Archive for category America
Our family trip to the Grand Canyon was full of so many firsts, so many little boy giggles, alien terrain and moments a camera could never do justice!
This was my first time out west. The towering walls of red sandstone rising up against blue sky were shocking to me. (Considering we live fourteen feet above sea level!) While the boys climbed, explored and brushed off scraped knees, I tried to wrap my mind around the raw talent of mother nature. She is quite the artist:
Time seemed to stretch out like the dusty open landscape. Our body clocks had us rising at 5:30 every morning with the sun. With these longer days, we toured the icy Colorado river on a rafting trip in Page, then made the three-hour drive to the North Rim where we hiked (and I practiced calming breathes and tried not to look over the edge):
At the North Rim, the boys camped in a tent for the first time; made their own marshmallow sticks and smores; learned about fire, absolute darkness and the importance of checking your shoes for critters before you put them back on.
From there, we drove to Sedona were we toured the massive red rock formations in a jeep and then a rock crawler. Yes, this part of the vacation took a sharp turn into boy territory as we bumped and climbed our way over rocks, choking on dust and searching the area for tarantulas and scorpions. I needed a dose of civilization and culture after this.
So, we drove to a quirky little town called Jerome. One of my favorite parts of our adventure! Jerome used to be a copper mining town, then a ghost town and now a thriving artist community. We ate at The Asylum, which really was a mental hospital-turned hotel/restaurant. Oh yeah, right up my alley! After the mind-bending climb and twisty turns, we arrived:
Then we promptly jumped back in the car as two snarling black dogs ran up the hill straight for us. The staff apologized and had no idea where they came from. The hounds of hell, maybe? The food was worth it:
Along with the creepy decor…
All in all, it was an amazing adventure! Even so, in the end, I was ready to come home. One thing I learned about myself. You can take the girl out of Florida, but you can’t take the Florida out of the girl!
Have you been to the Grand Canyon? What amazing adventure did you have this summer?
He stood, a weathered, brown sack of bones in front of the blue sea. Soggy white cotton pants hung, dripping seawater. This was his only attire. Hands were clasped behind his back as he watched with ancient eyes over the expanse of white sand–packed with umbrellas, coolers, and tourists–to the boardwalk.
A mother and child moved slowly toward him, picking up tiny shells and tossing them into the clear water.
His gaze turned first on the child, then on the mother. He tapped his wrist and the woman, smiling, offered him the time.
“Ten minutes to noon.”
Bowing slightly, he once again fixed his gaze on the boardwalk.
Rebecca watched this with growing apprehension. She squeezed a glob of sun block from the tube and rubbed it on her two year old’s shoulders, still unable to take her eyes from the man standing still against the motion of waves and people.
Even in the warmth of a noon summer day, a chill rolled through her. The hair on her arms stood up. Glancing around at the other families packed in around her, she tried to make herself relax. No one else was paying attention to this small, harmless looking man.
But then he moved. It was fluid like the wind. One arm waved then he pivoted and began walking into the ocean.
Rebecca swept Jilley up from the sand, a cry of protest erupted from the startled toddler as she unsuccessfully tried to grasp her doll.
Her heart was pounding as she made her way to the edge of the ocean with her daughter. The man was now submerged up to his hips and still moving forward. She moved forward, too. Jilley squeezed her neck with tight little fists and whimpered as tiny, sensitive toes touched water. Rebecca glanced around at the others in the ocean, floating on rafts, throwing balls, splashing and diving under the small waves. Then she spotted a buoy and, submerging them both in the water except for their heads, paddled as fast as she could.
Once in a while, she glanced over at the man, who now swam in strong, even strokes out to sea.
She reached the buoy, breathing hard. It was difficult to stay behind it as it bobbed up and down and she tried to hold on to it with one hand.
“It’s okay, Jilley,” she whispered in her little girl’s ear. Brown strands of Jilley’s damp hair stuck to her mouth as she tried to keep her voice from shaking. “Mommy needs you to be very quiet, no crying…”
The first explosion made her jump and duck behind the buoy. Jilley began to cry but no one would hear her over the screams of thousands of terrified people. Rebecca peered around her cover and reflexively held her daughter tighter as dozens of men rushed toward the crowds, rapid bursts of fire coming from whatever kind of guns they carried. Another explosion off to her left sent a shower of sand and bodies into the air.
Rebecca could feel her legs cramping from treading water, she was hyperventilating and swallowing water as she struggled to keep Jilley’s head up. Turning behind her, she saw a small boat moving toward the dot that the man had become.
She watched this, coughing the salt water from her lungs, singing to Jilley, trying to block out the sound of gunfire and panic coming from the beach, while keeping the buoy between them and the killers.
The boat slowed. The man climbed up into it. A white wake streaming behind it as it sped back out to sea.
Rebecca thought about Jilley’s father in Arkansas. He moved there six months ago for a job. She should have gone with him. Worked things out. He would never forgive her if the terrorists found them. If they took Jilley from him.
There were frantic splashes to her left and right as the people in the water swam in either direction, trying to escape the chaos. More rapid gunfire, some people floated instead of swam. Face down.
“I love you, Princess Pea,” she recited in her crying child’s ear. “I love you in the morning, I love you at noon…”
The thrum of a helicopter. The bleat of incoming sirens. Her legs were lead weights. Her heart pounded like the gunfire.
Please. Please stop.
And then it did.
A gull screamed in the long span of silence. Rebecca became aware of the breeze on her skin, tasted the salt in her mouth. The sun shone bright above them. Nothing had really changed. The world went on, despite the terror, the blood strewn sand, the families who lay dead or dying.
The world always went on. No matter how many malls, schools, airports or restaurants were blown up; no matter how many different ways man thought up to rip apart the lives of their fellow man, the earth kept spinning.
This was the first attack that she knew of on a crowded beach.
Her child lay still on her shoulder, eyes the color of the sea. open wide and staring at a woman in a red swimsuit, bloated and floating nearby.
Rebecca held her breath and turned, peering around the buoy.
Black suited men walked the beach, checked bodies, clutched guns. The helicopter had landed somewhere nearby. More sirens approached.
This week’s attack was over.
Rebecca clutched her little girl and released her hold on the buoy.
Odis Harding heard the knock on his door; he just wasn’t ready to go. He knew this would be the last time he would see his home.
“Dad? Can you open the door? Dad? Can you hear me?”
“I ain’t deaf,” he whispered, staring at the yawning, blackened fireplace. He thought of all the things he had fed to the flames in exchange for warmth over the years when the snows fell. His wife’s clothes, his daughter’s dolls, books, furniture. All eaten up, gone.
The door busted open with a loud pop. His son-in-law, Robert, fell into the empty room. He was thinner than Odis remembered him.
“Oh, Dad.” Sylvia removed her sweater and wrapped it around his shoulders. “Okay, let’s get you out of here. They’re going to take good care of you.”
Robert moved to help his wife. “When’s the last time you’ve eaten, Odis?” he yelled.
“I ain’t deaf,” he grumbled, grunting as the two lifted him from the floor. His legs threatened to give out.
“You’re lucky Sylvia has some pull, Odis. She got you a fine room all to yourself.”
They got him situated on the wagon, Sylvia climbing in beside him and pulling a hand-crocheted blanket over their legs.
Odis swiped at his eyes with the back of a trembling hand. He stared at his home, trying to burn every detail into his failing mind. Cracked cement steps, banister eaten by rust, windows repaired with plywood, the patterns of lost shingles. He knew within days, it would be an empty lot, existing only for him, until that too was eaten up.
Under the spell of the spring sunshine and the steady clip clop of hooves, Odis could almost remember what it used to be like. His body swayed, his mind wandered as he eyed the farms they passed; farms that used to be bustling neighborhoods full of kids playing in the streets, smells of fried catfish and barbeque, porches alive with card games and laughter deep into dusk.
“What was it like? I mean, we learned about it in school, of course, but what was it really like, for you and mom?”
Odis let himself focus on his daughter, his heart breaking. She would never know what it meant to grow up free. She had asked him a straightforward question though, so he would give her a straightforward answer.
“Nothing made sense that day, Sylvia. The stars could have fallen out of the sky and bounced on the street and we couldn’t have been more shocked. We sat there with our neighbors at the time, Vern and Poppy, listening to the President talk about how China had cashed in their chips and we couldn’t pay. How we made an agreement with them to repay our debt by letting them come in and restructure our economy. We just stared at each other. Poppy said maybe it was a joke. The dread in the pit of our stomachs told us it wasn’t.
“There was some excitement at first as Chinese business men toured the major cities in their silk suits. People were even naïve enough to think maybe they would help us get back on our feet as a nation. Then the bulldozers came and the wrecking balls and the communist uniforms. The changes were swift and brutal. Neighborhoods were leveled; people were relocated to central locations in the cities. Factories sprouted up and were populated with women and children. The men labored on new farms and orchards away from their families.”
“But, why were there riots? Didn’t people believe that America needed new factories? That the desolate and foreclosed neighborhoods would better be used as farm land? The Chinese gave us jobs at a time when there were none.”
Odis felt old rage stir like bees in his chest. He was too tired to embrace it. He laughed instead.
“So that’s what they teach you in school, huh? Jobs? You call workin’ sixty hours a week in a dirty factory just for a roof and enough food to survive a job? That’s slavery, Sylvia, that ain’t no employment.”
“We do get paychecks, Daddy…they just go to repay our debt. It’s not so bad, really.”
“Says the rat in the cage.” Odis shook his head and closed his eyes.
When he opened them again, they were stopped in front of an old prison that had been turned into a state hospital. He glanced at the Chinese guards walking toward them and then into his daughter’s eyes. He saw no spark, no hope and the pain was suddenly too much to bear.
“I’m sorry, sweet girl.”
Wrapping one arm around her, he breathed in the scent of her hair. His other hand moved to the pistol hidden in his waistband. The one loaded with two bullets he prayed to God he would have the strength to use.
Mario fell in love with the goddess of war. Of course, he knew her as Alice Lois, the green-eyed woman trapped at Lake View Sanatorium since the courts deemed her insane at aged seventeen. He had been sticking pills on her tongue for a decade. Two months ago, she had looked at him for the first time. It shook him to his core.
He snuck into her records, finding a yellowed spiral notebook with crude drawings and symbols etched in the cover. He stuffed it into the waistband of his scrubs and took it home, violating all the laws of his personal ethics. He had to drink three Lagers before he could bring himself to open it.
When he finally did, her words made him want to take up a sword and protect her, fight whatever demon was harassing her:
‘My fears are winter wolves charging through the snow, tongues wagging, murderous eyes locked onto me. I don’t know why she has chosen me to destroy but I am the damned. Bitten by a darkness so black, it has seeped into my soul like an oil spill.’
He flipped forward, sinking deeper into her story, his heart being kneaded like dough:
‘I can feel her possession of me. My body is now just a furnace with an angry goddess burning within. She wants revenge, freedom from the chains of anonymity, to not be lost, forgotten or laughed off as a myth. She is hungry for bloodshed.’
He read until stars replaced dusk, until his eyes tired and his heart softened.
Morning found him standing over her, eyeing the pale curve of her cheek, a colorless mouth, the impossibly thin frame, the wide straps holding down this ghost of a woman.
She did not belong here. As if she could read his mind, her eyes opened. The brilliant life within her almost blinded him.
“My name is Enyo.” The only words she would ever speak to him.
He carefully released her, lifted her, placed her waiflike body folded into a laundry carrier, stripped her sheets and lay them atop her, being mindful to leave an air pocket for breathing.
The basement door was not monitored.
It took twenty four hours for the Asenapine to wear off. He fed her oxtail soup, bathed her without removing her underwear, washed her hair on the couch from a bowl and wrapped her in his grandmother’s blanket. He played her an awkward song he was writing on a second hand guitar. He wondered what their kids would look like. Would they have her blinding green eyes?
Two days later, he awoke from his post on the living room floor and she was gone. He scoured the streets for hours then days then weeks. He forgot to shave and change his clothes. Sometimes he remembered to eat. Mostly he wept and tried to hold her image in his mind. It was slipping with his weight, his hygiene and his sanity.
“Breaking news from Washington. The President of the United States is dead.”
Mario froze in front of the portable radio, the centerpiece of people gathered on the apartment stairs. They shushed him when he approached. Shock twisted their mouths and eyes.
“Treaties have broken down in the past few weeks between the President’s special Peace for Progress Council and the terrorists who held four major US cities hostage just twelve months ago. Details are still coming in…” the voice paused. “We also have reports of coordinated attacks in Atlanta, Chicago and Austin. Thousands are believed perished.” More dead air and then an ear piercing siren.
“This is an emergency message from Homeland Security. Please stay calm and walk to nearest terrorist shelter for further instructions.”
As the message repeated itself–echoing from car radios, shops and bars—Mario sat down on the sidewalk curb and watched the scampering, the screaming, the panic. He began to chuckle, to laugh in loud, manic bursts until he was holding his stomach. What else was there to do but watch and listen?
It was a symphony. And his beautiful goddess was the conductor.
Eric fumbled with the buttons on the arm rest of the stolen Nissan. A blast of humid night air hit him. It smelled like charred beef.
“Snow Bunny, can you hear me?” Adrenaline shot his voice up a few octaves.
“Loud and clear, Earth Worm. What the hell happened?” She jumped off the bed and pressed her forehead against the hotel window, searching the Miami skyline as if she could find him.
“You said there were no guards!” Glancing in the rear view mirror had become his latest tick as he navigated the short grid of turns toward the highway. “FYI, there were two freakin’ guards, Snow Bunny! Two!”
“Shit.” Long bit of silence. “Sorry. But, you got out with the samples, right?”
Eric slipped the cool-pack full of vials from his black canvas jacket, tossing them onto the seat beside him.
“Affirmative.” Sarcasm and fear. He cranked up the air. “I think someone’s following me.”
“Earth worm, listen to me.” Her voice was measured, painfully calm. “Eric…the hard part is over. Now you just have to get that evidence to the Sun’s reporter. He’s there waiting. Just keep driving, that’s all you have to do. You know how important this is. You’re the messenger; this has to get out to the public.”
He wiped at his nose, checked the rear view mirror and jerked the wheel hard right, swerving over two lanes and jumping onto I-75 at the last minute. The suspected black van didn’t make it.
“Yeah, the messenger of death.” And then louder, so she could hear him, “getting onto Alligator Alley now.”
“Okay. Good. Anyone behind you?”
“Negative. You know what they’ll do if they catch me, right?”
“They won’t. Just drive. One hour and it’ll be out of your hands. We’re doing the right thing. They are monsters. And Eric…”
“Don’t let those vials break.”
He cranked up the radio so he couldn’t hear the pounding in his chest or the blood rushing through his head. It was almost three in the morning so traffic was light, but still, every time lights appeared behind him, he held his breath until they passed.
The road was a long straight ribbon of blacktop cutting through the Everglades. Metal fencing bordering both sides of the highway flew by in intermitten flashes. He suddenly longed for a couple short months ago when all he had to worry about was passing his Chem. II final.
Ding ding. Eric moved his attention from the road to the dashboard. A tiny red light glared at him.
“What the…?” His heart did a flip flop and almost stopped. “C..c..come in. Snow Bunny? Angela!”
“What, what’s wrong? Are they behind you?”
“I’m almost out of gas.” No response. “Did you hear me?”
“You stole a car that was on empty?!”
“I didn’t exactly have time to check.”
“There are no gas stations on Alligator Alley.”
“Okay, go as far as you can and then…you’ll have to walk. I have to think.”
Eric slowed the car down to 55 mph. He had heard this was the most gas efficient speed. Things were becoming very surreal and he was getting numb from the terror, feeling nothing but the sensation of a cold sweat.
And then he heard it. The unmistakable thump thump thump of a chopper. He knew this was no coincidence. They were looking for him. The car began to putter. Slamming his hands on the steering wheel, he eased it off the road and brought it to rest close to the fence. He killed the lights.
“Angela?” Static. “Angela!” Were they blocking the radio signal? Now he really did feel paranoid. He ripped off the headset and hid it under the seat. Maybe he could save her, at least. Let them think he was acting alone.
As a spotlight from the helicopter came into view, sweeping back and forth like two wicked, alien eyes, his face became slick with tears. This was not going to end well for him.
Grabbing the cool-pack, he opened the door and began to run. When he was out of breath, he said a little prayer and scaled the fence. The top part, being angled down, was a bit difficult, but he soon found himself crash landing with a thud in the tall grasses beside the waterway.
The chopper was close now, but within a few minutes he heard something even more terrifying. Squealing tires, car doors…dogs. He collapsed against the fence. It was over. They would find him and make him disappear. After all this, he had failed.
Two eyes, glowing the color of moonlight appeared in the dark waters before silently submerging again.
He suddenly knew what he had to do. This had to make headlines one way or another. A few infected gators would do the trick. They couldn’t stop that in time to cover it up. He ripped open the cool pack with his teeth and one by one, unsealed the vials and drank them.
Fighting the blinding pain now coursing through him, Eric slid forward until his feet, then his legs and finally his arms were submerged in the warm, murky waters.
He felt the gator only as a violent jerk on his leg, then a wicked roll into the darkness.
Bernard Smith lowered his suitcase quietly onto the porch he had lovingly repainted this summer. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say to his family. Nothing had changed on the outside of his life; the sun hung dutifully behind their house, birds chirped, a slight chill let him know Fall had arrived. Nothing could stop the flow of time, the changing of the seasons. The world would go on. But he knew inside the cozy Cape Cod, in the world he and his wife built for their family, everything was at a full stop. There would be no more Friday paychecks, no more security.
He was back from training his replacement and his job was over, his career was over. He had spent the last month posting and reposting his resume on Monsterjobs, Dice, I.T.-Jobs-R-Freakin’-Us. Fifteen years of experience and no calls.
“Hi, Honey,” he forced a tired smile. “I’m back.”
She was stirring oatmeal at the stove, staring out the window. She turned slightly and let him kiss her warm cheek. He wanted to slide his arms around her, bury his face in her dark, almond-scented hair, but he knew this would only scare her, make her worry.
He was going to try to squeeze out something sunny and hopeful, but he suddenly realized something didn’t seem right. He looked around the kitchen and it hit him. His entrance had been way too quiet.
“Honey, where’s the dog?”
“Oh,” she said, briefly smiling. “Duke required so much money for you know…food, vet care, grooming.” She turned back to stirring the oatmeal. “I got rid of him. We now have a fish.”
Bernard stared at the back of his wife’s head in disbelief. “But…but fish can’t bark when someone’s at the door…or…play with the kids…and you can’t pet a fish to relieve stress.”
“We have to think of the bottom line, Bernie. Fish are cheaper.”
A tall, skinny teenager wondered into the kitchen. “Hey, Mom. Breakfast ready?” He glanced at Bernard.
“Say hi to your father, Dear.”
Bernard walked across the kitchen and stood next to his wife with his arms folded.“Honey?”
“Who is that?”
“Mitchell, our son.”
Bernard tried not to yell or shake his wife. There had to be some explanation for all this madness. “Okay. Honey. Eleanor, when I left two weeks ago, we had one son and one daughter. Our son, Mitchell, was only nine months old. This is not our son.”
“Well, of course not, silly. He couldn’t have grown up that fast. But I replaced him. This way, we skip all the cost of diapers, baby food, doctor visits.” She turned suddenly, flinging oatmeal as she waved the spoon at him. “Do you know they say it costs a million dollars to raise a child! A million dollars. Mitchell is almost seventeen. Do you know how much money we’ve saved?”
“But he’s not our child! Our responsibility is to OUR child! This boy has his own parents…” Bernard began to look around the room for a hidden camera. “Oh, I get it.” He smiled at Mitchell. “Right.” He decided to play along. “The bottom line.” That did sound like a good name for one of those hidden camera shows.
He peered around the corner into the living room, where their four year old daughter is usually playing on the couch with her dolls. “And Lilly? I suppose you replaced her, too? Seeing as how she would require so much more money to raise than say…a hamster?” He chuckled to himself, wiping the sweat from his brow with a dishtowel.
His wife turned to stare at him. “I didn’t even think of a hamster!” Just then, a fuzzy ball of fur with mischievous blue eyes sauntered in and rubbed itself on his pant leg. “No, no, I went with a kitten like the Jacobson’s next door. We have to stay competitive in these times, right Bernie.”
Bernard began to tremble as he studied his wife’s face for the first time: the permanent smile, the vacant stare that reminded him of a wave less ocean. Yep, Eleanor had left the building.
He reached out and gently took both her hands, turning her toward him. “Eleanor. Where are our children?”
The teenaged Mitchell was nodding from behind Eleanor. He stuck a finger in the oatmeal and popped it in his mouth. “Sacrificed on the alter of the bottom line, dude…I mean, Dad.”
An image of his children strapped down to his corporate boss’s desk was the last image in his mind before his wife’s smile blurred and his head hit the tile floor.
As my knife sinks into the apple, I hear my neighbor screaming. His pain vibrates the sheetrock between us. I lean against the counter with a sigh.
He has only been home two weeks and already his wife has dropped ten pounds, forgot to wash her hair, formed bruises under her eyes and hefted a landfill load of worry and sorrow onto her narrow shoulders.
They have a child; a blue-eyed waif of a little girl, who seems to be disappearing into the background of their lives, pushed aside by the ghosts he has brought home with him.
I saw her yesterday. Her eyes have grown round with shock. My heart shattered, splintering right there in the hallway, in front of her silence and her headless doll.
“Where is her head?” I asked.
“I didn’t want her to get headaches like daddy,” she whispered back.
A box came through the door, followed by two people with tight faces and wide eyes. Haunted, I thought. The ghosts were busy. Peeking in the box as they passed with unsmiling faces, I caught a glimpse of a paint ball gun on top of rope and kitchen knifes. A black stick with a trigger was clutched in the tall, crumpled man’s hand. His knuckles were white.
I send over an apple pie and a note to call me if they need anything. I feel helpless.
The knock comes at three in the morning. A frantic pound pound pound. A wild noise pushed from her throat, a scream forming words, “Call 911”. The pale, wide-eyed child in a dirty nightgown is pushed into my leg by her mother, Karen. “Please,” she chokes, then turning away, she barrels down the stairs.
I know what has happened, I just don’t know how. Tentatively, I step into their apartment with the child clinging to my arm. The place smells like Lysol and old grease. Moonlight is pouring through the open window along with a light mist of rain. A lone white curtain billows from a gust of wind. I see it as a thinly veiled flag of surrender.
Their worn leather couch is turned on its back, pillows stacked neatly in rows across it. Evidently, something the maddening ghosts built. The people carrying out the box didn’t realize they were leaving the most deadly arsenal behind. I shake my head and look down at their victim, stroking her pale face. She is staring at her doll.
“Where are her arms?” I ask, a bit shocked her doll is disappearing piece by piece.
“She doesn’t need arms anymore,” she whispers, dropping the broken doll to the wood floor.
No, I think, as sirens scream below the open window. Wings. She needed wings.
Collapsing onto the floor, I pull her down into my arms and begin to sing quietly to her.
Her tears finally fall and I think about gravity. The ground’s pull must be infinitely stronger than human will. It is, after all, the place where we all end up.