Box of Ashes

Smoking, Young People, Youth, Be Cool, They Include

Sam Burns heard there would be snow, but that was the last thing on his mind this December of 1967. The radio was whispering quietly in the background, forecasting a storm for Chicago, but being states away ignored the radio cast. Sam was currently busy, enraptured by the cardboard box that lay half open on his dining room table, a Newport dangling haphazardly from the fingers of his left hand to hear much of anything. A part of him knew if he moved an inch it would jump off on its own regard and start telling him the latest. It seemed an outright absurdity. How can an entire life fit with emotions and character, end up in a box, their world complete as a set of dust and cinders?

A voice in the back of his head told him, no, ashes can’t come alive in the dark of night. But what did he know? He retired a year ago from the military at 37. He was no forensic specialist. As he mulled over the abrupt intrusion of this cardboard spectacle, he ran his hands across the stubble that was now becoming a permanent fixture on his face. He wanted to close the box and abruptly forget its existence but knew that wasn’t an option. Instead, Sam watched as one of the cardboard flaps slowly fluttered from the heater vent placed directly above the kitchen table. The small movement created a scrapping noise that was starting to make his skin crawl.

 The sudden ringing of the telephone shocked him out of his revere. Dropping his cigarette on the dented linoleum, he cursed the situation and slowly made his way to the phone, hesitant to first speak less the ashes decided that a getaway was now in fact possible.

“This is Sam.” His voice gruff from days of disuse.

No one answered, but there was enough background to suspect a presence.

“Hello? Anyone there?” A beat. As he moved to place the receiver back on the wall, a small voice finally answered.

“Sam, it’s Linda.” He knew this call would be coming, but it didn’t make it any easier. His eyes shifted to the box then back to the rotary. “I heard they made you executor.”

“Looks like it.”

“Did you get the ashes?”

Sam sighed. “There here, alright.”

“Tracy and I are wanting to spread them on the Wednesday two weeks from now up in Cheyanne, where dad went to school. He was happy there.” Linda was always one to make quick work of a conversation, but in this case it was painful. Her voice always brought a visceral response to his senses, goosebumps, another grey hair to fall out in the shower at night.

He asked, “how do you want to get the ashes?”

An uncomfortable silence followed. The clock on the wall ruthlessly tick tick ticked, somehow masking the sick scraping from the box holding his father’s ashes.

Linda finally replied, “what do you mean? Get your ass to Cheyanne. Can’t mail our father for Christ Sakes and I’m sure as hell not driving to Tucson from Mississippi to get them, I’ll tell you that right now.” Her quiet voice was suddenly anything but.

“I’ve got plans.”

“Don’t pull this now. There’s reason he made you executor of his will. Lord if I know why, but he wanted you involved. So, buck up. We’ll meet you at Lakeview cemetery off O’Neil on the 13th.” The final click that echoed through the receiver left no room for argument, and with what seemed the final nail in his coffin, Sam ran his hands through his disheveled brown hair that was now much longer than intended and turned towards the kitchen table.

He suddenly felt claustrophobic. The room was hot and suddenly too dark for his taste, the peeling wallpaper seeming to mimic his circumstance as a section finally made its move and crumbled to the ground, filling holes in the tainted flooring in a twisted irony. Sam watched in partial wonderment and utter exhaustion as his life was literally disintegrating before his eyes.

He glanced back at the table. The box was a stern reminder of his life’s failures, somehow packaged conveniently in a neat little 3×3 box. It was in that moment he knew that he couldn’t sit in the house and wait for the 13th, he had to leave now. Grabbing only a couple shirts and his spray deodorant, he tucked the box in his trunk and headed east.

Sam wondered what would happen if he drove his car off a cliff and jumped out at the last possible moment. Would he still need to see Linda? Christ, would he even recognize her after eight years? His mind began racing down pathways he’d long lost buried, his shovel highly insufficient for the task at hand.

Slamming on his break, he realized he almost blew past a stop sign, his tires just inches past the intersection. Shaking his head, Sam pulled over and laid his head on the steering wheel. What was he doing? He drove tanks in the military and suddenly he couldn’t get through a small neighborhood road in Tucson. To top it off, his father’s ashes seemed to throb from the trunk, his personalized Tell-Tale Heart bringing him deeper into a state of utter disbelief.

Finally gathering his wits and flicking his old cigarette out the window, Sam turned back to highway 10 towards Las Cruces and lit another, his used butts leaving a crumb trail leading to the anxiety in Cheyenne.

After briefly glancing at his map at the gas station, Sam decided with the extra few days he would exit interstate 25 at Santa Fe and head up north through Pojoaque. He needed to get out of this city and find seclusion before meeting with the witch of the west, or south, in his case. He hoped he could find a bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere, hole up for days with the blinds shut hard.

The blue skies that followed were stark, the brightness a rough juxtaposition to his mood. Although he refused to admit it, the cool air on his face refreshed his spirit and brought a new color to his cheeks. Perhaps he could survive the next two weeks after all. He even found a station that had the Doors and the Turtles on heavy rotation which was alright by him.  

By the time Sam reached Hatch, New Mexico, he was humming along to Light My Fire and trying to decide who could take the other, Aretha Franklin or Arthur Conley. Lost in the trance of the music, Sam almost missed a vehicle carelessly pulled to the side of the road, red hazards blinking frantically. Feeling suddenly more social than that of late, he decided to pull over and offer his service.

As Sam pulled to the side, he noticed a younger woman attempting to lift the heavy hood of what appeared to be a 64’ Studebaker. She seemed mid-twenties, dark hair braided on the side in what looked to be a mad rush.

“Howdy ma’am.” Sam tilted his head towards the woman. She seemed alarmed as her eyes darted to the rear seat of the car. “I’m sorry if I startled you, just looks like you may need some assistance.” He kept his distance, she seemed extremely wary. He suspected he would be too if placed in similar circumstance, being a solo woman in the middle of nowhere New Mexico.

“That’s very kind of you.” She approached Sam cautiously, “my names Carla. Something started smoking a few miles back, but I don’t know anything about cars.” She crossed her arms in somewhat of a defensive manner.

“Name’s Sam. Can I take a look?”

“Be my guest, please. Not a lot of cars coming through here, I was starting to get nervous.” Carla replied, seemingly relieved yet markedly tense.

As Sam made his way to the hood he said, “smells like it might be the coolant, had any issues with that in the past?”

“I honestly don’t know, it’s my husband’s car. I don’t even know what year we got it. I know, not every helpful.” Carla smiled.

He smiled, “no problem at all.” He began analyzing the cars inner parts, pulling a rag from his back pocket and making himself at home. Sam always felt more at ease with cars than with people. Cars followed rules, people were full of subjectivity and disappointment.

“Light my fire?”

“What’s that?” Sam poked his head around the hood, one eyebrow raised.

“The song you’re humming.”

“Oh right, guess so. Didn’t even notice.” He smiled. Before he could ask about her personal music taste, a small voice echoed from inside the car, making him jump.

“Mom? Where are we?”

Carla suddenly appeared panicked. “Baby I’m sorry, I’m just seeing about the car, everything’s ok. Can you go back to sleep?”

Sam failed to notice the child in the back seat, but now understood Carla’s prior hesitation. He continued looking at the engine as they whispered an exchange he couldn’t decipher and didn’t care to.

After some time, he said, “looks like you may have a blown head gasket.”

“Is it drivable?”

She looked antsy to get back on the road and seemed to have a habit of looking back at the road they originated from. He hoped it wasn’t his presence making her nervous, he was a larger man, but he didn’t feel particularly ominous at the moment. “It can cause a lot of issues, especially long term. I may have something to seal it. Are you going far?”

She hesitated to answer.

After some time, Sam replied, “you don’t have to answer that. Let me see what I can do.”

Walking back to his car, he grabbed a tool kit out of the trunk. “I’ll add some sealant that will get you to a mechanic in the next town, but don’t drive too far, I’m not 100% that’s what is causing everything.” He was glad he decided to bring his supplies, he figured if he didn’t know where he was ending up, he better be prepared one way or the other.

“Thank you again.” She looked hesitant. “I’m sorry I don’t have much to repay you for the work.”

“Even if you did, I wouldn’t take it. It’s my pleasure. Have a good rest of your drive, and if it starts up again you better pull over and get a tow.”

Whistling back to his car he realized he hadn’t felt of use to anyone in a long while, perhaps he’d start working as a mechanic again. What he realized he needed was purpose. As the thought became a seed in the back of his mind ready to be watered for growth, he glanced at the trunk of his car and his mood turned sour.

At fifteen, he dropped out of high school to work at his uncle’s automotive shop. That began the torrential domino effect of emotions thrown at him by his father, each blow worse than the last. He worked as a lawyer when Sam was a child, meaning that no son of his would degrade himself to the lowly caliber of mechanic. Why would he waste his life? Sam didn’t understand the full weight of his choice or the actions of his father until he was older and cut from family finances, his mother a meek force caught in the middle of the family downpour of events. What resulted was escape at 18, his saving grace the military where he was able to hon his mechanic skills and start a chain-smoking habit that was somehow worse than his fathers.

Given that history with his father, why was he named executor of his will? It was something that kept him up at night, replaying the last time they spoke like a self-inflicted water torture, the dripping of his father’s last words meant to overflow any waking thought. His deep voice and hearty cough still so fresh and at the foremost of his memory Sam would wake thinking he was there, next to his father’s hospital bed at home offering him water and receiving nothing but a stern look and a flip of the bird in response.

Starting up the car, he wasn’t sure if he felt lightness or despair, helpfulness or distress. The ashes weighed him down as he continued North, solitude and whiskey the only sights set.


This is in response to the 37 word weekend challenge found here.

A black inkwell spills on the clean cement

Trails of words the bread crumbs mark

Splattering across the delicate cracks

Deeply soaked in the dark underground

Never forgotten

A long lost tale so simple and elegant


The Cooridor

This story is in response to the November Speculative Fiction Prompt found here.

The sound of an incessant drip continued to echo throughout the underground corridor as I continued forward, backpack strapped to my shoulders and my high heals in hand. I stopped caring long ago that the stiletto snapped in half as I ran from the Chimera-or what I thought was a Chimera. I wasn’t about to stick around to find out…its three heads seemed enough for me to pass on that invitation.

If Max were alive, he would have reminded me of my ignorance in leaving the quarter tonight, meeting or not. His words would have seeped from his lips in that eloquently infallible way, leaving me transfixed at his every phrasing as he so often did.  

Shaking off the fading memories of my past, I continued to trudge through the dark passageway, glad to be alone. The meeting I left was almost too much, I was glad for the interruption.

I paused for a moment, the drip drip dripping slowly diminishing behind me, a beacon of my progress forward. I knew the underground tunnels well enough near my quarter, but further towards Mission headquarters I was rusty. Luckily, the cement columns held ancient runes within their construction and if you had any ounce of magic in your blood could reveal them- although at times that could be difficult.

Upon analyzing the columns, I noted one donning a small crack in its surface, placed in a manner I knew well. To an innocent bystander, the visual would lend no extra scrutinizing. For me, it was no crack, but rather an indicator of something more. What that was, I would soon find out.

Placing my hand on its surface and facing what I believed to be east, I cleared my mind of all chatter, thoughts and strategy. I opened to the possibility of learning something new-and being vulnerable to it- which wasn’t easy to do. Especially if a Chimera was potentially creeping behind you, dark flames erupting out of its ugly heads.

I placed my hand across the crack and knew instantly I was correct: it was a polar rune. My fingers felt a hot crackle vibrate beneath them as the rune infiltrated my mind, my body temporarily paralyzed as it revealed the information it held. The imagery wavered, my concentration not what it should be given my current situation.

I took a breath.

Suddenly, a map was uncovered, as if cellophane delicately placed over the corridor. I stood perched, a sleek shimmer illuminating my future path. Before I could memorize the pathway to the exit, a loud sound erupted from behind me, the map subsequently dissolving before my mind’s eye.

As I stood alert, waiting for my body to readjust, I continued to assess the noise- was it the three headed beast? That I doubted, I was able to sneak out through the basement faster than most who were fleeing around me, and most didn’t know this hidden escape that Max once showed me. As far as I knew, no one else followed me…what was here, so close?

As the Runes affects wore off, I turned towards the noise, but nothing appeared. It sounded like a large footprint in water, but I was unsure as my heartbeat rang throughout my ear drums in a deep throb. As I let my heart settle, I slowly pulled out my hunting knife, holding it ready at my side. Before I could react in a timely fashion, a figure appeared towards my front.

“Cassidy.” A low resonating voice echoed. The person was standing approximately thirty feet from my stance, but I could see little in the dim lighting.

“Who are you?” Before the creature, or person, could answer, he stepped out of the shadow and revealed himself. “Felix? Is that you?” I lowered my weapon.

He replied, “I’m so glad to see you!” We embraced in a warm hug.

“I didn’t see you at the meeting today, it’s been almost a year, I think.” I said, relieved that he wasn’t a beast hell bent on eating me for supper.

“I’m on Oliver’s radar, I’ve been forced into hiding.” His physique looked older, the skin on his face wilted, holding years of strain from those running in the quarters. But there was a spark in his eye, his brown hair still shaved and his feet still adorned by the same tattered army boot. “And I was there, just in the shadows, if you will. I tried to catch you after the mayhem started but man do you run fast.”

I laughed, “I thought you were the Chimera.”

“Can you believe a Chimera showed? I think they handled it. But if I worked directly for Mission, I would watch my back. Oliver has never sent anything so viscous before. I think he has troops building or he wouldn’t have been so blunt.”

“I was wondering if he was sent or working alone. Either way, that’s not a good sign.”

“Not in the least, and luckily no one died. I think that may be a first for a Chimera attack, at least this far in the city.” He replied.

“You think it is Oliver?”

“Oh, I know. He had that awful silver medallion hanging from his middle neck. God, I hope no one ever says I have a middle neck.”

I laughed. “So, how did you find this cooridor?” I asked looking around, suddenly wary that others may be lurking if he found me so promptly.

He paused a moment, his voice low. “Max showed me, some time ago.”

I nodded, nothing more to be said on that subject. “So, I was just exposing a Polar Rune, I couldn’t remember the exit from here. But someone distracted me, so I didn’t get the details.”

“Polars are the worst. And no worries, I remember the way. I used this tunnel as escape a few months back- Max really saved me with that one.”

I smiled as we began walking, the pillars surrounding us continued their redundancy.

“So…” he broke the silence, “how are you?” It was the question I got asked the most. It had been six months since Max’s death, but it felt like a lifetime. I didn’t fault those who asked, they meant well.

I replied, “I’m alright.”

“You know, you can tell me the truth. We grew up together.”

“I don’t know what to say, really. It’ll be awhile, I think, until things feel normal again.”

“Of course. I think that even though he is gone, his death spurred a lot. More than you know.”

“What do you mean?” Max died while working for Mission, an organization formed to help those inflicted by bad magic, and to fight those using their powers for the depraved. This day in age, Oliver had his hands in almost anyone who met that criteria, which was unfortunate given his history in our nation’s government.  

“More protocols. Just last week, ten would have been dead if it wasn’t for what Max unearthed that night. It took time to get them passed, but it was necessary. People shouldn’t be going into buildings manned by Oliver’s men without prior sweeping for new-age magical beasts.”

“Strange a Chimera should show up today, then.”

“I don’t think that was an accident, but now, Oliver knows we have the technology. We saved ten men last week, but next time we may not be that lucky.”

I replied, “it does help, hearing that his death meant something.”

“I know.” He placed his hand on my shoulder. “I was glad to see you made it tonight, regardless.”

“It was my first time being back. I almost couldn’t bring myself to step through those doors- so many memories.”

“People noticed you there, though. It will be good; it reminds Mission of what can happen if they aren’t careful. Sometimes they get to big for their britches.” Felix led us through more tunnels and we slowly began to incline towards the streets surface.

I asked, “where are you living, now that you’re in hiding?”

“I bounce around, afraid to stay anywhere too long, especially since most homes aren’t dredlocked.” It was rare to find homes in the older quarters that were dredlocked- most that were able to don that protection were mansions and large houses owned by the rich. It typically consisted of a warlock performing a sweep and cloaking the home in a protective spell- all of which were not cheap, but there were other, more off the book ways to achieve the same result- although sometimes things wouldn’t go as planned. With Oliver’s rise in power, it decreased our chances of veiling our magic from the rest of the country. And if that got out, it would be much worse than a lone Chimera attack.

After almost an hour of walking, we finally approached a ladder leading to a rusted metal grate. Felix climbed first, placed his hands on the metal and muttered “procedamus”. The gate peeled itself back and we clambered through, revealing a small disheveled office.

I asked, “where are we?”

“Pete’s office, believe it or not.”

“I haven’t seen Pete in ages.

“Probably because he’s in Vincula.” Vincula was the largest prison cell for those of magical significance. The prisons existence was highly debated, and Oliver worked tirelessly to accuse Mission leaders of maleficence to have them locked up there. Vincula prided itself in its neutrality within city politics- if they caught someone wrongdoing, they would catch you, one way or another. And their criteria for admittance seemed to depend on the day, although those in power would categorically disagree. We suspected them of working with Oliver for years, but no one has been able to prove it.

“That breaks my heart, he was so sweet.”

“Unfortunately, Oliver cares little about the demeaner of his targets.”

I looked around the small room as it appeared untouched by anyone but Pete himself. Tall stacks of paperwork, books and herbs were strewn about haphazardly. He was one of the most well versed herbologists in the quarters, creating remedies and potions that no one would dare attempt. “This looks exactly how I would expect his office to look.”

“I stay here sometimes, when I’m this far into the city. I try to keep everything just so; it seems to be some form of organized chaos. If only I knew what these plants could do… and had the ability to use it. Speaking of, are you still at the college?”

“I took a short break and just went back last week, actually.”

“Good for you.” He smiled as we discussed next steps.

“Well, I’m still in the home Max and I bought a couple years back- it has more rooms than I’d like to look at, to be honest. If you’d like, you can always hide out there. I don’t think many know where I live, he was pretty good at placing a veil.”

He looked surprised. “Are you serious? You would let me stay?”

“Of course, why not?”

He laughed, “I don’t know, I just expected you to be out of that home.”

“You and me both. But it’s better protected than most, and I enjoy being out of the city.”

“I have to deliver this package tonight,” he leaned over and picked up a box next to Pete’s desk, “but I didn’t have plans on where to stay after.”

“Where are you taking it?”

“To the Norman.”

“On West Quarter?” West Quarter was an older part of the magical region. It seemed to be more secluded than the others and filled with more mystery, yet not a lot appeared to happen there either. This combination lead most to avoid the area, there was nothing that needed to be seen there, anyway.

“Yep, one in the same.”

We continued to stand in Pete’s small office, and I surprised myself by asking, “can I come with you?”

“You want to come with me to the Norman?”

“I’ve been feeling cagey lately. Plus, it’s nice to get out of the house. My adrenaline is still spiked from that damn Chimera.”

“More the merrier. Shouldn’t take me long.” As he gathered what he needed from Pete’s small office I stood by the door, looking out the front window. For the first time in a while, I felt like I was getting my life back. Perhaps there was more to live after Max’s death after all.

Becky’s Pies

Smoke started billowing out of the front kitchen window as I stopped to smell the remnants now plastered to my hair strands.

“Becky, why on earth are you making three cherry pies?” Natasha tied the aged apron around her waste as she stared at me quizzically.

“Three pies are better than one?” I gave a side smirk as I looked around the flour ridden area for my misplaced pot holder.

“It’s five a.m. for crying out loud! How long have you been here?”

“Since three. Couldn’t sleep…”

Natasha threw me the pot holder as I scrambled to pull out the burnt pies.

“What happened? I can’t see in front of me but two inches.”

“I think I fell asleep.” I said sheepishly.

“Well at least there’s time to make em fresh. Pull open that window for some ventilation. Any of it salvageable?”

I pulled out the last pie as burnt crust pieces began to sprinkle the floor. “Well, depends on what you mean by salvageable…”

Natasha nodded her head at me in disappointment but still had a smile on her face. “You’ve never burned a thing in five years now three in one go. What’s up?”

My face reddened as she stood waiting. “I took this last night…” I handed her something white.

Natasha said, “you’re gonna give me a heart attack! It this what I think it is?”

“I think so…I’ve been so tired, I was relieved to know why!”

Natasha gave me the pregnancy test back and held me in a tight embrace. “Girl, I’m going to need a lot more ventilation than that windows gonna give!”

This was in response to the daily word prompt, found here:

My Secret Talent

My hands were sweaty, the friction beginning to loosen between my palms and the metal bannister that separated me from the tall men perched below. I tried to readjust my body by rotating my legs, but my arm muscles staunchly protested, my hands slipping another inch. I held my breath and tried to concentrate on what they were discussing…perhaps I could hold on a moment longer.

“John, when does the shipment arrive?”

“Two am on the dot.” John was a large man, looked to be fifty and was donning a hefty Colombia jacket that he had draped over his shoulders. A large weapon was visible underneath its folds, creating a sickening static bulge that moved with his every turn.

“I’ll be here.” According to his name tag, the man who answered went by Florence. He was much smaller, had a meek face and large nose that appeared to have been broken more than once.

John turned abruptly towards Florence, slamming his body against a row of lockers without notice. The loud noise it produced covered up a squeal that emanated from the palm of my hand as it slipped another inch. If either man cared to look up, they would be shocked to see a woman of thirty, dressed in all black with a shotgun strapped to her back. It wasn’t my gun of choice for this situation, but I had to improvise.

“You won’t only be hereFlorence, but you’re taking the package.”


“Did I stutter?”

“No sir…”

“Excellent. And if you do well, consider this an application for promotion.”

Florence smiled a sick smile, hiked up the pants that were too large for his body and followed John into another room, leaving a puddle of mud and slush behind as the only indicator of their existence.

I waited another second and dropped to the ground, arms shaking in relief. The two men answered the question I came to ask, making my job much easier than expected- Florence wouldn’t be the only one here for the package.

I decided to take a small respite across from the lockers, standing out of view from the direction they strode to catch my breath, planning to sneak out the front door. Before I could continue, I heard them walking back towards my stance.

“How am I supposed to trust you if you can’t remember if the door is locked?”

“Better be safe than sorry?” Florence retracted from John as if knowing an arm was going to reach out and smack him. As they approached closer, I was able to see their bodies move towards my hiding place, their figures reflected in a small metal scrap placed just perfectly so.

“You’re lucky your uncle runs operations…” John coughed haggardly as he lit a cigarette and left it dangling in between his fingers as if an extension of his person.

Unfortunately, the front door was left of the lockers. I would have to cross in front of the men if I wanted to leave, and presently stood in a small alcove without anywhere to crouch. There was a small vent, but doubt I had time to pry it open and fit my body inside.

I decided to wait, pulling out my weapon as I watched their silhouettes approach.

Florence seemed to be backtracking a previously made statement and was failing. “But I knew that’s where it was located, I just chose to wait.”

“You have more excuses than I can count. Just stop blabbering, you’re sounding dumber than a bag of rocks.”

I counted a few seconds before they would pass my alcove. There was little chance they wouldn’t see me.

Before I could cock my shot gun, I heard a noise I wasn’t expecting from above.

“Naomi.” A small whisper, but someone was speaking my name. Looking up, I saw June, one of my accomplices, holding a rope down. I buried my confusion and stream of questions for later. Grabbing the rope, I used the side of the small alcove as leverage for my legs, and slowly made my way back where I originally came.

“Did you hear something?” I stopped walking up the wall and both men appeared to halt, listening. The warehouse scene looked as if someone pressed pause, each party waiting for the next to move.

Glancing up, June was motioning me to slowly continue. As I found myself two-thirds of the way up, Florence shouted.

“I knew it! John, there’s someone here!”

Both men pulled out their weapons. June scrambled to pull me faster, all plans of a noiseless rescue long gone. Bullets rang out, the small area amplifying the shots noise three-fold while my ear begged for relief.

As June pulled me up the final leg, I felt a sting shoot up my leg, originating from my left foot.

As I collapsed in the upper rafters, June pulled me up and out of reach from the deadly weapons assault.

“Are you alright?” She sank back, breath rapid as she had my entire weight held between her hands.

“I think I was grazed, but let’s worry about that later.” We both crawled to the opening in the large metal roof, prying it open and creating a great clatter as the metal hinges released the weight of the door. I limped up to the apex of the roof, a helicopter waiting.

June said, “come on, let’s get inside and talk.”

Climbing into the helicopter, it hovered as we discussed plans. “The shipment is coming in at two in the morning tonight but I’m unsure if my presence will force them to change plans.”

“I’ll take care of it, let’s get you seen at the Medic tent first.” June shouted to the pilot to take us to home base, five miles south of the warehouse. We had been positioned there for days, waiting to see about the shipments progress. When none came, I decided to enter the facility myself, hoping to uncover more details.

As we landed and I was taken in to see the doctor on staff, I was briefed and my foot bandaged. I was lucky, it only grazed my heal, I would need only a few weeks recovery.

Unfortunately, I would be unable to finish the mission at hand and was sent home early. I was secretly glad for the early release; I would be able to see my family.

“Mom!” My son Harley ran up to me, embracing me in full as my husband approached.

“Hi, honey, how was your sewing convention? I thought it went through the weekend.”

“It was cut short, one of the other wives got the flu.” I lied under my breath so easily I almost believed it myself.

“What’s wrong with your foot?” He asked as I limped through the front door towards the living room.

“I tripped and cut it on the side of the hotel bed, you know me, so clumsy.”

“You’re always stumbling around when you leave on trips. Good thing your home.” He noted as he kissed me on the cheek. “Carl and I got out to the shooting range yesterday, I won’t bore you with details, but we had a good time, shot off some interesting rounds.”

My exhaustion finally catching up to me, I made an error and slipped. “Shoot any full metal jackets?”

I paused mid motion as I sensed my husband gazing at me curiously, I’d always claimed ignorance when it came to guns. Catching my mistake, I said with a giggle, “I heard that phrase on Law and Order last week.”

He smiled and continued to cut the vegetables for dinner, not another thought about it. I wondered again as I so often did, what would it be like if they really knew my secret talent?

This was in response to Reedsy Prompt #15 found at

Lipstick and Kerosene #writephoto

“It’s just one of those things, May.”

“Driving out to the desert with a six pack and some popcorn?” May noted, eye brow raised.

“Well that too, but no… having a break-up ritual. It’s a must.” Spencer fluffed her hair with a comb she’s had since the eighties.

“Greg n’ I were only together five months for crying out loud.”

“Doesn’t matter, rules are rules.”

Both women stood in front of the small mirror, tainted with old water droplets and scuffed edges.

Spencer said, “something tells me you didn’t read the hand book.”

“Honestly should have, I probably wouldn’t have been so shocked to find myself in an RV in the middle of nowhere.”

“Rule number 67.” Spencer picked up a gas can and motioned May outside.

“Is that gas…”

“Course. Come on.”

May swept the mascara brush over her eye lashes one last time and followed her best friend outside. Stepping off the old wobbly RV steps and unto the dessert ground, clouds of dust trailed both girls like bread crumbs waiting to talk.

Spencer motioned May to sit by a worn fire pit, ashes piled from years of rituals.

Spencer said, “Alright, hand it over.”

“Is this necessary?” May clutched a photo of her and Greg, taken at the State Fair two months prior.

“Rule number eight.”

“Are you sure you aren’t making these numbers up as you go…” May said.

“Not my fault you didn’t read it.”

Spencer grabbed the picture, something that looked like rosemary and one of Greg’s socks left behind at my condo.

“You’re insane.” May said as she pooped the top of a Bud Light.

“I’m not the one who kept his sock.”

Spencer grabbed a match, said something under her breath that May chose not to inquire about, and lit the fire pit.

Both girls sat back in their old camping chairs and watched the flames.

Spencer said, “and this is why we do rule number three.”

“What’s that?”

As she asked the question, the sunset began to flame a bright pink in the distance, the fire melding into it as if one and the same.

May replied, “oh my lord it’s beautiful!”

“Nothing heals like a sunset with lipstick and kerosene.”

This post was in response to Sue Vincent’s photo prompt found here.

Sarah’s Victorian

“Monika, I told you. I entered the contest last week and I just heard back.” I wrapped the hair band around my ponytail extra tight so we could finish our run through Old Mead’s Park. The wind suddenly seemed more volatile as it produced a low humming moan that whispered through the dying fall leaves.

“Yes, but it seems odd, don’t you think? No one has ever heard of Sarah’s Victorian before. This town is small. You think someone would have heard of an old mansion just minutes from town. And being one hundred years old?”

“And that is precisely why I entered the contest. One night every decade they open it to the public and a costume contest? Count me in.”

“It sounds sketchy. How come I have never heard of this contest? No one else is talking about it.”

I winked, “I’m just more diligent. It’s not my fault I keep track of the goings on of this town. And how convenient that it’s on my birthday! Now you have to come.” We started to cooldown, stretching our legs against an old park bench, wood splintering from its corners. “So, will you be my guest?”

“Can’t say no to a terrifying experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

“Now that’s the spirit!” I said.

“Speaking of spirits, do you think it’s haunted?”

“It is on Halloween night, if any spirits were going to be haunting around…but I doubt it. If it was, we definitely would have heard of it.”

“Unless everyone that goes there doesn’t make it back.” Monika said wide eyed.

“Better bring your mace, then.” I smiled.

The rest of the week flew by until suddenly, it was Thursday morning. Halloween day brought with it a crisp chill and stark cloud cover leaving the day feeling grey and frigid.

“I hope they’ve upgraded this mansion to have heat and running water.” Monika stated as she loaded her weekender into my truck.

I replied, “this isn’t the 1800’s.”

“I’m dropping a pin and sending it to Mike when I get there.”

“It is kind of weird that Google maps doesn’t have it listed…” I said.

“You’re not helping.” We both jumped into the front cab and took off toward Mainstreet, my gears creaking as we drove through a wall of thick fog. “The directions say to head east.”


Monika exclaimed, “now!” I slammed on my breaks and I turned the wheel left as we skidded unto a small gravel road.

I asked, “are you sure this is right?”

“Miller road…” she checked the email on her phone again. “It says to continue four more miles.”

“This road goes on for four more miles? I thought this was protected forest.”

“Not protected from haunted mansions, apparently.”

The road continued to meander through thick forest until suddenly a large stone gate was before us, carefully guarded by two men flanking each side.

One man approached our car. “What is your business ma’am?”

“We are here for the Victorian contest. My name is April.”

The man walked back to his small stone shelter to check his computer then nodded. The gate began to open slowly as they waved us through. The road began to feel more manicured with expertly cut shrubbery and a hefty gate to protect the acreage. The beautiful scenery followed us up to the main entrance.

“Holy crap April are you seeing this?” Enormous columns were holding up a large tan mansion that looked well maintained despite its rustic age.

I said, “who knew this was sitting here, all this time?”

“Not me. Who owns it anyways?” Monika asked with her mouth agape.

“It really didn’t say, just some older couple. Apparently, it’s one of the oldest in the state.”

“Huh. You sure don’t know a lot about this for trudging both of us up here.”

“What can I say, I like adventure.”

As we pulled up to the front entrance a man took our keys and valeted our old truck. The sight of the blue Toyota against the Victorian looked rather misplaced. After the valet drove off, we were perched in front of the behemoth, taking in the sight.

“Where do we go now?” I asked as we both looked around. “There are other cars here, where are all of the people?”

“Dead?” Monika replied.

“Oh, stop. You know you’re excited.”

“I did bring some spirits of my own I’m ready to get into.”

I laughed as we approached the building, holding our belongings for the night. As we entered the front foyer we were met with a dazzling chandelier and large mirrors lining the sides of the entrance. The interior was mostly decorated in an older dark wood, and just twenty paces to our front stood a large spiral staircase.

Monika said, “this looks like the scene from Titanic when Jack’s ghost meets Rose.”

“Could be worse, yeah? It’s not like they haunted anyone.”

“How do you know? The movie straight up ended after that.” I rolled my eyes as we began to walk towards the staircase, hesitant since no one had approached. Suddenly, a man popped out of a room to the right, startling us.

“Ladies! So glad you arrived safe. Let me be the first to welcome you to Sarah’s Victorian.” He was wearing a tuxedo and looked like something out of an old black and white film. He held out his hand to shake ours. “Follow me and I will lead you to your room. The other guests have already arrived and are getting settled.”

We both followed, wide-eyed, as the mansion seemed to continue for in indeterminate amount of time. The man gestured to the different rooms as he led us forward. “It has 70 total rooms, two tennis courts and a swimming pool, which of course has been closed for the approaching snowstorm tonight.”

Monika gave me a look and whispered, “are you serious?”

“But it’s been upgraded, there’s heat!” I whispered back and smirked.

He continued to give us a small tour. “And on your right is the kitchen. Downstairs is where the servant’s quarters were, now they are mostly used as storage.” As we walked past the main kitchen entrance, a cool breeze brushed across our legs bringing goose bumps to the surface.

“And here, on the second floor, is room 217. Dinner and costumes will be at 8pm, enjoy.” He shut the door and backed out slowly.

“Did that seem overly dramatic?” I said as I turned around, taking in the room.

Monika popped her head out from inside the restroom. “This bathroom is huge! I love clawed tubs-” before she could finish her sentence a piercing scream was heard from upstairs.

What was that!?” I said as Monika ran over.

“Sounded like someone screaming bloody murder to me. Not bloody-good-time, bloody murder.”

“Your suspicions are starting to grow on me…that sounded loud.”

“Good a time as any to break out the martinis. I even brought plastic glasses for your birthday. Because we’re classy ladies.”

As they tried to ignore the scream, they finished their martini olives with a fervor. Then suddenly, a loud knock erupted from the front door of their sweet.

I said, “good gosh everything is so sensational here.”

“Check the peep hole first.” Said Monika.

“Guess I’ll be answering it-” I glared in her direction. As I peered outside through the peep hole, I said, “no one is there.”

“Are we starting to hear things?”

The knock sounded loudly again making both of us jump. I ran over to check again, “I don’t see anything. I’m opening it.” As I slowly opened the door and Monika backed towards the rear window, I exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, Monika…


“There’s nothing here but some liquid on the ground. Like drops of something.”


“I’m serious, come look…”

As both women leaned down towards the ground, Monika said, “it looks like blood.”

“You can’t be serious…” It was me who backed away this time. “ It looks like it drips away from our door…and doesn’t it seem eerily quiet in here for having a house full of people?”

“It has to be theatrics, it’s Halloween, ya know?” Monika said with fake smile as we shut the door. “Let’s finish those martini’s before getting dressed.”

“Good call.” As we painted our faces white and sickly, a ring came from inside our room.

“Hello?” Monika said tediously as she picked up the old black rotary phone. “Hello?” She said again, then hung up with a strange look on her face.

“What on earth was that?”

“No one was there but I think I could hear breathing?”

“This place just keeps getting weirder and weirder.” As we started to get dressed as the Shining sisters, another knock came to the door.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” We said in unison.

This time, it was the man in a tuxedo that stood on the other side.

“Ladies, I regret to inform you that someone has gone missing. Have you seen a woman with long black hair come this way?”

“I haven’t. You Monika?”

“Nope, sorry. What happened? We thought we heard a scream.”

The man smiled a twisted smile, one that took longer than it should have to fold its way across his face. “That is nothing of your concern. I almost forgot; this box was left for you up front.” He laid the box at his feet and disappeared quickly down the hall.

“He could have handed it to me.”

“That’s weird about the woman, right? After that scream?” Monika said as she picked up the box for me. “Let’s see what’s inside.”

Upon opening the small package, a note fell to the floor reading:

“Dear Monika and April. This serves as your warning- if you are not present in the ballroom in ten minutes, action will be taken.”

“Ten minutes??? What kind of action are they on about? We’re not even completely ready yet!”

Monika replied, “is there anything else in the package?”

I unfurled a picture, “it’s an image of a woman, she looks like she’s in our hallway.” I handed it over. “Is that a bloody handprint on the outside of the package?”

“April, she has long black hair.” We both stared at each other with our mouths agape.

I asked, “should we go? To the ballroom? Or are we safer staying here?”

“We’ve already burned at least three minutes.”

Without another word we grabbed our purses and phones and ran out into the hallway.

“He never showed us the ballroom, Mon. Where do we go?”

She said, “I’m guessing it’s downstairs?”

As we turned left to the stairway, we both stopped in our tracks as a man in all black, face covered, stood just at the top of the stairwell. His long dark hair was matted and greasy and fell just over his dark eyes. Screaming, we turned on our heals to the emergency side stairway that ran the opposite direction.

Looking behind as we ran, I thought I could see dark movement just seconds away. We kicked it in high gear as hotel doors blurred by in a fog. No one else seemed to be present. As we pushed open the metal door and ran down the stairwell, we appeared in another, darker and with a musty aged feel to it.

Fortunately, on the wall there was a gold paneled sign that directed us towards the ballroom. Following its direction, we ran headfirst into a large room.

“SURPRISE!” I looked around the room, confused, then noted Monika laughing hysterically behind me.

“What on earth?” I said as my mother approached me in a hug.

“We’re you surprised? Happy birthday honey!”

I turned to Monika, “I’m about to murder you! You knew all along!”

“I almost lost it when I saw your brother at the top of the stairs” she turned to Steve, “nice touch!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes as an entire ballroom was filled with family and friends, balloons and streamers. I said, “I can’t believe it! What is this place? What about the contest I entered?”

“I had that inserted into your morning paper, good thing you bit! And I can’t believe you’ve never been here before.”

“I had no idea!”

Monika said, “I realized you didn’t know what this place was a few months ago when someone mentioned having a party here. My wheels started to turn…”

“I should’ve known better; you love scary things! You wouldn’t have been so scared to come along.”

She smiled. “Well, since we’re here, time for a Martini?”

Show me the Money: the effects of child protective services running on empty

I know- it is an intense topic. But I’ve worked the field and I’ve seen the reality of a program that is struggling to survive on pennies and dimes, with the workers trying desperately to make up for its financial short comings.

Almost any job has the potential to be stressful, there can be an unpredictability or a moment of uncertainty in any field. Of course there are extremes in some career positions more than others, one being social work (for obvious reasons). 

Unfortunately, a large portion of this stress originates from unrealistic case loads (upwards of double or triple the state recommended loads) and the government not allotting enough resources even though it is direly needed, and workers have an average 2 year employment rate in some offices.

The National Child Abuse Coalition has claimed the following on their website:

“With federal support, Child Protection Services can protect children from domestic abuse. The abuse of children in the home remains a serious public health problem in the United States. Unfortunately, funding does not match the need, and CPS case workers with enormous caseloads cannot make good decisions” (2012).

That is a scary sentence. That was also five years ago, and it appears that there hasn’t been much change since.

The National Child Abuse Coalition reported that current spending for CPS and preventative services falls short of the dollars invested in supporting the placement of children in foster care and adoptive families. For every dollar spent by the federal government, just 14 cents are spent on both prevention and protective services (2012).

The same website claimed that CAPTA (Child Abuse and Prevention Act) should be the main source for funding for state grants, but it is not. Right now, they allot $27 million, which is not up to addressing the scope of the need. The National Child Abuse Coalition believes that an annual authorized funding level of $500 million is a realistic approach for funding CPS (2012). Do the math: that is a difference of $473 million dollars. Yet, somehow, the agency is running on a drastically reduced number. How is this possible? Through paying social workers low wages and assigning high caseloads. Somewhere, they have to reduce funds and that is where it falls. The question is, what is the fallout from the lack of funding? And where is the money going?

An analysis of cases by Dallas Morning News showed that hundreds of potentially endangered children did not receive a timely visit from a CPS worker. They found that one in every 5 open cases, children were not being seen at all. The article stated,

“Problems with CPS’ dysfunctional system are not new: A shortage of caseworkers means high caseloads, and the pay is so low that caseworkers quit in droves, leaving hundreds of unfilled positions, plus extra time it takes to train new hires” (CPS Needs Emergency Money, 2016).

We know that more money is needed, but the question is where from, and are people willing to front the bill?

Per the Committee on Child Maltreatment Research, Policy, and Practice for the Next Decade, CAPTA’s grant community supports a wide range of activities involving CPS. However, to achieve CAPTA funding to support CPS, states must comply with congressionally mandated eligibility conditions. As of 2014, of these 20 requirements there has been little to no investment in studying how these requirements are best implemented (2014). Essentially, they have requirements that are not being met, funding isn’t being dispersed, and they do not know if the requirements are what they should be.

When I was a foster parent trainer for CPS, we discussed how only two states have met federal requirements to receive the total funding during the recent national audit, one being my state. If a state doesn’t meet certain criteria, they lose funding. For instance, children should not be in the system, according to federal mandates (and the subsequent funding) for more than two years. This is a positive goal, of course, we want children to have permanency whether it be with the rehabilitated biological parents or adopted by a foster parent. However, on average, children stay in the system for almost 31 months before being reunited or adopted. Almost 20% wait five years or more (ABC News, 2006). In the last few years, statistics haven’t changed. With these cases, the state loses millions of dollars. There are so few workers, that reports are almost impossible to complete in a timely manner. Not only that, but on a national level there are not enough foster parents to fulfill the need of children coming in. It’s a viscous cycle. Most of the issues come down to funding: the more money we put into the system, the faster children would be adopted, the faster children would be seen by a worker, therefore saving the state thousands of dollars.

It begins with money, which is exceptionally frustrating, yet social workers become the target for many of the issues with CPS. This is why I feel that the government is essentially forcing the problem, they are negligent in the amount of money allotted to CPS and it is failing. The entire program needs emergent help in the way of dollar signs and government support, but where do we start?

Let’s Gogh…Creative Genius and Mental Health

Guys, I did some research.

I’ve been utterly fascinated with this idea for some time, this connection between mental health disorders and the creative mind. Even Aristoteles said, “there is no genius without having a touch of madness”. Working and completing coursework in the field of mental health has led me down this road of thought many, many times, so I thought it was about time to answer my own damn question. And there’s a shit ton of evidence backing it up.

I started looking into it more the other day after I had this creative surge, sat down, sketched for literally 5 hours straight (to the point where my eyes were getting kinda jacked up) then wrote a bunch.

The following morning I was in good spirits but was very restless. I had anxiety minus the mental stuff, if that makes any sense. All physical and couldn’t sit still. Anyways, I got to thinking. Was my creative surge linked to these symptoms? Or just a happy coincidence? (And for the record, I’m not considering myself a creative genius by any means).

So I got to looking it up. Here’s a few shining examples of creative minds with mental health disorders (some are recently diagnosed based on what we now know):

  • Michelangelo: OCD (some argue autism)
  • Kurt Cobain: ADD, bi-polar
  • Pablo Picasso- depression
  • Virginia Woolf: depression
  • Isaac Newton: bi-polar disorder
  • Walt Disney: dyslexia
  • Beethoven: bi-polar disorder
  • Steve Jobs: OCPD
  • Edgar Allan Poe: alcoholism, depression
  • Abraham Lincoln: depression and anxiety attacks
  • Vivian Leigh: depression and mania
  • Vincent van Gogh: bi-polar disorder
  • JK Rowling: depression
  • Winston Churchill: bi-polar disorder, dyslexia
  • Albert Einstein: dyslexia

And the list goes on. Surprisingly, many creative geniuses had dyslexia and or bi-polar disorder. Is there some chemical, some process, linking these disorders and their tortured genius?

A study from 2010 found similarities between the brains in healthy, highly creative people and those with schizophrenia. The same authors discussed an association with dopamine (the pleasure and reward neurotransmitter) and creativity. Dopamine is brought up a lot in regards to mental health. Seems it can be a real bitch, but the exact connection is still a mystery. It’s a good start, however.

Another study looked at the genes of 86,000 people in Iceland and found a 17% increase in mental health disorders among artists (dancers, painters etc.), particularly schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.

A somewhat different take came from the 1960’s, when scientists believed the link was openness. Writers, after testing them, scored high in this area. They feel that it’s possible creative people “engage with the full spectrum of life, both the dark and the light”.

And lastly, a study composed of more than one million people was conducted through the Karolinska Institute. In this study they found a number of correlations between creative occupations and mental health.

Then there is the question of defining genius, or defining creativity. Each study had its scale and parameters to go by, but some may disagree with that interpretation. The manual that formalizes diagnosis (currently the DSM V) changes every edition (about every 10 ish years) and the way we define mental health can vary (for fuck sake homosexuality used to be in there…).

The research is out there linking disorders of the mind and creativity, but the exact mechanism seems somewhat unknown. And of course, you can have one without the other, so what biological instrument is at work? It definitely raises some questions…Do you think medication, which can possibly help disorders, could hamper creativity? Is it a chemical association or is the creativity perhaps a way of coping with the illness?

Photo Credit: