Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the 2016 O'Richey-O Halloween Costumes:
...although I kind of look like Sally from the Nightmare Before Christmas in this PARTICULAR shot...

I'm so, so excited about this you guys.  So excited.  We've been planning this family costume ever since we realized that our child would be about a year old come Halloween.  Which is to say this has been nearly 18 months in the planning.  It's nice to see it finally take shape, even if no one else (save, like, three trick-or-treaters) got to see it in the flesh.

I am cognizant of the fact that this family portrait is actually pretty damn macabre- but then again, this is Halloween, when you're supposed to face up to the things that terrify you.  And leaving my child orphaned is definitely something that frightens me to my core- far more than any ghosts or goblins.  Fear is personal that way, as is how we confront it.  For me, at least, the best strategy I can conceive of is to laugh at it.
The boychild isn't phased, anyway.

Riddikulus, indeed.


Intervention (Hallowshade)

Nadia's text is mysterious- much like my best friend herself, since she became a teenage vampire four years ago:

Meet me at the Falcon- come alone

The Gilded Falcon is the only cool bar in our small northeastern town.  Sometimes I think it's the only bar in town, since it's the only one where anything seems to happen.  It's been exploded and rebuilt a time or two (or is it three?  It's been an eventful half decade, hard to keep track), but each time it seems to come back exactly the same.  Just like us.

Anyway, none of the bouncers there check our IDs anymore, so even tho' technically we're all seventeen or eighteen for the rest of eternity, we spend a reasonable amount of time at Falcon's, drinking things other than blood.  Well, except for Freja, who was spelled to violently reject anything but the blood of virgins a few months back.  We're still working on a cure for that, primarily because virgins are a rapidly dwindling commodity ever since Cyrus came into (as it were) his incubus heritage.

The Falcon looks closed as I approach (it keeps super-weird hours that oddly seem to coincide with when we need privacy), but I don't trust the quiet.  I stop across the street and glance around for anyone hiding in the shadows: nothing.  Then I concentrate for a moment on my hearing, listening for anything out of the ordinary.  Little bumps and scrapes coming from inside the bar indicate the presence of more than just Nadia.  I listen harder, but the problem with being super-powered immortal beings is that we've gotten in the habit of speaking very softly just in case someone with super-powered-hearing is listening.  I can hear at least two voices, but can't make out what they're saying.  Two more-or-less human heartbeats, tho', which is surprising: that means that, in addition to Nadia, at least Portia and Emir are in there.

Is it a surprise party? I wonder.  But there's no occasion for a surprise party.  My birthday was at the beginning of summer, and my deathday isn't until Christmas (and yes, it's just as obnoxious to share a deathday with Christmas as it is to share a birthday, even if it did give me a few extra vampire powers).

Eventually I shrug and cross the street.  There's no sound of a struggle, so it's unlikely that whatever's going on means trouble for me.

Oh how wrong I am.

There are nine-  no, wait, eleven.  There are eleven of us now that I've walked through the front door: the core five who started it all, and the six others who have wandered in and out of our lives since the day James and Nadia pledged their eternal love.  Of course, James is with Rei now, but we all get along tolerably well, even tho I haven't seen some of these people in at least three years.

"Hey guys," I say, trying not to feel paranoid.  "What's up?"

"This is an intervention, Ruby," says Nadia, and I can see her luminescent brown eyes are welling up with tears.

"For whom?" I ask, trying not to glance at Cyrus, who is currently nuzzling Emir's neck.  Emir looks vaguely bored, which is not a typical expression for a teenage werewolf.

"For you, Ruby," says Heinrich, placing a protective hand on Nadia's delicate shoulder.  He's capable of brooding even more impressively than his cousin, James, and he turns the full force of that troubled look at me now.  "We're worried about you, Ruby."

"About me?" I grin.  "Why would you be worried about me?  I'm the most drama-free person in this room!"  I mean it as a joke, but... it's actually true.  Really true.  Ten sets of inhumanly beautiful eyes stare back at me, and my smile falters.

"Ruby, you know we love you," says Muriel.  She's the newest in our little group, just pulled into our dimension last year, so I'm not really sure that she's had time to grow to "love" me, but-

"So much," says Nadia.

"So much," Muriel agrees, nodding her white-blonde head earnestly.  "But Ruby, have you ever thought that maybe you just..." she trails off, helpless.

"Maybe you're not good for the group," Hiro says, firmly.  I give him a raised eyebrow.

"I'm not good for the group?  I'm not the one whose weird twin-magic," I cock my head towards his sister Rei, "Had everyone body-hopping for three months.  Or the one who let their demon-turned father," I shift my gaze to James, "Blackmail them- with some stupid shit, quite frankly- into providing all of our blood for dark rituals.  In fact, I'm the one who stopped him-"

"By killing him!" James bursts out, eyes going red with rage-induced blood-lust.  Rei places a restraining hand on his chest, but I'm in no mood to coddle him.

"Hell yes by killing him," I shoot back.  "He killed Lydia!  He killed Dawn!  He killed Aaron and he was going to kill Portia again!  And every time he killed, his demon-self got stronger and more evil!  Of course I killed him!"

"There might have been a way to redeem-"

"There wasn't," I say, flatly.  "Keeping him alive would have lead to more deaths, and you know it."

"Then why did you kill Kate?" asks Freja, coldly.  "She was just a mortal, and hadn't killed anyone at all."

I throw up my hands in exasperation.  "She didn't kill anyone because I snapped her neck before she could.  And the only reason I was able to snap her neck was because she was still mortal which, if you'll recall, she was looking to change within the next month by killing a werewolf vampire hybrid," I glare at Heinrich, "With that damned cursed dagger she had!  I just stopped things from getting beyond our ability to deal with them."

"That's just it!" Nadia bursts out.  "You're always doing that lately!"

"Always saving the day?"  The sarcasm dripping from my voice causes her to flinch, but I'm irritated enough by this ludicrous situation not to care.

"Always stopping things before they get really interesting," Cyrus complains.

"Wait- what?" this draws me up short.

"Yeah," says Emir.  "You killed Kate before she could ascend as Hecate and we all sort of... went home.  End of story."

"And that's bad?" my voice raises an octave with my incredulity.

"Very bad," says Muriel, seriously.  "We're teenage vampires-"

"And incubi."

"And werewolves."

"And hybrids."

"And witches."

"And re-embodied ghosts."

"And dragon spirits."


"The point," Muriel says loudly, "Is that we're immortal creatures of the night, and you're too pragmatic."

"You're making it boring," Rei pouts.  "When you figured out that James and I had secretly fallen in love, and that Nadia and Heinrich were actually eternally-bound soul mates, you made us all sit down and talk it out and we had everything resolved within three days.  That's not how epic love stories are supposed to work!"

"And just last week," Cyrus adds, "You smashed the Mirror of Ancients before anyone could get trapped in their past lives."

"...are you fucking kidding me right now?  Did you want to spend a few centuries stuck as a medieval peasant?"

"We just want you to try," pleads Nadia.

"Try what?" I snap.  "Try letting some psycho actually get all the way through their plan to suck Hallowshade into a hell dimension, without interrupting them?"

"You don't have to go that big right away," Portia says quickly.  "Maybe start with something a little smaller.  Like a love-triangle with a normal human couple, and in the end you selflessly leave so they can live out their mortal lives together."

"One," I hold up a finger, "that sounds incredibly pointless for everyone involved. And two," I hold up a second finger, "there are barely any normal humans left in this town, anyway.  Pretty much everyone has some sort of mystical connection going on."

"They could be outsiders?" Hiro said, helpfully.

"Still dumb," I snarl.

"Okay, okay, no love triangles," says Portia.  "What about-"

Cyrus suddenly brightens.  "What about a mystical preg-"

"If you finish that sentence, Cyrus, I will rip your fucking tongue out."  I mean this quite literally, and I'm certain he realizes it, because he shuts up.  There's an uncomfortable silence.

"Look, Ruby," Heinrich says at last, drawing himself up to his full, impressive height.  "If you're not willing to change, then we can't be a party to your actions any longer."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means," Nadia's tears have spilled over and are running down her perfectly sculpted cheekbones, gleaming silver in the bar lights.  "It means we can't... we can't..."

"We can't be friends with you any longer," says Freja, voice gone from cold to glacial.

"Yeah, I got that part," I say, rolling my eyes.  "But what does it mean?  Are you just going to give me the eternal silent treatment?  Or are we going to be, like, mortal enemies now?  Should I be looking over my shoulder for alternating assassination/reconciliation attempts?"

No one answers me- in fact they're all avoiding eye contact.  I heave a giant sigh, because I know how this has to go.  Have seen it coming for a while, if I'm being brutally honest with myself.

"You know what, never mind," I say.  "If you guys hadn't said anything, I probably would have, myself.  You haven't exactly been subtle with the way you ignore my perfectly straightforward plans in favor of your elaborate schemes.  I'll make this easier on all of us and just take my leave.  Give me a couple days to pack up my shit and forward my mail, and I'll be out of your hair.  I'm sure I can find a nice, non-magical-magnet sort of place to settle down and pass a quiet couple of centuries."

"Ruby-" cries Nadia as I spin on my heel, and her sorrow is exquisite enough to break your heart.  But I know that me leaving like this, all big-gesture-y, will give her more of what she needs than me staying to work things out ever could.  Besides, I'm just so exhausted by all of the convoluted drama, and it's only been five years since vampires came into our lives, and two years since I turned.  The idea of doing this for the rest of eternity makes me want to stake myself, and so I keep going, ignoring James as he mutters,

"Forward her mail?  See, that's exactly why she had to go.  In all my three-hundred years, I've never forwarded my mail.  It's just so mundane..."

(In Case You Were Curious)

Ruby- a vampire with "a few extra powers".  Like pragmatism.
Nadia- vampire
Freja- vampire witch
Cyrus- vampire incubus
Portia- re-embodied ghost
Emir- werewolf
James- vampire
Rei- water-dragon spirit
Heinrich- vampire-werewolf hybrid
Muriel- vampire from a hell dimension
Hiro- fire-dragon spirit


Baby's First Indie Comic

There are a few people in my life who know how to throw one hell of a party.  This is nice for someone like me, who enjoys attending amazing parties, but generally only throws casual get-togethers.  One such amazing-party-thrower is my friend Jenni Bost, who actually has an entire awesome blog about it (the appropriately named A Well Crafted Party).  Go check it out: I'll wait.

... ... ...

Welcome back!  I'm assuming it's a few hours later, because you've felt compelled to do a bunch of super-cool crafts and mix up a bunch of delicious drinks.  It's cool.  I've been there.

In fact I was literally there tonight!  Jenni threw her annual Halloween Party, and this year's theme was Comic Books.  I mentioned the other day that I decided to do more of a concept costume, and here's the result:
Embiggen for an extra joke on Neeps's shirt.
(The photo is B&W, just like our low-budget mini-comic.)

You got to read the first draft of the script the other day, so I thought you might like to check out the Final Product today:
Extremely limited run.

Yes, I misspelled pseudonym and had to hand-correct each issue.

Neeps used my copic brush pen for his subtle-yet-nuanced inking.


Oh look, did someone accidentally leave AN ENTIRE FREAKING WORD BALLOON OUT and then have to go in and hand-write it in ten freaking times??
Look at that, they totally did.
We brought a handful to the party and gave them out (Nathan said that if we really wanted to sell the costumes, we should have brought a folding table and sat behind it, staring at people hungrily) and people seemed to enjoy it. I know we enjoyed making it, even if I did have to all-but-hog-tie Nathan to get him to just produce something quick rather than slaving over something "perfect".  After all, it was just a prop.

...for now...


A New Sort of NaNo

Well.  NaNo starts on Tuesday, and I've figured out how I'm tweaking the challenge to suit my current lifestyle.

My goal will be to write for at least ten minutes of fiction per day, ie a minimum of 300 minutes by the end of the challenge.  That doesn't sound like a lot but trust me- in this season, it is.  I'm going to do a collection of short stories, specifically retelling fairy tales/myths,/fables/etc.  I reached out to social media for people's favorites, thinking to use it as a list of potential stories I could retell, and here's what they came back with:

Beauty and the Beast
Last Unicorn
Alien ("I don't think that counts as a fairy tale," I told my friend, "But challenge accepted!")
Robin Hood
Eden Narative
Gawain & the Green Knight
Mountain Storm King
Monkey Saga
Paul Bunyan
John Henry

I also happened to come across Neil Gaiman's version of Hansel and Gretel the other day, so I added that to the list, as well.

There were other suggestions, but they were tales I've already done, so I left them off for now.  But who knows what the future holds.

Stay tuned!



I mentioned last night that I had put some work into non-comic-book costumes.  Here's a process-post on the one I've made for Neeps:
Concept sketch- making an adorable lion out of a heart.

Stencil from freezer paper.

New paint brand for this!

There was a little bit of bleeding, but all in all, I'm pleased with it.
Gonna' pair it is a strategically-placed lightning-bolt "scar", and he'll be good to go!


Amber Avian Draft

We are going to a Comic Book themed Halloween party on Saturday.  Normally I'd have gone to the nines on our costumes, but since I'd already put quite a bit of effort into costumes that are not comic-book-related (stay tuned), I decide to be clever conceptually, and dress us up as Artist, Writer, and Inker.  And, of course, to complete the costumes I decided we'd make a tiny comic book.  Tonight I (the writer) wrote the rough draft of that comic:

Cover:  Amber Avian Adventures!

Page One:

Amber Avian Adventures, Issue One

Story by: Jenny O
Pictures by: Nathan
Ink by: Neeps

Cast: (just a little head shot of each character)

Duck: a mild-mannered duckling who stays in line- except when the weak need protecting: then he dons his secret identity of...
The Amber Avian: that fairest of fowls, sworn to stand against the naughty forces of the world, like…
Bad Pig: she just can’t seem to help herself- she’s always making trouble!  Especially for…
Wee Flipperling: Duck’s best friend, a seal who idolizes the heroic Amber Avian without realizing the two are one and the same!

Page Two: (little vignettes of a crying baby duck in a half shell; Duck releasing a fish from a hook; and the fish looking magical as sparkles form around Duck)

Abandoned at birth to fend for himself, Duck knows how hard the world can be for the small and defenseless.  When a magical fish granted him a wish in return for him saving her life, Duck knew just what to wish for- the power to defend all those who cannot defend themselves!  And so the fish transformed Duck into…

Page Three/Four: (two-page splash of Amber Avian fighting Bad Pig)


Page Five:

(AA has BP in custody and is scolding her as WF looks on, stars in his eyes.)

AA: Bad Pig!  How could you steal those kids’ food?!

BP: It smelled too delicious!  I had to have it!

AA: It doesn’t matter how delicious it smelled- it’s wrong to steal!

BP: But... I was sooo hungry!

AA: Then you should have asked for some food, not just taken it!  Now, you’re going to make these kids a new meal to replace what you stole!

Page Six:

(BP looks panicked, AA looks thoughtful, WF looks helpful.)

BP: But… but I don’t know how to cook!  That’s why I was hungry!

AA: I see- that is a problem… but one we can fix!  Wee Flipperling?

WF: Yes, Amber Avian?

AA: Can you teach Bad Pig how to cook?

WF: Anything for you, Amber Avian!  In fact, my best friend, Duck, is a really great cook!  I’m sure he’ll help, too!

(AA looks rueful, BP looks sulky, and WF looks delighted)

AA: Er, uh… great idea, friend!  What could go wrong?

Will Duck be able to keep his secret identity a secret when the heat gets turned up in the kitchen?  Tune in next time for more AMBER AVIAN ADVENTURES!

Back Cover:

Creators: (headshot of each of us)

Writer: Jenny O is a chronic story-teller

Artist: Nathan is an early-onset curmudgeon

Inker: Neeps is most certainly a pseudonym


The Rootless Ones

I have confession to make.

It's not much of a confession, as far as confessions go.  Generally speaking, confessions ought to be at least somewhat of a surprise, right?  Or at least involve some sort of naughtiness?  This one just involves confusion, mostly.  And guilt.

I guess it's the guilt that makes it a confession.


My confession is this: I don't understand roots.

Or perhaps- I don't know how to do roots.

I am the military brat progeny of two military brats.  My husband is also a military brat by way of at least one military brat.  We are really, truly, not from anywhere, and the culture of our childhoods is not one that we can go back and visit on a whim, because our dependent ID cards were revoked when we turned 21.

We bought a house in this town, after years of wandering for the both of us, with the idea of staying here long term- of settling down, if you will.  Putting down roots.  Four years later a little shoot popped out, young and tender and easy to transport.  Rootless, just like us.

Before he was born- before he was even conceived, we'd talked about our fears regarding raising a child in one place, without moving every three years.  We have no experience with that- we're not sure how to do it.  All we knew is that there are people in the world, people we have met, who have lived their whole lives never leaving the county they were born in- the same county their parents were born in- and they are content with that.  And that concept chilled us to the bone: we wanted more for our child.  Better.

Hence the importance of budgeting for travel.  We want to make sure he is exposed to other places, other cultures, other peoples.  We want to make sure he can adapt and thrive wherever he is planted.

And I worry I will fail at that, because the only way I know how to do it- the way it was done for me- is not what I can do for him.  And what I can do for him- will it work?

And I worry that there will be such a disconnect between us- that he will have roots and ties to a specific place, a specific house, a specific town, and I will not be able to understand it, and he will suffer from that lack of understanding.

I guess all we can do is try.


Only In Dreams

More Story Seeds from Dreams:

I get a big, glossy, double-sided flyer/poster in the mail, advertising an escort service. The male on the back is an old friend, and it's his ex-wife (whom I've only ever met once in passing, in real life) who is running the business. I go to check it out, because I'm worried about my friend- he and she have a son together, but beyond that don't seem to get along well enough to be entering into a business together- especially not one that's her making money off of him. I discover that the service offers more than just sex for hire- there's also drugs and (for some reason) a girl who can See Things when pain is inflicted on her (which is a direct pull from a different story I have). She has two "handlers"- one to push harder ("She can take more!") and one to protect her ("Too much!").  Between the two of them they keep her on the edge of Seeing as much as possible without being too damaged to See more.  I witness her being put into a car against her will, without her handlers- and when I try to find out what's going on, the Push one is really worried- says she's already been pushed too hard for this client. I'm trying to find my old friend to help me get her back, but he's gone missing, too, so I call in a different old friend, who is weirdly fascinated/horrified by the whole thing- but I know he'll help me rescue her, because that's sort of what he does: rescue people. We're sitting in a trough-shaped hot tub set up on a couple of ladders, discussing our strategy, when two-year-old Beetle pops her head up over the edge, looking for her Dad. So now I have to keep her safe while I go on a rescue mission for at least one psychic escort, and possibly my first old friend, as well.

(My dreams are so weird.  And strangely non-sexual for such a sexual setting.)


Blue Hubris

So remember when I was buying us a puzzle?  And I wanted us to be challenged?  Well, I may have been just a touch too ambitious, with my 1000-piece selection of various-shades-of-blue-and-violet.
The beginning.  When we still were young and optimistic.
We swiftly realized we'd need a "staging area", as it were, as well as our piecing-together area.

At least we remembered to do the edges first!

Sadly that is probably like four or five hours of (collective) work right there.  It felt really impressive at the time.


We got nowhere near finished in the time we had- so we very carefully broke what he had down into sections that would fit back in the box.  Stars only know when we'll have a chance to work on it again... but I may go buy us a 500-piecer just so we can try again some weekend.



we are spending the weekend
gloriously unplugged
just our little family
and the sea

i took my son down to see
the lord poseidon
in his cold and glorious

the last time we visited
(on my birthday)
i anointed my blood
with a bit of the lord's
(a pagan-catholic baptism
as it were)

today my blood
holds my hands
walks unsteadily
across the shifting sands
to greet our patron

laugh and shriek
as the foam swirls about his ankles
ancient and newly-born
playing together
beneath an opalescent sun



I Needed This

Stars like freckles on God's shoulders
Milky Way like dust from a moth's wings
I breathe easy now
Cradled between Sea and Sky

At peace with my tiny piece
In the Greater Pattern


Puzzling It Out

I'm standing in a toy aisle at Fred Meyer, staring down a wall of colorful images, and realizing just how naive I'd been when I thought to myself, "Oh I'll just duck in and grab a puzzle real quick!"

You see, although I have known my husband for over two decades, and although we have been romantically intertwined for nearly nine years, I only just this past week discovered that he, too, loves to do puzzles.  (I like that there are still things to be discovered.)


As you might imagine, the fact that we're nearing a decade of marriage, a marriage in which we spend considerably more time together than apart, and yet never realized that the other one loves puzzles, means that neither of us has done a puzzle in all that time.

Which is why I now find myself feeling perhaps a little more pressure than the situation strictly calls for.  Because I want to not just surprise, but delight my husband with a puzzle for our weekend-away, which means I need to pick just the right puzzle.

Except there are a lot more puzzles than I was expecting, and I'm now suffering a bit of Analysis Paralysis.  Obviously I don't want to get anything too easy- we have a whole weekend ahead of us!  But what if I get one that's too complex?  And obviously it has to be a cool image, or at least an appropriately ironically-lame one, to minimize the amount of teasing I will suffer.

In the end I opt for a family of wolves in a frozen landscape, because we will be a family hanging out at a cold beach.  It's practically the same thing, right?  Right.

I glance at my phone- I've spent close to half an hour agonizing over this non-decision.  Ah, the lengths we go to for love.


Nautilus Girls

Spent an hour writing an old friend, and found myself coming back around to a recurring theme in my life- that of the nautilus, crafting itself from itself, the new encompassing the old.  Here is a short excerpt from the letter:

"I am interested to hear what breakthroughs you make on contentedness vs. happiness.  I have always been more of the happiness/joy end of the spectrum, but I find myself in this new and interesting position at the moment because happiness/joy is so closely entwined with content/comfort.  I was actually thinking about it as I walked to my car this afternoon, how it was strange to step back and examine the fact that I was super happy to go home and hang out with my kid, when that is so different from anything that would ever have given me fierce joy even three years ago.  I am far more domestic.  And I was wondering if I should be upset by the change- it's like, I know I've been brainwashed by the hormones, but as long as I'm happy, does it matter how I achieved that happiness?  Or do I owe it to my old self to still chase after the old things?  That just seems silly.  But again- if I knew a friend had been chemically brainwashed, would I be like, 'Well hey, as long as the cult makes you happy...'?  Not that I am comparing parenthood to a cult (or am I??) but there's something to the fact that I'm not myself.  Not my old self.  I am a new evolution of self that encompasses my old self, but has also grown in new ways and shed old pieces that are no longer necessary.  And still other pieces are simply in hibernation during this season, and they will come back.

"I find myself often repeating, 'This is a season.' "


Ghost Story

We fell in love with the house as soon as we saw it- a cape-cod style built in 1910, remodeled (and expanded) in the early aughts, painted a cheerful yellow and just right for our tiny little family (two adults and two cats: we were hoping to up that by at least one baby in the near future).  The couple who had it before us had been there for more than forty years, but had decided they could no longer handle the stairs.

If I'm being honest, it was the garden that sold it more than the house itself.  The wife, Nancy, had been an avid gardener, and the backyard was a private oasis of serene, sweet-smelling beauty.  I sat on a low retaining wall while my husband Michael eyeballed the foundation, and I could quite clearly see our future children playing in the perfectly manicured grass.

About three days after we closed on the place, when the rooms were full of boxes but we were still sleeping in our old apartment, reality hit me: I am not a gardener, and I had no clue how to maintain my little oasis.  And so I did a little social media stalking and reached out to the former owners for some tips and tricks.  Nancy was delighted to give me pointers, but at the end of our conversation she seemed almost like she was trying to decide whether or not to tell me something.

"My husband didn't want me to tell you this," she said, "and of course the realtor thinks I'm just a crazy old lady.  But I feel so bad about... well, I just think you ought to know."

I felt a chill trickle down my spine.  Ought to know what?  Was there a pocket of hidden black mold behind the bricked-in fireplace?  Was the cellar prone to flooding?  Was there an annual snake infestation?  Nancy took a deep breath.

"There's a ghost who lives in the house.  Well, she doesn't live there- but she comes to visit fairly frequently."

There was no rational response to this, and so I said, as politely as possible, "How frequently is fairly?"

"Almost every afternoon, around 1:30.  Sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later.  She's very polite.  I tried to explain that we were leaving but... I don't know that she understood.  She gets confused about things, you know."

"Mmm," I said.

"You don't believe me," said Nancy.  "It's alright.  I didn't believe it myself, in the beginning.  But... well... she likes lemon cookies.  So.  Good luck with the peonies."

I told Michael when he got got back from the store- how could you not share a story like that?  Our very own ghost!  But the days passed, and our attention was taken up with turning our new house into a home, and I soon forgot all about the ghost who liked lemon cookies.

Until the afternoon I stepped out on our back porch and found a young woman- a girl, really- sitting primly in one of my bright white rocking chairs.

"Oh!" I said, because there really isn't much else to say when someone suddenly appears in your backyard that is surrounded by a six-foot privacy fence.  She jumped to her feet, looking vaguely embarrassed.

"I'm so sorry!" she said.  "I didn't mean to startle you.  I'm here for Margaret.  Margaret Nichols.  She, um- she isn't expecting me."  Her face flushed and she looked down at her hands, which were playing nervously with a button on the front of her gown.  She dropped the button and smoothed her skirt.  It was a lovely vintage-style thing, the dark green color extremely flattering with her smooth auburn curls.

"There's- um.  There's no Margaret here," I said, wondering why I sounded so apologetic.

"Oh!" she said, and for a moment she looked like she might cry.  "I... I guess I'll go then.  I'm so sorry to have intruded."

I glanced back over my shoulder at the kitchen, wondering just how she'd gotten through the house without me knowing.  "I think you'd better-" I began, turning back to her- but she was gone.

The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up.

"Hello?" I peered around the porch, as though she might somehow be hiding in a corner.  I stepped out into the garden and rustled the bushes.  "Miss?"

Nothing.  Vanished.  Just like a ghost.

I shivered.

"Well," I said out loud, if only to reassure myself that I was still there.  "That will certainly make for entertaining dinner conversation."  But I didn't mention it over dinner.  Or in bed.  Or at breakfast.  I'm not sure why- perhaps because I didn't want to worry Michael, who was more likely to take the "stranger snuck through the house" position than the "ghostly apparition" position, and insist on an expensive security system.

That afternoon I nervously poked my head out onto the back porch, but no one was there.  I gave a little laugh, feeling silly, and came out the rest of the way.  I needed to do a bit of weeding in the rose bed, so I grabbed my gloves and a little basket as I headed into the garden.

"Excuse me?"

The noise I made can best be described as a "yelp", and I dropped everything in my hands for good measure.

"I'm so sorry!" she said, because of course it was the young woman again.  "I didn't mean to startle you.  I'm here for Margaret.  Margaret Nichols.  She, um- she isn't expecting me."  She looked down at her hands again, exactly as she had yesterday.  I had a hand pressed to my chest, trying to slow my racing heart.

"She... um, there's no Margaret here," I managed to squeak out.  "Remember?"

For a moment she looked confused.  "No, I..." then her face shifted to the same misery she'd shown yesterday.  "I... I guess I'll go then.  I'm so sorry to have intruded."

"Wait-" I said.  "Did... did you maybe mean Nancy?  Nancy Ellis?"  The girl's face grew confused again.

"Nancy," she said.  "I think... I think I knew a Nancy..." her voice trailed off, her gray eyes distant.  But then she shook her head and refocused on me.  "No, no it's Margaret I was... hoping to find.  I should go."  She turned abruptly, her shin-length skirt fanning out ever-so-slightly.

The next moment she was gone.

I sank to my knees, shaking ever-so-slightly.  "Oh wow oh wow oh wow," I said.

I sat there for a while, coming to terms with the fact that I really, truly had been conversing with a ghost.

That evening I called Nancy, not sure if I was doing it to apologize or ask for advice.  As it turned out I didn't get a chance to do either: her voice mailbox wasn't set up.  No help there.

I spent the next morning baking, and by 1:15 pm I was sitting nervously in a white rocker with a plate of cookies in my lap.

The girl appeared standing at the edge of the porch.

"Hello," she said, shyly.  "I'm here for Margaret.  Margaret Nichols.  She, um- she isn't expecting me."  Fingers-clutching-fabric.

"Margaret isn't here right now," I said, trying to keep my voice steady.  "Would you like a cookie?"

"Well I-" she began, looking confused, but I interrupted.

"They're lemon"

Her lips parted every so slightly, and then she smiled.  "I do love lemon cookies," she admitted, and stepped closer to me.

"Well sit down and help me eat them, then," I said, gesturing to the other rocker.  She sat, and took a single cookie from the plate.  She could touch things.  Interesting.

"What's your name?"  I asked, taking a bite from my own cookie.

"Dorothy Easterling," she answered, holding out her hand polite as you please.  "But people usually call me Dot, or sometimes Dottie because of my last name."

I took her hand, and it was cool in mine.  Not cold, like a corpse, but cool- almost like shaking hands with solid mist.  "Nice to meet you, Dot.  My name is Melissa, although people usually call me Mel."

"Oh that's a lovely name!" she said, taking her hand back and breaking her cookie in two.  "I've never heard it before."

"Really?" I eyed her dress again, trying to figure out when it was from.  The silhouette seemed too slim for the fifties.  Forties, maybe?  Thirties?  "I've never thought of it as all that uncommon."

"Well I haven't exactly met a lot of people," she said with a blush.  "So maybe that's it."

"Why are you looking for Margaret?" I asked, and she gave a little start, dropping the cookie.

"Oh!  Um, it's not-" her eyes began to fill and she looked away.  "Not anything... important.  I should go."

"I'm sorry," I said, and I was, but she had already stood.

"Thank you for the cookies, Mel," she said, and dashed away into nothingness before I could respond.

"Alright," I said to the thin air left behind.  "Time to figure out who the hell Margaret Nichols was."

I'd like to say it was a long and dramatic search, but the truth is that it took all of ten minutes with a search engine to discover that Margaret Nichols was the second owner of my house, and had lived in it during the forties.  But there was nothing tying her to a Dorothy Easterling.

"Curiouser and curiouser," I muttered to myself, although it wasn't as appropriate as a crack about Kansas would have been.

Nancy was right on the nose when she said that the ghost- Dot- did indeed appear almost every afternoon.  She always started out asking for Margaret, but if I tried to get her to talk about the woman beyond that, she would get flustered and leave.  It didn't take long for me to stop trying- as it turned out, I quite enjoyed Dot's company, and didn't like upsetting her.  She seemed to enjoy my company, as well- in time she'd even remember a bit from one day's conversation to the next.

How does memory work, for a ghost?  I'm still not sure.


Nothing New Under the Sun

Traffic was particularly heavy this morning (thanks in no small part, I'm sure, to all of us normally-bike-commuters driving our SUVs so as not to be Washed Away by the promised Typhoon Thunder Storms) which meant that I spent a long span sitting still on Main Street, staring out my window as I waited for the lights to cycle through yet again.

The view that caught my eye was one of the (now many) construction projects going on in the Uptown area.  I watched with interest as a dull-orange excavator extended it's shovel and, with surprising delicacy, moved a layer of earth.  The massive machine repeated its movement, apparently at the behest of an individual holding a long pole (measuring depth, perhaps?) and I was taken by the way it both resembled and yet did not at all resemble the anatomy of human limbs.

That's who they should get to pilot mecha, I thought absently.  Construction workers.  Aircraft pilots are good with their fighting machines, of course, but there is nothing human about the way they move.  It wouldn't translate to piloting a giant humanoid.  And then I got very excited thinking about a bunch of blue-collar heroes who are tagged for the new Special Project because they already have the skills needed.  I'll need to talk to some people who have actually driven those things, I thought, and also my four-year-old nephew, who actually knows the names of all 'those things'.

And that's when it hit me- Blue Collar Mecha Pilots has already been done (more or less):  in fact it is my two-year-old nephew Elk's favorite show, and I watched several episodes with him while we were in Alabama.  It's called Rescuebots, and it's pretty good.  I mean sure, the mecha in question are actual sentient aliens, and don't require any piloting from their human partners, but still.  Close enough.

...or not.  I could always turn it into a short story.


The Oathbreaker, Pt I (The Third Draft)

Once upon a time, I was a little girl with two living parents.  My father was a miller, which gave us some standing in the village, and certainly contributed to our house being one of the finest in the area.   It was my mother, however, who kept us comfortable, making our house a home.

I was her only daughter, and so she taught me to be a woman in our world: to keep the house snug and clean; to grow and prepare food both nourishing and delicious; to spin and weave and darn.  In these ways our family was kept healthy, strong, and whole.  And, of course, happy.

But my mother was more than just a woman: she was a wisewoman, and it suited her that I should be, as well.  Thus she taught me the names of all things, for as she said, to know the name of a thing is to have some measure of control over it.  She taught me the names of the beasts of the field; the birds of the air; and the fish of the stream.  She taught me the names of the plants of the wood and the meadow, and all the many stars of the sky.  She taught me the names of all the forces that move a man’s heart and a woman’s mind.  But most importantly, she taught me the secret names of the good spirits who can be called upon to help in little ways when one is in need.

“Are all spirits good?” I asked her, after she introduced me to the water spirit who generously helped keep our water wheel from growing over-heavy with moss.

“No,” she said solemnly.  “Although all those I can teach you to call by name are.  And in fact I must warn you, my daughter, that you must never accept aid from a spirit whose name you do not know, for they will always have the advantage over you, and that is a very dangerous thing, indeed.”

One day my mother grew very ill, and because she was a wisewoman, she knew that she would die soon.  She called me to her not long after, and pressed something into my hand.  I looked and saw it was a long necklace of red yarn, from which hung a spindle in miniature, roughly carved from a bit of pale wood.

“I had thought to have more time to refine it,” she said apologetically, her smile pale and cracked.  “I’d intended it as your thirteenth birthday present, but now I know there is no more time, and I hope you will not mind that I give it to you unfinished.”

“It’s beautiful,” I said, and slipped the yarn over my head.  “I will treasure it always.”

“Now come closer, my daughter,” she said, “that I may tell you my name.”

“I know your name, mother,” I said, thinking that at last her mind had begun to fail along with her body.  “It is Elaine Miller.”  My mother smiled again.

“That has been a very good name to me,” she said, “But it is not my true name.  If you pray on my grave and then speak my true name, I can come and give you counsel.  And a young woman needs her mother’s counsel, I think.”  Then she pulled my ear close to her lips, and told me her true name.

“Only use it in your hours of greatest need,” she said, “For I can only be summoned thus three times.  But I will love you past forever.”

And then she died.

After that, it was up to me to be the woman of the household, and I did it as best I could, but I did it with a heavy heart, for I missed my mother very much.  I would often go to her grave and spin wool, for that helped me to feel close to her.  But I never called her true name, for my mother had taught me to be wise, and it is not wise to squander boons.

The years passed, and I grew, and soon boys and men asked to pay me court.  But I was perfectly content keeping house for my father, and had no desire for a husband or baby of my own, and so I had my father politely turn all suitors away.  He always asked me, “Daughter are you sure?  I’ve no desire for you to become an old maid out of concern for me,” but when I pointed out that he could remarry as easily, his eyes would flit to my mother’s ring (worn now on my middle finger).  Then he’d hunch up his shoulders, heave a great sigh, and leave me be.

And so we were well-contented with our lives, and comfortable, and happy as two people can be when they’ve lost such a large part of their hearts.

Until the autumn that our millstone broke.


Being Merry

It was a day of tastiness.
Just how I like it.

bok choy, chanterelles, and scallions for our chicken soup


Mountian Rose

Nathan and I went together to pick Neeps up from daycare today (yeah there might be some lingering guilt, so sue me), and afterwards we all went to the grocery store, where there were lots and lots of lovely apples on display!  We got to sample a few, including the one I've always thought of as the, "The Starburst Apple" (it's actually called Mountain Rose)  We bought a few of those to bring home, and Neeps was as delighted by the taste as I was.  (Nathan finds them too tart)
A blushing exterior hides a scarlet secret...
Oh Mai!
Sweet and tart and oh-so-lovely.  No wonder I'm a fan.


Fat Lip

It's a slow day at the office- my boss is out at a conference, and the heavy rain is apparently dampening people's desire to leave the house.  In fact, when the phone rings at 1130 I jump a little, because it's been silent all morning.

I glance at the readout as I pop my earpiece into place, taking in a breath to deliver my cheerful, "Thank you for calling!"  But the caller-ID makes my stomach drop.

It's the daycare.

To her credit, the first words out of her mouth are, "Neeps is okay, but..."

The relief that washes through me almost cancels out the rest of the sentence, but she keeps talking and eventually I put it together: my child has managed to lose a fight with a hard corner, and now he has a fat lip and a torn frenulum.  But he's fine.

I am less fine.

My immediate urge is to go to him and pick him up and cuddle him- but he is fine, and so I will not do that because I need to be at work.  Instead I will sit here and feel guilty that I wasn't there to pick him up and cuddle him when he injured himself.  I will try to fight off the poisonous little voice that hisses, soon he will learn that he can't count on you to be there for him when he's scared and hurting, when he most needs his mother...

If only I could carve Jerk Brain out like the malignant tumor it is.

In the end I do leave work early- but only by an hour.  And he is all delighted smiles when he sees me (although his smile is misshapen by his swollen lip) and I pick him up and hold him and he hugs me back and Jerk Brain has nothing else to say.


The Vivisection

(Remember this concept?)


"Mordecai!" I snapped.  "Stop that at once!"

The boy looked back over his shoulder at me: not startled, not guilty, just curious.  Inwardly I groaned.  Curious was his most dangerous mood.

"Why?"  A spray of blood had spattered across his face, creating a contrasting constellation to his freckles.

"Because it's wrong."  This was not an answer that ever went over well: I always started with it, anyway.  Mordecai cocked his head.

"Why is it wrong?  You dissect birds all the time."

"I don't dissect them.  I dismember them.  And I do it after they are dead," I said, sitting back on my haunches and wrapping my tail around my feet.  "It makes them easier to eat."

Mordecai looked down at the still feebly-moving bird.  If it had been any other boy, I'd have been impressed that he'd caught it in the first place: magpies are highly intelligent and not easily trapped.  But my ward's cunning put even crafty old toms to shame.  "If I eat him when I'm done," he said, "Will it be not wrong?"

I kept my face carefully blank, knowing this could set a dangerous precedent.

"No.  It is always wrong for you to dissect- or dismember- a still-living creature."

He considered this for a moment.  "What if I killed it before I cut into it?"

"That depends."

"On what?"

On what, indeed.  For all of his five years I'd been watching over this child, attempting to unravel what made things right or wrong- a task complicated by the fact that cat morality differed starkly from human morality, and I was attempting to raise him with human morals.  I wasn't always successful, since more often than not I was having to argue something I didn't necessarily agree with.

"On whether or not you need to eat.  If you need to kill," I immediately saw the potential loophole and quickly corrected course, "If you need to kill an animal for food, it is acceptable to do so.  But you are a little boy who is fed regularly by your parents, so you have no need to be killing.  And if you are not killing something to eat it, you must not carve it up, because, as I have said, it would be a waste of life."

"But I'm learning," he said, annoyed.  "And learning isn't a waste."

Damn human morality, anyway.