#BlogBattles, Stories...

“Selective Perception” by My Perception Selector… #blogbattle: intercept

I was wandering through this decrepit old house of mine, exploring the dusty and shadowy places I haven’t visited in a while. Amazed at how sprawling this place has become, reaching out in so many different directions at once! I came across a forgotten wing, and paused… remembering.

It was here I used to play a lot, seeking answers, and dreaming of all I wanted. I studied and read, meditated and prayed, pursuing change for change’s sake. “Yeah. And where did that get you?,” I laughed at myself, knowing full well the practiced response, “Here and now, of course!”

“Of course!,…” So arrogant that sounds! But it isn’t intended to read that way. A statement of fact. Indisputable. Absolute. For what else is there? Ever? Real-ly?

As I strolled past a darkened room, shades drawn tight against the approaching gloom, slight movement caught my eye. It was enough to draw me in, curiosity alight. “Hello?,” I called out as I entered the room. “Anyone in here?”

“Other than you?”

Laughing, I turned toward the voice that had spoken. “Is that even possible? Since this is my space?”

“Hmmm,” she responded, careful, deliberate. “Is this the beginning of one of your infamous debates?”

“Hardly,” I chuckled, as my sight zeroed in on the shadowy figure lounging in a comfortable chair. “I’m not feeling a need to explore things too deeply. Just a tad bit nostalgic as I pass through this wing.”

“Whew…,” came the sigh, a sound of relief. “Then feel free to join me, thanks and please.”

“Interesting order,” I murmured to myself, but being the only One present made that distinction utterly pointless. “Do you live here?,” I thought to ask, politely inquiring.

A full-bellied giggle was her initial response, with an eventual verbal follow-up. “But, of course!,” she answered, delight still evident, her smile beaming from every syllable. “Are you saying that you don’t recognize me?… Or are you choosing to deny what has become too familiar?”

“And what, pray tell, is your role in this house? That you sit in the dark and amuse yourself?”

“I am Protector and Guardian of all that you see. A Keeper of Secrets. A Caretaker with Keys…”

“A perfect analogy, if I say so myself. You certainly have a gift for expressing yourself!”

“I’ve learned from the best,” was her reasoned response. “Words are a tool to be used with respect.”

Laughing, I followed her lead, knowing there was no coincidence in our meeting. “So… now that you’ve captured my attention and captivated my wit, what did you want me to discover here?”

She waved vaguely at the window, but spoke bluntly and clear, “the shades may be drawn, the light may be gone, but Life still goes on… beyond this wall.”

“Yes,” I whispered, barely a sound. “I’m well aware of that, my friend.”

And tears silently began to fall…

Rising, exhausted, I prepared to take leave, but she had one more point to make, it seemed.

“You know who I am, then?,” she asked quite directly.

“But, of course,” I responded with a touch of old arrogance. “You select my perceptions, as Perception Selector, protecting me from what I choose not to see.”

“Also your Interpreter, your Lens and your Focus,” she added for clarity’s sake. “Why not just call me your personal Interceptor?”

I turned for the door, ignoring her laughter, eager to leave this place and find some distraction.

“And denial is more than just a river in Egypt!,” she called after me. “That never really gets old, does it?,” I heard her chuckling.

(602 words)

Check out #blogbattles for the August prompt and our writers’ responses…

https://blogbattlers.wordpress.com/2019/08/13/blogbattle-stories-intercept/

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“Keep it Stable, Son…” (#BlogBattles: Stable)

“Keep it stable, son, you got this,” a voice yelled over the sound of the loader.

“Steady as she goes, Orin,” the tugboat captain growled to his first mate. “Straight as an arrow into the slip.”

“One foot in front of the other,” one friend said to another, watching the activity at the docks below. “We’ll get through this somehow, together.”

“Don’t rock the boat, baby. (Rock the boat) Don’t rock the boat, baby…,” played softly on the car radio where the two friends sat.

“We got this,” the friend continued. “The trick is to move slowly, stay balanced, and plan our moves carefully.”

“Yeah, yeah, Derek, I get it,” the other man responded. “No sudden moves, no drawing attention to ourselves, no standing out…”

“Exactly!,” Derek agreed. “Look, Mark, I know it’s tough, but it’s better for everyone in the end.”

“But is it, Derek?,” Mark had to ask. “Do you really believe this swill you’re selling?!”

Mark’s tone took on a mocking quality. “One day at a time, Bro. Keep it simple, stupid. Slow and steady wins the race… every time!” Exasperated, Mark snapped. “Doesn’t seem like much of a race to me, man!”

“Due diligence, Mark,” Derek answered calmly. “It’s about integrity. We do our duty. We maintain the status quo. We stay safe, and protect our own… That’s how we survive.”

“But then nothing ever changes, Derek! Can’t you see that?! Day in and day out, always the same! Monotony in a nutshell, dude!… Or a vice grip,” he added under his breath.

“Order over chaos, Mark. That is the goal here. We only achieve that through stable, steady progress. Radical changes serve no one well…”

“But change is exactly what we need!,” Mark vented. “How long are we supposed to play this game? When do we get our chance to be free?!”

“Who knows?,” Derek whispered. “But freedom comes at a cost, and its price is simply too high today… Maybe tomorrow will be better.”

*** *** ***

Mark sat up suddenly, shaking, gulping in the hot summer air. A hand reached for him…

“You okay,?” Derek asked, his voice a welcome comfort in the darkness.

Shaking his head to clear the last of the sleep induced cobwebs from his brain, Mark lay back down to snuggle with his partner. “Yeah, I’m good. Just another nightmare is all.”

“Don’t let it get to you, baby,” Derek said calmly, pulling him close. “We’ll get through this somehow. Together.”

Mark steadied his breathing as he settled in more comfortably next to Derek. “Yeah, I know. We got this.”

Outside the sounds of the harbor played on, a common refrain in the predawn hours…

“Keep it stable, son… You got this…”

(450 words)

https://blogbattlers.wordpress.com/2019/07/02/blogbattle-stable/

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The Wisdom of Alcohol… (#BlogBattles: Corona)

It was a dark place full of shadows and regret. Dim lights created enough illumination to navigate the space, but not to illuminate life. The brightest spotlights reflected off the bottles and mirrors behind the polished bar, creating an oasis of beauty, an illusion of hope. Just one more drink should do it…

Two men, nondescript in the dimness, sat at that oasis, each seeking comfort of their own. The bartender approached the one on his left, whose glass was nearly empty. “Ready for another, Mac?”

“Mac” picked up his glass and studied it for a moment. “Hmm…,” he thought aloud. “No. No, barkeep, I think I’ll switch it up. Bring me a Corona instead!”

“A Corona?,” asked the bartender. “Since when do you drink that crap?”

“Since right now,” the unnamed regular “Mac” responded. “I’ve been seeing these ads on tv. Every time something ‘good’ happens, ‘a Corona gets its lime.’ I need something good to happen to me. Maybe this will help.”

“Suit yourself, Mac,” the bartender smiled. “I’m all for supporting positive change!”

“Hey, I’ve seen those ads, too,” the other unnamed regular added, not so completely isolated as he had at first appeared. “Kind of like the idea that every time a bell rings…”

“… an angel gets their wings!,” all three chorused together.

The other regular rose from his bar stool and stumbled down to sit next to “Mac.” “I think I want to try one of them Coronas, too,” he said to the bartender. “I could sure use some ‘good’ in my life.”

“First round is on the house,” the bartender announced. “We can’t usually give this stuff away, and if it helps you gentlemen out, that would be a good thing in itself!”

The second man smiled crookedly. “Looks like my luck is changing already,” he slurred happily. Turning toward his new drinking buddy, he tried to start a conversation with Mac.

“So… what brings you here on this sunny afternoon?,” he asked sloppily.

Chuckling softly, Mac responded with questions of his own. “Oh, is it sunny outside today? Is it afternoon already?”

“Ummm,” the other drunk replied. “According to my phone it is, indeed, both. Weather app says the sun is shining, and the clock says 3:15,” he explained, quite seriously. “And they must call it a ‘smart’ phone for some reason…,” he added.

Mac laughed. “LOL!!,” he said, enjoying his own humor. “At least one of us knows what’s what!”

His demeanor darkened a bit… “My wife left this morning. Says she isn’t coming back.”

“Ohhh, dude, sorry!,” his companion commiserated. “I remember that day myself. Said she’d had enough of my drinking, and just walked right out…”. He was quiet for a moment, lost in that memory. “Y’know, I don’t think she ever looked back,” he added sadly.

Mac studied his drinking buddy for a long breath. “Yeah… don’t think mine will either. How do you get used to being alone?”

“Ahhh, that!,” the other drunk answered with a sad chuckle. “Not so hard to do when you focus on the positive: completely guilt free drinking!,” he explained, raising his bottle in a drunken salute.

“Completely?,” Mac asked. “You don’t seem completely free at all…,” he added wisely, being just a tad less drunk than his companion.

“Yeah… well close enough for me,” the other man snapped testily.

Silence ensued as each man sipped his beer and settled in his misery… After a while, Mac took up the conversation again.

“Have you ever been to AA?,” he asked the other drunk.

“You mean the auto club?,” his buddy responded, confusion clouding his expression. “Is that even a real place? I kinda thought that was just a phone number to call when you got stranded in your car…”

“No, no, no,” laughed Mac. “I’m talking about the meetings you go to when you want to stop drinking. They meet all over town, mostly in churches. A bunch of ex-drunks helping current drunks to get sober.”

The unnamed one looked at Mac astonished. “Why would any self-respecting drunk do that?!,” he asked sincerely.

“Umm… maybe because most drunks aren’t self-respecting at all,” he answered honestly. “I went,” he added. “A few times. It was kinda cool, actually…”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Mac’s new friend disagreed. “Nope. Can’t even imagine how a bunch of Bible totin’ ex-drunks trying to change me could be cool. Not in this Universe or any other!”

Laughing outright, Mac responded. “Nah, man, they’re not like that at all! Once you get past the ‘program’ crap, they’re all really kinda like us. They tell great stories. Relatable, you know?”

“Hey, I think there might be one tonight, just down the street. We could go check it out, and you’ll see what I mean.”

His companion turned a bewildered gaze his way. “But we’re drunk, Dude! Isn’t that kinda against the rules?”

“Not really, man,” Mac responded seriously. “So long as we’re not disr… distrupt… disrup… As long as we just sit and listen, they won’t throw us out.”

The other drunk tipped his bottle to stare into its light amber depths. “This stuff looks like piss,” he commented. “Kinda tastes like it, too!” Turning to face Mac he added. “Why not? I could use a good story, and maybe a laugh or two.”

Mac slapped him on the shoulders like an old friend. “Let’s go then! We should leave now, though, since I’m just drunk enough to make finding this meeting difficult!”

Stepping out into the late afternoon sunlight, both men covered their eyes against the sudden brightness. Leaning into one another for support, they stumbled blindly down the sidewalk. The other drunk turned toward Mac and spoke sincerely. “Hey, Dude, I don’t even know your real name!”

Laughing, Mac responded, “just call me Corona today.”

His companion smiled. “Cool! Then I can be Lime! ‘Cause, you know, every time sumthin’ good happens…”

“… a Corona gets its Lime!,” they chorused together as they stumbled into the street.

They never even saw the bus that hit them, or felt the pain of bones breaking…

And across the street at a little gift shop, two chimes began ringing in the chaos that ensued. Two distinctively different tones, unheard behind the shouting and the sobbing and the sirens…

(1051 words)

My contribution for this month’s #BlogBattles. 😁

https://blogbattlers.wordpress.com/2019/06/03/blogbattle-corona/

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“Pooping Monstrosity!…” (#BlogBattles: Airtight)

“Pooping Monstrosity!…,” erupted the man in the back row, venting his frustration more loudly than he might have intended. But as all eyes turned his way, he made the conscious decision to capitalize on his 15 minutes of fame today…

Standing so he might better be seen, he committed fully to his chosen position. “Do you honestly believe this crap you are shoveling?! Do you actually practice this tripe you are dumping upon these mindless, desperate souls?! Why, you’re nothing more than a vicious, overgrown raptor with a bad case of the runs!” Red-faced and furious, he paused to catch his breath.

Mild-mannered and calm, the Speaker responded. “I take it you disagree, Sir?”

Apoplectic with rage, the man could only sputter incoherently, spittle flying in all directions as he nodded his head vigorously…

“Is there any particular part of our program you take exception to?,” the Speaker asked politely, then waited patiently for a reply.

“How about ALL of it?!!…,” the man finally managed to squeeze out. “The meek shall inherit the Earth?!… What Earth is that, exactly? Have you looked outside this climate controlled prison lately? There is no Earth left!!!”

“Or how about this nonsense about ‘turning the other cheek’?,” he added, warming to his topic now that his voice had found release. “What possible purpose could that serve besides giving you and your cronies a clean canvas upon which to smear your intestinal fortitude?”

“I feel your pain,” the Speaker murmured soothingly. “I understand your consternation…”

“Consternation?!,” the man interrupted rudely. “Try constipation instead! Too many years locked up in here, with morons like you in charge! Preaching love and light and peace while the whole world is dying!,” he ranted, adopting the mocking tone of bullies from another time.

The Speaker left the podium, stepping softly down the aisle nearest the irate man. The circular room provided easy viewing to all the audience members, caught up in this real-life drama. The eyes of each and every one followed the Speaker’s progress, reflecting a myriad of moods and expectations. The angry man bore witness to their internal dialogues, noting everything from mild apathy to hopeful sparks of courage, which further ignited his passion.

“Look at you! Look at you all! What is wrong with you?! Can’t you see what bull this is?! Can’t you see how they control you with this filthy bunk, leading you to slaughter like the mindless sheep you are?! Where is your pride? Your outrage? Your yearning to be free?!”

The Speaker stopped a few feet from the man, opening arms wide so as to appear less threatening. “How can I help you, Sir? What is it you need?”

“Need?!…,” the man sputtered. “What do I need?!… Seriously?!”

“Yes, of course,” the Speaker continued, without missing a beat. “Very seriously. What do you need?,” spoken quite gently.

The man snorted loudly, slowly releasing steam. Sensing his fifteen minutes were rapidly expiring, he groped desperately through his mind for one last memorable point to make. The silence was deafening as the whole room waited breathlessly to hear his gut wrenching plea…

And inspiration struck quite suddenly…

Urgently he dropped his pants and the shorts he wore beneath. Squatting over his vacated seat, he grunted loudly as he made his opening comment a reality…

And it was only then, and in the fatal moments that followed, that the people came to know just how airtight their biosphere needed to be to protect their fledgling society from the ravaged planet outside.

And another Utopian world fell to the evil empire of Chipotle…

(600 words)

Written for #BlogBattles: Airtight

https://blogbattlers.wordpress.com/2019/05/06/blogbattle-airtight/

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The Case Against Shielding… (#BlogBattles: Airtight)

(An excerpt from Diary of an Empath: Volume 5)

MAY 8, 2019:

Ever since I was a child, just beginning on this journey to become what I have always been, I have been told, and taught, to shield myself. A necessary skill for one such as I. So I was warned, and so I believed…

“You are Light and Love,” the Teachers would impart. “And all things twisted and dark will be drawn to you. You must learn to shield yourself, to protect yourself at all costs, for if you fail, the darkness will swallow you, and you will not want to be the monster you become!”

The monster you become… While other children hid from monsters in their rooms, in their closets, under their beds, I fought a constant battle against the monster who lived within. Always a threat. Always watching. And waiting. For a mistake. For a break. For a chance to be free…

Why would anyone say such things to a child of two or three? How can any child live under such constant threat, such persistent fear, and not seek refuge in insanity?

To be fair, though, I must admit such fear drove me on when all I wanted was to be left alone. And there seemed to be some truth to what was told to me. The world outside was full of malicious beings. There were Wraiths and Vampires, Demons and Deceivers, all seeking to weaken me. There were psychopaths and sociopaths, narcissists and victims, each trying to entrap me. All of them drawn to me. And I, being an empath, reaching for the wounded spaces within each and every one of them…

So yes, shielding was an important skill for a young empath to learn…

My favorite, of course, was the glass house. Surrounded on all sides by clear barriers that allowed me to see what was happening in the world, without letting any of that world actually touch me. At first it was permeable, allowing in breezes and scents and sounds. But in time I could no longer stomach the smell of smoke and death and decay in the dying world I witnessed. Nor could I sleep with the screams of the tortured, the sobs of the broken, the moans of the wounded, or the hopeless prayers of the forgotten. I shuddered at the gloating of the bullies, the boasting of the “winners,” the maniacal laughter of lost causes. So I closed off the shield, making it airtight and impenetrable…

And I was alone. At last. A mere witness to the suffering all around. For a time that suited me, providing a respite from the unrelenting pressures of life as an empath. For a while. And it was tempting to stay in there forever…

Until I remembered the monster who lived within…

He showed himself to me one day, a reflection in the glass surrounding me. A massive green head, horns tipped in gold, burning amber eyes intense and focused, staring straight into my soul. I was terrified! I turned to run, but there was nowhere to go, trapped as I was in my self-made prison. I shouted at the world outside, pounding on the glass walls to get their attention, crying and fighting, and begging to be saved! But my fear had made me strong, and my shield reflected that, and none outside that barrier even slowed down, blind and deaf to my suffering…

As I evolved, so did the shield, becoming more flexible, more fluid, like an aura surrounding me. At least it allowed me to move, to run, to hide more effectively. For now I could blend in with the masses, pretend to be whatever I needed to be. It let me interact with the others of this world. The darkness came and surrounded me, but it could not touch me. I felt safe. Finally…

Until the day Truth blindsided me. I woke up choking on my own hypocrisy. Such sweet irony, a bitter pill to swallow. For here I was, a fully trained adult empath, completely isolated from the world I chose to inhabit. I had been taught a hundred words each to describe anger, fear, sorrow and grief, but I could not feel any of them myself! I knew a dozen strategies for dealing with common points of suffering, yet I could not heal those I could not reach!

I heard the monster laugh within, a guttural sound of victory. For I had, indeed, become what I most feared and loathed: a relic from another time, a useless tool to be enshrined. I panicked, short of breath, suffocating in that airtight space. I struck out against all I had been taught, shattering that shield, and all the others that revealed themselves to me. Layer after layer fell away, until there was nothing left but me…

And the darkness rose and smothered me…

Who knows how much time passed as I stumbled through that forsaken world, baffled by its twisted logic, gagging on its corruption, chafing against its injustices, paralyzed by its suffering? It was a nightmare; no longer a question of theory and practice, but an endless flight through a labyrinth of pointlessness, with walls ever closing in on me. And a new form of airlessness engulfed me, making it impossible to breathe…

But the beast within retreated, content to watch and mark my progress…

And I emerged. Eventually. Tripping into that center space, cloud covered but light at least. I lay there on that dewy grass, exhausted, and simply breathed… And peace settled over me.

*** *** ***

Today I met a man who seemed so perfectly normal. Quirky and fun and self-aware. Until someone asked him a question he couldn’t answer, a question about what he wanted. And I watched him freeze, begin to stutter, ’til panic stole his voice completely. I heard him gasping like an asthmatic, knowing how his throat was closing. I felt his heart racing, my own reaching to sync with his. I reached out to touch him, his whole body trembling against my fingertips…

And I understood exactly where he was. Trapped within his own airtight shield, made strong by deeply held fear. Anxiety. Crippling, unreasoning, and suffocating…

“Breathe,” I whispered soothingly. “Just breathe…”

(1042 words)

Written for #BlogBattles: Airtight

https://blogbattlers.wordpress.com/2019/05/06/blogbattle-airtight/

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”But, But, But…” (#BlogBattles – Shift)

Rebecca and Bob Davis approached the receptionist’s desk with some trepidation. “Umm… hi,” began Rebecca. “We have an 11 o’clock with Dr. Appen-Hauser…?”

“Of course,” responded Sarah brightly. “She’s expecting you and should be along shortly. Go right on in.” She smiled directly at them. “Would you like some coffee or tea before you settle in? The Keurig is right behind you. Help yourselves!”

Bob shook his head briefly, the curt gesture revealing his nervous tension. Rebecca smiled as sincerely as she could, “Thanks, but we’re good, I think.”

The couple turned to enter the open door together, unconsciously leaning into one another for strength and courage. Sarah nodded slightly, recognizing the signs. Another marriage in trouble, full of doubt, expecting (even hoping?) to fail, so they can move on…

Rebecca realized she was too close to Bob the instant they crossed the threshold together. She pushed away from him and started wandering slowly around the room. Her eyes darted nervously about, as though trying to catch faeries in flight. Bob cleared his throat, stepping silently aside to study the wall, carefully keeping his back toward Rebecca.

For Rebecca, the bright sunshine streaming in the too-large windows, the warm goldenrod colored walls, the beige couch with matching chair, and gold-leafed accent pieces seemed too cheery and optimistic to be comfortable. The faint scent of lavender mocked her anxiety…

Bob noted the artwork on the wall in front of him. Nature scenes and abstract pieces, splashes of color without any real meaning. He felt instantly out of his depth…

A door slammed in the distance, claiming the couple’s attention. A moment later, a short, rotund woman bustled in, the gardener by all appearances. She was dressed in worn jeans, dirt smudged into the upper thighs as though she’d wiped her hands there at least a hundred times, and a worn purple sweatshirt that read “gardeners like it dirty”, with a floppy straw hat and a freshly potted lavender plant to complete her outfit. She smiled encouragingly at the couple before speaking.

“Ah, good, I see you’re ready to go. Why don’t you two get settled on the couch and I’ll be right with you. I just need to wash up a bit.” She chuckled at herself, set the plant on a small stand near the window, and headed back out again…

Rebecca and Bob watched her go, then looked at each other, wide-eyed and alarmed. “Is that her?,” Bob asked, almost angrily. “Is that the doctor you insisted we had to see to save our marriage?!”

Rebecca looked confused for a moment before straightening her shoulders defiantly. “I don’t know, but it seems likely she is. At least she seemed to be expecting us.”

“What have you gotten us into, Rebecca?! Did you do any research at all before making this appointment? I mean look around here; there’s no diplomas, no desk, no computer… absolutely nothing here to indicate a professional of any kind works here, much less a marriage counselor!”

“Oh relax, Robert! You’re always so hung up on appearances! Dr. Appen-Hauser comes highly recommended. And we’ve tried everything else, so if this doesn’t work, we’re done,” she snapped. “But then, that’s probably what you’re hoping for, isn’t it?”

***** ***** *****

“No, no, no, no, no!,” the writer snaps in frustration. Only the fact that she can’t wad the phone up like an offensive piece of paper prevents her from chucking it into the trash. “This isn’t working! It’s boring, trite, predictable… and slow! You’re almost halfway through and haven’t even gotten to the point yet!”

“Walk away… walk away,” a softer voice echoes in her mind. “Give it time. Inspiration may yet appear. But not if you’re constricted this way. Just walk away…”

“Gladly!,” replies the irritated author. “I have other things to do today!”

***** ***** *****

Dr. Anna Appen-Hauser returned, minus the straw hat and sweatshirt. She reached for Rebecca’s hand, revealing the traces of dirt still lingering under her blunt fingernails. “Welcome, welcome!,” she gushed. “I’m Anna. So good to meet you, Rebecca!” She smiled warmly.

Rebecca couldn’t help but return that smile.

Anna turned to face Bob, still standing off to one side…

“This is what you’re wearing to our session?!,” he exclaimed irritably. “A t-shirt and dirty jeans?!”

Anna glanced down briefly at her attire. Smiling still, she dropped her hands. “Well they were clean when I put them on this morning.” She chuckled softly. “One of the ‘problems’ with late morning appointments, I guess,” she added, emphasizing the word “problems” as though it held some secret significance. “I have to keep busy while I wait, after all.”

“Please sit down, Bob, so we can get started…”

“Why are you here, Bob?,” Anna asked directly, as soon as he was seated.

He hesitated but a moment before squaring his shoulders. “My wife insisted,” he explained.

She raised her eyebrows, surprise shining in clear blue eyes. Glancing briefly at Rebecca’s downcast head and cold, clasped hands, she tried again. “No, no, no. I mean why are you really here?”

Bob, uncertain now, also glanced Rebecca’s way. Finding no outward sign of support, he shifted his focus back to the counselor. “We’re here to try and save our marriage, I guess.” Blame and discouragement dripped from every word.

“Do you want to save your marriage?,” Anna asked sincerely.

“Of course!,” he snapped.

No one responded. Confused by the long silence, Bob stuttered on. “It’s just… you know… well, the thing is…”

“Do you love her?” Anna asked pointedly.

“Of course I do!,” he snapped again, without hesitation. “Why else would I be here?!”

“Do you love her?,” Anna tried again.

Bob stared at her, muscles rigid, face frozen in a contemptuous snarl.

“Do you love her?,” Anna tried for the third time. “Do you love Rebecca?” She gestured briefly at his wife, who was studying him closely now.

He looked long and hard at Rebecca. Gradually his muscles relaxed. Shifting his gaze to the floor in front of him, he answered softly, defeated. “Yes.”

Anna shifted her attention to Rebecca. “Do you love Bob?”

Rebecca looked at Bob. Sadness, disillusionment, distress oozed from her teary gaze. Her eyes narrowed. Turning back toward Anna, she answered carefully. “Yes, but…”

Anna held up a hand to silence her. “I’ve heard enough, thanks.”

***** ***** *****

“You’re over your word count,” a gentle voice intrudes, breaking the spell.

“I know, I know!,” snaps the author. “But they must tell the story in their own voices. I’m not going to take words out of their mouths!”

“Ok… just sayin’ is all.” Her shrug is almost audible.

***** ***** *****

The doctor squared her shoulders, slipped into her lecturing voice and went to work…

“Let me begin by telling you what I’m not. I am not a mediator to stand between you while you fight. I am not a negotiator to help you sort out your assets for the divorce. I am not your potential witness to be dragged into court for any custody contentions. And I am not your friend, offering silent support and comfort while you decide what to do…

“What I am is a communication specialist, here to help you reframe your ‘problems’ by altering the language you use… What you do with any new insight you gain is entirely up to you!”

Anna paused long enough to let her words sink in. Anger flashed briefly in Rebecca’s eyes, quickly covered by lashed lids. Bob’s glance darted about the room, as if looking for a way out. The doctor continued…

“The first word we need to eliminate from your vocabulary is ‘but,’ both spoken and implied. But always precedes an excuse, and whether or not that excuse is justified, it solidifies your personal perspective; you aren’t communicating with each other if you’re fortifying your own position…

“So go home. Work on that. Let that be a test of your true commitment. If you both make some progress at it…,” she looked pointedly at Bob, before allowing her eyes to linger on Rebecca. “Well… then you can call Sarah and set up a time for regular appointments.”

Anna rose and walked over to open the door, encouraging the couple to leave. She called out softly to her receptionist.

“Sarah, dear. Don’t charge them for this consultation…” As the stunned couple shuffled by, she added coyly, “after all, I didn’t dress appropriately for it, as it turns out.”

When Rebecca and Bob were gone, Sarah turned to Anna. “What was that about?”

“Expectations, of course,” the doctor replied, her smile never dimming.

“Do you think they’ll come back?,” Sarah asked curiously.

Dr. Appen-Hauser considered for a moment. “Hmm… only if Bob can convince his wife to want to save their marriage. Rebecca has already left it.”

Sarah couldn’t disguise her surprise. “Really?!… I would have thought it was the other way around!”

“Most people would,” Anna agreed. “And they would be wrong as well.” She chuckled softly.

Sarah leaned in to kiss Anna fully on the lips, eyes alight with secret mischief. “That must be why they call you Dr. AAHA!” Twining her arms around her wife’s, Sarah led Anna down the hall. “Lunch, my love?”

“Yes, please!,” Anna responded warmly. “I’m starving!”

***** ***** *****

“Umm… you’re over 1500 words,” a soft voice intones.

Irritated, the author snaps. “Don’t you think I know that? But really, why should our voices even count, since no one else can hear them?”

The visitor raises a finger to point out the obvious, then thinks better of it.

“Unless… Do you think they have some program or something that automatically cuts a story off at a 1000 words?” Worry creeps into the writer’s tone as she speaks… “Well, their loss if they do,” she answers herself, “because they won’t know how the story ends!”

“Ahhh, I knew this one was my kind of writer,” the visitor muses silently. “Just enough insecurity to question everything, and more than enough arrogance to express it defiantly!”

“Although…,” the writer continues thoughtfully, “that does give me an idea. What if we created a world where people could only communicate in short verbal bursts? We could call it The Twitterverse, and explore how such truncated speech patterns affect how they frame their reality!” She turns back toward her phone. “What do you think? 145 characters or so limit for each bit of dialogue?”

“Umm…,” the Muse begins, finger raised against the obvious again.

But the writer is no longer listening, as her fingers type furiously on her virtual keyboard. Dusting off her invisible hands in an unconscious gesture of completion, the Muse turns to go, in search of another artist in need of inspiration today. Her retreating laughter sounds suspiciously like the chimes hanging from the author’s shelves…

***** ***** *****

(April’s BlogBattle entry – and fail – at 1819 words. 😫 See the rules, and links to the non-fails here: https://blogbattlers.wordpress.com/2019/04/01/blogbattle-shift/ )

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#BlogBattles, Stories..., Uncategorized

Ashes to Ashes…

“Ashes to ashes, dusk to dusk…,” began the pastor at the graveside service.

“Umm… excuse me,” interrupted one of the mourners (the only one there, in fact). “Don’t you mean ‘dust to dust’?”

The pastor looked confused for a moment, before understanding smoothed out the lines of his expression. He smiled warmly at his only living guest.

No, no, no…,” he chuckled quietly. “Why would I wish that fate on anyone?”

“Because that’s the way the service goes…?,” answered the mourner, a touch of snarky in the implied question.

The pastor waved off the comment, his usually placid expression fully restored. “A simple misunderstanding is all. Easy to see why it might happen, though, isn’t it? They sound so similar!…”. He paused for a moment, thinking.

Have you ever played that game where you try passing a word around a circle of people to see how it transforms? I think it’s called Telephone, or something similar. This is kind of like that; someone heard ‘dust to dust’ instead of ‘dusk to dusk,’ and others kind of ran with it.” He smiled again. “A silly game, a silly mistake, but enlightening in the end.”

The lone mourner looked confused now… “Are you serious, pastor?!… No! You can’t be.” His tone sharpened as his sensibilities rebelled against the offense. “A person is dead here! This is no time for jokes or games! How dare you dishonor my great aunt this way!”

Dishonor your aunt?!… Oh my, never!,” he reacted automatically, the mere thought of such completely disorienting the usually serene pastor. “I adored Agnes! She was a wonderful woman, who lived an extraordinary life, right here in this little town! Did you know she never left this place?…” He paused, but no answer came on the warm spring breeze…

I thought not,” added the pastor, smugly. “Well, Agnes, dear soul that she is, believed that this little town was enough. Always. When others grew up and moved away, she stayed. When the man she loved moved to the big city to make a name for himself, she stayed behind, promising to be here if he ever came back… Of course, he never did…” An almost sad sigh slid past the pastor’s lips…

And yet, in spite of all that, I never once heard her complain. She was content here, keeping her parents’ farm going after all the others left. It was a struggle, of course, especially after her parents were gone, but she carried on. That was her way. And if she lost most of the farm over the years, who could blame her? She was alone, and aging, and really… what more could she do?”

The pastor stopped talking. He looked at the young man standing at the grave site. He looked a long time, a thoughtful expression upon his face…

“What?!,” snapped the young mourner. “Why are you staring at me?!”

The pastor sighed deeply. “I was just looking for a trace of your Aunt Agnes in you, but…” He shook his head mournfully. “I’m afraid I just don’t see it. I’m sure she would, of course,” he hastily assured the young man, “but her gift of seeing the truth of others was always stronger than mine. I learned a lot from her over the many years we were friends, but never enough, I guess.”

“But then, isn’t that the point here?…” He waited patiently for a response that would never come. Sighing deeply, he continued…

It’s all about transitions, young man. Birth is a transition, a dawning of a new form. As is death. And it is in those twilight times, when shadow and light begin to balance out, that we see the truth of things. Outlines become stark in the growing and fading light, revealing the boundaries between…”

“Your aunt welcomed this transition, whatever changes it might bring. She was ready to move on into a new form of being. I will miss her, and our time together very much…” A single tear slipped down the pastor’s cheek…

Did you ever get to meet her?,” the pastor asked the mourner.

“Um… well… no, not exactly,” the young man began.

The pastor held up his hand to abruptly end the awkward explanation about to spill from the young man’s lips.

Never mind,” the pastor reassured him. “I understand. You’re here to liquidate what’s left of the farm, and you came to pay your respects. Enough said.” He turned back to the grave and lifted his arms, palms up, as if beginning to pray. The young man bowed his head.

The pastor, realizing this, turned to address the man once more. “It’s ok, son. You’ve done what you came to do; you don’t need to stay any longer. Agnes is still smiling, even if you can’t see her beyond the veil…”

“But if you’re looking for a quick sale, I’m sure the Jones’ will be happy to take the old homestead. That’s pretty much all Agnes had left, and Ned Jones, her neighbor, had bought most of the rest of the farm already. Probably pay a good price for it, too, if you push him. Some developer wants to come in here and build a resort for rich people – you know the type: big houses, a gated community, expensive coffee places, the works…”

The young man hesitated only a moment before nodding curtly and turning away. “Thanks for the tip, pastor. Please carry on…”

Resuming his prayerful stance, the pastor began his service again… “Ahhh, Agnes, you were right, as usual. Everything changes in Time…”

“Ashes to ashes, dusk to dusk…”

(933 words)

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