Blogging from A-Z: Q is for Quincette (Kifo Island Chronicles)


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Quincette stared at the water cooler, trembling. From the room behind her, across the hall,there was a tumult of noise- chairs scraping over tile, voices rising and falling in conversation, broken by ripples of coughing or laughter.

The sound was a wall, a wave, pressing her toward the water cooler -trying to force her to get a drink.

Quincette swallowed. Her throat felt stuck together; it was hard to breathe. She licked dry lips, and looked again up and down the hall, searching for a water fountain, although she’d already walked it twice. But all there was was this damned cooler, humming as it chilled the water to at least a degree or two cooler than a fountain would.

She couldn’t drink water that was too cold.

“How dare you?” she whispered at the unit. It only sat there, humming, mocking all the systems Quincette had developed to handle situations in public buildings. Systems that depended upon a water fountain.

Not a cooler.

She tried to imagine taking one of the little cone-shaped cups. When she was very young, she’d thought they looked like ice cream cones, and had begged her parents to let her get a drink every time they were near one.

Quincette remembered the last ice cream cone she’d eaten. She’d been ten then, and she and Mom had gone out shopping for her first bra. Quincette had cried – none of her friends, at school or at gymnastics, were anywhere near ready. Why did she have to be first?

And Mom had smiled sweetly, told her time would change the way she saw these things, and bought her a double rocky road cone with rainbow sprinkles…

[Hank O'Day, manager, Chicago NL (baseball), 1914, courtesy The Library of Congress; via The Commons at Flickr.

Quincette could almost taste it, nine years later. Ice cream had always made her thirsty. And she didn’t see her body’s blossoming ripeness any differently now than she had then.

Mom had been wrong. Ice cream and time were just pretty platitudes.

She needed a fountain. The room behind her settled; they’d started, then, and, if she walked in now, it would draw everyone’s attention, and they would all be watching and guessing…

A fountain. If there was a fountain, she could walk up the length of the hall, counting out the steps, and take three sips as she returned. Two more laps, and six more sips, and she would be protected from their stares, insulated from what they would think.

But just the thought of touching one of those paper cones was enough, almost, to make her vomit- if there were anything in her to bring up.

She thought again of ice cream, and empty stomachs, and empty promises, and her stomach convulsed in warning.

Quincette ran for the door, making it barely in time to avoid hearing her retching echo up the hall to blend with the sounds from the water cooler.

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Blogging from A-Z: P is for Percy (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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“Why, hello there, Chiquita! Would you like to see something you’ve never seen before?”

Percy smiled past the rising and persistent headache as Iris skipped up his walk, swinging a basket of carrots. She had a way of lightening his mood instantly, and he was glad to see her- especially today. The headache was harder to ignore today, and he felt a little faint. But that wasn’t going to stop him from sharing this with his favorite little girl.

She stopped when she reached him, and her dark brow wrinkled beneath her wild cap of dark brown curls. She considered every question the same way, as though it needed deep thought before any answer could be given.

“That depends on what it is, I think,” she said, after a moment, and her gaze fixed on him. She wasn’t joking, Percy knew – she was a little girl who had lived through things many adults would be terrified by.

“Well, it’s small, and precious,” he told her. “And, if you want to see it, you’ll have to be very quiet.”

She studied him for a moment, then decided, again, to trust him. That was, maybe, the best medicine for the insistent aching in his head.

Iris smiled. “I can be so quiet, you might forget I’m here.”

“No, Chiquita. I could never forget you’re here. Even when you’re quiet, you sparkle.”

His reward was a bright-eyed grin, and a hug. Percy placed a single finger against his lips, and opened the pasture gate. Iris’s basket swung, bumping her bare knees, and she said not a word. From the first, she’d seemed to know that the miniature horses he raised liked calmness, when they were loose in their fields.

Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton

Pequita was standing in a dip at the edge of the line of flowering brush, close to the stream, where the songbirds sing gently. She lifted her tiny, delicate head, and whickered softly at them.

Iris’ eyes were wide, but she spoke not a word. Percy eased up to the little mare, Iris sticking close to his side. She gasped in delighted wonder when she caught her first glimpse of the little red foal, which was no bigger than a teddy bear, and soundly asleep.

Pequita didn’t move away from her baby, but she stretched out her neck, and whickered again.

“You can give her a carrot, Iris, and ask your questions quietly. She’s telling us that she trusts us, and that she’s worked hard, and she’s hungry.”

But Iris didn’t seem to have any questions, now. She eased slowly up to the mare, who stood only to her waist. Pequita was the smallest of his little herd, and Iris’s favorite. Seeing them together eased the pain in Percy’s head, and gave him deep pleasure. He’d always loved children and horses.

Iris fed the mare the carrots, one by one, then reached into the basket for the curry brush Percy had given her. Percy watched her as she groomed Pequita, trying to ignore the growing pressure knocking at his skull from the inside, and the nausea it brought. Iris brushed, carefully, as Percy settled on the orange crate bench she’d made for him to sit on. She spoke to the mare, grooming her with great tenderness and care, until the small horse tossed her head, and the foal woke and stood spraddle-legged before wobbling its way to her teat. Iris didn’t need to be told that she needed to back off.

She came toward Percy – and her figure blurred as an anvil crashed somewhere within his brain -

“Percy!” He heard Iris scream, and then everything was slumping and slipping away from him.


Blogging from A-Z: O is for Ophelia (Kifo Island Chronicles)


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“I don’t want to rush your visit, but I would like to discuss Mauve’s prognosis, and some possibilities on the horizon.” His voice was gentle, but Ophelia could hear a note of something unpleasant in the tone; something Marilyn wasn’t going to want to hear, but which had to be said.

Marilyn looked up at the man with her empty eyes, and nodded without saying anything. She’d said less than a hundred words in the three days they had been on Kifo Island.

“We’ll come back, afterwards. “Marilyn looked at her; Ophelia wondered if she was in shock. She didn’t seem to be having any reaction at all. Ophelia took her sister’s arm, and led her after the doctor, who gestured to the small meeting room just outside the main NICU room.

Ophelia helped her into one of the chairs. Marilyn didn’t look up, she just sat there, playing with the vinyl seam.

Doctor Harris sighed softly, and shifted his gaze to Ophelia. “I know you aren’t Mauve’s mother, but you seem better at reaching her than I am. Will you relay this information, when she can hear it?”

Turbulence by Shan Jeniah Burton.

Ophelia nodded. “I’ll do my best.” But could her best come anywhere close to what Mauve and Marilyn needed?

“I’ll give you my private number; either of you may call me if you need to clarify anything.” He paused, and looked at Marilyn again. “Sometimes, mothers can’t absorb the fact that their child is dying. Hopefully she’ll come around – but it might be best if she signed a document allowing you to make decisions, if she can’t. And for you – is there someone you can call to come support you here? A parent, or – ” He spoke carefully, his eyes on Marilyn.

“I can call my mother. She’ll come. Is that all? I’d like to get back to the baby.” While she still could; while Mauve was alive.

“There’s one more thing. Your niece is dying, and that’s a tragedy. But there could be something positive in it.” He took a deep breath, and met Ophelia’s eyes, his were soft and determined. “Mauve could give the gift of life to other families. Has your sister ever discussed her views on organ donation?”

Marilyn bolted up so fast she almost fell. “I need to use the bathroom,” she said, breathlessly, and whirled, almost running from the office, the door slamming behind her.

Ophelia looked after her sister, the weight of the doctor’s question making it hard to push air through her lungs. She wished she thought that Marilyn was going to come  back.

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Blogging from A-Z: N is for Norman (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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Norman glared at  the young woman’s backside, scandalously dressed in a business suit, as she strode down the walk and out into the island sunlight.He wanted to tear the documents up, the same way he had the ones she’d sent him, back home. Sent him? No, she’d had them served, all official and proper-like.

Both times.

Norman wished he knew what to make of it. In all the years they’d been married, Alma had never defied him in even the smallest of ways. She had promised to honor and obey, and she was a woman of impeccable integrity.

At least she had been -

Until the Devil, disguised as a beast called cancer, had invaded her body and taken her soul.

Norman supposed some people would think he was crazy. Most people today, though, were held even tighter in Satan’s grip than Alma was – many so long, they couldn’t even see the Deceiver working in their lives, giving with the one hand, and taking with the other. But Alma could see, before the wasting sickness.

“It’s Lucifer’s doing,” he growled, clenching his hand into a fist  . The thick pages crumpled, but resisted him, as though Satan was in the paper, maybe put there by Alma, when she put her name to them, and signed her soul away.

Did Alma know that she’d been duped? Would it even matter to her, or was she too far gone to damnation?

He looked at the stiff legal documents; they poked out of his fist as though still fighting him. He could tear them, like he’s done with the first ones. He could burn them, but fire was Satan’s favorite tool.

They were hot in his hand, damning him to a life alone.

He opened his fist, and the crumpled ball dropped to the floor. He kicked it into the corner behind the door, wanting to curse – but he wouldn’t let the devil have his tongue.

“Satan, you are fallen!. You were cast out! Tempt me as you will!  I will be stronger than Job, and, even though you have taken my wife, you will never have my soul!”

It felt good to shout, to shake his fist at that ruined proof of his wife’s disobedience.

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WIPpet Wednesday: Francois’s Story

Hi there! Welcome to WIPpet Wednesday -K.L. Schwengel’s weekly blog hop which encourages writers to move their WIPs (works-in-progress) to publication by posting excerpts related to the date.

This month,I’m offering up a taste of my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. So, today, please allow me to introduce another of my Kifo Island Chronicles characters….

Let’s all give a gentle WIPeteer welcome to Francois Thierry!

Francois is a 45 year old scientist who has lived several years on Kifo Island. He is researching clinical aspects of dying, death, and grieving. He has always been reserved and detached, and he’s nearing the end of a quarter-century long study, and is, at the beginning of this excerpt, looking forward to wrapping things up, and moving into the next phase of his work.

However, life and death have come to have new depth and meaning…

And now, on to the WIPpeting!

WIPpet Math:

Today is April 16, 2014.

  • Today’s math…
  • 16(for the date) + 4(for the month)=20;
  • 20 +1 ( in honor of the one Palindrome Week of the year!; and because it finishes the thought…) =21.
  • Voila! 21 sentences!

“I didn’t ask for this!”

Francois stared at the tidy stack of research notes, and the blank space on the form; the place where he was intended to record, in specific detail, the circumstances of the death he had witnessed an hour ago.

He hadn’t asked that he be any part in this death, or any other, beyond his role as a clinical observer.

4,987 deaths, before this one. He’d recorded the manner and time of each, faithfully, objectively.

Only 13 deaths left to take account of, including the one fresh in his mind. He’d intended, when he sat down, to update the file, and tick it off his tally. But he couldn’t do it.

Francois squeezed his eyes closed against the tears that were blurring the print on the stack of files – pages that held nothing at all of the people they were meant to define.

He’d gutted real lives here, leaving nothing but statistics and the particulars that differentiated one from another. He kept only those that applied to his own research, as though they were nothing more than this.

He turned away from those pages, and thought of the old woman in the hospital bed, her breath growing shallow, the sorrow he hadn’t expected to share in. He hunched his shoulders against the pain, the memory – for the first time in his life, Francois truly felt the grief and permanence of death.

He couldn’t pretend she was nothing other than part of the running tab at the head of those notes, in his computer, on his phone… in his mind.

Francois wouldn’t sterilize her that way – he could still feel her struggle to breathe, to say everything she felt needed saying, the worries she carried with her through whatever passage she made, when her breathing stopped -

Worries that he couldn’t ignore, now. Somehow, through no logic this damned useless research could define or quantify, her worries had become his own.

What will happen next? Will Francois be able to finish his research progress, now that he’s emotionally involved? Will he regain his detachment? What affect will his emotional involvement have on him, as a scientist, and as a human?

Want more Kifo Island Chronicles posts?

These posts are the seeds of a project that will germinate over the next months, so input is especially valuable. No need to feel shy; I’m a friendly sort, and will keep my talons sheathed…for the most part.

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And now I leave you with a song that echoes the sudden personal cataclysm Francois is currently experiencing…



Wild and Whirling Creation: ROW80 Update, 4/16/14 (Palindrome Week)

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Well, hello there!

So, it’s been a bit of a crazy session for me. My daughter, age 9, found poison ivy or sumac – with her scalp and her eyelid. It was a big, oozy, itchy, painful mess, and made for a challenging few days of oatmeal compresses and thinking, days in, of Benadryl, which is now taming the beast. Phew! She actually found her smile and laughter again – we all missed those!

And, while checking on my comments, I found this:

Whew! I’ve just got caught up here, and wow! these Chronicles are really good!

I particularly liked the way the Barry “chapter” was written – I was mesmerized by the description of Corinne and Barry moving across the floor toward one another – and also the Corrine chapter, which continued the mood and provided some juicy details and a great conflict.

Donovan seems a nice chap and precocious Iris intrigued me when she was introduced.

I enjoyed the Exuberance chapter, and now that I’ve read through to this Karina chapter, I think Exuberance’s name fits well with the spirit-squashing (at the very least) that Howard/Howie, who’s charming at the moment, will probably do to her along the lines of what he does to Iris, or worse…

And poor, tortured Francois, he’s a good, very necessary character for the view he’ll provide regarding the business of dying.

The Howard chapter is a great suspenseful build-up to God knows what horror is to follow!
And thankfully, it seems Iris will begin to use the pluck she showed Donovan to combat the Howard-monster!

I had a little trouble with the starts of the chapters Ava and especially Gladys, but that’s small beans compared to the overall awesomeness of this story idea and your excellent writing!


(Thanks to Miss Alister for this lovely confidence-builder!)

Yeah – a wild and whirling session of highs and lows for Palindrome Week! And there may have been some Vulcan zombies, too…


I review my goals at the end of each month, adding or adapting as indicated throughout the round, and at the beginning of each month. I update only those goals I engaged with during that session.

My main focuses this month:

Other goals will be addressed on a secondary basis.

Boisterous skies…one day it’s near 80; the next, brushing freezing.

2014 Blogging:

Build positive blogging habits – post regularly, build queues, answer comments, and share diversely.

For April:

Continue posting on my regular schedule.On target.

Complete April A to Z challenge. On target.

  • Currently developing stories through Week 3.

  • 13/26 stories posted.

Prepare for Story-A-Day May posts. On target.

Respond to comments, and return visits. On target.

  • A little sidetracked by life and a daughter who needed me. Got to a few, though.

Visit three additional A to Z blogs each day, on average. A bit behind, this week, but ahead last.

  • Sunday: 0/3

  • Monday: 1/3

  • Tuesday: 3/3

Spring, reframed….

2014 Writing:

Complete rough drafts of To Be or Not to Be, The Stars Are Fire, and Perchance to Dream.

For April:

Move The Stars are Fire closer to completion, as the conclusion of my CampNaNo effort.On target.

  • 3,767new words.

  • 7,368 April WIP words.

  • Currently writing scene 31/60.Past the halfway point!

  • WIP total: 74,347/~100,000 words.

  • Current NaNo count: 18,440/33,333 words.

Explore my gestating Star Trek: Enterprise fan fiction novel concept, as well as the Last House story collection concept, in the form of short pieces or flash fiction, during April and May.

Explore Kifo Island Chronicles as my 2014 A to Z April Challenge project.

Plot, create, and edit 26 flash fiction pieces for the challenge.On target.

  • 13/26 complete – at the halfway point.

  • Development continues in an as-needed or as-fits-life basis.

I’ve felt like this a lot this week…photo by James B. “Chef Bluebeard” Burton

2014 Hometending:

Continue physical and virtual hometending plans – resetting rooms, cleaning files, and inhabiting my study.

Continue the family room reset.

For April:

Get the computer desk and moved out of the room. Ummmm…two steps forward, and one back…

  • Change of plans – Jeremiah doesn’t want this in his room, after all, and neither does Annalise. I’ve come up with another plan; but it will require other cleaning….so…

Continue claiming my study.

For April:

Move bookcases; buy and place new chair. On target.

  • Continued clearing/organizing the first of the two bookcases.

Set up coffee/refreshment station.Target attained!

  • Hooray! I have snacks and hot beverages available!

2014 Lifetending:

Tweet during one show per week, using appropriate hashtag.Target attained!

  • Indirectly. I made one Tweet, via Facebook, with hashtags, during Jeopardy!.

Eat salad and/or drink fruit or vegetable smoothies at least 3 times a week.On target.

  • Two salads. Meals, more like – and there was avocado! =)

  • 2/3 attained.

Waiting for THIS sky!

Seek out playful new ways to move and challenge my body.

For April:.

Choose two playful actions for each day; do several times each.Not so much.

  • I did these on Sunday and Monday, not Tuesday.

Sponsor Visits (and some extras!):

You can cheer on other ROWers ,too!

And, just when you thought it was safe to go out in the galaxy….yup. You guessed it! VULCAN ZOMBIES!!!!

Blogging from A-Z: M is for Mauve (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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Doctor Harris held the baby gently, at an arm’s length, her feet against his chest, then firmly manipulated her tiny body. Even though Lara knew that it was impossible, she still rooted for baby Mauve to push into the man’s burly chest, or cry -

Or anything.

Anything at all.

But, of course, she didn’t. Couldn’t.

Her mother sat in the upholstered rocker, her gaze fixed on the man who held her infant daughter, her face faraway and expressionless. She hunched over her own middle, thin arms wrapped around herself as though to shield her. She couldn’t be more than twenty, but the marks on her arms said that she was very determined at escaping- or had been, until reality presented itself in the form of a beautiful baby girl.

The doctor went through all the reflex tests – not a glimmer of response from the baby; not a glimmer of hope for the mother. Around them, the NICU was alive; nurses bustling about, parents rocking babies, holding babies, chatting with one another about their progress or setbacks, or, like this mother, sitting in stunned silence, unable to comprehend the mixture of love and hopelessness that they felt for this tiny person who had just entered their lives, and was already in danger of leaving it.

The doctor passed the baby to Lara as he turned to the computer. He had an expert, reassuring manner of handling the infants, even with the most complex life support and monitoring equipment. Lara settled Mauve in the nestlike incubator, fitting a clean and rolled gauze square into each clenched fist. There was little reason – this baby would never open her hands, never use these muscles, except during a seizure. Already, she was on enough anti-seizure medication to have toxic side-effects – and she still seized several times a day.

This post is in memory of Elijah James Burton, July 13-25, 2003.

“I’m sorry.” Doctor Harris used that tone they all affected with bereaved parents. Kind, but distant – a Joe Friday delivery of simple facts that allowed them to keep doing this job that held both tragedy and joy.

“Sorry…” The mother echoed, tonelessly, as though she was tasting the word, but not taking any meaning from it.

“No!” said the other girl, at the same time. She hovered over the young mother’s shoulder, as though she could protect her if she only stayed near enough.

“I am sorry,” Doctor Harris said again, meeting the stunned and accusing syllable with compassion. He frowned a bit as the child’s mother just sat there, hugging herself and rocking slightly.

“Then there’s no hope?” the dark-eyed girl asked.

“It’s as near total ancephaly as I’ve seen. If she had any less of her amygdala or brain stem, she would not have survived to this point, and quite possibly would have died before birth.”

A baby girl without a brain.

Sometimes, Lara saw things here that were unspeakably cruel, and she wondered why she stayed.

The girl – she couldn’t be more than sixteen – came nearer, stared at the screen. The glow bathed her face, as her composure crumpled, and she began to sob. “This just isn’t fair!”

Lara sighed to herself. No. It wasn’t fair. It never was.

As if the exclamation had awoken her from whatever trance she’d escaped to, the mother leapt from the chair, and pressed her hand against the plastic that separated her from Mauve. Then she stared at Lara, and stabbed out at her with a trembling finger. “You have to save my baby!”

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Blogging from A-Z: L is for Linwood (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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“Linwood? That you, Linwood?”

Linwood turned slowly. No, it wasn’t Father, and the accent – not an accent that belonged to the Canyon, but one he’d heard, and knew. He tried to dredge up a memory, but his mind stubbornly twisted everything, back to the Canyon, and his young wife, waiting at home – waiting for him …

“Linwood? Are you all right? Come and see the new foal Pequita dropped, just yesterday.”

The words were as half-familiar to him as the air, or the sound of the water. As Water Whispers sleeping – but how could she be sleeping, when her chest neither rose nor fell?

Linwood shook his head, to clear it, or to deny the shadowy memory, or maybe both.

He looked at the small, dark, wiry man, wizened with great age. He seemed somehow familiar, and yet not. Everything was half-known; nothing was as it should be.

Havasu Falls, Havasupai Reservation, Arizona. Photo by James B. “Chef Bluebeard” Burton

He walked on – or shuffled. He could not make his legs and feet move – but was he not the finest dancer in all the Southwest, leaping higher and spinning faster than any other? Was that not how he had first wooed Water Whispers, and then, while the afternoon ripened, hadn’t he taken her to a hidden side canyon, behind a sheltering wall of tumbled boulders? Had they not lain together upon a huge, sun-warmed rock until the stars looked down on them from above?

He was looking for flowers – or the water. He wasn’t sure which.

Why wasn’t her chest moving, when he’d left her? Why was her hair silver, and not the deep blue black, smelling of sunshine and desert air, that he loved to bury his face in each night?

Linwood decided not to think about it. No. He would gather flowers for Water Whispers, and visit the pools. And, when he went home, he would give her them to her, and she would put them in a clay jar on the sandstone table. They would walk together to bathe and splash in the turquoise pools, and her hair would be gleaming in the sun, and he would leap and spin and dance for her, before they walked to the side canyon, and the sun-warmed rock.

Linwood walked on, losing himself in the dream, but, beneath it, was the vision of his wife lying in their bed, still as the rock cliffs, chill as the night air.

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Blogging from A-Z: K is for Karina (Kifo Island Chronicles)


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The phone was ringing -again? Still? – when Karina walked into the cottage that still smelled like Mother.

“I should have had it disconnected.” She made a face probably better suited to someone a dozen or more years younger. The phone responded by ringing again, as Karina kicked off her loafers and wiggled her newly painted toes against the smooth cool sandstone floor. Maybe it was already too late to pretend she hadn’t heard it, but Karina decided to try. She’d come home with the thought of a cold glass of raspberry lemonade and a long bubbly soak with candles and music, and she wasn’t going to let them rob her of it.

“There’s just too many of them,” she said to Mustafa, as the large grey tabby wound himself around her ankles, purring loudly in greeting. “If I keep answering every time the phone rings, I’ll never have time to do any of the things I need to do – let alone anything I want to do. But why am I justifying myself to a cat?”

She stepped carefully around him, and went to the phone. A quick glance at the answering machine said that there were already three messages – and she’d only been gone an hour or so. Before she could talk herself out of it, she pressed the mute button mid-ring.

The immediate silence was soothing – and a weight she hadn’t gotten used to carrying yet.

Karina soaked in the large whirlpool tub with Enya echoing gently through the cool and soothing space. Mustafa perched in the window, purring and grooming himself.

She tried not to think about the phone, or her siblings, but still ended up leaving the bath after only fifteen minutes or so. As she pulled on her robe, Karina looked at Mustafa, who was now draped along the windowsill, sleeping in the sun.

“Maybe it takes practice to learn to relax.” Her voice was muffled by the towel she wrapped around her head.

Karina tried to ignore the phone, which sat there in silent accusation, and the beckoning of the “5” that flashed like an indictment on the answering machine screen. She poured another glass of lemonade, feeling the warm relaxation of the bath fading into the beginnings of stiffness -

The machine engaged, again – and, after her own calm greeting, a flood of Russian so fast and shrill that Karina could focus only on the voice – Svetlana, again. It was the tenth time, today, at least, and the sun was hours from setting.

Karina glared at the machine until it cut her sister off, the stiffness becoming a hot lightning bolt of pain, arcing up her neck, through her head, and down to radiate across her shoulders. The flashing “6” seemed to burn itself into her eyes, an unspoken curse.

The machine engaged again, and Svetlana picked up right where she’d left off.

“7.” The machine flashed.

And her message again, and, again, that shrill Russian.


Karina put her head in her hands. It hurt to touch it. She felt tears starting, and tried to stop them – it would hurt to cry against the tight band of pain. The greeting, the Russian…


Mustafa came to leap up on the back of her chair and rub against her shoulder. Karina sighed as the machine engaged again. “I was wrong,” she told him. “It doesn’t take practice to learn how to relax – it takes being part of a different family.”

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Blogging from A-Z: J is for Josiah (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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The bell on his studio door jangled cheerily, and, when Josiah looked up, there were two girls, the oldest maybe 17, but with a stressed look of haunted avoidance in what might have been bright blue eyes. The other, a Polynesian beauty, was maybe a year younger, and focused directly on him.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, before Josiah even got his mouth open to give a greeting.

“Good morning”, he said, with a smile. “How may I help you?”

The fair girl stared around the room, almost as though seeing none of it; maybe she didn’t. The other held to her arm, propelled her forward gently. “Come on, Marilyn – you said this was what you wanted.”

“But if we talk to him – then it’s real.”

The words struck Josiah uncomfortably, as though they held a deeper message; one she hadn’t intended, and one he’d rather not hear.

“It’s real whether you ask him or not -”

“Ophelia, please don’t – ” Now, she spoke as if pained, putting a hand up between them as though to ward off the words. She tugged her arm, but not strongly enough to free it.

“Will it help Mauve to pretend that you’ve got no reason to be here, Marilyn? Will it help you?”

The blue eyed girl looked at him in a flinching way. “I like your sculptures,” she said, in little more than a whisper, then bowed her head and stared at her feet, clad in scuffed suede sandals.

“Thank you. Feel free to look around, touch, and ask me anything.” He gestured to the refreshment table set in a corner. It was ringed with plants and his garden art. It was a refuge, a place where people could take in the sculpture, consider special orders, or just rest and relax. Most businesses here at Kifo had something like this; many of their guests needed both space and special attention. “Help yourselves to coffee, tea, or juice, if you’d like.”

Photo credit: Jenny Kaczorowski; courtesy WANA Commons at Flickr.

The older girl almost pulled the other now, and they murmured softly to one another as they settled, going about the small business of pouring, sweetening, and stirring.

Josiah thought that it would be better to move about the shop than to settle back to work. So he brought out his feather duster and lemongrass cleaning spray, and wandered here and there while maintaining a posture he hoped the girls would see as open and receptive. He made sure never to turn more than halfway toward or away from them – something Corinne had shown him, a way to neither confront nor ignore uncomfortable guests.

The fairer girl hunched over her cup as if in pain, her eyes darting here and there, as though she half-suspected someone or something would leap out of the greenery and attack her. The other sat, calm, but also poised for motion, too.

He was wondering if he would run out of things to fuss over when the older girl said, in a softly broken voice, “I was told you made sculptures to order…”

Josiah nodded and came a half-step closer. “I do.”Instinct told him to say nothing more, to let her decide what to say, and how.

“I have a baby daughter.” It was almost fierce, the way she said that, with the most energy she’d shown since she walked in, and, now, she looked at him directly.

Josiah wondered how he was supposed to answer that, so he nodded and said, “May I sit with you?”

She nodded, biting at her lip, then almost hid behind her hair and her teacup.

He pulled his chair a little away, so that he could sit sideways, and not confront her. The dark girl mouthed, “Thank you,” but stayed still and quiet – waiting, now, to see what Marilyn would do.

“Mauve is dying.” A catch in her throat, and tears in her eyes. “Will you sculpt her, while she’s still alive? Will you make my baby an angel?”

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