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I pulled the comforter up over my ear, snuggling down into the bed, consolidating whatever warmth could be found. It was well past midnight, but I couldn’t seem to get settled. My thighs ached from trying out my new bicycle this afternoon, and my body tottered between too hot and too cold no matter whether I snaked a foot out from under the sheets or not.
Plus, there was that thing with the Wi-Fi speaker.
I’m not sure of when it began – I’m generally a heavy sleeper – but I know it’s gone on at least a week now. Sometime around midnight, Google answers a question.
I know it sounds insane. Maybe I’m hearing things. Well, certainly I am. I’m hearing the generic male voice I chose respond to… something. I don’t know. Even I think it’s insane.
You may ask, do you talk in your sleep? and yes, I have in the past and have no reason to believe I haven’t continued to do so. But here’s the thing: my phone’s screen is dark. I didn’t activate the Assistant, at least not from my phone. The app isn’t even running. Not ever. I checked every time.
There has to be a logical explanation. Right? I mean, I’m pretty bright, but I can’t think of anything except a serial killer toying with me or ghosts looking for directions to the nearest Starbucks.
That’s why I got the camera. Fancy infrared and everything. I set it up almost defiantly, my back stiff, hackles raised. If there was a ghost watching me, I did not want it to think I was afraid of its translucent ass. I mean, I was. Obviously. But it didn’t need to know that.
Maybe I should get a cat? They can see ghosts, right?
I shook myself back to the task at hand, brushing my hands together and padding back over to my laptop to check the camera angle. I pulled up the feed and saw the seafoam puck centered on the screen. Running my thumb over the touchscreen on my phone, I verified that I had the same view in the app. Nodding in satisfaction, I softly closed the device.
I sat bolt upright. A quick glance at the clock showed 12:01 am, my phone next to it, the screen dark. The darkness was almost palpable, thick and heavy around me. And still. As if every atom held its breath.
I scrambled for the phone, nearly dropping it in my haste to open the camera app. The light stung my eyes at first, but quickly adjusted.
Not a damn thing was happening on camera. The light on the puck wasn’t even on, indicating that it had spoken.
But it had.
I heard it. I heard it plain as day, as if I had been standing right next to the speaker as it answered yet another question. And while I had no idea what the question was, my heart nearly stopped at the answer.
Just two little words. Spoken succinctly in that confident, baritone voice…
Anyone else now in their 50s, but still have no clue what they want to do with their life?
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done some cool things in my life: Flown a jet at 45,000 feet while viewing the Northern Lights. Written four published novels (so far). Narrated five audiobooks (and counting). Started and ran multiple businesses. But I’m just now starting to realize that the things that I do and who I am are not as separate as I believed.
Most of my life, my sense of self has been tied to how I make money. Isn’t that the way for most of us? We ask strangers, “What do you do?” as if their only purpose for breathing is to be a cog in the wheel of Capitalism. We judge people based on their jobs. A doctor or pilot is thought to be intelligent and trustworthy, while a retail service worker might be considered uneducated and replaceable. But our jobs are only a costume we wear to navigate the world. It is not who we are. We are so much more.
We are all experiencing what it means to be human, but we are all on an infinite number of paths leading through a kaleidoscope of possibilities to a shared, final destination. Each path is our own and no two paths are exactly the same. Our choices are what make us who we are.
As a Scorpio, I understand the value in re-inventing myself. But this is the first time I considered consolidating all the facets of my life and looking at myself as a whole. All of the things that I am, author, entrepreneur, mother, narrator, pilot, wife, dreamer, woman, American, and more, distilled into the very essence of what it means to be me. But I don’t think knowing myself completely is attainable. I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. I’m not even the person I was last week. Circumstances, choices, even thoughts, can change us, as a snowball rolling downhill gathers more snow as it descends, altering it constantly as it travels. So too do we pick up thoughts, ideas, perceptions that alter us on our journey through existence.
And now I’m fifty years old and almost ready to embark on the next chapter of my life. My children are grown enough to not need me 24/7 as they did when they were little and I have a bit more time to do the things that I enjoy. The problem is, I feel like I’ve spent most of my life up until now doing what was expected of me, and I no longer know what it is that I want. I don’t know what will make me feel fulfilled and content. Happy.
So I invite you to join me on this adventure. Walk beside me for a time or just drop in for a cup of coffee. Maybe as I try to find my place in this world, you’ll recognize a bit of your own journey, too. We are not meant to navigate this world alone and my intention is to have some fun along the way.
Kneeling stiffly, I eased the fabric from the wooden chest secured to the foot of my bunk. Soft cream striped over gold slink. I stood almost without realizing it, feeling the corners of my lips curve up as my eyes softened, drinking in the dress as I held it out before me.
“You remember how you wanted a slinky dress?” His voice had come from behind me.
I smiled and lifted my eyes to catch his reflection in the mirror. “I do,” I replied, adding a touch of heat to my tone as I locked eyes with him, ignoring how he held the dress to himself in exactly the same manner a teenager going to their first school dance would show off their new formalwear. I remembered how his eyes had glowed with mischief as he pulled me to him, pinning the gown between us.
“Inspection in five minutes, soldier,” he barked. He had shoved the silky garment into my hands with a chaste kiss, giddy, and skipped out of the room.
When I eased out from behind the hatch to present myself wearing his gift, heart fluttering in much the same way it does before a battle, the look on his face was one I will never forget. I had never felt so completely—and oddly respectfully—desired before that moment, standing before him in this very dress. Not that I had it on for very long that time.
“Remember that fancy job on Persephone?” I mused, engaging him in an imaginary conversation. “Where we had to mingle with the well-to-do, acting all proper-like? You insisted we go to the party just so you could show me off in this dress. I’m pretty sure I saw the captain smile before muttering something about a curfew and heading back to the ship. We barely heard as we twirled around the dance floor, eyes only on each other. I never wanted that night to end.”
But it had ended. As all things do eventually.
I began to step into the garment but paused as a wave of sorrow swept over me, through me. I reached out blindly to brace myself, fearing a fall that would shatter me completely if I dared to move.
After a moment, I deliberately ground my teeth together, inhaling sharply through them before firmly and slowly releasing the air from my lungs. I needed to steel myself for the ceremony to come, even as I wondered how in the ‘verse I was going to get through it.
A cold numbness seeped into my body, calming my mind, and I began to dress again. I slid the smooth fabric past my hips and snaked my arms into position, then felt along my backside for the fastener. A memory of him slowly raising the zipper, trailing his lips up my bare spine, brushing aside my hair, kissing the nape of my neck, pulsed through me, and I staggered with the sudden weight of it.
Somehow, strong hands caught me, supported me, and helped me to rise again. My crewmates. My family. I did not hear them enter, but gratefully allowed them to finish securing me into my gown and guiding me to the hold, but no further. I would leave the ship with a military bearing despite my attire for this final inspection. I owed it to him to be strong. I owed it to us.
The fabric swished and trailed elegantly as I trudged down the swell of land toward waves rushing through a rocky gap in the cliffs, my silent companions a respectful distance behind me. My emotions mimicked the rise and fall of the water: cresting rage followed by a frothy, simmering grief, endless repeating. I noticed the matte greyness of the sky, softer and calmer than the sea, and willed myself to follow suit, to be just as flat and all-encompassing.
The water was cold. I knew that it would be, but the shock of it splashing over my ankles as I waded toward the breach took my breath away. I stumbled and quickly caught myself, holding a hand out to the others to keep them back. I could do this. I had to do this. It was the only thing he ever asked of me and I could not deny him his peace.
The water was knee deep as I stepped through the opening in the rock, my shoes long since pulled off by the rocky sand, the base of my gown growing heavy with brine wicking up my thighs.
Can you feel me here? the wind asked in his voice.
I closed my eyes and filled my lungs with the sea air. “Yes, my love, I can,” I whispered back. “But you knew that I would.”
Uncapping the urn in my hands, I dutifully spilled his remains into the churning water. The wind gusted, gathering bits and carrying them upward. I smiled and wiped the dampness from my eyes to more clearly watch him soar high above me.
My leaf on the wind.
He was home.
Disclaimer: I am drunk. Any grammatical or typographical or uh, logistical errors are due to my inability to hire an editor on such short notice and the irrefutable fact that I am currently drunk.
Author’s Note: My homesnakes! I wrote 714 words! I’m on FIRE!!! Please check back for news of this woman’s return to the Tawnlandian Imperial Writing Nook.
My inebriated treatise on an article entitled, “You can now attend a “mansplaining” convention — strictly for women — at the low price of $2000.”
As I first open this link, I believe the post can only be satire. I mean really, dudes can’t possibly be that dumb, right? So, I grabbed a glass of prosecco, cracked open my laptop, and dove in.
Hilarity ensued. Mostly in my own mind.
Me: What the hell…? Oh, fuck yeah, I’m gonna follow that link…
[Clicks on 22convention.com]
[Instantly hoarks up bubbly]
I am nose deep in a landing page featuring a bearded studmuffin with long, wavy tresses, another more distinguished older gentleman, pink watercolor splotches on a steel gray background, and a ‘Murican flag asking me if I want to get on the VIP list.
Fuck. Yeah. I. Do.
[Types in email address and pours more prosecco]
::licks lips:: Aight, let’s go down this rabbit hole.
[Clicks on Reserve Your Seats]
EARLY BIRD TICKETS ON SALE! SAVE 60%!
Shit. Now I want to go. Can you imagine? I’d be all drunk and mouthy and they’d be all make me a sammich and I’d be all suck my dick and it would be frikkin hilarious. I seriously check my calendar and everything, before remembering that it’s in Orlando, I am not in Orlando, and I am poor.
Then I see it: The premium ticket (today only $999.00!) includes a pass to 21 UNIVERSITY for a full year. So I think, I wonder what their curriculum is?
[Googles 21 University]
[stares for like a full seven minutes]
It’s “Positive Education for Men” and says:
With our videos you will…
- Take command of your dating life
- Get healthy, grow strong, and build muscle
- Create wealth, earn more, and master your career
- Author your life and become your own ideal man
And now I’m kinda scared.
But I get over it pretty quickly when I realize it’s just a bunch of MRA Incels that got together, made a bunch of videos spouting off their own bullshit, and then packaged it as a Netflix-esque online video “university” to sell “memberships” to their own personal cult.
And suddenly, I’m impressed. I could do that. I mean, it’s kinda genius in a sociopathic way. All you need is a smartphone (check), some computer skillz or the mad cheddar to hire some (check), a way to take payment (check), and nefarious intent… ::places pinky on corner of lip::
[Scribbles notes on future plans for the Tawnlandian Empire Cyber Expansion Initiative]
Then I spot the Founder and CEO, Anthony Dream Johnson’s (hahahahahaha!!! I said “dream johnson”) bio and this little tidbit: “Anthony credits a great deal of his current success in life from repeatedly experiencing the incredible videos from this live event, in a pure, hyper-focused learning environment with zero distractions.” (emphasis mine)
My homesnakes. “Repeatedly.” This guy is like Al Bundy from “Married With Children” reliving his high school football team’s championship touchdown over and over again while he shakes hands with the milkman. ::winks:: And he has devoted EIGHT YEARS OF HIS LIFE to this nonsense. Eight. I haven’t had a full set of nice glassware last that long despite my extraordinarily delicate nurturing of said glassware…
In conclusion, mostly because I am nearing the bottom of the bottle and kinda feel all fuzzy and… Where was I? Oh yeah. These Neanderthals are making hella coin off of young men that have been steeped in a patriarchal line of “Ideal Man” bullshit and haven’t quite gotten a handle on social interaction or even really just how to be themselves in this world. AND THEN they are indoctrinating them into the toxic masculinity required to offer rape-y courses like “how to turn friends into girlfriends.” That’s from their course list, by the way.
America. Git yer boys. I mean it. We need more Mr. Rogers and fewer Rambos in this world. Fuck.
Following the dethroning of King Yertle, the residents of the pond returned to their idyllic life, unaware of how much things would change once their new king, Mack, was coronated. It seems that while King Mack’s aspirations were not as lofty as those of the previous ruler, he nevertheless had plans for the pond-dom that would soon lead to ruin.
In an attempt to make sense of the events that followed the regime change, I contacted Yertle the Turtle, former King of all Sala-ma-Sond, who agreed to set the record straight.
Me: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Your Highness.
Former King Yertle: *winces* Please, just ‘Yertle’ is fine. I am a private citizen now earning an honest living providing much-needed mud products to my fellow turtles.
Me: Of course, thank you, Yertle. It’s just that this is my first interview with royalty and I’m a bit nervous.
Yertle: Understandable. I was quite the imposing figure in my day, but again, I’m merely another turtle in the pond now. Not that there are many left after the mess Mack made of things.
Me: Yes, about that… What happened?
Yertle: Honestly, it all transpired so quickly, I’m still a bit fuzzy. One moment I was King of all Sala-ma-Sond, exalted higher than any turtle has ever been, adored and respected by my subjects and wielding power rivaled only by the Great A’Tuin, and then, suddenly, I was nothing, coated in the most amazing restorative mud–available online at KingMud.com–and Mack was perched on my throne, belching like a cretin. It was frankly the most disgusting display I had ever seen.
Me: That must have been hard for you. Did you anticipate what would happen next?
Yertle: Of course I did! I caught a glimpse of the creature as the moon rose over my head. I’m still slightly peeved about that, I must say. The nerve! In any case, I saw the huge shape approaching but there was nothing I could do. Mack wouldn’t allow my beautiful throne to be rebuilt and there was no other way to verify what I had seen.
Me: How did the pond-dom react to your news and specifically, what did King Mack do to prepare?
Yertle: Nothing. *sniffs* They didn’t believe me. They actually thought that all I cared about was power. As if I hadn’t given my entire existence to serving my pond-dom as king for the majority of my life.
Me: Did King Mack make any preparations at all?
Yertle: *laughs* Of course not. The only talent the usurper had was belching the alphabet and writing his name in the snow with his own urine. *pauses* That last bit is kind of impressive for a turtle, but still, he’s nothing but a fool.
Me: Wait… I thought that King Mack–
Yertle: *interrupts* Please stop calling him that. He is no more King than I am a parrot. Sure, he sits on my throne and wears a cat-tail circlet that his mother made for him, but he’s no King.
Me: Uh, okay, so didn’t… didn’t Mack’s greed destroy the pond?
Yertle: Greed? That simpleton doesn’t have a greedy spot on his shell. Oh, and speaking of shell spots, Yertle’s Miracle Mud–patent-pending–fades imperfections and restores your shell to its original youthful appearance. Only $59.99 for a year supply!
Me: So, how did the pond come to ruin? What happened?
Yertle: What happened? Why, nothing. Except that a kaiju arose from the depths and destroyed the entirety of Sala-ma-Sond while Mack lit his own farts on fire.
Yertle: Oh, don’t look so surprised. Kaiju are nothing new to Sala-ma-Sond. They normally leave us in peace–we are, after all, only turtles–but this time was different. It seems that the creature was in a foul mood because all of Mack’s idiotic admirers had begun imitating his disgusting displays of flatulence. The stench alone drove the creature to seek out our pond-dom specifically and destroy it. Only the restorative powers of my therapeutic aromatherapy calming mud were able to sway the creature from annihilating us in our entirety. It seems kaiju don’t have access to the internet for shopping. You could say that I saved us.
Me: You saved the pond?
Yertle: Well, admittedly not the whole pond. I mean, it did take me some time to discern what would be the best product to help the kaiju get a good night’s sleep for a change. The poor thing had only gotten a few centuries and was frightfully grumpy.
Me: Well that’s… that’s a story we hadn’t yet heard. Do you have any designs on reclaiming the throne?
Yertle: *laughs* No, I’m done with all that. I have found a modicum of joy in mud and plan to climb to heights never before seen as a purveyor of these quality products. Be sure to visit KingMud.com for our complete listing.
Me: Thank you for speaking with me and I’ll be sure to check out your website.
Yertle: I have a sample of the restorative mud used to calm the kaiju. Would you care to try it?
Me: Oh, yes! Thank you.
This has been Tawn Krakowski reporting to you from Sala-ma-Sond. Thank you for reading.
“Did you hear that?” I whispered, my eyes drinking in the darkness surrounding the car.
He stopped kissing my neck long enough to mumble a distracted “No” before returning his attention to my skin.
“There it is again!” I crowed and then quickly lowered my voice, not wanting to alert whatever had made the sound to my presence.
He sighed and sat back, listening in annoyance. After a moment, he said, “I don’t hear anything.”
His eyes widened. “Wait…”
The sound began to repeat, its frequency and volume increasing as if it were getting closer. And closer.
“I’m creeped the fuck out,” I hissed. “Let’s get out of here.”
“You don’t have to ask twice,” he said under his breath as he scrambled half-dressed over the seat back and positioned himself behind the wheel. He wrenched the key in the ignition, but the car only clicked.
The sound was so loud now that it drowned out the beating of my heart in my throat. I couldn’t see anything beyond the rolled-up windows, no matter how intently I stared into the darkness.
The driver’s side door flew open and something blacker than the night slid into view for an instant, and then both the man and the creature were simply gone.
“Damn it,” I spat.
I got out of the car, slamming the door in irritation, and stomped to the hood. Reconnecting the battery took almost no time at all, in direct opposition to the difficulty I had disconnecting it on the sly in the first place. Thankfully, it was usually easy to entice a man to look under the hood of a ’76 Firebird; even a man who couldn’t tell a battery from an oil pan.
I closed the hood and sighed. I had almost seen it this time. I guess I’d just have to try again.
In an effort to up my game and get back in the swing of things, I’ve decided to write an occasional micro-story from a roll of the Story Cube dice. This is one such exercise.
Story Cubes: Hand or palm, Tower, Apple, Alien, Lightbulb, the letter L, Fountain, Moon, Flower
She sighed and rested her chin in her palm as she gazed out the open window onto the lush fields below. Flowers swayed in the breeze, glittering like diamonds as the dew on their petals caught the faint light of the crescent moon. Leaves rippled as the wind played in the orchard, the apple trees lined up at attention, as stiff and reticent as the Imperial Guard.
She sighed again as she pushed herself away from the window and padded across the room, ornate rugs muffling the sound of her bare feet. Her quarters in the Tower were luxurious, if cramped. Exotic textiles from all corners of the Empire were brought to make her imprisonment comfortable, as befitting a woman of her status. But that did not change the fact that she was confined to this gilded cage for the unlikeliest of reasons: love, with a capital L.
Recalling the day they met still brought a flutter to her stomach. She had just returned from a hunt and stopped at the fountain to water her horse as she had, once again, overtaxed the poor beast. A loud bang startled her as she handed the reins to a groom. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, so she began to search for the source of the noise. Rounding a corner within the palace, she nearly bowled over a figure crouching to pick up the shattered remains of a lightbulb.
The figure rose, locked eyes with her, and she was lost. She fell into the depths of those eyes, frozen, mesmerized. It was only an instant, but she now belonged heart and soul to the creature before her. Spindly grey fingers wrapped around her own and the alien led her away in silence. They had almost reached the spaceship when the Imperial Guard captured her and dragged away from her Love. She had since been left to rot in the Tower Cell, her Empire forgotten as she pined each day for the alien to return for her.
It’s 5 AM.
Can’t my cat read time? Should I get her a wristwatch? I don’t know. I’m too tired to puzzle it out this early.
I am not a morning person. I have never been a morning person. I hate morning people. Waking up before noon is a sign of mental illness. If I did not have a family that forces me to keep a schedule that matches theirs, I would become fully nocturnal and sleep the days away.
My cat, however, is a morning person.
I tried to ignore the incessant caterwauling coming from the twenty pounds of annoying stuffed into five pounds of fur-covered noise. I really tried. But alas, the cat knows that the threat of her singing the song of her people to my daughter is usually enough to get me up. One small irritating creature at a time, thank you very much.
I suppose I should be grateful that she doesn’t keep me up all night zooming around the house like a tiny F-16 with unlimited fuel following the orders of overzealous generals with ADHD. I should be grateful. But I’m not. I’m too damn tired.
To stop the noise, I trudged like a rotting reanimated corpse down the stairs and slid open the glass door to free the beast. Did she appreciate this? No. She only cares about herself, the narcissistic furball.
As I sit here barely conscious, I recognize that this is the best time to let the cat roam in our postage stamp of a backyard. The heat of the day hasn’t yet fallen over the backyard like an electric blanket set to char-broil, the paver stones are not yet baked to a temperature approaching that of lava, and the birds–the adorable little hummingbirds not the obnoxious mourning doves–are whizzing happily around the patio, high on the sugar water from my feeder.
But that fact does not make rolling out of bed at the butt-crack of dawn any easier. I wonder if cats can learn how to make coffee?