the sunset sparkled on the ocean. Max wasn’t always one for words, but he knew that Jayne knew that they’d always be friends. Maybe even before they had ever met.

Then Jayne laughed. “I still can’t believe you were clinging to a piano lid.”

And Max had to laugh along.

~ End

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Short Story Sunday: Spreading It Thick

While the rest of the country was freezing Ramona was digging up her raised beds in Long Beach. She and her brother swore they’d never leave California. That is just about the only thing she agreed on with him.

Caleb had been visiting the night before. As usual he’d brought back a slew of bad memories in an attempt to get her to feel like a failure. Gaslighting Remona was his favorite activity as far as Ramona’s husband was concerned. Fortunately, her husband Mac was out of town fishing with their son. Ramona couldn’t have handled another Mac and Caleb knock down drag out.

She opened the bag and spread the manure thick, just like Caleb spread his BS thick. The tomatoes would thrive better than Ramona did before she got out of her brother’s grip and realized what a snake he was.

Replaying the conversation from the night before she stuck the spade with all of the violent force she could muster. Then she tied her gray hair back into a ponytail.

“Mac can’t like that gray hair,” Caleb told her with his usual tone of superiority.

“I’m tired of coloring my hair,” Ramona told him. “Mac likes it.”

“I doubt that. I bet he’s off with another woman right now. I wouldn’t blame him.”

“Why do you say things like that Caleb?”

“Like what? Open your eyes Ramona.”

She replayed the lies and remembered how he had told her parents she’d faked a pregnancy. He’d befriended the woman who broke up her first marriage. He told almost every ex-boyfriend of her that she was either a slut or a psychopathological liar. 

When she and Mac didn’t get the bid on their dream house, she’d found out Caleb had told a wealthy friend about it. That wealthy friend had bid way over the asking price. Over the years Caleb had called potential employers and told them Ramona was crazy. Caleb had lied to their elderly parents and almost cleared out their bank account. She caught him trying to steal their dog. The list went on and on. 

Unfortunately, she didn’t even know about most of what he’d done until years later. Then when she did find out it stung even worse than when it happened.

Finally the last straw was when Caleb had convinced her then 17 year old son Sam that he was Sam’s father. Ramona remembered how Sam had become withdrawn and angry. Finally after a week of frustration she found him crying in their back yard and found out what had happened. Sam was now twenty two, and she’d stopped talking to Caleb. At least until last night.

Ramona knew she shouldn’t have let Caleb in her house. He sat down in her living room and bragged about his new young wife. He said he was going to sue her for a long list of unbelievable shit. Then he started to spout off about her husband Mac and how he must be cheating on her. Now the text from a friend of hers made sense. She wondered why anyone would be concerned about what Mac was doing when he wasn’t at home. 

As Ramona dug and leveled out the raised garden beds she smiled knowing her tomatoes, peppers, and exotic melons would thrive. The lettuce would be the be green perfection. Her pumpkins would grow to enormous size. And oh how the artichokes would virtually sing.

There was enough bull shit in her raised beds now to last for years. She dug one last home and dropped in Caleb’s wallet. She knew his car would be towed away in a few days. She’d re-parked it two miles away and walked home. It felt good to stretch her legs. 

Maybe later she’d take her dogs Wally and Tess down to the beach. She deserved some fun. Her work was done. It was a good day. 

~ end

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

Cold Hands, Warm Hearts

My eldest brother Max (10 years my senior) had asked his best friend Teddy to escort me home from the theater one evening. It was 1874. I was 15 years old.

“Your hands are so cold,” he said as he helped me up off of the muddy street onto the boardwalk.

I gave him a coy smile. “I have a cold heart sir.”

He laughed. I never called him sir. He offered me his arm.

I gladly took his arm. “Your hands are positively burning. What sort of fire stirs your soul tonight?” That was pretty forward but I didn’t care. I was floating with the joy of being a flirt and having no brothers or parents around to stop me.

“You’re not like the other girls.”

“No I am not.”

“You’re an impish little thing. It will take a man with a quick wit and a good sense of humor to woo you Juliette.”

“Ahhhh, but you forget I have four older brothers. I pity any man who would have to deal with them.”

“They’ll love any man who is truly in love with you Juliette.”

“I doubt that Teddy.”

Then he stopped and faced me. “I have some news. A secret if you can keep one.”

“Your secrets are always safe with me.”

Teddy had a large smile on his handsome face. “I’m getting married.”

My young Vampire heart literally stopped dead. My head started to spin, but I managed to smile because like all Vampires, I was a natural liar. “Oh Teddy. I’m so happy for you. She really is lovely.”

I wished I could just turn to putrified slime and slip into the dirt like the dead in the cemetery but instead I found a dark place to curl up in for the rest of the night. Teddy would now be lost to me forever. No more laughing at silly jokes with him. No more having him give me sly smiles. No more watching him and my brother Max in awe as they turned from boys to real men.

Teddy would be moving on to the world of married men where there was no room for girls who laughed too loud and talked too much. There was no room for Vampires. Sure, once I was older and became an icy cold elegant woman like my Vampire mother I could entertain Teddy and his bride, but until then it was over. He might has well have died – at least that is what I was feeling in my cold quiet teenage heart.

Teddy had no idea how different any of us were. He had no idea that his father’s business partner was a Vampire. Teddy had no idea what a Vampire was.

While they were away to college Teddy never really questioned why my brother Max would go out in the middle of the night. He imagined it was a woman or gambling or just a restless spirit. Like all of us, Max was brilliant at hiding his true nature.

The young woman of good breeding whom Teddy had become engaged to was sweet. That was her only attribute aside from being considered pretty. She wanted nothing more in life than to be the wife of a successful man. The fact that Teddy was the most handsome human I’d ever seen in my life, interesting, smart and funny was just an added bonus. Other than the fact that Teddy thought she’d be a good match there was nothing remarkable about her. Good breeding. Good reputation. Good girl. I didn’t even think about passion. Thinking about that would be almost as bad as thinking about my parents having any kind of passion (remember I was 15 years old.)

Teddy’s love wasn’t out sucking blood out of people in the middle of the night. She was in bed alone dreaming of angels and kittens. She was the kind of girl he dreamed of and I am sure he dreamed of her at night.

I wished I was like her. I wished I was sweet and warm like a her. I touched my icy hands against my cheeks and closed my eyes and then wiped away cold tears. No amount of wishing could make me warm. No amount of wishing could make me walk in the sunshine without dark glasses or a parasol. No amount of charm or wit could make him continue to be buddies with me, a girl who lived in the shadow of the night. He’d never love me.

I found my brother Val and told him the news. Val, who is only 16 at the time, thought I was being silly. He didn’t understand. He was a boy. Teddy could still be friends with a boy.

Max came up on the roof where I ended up that night. He sat next to me and put his arm around my shoulders. “Teddy is like family. He’ll still be here for a long long time. With any luck he’ll live a long life and we’ll always be able to watch over him and protect him.”

I closed my eyes knowing it was a battle I couldn’t win.

“Listen Jewels, part of growing up is letting go, that means letting go of everyone else who is growing up and moving on. It won’t just be Teddy. All of us will have to go out in the world and make our way. We’ll all find love. We’ll find it with people like ourselves, other Vampires. People move on, but the human heart, and our hearts have a great capacity for love. You have to treasure that love because as we move on, they, the regular humans grow old and they die. I’ve seen Mother and Father mourn the loss of their friends in the worst way. We’ve mourned the loss of friends in the worst way. But Teddy isn’t dead. Be happy for him. He’ll still be my best friend. He’ll still be your friend.”

We sat on the roof until the sun came up and talked of life and love and loss.

A year later Teddy died and didn’t die. He became a Vampire (not from anything we did and very much against his will.) The wedding never happened. After that we all went our separate ways and had our share of love and adventure and friendship.

After Teddy acclimated to being a Vampire we became great friends. Twenty years ago we got married. That isn’t typical of anyone, but then again, not much is typical in my life.

As my own children become older and closer to being adults they’ll have to deal with friends moving away, getting in relationships and changing in ways they can’t imagine. Some friendships will last those changes, but many won’t. The fact that we can’t always predict these things doesn’t make it any easier, but at least we can talk with our kids about these things. We can be there when they need someone to talk to. And that day will come.

I have been fortunate to have friends who’ve been in my life since those days when I used to sit on the roof of my parent’s house and ponder the meaning of life. Sometimes my friends would sit on the roof with me. Sometimes my brothers would join us. We’re not sitting on the roof anymore, but we’re still talking and laughing and having warm hearts to go with our cold hands.
———————————

First posted: 2/20/14 

Stay safe. Wear a mask. Talk to your kids. Hug your dogs and cats. Check in on those who are elderly, alone, or might need extra help. Be kind. Don’t be a dick. And kiss a Vampire (you’ll thank me later.)

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman