The Commission for the Reinstatement of the Formerly Deceased aka Morphia’s Flock

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W. K. Tucker:

My friend and fellow blogger, Manja, created this collage inspired by “Birds of a Feather”. Y’all should pay her a visit and see more of her awesome creations.

Originally posted on fall of the fishman:

MORPHIA'S FLOCK Y

I’ve never liked Stephen King, you know. In my universe Haruki Murakami is king. But I like W.K. Tucker!

She’s written a tale about some poor black-eyed kid, Morphia, who has a bitch of a mother with PTSD and a truckload of abandonment issues. Didn’t like her kid sprouting wings, so got out the old pedagogical cow dehorners to set her brood straight.

W.K. Tucker is part Cherokee and used to be a hillbilly. You can give her any old carcass and she’ll skin it, debone it, and set you down for tea. Hm. Almost like finding some bare-arsed girl under the floorboards. In fact, here’s to finding bare-arsed girls under the floorboards! (And the Commission for the Reinstatement of the Formerly Deceased, too!)

P.O.F.A.!!!

(Or maybe not. Today has been the coldest 19th of August since 1924. Also saved a near-paralysed blue heron from drowning. As thanks it…

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Space and Time–Old and New

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I’m very happy to announce that my short story, “The Keeper”, will make its debut in the upcoming winter issue of Space and Time magazine, website: http://spaceandtimemagazine.com/.  “The Keeper” is set on an alternate Earth–my third foray into this strange, harsh land–and deals with a young woman’s struggle in a male-dominated society to escape her fate–which happens to lurk behind a locked door spanning the mouth of a cave.

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In the spring of 2013, Space and Time bought and published “The Preacher Man”, (pictured above) my second story that takes place in my own little world,  which in my head I think of as “The Kingdom”. Lord, I have page after page of notes–plus a map–dealing with The Kingdom, a good indication that I’ll be making a few more visits to my fantasy world in the future.

And it all started with my first Kingdom Story, “Birds of a Feather”, published in 2009 in the online e-zine, Mindflights, (which is now defunct). It was my first sale; I made a whopping $10.00. This is my favorite of all the short stories I have written, and for those of you who never had a chance to read it, I thought I’d share it here. And I hope you love it as much as I do.

“Birds of a Feather”

My little sister was born with wings, or at least the beginnings of such. Little nubs on her sharp shoulder blades. When they reached any size, when from time to time little tufts of white feathers dared blossomed out, Ma cut them off. I held Morphia down while she clipped them off with the cow dehorners. Morphia cried and carried on, but Ma said it didn’t hurt none, no more than snipping off a fingernail did, and if she didn’t cut them off, Morphia would fly away like Pa had.

Fact was, Ma had lost Pa to the winds, and she was bound and determined not to lose Morphia too. “Should’ve never let that bird-man in my bed, Henry,” she’d told me more times than I could count.

Folks in town said the bird-people had died out more than a hundred years ago–if there ever had been such beings, and they weren’t just made-up things like vampires and werewolves and such. And Preacher Conroy said they were unholy creatures, and if one ever did show up they’d burn it like they had that strange cow-fish that’d flopped out of the river last year. But they’d never seen Pa sail down out of the sky, his big, white angel-wings flapping against the wind, like Ma and I had–and I prayed they never did.

No one’d ever seen Morphia’s bumps either. Ma kept her hidden away in the cellar and only let her out in the pitch-black night. Ma told people, any who cared enough to ask, that Morphia was an albino and couldn’t tolerate sunshine. She looked it, with her milky skin and white, corn-silk hair. But her eyes were a dark wonder–no whites; they were as black as the soot coating the inside of the chimney.

It’d been years since Pa had come to see us, way back when Morphia was still in Ma’s swollen belly. I had just turned seven the night he lifted up off the back porch and flew north toward the Red Dirt Mountains. Ma and me had watched him wing out over the flatlands and sail over the Celeste River, growing smaller and smaller till he was no more than a speck against the rust-colored slopes of the mountains. Then nothing.

I had looked up at Ma. “Why can’t we go with him?”

Ma put her arm around my shoulder and hugged me to her side. “We can’t live up in them mountains, Henry. Why, they’re so steep, they’re like walls. Only birds can live in a place like that.”

“I wanta be like Pa. I wanta be a bird.”

“Well, you’re not, and I’m not. We have to stay on the ground where God put us.”

Pa flew away that morning and we ain’t seen him since.

That’d been amost six years ago. Seventy-one months. Seventy-three full moons–adding in the blue ones–every one of them counted off in X’s painted in Ma’s blood on the white-washed wall of the kitchen, each reddish-brown smear a mark of her madness.

And now, while I stirred the pot of plopping cornmeal mush I’d fixed for supper, I watched Ma rummaging in the cabinet, muttering to herself. And when she came up with the butcher knife, I knew that tonight the moon would ride fat and yellow across the sky.

Ma went to her wall of marks and rolled up the left sleeve of the baggy calico dress she’d worn night and day for over a week. She drew the blade across her forearm next to last month’s just-healed slash. Blood plop-plopped onto the floor. She dipped her finger into the fresh blood and made her X, then stepped over to the window and stared out into the dusk.

I put the pot of mush on the table next to the flickering candle, then got a handful of rags out of the cabinet drawer. And as I had seventy-three times before, I took the knife out of Ma’s hand and wrapped up her arm, then wiped up the tacky red splotches dotting the wood-plank floor. What would come up, that is; the old, dry wood sucked up the blood like a hungry leech.

“Come on, Ma, it’s time to eat.” I put my arm around her bony shoulders and eased her gently over to the table and down into a chair. Then I went after my sister.

I took down the lantern that hung on a nail by the back door, lit the wick, then crossed the room and removed the board that braced the cellar door. It swung open with a squeaky breath. A song without words, the notes high and clear and as sweet as thick molasses, rolled up the stairs and spilled out into the kitchen.

“Henry!” Ma’s voice. “Henry!”

I turned around.

Ma rocked side to side in her chair, her eyes big and anxious and wild. “You be careful. Don’t let her get away.”

I didn’t know why she fretted so; Morphia had never so much as stepped foot out of the yard. Didn’t seem to have any interest in it. “I won’t, Ma.”

Holding the lantern high, I went down the steps. Lit only by a small window set high on the wall, it was darker in the small cellar than it was outside in the twilight. Ma wouldn’t let Morphia have a lantern or candle neither ’cause she was feared Morphia might accidentally burn down the house. Fact was, if it had anything to do with Morphia, Ma feared it. But I knew she couldn’t help what she felt; she had too much craziness rattling around in her head.

Morphia sat on the side of her narrow bed, hands folded in her lap, head cocked to one side, eyes closed. Singing…just singing like a bird. That’s about all she did anymore, day and night. Fact was, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard her speak real words. Been more than a year, I reckoned. She just sang.

I spoke softly, not wanting to startle her: “Suppertime, Sis.”

Morphia opened up those black wells. She smiled, a little happy trill escaping her lips, and came up off the bed and danced across the dirt floor to where I stood at the foot of the stairs. She was always anxious to get out of the cellar.

I gripped her arm as we climbed the steps so she wouldn’t run ahead and upset Ma. “Easy now.” I didn’t want her to fall, either. She’d taken a tumble down the stairs a year or so ago and had broken her arm. It’d been a bad break, a jagged, hollow bone sticking out of her pale skin, and I’d had to set it ’cause Ma wouldn’t take her to the doctor. She didn’t want anyone to get a good look at Morphia. “They’ll burn her, Henry,” she’d said. And I’d known she spoke true.

Morphia made an impatient clucking noise, and moved a step ahead of me. Then two, stretching out my arm. Fact was, though she was only six-years-old, her legs were longer than mine. Thin, scaly things. But she moved on them as gracefully as the night ptoons that high-stepped through the silty shallows of the Celeste River after dark, stalking the glowing mud worms.

Morphia pulled me through the doorway and into the kitchen. I felt the excitement drain out of her, wither and die and shrivel up like a sun-blistered tomato when she saw Ma sitting at the table. Ma had that effect on Morphia: took the life right out of her.

I gave her a little push toward the table. “Go on, sit down.”

As Morphia was baby-stepping toward the table, I held up the lantern to blow out the flame, and that’s when I saw them poking out against the gray dress covering her back: the start of wings. My stomach turned over.

I sat down at the table, but couldn’t eat. Morphia bent her head and dug right in. She was always hungry.

Ma looked up from her untouched bowl. Her eyes fell on Morphia, and the jitteriness stilled. Her cracked lips turned up in a little smile. Love beamed big and bright on her face, making her look almost normal, almost not crazy.

Morphia slurped her mush.

Ma watched Morphia and I watched Ma, praying that she wouldn’t see, wouldn’t notice…

Ma’s eyes narrowed. She stood up, her chair scraping over the boards. Finally, Morphia looked up, and she must’ve seen what was in Ma’s eyes, ’cause she squeaked and jerked backwards. Her chair toppled over and she spilled onto the floor.

“Get her, Henry,” Ma said.

And though I felt sick to my soul at what was to come, I did as I was told, reached down and grabbed Morphia by the foot as she crawled by.

She kicked and squawked, but I held tight, went down on my knees and pulled her to me. I gathered her thrashing body in my arms. “I’m sorry, Sis, but it’s for your own good.” Empty words to someone who’d never heard the Sunday sermons warning of darkness and evil and demons with wings, who’d never seen the fires eating anything and everything the preacher said was unnatural.

“Get her up here,” Ma said.

I struggled to my feet, bringing Morphia with me. She fought me every inch of the way, little high-pitched peeps sprinkled in with her ragged breaths, as I turned her, exposing her back. A strong smell of sweat and wet feather clogged my throat. And when Ma ripped away Morphia’s dress, I saw why: a fine white down covered her back.

Ma sucked in a hissing breath of air. “Oh, dear Lord, it’s spreading.” She peeled the gray material down over Morphia’s shoulders, then her arms. More white down.

And I remembered…

Pa’s arms reaching down for me, arms sprouting the same pale fuzz.

“Hold tight, Henry.” Ma’s voice pulled me back to the stuffy kitchen, back to the big pliers-looking thing in her hands, back to my sister wriggling in my arms.

I hugged Morphia tighter, her scrawny arms that were trapped between us digging into my ribs. Ma pulled apart the handles of the dehorners. The steel blades separated.

I closed my eyes.

Morphia writhed against me, her shrill chirps ringing in my ears. Then every muscle in her body right down to her toes went board-straight. She shrieked. And there was another voice, this one no more human than hers was, joining in, howling like a snake-bit dog.

“Hush up, Henry,” Ma said.

And it was me. I was the thing crying out its pain.

Morphia’s screech lifted higher. She jerked and twitched. Then her body relaxed, loosened into a bag of sharp elbows and bony ribs.

“It’s over,” I whispered against her hair. But she didn’t hear me; she’d passed out.

I felt a warm wetness spreading over my arms, opened my eyes and looked down at Morphia’s back. Gouts of blood pumped from the two places where the start of wings had been. Before, when Ma had clipped them off, there’d been only trickles; this was a flood.

“Oh my God, oh my God!” Ma wailed. She dropped the dehorners, tore at her hair. “Oh my God, I’ve killed her!”

Blood ran in a thick river down Morphia’s back. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. And Ma, she fell down on her knees and started banging her forehead against the boards.

Blood was beginning to form a pool at my feet. “Ma.” And it kept on coming, spreading outward. “Ma!”

She didn’t look up. She’d gone away.

I swooped up Morphia and carried her over to Ma’s bed. I eased her down upon the mattress and turned her onto her side. Blood continued to flow. So much of it. The thin sheet beneath her shoulders turned sloppy red. I had to stop it. But how? How did you–

Cobwebs. I remembered now. Ma’d used cobwebs on my foot that time I’d sliced it open on a piece of glass.

I grabbed the broom propped in the corner beside the wood-box and raced around the room, sweeping the ceiling, twirling the gauzy webs around the cornhusks. Then I stripped off the sticky gray stuff and packed it against the bony knobs on Morphia’s shoulder blades. And I noticed…the bumps were different. Fact was, they weren’t soft like ear-bones no more; they were hard like regular bones. And a brownish-red circle of marrow dotted the center of each. Morphia’s wings had set.

The cobwebs did the trick, stopped the bleeding. But Morphia had lost so much blood that she was as weak as a newborn kitten. She slept for most of a week, only rousing now and then to eat a little. I stayed close by, even slept on the floor beside her bed, afraid if I turned my back she might slip away–and not like Pa had to the sky, but to the land where the dead walked.

And while I watched after Morphia, Ma wandered the flatlands, crying and wailing and cursing Pa.

***

“You can’t cut them off no more, Ma,” I said to her back. “She’ll most likely die if you do.”

Ma gazed out the window at the face of the rising moon. If she’d heard me, she gave no sign.

I removed the brace from the cellar door. “I’m gonna bring her up now, and take her outside. I just wanted you to know…I didn’t want you to be…she’s got wings now, Ma. Big wings.”

It’d been six months since Morphia had been out of the cellar, six months since Ma had seen her, and six months since Ma had spoken a single word. Fact was, the only voice I’d heard in all that time had been my own. And Morphia’s now and again. When she’d sing.

Morphia didn’t sing much no more, but when she did, she sounded as sorrowful as a mourning dove. She stared, day in and day out, at the little patch of sky visible outside the cellar window, and sometimes, soft tweets and trills trembled off her tongue and dropped into the darkness at her feet. The sadness of it pret’near broke my heart.

And her wings, lord how they’d grown and grown till the silvered tips brushed the ground. Beautiful, they were, as white and shimmery as the feathers of a camray. At times, she’d whip them back and forth like a baby bird practicing flying, raising up a cloud of dust inside the tiny cellar. Once, her feet had even lifted off the floor a tad. But there was nowhere to go, no room to stretch out her wings. So she’d settled back down, dusty tear-tracks smudging the down on her cheeks.

I said to Ma: “Morphia needs to get out of the cellar for a while. She’s pining away down there.” Nothing from Ma. “I just didn’t want you getting upset when you see them…her wings.” I turned away and pushed open the cellar door.

Behind me, I heard a rustling, rattling, clattering.

“Henry.” I looked back. Ma lurched toward me, dragging the chain she used to fetter the milk cow so it wouldn’t wander out into the flatlands and become supper for a pack of ornery, one-eyed cyclotes. “Put this on her or she’ll fly away. Loop it around her middle and hook it in the back where she can’t reach it.”

I hadn’t thought about that–Morphia flying away; all that’d been on my mind was how shocked Ma was gonna be when she saw Morphia’s full-growed wings. I took the chain from her gnarled hands. “Okay, Ma.”

The cloud of madness lifted from her eyes. She smiled at me, and for just a second, I saw her as she’d once been: all shiny blonde curls and white teeth and dancing eyes. She patted my cheek. “You’re a good son, Henry.” And as her hand slowly dropped, I saw the black jitteriness seep back into her eyes, dulling the green with its dirty fog.

I wanted her back. I wanted my ma back. I wanted her to put her arms around me like she had when I was little and had scraped my knee or some such, and tell me everything was gonna be all right.

She turned away and shuffled back over to the night-dark window.

“Ma…” squeezed out of my tight chest on a ragged gasp of air. “Ma…” Not so much as a twitch to show that she’d heard me.

I swiped the back of my hand across my wet face and turned to the black mouth of the cellar door. I couldn’t cry, wouldn’t cry. I had to be strong. I had to be the one to take care of things ’cause Ma couldn’t. Down in that hole was my sister and she needed me.

I clomped down the stairs into a darkness lit only by the light spilling through the doorway from the kitchen. “Wanta go outside?” I said to the shadow that was Morphia.

Her answer was a melancholy croak.

“I’m gonna take you outside, but Ma says I gotta put this on you first.”

Morphia stood quietly as I slipped the thin chain around her chest, under her arms, then over the base of her wings where I snugged it tight and fastened it together. I took her arm and led her up the stairs. She had to duck her head as we passed through the doorway into the kitchen. Fact was, as her wings had grown, so had her body. Now, she was somewhere nigh around six feet tall, and as slender and willowy as the marsh grass that swayed along the banks of the Celeste River.

As we stepped inside the kitchen, my eyes cut over to the window where Ma had been. Now only the black, blank eye of glass looked back at me. Mind and body, Ma was gone.

I opened the door leading out onto the back porch. Night-thick summer air puffed through the opening, its breath sweet with the odor of honeysuckle and whisit vine. It ruffled the fine white down on Morphia’s face. She closed her eyes. Cooed.

“Come on, Sis.” I urged her through the doorway out onto the porch.

Cicadas buzzed. Tree frogs croaked. Somewhere out in the flatlands, a cyclote howled. Morphia raised her eyes to the stars and drank in the night, her wings quivering.

I held tight to the end of the chain.

After a time, she glided down the steps into the moonlit yard. Making little clucking noises, she meandered here and there, stopping occasionally to scratch in the dirt with pointy toenails.

I fed out the long chain, looped my end around the porch rail, then sat down on the steps. And I watched Morphia. She clucked and scratched, clucked and scratched.

The breeze picked up, soughed through the wind-squashed tops of the two old oaks that squatted in twisted lumps on either side of the house. Gimnets whirred and whip-poor-wills warbled. Morphia clucked and scratched, clucked and scratched.

My eyes drifted closed.

And my mind slipped back in time…

“Be careful, Kaz, don’t you dare drop him.” Ma’s face below me, worry drawing her features.

A low rumble against my back. “He’ll be fine, Millie.” Arms wrapped around my belly, strong arms covered with white down. Then Ma’s face getting smaller and smaller, the land spreading out below me, our house, the scrubby flatlands, the Celeste River, the Red Dirt–

Clank-clank-clank-clank!

My eyes flew open as the last of the chain snapped into the air. Heart in my throat, I stumbled to my feet, my eyes following the taunt chain up into the night sky to Morphia’s flapping shadow. The chain pulled tighter, held for a few seconds, then came raining down in spirals. Morphia slammed onto the ground.

I bounded off the steps and ran toward her. She clambered back to her feet, beat her wings and rose up into the air. I jumped and grasped at her scaly foot, but it slipped through my fingers and I fell to the dirt on my back, knocking the wind out of my lungs. In seconds, the chain hauled Morphia back down again. She flopped down beside me. I reached out my hand as she thrashed in the dust, and finally, I was able to draw in a breath of air and say her name: “Morphia…”

She ignored me, pushed back up on her feet, and lifted off again. And again, the chain pulled her back to earth.

I crawled the few feet to her, and grabbed her arm as she was pushing herself up onto her knees. “Stop it, Sis, you’re gonna kill yourself.”

Her head turned in my direction, and lord, the sadness in her eyes was a terrible thing, as black and bottomless as the strip pits of Cheyanna. Her lips worked, spilling out soft chips and chirps, then: “P–pl–please, Hen–ry.”

And I knew what she wanted.

I had only two choices: set her free and probably never see her again, or keep her in the basement and watch her die.

Fact was, there really wasn’t no choice at all.

I nodded my head. “Okay.”

I got to my feet and pulled Morphia up to stand beside me. She turned her back and I unhooked the chain. It slithered to the ground. Morphia’s wings whooshed, whooshed, whooshed, and she lifted up into the sky. I cocked back my head and watched as she darted one way then another. And she was singing, the lilting notes lighting up the night with shiny-bright stars of happiness.

“Henry! What in God’s name have you done?”

I heard Ma, but I didn’t pay her no mind. I just watched Morphia fly. God may have intended for me and Ma to stay put on the ground, but He intended for Morphia to fly. That’s why He’d given her wings.

“Henry!”

Morphia swooped down over me and Ma, passing so close overhead that I felt the wind off her wings. Then she whipped back up into the night sky, turned north and soared out over the flatlands. And I think I saw–I squinted my eyes–maybe saw, other winged shapes hovering over the river. I think I saw Morphia join them.

“Henry!” Ma tugged on my arm.

And I think I saw them disappear into the mountains.

Maybe someday when I’m a full-growed man, I’ll cross the flatlands and swim the Celeste River and climb the Red Dirt Mountains.

“Henry!”

Maybe someday I’ll see Morphia and Pa again.

“Henry!”

Someday.

Just How Good Were The “Good Old Days”?

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Linda Workman Smith

The following article, written by my sister, Linda Workman Smith, will appear next week in the local paper of our hometown. (So proud of her!) I keep urging her to submit her writing to subject-appropriate magazines, but she’s just too darn busy gardening–both vegetables and flowers–that she only comes inside to sleep, eat and nap this time of year; and in the cooler months, she’s building walkways, landscaping and pouring over seed catalogs. I think she only writes when the moon is new, there’s a foot of snow on the ground and the temperature is below zero–all the preceding occurring on a Friday the 13th.  :)

 Just how good were the “Good Old Days”?

Few things are more satisfying than to open my pantry door and see the jars of colorful produce lined up like a regiment of soldiers across the shelves; or to know that on cold snowy days, rather than going to the grocery store I can just open my pantry door or one of my upright freezers, peruse the various shelves and bins to come up with a nourishing meal–with many of the ingredients grown, harvested and prepared for storage—right here on my two acre paradise. Other fixings may have been garnered from the overabundance of gardens, orchards or groves of friends and family.

In summer, growing up I watched my mother scour the meadows and hills on and around our farm picking wild blackberries, grapes, plums, anything edible; she also raised a huge garden, chickens, and always had at least one milk cow. Much of the time it was just Mama and her seven children as for many years Daddy was a lumberjack in California, only coming home when snowfall made it impossible to log.

Picture this: An L shaped four room clapboard house completely devoid of paint, weathered to a dull gray color. Kitchen, bedroom, living room all in a straight row; then, at a 90 degree angle off one side of the living room, a dog trot/breezeway leading to another bedroom. Adjoining the front of the living room and this second bedroom was a wide covered porch. Across the L shaped back of the house, another covered porch. You’ll notice I didn’t mention a bathroom. That structure was quite some distance from the house, along a well-traveled path on a hillside that sloped away from the garden. On the other side of the house and a short hike across the road was our well. We were fortunate that we had a well pump to deliver water to a faucet just outside the kitchen door. I have often wondered why the water pipe wasn’t brought through the wall into the kitchen.

In this kitchen stood a large wooden table—covered with oilcloth–surrounded by chairs and two benches; keeping this ensemble company was an ancient refrigerator, a wood burning cook stove with a box nearby to hold wood, a standalone cabinet with a pull-out granite top; below the granite top were two doors opening to a large storage area. Above, between two upper storage areas was a large bin for holding flour. It had a crank handle at the bottom to sift the flour out into a bowl or other container. Beside this cabinet was an old table; perched on this table was what appeared to be the upper part of an old china cabinet. This kitchen was the heart of our home. This is where Mama fed the most important people in her life: her children…as well as the occasional neighbor hiking to their favorite fishing hole or walking to the mailboxes which were situated on the main road. Sometimes various well-known wanderers walking past on the way to my paternal grandparents’ house—further up the road—would stop in to eat as well.

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Now picture the above…and this: Mid-summer, early morning, already 90 degrees outside. Mama just finished with straining and refrigerating milk from the cow she milked after breakfast while the older girls washed, dried and put away dishes. Wood box being filled, pots of water boiling, vegetable and fruit skins being removed, produce being chopped, sliced, ground, strained, pickled; jars being washed, sterilized, then held in large bread pans containing hot water; clean muslin dish towels were draped over them. Canning lids submerged in hot water, dippers, funnels, and clean cloths for wiping the jar tops after filling, all at the ready. Okay. Mix, cook, stir, strain, whatever it takes. Now on to filling jars, wiping tops, putting lids and rings on then placing the jars into hot water bath canners or pressure canners. No food processors, no fancy-schmancy slicer/dicer, no fan—much less air conditioner—and no one, other than a bunch of rowdy kids, to help. Mama canned hundreds of jars of food every summer: tomatoes, tomato juice, green beans, shelled beans, corn, southern peas, apples, peaches, jellies, pickles, sour kraut, afore mentioned wild fruits, for days on end. All on a wood-burning cook stove.

In later years Mama got a freezer and a propane cook stove; then preserving food got a little easier.  But the many years before these “modern conveniences” were obtained are the times that stand out in my mind.

Sitting down to write this, remembering the “good old days”, I had to laugh at myself. I’d been thinking that this summer has been labor intensive for me. On my little two acre paradise I have small areas of a variety of edibles; most are ready for harvest at diverse times. For example: Perhaps I have southern peas ready. Pick peas, 30-45 minutes—shell peas, 30-90 minutes (in my recliner watching television. Time is dependent on what is playing on TV.)—wash peas, blanch, cool, drain and fill bags and vacuum seal for the freezer, 30-45 minutes.

Or I may spend a few hours a day—over several days’ time–making salsa: Picking tomatoes and peppers, 15-30 minutes–washing produce, 10-15 minutes—scalding tomatoes, de-seeding peppers, pealing onions and garlic, Hummmm, maybe an hour. Now comes the hard part: chopping all those vegetables. Oh wait, put away that chopping knife; open a cupboard door and take out the food processor. Wheh! I’m getting hot; better turn down the thermostat a couple of degrees; oh and get the tower fan to blow the jalapeno fumes away while I’m trimming them. Zap, zap and zap, veggies are chopped and ready to go in the pot to boil for 10 minutes. Jars and lids are ready. Fill jars, put on lids, pop into water bath canner, bring water to boil, adjust heat setting, set timer and go to recliner to cool off.  You get the picture?

Looking back on the “Good Old Days”, I’m infinitely grateful that I was lucky enough to experience them; I’m also grateful that I don’t have to repeat the process in my canning endeavors these days.

I am the daughter of the late—and greatly missed—Tom and Agnes Workman, lifelong residents of Crawford County.

 And as always, happy gardening,

 Linda Workman Smith

Multi-County Master Gardener Association

Shawnee, OK

Musical Mojo Forest

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W. K. Tucker:

A magical tale. It took me right into its heart.

Originally posted on Stephen Thom writing:

Musical Mojo Forest

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Hesitant clumps of trees spread gradually down the slope into a blanket of forest. Gnarled branches skewered out from thick trunks, weaving upwards into a leafy tapestry enveloping the fields beyond. Danny stood purposefully at the summit, watery-eyed in the glare of the midday sun. His forehead darkened as he picked out a sparse minor chord sequence on the guitar strapped over his right shoulder, and stepped towards the rolling fields of woodland. The sad notes hovered, fragmenting in the air.

‘Yes…I can feel it. I can feel my muse returning to me!’

The two remaining band members stood shuffling behind him, sweaty palms clutching their own instruments. With tentative steps they trailed after their lead singer as he cut a swift path straight to the heart of the woods, ducking under vast branches and kicking his way through the undergrowth. So here they were, then; all…

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The Leibster Award

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liebster_award1The Liebster Award exists only on the internet, and is given to bloggers by other bloggers. It pays tribute to new blogs, or blogs with a follower count of less than 1,000–including Twitter.

It follows similar principles as a chain letter in the sense that it should be passed forward to a certain number of deserving blogs. As Tom Benson (my fellow blogger who nominated me) wrote,  “It’s fun and does a marketing job for all who participate.” He further stated that it also exists to encourage new people to blog and join in the social blogging community, known as the “blogosphere”. Whew…a lot of blog words there.

The word “liebster” is German in origin and has several definitions, including but not limited to: dearest, sweetest, kindest, pleasant, endearing,  lovely, cute, nicest, valued and welcome. And I know what you’re thinking if you have read my blog: “Where does she fit in?” Well, I wonder that myself.

The rules–should you choose to accept the award:

1. Link back to the blog that nominated you. In my case http://www.tombensoncreative.com, and along with the link go my thanks to Tom.

2. Answer questions that your nominator has set their nominees.

3. Share 11 random facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 5-11 blogs that have less than 1,000 followers to receive this award. (Remember, this includes Twitter.)

5. Create 11 questions for your nominees to answer.

6. Contact your nominees and let them know you have nominated them.

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My questions from Tom at http://tombensoncreative.com, along with my answers.

1. If you could change your first name, what would you have instead?

Chloe.

2. If you could speak a second language fluently, which one would you choose?

Italian.

3. If you could live in another country, where would you live?

Italy, of course.

4.If you could reincarnate as an animal, which would you return as?

A panther.

5. If you had to lose one of your senses, which one would you lose?

Hearing.

6. Do you say, “the glass is half-full”, or “the glass is half-empty”?

Half-full.

7. If given the choice to turn back time, which year would you choose to be born?

1050.

8.Would you publish a 100% truthful autobiography?

Not just no, but hell no!

9. Who is your hero or heroine, and why?

My sweet mama. In spite of an abusive upbringing,  she was a strong and kind and loving person, a wonderful  mother and wife who did her best by her children and husband.

10. Stranded alone on a tropical island, which object from the modern world would you choose to have with you?

A computer–if it is solar powered and has a good internet connection.  :)

11. Give three words that best describe how you’d like to be remembered.

She was kind.

***

Now onward we go, to 11 random facts about me:

1. I am part Cherokee though I have–did have until it turned white–red, curly hair and green eyes.

2. I have never hunted, but bring me an animal carcass and I can skin and gut it for you. Cut it up and cook it too.

3. I was struck by lightning when I was around ten years old.

4. I lived through being hit by a tornado while living in a mobile home.

5. I don’t have a high school diploma, though I did receive a GED at the age of forty.

6. I presently own five working computers–if one includes tablets and smart phones.

7. My favorite movie character of all time is Ellen Ripley–played by Sigourney Weaver–from the Alien, Aliens, etcetera movies.

8. My favorite book is The Stand, by Stephen King.

9. I have never flown, by plane or broom.

10. I grew up a hillbilly. (Not a redneck; there is a difference if you care to look it up.)

11. I was once  the proverbial “cat lady”, but was able to get it under control. I have only one cat now.

***

My nominations–in no particular order–are:

Mandy: http://healingbeyondsurvival.wordpress.com/

Julia: http://julialundauthor.wordpress.com/

Manja: http://fallofthefishman.wordpress.com/

David: http://just1more.wordpress.com/

Candace: http://candacehabte.com/

Charity: http://charitybradford.com/

Michelle: http://michelleisenhoff.com/

Ian: http://ianprobertbooks.wordpress.com/

It’s possible my nominees have been nominated before for this award,  or have more followers than required. Not all blogs list the number of followers, so if I nominated a blog erroneously, my apologies.

***

Now, here are your questions:

1. What is your favorite way to spend a rainy day?

2. Are you a cat or dog person?

3. What is your most prized possession?

4. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? (The very first thing you can remember.)

5. If you could become a fictional character, who would it be?

6. Do you believe in an afterlife–not necessarily heaven and hell?

7. Do you prefer coffee or tea–or something stronger?

8. If you had the time and/or money to go back to school/college, what would you study?

9. If for the remainder of your life, you could eat only one cut of meat, (Such as pork bacon or beef steak.) what would you pick?

10. Do you think time travel will ever be possible?

11. What prompted you to become a writer?

***

Well, people, I’ve done my part. Tom probably thinks, “Geeze, it took her long enough”. Now, my very talented nominees,  it’s your turn to pay it forward.

 

Remembering My Brother’s Birth. And Death . . .

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W. K. Tucker:

Very sad…and yet touching.

Originally posted on Healing Beyond Survival:

on stepsI woke in the middle of the night and remembered that my only natural sibling’s birthday is today; I was overcome with gratitude that I’d forgotten. We are two years apart, his birthday five days before mine. For the first time in 32 years I haven’t been consumed with memories as his birthday approached. When I realized I hadn’t been thinking about him at all lately, I felt even more grateful. That won’t make sense if you don’t know our story. The following is a blog post I wrote last December for my first blog Writing Through The Monsters of My Childhood (that got deleted):

December 19—The Day My Brother Died

They say he put the barrel-end of a 30.06 in his mouth and pulled the trigger. There would be no need for an open casket.  “But how can we know for sure it’s him?” I pleaded at the…

View original 559 more words

The City By The Sea

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“Gavin, wait, you forgot your mask.” Lissa waddled over to the front door, holding the filter out in front of her as if it were one of the icky, four-inch roaches that prowled their apartment at night. God, how she hated those awful things, but nothing you could do but learn to live with them; they weren’t going anywhere.

“Thanks, babe.” Gavin took the black mask and slipped it on, settling it atop his blond curls instead of over his face. “But I would’ve remembered it as soon as I’d stepped outside and come back after it.” He looked down into her eyes, a gentle smile curving his lips. “You’re supposed to stay off your feet as much as possible, you know.” He laid a gloved hand upon her swollen belly. “Doctor’s orders.”

For all the good it’ll do, Lissa thought. Had staying off her feet saved her sister’s baby? Or Beverly’s? Or anyone else’s she knew? She wanted to walk, to run, to go outside, even if it meant suiting up and breathing through that hideous filter. “I want to…I’m so tired…”

“I know.” Gavin enfolded her cumbersome body in his arms, laid his cheek on top of her head. “But soon the baby’ll be here and you can go back to work—if that’s what you want.”

If that’s what I want? Lissa almost laughed. Go back to the daily struggle with the jungle that was trying to claim the city? Go back to suiting up in protective gear so the sun wouldn’t fry her to a crisp? Go back to wearing that hot, rubbery mask so she could breathe the air without it destroying her lungs and her body? Of course she did. Anything was preferable to staying cooped up all the time in their tiny apartment. And it wasn’t such a bad job as far as jobs went; after all, that’s where she’d met Gavin.

“I’d better go.” Gavin dropped a quick kiss on her cheek, then hit the gray pad on the wall beside the door. “I’ll see you this evening.”

The door slid open, and as he stepped into the metal tube—every apartment had their own—that’d take him to the street below, he pulled the mask down over his face and pulled up the hood of his insulated jumper. The door closed behind him. Lissa heard the faint swoosh of the tube’s descent.

Listlessly, she crossed the small room to the window. At least she had this: an eye to the world outside. Most of the building’s five-hundred apartments didn’t have that luxury. She supposed there was something to be said for being the daughter of the Mayor of Neo Boston.

Lissa placed her fists on the glass. How she’d love to break it, to sail out into the sky, and fly away, fly away over the sea into the pinking dawn. Maybe the air would be clean there, the winds cool and soothing, not hot and humid and blistering.

But no…she knew better. The great Atlantic had changed, just as the land had changed. It was beautiful to look at, its giant, pink-foamed waves crashing onto the thin strip of beach. But it was devoid of life. Dead. iStock_000005603711SmallNothing lived there anymore except the algae that long ago had swiped its ruddy brush over the immense expanse of blue.

And how much longer before the human race died out? Hardly any infants survived past their first year, most born sickly and weak. Some died after taking their first breath. Some died in the womb. Some were born who were not right at all, missing parts, having extra parts. And some babies were just…well… born wrong in some indefinable way. Those died too—eventually.

Lissa often wondered about the why of it. Why did the babies die? Like her, all expectant mothers were locked away inside the air-tight buildings, forbidden to venture outside even with protective gear. Had the poisoned earth somehow poisoned its people?

She looked down at the streets below, to the steady stream of ant-sized people going about their business, some walking, some on bicycles; the relentless sun reflecting off their silver suits. Only big businesses and the very rich owned actual vehicles.

A convoy of huge, green trucks entered her line of vision on the left. Lissa recognized them. Filled with produce and grain from the domed farms of Canada, they came to exchange their goods for the fruits and berries cultivated in the domes just to the south of Neo Boston. It was laughable if you stopped to think about it; everywhere you cared to look within the snarl of trees, vines and creepers that besieged the city, food grew in abundance—but no one could eat it without getting sick. Some poor souls had even died.

Lissa’s gaze drifted to the line of demarcation where concrete met jungle, to the cluster of tiny people hacking away at the invasive greenery. She used to do that, side by side with Gavin and the rest of the crew. Day in and day out. Dawn to dusk. She’d hated it then; now she actually missed it.

The baby kicked. Hard. Lissa sucked in a pained breath. Another blow jabbed a rib. Her baby boy was a fighter. Maybe he’d be one of the survivors…

Maybe.

Mustn’t get her hopes up. Mustn’t even think about it, because if she did, she’d cry, and what good would that do?

She swiped at her eyes. She wished Gavin were here. He’d know what to say, what to do to make everything all right. He’d find a way to make her laugh. That’s why she’d fallen in love with him: his ability to make her laugh in any situation. And his kisses, she’d fallen in love with them too.

A smile touched her lips—then quickly disappeared when pain exploded in her abdomen, bringing her to her knees. She hugged her belly, gasped for air. Under her clutching hands, her abdomen hardened, the pain intensified. And just when she thought she might faint, it let up.

Lissa drew a shaky breath. She reached up and grasped the windowsill, then pulled herself to her feet. She lay her sweaty forehead against the warm glass—warm yes, but cooler than her. “The baby’s coming…” she whispered. “But…but…” It wasn’t time. She had four more weeks to go.

Another pain ripped through her belly. Lissa gritted her teeth and gripped the windowsill. Gray spots danced in front of her eyes, but she didn’t give in, didn’t allow the gray to turn into black. She couldn’t pass out. She had to…tell…Gavin…the baby…

The spots of gray turned into a sea of red.

Oh God, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts! Lissa’s fingernails dug into the windowsill.

At last the contraction passed, allowing her mind to function. And for the first time since she’d found out she was pregnant, Lissa felt fear. Something was wrong; this was no ordinary birth.

She punched two numbers on the telecommunicator circling her wrist. In seconds, Gavin’s masked face appeared on the miniature screen. “Lissa, is—”

Another crash of agonizing pain. “The baby…he’s coming.” Lissa felt a wet gushing, looked down to see blood puddling on the floor around her bare feet. “Now!”

***

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” Doctor Littlefield said, moving the palm-held heart monitor over Zackary’s thin chest. “He seemed just fine when he was born—except for the skin color, of course. But that’s beginning to fade, and still…”

The baby was breathing almost normally now, but earlier Lissa had wondered if he was going to pull through this time. The coughing and wheezing and sucking for air, it’d tied her stomach up in knots. Just a week old and she was already madly in love with the tiny life she and Gavin had created. She’d tried to distance herself, knowing from the moment the doctor had placed him in her arms and she’d seen the green tint of his skin that she’d probably lose him. He was one of those who were “not quite right”. But how could she not love him? She’d changed his diapers, sang to him, held him as he’d suckled at her bosom. My God, she’d even named him—against everyone’s advice.

Doctor Littlefield smiled down at the infant she held cradled in her arms. Lissa saw the sadness in the doctor’s eyes. How many babies had she helped into the world? How many babies had she seen depart it?

But not my baby! Lissa held out her arms.

After dropping a kiss on Zackary’s head, the doctor eased him into Lissa’s arms. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” she said. “I even searched the archives, anything relating to his symptoms. The closest match I got was asthma, but—”

Gavin stopped pacing back and forth in front of the window. He turned to Doctor Littlefield. “What’s asthma?”

“An ancient disease…a chronic lung disorder,” she answered. “But your son’s lungs are fine. I just don’t know…”

“You’re a doctor, you’re supposed to know.” Gavin stalked across the room, his accusing eyes on the short woman. “You should know what’s wrong with my son.”

Lissa grabbed his arm. “It’s not her fault. No one knows.”

Tears sparkled in Dr. Littlefield’s eyes. “This world we live in, it’s a harsh world. Only the strongest survive.”

“But he was strong,” Gavin said. “When you delivered him, he was kicking and squirming and bawling his head off. He was fine!”

“But…”

Gavin raked his hand through his hair. “But what?”

The doctor sighed. “His skin was…is…green, Gavin. I’ve seen it before and…and…”

“And?” Gavin practically snarled.

“Babies like your son…they don’t…” She swallowed. “Make it.”

A grim silence settled over the room, broken only by Zackary’s labored breathing.

Holding her baby close to her heart, Lissa moved to the window. Behind her, she heard Gavin and Doctor Littlefield talking—softly now—but she tuned them out as she stared out at the eternal ocean, letting its ceaseless movement take her to a place of calm, a place of peace, a place where babies didn’t die in their mother’s arms.

She heard the front door slide open, the whoosh of the tube. Then Gavin was behind her, slipping his arms around her and their baby.

And it started up again.

Zackary started wheezing, then coughing. His little lungs gasped for air as if he were suffocating. Lissa felt helpless; there was nothing she could do to ease her child’s suffering.

She felt tremors running through Gavin’s body, felt the wetness of his tears falling upon her cheek. He saw it too—the bluish tinge spreading outward from Zackary’s lips, leaching the green from his skin, turning it a milky blue. He was dying. His tiny chest rose and fell, rose and felt, each breath an enormous effort.

Lissa wanted to cry, wanted to scream, wanted to die. She wanted to give her life to Zackary and take his death.

Gavin’s arms clutched her tighter. “He’ll be resting in God’s arms soon.”

Resting in God’s arms? It didn’t make sense? Why would God create a life only to snatch it right back? Time after time after time?

There was no God! There couldn’t be a god! All this made no sense! Dead babies, dying babies, green babies.

Lissa’s heart tripped in her chest.

She jerked out of Gavin’s arms. “Suit up. We’re going outside.”

“But—”

“No buts. Just do what I say. We’re taking Zackary outside.” Gavin looked at her as if she were crazy. And maybe I am.

Clutching her limp son in one arm, she rushed into the bedroom and came out with her and Gavin’s suits and face masks. “Hurry!” She slung Gavin’s suit and mask in his general direction, then gently placed Zackary on the sofa and tugged on her suit. On with the face mask, then she picked up her son and ran for the door. She hit the pad, the door slid open and she stepped into the tube. She looked back. Gavin stood in the middle of the room, his mouth hanging open, his silver suit and black mask on the floor near his feet.

Lissa didn’t hesitate. She hit the pad inside the tube, the door slid shut and she and Zackary plummeted downward.

In seconds, the opaque tube glided to a gentle stop. Here was where Lissa hesitated. She looked out upon the city through the cloudy walls of the cylinder, gray concrete surrounded by the green beast of the jungle. Was she doing the right thing, taking her son outside into the poisoned world? What if she were wrong?

She looked down at the still face of her son, his glazed eyes, the almost indiscernible movement of his chest. He was moments away from death.

With a cry of primitive rage, she slammed her fist onto the pad. Better he die free out in the open than inside the confines of the prisons humanity had built for itself. At least she could give her son that.

She stepped out onto the mid-day street. Behind her, the tube slid closed. Clutching Zackary, she moved out of the shade of the building into the ferocious sunshine. She looked up at the fiery orb, its blinding rays muted by her face mask. She smiled. “I give you my son…”

She held out Zackary’s still body.

And the sun took him.

His chest hitched. He gasped. He coughed. And then he breathed. He gulped in air that was death and it brought him life.

As Lissa watched in wonder, the green of his skin grew more pronounced. He waved his arms. His little legs kicked. But the most wondrous thing of all was that he began breathing normally.

She laughed in delight.

“How did you know?” Gavin asked.

Lissa had been so wrapped up in Zackary’s transformation, she hadn’t heard Gavin’s approach. Through the visor on his face mask she saw the wonderment she felt echoed in his eyes as he stared at their son. “It was the green,” she answered.

His gaze moved to her. “The green?”

Lissa cuddled their squirming infant. “Remember in school…photosynthesis?”

Gavin nodded. “Chlorophyll…carbon dioxide…he needs that, not oxygen.”

“Yes.” Lissa looked up from her living breathing child, up to the blazing, scorching sun.

Tomorrow, a new dawn would break over the city by the sea, a new dawn in the history of mankind. And her son would be a part of it.