Short Story Tuesday: 22 weeks

feet

The ground was slippery as I rushed into the building. The rains from the night before had finally abated, so at least my head was dry. The Catholics were praying at the corner of the street, holding their rosaries. At least there weren’t any of those crazy protestors this morning. I had called the clinic to ask if they would be. The women had assured me they only came two days a week, so I chose a day that they wouldn’t be there.

The baby kicked my ribs. I had just started feeling those little movements a few weeks ago. It always made me nauseous. It didn’t help, because my stomach was already in knots. I’d argued with my boyfriend for weeks about this. He wanted the baby. I didn’t. Yet there was something about the decision that seemed…off. If it was true that this procedure was no different than any other minor surgery, like a gallbladder removal, why did I feel the baby inside of me? I didn’t want to know the gender. Yet…why was there a gender? Boy or girl? No one ever asked if your appendix was a boy or a girl. Those had been my boyfriends arguments. And now, they resurfaced as I adjusted my coat in the waiting room.

The room was full already. The baby bumps were obvious, and the mothers kept their eyes down. I took it all in. Their scared faces. Their bored faces. Their faces that scrunched up as they patted their bellies, as if in pain or discomfort. Maybe their babies kicked them, too.

Baby. Babies. Why did I think of it like that? I edged toward the door. Maybe this had been a bad idea. It wasn’t like I was completely incapable of caring for another being. I’d been taking care of my drunk of a mom for years. Yet finally I was doing something for myself…going to school. And then I got impregnated by Cole. Jerk. Didn’t want to use protection. “Just once!” he had said.

I was almost out the door before I even realized it. The baby kicked again.

“Hello.” I jumped and turned to look out the door. A woman stood in the cold, breath visible in the air as she exhaled. “I’m a sidewalk counselor. I’m here to help. Please, don’t kill your baby. Have you thought about adoption instead?”

I hesitated. Yes, I had thought about it. But the process seemed so…daunting.

The baby kicked again. I stepped out towards the woman as she smiled gently at me. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll help you along the way.”

 

***

Within the last two weeks, Democrats have blocked legislation that would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks. Whatever your thoughts on human life, the United States remains only one of seven countries that have not passed such laws. The other countries are Vietnam, China, North Korea, the Netherlands, Canada (most provinces don’t allow it after 12 weeks), and Singapore. 191 other nations have abortion restrictions for under 20 weeks. This story was inspired by Baby Rowan. Read his story here, if you dare.

Want to make a difference? Volunteer at your local pregnancy center, or stand on the front lines to help scared mothers. Can’t do either? Perhaps donate to a center, or support a full time abolitionist.

Short Story Tuesday: The Warlock Council

Below are the first 500 words from my book Rift in the Deep, available for e-book pre-order here. 

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Colin Redstone inched backwards over the smooth stone, the sound of his shuffling feet masked by the raucous shouts of the Warlock Council. How had it come to this? Yet he knew how, deep down inside. Briton the Brown made it clear as soon as he invaded the peace talks and demanded an audience with the Council.

Never had Colin seen such anger and animosity. Or fear. The Council shouted at the diminutive man in their midst. Briton’s flowing brown robes were the same hue as his skin and eyes. At first glance, nothing about him demanded attention. Colin knew who he was, but if he hadn’t, he would have thought he was a drake, wandering too far from his temple.

But he was no drake.

Hence the shouting and anger.

Colin stopped his slow escape from the Council chambers as one voice rose above them all, twisting his neck to observe the commotion.

“We demand you cease your perverted ways!” Spittle flew from High Councilor Radan’s mouth, specks glittering in the air. “You have embroiled all the Lands in your war, and have forced the warlocks into hiding, even from our own nations!”

“You cannot blame me for this.” In contrast to his small stature, Briton’s voice rang deep and commanding. Colin felt the impact, a burning desire to believe him burning in his chest. But no. Briton was a madman.

Colin paused and leaned in to hear what he had to say. The whole room stilled, silent. As if the other warlocks wanted to believe him, too. It wasn’t true, since Colin had many a discussion with the assembly about Briton, and the consensus was that he was a manipulator.

That must be part of Briton’s accessing power; the ability to turn men’s hearts to him. It was a dangerous, seductive thing. And probably part of the reason the Lands were now embroiled in war. Actually, not probably. Most certainly the reason.

“We most certainly can,” Councilmember Josiah said, his calm demeanor a direct contrast to Radan, who sat red-faced next to him. “This war must end, Briton. And you are the one who can end it.”

“Am I to blame that the common people are afraid of us?” Briton’s dark eyes swept the assembled warlocks, turning from the table where the Councilmembers sat to appraise the other warlocks present. The room was packed wall to wall, mostly standing room. Colin stood closest to the door. Wedged as he was, he had a good view of the men present, and their wide, inquiring eyes watching Briton the Brown’s every move.
No doubt, Briton would hold them in his grasp, only to wrench the rug out from under their feet in an instant. His silver tongue couldn’t talk its way out if this predicament. A shaft of fear, icy and cold, crept up Colin’s spine at the thought.
Briton had made his bed. Violence is never the answer. Surely he knew this.
All roads led to him. All Lands feared the warlocks because of him.

***

Want to know the rest of the story? You can, March 1st! And don’t forget to sign up for my email list and receive a free copy of Infraction by JE Purrazzi.

Short Story Tuesday: To Trudge

Image result for refugee camp

Trudge. To walk slowly or with heavy steps.

She glanced down at the downy head that came just to her chin, the black curls soft on her cheek. The child was strapped to her, his warm body the constant reminder of why she did what she did. For him.

She looked back up to the chain link fence that surrounded them, the compound bustling with activity. Children squealed and ran haphazardly through the tents while mothers scolded and fathers clumped together in circles, worried eyes scanning the horizon. She would have given the world twice over for her husband to be at her side. As she thought of him, her throat closed up. Tears threatened to escape their confines. Then the baby giggled and reached his chubby hands for her cheek. She caught his wandering fingers in her own and kissed them. She still had a reason to live. To fight. To…trudge. Even if that was all she could do, she would.

The line shifted, and she took a step forward. The woman in front of her smelled like dust and sweat, the once-colorful shawl around her shoulders now stained with dirt and grime. What was her story? Perhaps not much different than her own. Did she feel the same hope burning in her chest that this time, she would be given access to the world beyond the fence? She must, to some extent, otherwise she wouldn’t be back in line. Waiting for hours. Even days.

Another shift. Another step forward. The child reached for her again, and she kissed his curls. He squirmed and fussed, trying to escape. She knew the feeling. No human being was meant to live in confinement. Freedom and liberty was a God-given right. Yet here she was, wasn’t she? Confinement for freedom. There was irony there somewhere, but she had no desire to find any humor in it. Stale irony, then.

Another shuffle forward. The future at the end of the line taunted. Was it bright and beckoning? Would she find their freedom? She didn’t know what she would do if failure met her there, instead. Anxiety clawed at her chest, even as the baby hugged her tight and babbled incoherently. What a stark contrast he was to her own inner desperation. She would be strong. For him. She must be.

Her turn had come. Another shuffle, and then…”Name?” She gave it. “Papers?” She gave them. The eyes that looked up at her had no compassion. They were dead eyes. They belonged to a wax figure in a museum.

“I’m sorry. Not this month.”

****

The refugee crisis continues. 24 displaced people flee for safety every minute. Yes, you read that right. To get involved, go here.

Short Story Tuesday: Gloria

Image result for jail cell

The sun settled on the horizon in washes of purple and gold. The barren field lit as with the glory of angelic hosts, outside the norm of dust and grime. Dry bones would better describe it on a normal day. But not now.

Maybe it was the promise of rain, maybe not. Either way, I stopped toiling to gaze at it in earnest. Sweat trickled down my face, like an itch, but I didn’t wipe it away. Not yet, leastwise. It reminded me I was alive. And for a moment, I could almost believe that horizon would welcome me. Would it embrace like a mother’s cool touch to a fevered brow? Or would it clutch tight like a long-lost friend? I closed my eyes and imagined it.

Across the field the train whistle blew. I snapped open my eyes as it approached, the longing in my breast increasing like the steam in the engine of the monolith that sped across the tracks. The sun swooped low…low…low. The train built speed, and there! I came in sight as the sun set. Maybe if I thought hard enough, longed with enough passion and fire, I could spring across the dusk and ride the tracks to…where? Freedom? For me? Yes. Even for me.

I glanced back toward the others. They labored low, but some gazed with me to the deepening horizon. The light fled, just as I longed to do. Their eyes followed the train, and the promise offered in the whistle that pierced the air. Freedom. I remembered it well.

Her smile suddenly came to mind, as if chasing the sun as it set. Gloria. How I have failed you! What do you think of me now? Dressed in orange, shackled and shuffled, taken from job to job that no one else wants to do. Paid cents when others would be paid dollars. My crime? Well, that’s a story for another day. But does it mean I deserve this existence? The walls that are my companion, except for when I’m brought out to see the sun? It taunts me. I know I will go back. The drudgery will kill me, if my fellow prisoners don’t. The panic will set in…it always does. And I will have to contemplate, for the millionth time, if it was all worth it. Of course, the answer will be no. But that won’t stop me from asking. Again.

Gloria. Like the angelic host.

 

***

The United States holds 4.4% of the world’s population, yet incarcerates 22% of the world’s prisoners. For-profit prisons average $3,300 per inmate per year, for a whopping 1.6 billion per year. For more information, and for how to get involved in prison reform, visit The Sentencing Project.

Short Story Tuesday: The Happiest Place on Earth

The challenge: Write a short story every Tuesday in 500 words or less.  Post on your blog, share on twitter with the #shortstorytuesday hashtag.  Tag two friends to do the same.

***

The whispering wind flicked her hair from her eyes.  Looking up, she watched as a flag blew merrily in the breeze. The distinct shape of Mickey Mouse flapped on the yellow canvas backdrop.  The happiest place on earth, they say.  The place were tears aren’t allowed, where children can be children.

What makes it different for me? She wondered.  Am I just that separate from other children?  Deep thoughts for an eight-year-old, she knew.  But she wasn’t like other children.  Not in the usual kind of way.  Other children laughed and screamed and ran amuck while their haggard parents tried to keep up.  She watched as even now, a small boy attached to a backpack with a leash pulled against his restraints, reaching grimy hands for Donald Duck.  The mascot waved at him, bending down to hand him a signed picture.  The little boy squealed with delight.

disney castle

I like to watch, she thought.  I like to observe what families do.  How they act.  What makes them…well, a family.

“Jade!” The voice snapped her back to reality.  Above her head, the flag snapped against the pole.  She hurried under it towards the other children dressed in bright yellow.  Some smiled, some stared in wonder around them, but mainly, none knew what to do.  Shuffling feet, shifting eyes, they huddled like puppies afraid to make a wrong move.

Miss Kathy grabbed her shoulder.  “Pay attention, Jade.  Don’t dawdle.  Sometimes I wonder what goes on in that head of yours.”

Nothing that would interest you.  She dare not say it out loud.

“Leave her be, Kathy,” Miss Margie said gently.  She was Jade’s favorite.  Always sticking up for her, trying desperately to find her a family to call her own.  Organizing things like Disney trips for the kids.  But really, it almost made the pain worse.  So many happy families.  So many children with Moms and Dads.  College in their futures, a bed of their own, more belongings than could fit in a backpack.  Parents who weren’t in jail, or dead.

Or Moms who can get out of bed every day without chasing another fix.  Who don’t give up their kids because she would rather get high instead.  Jade knew she shouldn’t think that way.  But she preferred to live in reality.  Maybe she was too young, or too vulnerable, or whatever adults always said when she dared speak her thoughts out loud.

Really, what did it matter?  Jade found herself looking back at the waving flag as the children followed behind each other, marching to the orders of Miss Kathy. She shouted them like a drill instructor.  Jade filtered out the noises around her and focused on the Mouse.  The happies place on earth.  Maybe, just maybe, if she was good enough, quiet enough, obedient enough…someone would want her.  They would see her here, and instead of seeing an orphan, they would see a daughter.

She turned her face from the flag.   

 

***

Today, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care. More than 100,000 of those are awaiting adoption.  In reality, that isn’t a large number compared to the amount of families who have the means to take in these children. If one family, from every three churches in the United States adopted a child in foster care, it would eliminate the adoption need completely.  Check out your States requirements.  There should be no such thing as an unwanted child.

Short Story Tuesday: Victory Dance

The challenge: Write a short story every Tuesday in 500 words or less.  Post on your blog, share on twitter with the #shortstorytuesday hashtag.  Tag two friends to do the same.

Victory Dance

You can see the dance in nature’s victor circle.  A stallion stamps his hoof in triumph over a rival, tossing his head and snorting his defiance.  A peacock spreads his feathers wide, dazzling the onlooker with his prowess, marching to the beat of his own drum.  I win, they say.  I triumph.  I defeat all comers, slaying their pride and elevating mine.  See my victory?  See my attainment?  See my beauty?  See my power?

stallion

I can’t say the same for my type of victory dance.  It isn’t shown in the strength of a muscled stallion or the feathered display of the eyes of the peacock.  Sometimes, a victory dance is in muted silence of suffering alone, where the dance is a ragged breath of one more day of defiance.  A chest rising and falling, pushing the limits of expectation.  A feeble hand raised, or maybe just a finger, because the exhausted limit has been reached in days of floundering pain.  Where is the solace in trivial battles won, where age and decay eventually drag you down to the depths of mortality?  Or maybe the battles aren’t trivial.  Maybe they seem so to me, in this listless existence of mine.

A light breaks the darkness, a shaft of brilliance underneath a door.  A tiny hand grabs mine.  A pink bow drapes the cheek of an angel, with brown eyes and pigtails.  Her dance is one of life, a victorious fist raised in rebellion to natural law.  Death and decay only enhance the beauty of youth, and for her, I would die a thousand times to show the world her brilliance.

“What shall we sing today, Papa?” she asks.

I cannot answer, but the beep of the ventilator sets her rhythm.  It always does.  Voice raised, fists clenched, eyes bright, my angel sings.  If Heaven could peer down to the affairs of man, surely it would look and listen for such a time as this.  Purity in word, purity in motivation, purity in heart…these mean everything to the child who sees the pallor of death up close.  They instinctively know that it wasn’t meant to be this way.  Immortality was the intention, but death sprung from the deeds of audacious independence.  One that spurned life, craved autonomy, and now leaves me a broken shell on a cold, hostile bed.

Where once my purpose was sure, now I am irresolutely clinging to a past of shredded memories.  The surety is gone, replaced with uncertain confidence, the type that says I know my life meant something…but now, was it worth the heartache and the bliss?  Was it worth the tears and the laughter?  Was it worth the turmoiled storms and the smooth waters?

The angel silences her song.

“Did you like it?” she asks.

If only I could answer.  I would say, You are my victory dance.  And take another breath, my chest rising and falling.